A Summary of Christian Duty
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A Summary of Christian Duty

Hebrews 13:15–17  (ID: 1947)

Today, the notion of duty is often disparaged. The privilege of knowing Jesus, however, brings with it demands of duty, which we fulfill as we pursue God’s pleasure. Looking at Hebrews 13, Alistair Begg discusses the distinct duties believers take on: our spiritual duty with regard to God, our moral duty with regard to man, and our ecclesiastical duty with regard to Christian leadership. The Christian life, Scripture declares, is one of worship, good works, and submission to godly authority.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Hebrews, Volume 3

Fix Our Eyes on Jesus Hebrews 11:1–13:25 Series ID: 15803

Sermon Transcript: Print

Father, we recognize that you draw near to us in the hearing of your Word. And so grant, then, that this might be our experience in these moments, for your glory and for our good. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.

Can I invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to Hebrews and the thirteenth chapter? And we’re going to concentrate this morning on just three verses as we seek to move our studies in Hebrews to a close by this evening, and those verses are 15, 16, and 17. I’d like to read them in your hearing, and if you’re unfamiliar with your way around the Bible or you perhaps don’t have a Bible, then around you, you should be able to find one, and this reading you will find on page 853; 8-5-3.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise―the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

On the twenty-first of October 1805, one of the most famous sea battles in the history of warfare took place. At the Battle of Trafalgar, the British troops, under the leadership of Admiral Lord Nelson, soundly defeated the French and Spanish fleet. And although the details of that historical period are hazy to virtually all and particular snippets of information are known only to a few, any well-educated English schoolboy will be able to tell you two things concerning the Battle of Trafalgar. One, they will be able to tell you that the name of the flagship on which Nelson was carried was the Victory. And they will also be able to tell you that the message which Nelson conveyed first to his captains when they came on board the flagship Victory and then to the other members of the crews of the remaining twenty-six ships by means of flags going up the lanyards―the message was simply this: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” “England expects that every man will do his duty.” And consequently, all the members of the crews of these various ships would acknowledge the fact that while it was a privilege for them to serve their king and their country, it was impossible to think “privilege” without at the same time thinking “duty.”

Now, the reason I mention that is because when we read our Bibles with care, then we discover that all of the Christian’s duties, if we understand them properly, are nothing other than privileges, and that when we think in terms of Christian privilege, they in turn prove to be nothing other than sources of obligation and motives to duty.

Now, while duty is a dirty word―people think that unless you feel something, you shouldn’t do anything―that is really utter nonsense in so many realms of life, and not least of all in the matter of Christian pilgrimage. We are sustained by the prompting of the Spirit of God in our lives, directed by the Word of God, and we’re called to abiding faithfulness to fulfill the privileges of our walk with Christ in the expression of our duty. And from the earliest days at Sunday school in Scotland, being brought up in the post–World War II generation, the teachers and the songwriters seized every opportunity to make that point and to drive it home. And I sense the same was true across on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. And so you would have hordes of little children scurrying around the classroom singing,

I’m too young to march with the infantry,
To ride with the cavalry, and to shoot with the artillery.
And I’m too young to zoom o’er the enemy,
But I’m in the Lord’s army.

And the teachers labored hard and long so that we might understand that the privilege of knowing Jesus brought with it the demands of duty. And the Bible is replete with this emphasis.

The high point, if you like, of the whole emphasis of the book of Hebrews was reached in the thirteenth and fourteenth verses of this chapter, to which we gave consideration last Sunday evening, where the writer calls upon the readers to identify themselves in such a way with the Lord Jesus Christ that they will know the privilege of disgrace. And there is in that paradox great truth. To be identified with Christ is the great privilege. To recognize that in doing so, there will be demands that are placed upon us, there will be disgrace that attaches to it, is to be nothing other than biblically taught and thoroughly realistic. And the writer is essentially pointing out that from the vantage point of victory, the captain of our salvation sends the message out to all whom he has enlisted: “Heaven expects that everyone will do their duty.”

Now, in these three verses we have three aspects of Christian duty, and they are simply these: first of all, in verse 15, our spiritual duty with respect to God; then, in verse 16, our moral duty with respect to men; and then, in 17, our ecclesiastical duty with respect to Christian leadership. Now we’re going to give some time to each in turn.

