"Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith...
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you."
(Hebrews 13:7, 17)
When I consider what the writer of Hebrews is saying here to the early Church, I am struck with a couple of easily-overlooked insights. But before I get into those, I have to begin with some ground-level understandings:
- The human tendencies of the church (and human beings at large, for that matter) have not changed, in all of its history. We want to call our own shots, and when anyone or anything except our own conscience or our own understanding makes any real or perceived attempt to instruct — let alone command — our behavior or correct our thinking, we usually resort to one of two responses:
2) apathetic dismissal and distance (often including scoffing condescension)
- Our "Americanism" (whereby the "supreme law" of our land — the U.S. Constitution — begins with the infamous "We the People"), our love of individuality, and our esteem of democracy is far more deeply entrenched in our worldview and our church life than we ever recognize. In other words: we don't see ourselves through the lens of Scripture... we see Scripture — and church life — through the lens of ourselves.
- No matter how dignified we'd like to think ourselves, the God of the Universe calls us "sheep".
Verse 7 does not merely suggest, but commands us to not only consider the importance of solid, biblical leaders, but also to emulate their lives and "imitate their faith". Make no mistake: this commanded imitation pertains to some very unpopular and personal aspects of life:
- How we attire ourselves, in all situations
- How we approach "birth control"
- How we approach "dating" and marriage
- How we allow ourselves to be entertained
- How we enact our children's education
- What we allow ourselves to find humorous
- What line of work we pursue
- What roles ought to pertain to our gender
"If your pastor and elders are practicing what they preach, from the whole of Scripture, then do what they do. Period."
- If your pastor intentionally wears something nicer than jeans-and-a-t-shirt to your worship gatherings, do the same.
- If your pastor's wife would never wear any clothing that would highlight her physicality (ladies), do the same.
- If your elders are content to live on less income, that they may devote more time and attention to their families and to the ministry, do the same.
- If your pastor's family seems to be fruitful and multiplying in spite of the world's demonstrated disdain for multiple children and in spite of their financial inability to make sure every one of their children can be sent to an ivy league university, do the same.
Now, on to verse 17.
As far as our pride is concerned, this verse is where the rubber meets the road. And, if you consider the account of Jesus and the centurion, submitting to biblical authority is what separates the men from the boys, as far as the Kingdom of GOD is concerned. Nevermind trying to establish your own kingdom by acting within your own authority and individuality. King Jesus died to redeem His Church, and it is SHE that He is coming back for. There is an authority structure He has ordained within His "family", and it is those who are the servant of ALL who will be called greatest. As for me, I want to endeavor to be a joy to those in spiritual authority over me, and to make their calling — that is, to serve and lead their local body of Christ, on earth — as pleasant and mutually encouraging as possible. Therefore, unless blatantly and clearly proven otherwise, I'm going to assume the following of my own pastor:
- That he (yes, "he" — not "she") is fully devoted to Christ, and has unreservedly resolved to preach the whole Word of God, whether it is en vogue or not.
- Is a very humble man before God, who spends vast quantities of time and attention combating his own flesh and pride.
- That he is immeasurably vested in the spiritual growth of all within his care.
- That he is rightfully sobered by the gravity of his role in the Church, both locally and Kingdom-wide.
- That to live out what he teaches his flock, from Scripture, is the highest possible goal I could aim for, as a believer in community with the saints.
- That he does not choose so-called "open-mindedness" over Scripture-informed conviction. Because after all, the latter seems to be in short supply these days.
I pray you find the joy that is available from humbly receiving "the word implanted, which is able to save your souls." (James 1:21)