This generation of Americans has become extremely critical of its leaders. Whether they be parents, teachers, politicians or pastors, many feel no restraint at openly criticizing or even ridiculing those who try to lead us. The atmosphere has become so sour that many people are unwilling to be put in a position of leadership at any level for fear of the harsh treatment thats likely to come. The sad result of this prevailing attitude is that some of our most gifted individuals refuse to expose themselves to such treatment and stay on the sidelines. Yes, of course, most of us can point to times in our history when we were abused by someone in authority, some of us quite severely, but that does not excuse us from obeying this clear command of Scripture. The author of Hebrews calls us to obey the godly leaders the Lord has placed in our lives. Today well focus not so much on what God requires of leaders, but on what He requires of followers, and the fact is Hes called all of us to be followers in one capacity or another. Learning how to do this properly is quite an art. It takes real maturity to be a good follower. And especially in America, it takes some real attitude changes for most of us to do it well. But when we do, a surprising phenomenon takes place: we turn around and discover a lot of people are following us.
A. What does this verse say?
In verse seven of this chapter the author told his readers to imitate the faith they had seen in the apostles who first spoke the Word of God to them. But in this verse (v 17) he urges them to obey their present generation of leaders. He tells them: Obey the ones leading you and submit to them for they sleeplessly watch over your souls as ones rendering an account to God, so that they may do this with joy and not groaning (literal)
Notice: He does not hesitate to call for obedience and submission to human leaders.
He says God appoints people to sleeplessly watch over our souls like a shepherd watches over sheep.
He says these leaders will be held accountable by God for the way they care for us.
He says the way we treat them can make their job joyful or miserable.
B. What followership is not:
1) Acknowledging that Im inferior to the person I follow:
The highest example of this is Jesus who joyfully submits to His Father throughout eternity (1Co 15:24-28)
Jesus submission to and honoring of His Father in no way implies that He is less than divine Himself, anymore than a childs submission to a parent is an admission that they are less human than their parent.
Jesus example teaches us that humility and submission are not the by-products of sin, but are part of Gods character and will be part of us forever. Of course, in eternity we will all submit to God, not other humans, however, I do suspect we will thankfully honor certain people for their Christ-like service to us, and Jesus does say those who are faithful here will be rewarded with increased authority in the Messianic Age (Millennium) (Mt 25:14-30; Lk 22:28-30)
2) Granting someone permission to exploit me
Big man culture: those in authority demand that energy and resources flow to them. Jesus said in His kingdom the flow was to be in the opposite direction (Lk 22:24-30)
God does not ask me to abandon my conscience and give unquestioned authority to anyone. His admonitions about obedience and submission always assume there are definite limits (moral, legal, spiritual health; Ac 4:18-22)
I dont have to agree with someone on everything to cooperate, but in the long run I do need to trust them, respect them and be convinced they hear from God and have our best interests at heart.
3) Replacing God with a human
In fact, submitting to people is an act of faith and worship to God: I follow you because I believe God called you to lead me
I honor God by honoring the leaders He has placed in my life (5th Commandment). I give honor as a gift but dont abandon my responsibility to hear from God and obey Him for myself. Ultimately, I will stand before Him and account for my own life (1Co 4:3-5; 2Co 5:10).
C. What followership is:
1) Submitting myself to a family of believers and living out with them the relational commands of the Bible (Eph 5:21).
One anothers (John Wesley)
Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another
2) Speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15)
I love you enough to say kindly what I really think so you have all the information you need to make a decision (not be passive-aggressive or two-faced).
This takes courage and an inner willingness to be punished or rejected if my words are badly received.
3) Working for that which is another mans (Lk 16:12)
Am I willing to work hard for someone other than myself?
Its amazing what you can accomplish if you dont care who gets the credit (R. Reagan)
4) Doing my part consistently
Give, pray, serve, go
5) Taking the lowest seat
Let God promote you in His time, and remember what He will give you is a greater responsibility to serve more people.
D. The heart of a follower
In his first widely-published book on raising children called Dare to Discipline, Dr. James Dobson made a very profound distinction between a childs spirit and will. Here it is as I remember it:
Spirit: the childs self-worth, the sense of being loved and valued
Will: the childs desire to get their own way
He said that a childs spirit is very fragile. It can be damaged easily with just a few words or even a look. But the human will is extremely resilient and very hard to break. Based on my own experience, its nearly impossible to break someone elses will. That seems to me something I must do for myself, or at least let God do in me. Hopefully, with good parenting that breaking started taking place in childhood, but many of us reached adulthood with our will unbowed. Weve never learned to obey, submit or accept being told no peaceably, and the result is we become independent and rebellious, and the course of our lives can be badly affected. We may end up unable to stay married, hold a job, get the promotion our gifting would normally produce or minister happily as a part of the family of God. In our minds we may excuse ourselves by thinking of ourselves as victims, but the truth is we may have unknowingly become abusive ourselves, especially when people try to lead us.
E. What should I do if I recognize Ive become hard to lead?
1) Stop punishing all leaders for what others did to me.
2) Stop saying, never again!, and let God show me the leaders Hes placed in my life.
3) Define for myself the boundaries in which I can cooperate with others even when I disagree.
4) Look for a church-family to whom I can belong and submit myself.
5) Realize that human leaders have a role to play but are not our true leader. Ultimately everything we do, including cooperating with humans, is done to follow Jesus.
1) Name some of the leaders God has placed in your life (parents, teachers, politicians, pastors, etc.).
2) Have you brought your leaders joy or groaning?
3) Have you ever been bitterly disappointed by a leader? What effect did that have on you?