Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Obey Those Who Rule Over You, and Be Submissive, Part 1

One of the last Sundays at the church, I arrived only to discover that our long-time personal friend who was also on staff at the church was fired.   We were shocked and deeply saddened.   I had arrived early for praise and worship practice as normal, but was obviously not in the right frame of mind for praising and worshiping after hearing the news.    I asked to meet with one of the elders on the praise and worship team and we sat in the back pew of the church while I asked him "why?".  I remember he was gracious and tried to answer as best as he could.  The other elder joined our conversation and the first elder went back to practice with the praise and worship team.  I continued discussing the situation with the second elder. 

It felt odd to be speaking to an elder in the back of the church when I normally would have been with the praise and worship team, but he had things to share with me.  He opened his Bible to Hebrews 13:17 and read it out loud to me.  The version he used was NKJV:

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.

I don't know how long we sat in the back of the church, but it was long enough to miss the entire praise and worship practice which usually lasted over 30 minutes.  I also don't recall how many times that verse was read to me - especially the first part:  Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, but those words were permanently etched in my brain.

As he read and reread the verse to me, I wondered if he felt I was not obeying.  What was I not obeying?  I did not know.  I was only asking questions, sharing my concerns, thoughts, and disappointments.   How did that equate with not obeying?   This was my friend who was fired.  Didn't I have a right to question why this precious family was being ripped from our church?  Nobody had told me to be quiet, to not have concerns.  As far as I was concerned I wasn't not obeying anything.

Sadly, I have skipped over that verse the last few years.  It has been too painful to read.  I heard it so many times from that elder's lips in an authoritarian fashion that I didn't want to have anything to do with it.  It felt like this elder used this verse to make himself and pastor appear as the authority in my life and used in an effort to make me crumble under the weight of those powerful words.  

Recently, however, I found something very interesting.  Yes, the verse uses the words "obey" and "submit" in the text in many translations, but what is the context of this verse and what is the meaning of the original Greek words?  It never occurred to me to look deeper to find the meaning.  I now firmly believe that this verse was used inappropriately.   I cannot guess whether the leaders in the church have studied this verse or not.  But it was used in a way that benefited them and their assumed authority position over congregants.  Had I known the truth then, I could have responded differently.  Instead, I felt the cloud of authoritarianism and rebuke coming down.  That is absolutely contrary to the examples in Scripture of how a shepherd tends his sheep.  No one should be lording their position over anyone.

As I have been reading more about spiritual abuse, I have run across this Hebrews 13:17 verse used in spiritual abuse situations over and over again.  It is a key verse used by those who spiritually abuse.  Men have distorted God's Truth and have used it to elevate their status in an authoritarian-type position over the lives of their flock.  This is a misuse of scripture and an abuse of God's precious flock.  Look at this verse which discusses how elders should treat the flock:

1 Peter 5: 1-4:  1 The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.

Take a look at John MacArthur's commentary on the responsibility of a shepherd.  Click on the link below:

 We don't read anything about a shepherd "lording" over the flock in this article.

I'm going to to publish this post now and finish the rest later, but in the meantime, I would like to challenge you to look up this verse (Hebrews 13:17) and see if you can find the Greek meanings for the words "obey" and "submit" used in the context of this specific verse.  Keep in mind the words "submit" and "obey" used in this verse may not have the same connotation as "submit" and "obey" used in other verses.   Do the words really mean "obey" and "submit" in the sense that we use the words today?  These are important ideas to consider.  You may be surprised as I was.   Feel free to let me know in the comments area if you find an answer. 

. . to be continued . . . .


  1. We were also given this verse as an aswer to asking questions. Last time I checked, asking a question wasn't disobedience!

    1. I'm getting the idea that if all of the former attenders got together in one room and shared stories, we'd hear carbon copy responses.

      Thanks for the comment.

    2. I think you are probably right.

      Also,I just did some study about this in my commentary by William McDonald. It does seem to indicate actual obedience and submissiveness are in order. However, it does not indicate blindly following, or allowing the elders/pastors in our lives to completely run our lives. I think with any pastor or church leader, we must ask ourselves the question indicated by this verse "Is this man REALLY watching for my soul?" If the answer is yes, then being submissive and obeying is desirable and a joy. Just as now I find it a joy for me to submit to the teaching presented by my current pastor - even when the teachings are hard and convict me of sin. I firmly believe he is watching for my soul, and can clearly see he is teaching the Word of God; therefore I want to follow. His teachings contain very little, if any, personal opinions. When he does give an opinion he is very careful to not present it as God's Word, but clearly states it is an opinion.

