"Obey those who lead 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 matter of submission to elders is perhaps one of the most feared areas to some, and yet it is one of the most essential expressions of submission if we are to grow in God. Again, as in the previous areas, fear enters in when submission is only to man, with no element of faith.
Faith always brings God into the picture. Faith is attached to the living word of God spoken by a living God. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. This means that He is present with us to complete that which He has authored. If God is for us, who can be against us? If we are submitted to God, what can man do to us (Hebrews 13:6)? The question is whether we are moving in faith, or just concepts in our minds. By faith we partake of His grace, which changes everything and lifts our submission from the natural to the spiritual.
The matter of elders ruling or leading the church is God's design, not men's. The Lord likens us to sheep, and sheep need a shepherd. Elders are spoken of as shepherds who must give an answer to Christ for the sheep. In the verse just quoted in Hebrews 13:17, the word 'rule' has an alternate translation of 'lead.' Since shepherds lead sheep, the thought of leading is probably a better rendering in this verse. The whole subject of eldership is beyond the scope of this pamphlet, but what we want to see here is that elders are a channel of God's grace to our lives. Our place as the sheep is to recognize God's plan in leadership, acknowledge that it is God who made this provision, and find a place of submission so that God's gift of grace can benefit every member.
The religious world, in general, has proclaimed a message of individual salvation--that salvation is only a personal matter between God and a person, with no others involved. It is true that only God can regenerate a sinner and bring him from death to life, but that is not the whole thought of salvation. Parents cannot give life to a baby; that is something that God does. But parents are given the responsibility of training up that child for 20 years to maturity. In a similar way, only God can bring His life within a soul that repents and turns to God. But God has involved man at every step of the way, including the preaching of the gospel (Romans 8:15). His command to the apostles was to "go and make disciples" (Matthew 28:19). That is a training process that involves a great labor. It involves men who are prepared, called of God, and willing to lay down their lives for the sheep.
The command given to men here is based solidly on the statement made by Jesus: "All authority has been given to Me." Jesus never delegates that authority to any person. It always resides in Him. To see that by revelation to our hearts lifts our submission from the natural to the spiritual.
Now we see that when we are dealing with one of God's chosen servants, we are not submitting to man but to the Lord. It is the Lord's word we are looking for. This means that God's servants are responsible for speaking the word of God (1 Peter 4:11). Each member is responsible under God for recognizing that living word and submitting to it, however it comes. It is a spiritual working from beginning to end.
There are at least three key elements working in any servant of God such as an elder. These are example, grace, and anointing. We are commanded to know the lives of those who labor (Hebrews 13:7). Elders must be blameless in moral qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7). The grace must be present for the work in which they are engaged (Ephesians 4:7-16). That ability is God's working for His purposes. And finally, there must be the present divine element of anointing--God's presence--which makes the word alive and leaves us with God (1 John 2:27). That is the final test of the word coming through man to us. Does it leave us with God? In the end, if we are taught anything, we are taught by God, not man.
The living word brings revelation (seeing) to our hearts, and authors faith. Our response then is obedience to that word. As we obey, the word is made part of our lives, and lifts us up. It becomes the engrafted word which is able to save our souls (James 1:21). We are not just saved from sin (we are delivered from sin), but we are also brought into a living relationship with God, where we can begin to grow. In maturity, we are rooted and grounded in the love of God and cannot be moved off the foundation by anything. That is something that each one of our hearts should be crying for, and God has made full provision to meet the hungry soul.