Our Spiritual Duty

First of all, in verse 15, our duty with respect to God: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice.”

Now, the Jewish readers were well aware of the nature of sacrifice. And as we’ve been going through this letter, we have seen again and again the juxtaposition of the Old Testament order, which was pointing forward to this final great solution to the problem of sin―that the Day of Atonement, as the high priest entered into the most holy place, bearing with him sacrifices on behalf of the sins of the people, they were pointing forward to the day when Jesus Christ, that great sacrifice of atonement, would bear sin in his own body on the tree.[1] And the finality of it and the sufficiency of it reverberate through the pages of the letter. For example, in 10:12, contrasting what had been going on in the prior system, where the sacrificial offerings were going on again and again and again without the ability to take away sin―Hebrews 10:12: “But when this priest”—that is, Jesus—“had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down [on] the right hand of God.” And by this sacrifice, Jesus atoned for the sins of his people.

Now, in that Old Testament structure, the sacrifices were offered not simply for sin―namely, propitiatory sacrifices, or expiatory sacrifices―but there were also the offering of dedicatory sacrifices, which took place not so that people might be accepted with God, not in order that sin might be forgiven, but took place in order to express the thanksgiving of the people for the way in which God had accepted the propitiatory sacrifice. And these were material sacrifices. The Jew would bring an ox or a sheep or a goat, and they would offer it up there on the altar, and in doing so, they would say, “God, I am thankful to you, and I recognize the wonder of what you have done in providing a sacrifice for sin.”

The Christian is bound by obligations―strong ones, tender ones―to present a thank offering to God.

Now, it is this very emphasis which the writer brings to his readers here—hence the significance of the “therefore” as the third word in verse 15. The Christian is bound by obligations―strong ones, tender ones―to present a thank offering to God. What is the offering that the Christian then brings to God? Not an oxen, not a goat, not a sheep. What then? Ourselves. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise―the fruit of lips that [bear] his name.”

Probably the best parallel passage is in Romans chapter 12―familiar to some, news to others: “Therefore,” says Paul―same word, same point of emphasis―“therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy… ” What is God’s mercy? Where is it shown? It’s shown in his atoning death, Jesus’ death on the cross. “In view of God’s mercy,” he says, “I urge you … to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God―this is your spiritual act of worship.”[2]

So what is my duty, then, to God? This is not the summation of it all, but this is a significant part of it―namely, to bring my life as a daily offering to God, in the way that the Jew would have brought an oxen or a sheep or a goat, as an expression of our gratitude for all of the wonder of what he has done.

The thought is captured exceptionally well by the apt statement of the missionary statesman C. T. Studd, when with inescapable logic he encapsulates it in this way: “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice that I could ever make for him could ever be too great.”[3] If I gave away all that I owned, if I gave up my career in his service, if I buried myself in obscurity, if I offered my body to be burned—there is no sacrifice that could ever be so great, that took into account the immensity of what the Lord Jesus had done. And that is the point that he is making here. In worship, it is to be far more than simply the trotting out of songs, the rehearsing of tunes, the restating of poetry ancient and modern. It is to be the very fruit of lips which acknowledge his name.

Now, you’ll notice that this “sacrifice of praise,” as it’s referred to here, is that which is offered “through Jesus.” “Through Jesus.” Don’t allow your eye just to scan that and jump on. It’s very important. “Through Jesus,” the one with whom we identify and find ourselves in the realm of disgrace. It’s a point of emphasis, because the writer is saying, “It is through Jesus, and only through Jesus. You do not offer this sacrifice,” he says, “through the functions of Judaism. You do not offer this sacrifice of praise by means of saints and angels. You do not offer this spiritual worship by means of the Virgin Mary. It is only through Jesus.” Saints and angels and virgins and Jewish priests and all the rest provide us zero access to the God to whom we owe this spiritual duty. They are not our altar. They did not cleanse us by their blood. They did not suffer in our place. They did not open up a new and living way for us to approach God. And therefore, to seek access to God the Father by any other route is to deny the uniqueness and sufficiency of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, you’re sensible people. Examine the Scriptures to see if these things are so.[4]

