Obey Those Who Rule Over You (Hebrews 13:17) But How?

In many bodies today there is much confusion over the issue of those who are in authority to oversee  the New Testament Body of Christ. Proper understanding in this is very important for the body to function in a God honoring way.

First let us state this: we do believe in the biblical practice of multiple elders/pastors to be examples and overseers to the rest of the body of Christ as it is clearly taught in the bible. They are to be Shepherd's who look after the flock but they don't own it or totally control it at all. Christ is the ONLY head of the body as stated here:

"Christ is the head of the body, the church; Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in everything Christ might be preeminent.
For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Christ all things are reconciled to God, whether on earth or in heaven,
making peace by the blood of Christ's cross".
Colossians 1:15-20

We can see in the book of  Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 where qualifications are given for an elder/pastor.
He is to be a man who rules his house well, he is holy and has sound doctrine in the faith.
Paul instructed that Timothy appoint multiple elders in each town. ( Titus 1:5 ) The NT writings speak of elders not ever a single elder over a body anywhere at all. This would make sense so no one man is in that role who could abuse it unchecked. Also pride and ego can come into play when one man attempts to run everything.

No one can argue that God's Word gives clear instruction for elders in the body to oversee it.
But that overseeing is not to rule with a lording heavy hand at all, and this is the real issue indeed.
(See our post on true body life where "many men" are to be active in the body not just one man weekly )

The confusion comes when men throughout history have tried to usurp authority over people in an unbiblical fashion and try to lord over others in the body for control. Much of this started back in 4th century when a pagan emperor put men ( single pastors ) to lord over others in religious buildings and to rule over those in the pews. This was very foreign to the true New Testament body that Jesus had created. Then the reformers back in the 16th century continued in the false practice of the roman catholic ways with men ruling over bodies (lone pastor's) in a very unbiblical fashion.  Sadly it goes on still today on every corner in America via denominational false religion.

To fully understand what is the Lord's intent for leadership in His body let's see what Jesus told His disciples. Jesus said in Matt 20:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.   Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.   And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—   just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Does this sound like the role you see today in most all modern religious places where you have "one man in a pulpit ruling and lording over the people" as the one on charge?  No it does not at all. Jesus said if you want to be great, be a servant. Men need to take heed to this verse and check their hearts.

Moving on... there are other verses where the Apostles told us how those men should lead the body.
In 1 Peter 5 he tells us:
"The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed:  Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;   nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away".  

Here we see they are overseers and not to lord over but to be examples. Who wouldn't follow a great example of a godly man?  Great leaders don't say "you must follow me"!  No they lead as examples and other willing follow. This is how Jesus exercised His authority while walking the earth and so should we.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:24
"Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth.   Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand."

He makes the point he and the other Apostles were not in a "dominion of control" over the body but were fellow workers with them. Again.. this flies in the face of those who say "we are in control" and usurp power in a wrong unbiblical manner.  No true servant of God wants to or needs to usurp any authority! 

Now you cannot talk about authority in the body without touching on Hebrews 13:17.
It is the verse used by most in power to say; see you must obey! But let's see what that verse really says shall we?
"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".

It is understood that biblical elders do have rule (authority) in the biblical New Testament body.
So lets us focus on the word "obey". Here the root word for obey in Greek is peitho and it means to convince, pacify, assent, persuade, trust and yield.It is far from a command to blindly follow men/elders.

Now if we look at another place where the word obey is used in Hebrews.
Hebrews 5:9
"And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,   called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek" ( this is describing Jesus Christ )

Here when speaking of us to Jesus...the word for obey is hupakouo and it means to see under as a subordinate, to listen to attentively, to heard or conform to a command or authority.

This is the strongest sense of obeying and following we see in the Greek language.

As you can see, the word for obey when referring to "us to Christ" is VERY strong; yet in Hebrews 13:17 the word used for obey towards "men to the elders" has a lesser meaning and is meaning "to persuade" and even the word submit  (hupeiko) /Heb 13:17 means to place yourselves under. It does not to blindly follow men's commands as many modern pastors will teach.

This obeying/submitting to elders is ONLY when they are teaching the truth of Gods Word. If they leave those true ways; we are to reject their authority and follow God's Word in full. See Acts 5:29 

This goes perfectly with what Peter said to "be examples" and what Paul said about not being in "dominion over you" but as fellow workers. So we can see the pure authority of God's body take shape correctly if we cling to the Word alone and not man's perversion of it.

In a recap what do we see in a biblically led New Testament body?

*We do see biblical elders who rule ( oversee ) the body with more than one in place.
*We see Jesus saying NOT to Lord over others but be a servant to others
*We see a different word used for obey when it comes to obeying man than to obeying Christ
*We see Peter and Paul encouraging elders as examples and fellow workers, not men in charge!

The fact is that if you attended a well ordered Spirit led body... you may not even know who the elders are at all.  Like a police officer of the law, they only really need to spring into action when the law is being broken.  (Elders step in when others get out of line of God's Word and they gently instruct them back in line.)  Other then that, they are fellow workers in the body of Christ as servants. This encourages all men to step up in the body and not sit in a pew and expect other men (elders) to do for them what God has called them to: be active in their gifts and one-anothering the body.  http://spiritandtruthdiscernment.blogspot.com/2014/01/one-anothering.html

Here is an article on biblical submission that goes into more detail.

I hope this helps you understand biblical authority in God's true NT body.  If you have a modern pastor who wants to lord over you or you're involved in a religious place where they want control but they are not good and godly examples; you may consider leaving there.  As someone once said... when was the last time you heard a modern pastor say "watch me and do just as I do"?

Don't feel you have to be in a body just to be in a body. God's Word doesn't teach that at all! Just begin seeking God in His Word on your own (or with family) in total obedience to the Word.  In time you will be fully rooted and solid in truth with no need to run here or there. Just "be" His New Testament body right where you are everyday you live and He will build His church. Here's an article on life in the New Testament Church. http://spiritandtruthdiscernment.blogspot.com/2014/01/what-was-life-like-in-new-testament.html

Let us know how we can help you?

"In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths".
Proverbs 3:6