“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 you.” Hebrews 13:17
This congregation has had the blessing of having an established eldership since 1953. Sixty-eight years the saints that meet here at Country Club Road have been under the watchful care of shepherds. Currently, we have four godly men who are shepherding the flock that God has given to their charge (1 Peter 5:2; Acts 20:28). The work of shepherding is work; make no mistake about it (1 Timothy 3:1). It is work done that is for the benefit of our souls. Because of the benefit and great responsibility, some things are owed to those who labor as shepherds of the flock.
- We Are to Appreciate and Know Them:
Elders are to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2). Shepherding involves knowing and being known to the flock. Jesus, the master Shepherd, said, “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me” (John 10:14). There is to be familiarity between the sheep and their shepherds. But this is a two-way street. Like in any relationship, it is a give and take. Shepherds cannot know their sheep if we spurn every opportunity to get to know them.
Paul instructs us in 1 Thessalonians 5:12 to “Appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction.” To appreciate something is to “recognize the full worth of.” Scripture admonishes us to recognize the full worth of having Shepherds who diligently shepherd the flock here.
- We Are to Esteem Them:
The next verse instructs us to “esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:13). To esteem, someone is to respect them. However, the scripture goes further than just respect. We are to esteem our elders very highly in love. The same love that is due to every fellow believer (see 1 Corinthians 13). We are to do so because of their work. It is a work that very few men are qualified to do, and that very few will have the privilege of doing.
- We Are to Be at Peace with One Another:
The end of 1 Thessalonians 5:13 says, “Live in peace with one another.” Not only are our Elders worthy of respect, but we as the flock allotted to their charge owe them, as much as it depends on us (Romans 12:18), to be a peace with one another.
Going back to Hebrews 13:17 for a moment. We need to be sheep where the shepherds have joy in their work and not grief. Let us strive to be a harmonious flock. Let us strive to be sheep that when we come to the elders, it is because we need the comfort and guidance of their shepherding, not because of petty disputes.
- We Are to Submit and Obey Their Rule:
Hebrews 13:17 “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 you.”
This submission and obedience here is not a one-way street. There is cooperation and the dutiful execution of God-given responsibilities by all involved. One writer noted that “Such obedience will benefit those who submit, since their souls will be cared for and there will be harmony and joy in their mutual responsibilities. The leaders are also reminded that they will give an account to God” (ESV Study Bible 2008, 2386).
- We Are to Not Hastily Speak Ill of or Rebuke an Elder:
In 1 Timothy 5:1, we are instructed to “not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father.” And in v.19to “not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.” The scripture is clear, because of the respect we are to have for the office (which, by the way, the office does not exist except when occupied), we are to be very careful in bringing accusations against the elders. And we need to put a stop to them when they are spoken of in our presence.
These men are brethren, and that means if I have a concern or issue, I need to follow Matthew 18:15-18 and go to them in private and speak to them as brethren, for that is what they are.
- We Are to Remember Them and Imitate Their Faith:
Looking at Hebrews 13:7, the Hebrew writer encouraged his readers to remember. To remember their previous leaders (elders) how they labored among them. He says, “remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” Good flesh and blood examples of the Christian life are worthy of being imitated (1 Corinthians 11:1), no less so for elders.
- We Are to Consider the Elders Worthy of Double Honor:
One thing that Christians owe their elders is something we often don’t think about. Financial support. The Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 5:17-18 instructs that the elders who “work hard at preaching and teaching” are considered worthy of “double honor.” Double honor can mean financial support, but more generally, it means generous remuneration. The next verse would be additional support that an elder who labors diligently is worthy of wages for his labor.
- We Are to Call on the Elders When We Are in Need:
Finally, but perhaps one of the most important, we as members of the flock owe it to our elders to come to them when we are in need. The disciple James wrote in James 5:14, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
These men have voluntarily taken on the work of shepherding. They do so because, I believe, at an elder’s core is the desire to help their brethren. There is a care and concern for their brothers and sisters in Christ. And one of the ways we show our support for them is to call on them. Call on them when Satan is attacking us, when the world seems to be encroaching, when we need strength to take the next step on the path of discipleship. The shepherd’s crook should be a sign of comfort to us and a symbol of fear to those who would harm the flock.
What a great blessing it is to have shepherds over the flock here. Let us all remember the hard work these men do. Thank them. And support them, for they keep watch over our souls.