John Brown, commentating in the early nineteenth century in Scotland, says, “All our religious services must be presented through the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ―in … dependence on what He did on earth, and is doing in heaven. It is only when viewed in connection with His atonement and intercession that any of our religious services can be acceptable to God.”[5]

I don’t have time to make application of it, but one word in passing. When people come to us and say, “Surely all that matters is that we want to seek God. Don’t let’s get set aside now by our particular predilections in relationship to this. Surely the words of Oprah Winfrey in her commencement address to the women of Wellesley College is sufficient for us, as she said, ‘Find whoever it is. I like to call it God,’ she says, ‘but you can call it what you want. You can call it “Source.” You can call it “Power.” You can call it “Allah.” But it doesn’t matter,’ she says. ‘All that matters is that you unite with the energy of it, and you can be anything you choose to be.’”[6]

“Through Jesus, therefore…” And only through Jesus. Do you think that he went to the extent of leaving heaven, coming to earth, being born as he was born, living as he lived, dying as he died, to open up the only way to God so that he might then look from heaven and say, “Hey, you know what—really, all those other ways are fine”? The notion that we might conclude that all roads lead to heaven like they lead to Timbuktu is certainly very prevalent, but we can find no substantiation for it in the Scriptures.

A spiritual duty that is offered through Jesus, and it may be offered continually. Continually. And because it may, it should. A continual offering to God―not an hour a week, not something that simply happens in a corporate way, but somebody whose life is so interwoven with the Lord that the very walking and talking, sweeping and injecting, reading and so on, is all an expression of praise. And this was mind-blowing to his readers, because when they thought in terms of offering sacrifices, they could only do it at particular times, and they could only do it in particular places. “No,” says the writer, “this spiritual service may be presented at any time and in any place.” It’s a wonderful truth! You don’t have to go to a special building. You don’t have to meet with special people. All of our lives interwoven with God.

Now, if you, as I, have had the privilege of this in your family life, you have something for which to be deeply grateful. I was reflecting upon it this week as I came to this verse. I don’t know why it would come to mind. But I was thinking about how often my father would sing as we drove along in the car. This was a mistake for a number of reasons. One, because my father is not a very good singer; I think he’d be honest enough to admit that. And two, because he didn’t exactly have a very receptive audience around him in the car―three in the back and one beside him, not necessarily getting blessed by his melodic interchanges. Nevertheless, it never prevented him, and since we had no radio to turn on whereby we might drown him out, no tape player to use whereby we might be done with him, we would sit there and listen to him sing. And he sang all kinds of things.

Now, two of these came to mind as I was sitting at my desk up the stairs during the week. One of them went like this. I won’t sing it for you, ’cause I’m as bad as my father, but it went like this:

Singing I go along life’s road,
Praising the Lord, praising the Lord;
Singing I go along life’s road,
For Jesus has lifted my load.[7]

Not a particularly earth-shattering lyric, and not a striking melody line, I can assure you, and certainly not a brilliant singer. But as a kid sitting in the back, I was forced to process this, to say, “Whatever else is happening in my dad, he’s ‘singing he goes along the road.’” And he would quickly follow that―he had a little two-punch routine where he would follow that with one that he said he learned from a missionary in South America somewhere. And he would wax into this one to great pain. And it went like this,

Jesus is with me wherever I go,
Jesus is with me, I know;
Over the mountain[s], the land, and the sea,
Jesus, I know, is with me.

As oft through the valley of sorrow I go,
His hand is upon me, I know, I know;
Jesus is with me wherever I go,
Jesus is with me, I know.[8]

Now, he clearly didn’t sing that once, because if he’d only sung it once, I never would have remembered it from once. Therefore, he must have sung it a lot! Therefore, he must have been a very jolly wee man, singing all these songs, huh? Ah.

Do you think he only sang them when he was happy? Do you think he only sang them when he felt like it? If my dad had only sang when he was happy and felt like it, I probably would never have heard him sing—not ’cause he was morose and unhappy, but because he had three teenage kids; he had a job, a wife, stuff. And when I call him now on the phone, I say, “How’re you doing?” He says, “I’m doing great! My legs are swollen up, and after I take a shower, I have to lie down to get enough energy to get dressed. But I’m doing great! I’m singing, ‘I go along life’s road, praising the Lord.’”

