Hebrews 13:17

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

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. Hebrews 13:17

The beginning of this verse closely parallels the words of verse 13:7, now forming the end of a section concerning leadership. The two clauses say –

Remember those who rule over you. 13:7

Obey those who rule over you. 13:17

Not only are we to remember those who rule over us, considering their faith and walk of life, but we are to be obedient to them as well. In obedience, we are to “be submissive.” The word is unique to Scripture, hupeikó. It signifies yielding to another and submitting to his authority.

The context here is that of religious leaders, not the civil leaders. The issue of submission to civil leadership, and the reason for it, is dealt with by Paul in Romans 13. Further, this does not mean that believers are to yield to the authority of someone who is in violation of the precepts of Scripture. Thus, the importance of knowing the word is implied here. One cannot discern when a leader is in the wrong if he does not have at least a reasonable knowledge of the word of God.

However, assuming the leader is leading appropriately, there is to be submission to him. The author says this is appropriate because “they watch out for your souls.” This means that when properly leading, they have the best intent for those under them in mind. As this is so, it would be counterproductive to not submit to them. One would suffer a self-inflicted wound. And more, the burden that a leader of God’s people carries is that they are “as those who must give account.”

This is speaking of their judgment before the Lord. All believers will stand at the judgment seat of Christ and receive reward or suffer loss (see Romans 14:10 & 2 Corinthians 5:9, 10). Those who fail to submit to their leaders (who are acting in accord with the word) will suffer loss for their failure to be submissive as directed. Those leaders who fail to care for the souls of their congregation will suffer loss for their inattentiveness towards those they are to care for. For those who fail to submit to their leader, this is perfectly reflected in the final two clauses of the verse where the author says, “Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”

The first clause speaks of the well-being of the leader. They should be able to lead “with joy and not with grief.” The word “grief” here literally means “groaning.” It gives the idea of a feeling which is internal and remains unexpressed. One could think of the leader silently suffering over the conduct of those he is to care for.

The second clause speaks of the state of the believer who fails to give joy to the leader by saying, “for that would be unprofitable for you.” Where there is strife, disobedience, or animosity, there is grief (groaning). Where there is joy and contentment, there is profit for the subordinate. This is true in any situation. Therefore, how much more should believers attempt to act in a proper manner in the body whose true Head is Christ!

Life application: Paul reminds us that our spiritual leaders should be both recognized and taken care of on several occasions –

“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. 18 For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’” 1 Timothy 5:17, 18


“Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.” Galatians 6:6

Because of these, and many other areas in the Bible dealing with authority, we should watch ourselves and be careful when we deal with those above us. This isn’t always easy to do either. How often we find ourselves at variance with our bosses and political leaders – and even our pastors! When we disagree, it is good to voice our opinions, but it is not right to vent in a violent or abusive way. One finds out as he climbs the ladder that he will face the same dissension from his subordinates, often over trivial matters. So let us be sure that when we vent, it is done with consideration and also not over what is trivial.

Yes Lord, give us wise and discerning hearts concerning our leaders. Help us to disagree only when warranted, and even then with a spirit of respect and love. Help us to understand that their jobs aren’t all peaches and cream and that they carry a burden larger than we may know. Help us to be good subordinates for the sake of Jesus’ name. Amen.

Leave a Reply