The Book of Hebrews #74 chapter 13:17-21
The Book of Hebrews
Christian Ethics, Part 7:
Submission and Supplication
Hebrews 13:17-21
We are finally in the home stretch of our study of the book of Hebrews.  It has been a very difficult book, it's not easy to understand, but it's been very instructional and I know that I am certainly richer for the days and weeks and months of study that I have done in this book, and I trust and pray that you are too.
Several years ago a philosophy known as “situational ethics” made its appearance.  It was actually advanced by an Episcopal professor by the name of John Fletcher. He said the ethic of brotherly love should free everyone from rigid archaic rules and codes, like the Ten Commandments. Every man must decide for himself what is right.
We now have the unfortunate experience of seeing what that kind of thinking has now produced in our culture.  What happens is that kind of an ethic gives birth to an ethical monster.  Nothing is absolute.  Everything is arbitrary and determined by inner feelings and circumstances.
Whatever feels good to you, you ought to do it. It's ignorance of simply doing your own thing. There are no absolutes.  There are no objective facts.  There is no truth.  It doesn’t matter what the Bible says, everything is in a state of flux and you jump on wherever you happen to want to jump on and bail out if you don’t like it.  That's situation ethics.
And what it leads to is a wholesale moral landslide. Since people are depraved to begin with, when you give them the right to do what they want, that’s what they do and when they do, the society degenerates at an unbelievably rapid pace.
Today, people have been set adrift on a sea of relativity and there's no anchor of absolutes to put down and hold them in place.  Instead we wind up in meaninglessness because if there are no absolutes then nothing means anything anyway and man can't live like that.
That’s why we need a sure Word from an unchanging God.  It’s the only way we can stay on track.  We need His standards to guide our conduct. And as we’ve been learning, it is the only way we can convince the world of the reality of Christ and it’s the only way to experience the joy and happiness God has in mind for us to enjoy.
In this final section, the author is dealing with Christian Ethics; how our belief system impacts our actions.  So far we’ve seen seven characteristics divided into three sections.
First, in regard to others, we are to show sustained love and sympathy.  In regard to ourselves, we are to demonstrate sexual purity, experience satisfaction and be steadfast.  In relationship to God, we are to practice separation and sacrifice.
There are two additional things said in regard to our relationship with God that I wanat us to see tonight.
3.  Submission
Not only separation unto Him, not only sacrifice made to Him, but submission to Him. And I want you to notice how this submission is ordered.
Verse 17
Now at first glance, that sounds like a responsibility toward a person, but in reality it is a responsibility toward God.
The truth is, consistent throughout Scripture and His interaction with man, God mediates much of His rule in this world through men. It was originally given to Adam and Eve, respectively.  Then God used kings.  Sometimes it was prophets or judges. And currently it is through pastors.  One day it will be through Christ Himself when He returns to earth to sit upon the throne of David in an earthly kingdom.  But at this time God is literally ruling His people through certain Spirit-led men called pastors.
You may say, “I don’t like that!”  I say, “I don’t care much for it myself.”  But you and I don’t get a vote.  That’s God’s business and it’s His church and he’ll run it like He chooses.  Study the New Testament and you find that God has set leadership in the church as He sees fit.  And God gives to churches the kind of leaders that they need.
There were in the assembly of the Hebrews certain men given the rule of that congregation. The apostle Paul defines these men as elders or bishops.  Literally, they were “teaching pastors” and these men were ordered of the Spirit of God to have the rule of the church. They do not rule for themselves, they rule in the stead of Christ.
They are under-shepherds.  That's what any pastors are in any given church. So when in verse 17 it says obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves to them, the submission is not to men, but it is to God as God rules that congregation through Spirit-controlled men placed there by His hand.   That’s why people who arrogantly oppose a pastor and defy His leadership make me very nervous, not because they oppose a man, but because of their rebellion against God.
There are some church governments today where the congregation rules the leaders but that concept is foreign to the New Testament. There needs to be a well-oiled working relationship going both ways, but Scripturally speaking, the rule of the church is always given to gifted men placed by the Spirit of God in control.
And notice it says, "Obey them that have the rule over you." There's no qualification to that. It doesn't say obey them if you like them or you agree with them.  It just says obey them. The Spirit of God has placed them there to rule. This is part of God's chain of command within the framework of the church.
 In fact, the term, "them that rule over you," is one word in the Greek that means “chief" or "leader."  It’s a very simply phrase that sounds like it could have come out of an early American western movie:  “Obey chiefs.”
God has given to the church certain men through whom He mediates His rule. It is the right of those men to guide the direction of the church.
I want to point out one thing in particular from verse 17.  It not only says to obey, but to submit.  Obedience has a specific connection to teaching and submission has a specific connection to authority. There is to be obedience to their teaching, and submission to their authority.
And remember, this is not our duty to these men but to God because they rule in the place of Christ.  And before you get all offended by that, think about the responsibility that accompanies that responsibility.  It’s a very sobering thing to consider.
In John 13:20, Jesus said this, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receives whomever I send receives me." Then He took it a step farther: "Whoever receives me receives my Father."
That’s pretty heavy stuff.  When a man is placed in the rule of the church, your submission and your obedience in receiving him, is the equivalent of receiving Christ and in so receiving Him is equivalent to receiving God Himself.
