FrontLine • May/June 2007
Hebrews 13:7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
Hebrews 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
The contemporary church is fraught with many problems related to Christian leadership. Three are at the forefront: leaders who demand absolute authority over their followers; leaders whose sins are so blatant that they have forfeited the privilege of leadership; and Christians who believe that they may function autonomously. These two verses set forth God’s requirements for both leaders and followers.
The developing theme of Hebrews, the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ, gives motivation for the Christian life. Old Testament heroes of faith in chapter 11 are martyred examples. Jesus is the supreme example in chapter 12. Chapter 13 adds earthly examples that should be followed because of the outcome. Paul instructed, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Properly applied, this portion of Hebrews presents a dual responsibility to prevent and correct problems that attract much public attention today.
Bible believers often overlook important teaching because they depend on modern uses of words or informal meanings rather than investigating the Biblical terms or comparing Scripture with Scripture. Consider some important wording in the seventh and seventeenth verses of Hebrews 13.
Remember (mnemoneuete) is more than a call for casual recollection. It is an imperative requiring action. Even indicative uses expect a resultant action. Hebrews 11:22 reminds us that Joseph “made mention” (emnoneusen) and then gave a commandment. An application is expected in the call of Peter (2 Peter 3:2) to “be mindful” (mnesthenai) of the teachings of the apostles and commandments of the Lord.
Them which have the rule over you translates one word (hegoumenon), literally the [ones] leading. The 1611 AV includes the marginal reading “are the guides.” Joseph, called a governor in Acts 7:10, is literally a leader. His leadership authority was derived from a greater authority and his concern for the welfare of those over whom he had been appointed.
Follow (mimeisthe), the source of the English word “mimic,” leaves no question about the degree to which we are to follow. Considering (anatheorountes) is literally to look again, to look attentively with the sense of examining critically. The word occurs in Acts 17:23, where Paul inspected, considered, contemplated the Athenian idols, and reached a conclusion. End (ekbasin), literally “to go out,” implies here the outcome or result. Conversation is an obsolete English usage. The former meaning was “conduct,” corresponding to the Greek anastrophes with the figurative meaning of behavior or lifestyle.
Obey (peithesthe) in this use has the sense of obedience produced by being convinced or believing. Submit (hupeikete) is simply to yield. Watch (agrupnousin) is to be sleepless, to stay awake, hence to be alert. Give (apodosontes) means to render, in the sense of accounting for behavior (Matt. 12:36) or to deliver the produce of a vineyard to the owner (Matt. 21:41). Grief (stenazontes), literally “groaning,” is the expression of discontent or displeasure.
The command “Remember” calls attention to examples. Remember the Old Testament examples of faith. Remember the faithfulness of Christ. Likewise remember the example of those who brought you the Word of God. Their faith, philosophy of life, and pattern of conduct produce beneficial results for them and those who follow.
There is something about human nature, especially in our present age, that rebels against the concept of someone “ruling over” us. Counseling is a popular topic and activity today. Yet both secular and Christian guidance is often rejected or ignored. Those seeking counseling often ignore the guide that God has given. It is important that we understand the term used here—“leading” or “guiding.” No better guidance is available than that which comes from God because it is based on His authority and has our welfare as its goal.
Both “obey” and “submit” evoke innate resistance to instruction. This obedience is not the result of sovereign imposition but of being convinced and believing. It is not difficult to follow that which one believes. There comes a point at which one who is convinced “yields.” Leaders, therefore, have the responsibility to convince and lead to belief instead of demanding.
Believers have the duty to follow those who bring them the Word of God because the result is of great benefit. Failure to do so is unprofitable, even hurtful. An equally solemn responsibility is placed upon pastors and teachers. They must give account to God for the results produced in the lives of followers as a steward must account for the produce of a vineyard. That accounting can bring joy or grief. The pastor/teacher groans when his sheep go astray. The grief is even greater when he fails to heed a further admonition in 1 Timothy 4:16. Worthy leaders produce worthy followers.
(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 2007. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)