Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever
Let's contextualize the messages of the past few weeks by emphasizing what the author of Hebrews is saying to us: He is telling us how to worship God (not in the temple, on a certain day, at a certain time, eating certain foods, etc. as seen in the Old Covenant) but with gratitude and awe (in spirit and in truth) by loving God (vertical) and people (horizontal)."Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. Let love of the brethren continue." (See Hebrews 12:28-13:8) Loving God by loving 1) all kinds of people and especially other believers; 2) our spouse with purity and love; 3) showing generosity toward others and 4) rightly relating to spiritual leaders; i.e., rightly relating to spiritual leaders is a another way we worship God with gratitude and awe. So worshiping God means a lifestyle of worship vs. worshiping on Sunday morning only in the church building.
Some commentators say verse seven refers to leaders of the past because the outcome of their life can be seen. But others say (and I concur) it refers to those of the past (even deceased) and present leaders, but those who are older and whose life ("outcome") shows years of faithfulness to God. (In other words, beware of new, young, untested leaders. As one pastor put it: "don't follow any leader who doesn't walk with a limp;" i.e., a leader that isn't broken and dependent on God.) The reason I think the writer means to include present leaders is because he chose the word "spoke" rather than preached or taught "the word of God to you;" The word "spoke" sounds more personal. And as I point out below, God's primary means of communicating knowledge of Himself (revelation knowledge) is through personal relationships, with the Lord Jesus being the ultimate, personal communicator: "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word." (Heb. 1:1-3; also see John 1:1-14; 1 John 1:1-3)
It also fits with Paul's pattern of always appointing deacons and elders to a newly planted church. (Acts 14:23) These elders were to be living examples to others of the life of Christ as Paul exhorted his disciples to imitate him as he imitated Jesus (1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Tim. 3:10-16). (Cultish leaders simply say follow me and you better not ask any questions!) "An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God's household, he must be blameless-not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it." (Titus 1:6-9; also see 1 Tim. 3:1-13) Knowing, living and sharing God's Word and truth is one of the most important qualities we are to look for in a leader and aspire to as a leader. (See Psalm 119: 63, 74, 79 below.) (Note: Paul does not list "successful in business and wealthy" as a required quality for an elder; yet too often men are chosen as church elders primarily for this reason.)
The writer of Hebrews is a good model for us as a leader to emulate because he knows and shares God's Word but regularly (humbly) includes himself in need of God's grace and exhortations as Paul did (I do not think Paul wrote Hebrews). In fact, many of the good leaders in the Bible confess their sins and struggles and need for God's grace and mercy. As I said before, when we boast about our strengths we build walls (pride hinders relationship) but when we share our weaknesses (and genuine need for God) we build bridges (humility deepens relationships).
But the ultimate, unchanging, perfect Leader, Model, Exemplar is our Lord Jesus and He is "the same yesterday, today and forever." He forgives our past, never leaves us in the present and has promised all believers in Him a glorious future. And He not only knows God's Word- He is God's Word.
Let me share from a newsletter I wrote on this subject in June 2003: [In an ever increasing individualistic society, technological age and with shallow relationships even within the church, there is a great need to intentionally build and deepen personal relationships. We see in the Divine community of the Triune Godhead, the love and friendship among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Likewise, we are created in the image of God to be in deep personal relationships with others through our shared faith in God through Jesus. We grow in our intimacy with the Lord and each other as we share with one another our personal experience of Him. And we can only make Him known to the degree we know Him. Yet in the busyness of our world we must be intentional and committed to meeting with one another to mentor and be mentored by other Christian men. This highly relational and deeply personal approach to ministry is the very pattern of ministry our Lord Jesus modeled for us to follow. "He appointed twelve–designating them apostles —that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach". (Mark 3:14) Spending in-depth time with the twelve apostles was Jesus' model for ministry to mature them in their personal knowledge of Him. His classroom was the classroom of life as they watched Him love and serve and preach and heal. Thus they were enabled to carry on His great work and reflect the character of Jesus to others after He ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ." (1 John 1:1-3) You can see from this Scripture that the disciples' message was significantly focused on the Person of Jesus who Himself had incarnated and relationally imparted the gospel of God to them. It is vital that we know the doctrines of the faith but we also must know, trust and follow the Person of Christ even when His ways and thoughts are incomprehensible. "On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it? From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. "We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."" (John 6:60, 66-69) "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:9) Peter probably didn't understand what Jesus meant by "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life" but he was willing to follow Him because he trusted Jesus as a Person even when he didn't understand His words or ways.
We all need a Paul (mentor), a Barnabas (friend/peer) and a Timothy (disciple) in our life. Spiritual growth comes from both receiving and giving the life of God from and to others in in-depth, honest and accountable relationships as seen from the teachings above. Without these relationships our growth is stunted and our salt and light influence on our families, workplace and society is minimized or lost. (Matthew 5:13-16) Let me encourage you to pray, as I do, for God to connect you with those who love and fear the Lord as seen in the psalmist's prayers: "I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts. May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word. May those who fear you turn to me, those who understand your statutes." (Psalm 119:63, 74, 79) Pray for a mentor to teach you, a friend to walk with, and a disciple to serve, and experience the growth in Christlikeness that God wants you to have for His glory.]
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. What is your main take away from the message and table discussion and how can you apply it to your life?
2. How does the writer of Hebrews call us to worship God with gratitude and awe?
3. What does he mean when he calls us to "remember, consider, and imitate" your spiritual leaders?
4. What is one of the most important qualities of a spiritual leader based on Hebrews 13:7 and Titus 1:6-9 and do you have such a leader in your life? Also do you aspire to this quality yourself?
5. How did Jesus model spiritual leadership based on Mark 3:14
6. Do you have a Paul, Barnabas and Timothy in your life? How important is this to God; to you?