The obedience and the submission to those who rule over the saints




It is written: “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).

God has appointed some men over the sheep, which He purchased with His own blood, that they may shepherd His sheep. These men are the elders, who are called also ‘those who have the rule over the saints’, because their job is to rule over the flock of the Lord. The elders are men like us to whom God has given power to shepherd His Church; therefore, the sheep must obey them and be subject to them. They watch out for the souls of the faithful and if they see that the sheep do not heed their teachings and exhortations, they begin to do their job with grief, they no longer do it with joy. However, it must be clear that those who disobey their leaders do not do what is right in the sight of God.

Paul, Silas and Timothy said to the saints of Thessalonica: “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Therefore the elders who rule well, who labor in word and doctrine, and are diligent to convict those who contradict and warn those who are unruly, who clearly show that they care for the flock of the Lord, must be respected and held in the highest regard in love because of their work on behalf of the sheep of the Lord. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “I urge you, brothers, to submit … to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it” (1 Corinthians 16:15,16 - NIV), and since those who rule over the saints devote themselves to the service of the saints, using the authority and the ability they have received from God to minister to the saints, the saints must submit to them.

Brothers, you must understand that those who grumble against those who have been appointed by God over His people grumble against God; and also that the wrath of God comes upon those who envy and rebel against the leaders appointed by God to shepherd His flock. I am going to show you from the Scripture what I have just stated.

During the journey of the children of Israel across the wilderness, it came to pass that the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron and rebelled against them. Before speaking of their grumblings and rebellion, however, I find it necessary to remind you who Moses and Aaron were and how they became the leaders of the children of Israel. Moses and Aaron were brothers and they descended from Levi. When Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, he went to the land of Midian where he married one of the daughters of Jethro, the priest of Midian. There, in the land of Midian, Moses tended the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law. And when forty years had passed, the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses and sent him to Egypt together with Aaron that he might bring the children of Israel out of Egypt. In the Psalms it is written: “He sent Moses his servant, and Aaron whom He had chosen” (Psalm 105:26). Therefore, Aaron was chosen by God. However Moses also was chosen by God, for he is called “His chosen one” (Psalm 106:23 – NKJV). Therefore, both Moses and Aaron were chosen by God and appointed over the congregation of Israel, they did not appoint themselves leaders of the children of Israel, it was God who appointed them leaders of the children of Israel (consider also that God said these words to Moses: “See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh” Exodus 7:1 - NKJV). Now, after God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt by signs and wonders and the children of Israel had gone on dry ground through the midst of the Red Sea, the children of Israel came to the Wilderness of Sin. Then “the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger. Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily. And Moses and Aaron said unto all the children of Israel, At even, then ye shall know that the LORD hath brought you out from the land of Egypt: And in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of the LORD; for that he heareth your murmurings against the LORD: and what are we, that ye murmur against us? And Moses said, This shall be, when the LORD shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full; for that the LORD heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against him: and what are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against the LORD” (Exodus 16:2-8). As you can see, brothers, those words that the children of Israel spoke against Moses and Aaron were spoken against God and not against men.

