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by Adah L. Hutchcraft
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 (Heb 13:17).❦
❧This article does not address the proper attitudes or requirements of spiritual leaders so much as it does spiritual followers. Here, like the given text from Hebrews, it is assumed that those in authority are of good repute and are led by the Spirit of God. Although this article is intended for the edification of followers it is equally relevant to those in authority. All believers are followers of Christ and are called to mutual submission for the benefit of his body (Ephesians 5:21).
❦Obey and Submit; The Barrier
❧The words “obedience” and “submission” have adopted very negative meanings in our culture. This is due to society’s abuse of such words, coupled with the high value North America has placed on independence and self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, obedience and submission often represent the description of a doormat. So when such words occur in scripture, people find them problematic. Of course, most do not find issue with texts like James 4:7 which says, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” because James 4:7 does not command us to submit to other fallen humans. All too willing church-goers embrace the concept of subjection to the Father. Yet there is a lethal tendency to rebel when that same Father commands us to submit to another person or persons. Once confronted with such instruction, many dance around the issue attempting to find exception to the rule.
❦Submitting To God’s Authority
❧It is vital that Christ’s followers have total faith in his judgment. He has complete authority, and he has given authority to lesser shepherds to lead his flock (1 Peter 5:1-2). As his followers, we are not at liberty to pick and choose how and where God can lead us. We must trust him directly (through prayer, the scriptures and meditation) and indirectly (through preachers, teachers and overseers) to guide us.
Our spiritual progress cannot exist apart from faithfulness and submission to the Father. Complete trust in his character and his commands works to our advantage and not to our demise. God desires our humility, not our humiliation. Once we trust God’s goodness, we will go wherever he leads. Until then, we call him a liar by our doubt.
It has been said, I trust God, I just don’t trust people. To be sure, there are people who are not to be trusted! Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). God does not ask us to put aside discernment, but he still requires our trust. While there are those who would harm Christ’s flock, there are also people God has made stewards his fold, to guide it in the power of Christ Jesus. This is why God commands believers to obey their leaders. Failure to take this command seriously works against God’s kingdom, not for it. Therefore, because we trust God, we must also trust those he is working through.
The Greek word peiqw (peitho), translated ‘obey’ literally means ; to rely by inward certainty:--agree, assure, believe, have confidence, be (wax) content, make friend, obey, persuade, trust, yield. The very meaning of the word is to trust. God does not command us to mindlessly and carelessly nod to whatever we are told to do. The obedience required of us displays intelligent agreement, support, and faithful confidence in the spiritual leaders God ordained. God does not promise that we will always completely understand how he is working through his leaders. However, we are commanded to be faithful in enabling his leaders to do what he called them to do: lead. We must obey them as unto the Lord.
❦ Obeying God-appointed Authority
❧As followers of Christ we must yield and submit to those he has placed in authority simply because he has placed them there. This carries significant ramifications. God has set an important burden on his leaders, making them accountable to preach Christ, edify the saints, and give order to the body. Scripture says, “they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account”. Leaders are accountable for how they lead! We do a ministry and service to God, as well as his leaders, when we acknowledge his power and presence within them through willing trust and submission.
❧People greatly underestimate the immense damage caused by undermining the guidance and perception of godly overseerers. Not only is such rebelliousness and stiff-necked behavior a thorn in the side of leaders, but it limits the spiritual progress of the church. Refusal or reluctancy to obey and submit to God-given authority places a tremendously grievous and harmful burden on leaders who have vision for a congregation. Many abuses have been committed by congregations and church boards that have refused to heed Hebrews 13:17. God places upon leadership the charge to guide their congregations. Sadly, churches are often guilty of not giving their leaders the tools to execute that task; that is their own trust and submission.
Many ministers have suffered because their congregations were a stumbling block to their ministry. Leaders are sometimes forced to perform their ministries with grief and not joy. To refuse or procrastinate in obeying and submitting to spiritual leaders is a sign of distrust and selfishness; it will only bear bad fruit. People distrust leaders because they feel the need to protect themselves from harm or their wicked pride. The reality is they cause harm by their distrust and prideful ambition.
❧By choosing obedience and submission over distrust and hard-heartedness, we liberate our leaders to minister effectively. Every minister of God wants to see good fruit born out of their ministry. They want to know they are not working in vain. Congregations that trust and yield to their ministers’ counsel affirm their gifts of leadership and their place in the Body. By doing so, the church also liberates itself to grow and thrive. When leaders are able to minister with joy, the body will be more healthy, its members more active, and its vision more clear. In essence, the body will look and behave more like Christ. Willing obedience and submission to spiritual leaders is a ministry, and it is a ministry we cannot afford to neglect!
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