Tag Archives: Hebrews 13

Who are your Leaders

 

Having already addressed the first part of a difficult, and sometimes abused passage, from Hebrews 13:17 (see the post Obey or Be Persuaded), we need to examine the meaning of the second half of the verse, “obey your leaders and submit to them….” However, before proceeding into the translation and meaning of submit, it would do us well to review what our Lord had to say regarding leadership during His earthly ministry.  Whatever else the New Testament says regarding “church leaders” must flow downstream from the kingdom paradigm that Jesus established.

Below are  two critical passages concerning the nature of leadership, according to the kingdom paradigm of Jesus Christ.  Notice how He dismantles the present religious leadership and then rebuilds with kingdom principles.

First is Matthew 20:20-28

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Second is Matthew 23:1-12

23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

How do these passages inform the nature of leadership in our modern churches?

Is a leader a servant or is a servant a leader?

Are those in “offices” or who bear titles, pastor, elder, shepherd, bishop, deacon, de facto leaders because of their position?

What is the nature of authority among believers?

Is their a hierarchical leadership or authority structure among believers?

Before one can build a framework for leadership based on such passages as 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1, or even difficult passages such as Hebrews 13:17, we must come to an understanding of the kingdom leadership principles that Jesus laid out which were counter-cultural and counter man-centered religiosity.  The difficulty, and it is real, is to view these passages without the influence of culture or our own religious experiences and preferences.

 

How then Shall we Live

 

The author of Hebrews, under Divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has penned in many respects what could be considered a masterful sermon.  For twelve chapters, he has unfolded the finished work of Christ and His superior mediation of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant all the while leaning heavily on the prior revelation of God to buttress his arguments thereby showing the continuing relevance of the Old Testament.  Sprinkled along the way were warnings against falling away, which comes through progressive hardening of the heart brought on by negligence of faith and duty.

In the final chapter of this majestic tapestry, he shifts his focus away from the doctrinal to the practical.  This pattern is what that every good sermon, every good preacher, should follow in laying out first doctrine, here the finished work of Christ, followed by the implications that it has upon the Christian life.  We may say summarily, orthodoxy should always lead to orthopraxy.

Sometimes we may hear preaching that is heavy on the duty of Christian life that can come off largely as moralism or legalism, a kind of “Christian” lifting up by the bootstraps.  Other times we may hear preaching that is so doctrinally heavy that it is distanced from the heart of the hearer.  Balance is key, and naturally as a product of Divine inspiration, Hebrews has it.

Chapter 13 begins with an attention towards relationships among believers and an exhortation to “let brotherly love continue”.  As would be expected, this flows out of the doctrinal portion of the sermon, as biblically it follows subordinately after the first greatest commandment, namely to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul.

In a sense, all that is to come in this passage concerning a believer’s relationships within the body of Christ is developed from 12:14, “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  Peace with God is obtained on behalf of the believer through Christ’s shed blood, therefore, we are now to have peace with others and the first point in this relational peace is brotherly love.

This exhortation is not new, but seemingly builds on the author’s statements in 6:10 and 10:24 and though expressed as an imperative, there is a commendation here as well in the congregation’s “continuing” in love toward the brothers, an action they were clearly already engaged in and now being encouraged to continue.

Second, we read that hospitality is to be shown to strangers.  This seems clearly to draw upon Jesus’ illustration in Matthew 25:31-46, though here we get the addition of the supportive statement, “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”.  The mention of angels purposefully ties into 1:14 “are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.”  The point of the passage is that angels have a role in plan of God to minister to His people.  Surely drawing upon the experiences of Old Testament saints, such as Abraham and Jacob to name a few, as well as their prominent role in their encounters with New Testament believers (See Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, etc).  This instruction should serve as a warning for us to show hospitality to all, regardless of the whom or the where.  In short, the relationships and encounters that we have here on earth are not trivial, but have eternal consequences.  There are no meaningless encounters.

Third, we see the relationships with those who are in prison addressed next.  This isn’t a general statement meant to apply across the board towards prisoners, as though a passage to support prison ministry (though that is certainly a fine ministry).  Instead its focus is narrowed to those who have been imprisoned on account of their faith, ala the Apostle Paul.  Additionally, this exhortation is not limited to those who are in prison, but extends to those who have been mistreated, again on account of their faith.  This verse, along with its internal parallel with 10:32-34, gives us great insight into why the Hebrews were faced with the temptation to surrender their faith in Christ and return to Judaism, namely on account of persecution.  Unity in the body of believers is seen as the driving motivation to minister to those who have been mistreated or imprisoned for the sake of Christ.  If the pinky toe is injured, the whole body feels the pain.  So too if one believer is imprisoned or mistreated the whole body should empathize.

The fourth area of relational peace that the author wishes to emphasize is marital, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”  Implying that all of you hold the marriage bed in honor, we find the exhortation to keep it undefiled.  In other words, keep it unstained, unsoiled or positively keep it chaste and pure.

This passages dovetails with the previous chapter’s warning example of Esau, “that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.” Heb. 12:16  Additionally, the undefiled nature of the marriage bed parallels the undefiled nature of Christ our High Priest, 7:26.

Two words are used to describe the nature of undefilement, sexual immorality, or fornication, which is general in nature, and adultery, which is more specific in nature.  The former addresses all acts sexual in nature that are contrary to God’s design for marriage and is denoted by the Greek word pornos, the origin of the English word for pornography, if that gives you any additional insight or application towards what might constitute defilement of the marriage bed.  The latter term, adultery, as mentioned is a more specific action targeting sexual relations with another, whether they too be married or not (see Exodus 20:14, Matthew 5:27-5:32, et.al.).

As the author enters into this very practical section of Hebrews, we must not lose sight of all that has come before it.  Like a master weaver, he has grounded these exhortations in the finished work of Christ.  All that he now instructs for the Christian life finds its basis, motivation, and strength in this such that there is no room for legalism and certainly no room for neglect of Christian duty.  Be exhorted Christians to be at peace in your relationships.  After all, it is through Christ that you have peace with God the Father, so then let that peace flow through you unto others in the body.

Soli Deo Gloria