A Final Exhortation, Part 2

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. Grace be with all of you. Hebrews 13:17-25


     In thinking about the account a pastor must make to God regarding his flock, picture this: God calls your pastor to His throne and asks him to give an account of your behavior and spiritual life. He asks your pastor if you have been a joy to work with in the church, or if you have burdened and grieved and aggravated him so that he sighs and groans at the thought of your name. Have you joyfully submitted to his authority as the pastor, so that his work will be light and he will feel strengthened by your presence? Or have you burdened him through your contentious spirit and lack of obedience and submission, so that you are to receive no "advantage" or profit from his meeting with God? It is "of no advantage" to any of us to grieve our leaders. But when we give them joy, we too will share in that joy. What we see is that responsibility is a two-way street. Leaders have their responsibilities, and those being led have theirs. In the end both must give an account to God for the way they have lived their lives.

    I believe that only a small percentage of people actually bring grief to their spiritual leaders in the church.

Most, like the author of this letter, endeavor to live life with a "clear conscience" and to conduct their lives "honorably in all things" (v. 18). Perhaps like other leaders, the author is aware that improper motives have been charged against him (see 1 Thessalonians 2; 2 Corinthians 1:11-17), and this is his way of explaining himself. Still, many times we fall short of knowing the full impact of our actions and words. Even Paul said, "My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me" (1 Corinthians 4:4, NIV). In light of this, the author instructs his readers to "pray for us." It is the duty of every Christian to pray for their leaders--be they spiritual or civil, pastor, deacon, elder or Sunday school teacher--for those who lead will be judged by God with a stricter set of standards (see James 3:1). All true leaders desire to live with a clear conscience, knowing their duty has been done, sensing they have discharged their responsibility to the glory of God.

    As a prayer request, the author seeks urgent petitions for his quick restoration to their presence. Circumstances beyond the author's control have kept him from being with his readers, so he asks them to pray "more earnestly," or "particularly" or "more abundantly," "beyond measure," that he would be restored to his people. Finally, after finishing all he has to say in this "short" or brief letter, he seals the letter with a marvelous doxology (a word of praise) and some greetings.

    The themes of the doxology in verses 20-21 should be familiar to all Christians: peace, blood, eternal covenant, resurrection, lordship of Jesus, doing God's will, Jesus as our Shepherd, and pleasing God for ever and ever, amen. We are reminded once again that everything that occurs in our lives has God as its center. It is the theme stated from the beginning of this study: Jesus Is. He is our language and our theme, the center of human history and the pivot point of all our lives. The doxology starts out with the God of peace and ends with His eternal glory, and everything in between is His doing. He is the one and only provider of peace, salvation, guidance, safety, resurrection, gifts, and the equipment needed for the work that is done to please Him, do His will and give Him glory. It is also interesting to note that the seven main subjects of the doxology were all aspects claimed by Jesus with regard to himself: Peace (see John 14:27), blood (see Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; John 6:23), eternal covenant (see John 8:58), lordship (see Matthew 21:3; John 13:6), shepherd (see Matthew 26:31; John 10:11,14), resurrection (John 11:25), and glory (Matthew 25:31; John 17:24).

     Finally, the author urges his readers to "bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter" (v. 22, NIV).

To those of us who are used to watching a 2-hour movie, or 3 hours of football, or staying up half the night reading the latest installment of our favorite Christian fiction, I can see how this letter to the Hebrews may seem long. I mean, it takes at least 45 minutes to an hour to sit and read it through. So who has a whole hour to read God's Word?  It is not as long as Romans or 1 Corinthians, nor does it take much longer to read than it takes the average televangelist to get to the "moan for money," where for a one hundred dollar donation you can get a trinket you probably have three of already. I guess we all must pick our priorities. But this letter is short, considering how long it could have been had the author dwelled a bit longer on a few of his topics, but as he said earlier, "we cannot discuss these things in detail now" ( Hebrews 9:5, NIV).

    So the author has encouraged us all to bear with him in this short letter of exhortation. It is a letter that contains rebukes and warnings, but the author reminds his "brothers" in an affectionate manner that this letter as a whole is meant to encourage and heal. It is hard for us, in this age of tolerance and an almost deified concern for peoples feelings, to realize that some of the most caring and healing words we can encounter are those which do not bow to our desire to hear only good, positive, warm and fuzzy, feel-good statements from our friends and leaders. Psalm 141:5 says, "Let a righteous man strike me--it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it."

    The author has said some tough things, but the good pastor wants his people to know that the general spirit of his letter is exhortation and comfort, not stern rebuke, and he ends by reminding them that they are all a family and that they are all in the good fight together (see 1 Timothy 1:18-19; Hebrews 6:12). He does this by bringing to their attention the release of Timothy from prison, and with a further greeting to the leaders and all God's people. Finally, the letter ends with a blessing. The entire letter has been telling of the wonderful, all sufficient grace of God through Christ, and now it ends with a prayer for that same grace of God to be upon all its readers. It is the grace that saves (see Ephesians 2:8), in which we stand (see Romans 5:2), and through which we are preserved until that day we stand before Christ (see 1 Corinthians 3:12-15). It is God's grace that provides us with all we need to live a life worthy of His glory. In his prayer God to bestow His grace, we see that nobody has escaped the care and concern of this mysterious author and pastor to these Hebrew Christians.

    The author of course had Jesus as his example of how to care for people.

He calls Jesus the "great Shepherd of the sheep." Jesus told us that a good shepherd is willing to lay down his own life for his sheep (see John 10:11). And He did. He died and was brought back from the dead. In this way Jesus established the "eternal covenant," whereby all men and women may have a relationship with God. It was Jesus who took away the terror of death and showed us the love of God that overcomes death. His example to us goes further, in that He is also ready to bear with all our foolishness and He never stops watching over us. He never stops loving us. That is Jesus the Shepherd, and a perfect example for all of God's children. Let us forever and in all ways, consider Him (see Hebrews 12:3).