"Obey those who rule over you and be submissive, for they watch out over 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" (Heb. 13:17). What shall we do with this instruction in a day when fear of cultism runs high, and with the full knowledge that there is only one mediator between God and man, which is Christ Jesus our Lord? May I encourage each one of us to look fairly at this question, because in the answer lies direction for our growth in God.
Before we can answer the question before us, we must see clearly the union that God has worked with man in the New Covenant. When instruction comes to us, it is always with the understanding that we are in union with God by the Spirit and that the one giving the instruction is also in union with God. Apart from this foundation, there is no answer to our questions. We must be in union by the Spirit in order to be able to hear and discern the authority of God coming to us. We must also be in that same union to be able to speak words that have meaning in God, to anybody else. Jesus said, "Apart from Me, you can do nothing." Separate from a relationship with God, nothing that we say or do has any meaning to God. Closely coupled with this revelation, we must see that what God is doing, He is doing through men. He has not chosen angels, but vessels of clay. This is God's doing, His wisdom, and He does not make mistakes. So no matter how many problems this may seem to present to us, we must know that God does all things well. If there were a better plan, He would have given that plan.
The meaning of this to us is that we cannot run away and create a plan of our own. Neither can we run from problems when we have difficulty working out the life of God with other believers. The answer to our problems and our growth in God is to face the issues squarely, and let God show us the way through. He will, if we are willing.
Although we do not have space here to expand on this subject, the key to understanding the verse we have just quoted is to be able to hear God through man. We must listen to the vessel, but we must hear God through the vessel. If we are only hearing man, we cannot move in faith before God, and what we hear will not profit us. If I turn away from God's chosen vessels with the attitude that "I just want to hear God by myself," I will likely find heaven shut. If I hear anything, it probably will be, "Go back, and it will be told you what to do."
In the context of our subject here, we must see how important it is to come to a place of freedom in our hearts, where we can hear and obey instruction coming to us from God-ordained leadership in the Church. We are all "sheep," and we need watching over by men who are called of God. We may think at times that we can do without this leadership, but remember, it is God who made the plan, not men. One of the main reasons we do not mature is that we have not settled the issue of what place leadership through men has in our lives. Thus, although this is one of God's main provisions for maturity, we are not benefiting from it, and we are sickly, weak, and immature. In this condition, we are easy prey for the enemy, and he picks off those at the edges one by one.
"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-13). This is the heart of God's plan for maturity. These are men called by God, set aside unto God for the purpose of God. They have a godly care, they meet God's qualifications for ministry, they hear God, and they speak as oracles of God (I Peter 4:11). They are examples to the flock, servants with a servant's heart, and they can say, "Follow me as I follow Christ." We are commanded to "recognize such men" (I Thess. 5:12). They do not take the place of Christ the Head in our lives, but they minister to get us into contact with and under the control of Christ. They are God's instruments in our lives.
The question before us is, do we know such men in our lives? More than that, do we obey them? If not, why not? If we do not know such men, then God wants us to know them because He cares for us. But He will not move beyond His plan even in His care, because He does not have two plans. If we come before the Lord with an honest heart, He will hear our cry and direct us to a place where we can feed if we are hungry. If we are proud, and feel that we can make it own our own without such God-ordained help, then we must come yet lower until we see our need.
Perhaps we know men that we would recognize as those described above, at least partly, but we do not feel we can trust them enough to say that we could obey them. Why not? Have we faced the question squarely, so that the issues can be dealt with? Perhaps we feel that they do not meet God's qualifications. Have we sought God for what to do about that? Perhaps we feel they meet the qualifications, but that we do not really need their help in our lives. Does that stand before God? Do we see the value of outside help? Do we think we need watching over? If not, why not? I know these are searching questions. Many times we have the questions, but we do not take steps to get them answered, and all the time the days are turning into years and the maturing that God wants is not taking place in our lives.
When a foundation of trust is laid in a proper way, and we know what spiritual authority is and how to recognize it, we can benefit from God-ordained leadership in ways that we cannot even imagine. The questions at times are not easy, and we are dealing with spiritual matters, but it is not safe to ignore the questions and hope they will go away. They won't, and in the end we are the losers. We are not following man or dealing with man, but rather we are dealing with God and coming under His direction. However, He has chosen to work through man, and we cannot change that. All submission and obedience is unto God. In that place, are we ready to be led? Can we take instruction? Can we obey?