Alright we are going to take our Bibles this morning and turn to Hebrews 13 as we continue on with this particular epistle. We’re looking towards the end here as we get these practical applications from doctrine. I’m going to spend time on one verse this morning although I will go to other places. I’m going to bolster this verse up with things that are in other parts of the Word of God. Let’s pray before we look through the passages.
Lord, thank You this morning for the great privilege of worshipping You. Thank You, Lord, for the Word of God. I pray that we would never take You for granted. We have the Word in our hands and can open it. Many of us own one or more Bibles and commentaries, and other books that speak about You. I thank You for that. I pray that we would always consider the most important time of worship, when the Word of God is brought out.
I pray Lord that You would give us attentive hearts and minds and allow us to pay attention and put ourselves in the equation. Help us to practice what we are hearing. I pray this in Your precious and great Name, Amen.
Turn to Hebrews 13:17, where it says:
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.
Now when I read a passage of Scripture like this, I think that we as Christians are more connected to each other and more responsible to each other and to the Lord than we care to realize or admit. It was a naturalist named Essel Bastian who tells of a certain kind of spider that builds his nest in the branch of a small tree or a bush. In this little delicate enclosure, the baby spiders are usually hatched. If the nest is disturbed in any way, the spiders will rush out in fright. At once the mother goes to their side and is alerted by their potential danger in a very unique manner.
Each one of the little ones has a little silky strand attached to it, and all the threads are joined to the mother from the baby. When an enemy threatens the nest and the babies naturally scurry off, they give their lines a sharp tug on the mother and this instantly alerts her to bring them back to the nest and protect them.
Now I saw that for this reason, in God’s church we have been connected to each other through Jesus Christ. In a way, that is going to take us not only for this very moment but also into eternity together. We will be meeting each other from time to time in places that we may not think we would. The Word of God often refreshes our mind as for the design for His church and how we wants it to function. That is why I put this message, about honoring church leaders, under the second part of the main title, “A Christian’s Acceptable Worship.”
The reason why I did that is because if you remember from last message, the reason why we offer sacrifices to God is because it pleases Him. Well the reason that spiritual church leaders and the congregation are to harmonize with one another is because it pleases God. That’s the way God designed it in the congregation, with love that comes from Christ and harmony and unity that come from the Spirit of God. We also are to have a one-mindedness that comes from hearing regular preaching from the Word of God that gets us all on the same page and brings us to the same place.
If it pleases God, then it’s acceptable worship. So this morning, I would like you to take notice of two things. The first one is the function of church leaders to the congregation which is in verse 17. If you notice what it says in that Scripture after telling the congregation to obey and submit to their leaders, it says:
For they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.
Let’s look at the for a minute. There’s only two groups in Scripture that I can think of in reference to people who keep watch over something. One group is shepherds, who keep watch over the sheep. A second group is watchmen, who keep watch over a city or group of people and warn them if the enemy is coming. Well that’s exactly what church leaders do.
First of all, they function as shepherds who care for the flock. They keep watch over your soul and life, which is pretty significant to think that here in this passage of Scripture that church leaders watch over what you possess as eternal. This is what most bears the image of God and is eternal. It’s a heavy and great responsibility, and reminds me of the warning that the Lord gives about merely living your life for things when He says in Luke 12:20:
But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’
So church leaders are given responsibility over the eternal part of you, which is your souls. That’s the thing that is going to live on in the eternal presence of God. It never dies and represents who you really are. Now how in the world do church leaders keep watch as shepherds. First of all, they do this by feeding the sheep spiritual food which is their main job.
When you become a Christian, your mind is natural and earthly and God has to push out everything you learned and put back in everything that you need to learn. He pushes out the old stuff by the Word of God so you can have the mind of Christ. The sheep are to be given spiritual food and they are to be declared as it says in Acts 20:27:
For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.
Paul tells the leaders to give the sheep, the saints instruction. For this purpose, the Holy Spirit has not only sent His Word, but has given as gifts of the church evangelists and pastor-teachers. So how are spiritual leaders to give out the whole counsel of God? The Bible is a big book after all. There is a lot in the Word and many ways that people teach the Scripture.