Let us look now at another incident which happened in the wilderness some time later; it is written: “Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men: And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown: And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?” (Numbers 16:1-3). Why did those men rebel against Moses and Aaron? Because they envied Moses and Aaron, as it is written: “In the camp they grew envious of Moses and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the Lord” (Psalm 106:16 – NIV). Now, those rebels thought that Moses and Aaron exalted themselves above the Lord’s assembly, therefore they no longer recognized that Moses and Aaron had been appointed over the children of Israel by God. In addition to this, they thought that all the congregation was holy because God was among them, whereas actually only Aaron was holy, for on the plate of pure gold which God commanded to make for the High Priest, that is, Aaron, were engraved the following words: “Holy to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36 – NIV). God had given the priesthood to Aaron, but for those rebels from among the sons of Levi it was no longer enough that God had separated them from the rest of the Israelites and brought them near Himself to do the work of the Lord’s tabernacle. They envied Aaron, they wanted to get the priesthood too. When Moses heard the words of those rebels, he said to Korah and all those who were with him: “Even to morrow the LORD will shew who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto him: even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him…. For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the LORD: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?” (Numbers 16:5,11). And the next day God punished the rebels, as it is written: “The ground clave asunder that was under them: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation. And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also. And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense” (Numbers 16:31-35). Furthermore, after a few days, God showed that He had chosen Aaron the Levite, to fulfil the priesthood, by causing the rod of Levi (on which Aaron’s name was written) to blossom. This incident also was written for our learning, therefore let us take heed to ourselves, keeping our heart with all diligence. “Envy is rottenness to the bones” (Proverbs 14:30 – NKJV) and those who envy those who have been appointed by God to shepherd His Church, in due season will reap the fruit of their rebellion as Korah and his companions did reap the fruit of their rebellion. I say it again in these terms, those who rebel against the elders appointed by the Holy Spirit and murmur against them and despise them, resist God, who appointed them and speak through them, and thus they become enemies of God.

However, let no one of you think that the elders, who were appointed by the Holy Spirit, are free to do evil things and to teach whatever they want, and let no one of you think that when the elders sin nobody has the right to rebuke them, for the Word of God does not teach such things. For Paul says to Timothy: “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19 – NKJV). Timothy was a man of God, and although he was still a young men he was a minister of the Gospel by the will of God, and Paul did not write to him that he could not receive any accusation against an elder, but he wrote to him not to receive any accusation against an elder from one witness; this because the law says: “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15). And if an accusation against an elder was confirmed by two or three faithful witnesses, then Timothy had to rebuke him, for Paul commanded Timothy: “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear” (1 Timothy 5:20 – NKJV). Paul did not say to Timothy: ‘Forget it!’, or: ‘Pretend nothing happened!’, or: ‘Skip it, even if the accusation is true!’, but: ‘Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all…”.

In order to confirm this, I remind you of what happened at Antioch according to what Paul wrote to the Galatians: “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14). As you can see, what Paul commanded Timothy to do toward those elders who were sinning, was done by Paul himself toward the apostle Peter when Paul saw that Peter did not walk uprightly according to the truth, for he says that Peter was to be blamed, and he, by the authority he had received from God, withstood Peter to his face and rebuked him in the presence of all (I want to remind you that besides being an apostle, Simon Peter was also an elder for he wrote in his first epistle: “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed” - 1 Peter 5:1).

As for those who were appointed apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, I find it necessary to say this: when they speak from God, if the saints reject their words and they despise them, they do not reject men, but God. To confirm this, I remind you of what Paul wrote to the saints of Thessalonica, after he gave them some commandments through the Lord Jesus: “Therefore, he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 4:8 - NKJV). Paul was a man just like us, but by the grace, and the wisdom, and the authority he had received from God, he was what he was, and he wrote the above mentioned faithful words and we will do well to heed them. We accept the word of the apostles not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, and if those who despise their word think that they are despising men, let them know that they deceive themselves for they actually despise God.

Remember that when Jesus appointed the seventy disciples and sent them two by two ahead of Him, he said to them: “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me, but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16 – NIV).

There is another incident recorded in the Bible which shows us that those who resist the leaders among the brothers resist God. Here is what we read in the book of the Acts of the apostles: “But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things! (Acts 5:1-5). Note that Peter said to Ananias that he had not lied to men, but to God.

Finally, I want to say the following things: the saints are called to obey their leaders in the Lord. It is evident, therefore, that if a leader urges them to do or to believe something which is contrary to the sound doctrine they are called to refuse to do or to believe that thing. How can the saints know whether what their leaders teach is true or false? They can know it by searching the Holy Scriptures, therefore they are called to search the Scripture as the Bereans did, as it is written: “They received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11 – NIV). Take heed to yourselves, brethren, for there are many leaders who teach many things which are contrary to the sound doctrine. Let no one of them deceive you with empty words.

Brothers, I conclude by urging you to love those who teach you for your own good.