The Christian Minister
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, October 14, 2007
Copyright © 2007, P. G. Mathew
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. . . .Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.- Hebrews 13:7-8, 17
On October 4, 2007, President George W. Bush declared his creed to a reporter Elie Nakouzi for Al-Arabiya television:
"I believe in an almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That is what I believe. I believe that Islam is a great religion that preaches peace."1
These are politically correct words, but there is no truth in them. In this statement, President Bush denies the biblical revelation that the true God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all the gods of the nations are idols, that Christianity alone preaches a Savior, Jesus Christ, who alone is the way, the truth, and the life, that no one can come to the Father except through Jesus, and that God has given us eternal life in the Son. Politicians normally are incapable of absolute truth, especially concerning the way of salvation, and President Bush is no exception.
But a Christian minister is charged by God to preach truth. Paul declares, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" (Gal. 1:8). In this church we have no freedom to speak like our president. We must preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are not ashamed of it, for it alone is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.
Earlier in this chapter the author spoke about love for brothers, strangers, prisoners, spouses, and love for God instead of money. Now he speaks about the love for ministers (Heb. 13:7, 17, 24). He speaks about, first, living ministers; then, ministers who had died; and, finally, the chief minister, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Living Christian Ministers
First we want to examine who a Christian minister is, for not everyone who calls himself a minister is a true Christian minister. A Christian minister is called, anointed, and appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul declares that Christian ministers are gifts to the church, given by God to prepare his people for the works of service to build up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13). Jesus states that Christian ministers are to feed the sheep of Christ by the word of God. Therefore, they must love Jesus more than anyone or anything else in the world. Peter was asked, "Do you truly love me more than these?" (John 21:15). If we do not love Christ above all else, we are not called, anointed, and appointed ministers of Christ.
Jesus Christ called believers "my sheep." He bought us with the high price of shedding his blood. Ministers are appointed by the Holy Spirit to oversee and shepherd these people of God who are bought with God's own blood (cf. Acts 20:28). Therefore, they are to preach the whole counsel of God. They have no freedom to pick and choose what to say from the Scripture. Ministers are to feed, guide, discipline, and protect God's people from all heretics and heresies. God appoints them as watchmen to warn the people of danger (Jer. 23:4). If they fail to preach the gospel, they are accountable to God for the destruction of his people.
Jesus said the faithful and wise servant whom the master appointed to take care of his household must provide food in a timely manner to his people (Matt. 24:45). This food is the word of God. If a minister preaches a different gospel, a different Spirit, and a different Jesus, he is a false minister and servant of Satan (2 Cor. 11:4). This is what is happening all around us today. Galatians 1 says the test of a minister is whether he preaches the apostolic gospel faithfully. If he does not, he is condemned to go to hell.
In 1 Timothy 5 we are told ministers are to be given double honor, especially those who preach and teach the gospel. First Thessalonians 5 tells us people are to respect hardworking ministers who admonish the people and hold them in highest regard in love. First Timothy 3 tells us ministers are to have high moral qualities. They must also possess intellectual abilities to teach the word of God to the people and must have high management ability. They must not be lovers of money; rather, they must love Jesus and his people. Their children must respect and obey them. Their children must not be wild and unbelieving, but believers and examples to the people of God.
Matthew 28 and 1 Peter 5 tell us the authority of the minister comes to him from his Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Christ assigns to the minister a certain number of people that he may oversee, shepherd, and care for. He must do so willingly and give him an account of his service. When Jesus comes again, he will grant to every such pastor a crown of glory.
-Obey Your Leaders
It is the will of God for each church to have a plurality of elders, who are also known as bishops and pastors (Acts 14:23; Heb.13:7, 17, 24). The writer tells the people of this church, "Obey your leaders" (Heb. 13:17). The word peithesthe, "obey," is also used in James 3:3: "When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us" and Galatians 5:7: "You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?"
We are to obey our leaders. But we are not to obey pastors if they are false shepherds who fail to preach the gospel, watch over themselves and the people of God, and be examples to God's flock. We have no responsibility to obey such false shepherds. In fact, we should run away from them, saying, "We must obey God rather than men."
We must test those who claim to be pastors by the litmus test of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. John writes, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). Paul warns, "I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery, they deceive the minds of naí¯ve people" (Rom. 16:17-18). The evangelical world is full of naí¯ve, emotional people who want ministers to tickle their ears and entertain them. But John says, "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him" (2 John 10). We have a responsibility to test the preacher and see whether he is preaching the apostolic doctrine. Jesus said, "My sheep listen to my voice" (John 10:27). And if we do not have ears to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, then we are not sheep. Eventually we will manifest ourselves as goats.