But the best way is to go through the Bible by expositional preaching. Preaching is about receiving God’s Word and proclaiming it to the people in a way that is faithful to God’s intention. In other words, it’s about getting the meal to the people without messing it up.
Let’s turn to Nehemiah 8:7-8 so that we can learn more about what expositional preaching really is. There’s two quick things here and then we’ll also turn to Jeremiah 23. Nehemiah gives us a positive example here in verse 7:
The Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.
The first thing here is the content that the Levites are preaching, which is God’s revelation and not their own ideas. They receive God’s Word and give it back to the people. They read from not just any book, but the book of the Law. Secondly, there was a method in their preaching, which is to explain the meaning and significance of a portion of God’s Word to the people. And then there was an effect of their preaching, which was to give the people a sense so that they can understand the reading.
God wants us to understand what’s in the Word of God. The ultimate effect is that the people understand and obey what God says. They understood so they could see life through God’s eyes and His perspective. The people would begin to develop a Biblical worldview on what God wanted. When you do that, God begins to transform your mind and everything changes in your life. The real way to teach the sheep is for shepherds to give out on a regular basis the Word of God and take the sheep through Scripture.
The other example in Jeremiah 23 is more of the negative example, basically how not to do it. Believe it or not, most people actually do it this way. Look at verse 16:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord.”
So here is a group of would-be prophets and the content of their preaching comes from their own imaginations and creations. That’s what they are bringing to the people, primarily their own antidotes and illustrations. And those are not the things that grow you spiritually and honor God. A second thing about their preaching is found in Jeremiah 23:18:
But who has stood in the council of the Lord, that he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened?
In other words, he’s asking whether the teachers get God’s point of view from the Word and then tell it to the people, and he says no they do not. Their method is to refuse to stand in God’s counsel and hear God’s Word. The effect of this kind of preaching is found in Jeremiah 23:21-22:
I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. But if they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds.
The effect of their preaching failed to turn people back to the ways of God. So those are the two ways that the things of God can be communicated. In a nutshell, expositional preaching by spiritual leaders constrains their words to the parameters of God’s Word. It gets them to stand in the counsel of God and bow under God’s Word. It gets them to speak God’s Word to God’s people so that they will walk in God’s ways. Spiritual church leaders as shepherds are mainly to teach people God’s Word, that’s our job. They are not to waste their time with things other than to teach the Word of God.
Another thing we find back in Hebrews, is that if these teachers are to watch over your souls, then they are going to be watchmen too. A watchman functions as a sentry, as a guard over the flock. Just as Hebrews 13:17 says:
They keep watch over your souls.
Of course they do this by being faithful watchmen and being responsible for the wellbeing of the sheep. They do this in two ways, one by the Word of God, like it says in Ezekiel 3:17:
Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me.
Pastors and teachers are to guard the flock from false teachers and savage wolves, as it says in Acts 20:29-30:
I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
And in Hebrews 13:9, the author says:
Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.
He already warns the Christians there and all over Hebrews. There are four or five warnings about receiving the gospel correctly and following it. The Word of God is used as a warning to guard over God’s people. In fact this illustration does come from Ezekiel 33:2-3, where it says:
The watchman sees the sword coming upon the land and blows on the trumpet and warns the people.
That was the watchman’s job, to warn the enemy. Now if the people heard the trumpet and said it was not a big deal, then it would be their responsibility. But if the watchman falls asleep and does’t blow the trumpet, then it’s his responsibility. In fact, it says this in Ezekiel 33:8-9:
When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand. But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life.
So the responsibility is with those who tell the warning, and also with those who hear the warning. It’s the responsibility of those teaching and those hearing. Why is that? Look in Hebrews 13:17:
They keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.
The word account actually means to give back a word. Ministers are to give back to their Lord some kind of accounting in the future. We both must meet once again before the Chief Shepherd, who is God. We are definitely sharply connected to one another and I must give an account of our stewardship of the service that we have rendered to God. And we must also give an account of the reception you had for us and how you treated us and responded to the preaching. You must give an account of how you followed the Lord and how you served in the church.
I was reading somethings about this and Jonathan Edwards had a little message he preached before leaving his church of 23 years, which he was asked to leave. He wrote this commenting on Hebrews 13:17, “For then both you and I must appear together, and we both must give an account, in order to an infallible, righteous and eternal sentence to be passed upon us, by him who will judge us with respect to all that we have said or done in our meeting here, and all our conduct one towards another in the house of God and elsewhere.”
