Hebrews 13:17-19

Hebrews 13:17‑19  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 9
“Obey your leaders and submit; for they watch for your souls as having to render an account; that they may do this with joy and not groaning, for this [would be] unprofitable for you. Pray for us; for we are persuaded1 that we have a good conscience, desiring in all things to behave well. And I more abundantly beseech you to do this that I may more quickly be restored to you” (Heb. 13:17-1817Obey 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. 18Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. (Hebrews 13:17‑18)).
Reaction from new truth is a danger at one time, and at another a return to old ways when the new become irksome. So these Christian Jews are exhorted to that which is a constant duty for us no less than for them. Self-will increasingly characterizes this present evil age; and self-will is always sin. Elsewhere, as in Rom. 12, 1 Tim. 3, Titus 1, those called to preside or take the lead, elders or not, are exhorted how to fulfill their work in the Lord. Here, as in 1 Cor. 16 and 1 Thess. 5, the saints are reminded of what God looks for on their part. Scripture sanctions neither assertion of human right nor arbitrary claim of divine authority in the church of God. All are bound to serve, all responsible to obey the Lord Who has made His will sure and plain in the written word. But there is such a thing as spiritual wisdom, and experience which grace forms by the word of righteousness; there is practical power which faith gives by the action of the Holy Spirit, which is eminently serviceable to those less exercised in, discerning the path of Christ. Hence in the intricacies which so frequently beset the saints in such a world as this, and with a nature on which the enemy can readily act through present things, there is ample room for constant need of godly counsel, serious admonition, or even sharp rebuke; and as to all this the word is “obey your leaders and submit.” How often a real guide can point out what a perplexed saint saw not before it was set before him, but, when so set, at once perceives to be of God! For if there be a word of wisdom given to the one through the Spirit, the same Spirit dwelling in the other appreciates the true and the right, through the grace of Christ which sets independence aside as well as worldly lust or any other evil thing. Thus is the Lord honored in the chiefs no less than in those who submit to them. Sacerdotal claim is now excluded; and lawlessness is judged as hateful to God. Christ Himself led the way here below in this path of invariable and unswerving obedience; and those that guide will only guide aright who walk in the revealed ways of God which they urge on others; as these are only blessed as they walk in obedience and submission, instead of a vain clamor of their own rights, which if realized would be Satan's slavery.
But it is well to note that the Vulgate has fallen into the perversion, so natural to the official mind, that the guides will have to give an account of the souls under their supervision. Such is the strange reading of the Alexandrian MS. followed by Lachmann in his Greek Testament of 1831. Tischendorf who noticed this should have seen that L. corrected the error in his larger ed. of 1840-50. Certainly there is no excuse for any one failing to recognize the overwhelming testimony in favor of the ancient copies as well as of the Received Text, which speak of the guides exercising wakeful care on behalf of the souls of the saints, as having to render an account. But this means not of other men's souls, but of their own conduct in relation to them. For each shall bear his own burden; and whatever, or whoever, comes between the conscience and God is of the enemy. Herein Romanism is the chief, but far from the only, offender in availing itself of a transparent error, and pursuing its most evil consequences. As the saints are shown the solemn responsibility of their leaders, they are told to cultivate a gracious readiness to obey and submit, that the guides might do their watchful work with joy, and not with groans over their refractoriness, which would be profitless for the saints. Compare for the other side 1 John 2:2828And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. (1 John 2:28), and 2 John 88Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. (2 John 8); and for this side 3 John 44I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. (3 John 4).
There is a fine link of connection in the request of the next verse: “Pray for us; for we are persuaded that we have a good conscience,” &c. How many more ask prayer because their conscience is bad! But the inspired writer could ask that the hearts of his brethren might plead with God for sustaining in his work, as the Spirit was leading him on without the sad need of getting morally restored from this or that evil which burdened him. For the fact is that of all saints none more need prayer—their own and of others—than such as are very prominent and active in the Lord's work. Habitually occupied with preaching and teaching others, how great the danger is of going on with a conscience not good about themselves! And what can more decidedly defile or harden? The apostle, in writing to his brethren, could all the more ask their prayers, because he exercised himself to have always a conscience void of offense toward God and toward men, as he could say before the governor Felix and the high priest Ananias, both of them grievously and notoriously far different in this respect.
There is added an appeal to their affection. “But I more abundantly beseech you to do this, that I may be more quickly restored to you.” Compare Philemon. 22. It is beautiful and cheering to know that he counted on the love of the saints in the evil day, and that their prayers were so highly valued as efficacious with God.