Following Godly Leadership (Hebrews Sermon 70 of 74)
July 01, 2012 | Andrew Davis
Church Membership, Church Government (Polity), Authority and Submission in the Church
I. The Importance of Spiritual Leadership
So what makes a Godly spiritual leader? There is a big industry around answering that question. The industry involves the writing of books, the putting on of conferences, various other materials that you can buy, church leadership out of a box, amen. It's just incredible. So the question in front of such an industry is, what makes a successful church leader? What are you looking for in a successful... Whenever you see that word successful, be afraid, be very afraid, when it's connected to that topic.
But what is it? John Maxwell has made a living answering that question, that name may not be familiar to many of you, but it's familiar to me. And I once got a set of... They were tapes back then, that's what they did back then. Tapes. You guys remember tapes? Cassette tapes. I'm not talking 8tracks, cassette tapes, on a senior pastor profile. And he was listing out various character traits of a senior pastor. Let me just give you as much a snippet of this as I can stomach communicating. And you'll get a sense of it.
"He needs to be charismatic in personality and style. No one wants a friend that makes them feel bad about themselves. The moment you can get people to think more about themselves, you have developed charisma. A senior pastor needs to have showmanship without showing off."
I hope I'm not talking myself out of a job here, but I'm going to keep going,
"An item needs to be done in a way that's above average, unique, special, memorable, classy."
Classy. Look that up in your concordance, see if you can find classy in the Bible.
"A senior pastor needs to be a pied piper of people."
By the way, isn't that like a story of a kidnapper of kids? I think that's a bad story, isn't it? I'm digressing again and again. I'm just going to read this.
"A person that people enjoy following because of his charisma, his charm, his personal magnetism. A senior pastor needs a winning smile, a sense of humor, a charming personality. Ideally, a senior pastor will present himself well physically, he should be in shape and attractive."
By the way, let me know when that goes and I'll retire. No, I won't. Let's keep going,
"He needs to be confident. When you begin to have a true real confidence about yourself,"
Oh boy, how do I even say those words? Self-confidence that means trusting in yourself, doesn't it? Okay, let's keep going,
"The people will begin to have confidence in you. In other words, confidence breeds confidence. A senior pastor should develop some area of high achievement and base his confidence on that skill set. He needs to be a good communicator. Senior pastor needs to have a good media presence, he must be a salesman, he must be able to sell snowballs to Eskimos. He must be able to close the deal, cause the crowd to march in a certain direction. He must be able to move people emotionally, from where they are to where the pastor wants them to be."
That's about it, friends, that's all I can handle. So much for John Maxwell. The longer I listened to those tapes I was yearning, begging, desiring a single scripture verse, somewhere. Because friends that just isn't biblical. And he's not the only one. There are lots of books that basically what they do is they plunder the secular corporate world for principles, leadership principles, Fortune 500 companies, that kind of thing, Amazon.com, Google.com, Ben and Jerry's, Walmart. Try to find what works out there in the secular world and just make a key critical assumption that those same principles will work well in the church. That is a faulty assumption.
And as a matter of fact, Jesus challenged that very assumption in Matthew Chapter 20. You remember that time when James and John sought to get close to Jesus and angle for a position in the kingdom, you remember the coming kingdom. Grant that we may sit at your right and your left. And so the other 10 were indignant with the two, not because of the whole approach, but that they hadn't thought of it first, I think. And that James and John had the inside track now on those positions of privilege. So Jesus drew them aside, all of them. And He said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
For Jesus, then the center piece of true spiritual leadership was self-sacrifice for the good of the people. For the good of the flock really. Ultimately though, stepping aside from that passage, I think good leadership, Godly leadership is influence, it's the ability to change hearts and influence people to obey God. I think that's what it is. And you're going to do that, I'm speaking truthfully now from the Scripture, you're going to do that by the ministry of the Word and by your own obedience to the Word, by your own example. So that's what God's given leaders to be leaders, they are to influence others for Christ by means of the ministry of the Word and their own godly obedience to the Word, their example. This is absolutely vital in the church, every member of the church is fighting just in mortal combat with the world, the flesh, and the devil for the health of their souls.
And so the Bible frequently portrays the people of God as a flock, as sheep who need a shepherd. Or as we believe shepherds. We must have godly shepherds. We must have Godly spiritual leaders. We cannot be left on our own.
II. Remembering and Imitating Past Leaders (vs. 7)
Now, this passage in Hebrews (13:7-9 and 13:17-19) is not so much about identifying Godly leaders, but about what to do when you have them. And specifically how to follow them. In my opinion, it breaks into two sections. They're separated by other verses. So I'm putting together by this concept of leadership, basically, effectively verse 7 and verse 17. Verse 7, speaking I think about dead leaders, those that have gone before us, who have finished their race and have had an influence in our lives to remember them. And then verse 17, living leaders, the ones you have right now. So that's essentially what we're looking at today. And the passage is about how to follow them, how to be... How to get the most out of their leadership, how to get the most out of their influence for the health of your own souls. And perhaps a secondary theme would be, how to be one yourself, I think. So the future generations will want to follow your godly example. So I think that's all wrapped up in this as well. So look at verse 7, "Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you, consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith."
