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Paul spent nearly twenty years preaching the gospel of grace and establishing Gentile churches all across Asia Minor before he penned the book of Hebrews. In 13:25, he affirms: (1) Hebrews are his target audience, (2) he wrote the book while in Italy, and (3) Timothy was his scribe. His focus in Chapters 1-12 is Jesus—his Person and the New Covenant established by his blood. He only mentions the “church” twice. The first is in 2:12—a reference to Jesus meeting with LOCAL congregations, singing with his people, preaching through his pastors. The second is in 12:23—a reference to the UNIVERSAL church, a general assembly, whose resurrected Lord, the firstborn from the dead, guarantees the resurrection of its members. The Rapture, the gathering together of ALL God's people in the Church Age, will be the first time the UNIVERSAL Church (general assembly) will be gathered by her Lord in LOCAL fashion. Revelation 4-5 portrays what a hallelujah time of unbridled worship that will be for the tens of millions gathered around the throne.
The Hebrews to whom Paul writes are members of BOTH churches. As members of local assemblies comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, their pastors are likely Gentiles. They could be Jews, or perhaps a Jew-Gentile mix, like Timothy. In other epistles, Paul taught that in Christ Jesus there was NO difference between Jew and Greek, male and female, bond and free. For a Jewish believer to have a Gentile pastor was irrelevant in church life. In Chapter 13, Paul refers to the pastors of churches to which Hebrew believers belonged. Paul delivers three clear admonitions:
The common thread in these three verses is the phrase: “Them that have the rule over you.” The immediate task for the student of scripture is to ascertain just exactly what it means for a pastor to “have the rule” over the people he pastors. I once invited a co-worker to attend church with me. He retorted: “I'm not going to sit there and let some man tell me how to live!” He thought of a pastor as sort of a boss. Sadly, too many share this view, which does not square with scripture.
Rule is ἡγέομαι (hēgeomai), “to lead, go before, exercise authority and influence.” Depending on its context, it can have the meaning of “to count, think, esteem.” In 17 of its 28 NT usages, the KJV translates it in that manner (10x as “count”). The biblical pastor of a local church is one who leads by example. His preaching is an extension of his living! His faith is one his people can follow as they consider the END of his conversation (lifestyle).” God have mercy on the church whose pastor encourages his people: “Do as I SAY, not necessarily as I DO!” He's attempting to lead his church from behind. The pastor seeking to push his people rather than lead them is on a fool's errand.
Follow is μιμέομαι (mimeomai), “to imitate (someone).” Before the photocopier, people used a mimeograph machine to make duplicate copies from a stencil. Imitators of others are mimics. Both of these words come from this root. A pastor is a stencil for his people, whose life they should duplicate and whose behavior they should mimic. In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul encouraged them to follow (duplicate, mimic) what they observed in Paul and his associates (2 Thessalonians 3:7,9). If one has reservations about mimicking his pastor, he should ask the Lord to lead him to a church whose pastor he CAN mimic with good conscience.
A pastor worth following (mimicking) is one whose bailiwick is both preaching and living the word of God. At the time of writing, the Hebrews and their pastors were in possession of OT scriptures and perhaps a few NT epistles in early stages of circulation. The primary content of the 'spoken word' would have been texts from the OT, from which Christ and godly living were expounded.
Some larger churches are now living with what I call the CURSE of visual media. Remember the days when God's people brought Bibles into the preaching service and followed along from the pages of scripture as the pastor read and expounded a biblical text? While this is still true in many churches with visual media, whose pastors are good stewards of the technology, others have abused it. There's no need to bring a Bible to their services. Media systems display biblical texts (often from watered-down translations) on screen for the congregation. Instead of these pastors using visual media to enhance the exposition of scripture with text-related insights, they REPLACE the Bible. There exists NO suitable substitute for black-and-white pages of scripture—a collection of sixty-six inspired books—HELD in HAND by the man in the pew!
