There always has been resistance by some church members to follow their leadership. One striking example is the Israelites continual uprising against Moses’ leadership. To some extent this seems puzzling since God intervened so directly in the people’s lives and the people knew for a fact that God directly spoke to Moses. Yet, it makes sense in light of the sin nature imputed to all of us through Adam. The underlying tension, stress, depression or hopelessness caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified many church members’ resistance to follow their leadership. What probably would have happened over a period of time has been accelerated by COVID-19.
The text of Day 156 of the Professor Horner Bible Reading Plan that stood out to me was Hebrews 13:17 (ESV), which reads:
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, for that would be of no advantage to you.
My initial focus was on some people in our local church body who acted in such a fashion so as to in no way “let” the leaders carry out their leadership roles “with joy and not with groaning.” In fact, I believe causing leaders “groaning” was their goal. While I believe my initial focus has merit and is the most transparent teaching of the passage, as I began to more closely examine the text, I realized this text also teaches that church leaders bear a responsibility to lead well.
What expanded my focus? The two Bible study components that expanded focus were the context of verse 17 and the meaning of the Greek verb peithō (which the ESV translates as “obey.”
In reference to the context, to gain an understanding of the context, I looked at the text before and after verse 17 that related to leaders and people’s actions in the church body. One verse that stood out was Hebrews 13:7 (ESV), which reads:
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
This verse teaches that for folks to “remember” their church leaders who must live lives worthy of imitation. In other words, the leaders must live in a way consistent with God’s Word.
Hebrews 11 provides another context relevant to leaders when it presents a list of people who displayed great faith and whose lives one would want to emulate. Still Hebrews 13:18 (ESV) gave me contextual insight that leaders must have a clear conscience and act honorably in all things:
18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.
The overall context of verse 17 appears to emphasize that the “leaders” who the people are supposed to “obey” and “submit to” must live lives worthy of emulation. Such lives include speaking the Word of God, having a clear conscience, living honorably, and displaying great faith.
In reference to the meaning of the Greek verb peithō, the Logos 8 Exegetical Guide describes the sense to be “to obey, with the connotation of being persuaded that the course of action is correct.” Greek-English lexicons present the primary definition of peithō to mean to persuade or convince. A secondary meaning is to obey or to follow. See Bloomfield, S. T. (1840). A Greek and English Lexicon to the New Testament. London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longmans; Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. One sees that obedience can be dependent on the leaders persuasively communicating that the plan of action is consistent with biblical teaching. Only when the people are convinced the plan of action is biblical will they follower their leaders.
In conclusion, while I believe Hebrews 13:17 presents a primary teaching that pertains to church folk in that they must obey and submit to their leadership, it also has a teaching for leaders. In order for leaders to expect the people to obey and submit to them they need to clearly communicate the substance of the plan of action and live lives worthy of emulation which includes speaking the Word of God, having a clear conscience, living honorably, and displaying great faith.
The leader-oriented teaching is consistent with guidance found in Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch. At pages 121-23, Strauch makes the following points about how the elders should lead the congregation. Elders should be humble, loving and servant leaders. They should not be authoritative rulers. Along this line, elders should be careful not to extend their leadership authority into areas in which believers have the right to disagree and be different. Elders are to protect the church from false teaching, teach the Word, and guide the congregation in making decisions and solving problems. The elders must always seek Christ’s will and direction
The Professor Grant Horner Bible Reading System is a great 500 day Bible reading plan. The following link presents a description of the plan ( https://sohmer.net/media/professor_grant_horners_bible_reading_system.pdf). My goal has been to share my thoughts on the passage that stood out the most for me this day.
If you are reading this post and are not a Christian, unless God intervenes, your eternal destination is hell. But, your destiny can change. Today can be the day of your salvation. Please see my blog (https://stevebelsheim.com/2020/04/20/for-god-so-loves-you-2/) for a description of how you can be saved.
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