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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, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

What are our chief responsibilities as Christians? Many answers readily come to mind. We are to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:14–15). We are to do good and share with others (Heb. 13:16). We are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:1). Indeed, we have many duties as the people of God. Yet, there is one responsibility that is easy to forget: Christians are to make their pastors, elders, and other church leaders joyful.

Hebrews 13:17 teaches this often-neglected truth when it calls us to obey and submit to our leaders, adding that we are to let them watch over us with joy. Just think for a minute about what that means. At the very least, it entails an obedience and submission that is not offered grudgingly. How can our leaders do their work with joy if they know that we are going to resist every move they make or will complain all the while even as we follow their direction? In fact, we should be going out of our way to make the jobs of our church leaders easier. We do not do this when we are never happy with our pastors and elders. We do not make our leaders’ jobs easier when we gripe about every hymn choice, every decision about church programs, every minor error in communication, and so on.

None of this means we should overlook abusive behavior from Christian leaders or the teaching of significant error. After all, today’s passage notes that we obey our leaders because they are watching over our souls (v. 17). John Calvin comments on today’s passage about the kind of leaders the author of Hebrews has in mind when he commands us to submit to them: “The Apostle speaks only of those who faithfully performed their office; for they who have nothing but the title, nay, who use the title of pastors for the purpose of destroying the Church, deserve but little reverence and still less confidence.” A shepherd’s abuse of Christ’s sheep should never be tolerated.

However, not everything church leaders do that we dislike constitutes actual abuse or error. We should endeavor to give our Christian leaders the benefit of the doubt, to not assume ill motives, and to trust that they are attempting to make decisions for the church grounded in prayer and wisdom. Unless we are given clear evidence of a problem, we should never assume the worst about our leaders. Joyful Christian leaders are of great advantage to us (Heb. 13:17), for they will passionately and lovingly encourage us to persevere.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Every pastor and Christian leader has to deal with individuals who are constantly complaining or otherwise causing problems in the local church. Let us avoid such sins. Let us raise concerns only when they are necessary and valid. And let us go out of our way, as much as we are able, to make the jobs of our pastors, elders, and other Christian leaders easier.


For Further Study
  • Numbers 5:1–4; 15:32–36; 25
  • 2 Corinthians 7:1 1
  • 1 John 1:8–10

Doing Good as a Sacrifice

Prayer for the Author of Hebrews

Keep Reading Time

From the September 2020 Issue
Sep 2020 Issue