“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Hebrews 13:17 is a passage that requires careful and thoughtful consideration. For instance, a dishonorable or misguided leader might use this admonition to “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive” as a means of silencing those who raise legitimate doctrinal or behavioral concerns. Therefore, it is important to exercise discernment as we look to apply this verse in our interactions with spiritual leaders and others within the church.
We can begin by examining some of the primary leadership responsibilities that God has entrusted to His people…
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11).
The following verse explains why God has established these leadership positions…
“for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).
With these responsibilities in mind, we can say that obedience and submission to spiritual authorities presumes they are acting in accord with these verses from the book of Ephesians. Since a church leader is responsible to build, strengthen, and prepare others to perform the work that God has given them to do, we are thus responsible to follow such leaders as they teach and speak on the authority of His Word.
Therefore, we can say that the words and actions of a good spiritual leader should go hand-in-hand with the accurate communication of God’s Word. We should also recognize that good spiritual leaders are those who prepare others to submit to God first. Jesus saved some of His harshest criticism for the religious authorities of His day who abandoned that concept…
“For Moses commanded, ‘Respect your father and your mother,’ and, ‘If you curse your father or your mother, you are to be put to death.’ But you teach that if people have something they could use to help their father or mother, but say, ‘This is Corban’ (which means, it belongs to God), they are excused from helping their father or mother. In this way the teaching you pass on to others cancels out the word of God. And there are many other things like this that you do” (Mark 7:10-13 GW).
In light of this, we should affirm the authority of those who rule over us as they lead in harmony with God’s Word.