Well, let’s open our Bibles for our time in God’s Word, chapter 5 of 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5 of 1 Thessalonians. Last Lord’s day and this morning we’re studying verses 12 and 13. Let me read them to you – 1 Thessalonians 5:12 and 13. “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.”
These two verses discuss how the sheep are to treat the shepherd, how the shepherds are to treat the sheep, within the framework of Christian fellowship in the church. Last week you’ll remember we talked about the responsibility of the shepherds to the sheep, how shepherds are to care for their sheep. That, of course, was a message close to my own heart as a shepherd who has sheep and a responsibility before God to do that kind of care. It also was a message reflecting all of our pastors and elders at Grace Church.
And as I was mulling over the things I said last week, and the responsibilities, the joys, the difficulties, the trials, the tribulations, the exhilarations of being a pastor, I was reminded that a few months ago Phil Johnson and I were having lunch, and he said to me, he said, “You know, John, you need to write another editorial for the Masterpiece magazine that’s coming up pretty soon; what would you like to write an editorial on?” And as I was munching my Carl’s chicken sandwich down the street, I said, “You know, Phil, I think I’d like to write an article on why I’m a pastor, just so that everybody understands that no matter what profile I might appear to have in the outside world, the heart of everything is pastoring and that’s what God’s called me to do and that’s what I really am.”
And he said, “Well how would you do it?” I said, “Well, what about if I wrote an article on ten reasons why I am a pastor?” And I just whimsically said “ten.” And he said, “Well, can you think of ten?” And I said, “I bet I can. Have you got a pencil?” And so he began to write as I articulated ten reasons why I’m a pastor. Well, that became an article that ended up in the last issue of Masterpiece magazine, in the editorial section where I always write an article.
My thinking was originally stimulated when I read the biography of Jonathan Edwards written by Ian Murray and learned about all the personal heartaches he had had in his church. He pastored a church; they kicked him out, they voted him out. After all that time of a profound and blessed ministry – Jonathan Edwards even was the key leader in the Great American Awakening, the greatest revival that’s ever hit this nation. His church didn’t seem to take that into account.
And while, though I’m in year 22, I don’t anticipate such a fate, I do know what it is to suffer criticism. I do know what it is to be the constant subject of accusation, both inside the church and outside the church. There have been moments, believe me, when leaving the church was attractive to me. And there is almost a constant query to me: ”Why don’t you leave Grace Church and do something else?” But I have never contemplated any such move seriously, because I love my calling from God, and I love my place, and I love my people. I remain wholly totally committed to the duty of a pastor. And there are a number of reasons why. Let me just rehearse for you briefly those ten reasons why I’m a pastor, or why I’m a shepherd.
Number one: the church is the only institution Christ promised to build and bless. He said, “I will build My church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” And I take great comfort and confidence in the fact that I am a part of the greatest institution on the face of the earth, the local church, and I’m thankful for having a small part in our Lord’s great work of building the church.
Secondly, I’m a pastor because the corporate functions of the body all take place in the church. As soon as you move outside the church you divorce yourself from the place of celebration, the place of worship, the place of the Lord’s table, the place of baptism, the place of encouragement, the place of edification, the place of instruction. And if we are going to come as the psalmist said, and worship and bow down, and if we’re going to come and take of the Lord’s table, and if we’re going to come to the waters of baptism, and if we’re going to come to be fed, and taught, and nurtured, and discipled, and to enjoy the riches of fellowship, that all happens in the local church.
Thirdly, I’m a pastor because preaching is the chief means God uses to dispense His grace. The apostle Paul commanded Timothy to preach the Word. It is through the preached Word, through the proclamation of the Word that people are edified, and built up, and encouraged, and strengthened, and motivated, and confronted, and convicted, and rebuked, and reproved, and restored. I have the privilege each Sunday of proclaiming God’s message, once in the morning and once at night. And to be real honest with you, the reason we have a Sunday night service is simply because we want another opportunity to proclaim that truth and all of the things that go with it.