The CURSE is further exacerbated by a fundamental lack of expository preaching (see Expository Preaching: A Dying Craft). The average congregation is subjected weekly to topical preaching, where random passages are cited in support of a theme. There's little attention given to the nuts-and-bolts of a biblical text, to word studies and elucidation of a text within its context. The Lord GOD spoke to the prophet Amos about a coming famine “of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11). We're living in an age wherein God's people are STARVING spiritually for lack of true expository preaching, with pastors often being perpetrators of the FAMINE! God's people are in desperate need of doctrinal truth from the contextual exposition of scripture. Doctrine is to the church what the skeleton is to the body.
There is no Greek preposition translated “over” in our English text. It is a pronoun, second person plural, in the genitive case. A literal translation would read: “of you.” But you can see how “them that have the rule of you” would be a less-than-smooth translation. The meaning is: “Your leaders.” But that doesn't diminish the spiritual authority vested in the pastor as God's spokesman. The pastor who sees himself as leader OF the church rather than a boss OVER the church has it just about right. The pastor is more of an elder BROTHER than a BOSS.
Remember is μνημονεύω (mnēmoneuō), “to be mindful of, call to mind, hold in memory.” It is obvious a church member is NOT going to forget who his pastor is. The admonition to remember one's pastor is an appeal to keep in mind the importance of his work, to be mindful he is a special target of satanic wiles, to remember he and his family have basic needs to which a congregation should attend, to hold him up in prayer. Pastors are not perfect men. But like all believers, they're in the process of being perfected. As a general rule, churches never exceed the spiritual life of their pastors. If a church is growing, it means God is growing its pastor. If you want God to grow your church, remember your pastor every time you approach the throne of grace!
Obey is πείθω (peithō), “to persuade, induce one by words to believe.” When used in a reflexive sense (as here), it means “to be persuaded, allow one's self to be persuaded and therefore obey the words of God spoken.” Submit is ὑπείκω (hypeikō), “to yield under, yield to authority, resist no longer.” Both verbs are present imperatives. The sense: “Keep on allowing yourselves to be persuaded and keep on obeying the word of God spoken by your pastor!” The degree to which any church member should “obey and submit” to the pastor is directly proportional to the truth preached. No man should allow himself to be persuaded by the opinions of men. The two critical questions after the preaching are: (1) “What hath God said?” and (2) “What will God have me do?” The answer to the second lies in knowing the answer to the first. If the pastor has done his job expounding biblical truth, the people will know of a certainty WHAT to do as well as to WHOM they should do it.
In the final analysis, the man who leaves church with just ONE truth, ONE biblical directive, so clearly expounded and understood as to transform his thinking and living, will have, at the end of one year, fifty-two permanently ingested truths to make him more like Jesus. What pastor could not rejoice over those kinds of results? In 1980, I wrote this quote from Morgan Noyes in a leaf of my Bible: “A minister can have as much authority as the truth of his message deserves, no more. That's all the authority any minister needs, who's concerned about his mission rather than his prestige.”
Watch is ἀγρυπνέω (agrypneō), “to be sleepless, to keep awake, to be circumspect.” This is the other side of the pastoral coin. Paul makes an assumption of pastors—vigilant, watchful, always alert to the spiritual climate. The phrase for your souls is introduced by the preposition ὑπέρ (hyper), “over, in behalf of, in the stead of.” It's the preposition scripture uses to teach the substitutionary death of Christ 'for' sinners. What does that say about the concern a pastor should have for his flock? Wouldn't that be Christ-like concern? The sad fact is some pastors are hirelings, going about their weekly routine, crafting a few sermons, visiting the hospital and shut-ins, drawing a paycheck. While these are certainly part of the job, watching 'for' the souls of people takes the pastor to another level of care, where he shares the heart of Christ in his prayer life, in his study of scripture, in his compassion for people, especially as an evangelist.
Salute is ἀσπάζομαι (aspazomai), “to draw to oneself, enfold in the arms, salute, embrace.” Paul uses this word repeatedly in his epistles to encourage spiritual affection, spiritual bonding. In 13:24, Paul instructs the Hebrews to extend this 'salute' to ALL the saints in addition to ALL their pastors. It's clear Paul had in mind more than mere courtesy, but rather a heart-felt recognition that ALL God's people have a common origin rooted in the grace, mercy and compassion of the God who loved them, and gave himself for them.