Hey, let me ask you a question. Let’s stop. Let’s freeze-frame it right at this point in our lives. Of all the things that anybody’ll say about you or me, does anybody say, “You know, I’ll never forget him. Didn’t matter when I was with him, he was praising the Lord. It didn’t matter where you went; it didn’t matter what you were doing. She always was blessing the Lord.” It’s a Christian duty. It’s not a glandular condition.

I watch some of you people in worship as well. It’s very intriguing to me. Some of you raise your hands, and that’s nice. Others of you don’t, and that’s nice. But there’s certain ones that you raise your hands on, and there’s other ones you don’t raise your hands on. And I’ve been trying to work out what it is. Is there something goes on inside your tummy that goes, “hand raiser,” “non-hand-raiser”? What is it? Is it a melody? Is it a truth? What is it?

See, the issue, loved ones, is that it doesn’t matter where we are, it doesn’t matter who we’re with; it is our Christian duty to offer spiritual worship to God that engages our minds, stirs our hearts, and flows from our lips.

Our Moral Duty

Secondly, and notice that our duty is to be shared with respect to others. As Matthew Henry quite quaintly puts it, “Thanksgiving is good, but thanks-living is better.” “Thanks-living is better.”[9] When John writes, he says, “Dear children”―1 John 3:18― “let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” The hymn writer puts it really well:

Fill thou my life, O Lord my God,
In every part with praise,
That my whole being may declare
Your beauty and your ways.

Not for the lips of praise alone,
But for the praising heart,
I ask you for a life made up
Of praise in every part![10]

And that praise, then, is expressed in the way in which not only I confess his name but also the way in which I do good to others.

Now, the Jewish people, again, understood this. All of the blessings that they had experienced were to be passed onto the aliens and strangers in their gates. Deuteronomy chapter 14:

[And] at the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.[11]

The Jewish mind understood this: “God didn’t give me all this stuff so that I could sit around and be a fat cat. He didn’t give me all this stuff so that I may sit around with my friends and party, so that I might congratulate myself on how well I’ve done, so that I may tear down my barns and build bigger and say, ‘Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry, because you’ve done a tremendous job.’”[12] No! He gave it to us in order that we might use it, in order that in our moral responsibilities, living as citizens in the community and living as brothers and sisters in the family, we would not forget to do good—that we would be do-gooders!

Evangelicalism has got a horrible record when it comes to doing good. Say, “We’re not do-gooders!” Yeah, I understand we’re not. But we’d better start being do-gooders! Because we’re supposed to be—not so that we might gain acceptance with God as a result of doing good, but in order that by our good deeds we might declare the Father’s glory.[13]

Now, when you think about that, we found it again and again when we studied in Titus. In Titus 2:14, speaking of what has happened in redemption, he speaks of Jesus, and he says of Jesus, he “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own”—then what?—“eager to do what is good.” “Eager to do what is good.” So it’s my Christian duty to do what is good. He says the same thing in Titus 3:8: “This is a trustworthy saying. … I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.” “Pastor,” he says, “I want you to stress these things so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.” Now, how hard is that to understand? It’s our Christian duty!

The ceremonial offerings that were part and parcel of Judaism are no longer pleasing to God. That old order had come to an end. The sacrifices of oxen and all that stuff, that’s all gone now. But the sacrifice of genuine care, practical support, selfless love, these are the sacrifices which testify to God’s grace in our lives. And note carefully: the incentive for this behavior is not that it brings acceptance with God, for that, we have seen, only comes by way of the sacrifice of Jesus. But the incentive is that “God is pleased.”

Now, we can evade this, avoid this, at our peril. Remember as Jesus teaches in Matthew 25, and he speaks of those who minister to the hungry: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. I was hungry; you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty; you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger; you invited me in. I needed clothes; you clothed me. I had AIDS, and you looked after me. I was imprisoned, and you came to visit me.’ And then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; thirsty, give you a drink; a stranger, invite you in; needing clothes and clothe you? When did we find you sick or in prison and go and visit you?’ And the King replied, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.’”[14] That’s why in Hebrews 6:10 he says to them as a word of encouragement, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love [that] you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

To have the approval of men and women is delightful. To have the approbation of our own conscience is better still. But to have the ‘Well done!’ of God is surely the highest recompense that his child can ever know.