Fourthly, I’m a pastor because I can be consumed with study and communion with God all my life long. I would hate to be involved in administrating some organization where I was caught up in the minutiae, and the trivia, and the details of things that are other than the Word of God, because I am consumed by the things of Scripture. Someone asked me this last week, “What drives you?” And I said, “It’s my love for the Word of God; that’s what drives me.” And the fact that I can spend my whole life doing what I love to do is to me a great thrill. I was talking to a professional baseball player a few weeks ago and I said, “What do you like the best about what you do?” And he said, “What I like best about it is that I’m doing what I love to do.” So am I.
In fact, what I love to do just happens to lead me into personal, private, constant communion with God in the pages of Scripture. Dr. Rosscup at the seminary is part of our faculty, writing a book on expository preaching, which we’re very excited about. And he’s writing a chapter on prayer and expository preaching, and he wrote me a little note, and in the note he said, “Would you write me a paragraph or so about how prayer enters in to your preparation?” And I was happy to write the rough draft of it, which is on my desk waiting to be revised in the next day or so, and to say the reality of prayer is absolutely inseparable from the exercise of preparation.
I cannot in the process of preparation divorce myself from an ongoing conversation with God, as I seek to know His mind, and His heart, and His will, and have them apply in my heart what it is that I’m studying, and learning, and shall sooner or later preach. You see the public side of me, but there is a private side to me that God knows, and only God knows. You see me for two hours on a Sunday, one in the morning and one at night, if you’re really spiritual. You see me for only one hour if you’re not. That’s not anywhere near the 30 hours, at least, that I spend in private communion to prepare for the one or two hours that you see me. That’s the joy, that’s the love, that’s the passion of ministry.
Fifthly, I am a pastor because I am directly responsible to God for the lives of the people He has given me to shepherd. And I love that accountability. I don’t mind being a teacher on the radio. I don’t mind writing books. I don’t mind sending out my words to people I don’t know, whether they hear me on the radio, listen to a tape, or read a book. But I have a relationship with my people like that of a shepherd to the sheep, and I have the privilege and the call of God to watch over their souls as one who will give an account to God. And the only way I can discharge that calling is in a local church. I cannot be accountable for the souls of people on a radio program. I cannot be accountable for the souls of people who listen to me on a tape or read a book. I can only be accountable to God for the souls of the sheep in my own flock. And to that I have been called, and to that I desire to be faithful.
Sixthly, I am also accountable to the people in my church. Not only am I accountable to God for the people in my church, but I’m accountable to the people in my church for being faithful to God. Everything is exposed to you. After nearly 22 years – I’ll be twenty-second anniversary February 9 – but in all of these years, it’s all out there for you to see; everything is exposed there. My wife, my children, my family life, my personal strengths, my personal weaknesses, the things I love, the things I hate, the style of life I live, it’s all there, and I cherish that accountability.
You say, “Why?” Because it holds me – it holds me where I need to be held. It’s a constant encouragement for me to reflect Christ in everything I say and do because that’s the only way I can undergird a message. People can listen to me on the radio, they don’t have any idea how I love. They can listen to a tape, they can read a book, they have no idea of what my life is like. But you do, and I know you do, and that kind of accountability is very, very good for me.
Number seven: I am a pastor because I love the challenge of building an effective leadership team from the people God has put in the church. I really believe that to be an effective leader in the church is the most challenging enterprise there is on the face of the earth. There are a number of reasons why. One of them, for example, is when you start a business or a company and you want to be successful, you can hire anybody you want. But when you build a church, you’ve got to take what God gives. That’s very different – very different. And it’s a volunteer organization. You not only take what God gives, you take what the people God gives are willing to give. And it’s out of that kind of challenge that you’re called to build a leadership team that can advance the Kingdom of God.