So, who are these leaders? I've already tipped my hand a bit. These leaders, I think, are leaders that have gone before, they're no longer leading, they're dead. The reason I get that is, there's a past tense here, a tense of the verb. They spoke the word of God to you in the past. Even if they're not dead, even if they've moved on out of your life, you no longer have them on a daily basis, speaking the Word of God into your lives. And their way of life. Their life is now completed. We'll talk about the Greek word that gives me a sense that they're dead. It's this word escape. NIV translates it: "Outcome."
Starting with the Mind: Remember them, Consider them
But basically you are to consider them. And it starts with the mind, "Remember them and consider them. Do you see those words? These are thinking words. The way you get the most out of your leaders is to think about them, it's a battle of the mind. And so simply just stepping away from this for just a moment, Christians are to lead thoughtful lives, you're to be thinkers. Your minds are to be active all the time. And in this space, in this space here, in verse 7, we're told to remember leaders and consider them. We're going to be thinking. Here we come to one of my favorite topics there is in the Christian life, and that's church history. That we should make the most of church history, that we should study those who went before us, and try to find out how they lived. These Godly leaders that went before us, and to imitate them, ultimately, to esteem them.
Now, the author is not wanting us to go too far in all of this as some have done. We are to esteem them, we are to hold them in reverence, we are to study them for the purpose of imitation. But we are not to worship them. In the Medieval Catholic church, there was a cult of saints. The departed, the Saints had gone before. And basically, in the medieval Catholic system they divided the members of the church into two categories, there were saints and sinners, and so if you were a saint, you went straight to Heaven, voted there by the College of Cardinals. But if you were an ordinary Christian you were going to purgatory. So it's a two-tier system. Now, the saints that went before would get special jobs, some of them anyway, up in heaven, they could become the patron saint of this or that or the other. There are three great categories of patron saints, there is the patron saint of a certain problem that you may have. There's the patron saint of a certain occupation you may have, and there are patron saints of locations, geographical locations. That's how it all worked.
I'm not going to go on… I have long lists of various saints and what they did. It's like going to the right department in the federal government. And so you would go to the patron saint of snake bites, poisonous reptile bites. I'm not going to tell you his name, but there is one. Or the patron saint of Durham England. I looked up, there's not one for Durham, North Carolina, as far as I know, but perhaps Saint Cuthbert can do double duty on all the Durhams that there are. So that's the saint of geographical locations, or of bakers, or engineers. I looked up that one too. There is a patron saint of engineers. I frankly think this is just thinly veiled polytheism, is all it is. It's just polytheism. You go to a certain god or goddess who had a certain responsibility in a certain area and they looked after it for you. It got even worse, because there was a whole calendar, a church calendar around feast sub-saints, and they would be honored in specific ways in certain days, even with pilgrimages to certain shrines, where parts of their dead bodies were like skulls and finger bones, perhaps in glass cases, and you could reverence them, not worship just veneration, so they were told.
I'm not sure if the average peasant knew the difference, I believe, and I think you do too, that the author to Hebrews would be horrified at that. That's not healthy church history, not at all. It's not what the author had in mind. Rather, it's just a healthy understanding of what went before you, so you can learn the lessons of these godly men and women, and learn lessons from their lives, and imitate them. So we're supposed to remember who they were, and how they poured into our lives. So it could be even someone in your own life who's now moved on. A godly parent, a mother or a father. A role model, a pastor, who years ago a poured into your life. Remember them, think about them, consider how they lived.
For me, it's just the glorious chain of church history. It goes even beyond. We have brothers and sisters that lived centuries before us, and by reading good historical accounts of their lives, we can be inspired and motivated. I would urge you to do it. Become basically familiar with the Roman martyrs, what went on during the first few centuries after Christ, and how people laid down their lives, like Polycarp, who was martyred in Smyrna. And just an incredible account of his life Eusebius gives us. And Augustine, a great theological church father, and how his thinking affected the centuries that followed, his debates with the Pelagius. Who the Pelagians were, what the danger was there.
Athanasius, who fought against the Arians, and that's just Jehovah's Witness doctrine, that Jesus is a created being. I mean, just to know church history, and to study and to realize what a royal family, we belong to. And how... And it's inspired me when I've gone through challenging times in my own ministry that I would elevate to the name of suffering, to then look at people who really suffered, the ones that bled and died for our faith, the ones that bled and died so we can have a Bible to read, like William Tyndale. And they were willing to suffer and die, rather than to give up on points of doctrine. They fought for the faith. They earnestly contended for it so they could pass it on pure to the next generation.