He was very keenly aware before his people that he would give an account and they would give an account. He goes on to say that in that day, “Truth and right shall be made plainly to appear, being stripped of every veil. And all error, falsehood, unrighteousness, and injury shall be laid open, stripped of every disguise… all false reasoning shall vanish in a moment, as not being able to bear the light of that day. And then our hearts will be turned inside out, and the secrets of them will be made more plainly to appear than our outward actions do now.”
Now I don’t know about you, but if you think about that long enough that’s frightening. I think it’s meant to be a warning in Scripture and it’s meant to make us sober. We’re not meant to lay down what we are leaving and leave. It’s meant to get our attention and to make us think of how serious our Christian walks must be.
Your Christian life, and your service to the Lord and His church is of the highest importance to God. What you do, say, and think is very important to the Lord and you will give an account for everything. How did you live your Christian life? You will be judged for your works at the Bema Seat judgment. This is of course not attributing to the saving work of Christ.
Let’s look back at the first part of verse 17, which is the function of the congregation to the church leaders. It says:
Obey your leaders and submit to them.
You’re to give responsive obedience to the teaching of the Word of God. Leaders here could also mean chief speakers, who are teaching the Scripture. The saints should heed the ministry and attend faithfully to the Word of God, like it says in Hebrews 10:25:
Do not forsake our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
That’s a key indication that someone is serious about following the Lord. Often teaching that is most needed in churches, but which is least desired. Teaching should encompass the whole counsel of God so that the congregation give responsive obedience to the teaching of the Word of God.
Now how did they do that? The first way is to be present when an elder is there to teach and instruct. If it’s a requirement of a father to make sure that his table is spread with good food for his family, then the requirement of the children is when the bell rings to get to the table.
Therefore it is the duty of all the sheep to be ready, on time, and in place unless they are providentially hindered and God intervenes. A lot of the lame excuses that I hear about why people don’t attend church or come to hear the preaching are pretty bad. It was Al Martin who said, if you don’t come, you are an open disrespect to the elders’ teaching, you are an open rebellion to Christ Himself, and grieve the author of the Word of God the Holy Spirit, and finally rob yourself of the Word of God.
Of course to be present with a right attitude is also important. You can be in church physically and not really be there. I hope that with all of this electronic stuff, you’re not really surfing the web while I’m preaching because we do have internet access. Preaching is for listening and engaging your heart, it’s not so that you can have 15 other things going on. Put those away and be ready to hear the Word of God. Come to church with a God-consciousness, come ready to meet God and His Word.
I love this passage of Scripture in acts 10:33, it says:
So I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.
People gathered together ready to listen. Isaiah said, “Hear the Word of the Lord, you who tremble at His Word.” So make sure you come with the right attitude.
Also come teachable. Come to church with the Thessalonian mindset, or better yet the Berean mindset. In Acts 17:11, it says:
Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
They came with reverent expectation and a clear, alert ready mind. Then it is your duty to prepare yourself before you come to hear the Word of God. If not, then you’re going to miss what the Lord has for you on that particular day which could providentially be an answer to your prayer. God can correct your thinking, strengthen your grace, or make you more joyful than you ever were before. Because this is a Word not from men but from God Himself. Exposition of the Word is important because it is not my Word but His that grows us.
All I know is that if a chief chef prepares a balanced meal of meat and potatoes with the proper veggies, protein, vitamins and minerals and his constituents are only prepared to eat hot dogs and fries, or spiritual junk food, then what would the chef think? That he is a terrible chef because no one wants to eat his food! Or maybe that he is in the wrong place, and that he is not in fact in a fine dining establishment but rather in a hot dog stand. Hot dogs are not the greatest source of nutrients for a healthy diet.
In any case, it would surely not make those who are teaching the Word of God feel that they are appreciated or needed or honored in any way. So how do you come to church and when we meet together? I pray that after hearing the Word of God, you would be prepared to come differently after today.
The Word of God is saying to obey your leaders and also to submit to them. You are to lead respectfully to their leading, just as it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:12:
But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction.