And frankly, I’m not saying this to despair, but I want you to know the Bible says, “Not many of you are wise, not many of you are mighty, and not many of you are noble,” 1 Corinthians 1:26. We’re basically the common folks of the world, aren’t we? And I thank God again and again that He didn’t stick me in some elitist kind of church. I didn’t want to ever pastor a church made up of the elite. I wanted a church that was the cross section of the whole of the body of Christ, where there were only a few who would be considered the mighty and the noble, and most of us would be just the faithful folks. I see myself among them, and it’s been a tremendous joy to see the Spirit of God build a leadership team and advance His Kingdom through our church. What a challenge that is.
Number eight: I’m a pastor because the pastorate embraces all of life – all of life. I don’t know about you, but I love adventure, and I love variety. And if you want a life of adventure and variety, be a pastor. No two days are the same. No two days are the same. I was never made to work on an assembly line. I would be somewhere under the bed saying the Greek alphabet in a few weeks if I was working on an assembly line; it would drive me stark raving mad. My mind gravitates toward variety, and that’s because God’s designed me for that. And that is true in the ministry. It embraces all of life. I can share the joy of parents over the birth of a child. I can share the pain of parents over the death of a child. I can share the joy of a wedding. I can share the comfort necessary at a funeral.
The gamut of life is exposed to the pastorate. All of the joys, and exhilarations, and happy times of life, all of the tragedies, difficulties, trials, and pains of life; it is an incredible adventure which can begin at any moment, because any time anything out of the ordinary happens, I’m somehow involved in that. It is a joy to go beyond the sermon, which is the predictable part of the ministry, into the unpredictable part, as you stand in the gap for God in the place of Christ in the lives of people.
I am a pastor for two other reasons. Number nine: I’m afraid not to be a pastor. And that’s the truth. When I was 18, God threw me out of a car going 70 miles an hour. I landed on my backside and slid 110 yards on the pavement. By the grace of God, I wasn’t killed, and by the grace of God, I was committed to become a pastor, because prior to that I knew the Lord had called me to that. I was being rebellious, and I decided if the Lord is going to fight like that, I’m going to give in and be a pastor, or whatever else He wants me to be. Every time I scratch my back I feel the scars of that, because they’re still there to remind me that I should be faithful to the pastorate, or there might be another highway somewhere in my future. And that’s all right.
And lastly, I’m a pastor because the rewards of pastoring are absolutely marvelous. I have to tell you, I feel loved, I feel appreciated, I feel needed, I feel trusted, all of those things. Why? Not because of me, but because being an instrument of God changes people’s lives. When God uses you to preach His Word, teach His Word, apply His Word, people’s lives change, and you have the sense of a marvelous, marvelous meaning to life. Life is so valuable for me because of what God uses it to accomplish.
I know you pray for me. I know you care for me. I know that. I owe a debt of gratitude to God for that, because I’m not worthy of that, but I understand that. That goes with the territory of being a channel through which the grace of God can flow to people. Though it is God doing it all, and God’s Spirit doing it all, as the thanks is passed back to God, somehow it gets passed through the channel that it came through. That’s a wonderful and exhilarating reality.
When all is said and done, the joy and fulfillment of being a pastor is the response and the mutual love that the sheep and the shepherd share. I want you to know that in all the years I’ve been here, I’ve never ministered without joy, I’ve never ministered without fulfillment, I’ve never ministered in a vacuum of love, you have always loved me, you’ve always encouraged my heart. And it has been the response of the sheep to the shepherd that have made this ministry so exhilarating for me. And I think anyone in the ministry would say that. With all of those ten things I gave you, the bottom line is this, I’m in the ministry because the rewards are so great, and the rewards are eternal, and eternally the value of a relationship between a shepherd and his sheep – what a great truth.