You see, to have the approval of men and women is delightful. To have the approbation of our own conscience is better still. But to have the “Well done!” of God is surely the highest recompense that his child can ever know.

That’s why, you see, in the movie Chariots of Fire, something happens in that moment, I’m sure—which is why the quote is so quotable after all these years—there’s something happens in that statement by Eric Liddell which has got far more to do with the emotion, or the accent, or anything else, when his sister chides him for his uninvolvement, or for his disparate involvement, in the work of the Bible study, and when he affirms the fact that God made him fast. And then he says, “And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”[15] And it makes everybody stop for a moment and say, “Is it possible?” And the answer is, “Yes, it is.” Because “with such sacrifices God is pleased.” And Eric Liddell ran not only to gold in the 1924 Olympics, but he ran to the very end of his journey, dying as a prisoner in the prisoner-of-war camp there in China.

Do you feel his pleasure as you go about your daily routine? Are you doing good? Am I doing good? Are we doing good as a church? Are we doing anything good as a church? Yes, I think we are! Well, does that make us proud? No. Does that make God predisposed to us? No. But God is pleased—in the same way that as a parent, when you hear of one of your children having done something that is commendable, having helped somebody out, and they have never mentioned it to you, they haven’t used it as a solicited testimonial, but the word has come back to you, how do you feel? You feel pleased. You say, “She did that, and I’m pleased. He did that, and I’m pleased.” God is pleased when he looks down on Parkside Church and he finds that we’re not forgetting to do good or to share with others and we are exercising our spiritual duty to God in praise and our moral duty to others in these expressions.

Our Ecclesiastical Duty

And finally, our ecclesiastical duty in our submission and respect of Christian leaders. Now, let me say first for your encouragement that I’m not going to delay in this, because I plan to teach on the church when I come back in the fall. And at that time, I’ll try and deal adequately with this aspect of Christian leadership and our response to it. But let me give you a thumbnail sketch, and with this we conclude.

What is the nature of this leadership? First of all, it is pastoral leadership: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you.” In other words, they fulfill the role of shepherds watching over spiritual sheep. The word that is used, as it is used in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, is the word which is used for a watchman on the city walls, watching for the dawn, watching for people coming without, watching for problems within. They’re not put up on that vantage point so that people might point to them and say, “My, my, it must be lovely up on the wall.” They’re not put up on the wall to get a suntan. They’re not put up on the wall to get a view of the surrounding scenery. They’re put up on the wall to watch. And when someone is entrusted with the responsibility of spiritual leadership, they are to be watchmen. That’s why Paul says in Acts 20, “Keep watch over yourselves and over the flock of God where God has made you an overseer.”[16] Peter says in 1 Peter 5:2 that we should be watching out for the flock.

Secondly, it is accountable leadership: these men “watch … you as men who must give an account.” You see, when leadership is taken seriously and exercised humbly, it will be done under the constant pressure of knowing that a day is coming when the books will be opened and we will give an account. When we say that the leadership of the New Testament church is not responsible to the congregation but responsible for the congregation, we’re not making it easier for the leader; we’re making it more awesome for the leader. I’d rather be responsible to you than responsible for you. But God says, “No, you’re responsible for them, and you’re responsible to me. And every decision you make, and every sermon you preach, and every phone call you take, and every word of advice that you offer, and every rebuke that comes from your lips, I will hold you accountable for on the day when the books open.” “They keep watch over you as men who [will] give an account.” Not at the annual meeting—that would be easy—but who give an account at that great assize in the air, when the Lawgiver opens the books and says, “Now, let’s just see how you did.”

And it is on account of that that the response to leadership is to be obedient and submissive: “Obey your leaders.” “Obey them,” it says twice. Now, how do we understand this? It is the duty of God’s people to obey while the leaders teach the things which Jesus has appointed them to teach. That is the scope of the leader’s authority. Anything beyond that is an abuse of authority. That’s why when Jesus sends the apostles out at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, he says, “I want you to go into all the world. I want you to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey everything”—what?—“I have commanded you.”[17] “Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Where is what God has commanded us to be found? In the Book! Therefore, what is the leader to do? He is to teach the Book. He’s to be a Hebrews 13:7 leader: “Remember your leaders,” he said, “who spoke the word of God to you.” Why would leaders speak the word of God to you? Because this is the only authority that they have―not the authority of personality, not the authority of bright ideas, not the authority of schemes and dreams and notions and plans, but the authority of God’s Word. “Obey your leaders,” “who spoke the word of God to you,” within the parameter of the authority―the only authority that they have―which is the authority of God’s Word.