Remember them and consider, he says, the outcome of their way of life. Now that's NIV's translation. The Greek word is escape. Consider there escape, as the way it's translated in 1 Corinthians 10, how God, when you're tempted, will not tempt you beyond what you can bear but in the middle of the temptation will make a way of escape for you. Get out of it, right? I'm longing for escape from all temptation, amen. Let's escape from it all. Well, there's only one way to do that. In that case, as Paul says that you would have to leave this world. Well, they left this world. That's why I think he's talking about dead leaders. And so, they're gone, they left, and that's why they're especially vital to us. The ones that are still living are vulnerable, they might disappoint you, actually. Pray that they wont. We'll get to that at the end. But they're still in the fight. And some of us have had our hearts broken by leaders who didn't finish their race well, but these people did, they ran and ran and ran and ran and then they hit the finish line and they won, they won. So look at that.
They ran their race with endurance right to the end. Paul said to Timothy, "I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure…" Same idea, it's time for me to leave. I fought the good fight, I finished the race, I've kept the faith, now imitate me." That's what he's saying.
And so, we go from thinking here, remember or consider, we go to imitation. Mimoúmai is the Greek verb from which we get mimeograph or mimic or mime, means to imitate, to follow examples. So these leaders are in heaven. They have fought the good fight, they finished the race, and they were welcomed by God Almighty into heaven. "Well done, good and faithful servant." Welcomed in. They don't need anything from you. They have received far better commendation than you have the ability to give them.
They don't need anything, they're fine. Just fine, thank you very much. This is for your benefit that you honor them for your benefit. Why? So that you'll repent from weakness and sins and run better, and fight better, and imitate their lives. Imitate their faith. And some day, you also will be someone worthy of emulation, worthy of imitation, because you fought well, you ran well, and you ran right to the finish line. How many kings are there in the Bible in First, Second Kings, Chronicles, who started well but didn't end well? There's a handful of them. I don't want to be one of those. I don't want to be like that, I don't want you to be like that, I don't want you to run well today, but not run well 10 years from now. Now, we can't control 10 years from now, each day has enough trouble of its own, but run well today, today.
So that someone can imitate you. You can say to them, "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ." 1 Corinthians 11:1. Or as Paul says, "Join with others in following my example brothers. And take note of those who live according to the pattern of Christian life that we gave you." And as he said in Chapter 4, Philippians 4, "Whatever you've learned or received or heard from me..." That's doctrine, "Or seen in me..." That's example, "Put it into practice and the God of peace will be with you…" Oh, for a generation of leaders will say something like that. That takes courage to say that, doesn't it? But we need those kind of leaders. Christian life is both taught and caught. Not just one or the other. There's a pattern of doctrine, there's a pattern of living, and there's some things that you really can only learn by example. I think being a godly husband or a godly wife is best learned, I think, by example.
Learning By Example
I think the scriptures are there to instruct us, but then as someone lives it out, it just comes to life and you can see what it means, what it means to be a godly husband or a godly wife, an older woman who can commend to the younger women what it means to be a godly, submissive, helper suitable for your husband. Or what it means to be a Christ-like husband to your wife. It's just demeanor, facial expression, stuff happens and people can watch how you react. How to suffer well in persecution. Paul commended his own example in that, he said to Timothy, "You saw what happened to me in Antioch, I can't even illustrate the kind of persecutions I endured. You saw how I lived, now do the same thing when you suffer."
How to witness. I think witnessing, I think, is learned very well by example. Follow me, let's go share the gospel and just watch. How to get in a conversation with a total stranger, how to turn that conversation from general things to more personal things. How to get to the Gospel, somewhere he didn't want to go when you began talking. But you're there at the end, because you led there in a very sweet, loving way. How do you do that? Well, some of it is just by role modeling, just learn how to do it. These things are learned, I think, by godly examples. And we need that, how to pray, how to intercede for others. Just as well, the disciples are watching Jesus pray it's like, "Teach us to pray like that." Just watching it and listening to it.
And so application for us, are you doing just simply what the verse says? Are you thinking about the people who poured into your lives, the ones who are role models for you, are you thinking about what they did in your lives? And are you imitating their example? And are you studying church history, to learn those that went before that can pour into your life still by their writings and by what was written about them. Are you learning their example so you can imitate their faith and have their outcome? And are you living in such a way, like in that Steve Green song, may all who come behind us find us faithful, may the foot steps of our lives be worth following. As people are up in the attic of our lives and rummaging through the closet of our lives and seeing mementos. Are they seeing a life of faithfulness to Jesus, that's worth emulation?
Very convicting, isn't it? I want to be a role model the rest of my life. And I don't want there to be any skeletons in the closet. I don't want anybody to rummage and find anything. I just want to live a godly holy life, right through. So that's what he's saying to do.
III. Understanding the Only Unchangeable Leader: Jesus Christ (vs. 8)
Verse 8, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Oh, how glorious is that verse? Our unchanging God, our unchanging savior. But the question that's in front of me is why is this verse here? This is something an exegete asks, other people don't ask it, they just stick it on a 3 by 5 card, or on a poster, or a piece of Christian stationary. Amen, Hallelujah, put it there, it's a great verse.