I suppose all the shepherds in this flock, all the elders of this church, would agree that the joy of ministry is linked to the attitude of the sheep toward the shepherd. When God passes the truth through me to you, and you pass the thanks through me to Him, that’s a tremendous joy. I’ll tell you, not everybody experiences that. The driveways of many churches are blackened with the skid marks from the hasty exits of pastors who have been abused and bashed by a heartless thankless people. That has not been my case.
But it does pose the question for us in the text, how are shepherds to be treated? How are you to treat the shepherd? Now, I give this message with a little reluctance, because somebody will surely say, “Well, somebody’s been after John so he preached this message to straighten him out.” Not true. You know we just happened to arrive in chapter 5 at verse 12 and 13, right? And you know that we are compelled by the plan of God, not by some personal agenda of mine.
How are the sheep to treat the shepherds? Last week it was how are the shepherds to treat the sheep? And I told you you could live irresponsibly for one more week – time is up. Time is up. This is it, folks. Here is the responsibility of the sheep to the shepherds. Now, for some people, they don’t even think about this. Sometimes the issue is a little more than a joke. Like the pastor who was literally bothered to distraction by one man who fell asleep every Sunday through his sermon. And the man was a prominent church member. And he slept through every sermon. Finally the pastor decided, “I don’t care if he’s prominent, I don’t care if he’s a big giver, I have to confront him.” And he said, “Why, sir, do you fall asleep when I’m delivering my sermon? It shows a lack of respect.” To which the man answered, “Do you think I’d sleep if I didn’t trust you?” Look, I don’t need that kind of trust, if it’s the same to you.
How are sheep to treat their shepherds? How are sheep to treat their shepherds? The following article entitled, “How to Get Rid of a Pastor,” appeared in a church bulletin. Listen to it. “Not long ago a well-meaning group of laymen came from a neighboring church to see me. They wanted me to advise them on some convenient and painless method of getting rid of their pastor. I’m afraid, however, that I wasn’t much help to them. At the time, I had not had the occasion to give the matter serious thought. But since then, I have pondered the matter a great deal, and the next time anyone comes for advice on how to get rid of the pastor, here’s what I’ll tell them.
“One: look the pastor straight in the eye while he’s preaching and say ‘amen’ once in a while, and he’ll preach himself to death. Two: pat him on the back, brag on his good points, and he’ll probably work himself to death. Three: rededicate your life to Christ and ask the preacher for some job to do, preferably some lost people you could win to Christ, and he’ll die of heart failure. Four: get the church to unite in prayer for the preacher, and he’ll soon become so effective that a larger church will take him off your hands.”
It does raise some vital questions when we think about it; how are we to treat the pastor? A survey of 3,000 churches, pastors and laymen included in the survey, asked the question, “What are the main reasons people drop out of a church?” One of the most common replies was, “I don’t like the pastor.” What is our duty? Let’s go back to our text. We already looked at the responsibility of the shepherds to their sheep, and we noted that they are to labor among the sheep, first of all. Secondly, they are to exercise authority over the sheep. And they are to give instruction for the sheep. We carefully delineated those three things.
The first point, laboring among the sheep, you notice there in verse 12, “Those who diligently labor among you,” pastors, elders, overseers, shepherds are to labor hard. Work to the point of exhaustion in a sacrificial life of service alongside the sheep. Total dedication is seen there. That’s the servant role of humility. And then note please also they have charge over you in the Lord. They have authority over the sheep by virtue of the Lord’s calling. For His sake, by His will, for His glory, they are to preside and direct and lead. And then at the end of verse 12, they are to give you instruction, instruction for the sheep. Teaching is the primary element. They are to be skilled teachers; skilled at delineating and disseminating the Word of truth.
Now let’s go to the responsibility of the sheep to their shepherds. And this is very, very basic. I mean, the church has to know this. This is the bottom line in our relationship together. Sometimes sheep can be very hard on shepherds. Somebody said, “We think sheep are cuddly little creatures, because the only ones we ever deal with are stuffed.” That’s true. If you’ve ever worked with sheep, and I have been exposed to them just enough to know they are weak, helpless, unorganized, prone to wander, demanding, dirty, and have sharp hooves. And when the Lord was describing us as sheep, He was talking about sheep as sheep, not sheep as stuffed animals.
