Pastor David B. Curtis


Authority and Submission

Hebrews 13:17

Delivered 04/28/2002

As we come to the conclusion of the letter to the Hebrews, the author gives us several ethical exhortations. As God's children this is how we are to live; we are to love each other, friends, strangers, and those in need. We are to honor marriage and live lives without covetousness, being content with what we have.

Then in verses 7-18 he gives us three final exhortations, all of which begin with "S"; these verses are a call to separation, submission, and supplication.

In our last study in verses 7-16 the writer reminded the believers that they are to live separated lives. Throughout this epistle the believers are warned of the danger of apostasy, of turning away from Christ and going back to the Old Covenant system. Again he warns them to break completely with their former ways and to follow Jesus Christ, living a life that is totally separated to Him.

The practical point of these verses is this: as Christians, we must be willing to go out from the world system, to bear the reproach and the shame that Christ Himself bore, and to be rejected by men. We are "to go forth unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach" (verse 13). As Christians, we are called to live a life of separation, we are to be different.

We want to look at the second "S" this morning, and that is "submission", and next week we'll look at the final "S" of supplication.

The idea of separation is difficult to deal with, but I don't think anything is as difficult for us as is submission. The words "obey and submit" are almost dirty words to us. We don't like to hear them, but this is a subject of the utmost importance. Living a life of submission is vital to the victorious Christian life.

Hebrews 13:17 (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.

This verse delineates a Christian's responsibility toward God, who mediates much of His rule in this world through men. Throughout the Old Testament, God mediated His rule through kings, prophets, and judges. In this age, God delegates his authority to people who play different leadership roles in our lives: parents, governing authorities, employers, husbands, and church leaders. Throughout the New Testament, Christians are called to distinguish themselves by the way they relate to these delegated authorities.

The word "rule" in the phrase "...those who rule over you" is "hegeomai" in the Greek. It is rendered "chief" in Luke 22:26 and "governor" in Acts 7:10. Speaking of Joseph it says:

Acts 7:10 (NKJV) "and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor (hegeomai) over Egypt and all his house.

That gives us its scope. It is quite clear from the balance of verse 17 that this refers to the leaders in the Church, the pastors - "...for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account..."

There are three terms used in the New Testament to describe Church leaders; they are bishop, elder, and pastor. Pastors are not distinct from bishops and elders, the terms are simply different ways of identifying the same people.

Textual evidence indicates that all 3 terms refer to the same office.

Acts 20:17 (NKJV) From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.

The word "elders" here is from the Greek word presbuteros, which refers to mature in age, it simply means: "an older man".

Acts 20:28 (NKJV) "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

Here we have the word "overseer", which comes from the Greek episkopos, which means: "bishop, overseer, guardian". And the word "shepherd", which is from the Greek poimen. It means: "to shepherd, or pastor which is to feed, care for, and lead".

1 Peter 5:1-2 (NKJV) The elders (presbuteros) 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 (poimanos) the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, (episkopos) not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;

Peter instructs the elders to be good overseers as they pastor.

I would prefer that we use the term pastor, because it is a more familiar and better understood term. We have two pastors or elders here at Berean Bible Church, not one pastor and one elder. Rich and I share the oversight of this assembly.

He says we are to obey and submit to our leaders - plural. All churches that we know of in the New Testament were led by a plurality of pastors, not just one pastor. Hebrews 13:17 does not say, "Obey your leader", but, "Obey your leaders." There is no support in the Word of God for the concept of one man overseeing the ministry of the local Church. Does that surprise you? The responsibilities of shepherding God's people are far too great for one man to do alone. Church leadership is a team effort - not the sole responsibility of one man. Today's tradition of a single pastor leading a church is not the biblical norm.

The command here is unqualified - "Obey your leaders, and submit to them..."John Owen saw this as a twofold duty and rendered it, "Obey their teaching and submit to their rule"

What then does "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive" mean? The word "obey" is from the Greek word peitho, [pi'-tho]. It is a very broad word and means: "be persuaded by" (Hebrews 6:9), "trust" (Hebrews 2:13), "rely on" (Luke 11:22), and comes to mean "obey", because that is what you do when you trust somebody. So you might say it is a "soft" word for "obey". It encourages a good relationship of trust, but still calls for the people to follow their leaders.

The Greek word used for "submit" is hupeiko, [hoop-I'-ko] it comes from hupo, which means: "under" and eiko, which means: "to yield, be weak, to surrender, submit." This word occurs only here in the New Testament. It's the more narrow word, and means: "make room for by retiring from a seat," or "yield to", or "submit to."