      I think when you consider the verse in context as part of the chapter and the larger message of what the author is saying, it becomes much clearer and easier to swallow. I guess in a nutshell what I'm saying is that Yes, we do obey and submit, literally. However, this obedience and submission is only in regards to the accurate and faithful delivery of the teachings contained in the Word of God. Dictatorship and micromanaging are not included in this verse.

      Also, I think any pastor, elder or deacon who is truly watching for your soul will welcome questions and discussion, since he should be desiring to see you grow in your personal walk with Christ.

    3. Great, well-thought comment. Thank you!

      I love your point, "Is this man watching out for my soul?" I That really is key. I really did not sense that at all - it was more fear-induced: you are not obeying and so you are in sin and that is a dangerous place to be. The implication was we need to obey and submit because of the position of their authority; as in: you will obey because I am your God-given authority and who are you to disobey whom God places in authority over you? (ouch!)

      When we look through patterns of elders/pastors/shepherds in scripture, we do not see this type of authority/lording over the flock. The type of shepherding we see in the Bible compels us to obey and submit, not out of coercion or fear. That is a huge difference.

    4. I know exactly the tone it was use in against you...and me...and probably others. It is also interesting on a total sidenote hear - that in western culture we picture shepherds with large flocks, driving them from behind, often with the use of dogs. Middle Eastern shepherds, especially at the time of Christ, often had/have much smaller flocks that they had close personal relationships with and they led them from the front. They led/lead by walking where they wanted to go and showed the sheep how to do it. They reserve use of stronger force of any type for when a sheep is in actual physical danger. Interesting to picture the difference in your mind when reading about God being our shepherd or men being entrusted with flocks as undershephers. Hmmm...

    5. meant to say "sidenote here" not "sidenote hear". Oh well!

    6. Oh, to have a shepherd like that - wow. That brings tears to my eyes. I think I need to do a study on shepherds.

    7. Just think about Psalm 23. "The Lord is my shepherd...He leadeth me..." not "He drives me onward to the watering hole."

      I'm sure there is much to be found on the subject of shepherding if you look hard enough.

    8. YES! Now I've got the song, "I look to the Shepherd" going through my head.

      "I look to the Shepherd, He meets all my needs, beside the still waters He faithfully leads, bringing peace to my soul, as His love makes me whole. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me . . . .

  2. Here is an answer John MacArthur gives in regards to a pastor's authority:

    JOHN:" I believe that as far as authority, Brian, the only authority any pastor or elder has is the Word of God. When you step beyond the Word of God you've overstepped the bounds of your authority. I have no authority if you're in my congregation to say to you...Go here and get this training, go there, I command you...I have no authority to do that. That is overstepping my bounds. I am nothing more and nothing less than an instrument by which God makes known to you His revelation. That's my role.
    Now, I may say to you, given the circumstances I would recommend this because it appears from what I know about that and what I know about you that this would be a good choice, but that is not
    authority that is counsel. My authority stops when I close the page of this book. And then all I'm doing is giving you counsel and you can consider that counsel as to its inherent value and make your own decision, but I have no authority to command you beyond the pages of the Word of God. That very point is where pastors and elders, leadership becomes out of bounds and abusive and overbearing. God never intended that. The best we can do is give wise counsel. That's why the Old Testament says in much counsel there is wisdom. The point is that if God wanted us to just listen to one guy He would say...If you want to know what to do go ask the elder...but He says get much counsel and you get wisdom. So I believe our authority stops where Scripture ends and then the best we can do is try to give wise counsel based upon our best understanding of the facts. Okay?"

    The point being, once a pastor preaches a message, or gives his advice we are to check everything they say against the scriptures for ourselves.

    Acts 17:11
    Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so.

    1. Good stuff - thanks for sharing it. For a church to so actively endorse MacArthur, it baffles me that they can read his material and yet do the opposite.

    2. Amen to everything posted above!

      to reiterate JM: "the only authority any pastor or elder has is the Word of God. When you step beyond the Word of God you've overstepped the bounds of your authority."


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