Sheep can make life joyless for the shepherd if they don’t follow the path of their duty. They can make life miserable if they’re not obedient. So let’s look at the three characteristics or principles that we’re enjoined as sheep toward our shepherds.
Number one: appreciate your shepherds. Verse 12 says, “We request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction.” The word “appreciate” for a moment is oida in the Greek; it means “to know.” It is a common word used all over the New Testament for “to know.” But it means the kind of knowledge that comes by experience; to have learned to know, to have come to know, to by experience to arrive at knowledge. And here it has the idea of a deep knowledge, and a knowledge that includes in it respect and appreciation; to know and to value is the implication of it here. Perhaps the best translation is the word “to appreciate.” Another one might be that you value those who diligently labor among you, that you respect those who diligently labor among you.
It doesn’t mean to know their names, not that kind of simplistic knowledge. It doesn’t mean to know just the names of their children, or their wife, or their zip code, or where they live, or whatever school they graduated from, or what kind of car they drive, or whatever. It means that you have come into a deep and intimate personal acquaintance that leads to appreciation. You know them well enough to care about them. That word “know” is sometimes translated to refer to the physical act between a man and a woman, the deep kind of knowledge, the intimate kind of knowledge, where a man knows a woman, and she becomes the bearer of a child. It’s the sense of knowing someone and the worthiness of that someone.
I’m constantly given a comment when I enter into questions of people who listen to me preach. Very, very frequently they will say to me, “I feel like I know you. I’ve never been personally acquainted with you, I haven’t spent a lot of time with you, but I feel like I know you.” And what they’re really saying is that because they have listened for so long to the pouring out of the heart of the preacher, there’s a sense in which you know that person. And I always reply by saying, “Well, if you’ve been listening to me, you know me because what you’re hearing is what is me.” I am not what I look like. In fact, I tell people all the time when they meet me and say, “Oh, I listened to you on radio for years.” I say, “I know I look better on radio.” It isn’t a question of what I look like. You don’t know me by knowing what I look like; you know me by knowing what I feel, right? You know me by knowing what comes out of my heart. You know me by knowing the passions of my life.
It’s easy to be unkind, and it’s easy to be critical, and it’s easy to be indifferent to someone you don’t know deeply and intimately. But when you know someone, and you’ve come to know them by experience, and you understand the passion of their heart, there’s a certain respect that is born out of that kind of knowing. And so it is incumbent upon you that you come to know your leaders. If you’re going to respect them, and appreciate them, and admire them, and understand their worth, and their value, it means that you are going to have to come to know them. And then when you know them, you show them that kind of respect.
Now, I need to say that this has some overtones regarding financial support, and again I want to give a disclaimer. I do not want a raise, I will not accept a raise, I’m not asking for a raise. But it is important for you to know that the connection in the text implies that this matter of appreciation involves giving financial support. To show you that, you need only to look at 1 Timothy 5:17, just briefly there, where it says, “Let the elders who rule well” – those who do it with excellence – “be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.”
Now, here are elders ruling, and they are worthy men. Their worthiness calls for double honor, timē. Now, what does that mean? Well, it can mean respect. It can mean high regard. But the context here shows that it includes pay. He is just in prior verses, verses 3 to 16, discussed the support of widows; now he discusses the support of ministers, pastors. And he is saying if they rule well, they are worthy of double timē. By the way, on a number of occasions in the New Testament – Matthew 27:6 and 9, 1 Corinthians 6:20 – the word timē is associated with money. And so he is saying give them respect and remuneration, and make it double: double honor, double respect, and generous pay. Why? Because you are rewarding the well-ruling elders, those that are diligent, faithful elders; they are worthy. They deserve it.