So with all this background, the meaning would be something like this: a congregation should have a bent toward trusting its leaders; you should have a disposition to be supportive in your attitudes and actions toward their goals and directions; you should want to imitate their faith; and you should have the inclination to comply with their instructions.

As sinful human beings, our flesh resists this authority. We live in a day where believers stress independence and individuality. We become so absorbed in the fact that we are believers and priests who have the ability to study, know, and worship God, that we fail to recognize the leadership that God has established. But the writer to the Hebrews is clear; we must "obey" and "submit" to our leaders. To ignore rulers or to rebel against their authority is to despise the One who has appointed them. Does that sound too strong for you? We already saw in Acts 20:28 that it is God who appoints elders, "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers."

Church rulers are appointed by God, standing in His immediate stead, so that the Lord Jesus Christ declared in:

John 13:20 (NKJV) "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me."

Submission to Church leaders, therefore, is submission to God. The church has the responsibility of obeying the teaching of their leaders and submitting to their authority, because they rule in the place of Christ. The principle of subordination is absolutely essential to the well-being of the church and society.

The reason we have such a problem with this is that the prevailing view of people in America today is one of rebellion and resistance. If we don't agree with the authority, we resist it. This worldly spirit of lawlessness has spilled over into the church, and we must see it as sin.

Now the question that arises is, "Are we to obey all church leaders? What about those who don't have a right to be a leader?" Those are good questions, and I'm glad you asked them. Our understanding of them is crucial:

Romans 13:1-2 (NKJV) Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

"Let every soul...." is the Greek pas psuche, which means: "all life!" "Be subject" is from the Greek word hupotasso, which is a military term meaning: "to line up, to take your orders". It's in the present imperative middle, which means: "to habitually be in subjection" to "the governing authorities".

This verse speaks of government, but the principle is universal. All human authority is delegated and ministerial (subordinate or instrumental). This includes the authority of parents, employers, policemen, teachers, church leaders or any other authority. Anyone who is in a place of authority on earth has had it delegated to him by God:

Daniel 4:17 (NKJV) 'This decision is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.'

Therefore, all rebellion is against God, because all power is ordained by God. Whoever the existing authorities are we are, to be subject to them.

The Principle of Authority and Submission:

Just because someone is in authority over us doesn't mean that they're better than us, or smarter, or more qualified than us. Subordination involves no degradation, a person is not dishonored by being subject to someone else.

1 Corinthians 11:3 (NKJV) But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

The word "head" is from the Greek word kephale, [kef-al-ay] which means: "government or authority". Authority and subordination have nothing to do with essence, it strictly deals with function. In essence and nature, Christ and God are equal; but by God's design, the function of the Son demanded that He submit to the Father in a beautiful act of humiliation.

In marriage - for the sake of function, the woman is to take the place of submission. The man doesn't have to be smarter or have better sense to be in authority, we all know that he usually isn't. He is the authority in the home, because God made him the authority. There is no dishonor for the woman to be in subjection to the man.

In government - Why do we have to submit to those in authority? Because they're better than everyone else? No! Because there has to be authority and submission or there will be anarchy, and no society can survive anarchy.

In the church - God has called the pastors to lead, and the people to submit. This is not because the pastors are better or more spiritual than you; we are all equal in Christ. There is no clergy/laity division in the church, the pastors are leaders among equals. The pastors are in authority simply because God has called them to lead. It is simply a matter of function.

The Importance of submission:

Most Christians don't think rebellion is any big deal; we resist authority and don't give it a second thought. How about you, is your life characterized by submission or rebellion? Do you obey the speed limit? Wear seat belts? Is the software on your computer yours, or are you violating copyright laws? So many believers break the law and think nothing of it, but God does. How would you respond if you found out that a Christian friend of yours was involved in witchcraft or idolatry? Would it concern you? Would you talk to them about it?

1 Samuel 15:23 (NKJV) For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king."

Why is submission so hard for us? Pride! What was the first sin? In the garden of Eden the first sin was pride. The temptation of the serpent came with these words:"You will be like God". The temptation to be like God is greater than we think, we all face it. We resist being subject to law. We squirm when we are placed under too much authority. We love to be free - free of restraints, free of accountability.