But I'm asking a harder question. Why is it between verses 7 and verses 9? Why is it here? Maybe it's just like the book of Proverbs and there's no good reason, it's just here, but I don't think so. I think there is a connection and there's a flow here. I don't think he's getting at the idea of the deity of Christ and the fact that as God Jesus never changes, that is true, it's a marvelous truth. The unchanging deity of Christ. The same yesterday and today and forever. He can never be a better savior to you than he is right now. He will never improve, he cannot get worse, he's the unchanging God. Still less do I think that it could be used the way some charismatics used this verse to say, that Jesus does the same thing in every case that he did back then, that kind of thing. I don't think that argument works.
I'm not a cessationist, I don't think you can find biblical arguments for the ending of the sign gifts, I'm talking about speaking in tongues, prophecy, healings, miracles, those kinds of things. I don't believe in cessationism from scripture. But I just like to use the Bible properly. And that's not what this verse is saying, it doesn't even work. Okay, the way the argument goes, Jesus gave the power to drive out demons, and to heal the sick, and raise the dead, to his apostles, right there in Matthew 10. And so He does, He's the same yesterday, and today and forever, and so we should have the same power today. Well, you've missed some key steps, some key steps are missing, I'm not going to go into all of them. Just like if you were to look at, I think in Matthew 10:5, the beginning of that whole commissioning, he said, "Do not go to the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans."
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever, so we need to not go to any Gentile towns or enter any village of the Samaritans. Well, we know that that was temporary, don't you know that that was temporary? We are to go into all the world and preach to every Gentile town, we're to go into Samaria, etcetera. So you just need to be a little more careful thinking about your acts to Jesus. That's not what this verse is teaching. Why is it here?
Okay. Well, verse 7 is talking about Godly leaders. What is verse nine talking about? "Do not be carried away by false teaching." You see that? This verse bridges between those two. Jesus is the ultimate Shepherd of the church. He never changes, His doctrine never changes, the Gospel never changes. So don't accept new teachers that come with strange diverse doctrines. That's what I think the author is doing here. Be willing to stand up and to realize that Jesus Christ is the same, Jesus is the ultimate Shepherd of the church, the elders are merely under shepherds, under Jesus. 1 Peter 5 teachers this, "Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers." 1 Peter 5:2, and then 1 Peter 5:4, "When the Chief Shepherd appears, then you'll receive the crown." So what does that imply? We're not the chief shepherd, we're under shepherds. Elders are. He is the true leader of the church, and he cannot die.
All of those leaders in verse 7, they all die at some point, just like all the priests in the old covenant, they all die. Jesus will never die. And he is the true leader, the true role model, the true example in every generation unchanging, I think that's what the author is getting at here. When I think of this, I think of the vision that the elderly, Apostle John had on the island of Patmos, of the glorified resurrected Jesus. Marvelous image that is, in a long white robe, the golden sash around his chest. Head and hair white like wool, his eyes like blazing fire, his feet like burnished bronze, and He's moving through the seven golden lamp stands, and those lamb stands represent individual local churches, and he's ministering to those individual local churches. He is the Chief Shepherd of each individual local church. How powerful is that image?
Jesus is the only Shepherd that's been here since 1845, here at FBC. Only one. Through every generation it's been Jesus, the same yesterday, today and forever. It's his flock that he bought with His blood, none of the elders shed their blood for the flock, it is His church. And I think that's what the author is giving us here. And so just for application, just thank Jesus daily for His shepherding work in the church, that He's shepherding yesterday, today, forever, always the same. And as he shepherds you just think this way, if he loved me yesterday, he'll love me today, and if he'll love me today, he'll love me forever. It is an everlasting love that he's loved me with and he'll never stop.
He's the same in loving me and shepherding me. And marvel at the security of his unchanging leadership, his doctor never changes, His love of the Church never changes, he is a good shepherd in every generation, tending his flock around the world.
IV. Understanding the Threat of False Leaders (vs. 9)
Understand also, in verse 9, the threat of false leaders. I'm not going to do all of verse 9 today, but just part of it, I'm going to talk more about it God willing, next time. And in Verse 9 it says, "Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings, it is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods," et cetera. I'm going to talk more about strengthening by grace next time. But I just want to talk here about the constant threat of false doctrine, false teachers. The church is to be the pillar and foundation of the truth.
We're told in 1 Timothy. In every generation, however, there are false teachers who come to assault the very life of the church, the very life blood of the church by false doctrine. And to try to move the church from its secure position. So the danger here is false doctrine, which the writer calls "strange teachings" or "diverse and foreign doctrines" would be a translation. So diverse to get the sense of varied or mixed. And so the opposite of that would be the perfectly integrated doctrine of the Bible, it's perfectly integrated. The Bible fits together perfectly, it comes from one mind, the mind of God, it's beautiful how the Bible speaks of one truth, ultimately Christ, to us with a unified voice. Different human authors, different eras in which the Bible books were written, but this unified, consistent, integrated doctrine. But here comes these diverse doctrines. Varied, and strange, alien, alien.