And by the way, as a footnote, there is nobody better to be trusted than a godly man with the resources you give him. In whose hands could you better put that than a godly man, who would use it to the glory of the Lord? And at the end of the verse, “Especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” – those who work hard in the Word – trust them with God’s money. Reward them. Show your honor to them in a tangible way.
So there’s kind of a flow here. Elders are worthy of honor. Elders are worthy of honor with remuneration. Hard-working, excellent elders are worthy of double honor; hard-working and excellent elders who major in preaching and teaching are particularly worthy of respect and remuneration. So every faithful shepherd is to be appreciated, respected, admired, honored, and supported. There’s a very simple direct verse that states this. Back in 1 Corinthians 9 – and we’ll move quickly through the next two points – but back in 1 Corinthians 9 – I won’t take the time to belabor the point. There is a principle in verse 14, 1 Corinthians 9:14, it sums it up. “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” Those who proclaim the gospel are to get their living from the gospel. That means if you spend your life doing it, you are to be supported in the doing. So now you can go back again to our text in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5.
The first thing that the congregation is to give to the leaders, the elders, pastors, is respect that incorporates care in remuneration – to support them, to double honor them, being generous, not just a bare minimum so they have to scrape by, but showing great generosity, and respect, and admiration to them knowing they will be good stewards of what you give them. What is the congregation’s responsibility? Respect, admiration, honor, appreciation.
Secondly – and this builds right on that – esteem them. He says down in verse 13, “and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” Now, this is very much like the first one, not a lot of difference; to esteem, hēgeomai, means to consider or to regard; to think. It means to go a little deeper than the first duty, because it says you are to esteem them how – very highly. You know what that is in the Greek? Beyond all measure – beyond all measure. And then the key word: “in love – in love, because of their work.” Not because of their personality – this is not a personality contest – because of their work. You are to regard them beyond all measure. You are to regard a faithful pastor beyond all measure. The point is there’s no limit. There’s no limit to the regard you ought to have for that man, to the love you ought to have for that man. You are to love that man.
What does love mean? It means sacrificial service to him. It means affection for him. Not because of his personality, not because he’s done favors for you, but because of his work – because he ministers to you the Word of God, because he feeds your needy soul. In Galatians you would notice, chapter 4 and verse 14, Paul says, “That which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you didn’t despise or loathe.” Paul had some bodily condition that made him repulsive to be around, and he says, “You didn’t loathe that.” There was nothing attractive about the man, nothing at all. “You didn’t loathe it. You received me as an angel of God. You received me as Christ Jesus Himself.”
That’s the spirit. That’s the attitude. No matter what the personality, no matter what might be the things that would not be welcomed, such as some loathsome disease, “you received me as if I were an angel of God or Christ Himself.” And then he says in verse 15, “If possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.” It may have been, some think it was that he had some ugly, oozing eye disease. And he says, “You would have taken your own eyes right out of your own sockets and given them to me, if you could’ve.”
Now, that’s esteeming beyond all measure. “You loved me in spite of what was loathsome about my condition. You loved me in spite of the fact that I wasn’t anything to look at. And you would have plucked out your eyes for me” – that kind of sacrificial love. In Galatians, you’ll be reminded, won’t you, that as Paul writes the letter, he really is saying to them, “That’s how it used to be; what happened to change that?” And he writes in a heartbroken way. “What happened to change that? What did I do to make you change your love?”
The sheep, then, are to appreciate. More than that, they not only are to give respect and remuneration to one they know as their shepherd, but they are to love the shepherd beyond all measure, to the point of any personal sacrifice. Why? Not because of their personality, but because of their work. They’ve been called by God. They’ve been set apart for a special work, and the people are to appreciate them, and to acknowledge in love that work they have been called to do. Listen to John 13:20: “Truly, truly I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me. And he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” When you receive the shepherd, you are receiving the Great Shepherd who sent him, and the God who sent the Great Shepherd in love.