Our quest to be like God is a quest to be above law. It is the quest for autonomy. Autonomy means literally: "self-law." A person who seeks to be utterly autonomous is a person who seeks to be a law unto himself. He is answerable to no one:

1 Peter 5:5 (NKJV) Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."

By nature we are all rebels, our pride causes us to rebel against authority. We don't want anyone telling us what to do, especially someone who is not as smart as we are. Believers, rebellion is a work of the flesh, it is a sin:

Romans 8:6-8 (NKJV) For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Please notice that "the carnal not subject to the law of God." The word "subject" here is hupotasso, which is often translated: "submit". The flesh doesn't line up under God's law of authority.

Ephesians 5:18-21 (NKJV) And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God.

The word "filled" here is pleroo, [play-ro'-o] which means: "to be controlled by". Submission is the mark of a Spirit controlled believer. So in order to overcome our pride which causes rebellion, we must be controlled by the Spirit. Now the question is how are we controlled by the Spirit? I believe the answer is clear if we look at a parallel passage:

Colossians 3:16-18 (NKJV) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. 18 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

The results are the same in both passages, and so I think it's safe to say that to be controlled by the Spirit, we must have Christ's Word dwelling in us. As we study God's Word and submit to its teaching, the Spirit will empower and control our lives.

Rebellion is a serious sin against God, because all power is ordained by God and is to be submitted to. We are to obey and submit to those who lead the church.

Now, what about those leaders who are not qualified to lead? Those who may be ungodly, or what about the unscriptural one man leader? Surely we don't have to submit to them, do we? Yes! You are to submit to the authority of the church that you belong to. Let me try to prove this from Scripture:

Matthew 23:1-3 (NKJV) Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3 "Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.

The Lord said they're hypocrites, so don't do what they do, but they are in a place of authority, so you must do what they say. Now that should be clear. The Spirit filled believer is to be submissive no matter who the leadership is.

David was aware that all authority came from God, and therefore, he was submissive to it:

1 Samuel 24:1-12 (NKJV) Now it happened, when Saul had returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, "Take note! David is in the Wilderness of En Gedi." 2 Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel, and went to seek David and his men on the Rocks of the Wild Goats. 3 So he came to the sheepfolds by the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to attend to his needs. (David and his men were staying in the recesses of the cave.) 4 Then the men of David said to him, "This is the day of which the LORD said to you, 'Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.' " And David arose and secretly cut off a corner of Saul's robe. 5 Now it happened afterward that David's heart troubled him because he had cut Saul's robe. 6 And he said to his men, "The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord's anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD." 7 So David restrained his servants with these words, and did not allow them to rise against Saul. And Saul got up from the cave and went on his way. 8 David also arose afterward, went out of the cave, and called out to Saul, saying, "My lord the king!" And when Saul looked behind him, David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed down. 9 And David said to Saul: "Why do you listen to the words of men who say, 'Indeed David seeks your harm'? 10 "Look, this day your eyes have seen that the LORD delivered you today into my hand in the cave, and someone urged me to kill you. But my eye spared you, and I said, 'I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord's anointed.' 11 "Moreover, my father, see! Yes, see the corner of your robe in my hand! For in that I cut off the corner of your robe, and did not kill you, know and see that there is neither evil nor rebellion in my hand, and I have not sinned against you. Yet you hunt my life to take it. 12 "Let the LORD judge between you and me, and let the LORD avenge me on you. But my hand shall not be against you.
2 Samuel 1:8-10 (NKJV) "And he said to me, 'Who are you?' So I answered him, 'I am an Amalekite.' 9 "He said to me again, 'Please stand over me and kill me, for anguish has come upon me, but my life still remains in me.' 10 "So I stood over him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown that was on his head and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them here to my lord."

After Saul's death, David had the man put to death who killed him:

2 Samuel 1:14-16 (NKJV) So David said to him, "How was it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy the Lord's anointed?" 15 Then David called one of the young men and said, "Go near, and execute him!" And he struck him so that he died. 16 So David said to him, "Your blood is on your own head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, 'I have killed the Lord's anointed.'"

Saul was a sinful man, but David continued to see him as the Lord's anointed. May the Spirit of God instruct us from the examples in His Word. And may we have the heart of David, a spirit of submission to all authority.

On the subject of "obey and submit", one writer says this, "The scope in which this should be practiced is important. Just as governing authorities have no rightful authority over your spiritual beliefs, and just as employers have no rightful authority over what you do during off-hours, spiritual leaders do not have authority to direct your life in areas outside the ministry of the church. For example, spiritual leaders have no authority over what job you choose, or which house you buy, or who you marry, etc. One of the marks of a cult is when spiritual leaders exceed their proper scope of authority."