The Greek word to have charge over is to have authority over someone. There is nothing special about me or any of the other elders, it’s the office that God gives us and the calling that God gives elders. By this authority over you, it’s to be carried out within a certain sphere and the phrase in the Lord indicates that the shepherds are to lead in a spiritual leadership.
Before you were outside the sphere of the living God, but not because of Christ, you are in the sphere of the living God. Christians are not simply who have heard about God and trust Him. Rather, they live in Him day by day and all their deeds are done in Him. So their leaders also lead in the sphere of matters that belong to the Lord. The book of Acts records this in Acts 20:28:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
We’re watching over yourselves because you have been redeemed and bought from the slave market of sin, and you are Christ’s possession and very precious to Him. Your teachers can’t mess with you. Elders must exercise their authority with sensitivity to the congregation and with the posture of servants and examples, like what we already looked at in Hebrews 13:7, where it says:
Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.
They are to lead in this way so you can imitate and follow them, and that you would be an example for others to follow. Another passage of Scripture that I want to bring to your attention is 1 Thessalonians 5:13:
We request that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.
This verse gives us some help in understanding the implications of understanding this particular imperative. So the responsibility is to esteem the teachers in high measure. That means the members must have a willing spirit to be led and trained. This is an obedience based on Scripture and to a superlative measure of estimation.
And then it says to love the teachers deeply. The extent of the obedience is to be excessive and the depth of the obedience is to be in love. The leaders God gives the members of a local church are to be valued and respected because of their intrinsic worth of the job that God has called them to. Also in 1 Thessalonians 5:13 gives us insight on why we are to respond this way, which is because of their work.
We are to highly esteem these teachers because it is the Lord’s work, not their own, that they do. We are also to live in peace with one another. The congregation’s right relations with their spiritual leaders is essential to the maintenance of continued peace in our midst. That means that at the get-go, the members submit to their spiritual leaders so peace can be maintained and forward progress can be made.
So whenever there are faithful spiritual leaders and appreciative members, then the right conditions exist to lay the groundwork for spiritual success and progress in the work of the Lord. Those two things go together. Now, the pastor and elders has responsibility to the congregation and vice versa. You are to obey your leaders and submit to them, and we are to keep watch over your souls as ones who have to give an account.
Now, why? Well let’s look back to verse 17. The reason we are to harmonize these two things in this manner is to do it with joy. The verse says:
Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
We do this so that your spiritual leaders give an account before the Lord with joy, so that it would be profitable for you. We are going to meet again, and ministers are God’s servants and messengers sent forth by Christ to the people on His business. Then at some time, spiritual leaders must return to their Master and give an account on what has been done and the performance of their duties and the response they received from their people.
A good example of this was the accounting of God’s servants in Luke 14. If you remember the story, it goes like this in verses 16-24:
But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ “Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ “Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ “And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ “And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ “And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. ‘For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’”
The slave goes back to his master to report the responses. This passage is directed to Israel and the prophets that came one after another. They rejected the message of the prophets and killed them, as they did with Christ. The response one gives to God’s message is to be given as an account to God. Spiritual leaders must give an account of the people’s reception of them and the message they gave.
Matthew 10:40-41 says:
He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.
Those who receive them, receive them well and contributed their gifts and time and resources to the building up of the church and advancement of the gospel. They have good evidence that they themselves are saved and connected to Christ on that day of accounting. It will be a joyful day and a profitable, rewarding time for those who have been faithful.
I tell you when I came to this passage of Scripture, I didn’t want to preach it for this very reason. I felt the weight of responsibility more than ever when I came to this passage. I thought, you know what this is a good place to cut off Hebrews, let’s just stop here. But no, I couldn’t do that. I was mulling over for so long what the Word is saying here, until God made me to be more sober about what God is doing here.
You serving, worshiping, and listening to the Word of God, and me studying and the elders teaching to bring you the Word of God is the most serious matter. That’s what we are going to come before God with an account. It all matters how we deliver and receive the Word of God, and what we did with it afterwards in our every daily lives. Did we take living our Christian lives seriously and love Christ with our whole hearts. Are you serving Him with your gifts or are you making excuses for why you can’t? God wants to hear that you put Him first, and that He will carry things out when you put Him first.