You esteem your elders, your pastors, and your esteem for them has no limits. Whatever level of appreciation you have now, increase it in love. You are to love them because of what they do. And if you do not, you’re in disobedience to these direct words of Scripture. That love means you seek their best. That love means you overlook their weaknesses and frailties. That love means you speak well of them. That love means you encourage them. That love means you lift them up as called men of God, who have brought to you the truth.
And finally, and thirdly, he says in verse 13, “Live in peace with one another.” That’s the third thing: submit to your shepherds. There is nothing more grieving, more distracting, more difficult, more painful than discord in the church. That concept of living in peace with one another is a very familiar New Testament exhortation. We know about it. It’s all over the New Testament, and you can find it in Romans 14:19, in 2 Corinthians 13:11, in Ephesians 4:3, Colossians 3:15, James 3:18 – over and over again, the New Testament calls for peace. But here it’s very specific. Here it is in this context of the relation between the sheep and the shepherd, and it should be a peaceful one. Submit to your shepherds, is the point. Submit. No strife. Eliminate conflict. Obviously, it presupposes a faithful shepherd. And where a man is faithful in doing the best that he can in the strength of the Spirit of God, you are to submit to that. That’s a command of Scripture.
Go to Hebrews 13, and we’ll wrap this point up at that particular Scripture. Hebrews 13:7, you have three Scriptures in Hebrews 13 that direct themselves at the congregation, how they’re to deal with the shepherd. In verse 7 it says, “Remember those who led you,” your leaders – remember them. Who are they? “Who spoke the Word of God to you.” And the remembering here is a remembering of love. It is a remembering of affection. And “remember they spoke the Word of God to you, and consider the result of their conduct, and imitate their faith.” They spoke to you through the Word. Remember the result of their conduct, how God blessed their lives and used them mightily. Imitate their faith, and know that Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, will deal with you in obedience the same way He dealt with them in obedience. “And don’t you dare be carried away by varied strange teachings.” You remember those who taught the truth, and you appreciate them, and you love them, and you esteem them.
Then down in verse 17, he adds more directly – first, he says, “Remember them” – remember them with a thankful heart, and now he says in verse 17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” You say, “Well, I think they might be wrong.” Fine, obey them, and submit to them anyway. They have to give the account, not you. Don’t ever think that you can bypass your leadership; they give the account. Unless they ask you to do something unbiblical, unscriptural, ungodly, and sinful, you are to follow them. We have a sobering duty as shepherds; we give the account, you follow the leadership. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.”
That’s a very strong statement, and a very formidable one for a person in spiritual leadership, like me or any other pastor or elder. We have a sobering duty. We will give an account before God. That’s a tough enough thing to have to live with. I live with that all the time. I am accountable to God for the condition of the sheep. I am accountable to God for the decisions that I make. And we as a group are accountable to God for what we decide, as we seek the wisdom of the Spirit. That’s why we never do anything that isn’t unanimous among us as elders, because we want to be sure we know the mind of God as we lead you, because we have to give an account.
So he says, “Obey.” Stubborn, self-willed people will steal the joy of their pastors, and give them grief. Follow verse 17: “Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” You want a miserable church? Have a miserable pastor. You want a miserable pastor? Don’t submit, and you’ll take his joy away, and he’ll be a miserable man, and you’ll be a miserable people. Stubborn, self-willed people steal the joy of their leaders, and give themselves nothing but pain. “That’s unprofitable for you,” he says. It isn’t going to help you. That isn’t going to work for you, to have a grieving shepherd, to have a joyless shepherd.
Jeremiah certainly knew about that. Jeremiah had a ministry without joy because there was so much conflict. He was in pain constantly, because the people rebelled and refused to submit to the things he said, even though they were the words of God. In chapter 9 he says, “Oh that my head were waters, my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people. Oh that I had in the desert a wayfarer’s lodging place; that I might leave my people and go from them.” I’d get out of this place and leave these stubborn, rebellious, obstinate, hard-hearted people if I could get away. “For all of them are adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. ‘They bend their tongue like their bow; lies and not truth prevail in the land; they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,’ declares the Lord.” Jeremiah was the weeping prophet. Jesus had the same experience: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how oft I would have gathered you as a hen gathereth her brood; you would not, you would not,” and He wept. He wept.