What do you think about what he has to say? Do employers have authority in what you do in your off-hours? Some do! And if you don't like that, you have to look for other employment. Do you think that church leaders should have no authority over what job you choose, or which house you buy, or who you marry, etc? This is a touchy area, but in some cases we need to give advice on homes and jobs and who you marry - these can all be spiritual areas. He says, "Spiritual leaders do not have authority to direct your life in areas outside the ministry of the church." What does that mean? Your Christianity should affect every area of your life. All decisions are spiritual decisions, and therefore, fall under the church leadership. It's my opinion that if you view all your decisions as spiritual, and if you need wisdom in an area, you should ask your spiritual leaders for advice and counsel. I pray that you would give serious thought to your responsibility to church leaders, this is very important to your well being as we'll see in a moment.

When I think of submission to church leaders, I think of Bob Donohoo, I'll never forget Bob and his attitude of submission, he is truly a Spirit controlled man. The first time he visited the church he spoke to all the pastors. The next week he invited Cathy and I over for dinner and asked me to bring a doctrinal statement and a financial statement. We spent the evening being grilled and going over those statements with a fine tooth comb. Several weeks later when they put in an application to join the church, he told me that he was so thorough, because when they joined a church they knew that they were putting themselves under the authority of its leaders.

Bob was a student at Regent University and before signing up for a Wednesday evening class came to the pastors to see if we had any objections to it, because he would have to miss our Wednesday evening church meeting. Bob understood the principles of authority and submission, and he was greatly used of God in this ministry.

Is there a Biblical exception to submission? Yes! One:

Acts 5:28-29 (NKJV) saying, "Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!" 29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men.

The one time that we have a right to disobey our authority is when it commands us not to do something God has commanded us to do. Or when it commands us to do something God has commanded us not to do. This is the only exception I see in Scripture.

If we are under an authority that is acting in an unwise or ungodly manner, we can try to change them through the proper channels, with the proper attitude (Daniel). If that doesn't work, we can remove ourselves from their authority; change jobs, churches, or countries. Not everyone has this option; children, you're stuck with your parents, and wives, you're stuck with your husbands. Some people in some situations have some options, but rebellion is never one of them.

The author of Hebrews goes on to say, "...for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account". The priority of every pastor is to care for the spiritual welfare of the congregation. Someday they will have to give an account to the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, of how they ruled over their congregations:

James 3:1 (NKJV) My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.

Some commentators see here a condition of submission - "...for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account". You only have to submit to those who watch for your souls - those who are fulfilling their God ordained calling. I think this is dangerous, because it makes us the final authority on who is to be submitted to. Therefore, it is us and not God who sets up authorities.

The word "out" in "they watch out for your souls" is the word huper and means: "on behalf of" or "for the sake of." And the word "souls" is from the Greek word psuche, which can mean: "life". So the watching is "on behalf of" your life or "for the sake of" your life. The job of spiritual leaders is primarily to help you persevere in faith.

"Let them do so with joy and not with grief," - this is the idea of groaning over a thankless task. Note that the responsibility for making the operations of a church a joy, and not a burden, is placed on the congregation, not on their leaders. We see this same idea in:

Philippians 2:16 (NKJV) holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.

Then the author says, "...for that would be unprofitable for you." - what sort of profit or good does he have in mind? The answer comes from understanding the theme of this book.

Hebrews 10:39 (NKJV) But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.

The aim of this book is to help people not shrink back from faith and have their lives destroyed, but rather to persevere in faith to the end and preserve their lives. The book of Hebrews is about perseverance. Over and over, it calls us to be vigilant concerning our life and to endure to the end in faith and obedience. So the aim of spiritual leadership in the church is mainly the preservation of the life. If you don't submit, your the one who loses - "that would be unprofitable for you". To not submit to authority, any authority; government, home, or the local church, is to walk in pride, and God will judge the proud:

Proverbs 16:18 (NKJV) Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.
Proverbs 29:23 (NKJV) A man's pride will bring him low, But the humble in spirit will retain honor.
James 4:6 (NKJV) But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."

The word "resists" here is from the Greek word antitassomai, which comes from anti, meaning: "against", and tasso, meaning: "to station, arrange". God is the active antagonist of the proud. This is strong language, people! Rebellion is a very serious thing. All rebellion is against God, because all power is ordained by God, as we saw from:

Romans 13:2 (NKJV) Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

Paul said this to Titus:

Titus 3:1 (NKJV) Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work,

That's what I'm doing this morning, I'm reminding you. May God help us to realize the seriousness of rebellion and to confess it and forsake it.

Continue the Series

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322