Therefore, being subjected and obedient to leaders is our obligation to God and when you have that you don't have chaos and division and confrontation in the church. When you don't have Spirit-filled leaders who rule well, or you don't have people who submit and obey the Word that they teach, you have disunity. And that the Spirit is well aware of and that's why the injunction is here.
Think about it this way:  When the Holy Spirit decided to tell the Hebrews what they should do in regard to God, He just listed four things and one of them is submission to the leaders of the church.
And notice what the rest of the verse says. “they watch for your souls, as they that must give account."
That's our responsibility.  The priority of all those who minister is the priority of watching for your souls. It's very easy for many pastors to just watch for your bodies. We can visit the hospital and care for the sick and make sure the buildings are ready and all that.  But the issue here is to watch for your souls; to make sure your spiritual life is what it ought to be.  That's the priority.
The sweetest joy any pastor can ever know is when he sees somebody walking in truth and bearing fruit. And the tragedy of all tragedies in the life of the man of God is when he sees those in whom he invests his life who do not bear fruit, who do not walk in the truth, who stray away. That grieves worse than anything else.
And we have to give an account to God for the way that I minister to the care of the souls that He entrusts to me.  And there’s a couple of different ways that can play out.   
Verse 17 continues by saying, "that they may do it with joy, and not with grief."
We are to submit because of the joy that it brings the leaders.  If you're really selfless, and my joy and the joy of the others that labor here in your midst, if our joy means anything to you, then your spiritual growth, in your own mind, should be one way to bring us joy.
Some of the saddest, most grieved people I’ve ever known are pastors who are dealing with a stubborn and rebellious people who will not submit and they are robbed of the joy of their ministry.
The word grief here is the idea of groaning over a thankless task. There are many men whose ministry is a very thankless thing. And he says you ought to submit, just for the joy of the one who labors with you.
Then there’s a second reason you ought to be submissive, not only joy for me, but joy for you.
Look at 17 again. "Obey and submit," why? "that they may do it with joy, not with grief," now watch, "for that is unprofitable for you."
If you don't obey and you don't submit, guess who loses? You do. Cause you're not following the pattern of God. If you don't have a willing and loving obedient spirit, then you lose because you're out of sync with what God is doing. You're out of sync with what is being taught.
You know, there are some people that resent me so much they couldn't learn anything if they tried. They wouldn’t pour water in my ear if my brain were on fire.  But that’s alright.  I know my heart and in the long run I'm not the loser anyway.  They are because they’ve robbed themselves of their own joy.
Well, that’s enough about submission.  Quickly, let’s look at
7. Supplication
verse 18
Notice the first word of the verse.  This is an obligation to God, to pray. And notice this ethic is beautifully connected to the previous one.
Pray for whom?  “for us.”  There is a strong possibility that man writing this letter is one of the elders in the church and his request is that the church family pray for them as leaders.
If you read the whole verse, the indication is that he is he’s gone away and he’s writing home to say he wants to come back.  And even though he uses the plural word “us”, I think it’s evident he’s talking about himself.
Pray for me!  Instead of rebelling against your leaders what should you do? Pray for them. Instead of criticizing, pray. Believe me, the servant of Christ stands in tremendous need for prayer. We are men, we are weak, we are sinful, we are foolish, we are ignorant, we are erring and we desperately need the prayers of the saints. And we desperately need a double portion of the Holy Spirit.
I think very often it's the men of God around the world in the places of leadership, who bear the brunt of Satan's attack. Satan knows that if they fail, a lot of other people will be impacted by that.  We’re often tempted to compromise or water down our convictions or go along to get along or bow to pressure because we're afraid to face the issue, or we're tempted to be slack in terms of preparation.
It’s a lot easier to do that and the people might not know the difference anyway. Tempted to all kinds of sin, and we need your prayers. Pray for us. And so the writer encourages them to pray.  And I really do believe if a lot more churches spent their time praying for the pastors, rather than rebelling, it might be a little bit different situation for everyone involved.
Now there are two reasons that he uses to support it his request for prayer.
Reason number one, he says, I deserve it.
And that’s not ego or pride.  He simply knows his own heart.  That’s why verse 18 is saying.  Pray for me because I think as best I know, I believe that I am God's man, in God's place, with a pure heart and as such, I deserve your prayers.
He has honestly assessed himself with his conscience bearing witness.  The conscience is the ability of the mind that enables us to perceive right and wrong. It's a built in system placed there by God.  We can tell what's right; we can tell what's wrong by the response of our conscience.
And this man is saying, “Pray for me because as best I can read my conscience, I am sincere. I believe my life is right before God, and I want to serve Him with my whole heart. I'm in the place He's called me, I'm the man to do the job, and I deserve your prayers.” That's a significant thing, isn't it?
Secondly he says, pray for me, because I need it.
verse 19
He wants to return to them and he believes in the power of prayer.  He knew God heard and answered prayer and he wants others praying on his behalf.
So supplication is our responsibility toward God.
Well, there they are as far as the book of Hebrews is concerned, the basic ethics of the Christian life:
  • sustained love,
  • sympathy,
  • sexual purity,
  • satisfaction,
  • steadfastness,
  • separation,
  • sacrifice,
  • submission and
  • supplication
Those are the things that need to operative in our life if we will show the world a witness for Christ and enjoy the joy and happiness God ahs for us.  Well, so much for the ethics.  Next time we’ll finish up the book by looking at the example for them and the energy by which we accomplish living them.
Let’s pray.


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