Submitting To Our Elders
The Scriptures says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” Hebrews 13:17. Let us look at this passage!
“Obey [“to listen to, obey, yield to, comply with” (Thayer, p. 497)] them that “have the rule over you [“to govern” (Abbott-Smith, p. 178) cf. Luke 3:1; “lead, guide” (Bauer, p. 343). They are to do this in matters of expediency.] and submit yourselves: [“To resist no longer, but to give way, yield…to yield authority and admonition, to submit” (Thayer, p. 638); “to yield, submit…” (Abbott-Smith, p. 457); “to submit to…obey…” (Bloomfield, p. 450); “yield…give way, submit…” (Bauer, p. 838).] for they [that is the ones who have the rule over you] watch [“to be circumspect, attentive, ready…” (Thayer, p. 9).] for your souls, as they [those who have the rule over you] as they that must give account [ἀποδίδωμι when used with λόγον “to render account…” (Thayer, p. 61. Vine states, “an account which one gives by word of mouth.” p. 10)] that they [those who have the rule over you] may do it with joy, and not with grief: [“to sigh, to groan…” (Thayer, p. 587)] for that is unprofitable [“unprofitable, hurtful, pernicious…” Thayer, p. 29)] for you.”
A question that usually arises about an eldership is their having the right to make decisions for the congregation and expect the members to abide by those decisions. The government of the Lord’s church is a government of God’s people by those appointed according to God’s Word to govern God’s people. Elders rule that the congregation might serve the Lord. The Lord is the source of the blessings and benefits, which come to those who serve Him by faithful submission to their elders. The church is commanded to carry out her work, which is the edification of the members, evangelism of the world, and to help those in need. The question arises, “how is each work to be done?” The Bible does not give us the details of how the work of the church is to be carried out. The “how” (details) is left up to the elders. However, what if I refuse to follow the “how” (details) of the elders? The one who does will give an answer for it. Elders can determine the “how” (details) and admonish the members, and some ignore the exhortations. Ignoring the exhortations is blatant rebellion toward Hebrews 13:17. Elders are to be respected according to 1 Timothy 5:17 and 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13.
The apostles according to Mark 10:42-45 were not to “exercise lordship.” However, did this mean that they had no authority to command and expect those commands to be obeyed? Look at the parallel passage in Luke 22:25 which says, “And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.” The subjects serve the king. Why? They had to because the king is the source of the benefits to his subjects. If I obey the commands of the apostles, I am serving the Lord, and the Lord is the source of all the benefits for those who serve Him. If I obey the “how” (details) of the elders, I am serving the Lord, and the Lord is the source of all the benefits for those who serve Him. If I do not obey the elders, I am not serving the Lord.
Our text, Hebrews 13:17, instructs elders to “rule over” the congregation of which they are elders. How could this be done if they do not have decision-making authority? Furthermore, why would we as members be commanded to “obey them” who have no authority to make decisions with respect to us? Also, how could our elders be required to give an account over those whom they have no control? Look at Acts 20:28-30. Paul calls the Ephesian elders “overseers.” Notice the warnings: He warns them about grievous wolves entering in among them “not sparing the flock; He warns them about men “speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” Now, what could the elders do about this, if they have no authority to make decisions concerning the congregation? At one congregation, a family identified with the congregation. The elders announced it to the congregation. They were accepted without any information except that they had moved into the area. Later, when the preacher visited with the family, he found out that the father was not a member of the church even though he was being encouraged to get involved in the work of the congregation. If you were an elder, would you not want some information before you started using people you did not know?
Elders have the authority to decide “how” (details) of how the congregation is to carry out the edification of the congregation, the evangelizing of the world, and the helping of those in need. They are to know the flock over which they are overseers. Acts 20:28.
Bobby D. Gayton