Hebrews 13:17

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning …” (Heb. 13:17).

Over the course of our Christian walk, we face many hardships and trials that would attempt to lead us away from Jesus. If we had to trust in our own efforts, we would never make it. Apart from the sustaining grace of God, which is ours through His sovereign decree and irresistible call, we would by no means persevere until the end.

However, God has decreed that while He alone guarantees our perseverance, the fact that we are called to cling to Jesus means that perseverance is worked out through our decisions. God makes certain the final salvation of all of His elect, but He does this by decreeing and then granting the means by which His elect make the decision to remain in the faith that He has given to them.

God ensures that we will make this decision by giving us a heart willing to obey His exhortations. After He sovereignly regenerates us, we receive the desire to obey His command and strengthen ourselves for the race ahead (Heb. 12:12–13).

As we have seen over the past two days, one of the ways we do this is by living a life of worship reflected both in praise to God and in service to neighbor (13:15–16). Today’s verse tells us that another way we can become conditioned for the race and live a life transformed by the Gospel is to obey our leaders (v. 17).

This verse tells us that we must obey our leaders because “they are keeping watch over” our souls. Godly and mature Christian leaders deserve our respect and submission because they are concerned for our growth. Jesus, the supreme Bishop of our souls (1 Peter 2:25), uses them to help us grow to maturity.

Moreover, we must obey only those church leaders who watch over our souls. Regrettably, there are many who come to leadership in the church who have no concern for the flock and are in it only for the power. John Calvin, in his comments on this verse, reminds us that such leaders deserve neither reverence nor confidence.

We should not, however, let this fact make us expect that our leaders be perfect. Apart from Jesus, no servant of God has ever been perfect. When we see godly and caring elders, we must overlook the minor faults (which attest to our being human) and submit to their care. For in submitting to them, we show that we submit to Christ.

Coram Deo

Do you submit to the decisions of the elders in your church even when you do not agree with them completely? Or, do you let minor mistakes give you an excuse not to submit to your leaders? Go before the Lord in prayer and ask Him to give your leaders godliness and wisdom. Then, ask Him to help you submit to your leaders.

For Further Study