It reminds me of John 10 where Jesus says, He's the good shepherd, and the sheep listen to His voice and they will not follow the voice of another. They recognize, "Now, that's a strange voice, I don't go there." You just have an instinct, you have an anointing and you know the truth when you hear it. Because you are a truly children of God. And so beware of false doctrines, listen and test everything. Don't be carried away, it says, it talks about being carried away. I get the image of some desert raiders, that come in from the desert on horseback and just ride through the camp and sweep off with hostages, carrying away weak people, carried away by false doctrine. Another image more nautical I guess, is in Ephesians 4:14, talks about us no longer being "infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching, and by the cunning and crafty-ness of men and their deceitful scheming."
So that's instability, or just easily moved away by false doctrine. Rather than a good ministry is rooting and establishing people in the Word of God so they're not easily moved. They're not infants anymore, they've grown up, they're mature now, they can identify false doctrine, and not be easily moved by it. It's a constant warning in the New Testament, concerning this. As I've said before, three great assaults on the church and every generation, worldliness, persecution, and false doctrine. These are the three great satanic attacks. Of the three false doctrine is the most serious. And so, there are warnings again and again, the apostle Paul to... In his farewell address to the Ephesians elders in Acts 20, he says, "I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number, men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So, be on your guard. Remember that for three years, I never stopped warning each of you, night and day, with tears."
From your own number, savage wolves will grow up not sparing the flock. 2 Peter 2:1-2, "There will be false teachers among you secretly introducing destructive heresies. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute." 2 Peter 3:17, "Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position." So the secure position comes from good teaching from the scripture, Be on your guard against false teachers so you don't get swept away. Same image here. 2 John 9-10, "Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God, does not have God. Whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him." It's a warning here.
And so instead, it's good for us to be strengthened by the doctrine of grace. Now, I'm going to defer most of my comments about the strengthening to next time. It's a sweet teaching. It's better to be strengthened by grace than by food, amen. Next time, next time. Oh no, he's going to preach about food, I don't know about... Is that a whole sermon on food? Well, not a whole sermon, but a portion of a sermon on food. But here it's contrasting the doctrines of grace and this Jewish legalism that's talking about the meat sacrifice to God, the... Our altar, and we have an altar that's been established by Christ, and so he's talking about Jewish legalists here, I think. And what they did is they basically said, "You have to obey the law of Moses, you have to be circumcised, and you have to follow all of the laws and regulations, or you'll be lost." And so he says, "No, we've got a Gospel of grace. We've got a Gospel of grace, and the grace is contrasted with works, grace versus works. Romans 11:6 makes that clear contrast. If it is by grace, then it's no longer by works. If it were, grace would no longer be grace. So we have a gospel of grace, hallelujah.
If you're an unbeliever, if you're lost, if you're outside Christ, I think God brought you here for the next minute or two. Listen. The gospel of grace, what is grace? Grace is a determination inside the heart of God to do you eternal good even though you deserve eternal condemnation. That's what grace is. From that determination of God flows out all kinds of good stuff. And that grace came before the foundation of the world, this grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. So that brings you right into the doctrine of predestination or election.
These are the doctrines of grace, so they're called. And by grace, God has chosen to be gracious to sinners who do not deserve anything but his wrath, and he knows them by name and they are elect. And by grace, he sent his son in the world, and His Son shed His blood for them. He died in their place to take away the wrath of God, and by grace. He was raised on the third day for our justification. And He has given us this gospel message that is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, not by works, but by simple faith in Jesus. If you just trust in Jesus as the Son of God, and you put your trust in Him, all of your sins will be forgiven. Taken from you, laid on Jesus, and you will not go to hell, but instead live for ever and ever. It's good to be strengthened by grace, a man to have that message. The doctrine of grace strengthen you and those whom God for new He predestined not just to start, but to finish to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first born among many brothers and those He predestined, He also called, and those He called, He also justified. And all of those that get justified are going to get glorified, amen. Not one will be lost.
It's good to be strengthened by that and not by legalism. So don't be carried away by diverse and strange teachings, that mix human legalism together with the true gospel.
V. Submitting to Godly Leaders (vs. 17)
Now, I want you to skip ahead in your Scripture there to Verse 17. We've been talking in verse 7 about dead leaders, those who have gone before, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever, and the danger, the ongoing threat of false doctrine. Look at verse 17, "Obey your leaders, and submit to their authority, they keep watch over you as men who must give an account, obey them so that their work will be a joy not a burden. For that would be of no advantage to you." Well, friends, this is a very straight forward command. It's not hard to understand what it says. Obey and submit. These are the words, the word obey means do what's commanded, Submit really has to do with an arraying of yourself under someone, because they have been given a position of God-ordained authority, that's what it means.
