Sermon on Hebrews 13:7-17, preached on Sunday, 24 February 2019.
Bible Readings: (OT) Ezekiel 3:16-27 / (NT) 1 Timothy 3:1-7 & Hebrews 13:7-17
I. Causes of the problems
II. Solution to the problems
III. Rewards for our obedience and submission
Elders are the leaders of Christ’s church. They’re elected by the congregation, and ordained and inducted to the work of eldership. We’re going to participate today in the first step of election of Elder. Elders can also be called as overseers or bishops, but not in the sense of Roman Catholic or any Episcopalian church system. Elders are the leaders set by God to tend, nurture, guide and protect God’s congregation.
Our first Bible reading from 1 Tim. 3 tells us about the qualifications of these leaders, in other words, who can be Elders. They must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, and so on. These qualifications tell us that Elders should be, in a word, godly and sincere in faith and life. But these qualifications are not exactly a measuring ruler with which all candidates for Eldership must be measured up. A candidate for Eldership must be ‘above reproach.’ But this does not mean that he must have never violated any law of the Bible or of the land. Being ‘sober-minded’ or ‘self-controlled’ does not mean that a candidate for Eldership must always remain calm in his emotion, sharp in his reasoning and unshakable with his will. Rather than being a measuring ruler, these qualifications direct our eyes to Jesus our Lord who gives His gifts to His workers in His Church. So, the Elders in Christ’s Church are not required to possess all these qualifications in perfection, but requested to sincerely pursue these attributes of Jesus their Lord in order to serve the Lord’s church. After all, no one can be perfectly above reproach; none can be perfectly respectable, perfectly hospitable or gentle, only Jesus the Lord can be so. All Elders in Christ’s church are commanded to diligently follow Jesus, seek His gracious gifts and joyfully serve the church.
This is why leadership of a plural Elders is commanded by the Lord. Individuals are imperfect with different gifts of the Spirit, yet, a body of plural Elders complement one another as they work together. Its result is a godly synergy for the Lord and His church. So, when we participate in election, ordination and induction of an Elder, we take part in God’s setting aside His servants to the office of Eldership in His church.
Having said, I need to remind you of the problems the churches of our time face. One of the two problems I’d like to point out is shortage of Elders in local churches. This is the first problem. Another problem for many churches is passivity of Eldership in terms of their functioning within their congregation. Elders in many churches nowadays can do little compared to their roles set in the Bible. So, the fruit of Elders’ work is rarely seen in many local churches and church members don’t really know what spiritual benefit they miss out.
I’m not telling you this to make you gloomy or pessimistic; I don’t intend to discourage you in any sense. But my intention is to lead you to examine our current spiritual address especially with Eldership and, seeing it, to come back to the right way of the Lord and have abundant heavenly blessing that is intended through right and biblical Eldership. I pray that we altogether see where we’re going. Then, having seen it, we stop walking deeper into a muddy flat of the present-day Christianity, turn around and come back to a firm and sturdy road which is the biblical way prepared for us to walk and joyfully follow its path. So, these problems – that is, shortage of Elders and the present passivity of Eldership in local churches – could be overcome, no longer problems for churches.
And the key to this recovery is simple, that is, our ‘obedience and submission to our leaders’ as Heb. 13:17 teaches. I want you to see why our obedience and submission to our Elders is the key for recovery from problems and joyful blessings for the Lord’s church.
I. CAUSES OF THE PROBLEMS
Before we go on and hear about this key, let me briefly point out a couple of causes for these problems because knowing these causes will help you to see why the Bible urges us to obey and submit to our leaders.
Firstly, lack of respect to the leaders is a cause of the problems. Church members expect their Elders to take lead, yet, without having the required respect for them. Church members expect their Elders to lead which requires self-sacrifice. Elders stand before the congregation for such things as leading worship services; they pray for the congregation; they interact with people through visiting and talking for encouragement, guidance and even warning; they represent the congregation to the wider church, like Presbytery and State Assembly and further, and occasionally to the secular society. Church members regard such works of Elders as normal, something to be expected. Yet, their expectation is not accompanied with respect for their office. Surprisingly, some church members even think and consider that Eldership is a voluntary position for someone who likes to be recognised or someone who likes to explore a new field. But that’s wrong – your expectation must accompany a biblically commanded resect. I’ll elaborate this expectation based on respect a bit more in a minute.
Together with this first problem, that is, expectation without respect, the second cause of the problems is our omission to submission. I mean, most of us omit to submit to the biblical teaching on authority. We profess that the Bible is God’s true and authoritative word. But we easily forget our confession of faith and omit to submit to its teaching. So, the Bible’s command for us to submit to our Elders is simply omitted from our thoughts and deeds. These two causes are the main reasons for shortage of elders and passivity of their works in local churches.
II. SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEMS
Again, the biblical solution to these problems is simple – our obedience and submission to our leaders. This is not about blind obedience or senseless submission. Rather, it is deeply meaningful obedience and submission because it signifies our firm and blessed relationship with Christ our Lord.
