Hebrews 13: 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
As one thumbs through the pages of the Old Testament, it is interesting to note that King David, a man after God's own heart, a man who faithfully led God's people, crushed God's enemies, and advanced the Kingdom, was also a sinful man. This type and shadow of Christ who was promised by God to forever have someone seated upon his throne, was at the end of the day a sinful man, yet still led, and for the most part, led very well. One reason he was able to do that was because he believed and clung wholeheartedly to this truth we find in the Psalms:
How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered!
— Psalm 32:1
As it has been said, God could have chosen angels to do the work of building His Kingdom here on earth, but He instead chose sinful men. This truth ought to be humbling for us all. Whether it is civil authorities given the responsibility of wielding the sword, a father in the home disciplining his children, a husband leading his wife, a manager in the workplace, or Pastors and Elders in the Church: all authority on earth exercised by men and women is authority which has been delegated by the One to Whom all authority has been given, Christ. Every umbrella of authority under which you sit here on earth has for its earthly head a sinful person in need of the grace of God. It is an inescapable reality on this side of heaven.
You may very well be smarter than your leaders. You may be more organized. You may have better foresight. You may be better under fire. You may be more familiar with scripture. You may have more money. You may have more life lessons from which to pull. You may be more successful, and better educated. That's wonderful. Now use those blessings, gifts, and talents which God has so graciously granted you for the advancement of His Kingdom and obey your leaders who will give an account.
Neither Pastor Spurgeon, Mr. Cox, or myself have slain our ten thousands, or even thousands. The only thousands and tens of thousands we have piled up may be our accumulated sins. We make mistakes. We pray you will show us grace as we seek to lead.
The text today says you are to obey and submit to your leaders in a way that brings joy, not grief. With that in mind, let me give you 3 quick points of application which, if you remember these, it will make the tasks of Pastoring and leading more pleasant, and thus joyful, for us all.
1. One of the many roles of a shepherd who oversees a flock of sheep is for the shepherd to ensure the physical well being of the sheep. He accomplishes this by physically examining the sheep, pulling back the wool to check for thistles, thorns, briars, and maybe even an insect infestation which is perhaps tormenting the sheep. He cleans and binds any wounds he may find. He shears the sheep, so that it's fleece does not become matted and weighed down with mud and filth. A shepherd is very hands on with the sheep of his flock, and must be if the sheep are to remain healthy and he has to do this because the sheep are incapable of doing it themselves.
Your Pastors and elders know you sin. We know you struggle with emotional turmoil. We know that unless you are grounded in God's word you will go astray. We know the things which tempt you, because those things tempt us too. We know you are sinners, and in general, attempt to put on your Sunday best so that no one else will notice your sin. So, since we know these things, one way you may obey and submit so as to make leading a joy, is by confessing your sins to us so that we can more readily bring God's word to bear on your lives. It is God's word which reveals and heals, is it not?
2. Secondly, since we know that just as sheep don't volunteer the location of the briars and thistles, the sheep of God's pasture are not generally inclined to openly declare their sins to the Pastor either. Because of this, Pastors and elders must meddle. So, if you want to obey and submit so as to bring joy to the life of your Pastor and Elders, do not flee, be offended, or throw up smokescreens when the meddling comes to you. It is awkward, unpleasant in the moment, and flies in the face of cultural norms in our day and age, but it's necessary because just as sheep cannot always recognize their infirmities and are usually unable to do anything about them, you too need a Pastor's help in applying God's word to your life.
3. Lastly, God in His infinite wisdom has ordained you to be right where you are. He has given you the leaders you now have. Your Pastor and Elders are real life, flesh and blood men who see you week in and week out. They are in your homes, and you in theirs. We fellowship together, work together, play together. Our wives and children are friends. As I just mentioned, your Pastors and Elders know you intimately, all the way down to your sin. So the application is this: don't make us compete with your favorite internet or sermon audio preacher. Don't allow us to blindly be waging war against a fellow servant of Christ who happens to hold to your pet theological position, and we perhaps do not. You are called to obey your leaders and to submit to them, not those who live in places like Moscow, or Wisconsin, or Bloomington. While the electronic teachings of these Pastors may be helpful and edifying: these Pastors do not know you, and have no business attempting to Pastor sheep who are not of the flock to which they have been called.
With these things in mind I ask you: where have you fallen short? What area of your life have you been hiding from you Pastor and Elders? What sins have you sought to hide under a veneer of smiles, quips, and busyness? Where have you been outwardly feigning submission and obedience, all the while fomenting rebellion and disobedience in your heart, growing bitter and angry?
Thankfully, we have a Savior Who is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
So, if you are able at this time, please kneel as we go boldly to the throne of grace in prayer.
Dear Gracious Heavenly Father,
We thank You for the way You love us as a Father loves His children, leading us, disciplining us, providing for us, and protecting us.
We praise You for the Lamb, slain for our sins, Who heals our sin sick hearts, justified us in Your sight, and Who isn't afraid to call us brothers.
We praise You for the Spirit, Who leads us into all truth, comforts us, illuminates our minds, and pierces our hearts with Your Word.
Heavenly Father, like sheep we are stubborn. We arrogantly believe we know a better way than the way You have given in Your Word, and wind up tangled in thorns, or cast down, unable to pick ourselves up. Father You bless us with Pastors and Elders, to care for, tend, and feed the sheep of Your pasture, yet we persist in thinking we can go at life alone, doing it our way. Rather than obey the leaders appointed over us, those who know us intimately, we like to store up leaders online who only say what we like to hear. In this, we pit our flesh and blood Pastors and Elders against our favorite internet or sermon audio preachers in a battle for our heart that none of the participants even know is taking place.
Father please forgive us for our rebellion against Your God ordained authority in the Church.
Fill us with Your Spirit and help us to be humble, obedient servants.
In Jesus's Name we pray, amen.
Please stand and listen to the comforting assurance of the grace of God, promised in the gospel to his church:
Ephesians 2:13-22 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
To all those who thus repent and seek Jesus Christ for their salvation, your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Lift up your hearts!
(From the 04/11/2021 liturgy of Sovereign King Church written by Aaron Sabie.)