So submit always, always has connection to a position of God-ordained authority, always. And so, fundamentally here, those who have been put in authority submit to them and obey them. Well, who is it talking about? Well, these leaders, I don't believe are government leaders, and they're not the dead leaders, church leaders of Verse 7, they're living, because it's an ongoing issue in Verse 17. They're not government leaders in Romans 13, who ruled by the sword, and the laws for wicked, evil doers and law breakers and all that. Not for the upright. So they have the sword. Rulers with the sword hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong, it's not talking about that here. These are spiritual leaders, these are shepherds of souls, these are shepherds, these are people who will give an account for your soul. These are elders in the church. The elders are established as spiritual leaders, they're are shepherds of souls, they keep watch over your souls, they give an account on Judgment Day for your soul for your spiritual health.
They are established in spiritual authority by Jesus Christ himself, Christ raises up these men to lead His church under his overall authority. As we mentioned a moment ago, He's the Chief Shepherd, they merely the under shepherds, as we understand a church government, these leaders are men, who are set apart as elders, in a plurality, it's, "Obey your leaders," there's a plural here.
And they're given a dual responsibility of teaching and leadership, of setting godly course of leadership, administering the ministries of the church. They are men and not women, because in 1 Timothy 2, Paul says, "I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over man, she must be silent." And in the very next chapter, he gives the description of the Office of elder, and the requirements. Those requirements are spiritual in nature. You're not going to find that Fortune 500 Forbes stuff, in 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1, you're going to find spiritual criteria. And it's not... The church isn't led at that point by committees, committees of the willing, maybe some of you in the past have served on the nominating committee, do you guys remember the nominating committee and the job of making phone calls to people, those committees? And you've got the committees of the willing, and those people get plugged and chugged into certain slots and it's all very troublesome, for me ultimately, because it's not biblical.
Instead, you have 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, spiritual requirements for elders and they lead the church. These are those who must teach and preach the Word of God, manage the affairs of the church to make decisions for the successful growth of the church numerically and in spiritual maturity. Now, what is the nature of this obedience, and the nature of this submission? Well, first, it's not blind, implicit obedience such as demanded by tyrants or by cult leaders. Such blind and total submission to the authority of a man in a church office, characterize the fallacy, the error, the heresy of the papacy, of the Pope. Of this one individual, the Vicar of Christ on Earth, so he was called. I don't believe in that, it's not that kind of submission.
And neither is it blind, total obedience to the commands of a spiritual leader, like in a cult, like years ago, Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple who went down to South America, and they all drank the purple Kool-Aid and died. And from that point on, drinking the Kool-Aid kind of entered our popular culture. What it meant is blindly follow some leader to your own destruction. I'm not going to do that, I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid, say, I'm not following that.
Rather this obedience is to be reasonable, spiritual, based on the word of God. Fundamentally, the leadership of elders is a leadership that's based on the word of God, as they are able to marshal biblical arguments for what they're saying through sound, clear, acts of Jesus, they are to be followed. Frankly, it's going on right now, every time that I get up to preach, I seek to explain the text clearly phrase by phrase, so that you can see that this is what the text is saying. So that's the kind of leadership that must go on. It's reasonable, and it's based on the Word of God.
The Apostle Paul was delighted, I think. It was Luke that wrote it, but it was Paul I think that had a delight in the Bereans who took the things that Paul preached on the Old Testament and scoured the text to see if they were so. So, it's not that kind of blind implicit obedience, neither is it obedience in areas that have nothing to do with the office of elder. Again, the papacy is to blame here where they would go and make commands, like the Pope would demand that a king or a prince or a judge kneel to him and render judgments or do certain things in his secular realm. Again, it's not that kind of obedience. Rather it's in line with what Jesus gave us in the great commission. "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me," said Jesus, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit." And here it is, "Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded."
So there has to be a submission to those that do that teaching or you can't obey the commands. So it's as you marshal the commands of Jesus and say, "Jesus is telling us to do this from the Word of God," that's the essence of the leadership. Christ is commanding this of us. So submission to elders should be plainly seen to be submission to Christ as He has revealed it in His word, not apart from it. The authority of elders is a teaching and explaining, it's really an exegetical authority, it's based on scripture. As the passages are explained the elders, proving the people something Christ wants them to do. Now again, it's servant leadership, not lording it over those entrusted but rather serving as an example. It says in 1 Peter 5, as Jesus already told us in Matthew 20, servant leadership. And it must be humble leadership, not seeking trappings of honor and glory and prestige.
As Jesus talked about the scribes and Pharisees who loved the place of honor at the banquets and the most important seats of the synagogues. They'd love to be greeted in the market places and have me call them, "Rabbi." Please don't call me Rabbi. One of you has an exemption to that because he always does it in humor, but think about it. I don't know if I want to keep being called Rabbi. Obedience and submission are in the context, so we believe, of congregational polity. What do I mean by that? Polity is just government, church government. We as Baptists are Congregationalists. What that means is, there is no, at the human level, no higher authority to make rulings or judgements, for the life of a local church, than the local church itself. So there's no bishop or archbishop, there's no structure like a corporate structure or governmental structure or structure in the army.