People are to hear the voice of the Chief Shepherd through authentic preachers; therefore, ministers are to preach the Bible truth so that people may be transformed to perform God's will. They are to preach not psychology, politics, philosophy, poetry, or global warming and cooling, but the gospel of God. A true pastor who preaches the gospel is a gift of Christ, anointed and appointed by the Holy Spirit to minister the word of God.
We are to obey our leaders in the church. Anarchy is always evil. We see God's kingdom rule in families, the state, and the church. Children are to obey their parents, people are to submit to the state, and God's people are to submit to the Chief Shepherd and his appointed undershepherds. Ministers are to submit to Jesus Christ, and God's people are to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ and his authentic ministers.
The author is not suggesting obedience; "Obey your leaders" is a command. It is a present imperative in the Greek. We are to run away from false ministers who preach a different gospel, and obey the true minister who preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for teaching, rebuke, correction and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped to do every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16). Refusal to receive the minister and his word shows a rejection of Jesus and therefore a rejection of God the Father (cf. Matt. 10:40). We cannot believe in Jesus and reject his servants and their ministry. They are to be held in the highest regard and be given double honor. John Stott would say double honor means honor and honorarium, if needed.2 We must give respect as well as remuneration.
We see this idea of obeying godly church leaders through the Scriptures. Paul writes, "You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it" (1 Cor. 16:15-16). In the Old Testament theocracy, God appointed Joshua as the shepherd, telling him, "Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey your words, whatever you may command them, will be put to death" (Josh. 1:18). Today we do not put people to death in the church, but God will deal with any person who refuses to submit to the true minister of the gospel.
-Submit to Their Authority
Second, the author says believers must submit to the authority of their ministers (Heb. 13:17). Again, it is a present imperative. "Submit" means to come under, to yield to. It speaks about military subordination. The author is saying we must submit to their teaching especially because of the heresies mentioned in Hebrews 13:9.
A. W. Pink said about Christian ministers, "The heavier the burden they bear, the more honour they deserve . . . . The more labour anyone undertakes for our sake and the more difficulty and danger he incurs for us, the greater are our obligations to him."3
The next sentence in Hebrews 13:17 begins with the word "for" in the Greek. Why should we obey and submit to our leaders? Because they watch over our souls. True ministers watch over the spiritual, eternal welfare of their flock. They and no one else, as the Greek text implies, bear that heavy responsibility.
False shepherds are hirelings who have no interest in the sheep. But true shepherds care for the sheep. Like the good shepherd, they lay down their lives for their sheep. The Greek word for "watch over" is agrupneô. It means they lose sleep watching over God's people in prayer and the ministry of the word.
A clear illustration of such watchful care is found in the life of Jacob the shepherd: "This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes" (Gen. 31:40). Luke 2:8 speaks about shepherds watching the sheep at night.
True ministers labor constantly in feeding, counseling, disciplining, and protecting the people of God under their care. They do not tickle the ears of people to please them, but declare the voice of God. Ministry is a continuous task, especially when heretics and heresies abound. Paul warned the elders of the Ephesian church, "I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number, men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30). Later Paul speaks of several leaders who abandoned the faith (cf. 1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17-18; 4:9).
-Ministers Are Responsible to God
Then we are told ministers keep watch "as men who must give an account" (Heb. 13:17). Christian ministers are not sovereign rulers with absolute authority. (PGM) They are only undershepherds who must render an account to Christ the Good Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd, and the Great Shepherd of the sheep on that day (cf. 1 Pet. 5:2-3). Did they preach the gospel? Did they kill God's sheep or feed them? Every minister will hear from the Master on that day either, "Depart from me, you evildoer," or "Thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord."
Ministers must give an account ultimately to God, not merely to human superiors. It is the Lord of the church they have to please. Jesus Christ builds his church through God-called, God-anointed, and God-appointed undershepherds.
We are to submit to and obey true ministers so they may do their work of pastoring with joy, not pain. There is joy in serving Jesus (cf. Phil. 4:1; 3 John 4; 1 Thess. 2:20), yet there is also severe pain in ministry.
What happens if people cause ministers to groan and sigh? It will be unprofitable for them. The Greek text says it will be detrimental, a great loss, hurtful, and affecting their eternal salvation. Such behavior reveals that people are not sheep but goats, and not truly saved. John Calvin warns, "We cannot be troublesome or disobedient to our pastors without hazarding our own salvation."4
Dead Christian Ministers
Hebrews 13:7 speaks about dead pastors: "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." Those who had founded the church had since died and were with Christ in the city of the living God. What are we to do concerning them?