So somebody comes and says, “Well, I thought that I ought to marry a non-Christian.”

And we say, “You know what? My advice to you is, don’t marry a non-Christian. Indeed, if I could give you a command, I’ll tell you flat out: don’t marry a non-Christian.”

“Why not?”

“Because the Bible says that you shouldn’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”[18]

And then someone comes and says, “You know what? I’m fed up with my husband. I’m gonna divorce him.”

I’m gonna give you a command: “Do not divorce your husband.”

“Why not?”

“Because the Bible says that God hates divorce.”[19]

Now, you can either submit to my authority—which is derived authority. I don’t have any authority except what’s in this book.

So when it says, “Obey your leaders,” the presupposition is that the leaders will lead with the shepherd of God’s Word―that they won’t be bombastic, they won’t be arrogant, they won’t simply have their own agenda. And that’s why it’s so imperative that God’s people are people of the Book. Otherwise, the word of warning here in verse 9, “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings,” is absolutely superfluous. The writer is not urging blind, unthinking obedience to everything a Christian teacher says. You understand that, don’t you? I hope you understand that! The writer is not urging upon the people blind, unthinking obedience to everything a Christian teacher says. Goodness gracious, if they did it to the apostle Paul in Berea―they examined the Scriptures every day “to see if these things were so”[20]―they’d better be doing it to everybody else! They’d better be taking their Bibles and going home, say, “I’m gonna read that chapter again. I’m gonna find out if what he said is right. Because the only reason I would submit to it is because it’s right. And if it’s not right, it’s wrong, and if it’s wrong, I don’t need to pay a wit of attention to what the guy said. And I don’t care how excited he is!”

Now, there ought to be great confidence in that, you see. Because then the sheep feel that the crook of God’s Word is that which goes around their neck to rescue them from danger; and it is the crook of God’s Word which comes to smack ’em on the nose, to stop them from vying with one another; and it is the crook of God’s Word which is used as the very symbol of the authority that we’re supposed to obey.

We are to submit to leadership while it’s exercised in the name of Christ, when it is according to the direction of Christ, and when it is by the rule of the Word of Christ.

Now, in the same way, any submission is exactly like that. We are to submit to leadership while it’s exercised in the name of Christ, when it is according to the direction of Christ, and when it is by the rule of the Word of Christ. You say, “But aren’t we supposed to submit to one another? Aren’t we brothers and sisters in Christ?” Yes, we absolutely are. “So, do we submit to one another?” Yes, we do. “Well, how can you submit to one another and also submit to leadership within the church?” Just in the same way that a husband and wife submit to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and obey the Bible. So that when I’m gone, Susie still has to obey Jesus. But she also submits to my leadership. Why? ’Cause God said that’s what’s supposed to happen. And the only reason I would lead is because God said I had to submit to doing what I was told, which was to lead. So, it’s submission all the way around.

“Well,” you say, “in that case, if we submit to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, then why would there be submission to the leadership of the church?” In the exact same way as there would be submission to the headship of the husband within the home: in order that everything might be done decently and in order and according to God’s plan and his purpose.

Notice the very practical way in which the writer draws it to a close. He says, “[You should] obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” In other words, the members of the church have the potential to make their leaders glad or to make them groan. What do you think you are? What do you think you are? Do you think you make your leaders glad? Do you think you make your leaders groan?

Phillips puts it in a positive way. He turns it around: he says, “Try to make their work a pleasure … not a burden―by so doing you will help not only them but yourselves.”[21] Every child knows, you aggravate your mother, it’s going to be hot in the house. You aggravate your dad—your dad says, “Now, we’re gonna leave at six,” and you go, “Why does it have to be six? I thought six fifteen was a very good time to leave.” Just do as you’re asked! Now, if your father told you that he wanted you to go up forty floors in New York City and jump out of the window, you would want to make perfectly sure that you were hearing him correctly, and to the degree that you were, you wouldn’t even go up one floor. Why? Because that violates every other principle. So if the leaders of the church are violating the Word of God and leading the people into heresy, then the people have the responsibility and the obligation to put their fingers in their ears and to head for the hills. But when it comes to matters of less significance, then it’s really helpful if you make them glad.