The buck stops here with the local church, the proof of that's in Matthew 18, on church discipline. When the church disciplines, that's it, there's nothing else, there's no court of higher appeals. So, we are Congregationalists, and the elders do their leading in a congregational structure. Therefore the elders are identified by and established in their position by the congregation, by democratic processes, by vote. They can't have their position apart from that Congregational establishment. Furthermore, the congregation alone has the right to remove them from their office for sin reasons of doctrine or life.
So that's how they get established in congregation polity. How then does the congregation follow them? Well, as long as the elder has been duly established by the congregation, the elders, I'll keep it in plural, and they have not sinned and they're carrying out their ministry faithfully, it's then the church's responsibility as they continue to assess the life and the doctrine, passively. Passively assess. Does it seem Biblical? They seem like they're leading well, plausibly biblical, we'll get to that in a minute, to follow the leadership, to obey and submit. That's what the text says, doesn't it? So what do I mean by passive.
And what do I mean by plausible? Well, passive is like the analogy of passive sonar versus active sonar in a submarine. So passive sonar is just lots of listening, but no ping going out. No ping going out. So it's not really Godly or loving for people to say, "I'm watching you to be sure you're not a heretic. So don't be one today, Pastor." Amen, thank you, thank you, keep praying for that. It's about as pleasing as going to someone's house and saying, "I'm watching you too to be sure you don't commit adultery." Look, I know that that kind of needs to go on, but we do that more passively, don't we? Just kind of observe, and if you see indications, where there's smoke there's fire, then you pursue them, but if there's no smoke there may not be any fire, just follow. Does that make sense? So there has to be an ongoing Berean searching, but frankly, I think the more likely failure mode is not that heresy will be preached in a good church, but that people will harden their hearts against the good doctrine and not obey it.
And that goes for the preacher too frankly, because Christianity is a lot easier to teach than it is to live. But that's the more likely failure mode. So as long as the elders are leading plausibly biblically, what does that mean? It's not on the text, is it? No, it's not. I don't think the word plausible...
Actually, the word plausible is in Colossians in one of the translations, but plausible means it seems like it may be, okay. Alright, why do I have to use that language? Because friends we're all messed up, we're messed up. I'm messed up, you're messed up, we're all messed up. Okay? The elders are messed up, they're Roman 7 people. The followers are messed up, they're Roman 7 people. An issue arises in life of the church, people have different perspectives, they disagree, right? Distrust yourselves first. Okay, just be humble and distrust yourselves. The elder should do the same. Right?
Look at the scripture on the issue, listen to the arguments, if it's in the arrangement of biblical plausibility, wonder if perhaps you may be wrong. Iron sharpens iron, you go to the elders you make your case, they listen. You make your case, they listen, you share your scriptures. But as long as it's plausibly biblical, ultimately, you have to follow if you can. If you can't, you probably need to leave the church, because it's such a high issue of commitment to you that you think that the elders have gone un-Biblical on you, and you have that freedom to do that. But fundamentally, in humility, you just say, "It's possible I may be wrong. Teach me, instruct me, let my heart be changed by the Word of God."
So that's the best I can make of all this. How do Romans 7 elders lead Romans 7 people? It's the best that we can do. The elders need to be making their cases biblically, we know very well that there are areas, gray areas of controversy, Romans 14 talks about that.
VI. Understanding the Burdens of Godly Leadership (vs. 17)
So what are the burdens of Godly leadership? There are many, look at the verse again. "Obey your leaders and submit to them. For they are keeping watch over your souls. As those who have to give an account. Let them do this with joy, and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you." So what do Godly leaders do for you? Well, they shepherd, or literally it says, lose sleep over your souls, lose sleep over your souls.
The images of a shepherd that stays awake all night long because the wolves do their work at night, and if he goes to sleep for even an hour, he may lose the third of his flock. And so physically, in real life, what it means is a constant awareness and attentiveness and a self-sacrifice to do the church good, to shepherd souls. Because the world, the flesh and the devil are assaulting the flock all the time, assaulting the flock. And so the shepherd's, the elder's job is to shepherd them and to pray for them and to encourage them and to fight against the discouragement of the devil, and the temptations that pull. And to pray for you and to lead you and teach you and love you and correct you if needed, or rebuke or warn you if needed, whatever is needed.
And how valuable is that? Do you want that done for you? Do you want shepherds to watch over you? If you say, "I can go it on my own." Oh, if any man thinks he stands take heed lest he fall, you need good shepherds. So, it's valuable. Good elders that know the spiritual condition of the people, the state of their walk with Christ, the sins they struggle with, the state of their marriages, their family life, their discouragements, their successes. In general, how they're doing financially, if materialism is gripping their lifestyles, variety of things. How is it going? And look what the text says, they will have to give an account. I said to BFL class this morning, I said that this is one of the scariest verses in the Bible for me as a pastor, as an elder. I'm going to have to in some sense, give an account to Jesus for you, for my shepherding of this flock.