And so, the congregation is to live in peace with its leadership. You don’t cultivate strife, you don’t cultivate conflict, you submit, and you obey. They have to give the account to God, not you, for what they do. And if you follow their lead faithfully, dutifully, they have misled you somehow, made unwise decisions, they will give an account to God. You will be blessed for being obedient, as long as we’re not talking about some sinful thing, and there you’re on your own to apply the truth of Scripture.
Simple duties, aren’t they, really. If the church is to be a rich, sweet, happy, blessed, place, then shepherds are to be responsible to fulfill their duty to the sheep, and sheep are to be responsible to fulfill their duty to the shepherds. That means you appreciate them, with respect and remuneration. You esteem them beyond all measure in love, to the point that you’d make any sacrifice for them. And that means you lift them up, you speak well of them, you encourage them, you do everything to make their ministry positive, because they are the channel of blessing that God has used to bring the truth to you. And thirdly, you submit to them so that you reduce the church to a place of peace and you eliminate all conflict.
When people act like that, and shepherds act like that, then the church becomes the place of joy and peace that God intends it to be. I’m reminded when Saul was first made king. There went with him, it says in 1 Samuel 10:26, a band of “men whose heart God touched.” And while news of Nahash injuring the people of God came, the Holy Spirit came mightily on Saul, the Scripture says, and as a result of the summons, it says they came out as one man in the next chapter, chapter 11. Here was a band of men whose heart God touched, who with their king came out as one man.
That kind of oneness, that kind of unity is what God calls for in the church; shepherd and sheep in perfect harmony. As the shepherd labors diligently, leads and directs, feeds, and the people appreciate, support, love and submit. Faithful shepherds, faithful people, makes the Kingdom advance, gives glory to God. I can’t imagine that we would want to do anything else than be obedient to these things on our part and your part, so that we would know the fullness of the blessing of God, which He promises to one who obeys. Let’s pray.
Father, the time has flown by very rapidly, but we feel it’s been filled with some straightforward and helpful instruction for all of us. Father, I thank You for the glorious privilege of having been called into ministry, though totally unworthy. I thank You for the special benediction that this congregation is to me. So many men have not been so privileged as to be in a place of love and appreciation, respect, remuneration, submission. Father, I thank You for that; I do not take that for granted. I know that is not something that you earn or orchestrate, that’s something you’re given by grace. I thank You for that. I thank You, too, on behalf of this people, that You’ve given to them through the years many faithful shepherds who have led them, not only from this pulpit, but in all the other ministries of this church; the children’s ministry, youth ministries, all kinds of adult ministries, outreach ministries.
Father, You have given many faithful shepherds, who have labored hard among the sheep, who have taken faithfully the oversight. You have given many faithful shepherds who have instructed in the Word of God. And, Father, we want to preserve this unity in the bond of peace which You’ve granted to us by continuing to be faithful. I pray on behalf of this congregation that You would fill their hearts with appreciation, with esteem in love very highly for those who serve, because of their work, not because of their personality or something about them that’s likable. And that You would cause them to live in obedience and submission to their leadership, that there might be great joy in this church. If there is any heart that is struggling to acknowledge these things because there is bitterness, or because there is animosity, conflict, rebellion, we pray, Lord, that You would cleanse that, and give us a sweet harmony. Make all the shepherds faithful and the sheep faithful as well, that we might rightly represent You in this world; that we might know the joy of full blessing, and the power that such a blessed community of believers in the world has as it touches those who so desperately need our Christ. To that end we pray for Your glory in Christ’s name. Amen.