Why do I keep all these letters, not only from Wally but from all of you? Incidentally, if you write me a real ripsnorter, I throw it away. I read it, but I throw it away. I’ll tell you why I throw it away: I don’t want to have you linked to what you said, ’cause I know that if you knew how nice I was, you wouldn’t say that. And I don’t want to be carrying in my records a bunch of aggravation from you. So I get rid of them. I write you a short note, and I trash that stuff. ’Cause I’m not gonna hold grudges against you, and I don’t want to become an old, gray man going through my stuff and surfacing recollections that would harm my memory of you. So I listen, I read ’em, and I ditch ’em. And I keep the rest—not because they’re full of accolades; they’re not. They’re full of words of direction, correction, rebuke, exhortation, encouragement. But I’ll tell you, this file, it makes me glad. I’d be prepared to sleep with it under my pillow. Of all the contribution that you and I have made to Christian leadership in the local church, are we making the leaders glad? We making the leaders groan?

1805, and the crew are on their boats in the Mediterranean, and the sign goes up on the lanyard that there’s going to be a signal sent. And you can imagine them on deck, looking across at HMS Victory and waiting as the various flags convey the information. And they look up, and what does it say? Listen to what it doesn’t say: he didn’t shoot up the flagpole, “England expects every man to do his duty.” That would be simply to restate the obvious. Why would you join the navy if you weren’t gonna do your duty? When you’re in the navy, you’re supposed to do your duty. So why, at this point, in such a significant moment, in the face of battle, would you simply reiterate that? There’d be value in it.

But what he put up was fantastic! As every intelligent English schoolboy knows, what he put up in the flags was this: “England expects that every man will do his duty”—not “to do” his duty. But when I hear from you as my captain, as my general, that you’re expecting that I will do my duty, there’s an encouragement contained in that. And the captain of our salvation, as it were, looks down from the ramparts of heaven and into the company of those whom he has redeemed, and he says to us, “And from heaven we anticipate that all of you will do your duty”―spiritually, to God; morally, to one another; and ecclesiastically, to Christian leaders.

Let us pray:

O God our Father, look upon us, we pray, in your mercy and in your grace. Take your Word and write it in our hearts. And in these moments as our worship ends, grant that this may be a day of decision, a day of renewed commitment, a day in which we recognize our privilege and commit to the duty that is before us. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] See 1 Peter 2:24.

[2] Romans 12:1 (NIV 1984).

[3] C. T. Studd, quoted in Norman Grubb, C. T. Studd: Athlete and Pioneer (1933; repr., Harrisburg, PA: Evangelical Press, 1943), 145. Paraphrased.

[4] See Acts 17:11.

[5] John Brown, An Exposition of the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews, ed. David Smith (Edinburgh, 1862), 2:254.

[6] Oprah Winfrey, commencement address, Wellesley College, May 30, 1997, https://www.wellesley.edu/events/commencement/archives/1997commencement/commencementaddress. Paraphrased.

[7] Eliza E. Hewitt, “Singing I Go” (1898).

[8] Harry Bollback, “Jesus Is with Me Wherever I Go” (1955).

[9] Matthew Henry, The Life of the Rev. Philip Henry (London: B. J. Holdsworth, 1825), 236.

[10] Horatius Bonar, “Fill Thou My Life” (1866). Lyrics lightly altered.

[11] Deuteronomy 14:28–29 (NIV 1984).

[12] See Luke 12:18–19.

[13] See Matthew 5:16.

[14] Mathew 25:34‒45 (paraphrased).

[15] Chariots of Fire, directed by Hugh Hudson, written by Colin Welland (1981).

[16] Acts 20:28 (paraphrased).

[17] Matthew 28:19‒20 (paraphrased).

[18] See 2 Corinthians 6:14.

[19] See Malachi 2:16.

[20] Acts 17:11 (paraphrased).

[21] Hebrews 13:17 (Philips).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.