I don't know what that means, but I know at least it means, from 1 Corinthians 3 that I have to build on the foundation that was handed to me with gold and silver and costly stones, good, solid doctrine.
All nine elders of FBC will have to bear that level of scrutiny giving an account to Jesus for our ministries. I have to give an account, it's very serious. My life, my doctrine, my shepherding. So they watch over your souls as those who must give an account.
Let them do it with joy and not with groaning. This has been the greatest journey of my life, I think, in Christ. The move from groaning to joy of shepherding this church. It is a joy to be your under-shepherd. And I want to say along with that, one of the greatest joys of my life is to do it with these other eight men. They're great men. I love them. I love being with them. So it's a delight to shepherd you, and because... The reason it's a delight to shepherd you is because of your spiritual health, in your growth, the fact that you love the Lord, you love His word, you're seeking to be obedient, you're missions minded, you're evangelistic, because of your prayer lives.
No, you're not perfect, we're not either. But that's what makes it a joy. From your willing glad submission to Christ really ultimately and seeing that played out in your life. That's what makes it a joy. So the spiritual health of the church is what makes it a joy, the lack of spiritual health in specific spots or generally is what makes it a burden. So church members who are willingly following sins in their lives and the ways of this world make it a burden. Church members who are argumentative and complaining, who fight the elders and oppose them, and slander them and talk against their decisions, make it a burden, not a joy. Church members who are lazy and who frequently miss church to follow personal pursuits, or who don't challenge themselves to grow, make it a burden and not a joy. Church members who increasingly drift away from Christ, as seen in their marriages, their conversations, they're spending habits or their church attendance, make it a burden, not a joy.
So simply put, elders who enjoy their ministry are a great blessing to the church. The joy of the elders in shepherding you, is one of the most precious commodities of your spiritual life. Why do I say that? Well, you have to just keep thinking through what happens. Simply put, it would be of no advantage to you to make elder-ing or leading a burden to the men who do it. Why? Because they'll stop doing it. So elders who struggle with rebellious and sinful sheep either grow disillusioned and discourage and leave the ministry entirely, or they go to another church, or the rebellious faction is strong enough politically to vote them out. In the third case, that church is on a short route to apostasy. It's happened locally, recently. Okay. For the congregation is responsible for its own leaders ultimately. And when you vote godly men out, you take a short route to apostasy.
2 Timothy 4:3 "For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine, and instead to suit their own desires they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." So whenever it is that I die or whatever, you guys are responsible for the next leaders. You see what I'm saying? You're responsible. Please be sure that the man is faithful. Amen. That he preaches the word, that he is an expositor. You know what that means now. Alright. Bible, verse by verse, clear. Do you realize that 5%, I think, the number is 5%, 5% of the men that began a career in ministry, retire as ministers. Wow. I teach at Southeastern. How'd you like me to get up in front of a class of 30, and say, "I just want you to know, statistically, 5% of you will end up retiring in the end, you'll make it straight through a fruitful, healthy, ministry and retires as pastors, 5% of you. That's not many in a class of 30. Is that... Not many, my math brain is turned off right now, this is my liberal arts brain so I don't know.
95% attrition? Do you see the devil in that? And it's not all for one reason, their own sins are part of it. But it's just a constant assault, assault, assault, assault. And discouragement just rises. So it'd be a burden if it's a burden to the elders, it's no advantage to the Church, because they just leave, and that would be of no advantage to you. Now, there are godly reasons to leave. I mean, people can leave and go to other good ministries, and I understand that. I'm just talking about the expulsive force that causes them to want to leave, that's all. They should leave regretfully. Amen. They should leave reluctantly. They should leave a fruitful ministry being called to a different calling. You see what I'm saying? Not because there was some kind of repulsive force that caused them to go.
VII. Praying for Godly Leaders (vs. 18-19)
And so therefore you ought to be praying for your leaders. Look at verses 18-19, "Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience, and desire to live honorably in every way." So in other words, we are passing our own test. We know ultimately the test is by God. And He's the only one that can make that final test, but our conscience is clear, we're living honorably. Pray for us, that we would continue to do so, pray for us that we would keep on fighting the good fight of the faith and being holy. But the overwhelming responsibilities and pressures, one of the best things that you can do for your elders is pray for them. Pray for their walks with Christ, so that they would keep a clear conscience, and live honorably in every way.
Pray for them to preach and teach the truth in accordance with the Word of God, pray for their leadership, that it will be humble, Christ-like servant leadership, saturated in biblical truth. Pray that the church will follow that leadership. Pray that the elders will delight in their ministry, pray that the elders will evangelize boldly and clearly, and fruitfully and set a good example for the flock. Pray that Christ will be glorified in the leadership of FBC. Close with me in prayer.