"Remember your leaders." The word for leaders, hêgoumenoi, is used of high state officials, political and military leaders, and princes. Stephen used the word in Acts 7:10, speaking of Pharaoh appointing Joseph as ruler of Egypt. We are to remember these leaders continually, that we may be inspired by their teaching, their holy lives, their perseverance to the end, and their triumphant deaths confessing Jesus Christ. These people did not abandon the gospel and Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep, the great high priest, to go back to the shadow of the Levitical priesthood of Judaism. In other words, the author is saying, "Do not be unthankful about our past leaders and do not forget them. They lived a life of faith and joined the list of the heroes of faith that we should emulate."
The writer continues, "[They] spoke the word of God to you" (Heb. 13:7). Preaching the word of God is the unique ministry and responsibility of a true preacher: "Thus saith the Lord." If a minister does not preach the word of God, he is a minister of Satan. Such false ministers abound today. They do not feed, guide, discipline, or protect the sheep. Instead, they entertain them and tickle their ears with new teachings alien to the gospel. They do so to get more money and become powerful and famous.
The word of God is the word of salvation (Hebrews 2:3). If a minister is not preaching God's word, he is not preaching salvation. The word is the word of life and is profitable. Faith comes by hearing the word of God preached. Therefore, ministers are to guard the deposit of the gospel and to preach it faithfully for the eternal salvation of God's elect.
Then we are told, "Consider the outcome of their way of life" (Heb. 13:7). We must study carefully the faith they preached, the holy lives they lived, and their triumphant deaths. They lived by faith and died in faith. As we study biographies and sermons of ministers of old, we will be inspired to live the life of faith now. It is a medicine that will cure us of the temptation of abandoning Christianity.
Consider the words of Paul, who wrote at the end of his life, "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing" (2 Tim. 4:6-8). Paul and those like him are heroes of faith who encourage us to run the race with patience that we may also win Christ's benediction and approbation. Though they died, they still speak to us through their writings.
Finally, we are told to "imitate their faith." Consider the pastors who lived and died in faith. Emulate their lives in word and deeds so that when you die, others may consider your life and imitate you.
The Ever-Living Minister
Finally, let us consider the ever-living minister, the Lord Jesus Christ: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb. 13:8). This is perhaps the most well-known text in this book.
The author has told us about ministers who lived and died and those who are living yet who are also going to die. We must obey them and submit to them when they preach the word of salvation, and emulate them.
Yet we cannot emulate them in everything because they are not perfect. The only perfect minister is Jesus Christ, who came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45). He is the Good Shepherd and his sheep do hear his voice. He died for our sins as our substitute and mediator. He alone made purification for our sins by the shedding of his blood as the Lamb of God. As both priest and victim, he makes every elect sinner perfect to approach God with confidence. Through him we have come to the city of the living God to worship God in spirit and in truth. Jesus died once and was buried, but he was raised from the dead to die no more.
Godly pastors have died and they shall continue to die. It is appointed for man once to die (Heb. 9:27). But the Good Pastor, Jesus Christ, lives forevermore. He is our perfect example and we are to emulate him wholly. He is trustworthy and we can always depend on him. He is for us, with us, and in us. He goes before us, feeds us, guides us, and guards us from all harm. He shall bring us all safely home to God our Father. He is the final and perfect revelation of God to us. Therefore, it would be sheer folly to abandon Jesus and go back to the shadow of Judaism. He was dependable when he lived on earth yesterday, he is dependable today as he intercedes as our high priest in behalf of us before the Father, and he will remain dependable forever.
Friends may change, parents may change, pastors may change, children may change, and spouses may change, but Jesus is the same forever. He is the same Savior, so his gospel never changes. The gospel is the gospel of the unchanging Jesus Christ. It alone is the power of God unto salvation. All other religions are impotent to save people. They cannot deal with human depravity. Only Jesus saves and he never fails. There is no new and improved Jesus. Because he is eternal, he gives us eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9), eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12), and an eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15), based on God's eternal covenant (Heb. 13:20). He helps us now (Heb. 2:18) and gives us grace now (Heb. 4:16). He intercedes for us now (Heb. 7:25), and his grace is sufficient for us now (2 Cor. 12:9). We can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). He stands with us now and in the hour of our death.
If you are a Christian minister, I urge you to preach the unchanging gospel of the unchanging Christ. Watch over your people for their spiritual welfare. Remember that you are only undershepherds; Jesus Christ is the Chief Shepherd. Be always prepared to give him an account of your service.
People of God, obey your leaders. Obey your ministers and submit to them gladly. Enable them to do their work with great joy, that their ministry may be everlastingly profitable to you. Children, respect, obey, and submit to your parents, teachers, and pastors, that you may be filled with all the blessings of God.
2 John Stott, Guard the Truth, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 137.
13 A. W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1954), 1243.
4 Ibid., 1244.
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Copyright © 2007, P. G. Mathew
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