"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. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner." (Hebrews 13:17-19) This passage speaks to all believers as both followers and leaders and calls us to voluntarily submit to our spiritual leaders and also to lead and watch over the souls of those God calls us to lead. Doing both of these God's way can bring us and others joy versus grief and spiritual profit versus loss. And we have the perfect model and example of this within the Trinity of the Godhead. [Much of the text below is a paraphrase from a sermon by Pastor Joe Novenson along with some of my own commentary.]
There is a pattern in the Trinity of Unity, Diversity, Equality, Leadership and Submission that is the source of true Biblical authority for spiritual leaders. Thus we must be under God's authority through God-given leaders or we cannot exercise spiritual authority ourselves. Leaders who have trouble submitting to authority will usually have trouble exercising spiritual authority. Yet spiritual authority is necessary to accomplish God's purposes for those we influence.
Spiritual authority is different from positional authority as a father, boss, pastor, elder, mentor or the influence of a charismatic personality. Spiritual authority comes from God and flows through the channel of humility and submission to God as seen in Jesus. (See Phil. 2:5-11) And in Luke 7:1-10 we see an example of the flow of spiritual authority through a man's faith and submission to Jesus. (Also see Robert Clinton's book The Making of a Leader and the Ten Commandments of Spiritual Authority. Read on-line at I Give You Authority – Google Books)
Jesus chose to submit to His Father both before the incarnation and for every second of His life as a Man on earth. In Psalm 40:6-8, a prophetic Psalm about Jesus, prior to His incarnation Jesus speaks of His desire and willingness to always do the will of His Father. "Sacrifice and offering You do not desire, nor have You delight in them; You have given me the capacity to hear and obey [Your law, a more valuable service than] burnt offerings and sin offerings [which] You do not require. Then said I, Behold, I come; (speaking of His incarnation) in the volume of the book it is written of me; I delight to do Your will, O my God; yes, Your law is within my heart." Then after His incarnation He was always in subjection to God from boyhood to Gethsemane and even submitted to God-ordained authority. "And He went down with them (Joseph and Mary) and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them." (Luke 2:51) Then throughout His life even through the agony of Gethsemane we see His total dependence and submission to God. "Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." (John 5:19) "He told them, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, "My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine." (Matt. 26:38-39)
We see the profit Jesus received from always obeying His Father through His Father's affirmations (Matt. 3:17; 17:5 and the joy-filled words Jesus spoke and inspired Scripture says about Him: "Jesus said to them, "My food (i.e., satisfaction/joy)is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work." (John 4:34) "I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. "Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was." (John 17:4-5) "You (Jesus) love justice and hate evil. Therefore, O God (speaking of Jesus and His deity), your God (the Father) has anointed you, pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else." (Heb. 1:9)
"Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." (John 20:21) How did the Father send Jesus? He sent Jesus into this world to be in submission to Him as a Man from birth to death- even to death on the cross. Likewise Jesus sends us out to be in submission to God through God-ordained leaders. We are spiritually alive as Christians only because Jesus obeyed and submitted to the Father all the way to the cross. Until we grasp that we are "alive" because of His example of humility and submission we won't live as His example of humility and submission in following and leading. Yet unless we are continually filled (ruled, controlled by) the Holy Spirit we will not submit because the natural man (our flesh) is hostile to God's authority. "The sinful mind (flesh) is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God." (Romans 8:7) "But be filled with the Spirit; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God." (See Ephesians 5:18-21 KJV)
"Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." (1 Corinthians 11:3) Here we see a Divine organizational chart, if you will, beginning in the Trinity that is to be reflected in our relationship to God and in human relationships; government (Romans 13:1-2); marriage (Ephesians 5:22-24 ); parents and children (Ephesians 6:1-3); and in the body of Christ as seen in Hebrews 13:17-19. "Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. (Rom. 13:1-2) "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything." (Eph. 5:22-24) "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother"-which is the first commandment with a promise- "so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." (Eph. 6:1-3)
Let's look closer at Hebrews 13:17-19: "Obey (an inner persuasion and desire to voluntarily obey versus a forced submission by the leader) your leaders (note the plurality of leaders; cultish leaders demand that you submit to them and them alone) and submit (yield) to them (to their authority that comes from God as they submit to Him.) (Why submit?/because) They keep watch over your soul (they lose sleep over you in concern for your spiritual growth and welfare) as those who will give an account (to God for the way they lead you spiritually). Let them (the leaders) do this with joy and not with grief, (the leader has an emotional involvement with their disciples and delights in their progress but is sad and burdened in their lack of progress – but not angry and condemning) for this would be unprofitable for you (there is spiritual loss for the follower if they are not voluntarily submitting to a godly leader.) Thus followers are also accountable to God for their obedience to God's leaders. Pray for us (the leader readily acknowledges his own needs to those he leads) for we are sure that we have a good conscience (the leader has examined his motives and attitudes in serving others) desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. (See Gal 6:1-4) And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner." (The leader longs to be with those he serves.)
Though leaders give their hearts to those they serve (they are emotionally involved as stated above), they must keep their head to insure that they lovingly, but truthfully and firmly, correct those they serve for the disciples' maximum spiritual growth and because the leader is accountable to God for his part in the growth of those he serves. "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10) As spiritual leaders we are called to be servants of Jesus for the spiritual good of others and at times, this may require us to speak truths that may put the relationship at risk for the spiritual and eternal good of an erring believer.
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. Do you feel God has given you the role of being a spiritual leader? Who are those He has given you to lead and what are some ways you are leading? Does their spiritual growth into Christ-likeness bring you joy? Does their disobedience to God grieve you and cause you to lose sleep, or only make you angry?
3. What spiritual leaders (note the plurality of leaders) has God called you to follow and submit to? Do you feel you are faithful, available, and teachable with the spiritual leaders God has given you?
4. As spiritual leaders we are called to be servants of Jesus for the spiritual good of others and this requires us to speak truths that may put the relationship at risk for the spiritual and eternal good of an erring believer. 5. Do you have trouble receiving correction or giving correction and if so which is more difficult? Discuss your answers.
6. Until we grasp that we are "spiritually alive (saved)" because of His example of humility and submission we won't live as His example of humility and submission in following and leading. How do we grasp this?
7. Jesus knew the things God the Father wanted of Him (and he did them; John 17:4-5) How can we figure out what those things are in our lives?