What I mean is that the office of Eldership represents the leadership and headship of Jesus Christ over His Church. The office of Eldership is the visible representation of Jesus’ invisible and eternal Headship of His Church. This is one of the important biblical symbolism. For example, water baptism is the sign of the Spirit’s baptism, in other words, the Holy Spirit’s real and eternal washing of sins of a sinner. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper which we’ll participate next Lord’s Day represents our eternal union with Jesus, signifying our being nourished by the Lord with His flesh and blood. This local church is a sign of Christ’s eternal Church. While Jesus’ eternal and universal Church is the invisible Church, this local church at St Columba’s is visible and temporal. Yet, this congregation points to Jesus’ eternal Church. So is the leadership of this congregation; our Elders corporately represent and signify the Lord’s true and eternal Headship over us. So, we must obey and submit to our leaders as we do to our true Head and Lord, Jesus Christ.
So we ought to obey and submit to our leaders. The point is this; if you can’t obey and submit to your elders who are visible, audible and touchable in your midst, then, how could you obey and submit to your Lord Jesus who is invisible, inaudible or insensible with human senses? This is similar to what is required for children to obey their parents. If one doesn’t obey his parents, how could he obey his heavenly Father? If you don’t see the need to obey and submit to your elders, your confession of faith in the Lord’s headship over His Church lacks a significant part, that is, action alongside words. So, all church members should and must obey and submit to their elders because the office of Eldership represents Jesus’ headship over His Church and because their obedience to their elders is a training course for their submission to their one Lord, Jesus Christ.
Another important reason for our submission to our elders is that they transmit the Lord’s word to the church. Hear what 1 Thess. 2:13 says: “we … thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” This is not about Paul alone who was an apostle; rather, it is about all elders in Christ’s church. Transmitting God’s word – in other words, preaching and teaching and admonishing – is their primary duty and responsibility for the congregation. That’s what elders are set aside for. After all, as Rom. 10:14-17 teaches, God sends someone to preach the gospel and faith comes from hearing this preaching, that is, the word of Christ! So, if you could not obey and submit to your leaders who deliver the word of Christ, who teach and uphold God’s word in your midst, how could you submit to the author of that word, Jesus the Lord? How could you claim that you listen to the Lord while you don’t listen to your elders? Your obedience and submission to your Elders proves that you sincerely listen to the Lord.
In a word, church’s obedience and submission to their leaders is a spiritual act of faith in Jesus. Church members listen to the elders because their elders are not appointed by men, but ordained and set aside by the Triune God – God the Father chose them for the office; God the Son delegates His authority to them; and God the Holy Spirit empowers them for the works of the church.
III. REWARDS FOR OBEDIENCE AND SUBMISSION
If we do obey and submit to our Elders as God’s word urges us, such problems we face as shortage of Elders and their passivity in the life of their church will be resolved. Not only will they be resolved, but also will churches be rewarded and all church members be strengthened.
Let me talk about these rewards. When you obey and submit to your elders, you learn to obey and submit to the true object of your faith, Jesus Christ. You learn from your attitude toward your leaders how to consider the true Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. In this sense, your Elders are a sort of training aid for your spiritual growth. It is like a student pilot learns how to fly with a flight simulator. Flying a simulator is not really flying an airplane in the sky – it’s like a computer game. But through that training, he/she learns how to put an airplane in the air, take a right course and speed to safely arrive at the destiny. Your Elders are for a similar purpose; you interact with them and learn how to obey and submit to your Lord and God!
In addition, your submission to your Elders will be your advantage. The second half of Heb. 13:17 is so clear about this. Your obedience will cause your Elders work with joy and, when they work with joy, that is surely your advantage. This is not because your Elders would like to be honoured and regarded highly by you, not because their self-respect would go up and they would work hard for you. No, that’s not what this means. What it means is this; Elders know the meaning and responsibility of their office, and your obedience challenges them to be more faithful to their call, that is, to serve the Lord’s congregation in the Lord’s name. They would surely remember their servanthood in Christ toward you, remembering that Jesus the King and Lord came to serve us, His people. This is the advantage Heb. 13:17 talks about. As you submit to your Elders, your Elders will submit to their task and serve you with their life!
This reciprocal relationship will build up Christ’s church. Church members submit to their Elders and their Elders serve the church members. This is a fulfilment of God’s kingdom on earth, isn’t it? This is how biblical love is expressed, practiced and lived in the life of a congregation. Submission and love; obedience and self-sacrifice. What a wonderful picture of Christ’s kingdom! In fact, this is God’s will for His children. For example, wives submit to their husbands, husbands love and sacrifice for their wives; Children obey their parents, their parents love their children; slaves obey their masters, their masters do the same to their slaves, regarding them as brothers in the Lord.
The result of this relationship is abundant blessings from above. We have a perfect biblical example of this, that is, the early church in Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 2:42-47. V. 47 concludes, “[all of the church in Jerusalem were] praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” To such a church, there’ll be no shortage of Elders – men would surely and eagerly desire to serve the Lord and His church while church members will love to honour the office and works of their Elders, whether it is preaching or teaching or visiting or admonishing, or even disciplining according to Christ’s words.
Brothers and sisters in Jesus, I dream of this. I pray that this may be fulfilled in our congregation. I’m sure that all of you desire the same. Let me assure you that it will be done in our midst because such is the will of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit for us, His Church. He’ll surely accomplish it. So, let us desire it together, pray together to the Lord, seeking His kindness toward us of St Columba’s and other churches. Let us begin this by recovering our obedience and submission to our leaders who are the Lord’s servant-leaders for Christ’s Church!
We’ll have an election of elder today, after the worship service. Let us prayerfully and joyfully participate in the Lord’s work, expecting to enjoy His blessings for His Church! Amen. ***