He will take care of family matters and will give you opportunities to witness to people. He does what you cannot do when you put Him first. You can spin all the plates you want but when you put Christ first, you don’t have to spin any plates because He is Sovereign and Providential in every circumstance of our lives. He also takes accurate account of everything we do, we’re not playing a game here. In fact in 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 says this:
For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.
The congregation is the reward! How we treat each other, respond and grow with each other and in the Lord leads to something. If haven’t been living in a way that honors God, we need to change the way we we live. If you are displaying in your life things you have always displayed before conversion, maybe there never has been conversion. But if you are converted, then you need to take this seriously what the Lord is saying. You have to give an account before the Lord of me and I have to give an account before the Lord of you.
If you look at the passage of Scripture in Hebrews 13:17 again, why are we to harmonize congregation and church leadership? So that the leaders do not need to give an account before the Lord with grief! Which is unprofitable for you.
Those who cause faithful spiritual leaders much trouble and did not receive their message from Christ, it will not go well for them. Similar to what Christ told His disciples when they went out to preach the gospel in Mark 10:15. It says:
Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.
And then in Matthew 10:15 it says:
Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.
It’s serious and sobering and this group of people that the book of Hebrews was originally written to is made up of mostly Jewish people. He lays on them this accountability which is very familiar to a Jewish mind to give account of service. Spiritual leaders who are unfaithful, the people that day will rise up and judge them for their wickedness.
Faithful spiritual leaders will bear witness against their people’s unholy behavior and any troubles or controversies they will cause them. That means that perfect truth and balance take place in that sentence. The reason why is because Christ is passing the sentence and in His rewards He bestows, and in His punishments that He will inflict it will be a great day of finishing and rectifying all mistakes and abolishing all unrighteous judgments and confusions that have occupied our life while living among mankind.
Will it be an account of joy? Or will it be an account of grief and unprofitability. I pray that You and I would offer up acceptable worship to God that honors church leaders, and that church leaders would honor the Word of God and give it back to you. I know that those two things are pleasing to the Lord and are profitable for our spiritual growth and preparation for God’s presence. The end result is profitability before God to those who are faithful in the things God calls us to do in this Christian life and race that we are called to. We don’t have the privilege of getting off and sitting on the bench, we are to run and keep on until we finish. It’s the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. That is what we ought to think about every day so we can live our lives with great sobriety to give an account of each other before God.
The next verse that I will pick up on next time is verse 18, which says:
Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.
In this time in which we live with so much insecurity and instability, everyone is wondering what is going to happen tomorrow to the whole world! But you know that whatever happens in the world will not change God’s plan. God’s going to carry out everything He said He was going to do, but finish it too. He carried out the first chapter of the book, and will do so with the last chapter, and we are in the last chapter! Let’s finish together well, that’s my prayer.
Let’s pray. Lord, again I thank You for the Word of God, even though this section of Scripture had some weight to it. It’s so simple, in just one passage of Scripture you laid out before us what we ought to do both from a pastoral and a congregational perspective. Lord, You have made us believers in Christ Jesus and connected us to each other. I pray that today You would make us and keep us faithful. I pray that we would help each other be faithful and respond to the Word of God. I pray that You would continue to keep pastors and elders who faithfully preach the Word of God. I pray that You would keep me faithfully studying the Word so that I can give it out. Help me to do it better every day. I pray that You would give our people listening ears and responsive hearts, these are people who know the Word of God corrects them and builds them up, makes them like you, and prepares them for Your presence. And Your Word allows them to know things that they would never have known if they weren’t a believer because they are found only in the Scriptures.
So I pray Lord that we would bow before You humbly. Thank You for the great privilege of being a Christian. Thank You for the privilege of having the Word of God and this church and each other. I pray that we would pray for one another to be faithful and that on that day it will be a time of great joy, reward, and profit. I ask that this would be the case for us. Thank You Lord again and we cast our cares about You Lord. If there is anxiety and worry in our hearts, please guard us from these things. Provide Your peace that surpasses all understanding so that we can think on things that are worthy of praise. I pray as we think on these things that our minds would be transformed more and more by Your Word and that we would learn every day what is the good, acceptable and perfect Word of God. Thank You Lord, again, and I praise You in Christ’s Name, Amen.