What We Believe
i

In twelve chapters the writer to the Hebrews displays to us the superior excellence of the person and work of Christ, and he calls us to live by faith in the perfect priest, as he brings us to worship with the church in heaven.[1] In chapter 13 he quickly sets before us particular practical commands for life in the church, the heavenly Jerusalem, to which he referred in chapter 12:22–24:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

In 13:7 he directs us to “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” In verse 8 he roots that command in the unchanging character of Christ. He cautions against doctrines which would call us to rest in sacrifices which do not last, moving on to verse 14, where he refers again to the heavenly Jerusalem: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” So, he exhorts us to continually offer the sacrifices of praise to God and mercy toward men, which we bring, depending on the perfect sacrifice of Christ. He finishes off this section by referring again to “your leaders” in verse 17.

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ, you have made promises tonight. Those promises make specific applications of Hebrews 13:17:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

The question I would like you to consider is: Now that you have an installed a pastor, what must you do? What will it look like for you to

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Let me make a few observations. First, notice what you have done. You have received your pastor. In response to the question, “Do you, the people of this congregation, continue to profess your readiness to receive Kurt Waterson, whom you have called to be your minister?” you have said, “Yes.” Notice that you have received him, not agreed to examine him. There is no test left for him to take in order to be accepted by you. There is no period of probation. You have received him, and he has begun his work.

In Philippians 2:29 Paul calls on the church at Philippi to “receive him [Epaphroditus] in the Lord with all joy …” That is the way you are to receive your pastor, not just on this occasion, but in the coming weeks, months, and years. The writer to the Hebrews tells us, in the middle of verse 17, to let him do his work. Rejoice in what he does on your behalf. Do not complain about what you would like him to do that he is not doing.

You and your pastor will need to grow together. He may seem flawless now, but he is not. Whether or not you have seen them, he has faults: they will stand out in time. You can be sure of that.

Epaphroditus had been near death. He was returning to Philippi, no doubt more experienced, but certainly with apparent weaknesses and limitations. So, Paul tells the Philippians to receive him in the Lord with great joy.

So, you must continue to receive your pastor with great joy, as his flaws and limitations become apparent. Continue to receive him with joy because, as you profess in your response to the question, you recognize him and receive him as your minister. He is a brother with frailties similar to your own, but he is sent to be your minister, your servant, your pastor. Jesus says in John 13:20: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Your new pastor is a brother, a servant of God, sent by Christ to serve you. The writer to the Hebrews expresses this in verse 17 by describing “your leaders” as “keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” He has been sent by Christ, who is your Master. Kurt is not your master. He is your brother. But he is not your employee, either. You are not his master. Christ sent him, and Christ is his master, to whom Kurt must give an account.

The focus in the verse and in the question is not on the man. It is on the task, the ministry he has been given. You have called him to be your minister, your pastor, and you receive him as one who has been given the task to lead you, to rule over you, to govern, “keeping watch over your souls,” to be on guard for your lives, to stay awake and be on the lookout for dangers to your safety. Of course, he does not do that alone. He is joined by your elders. But he has been given the task of an under-shepherd of the flock where you are kept by the Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of the sheep.

So, continue to receive Kurt with great joy as your minister, your frail brother who has been called by your common master to serve you as governor and guardian. But now, notice what you have promised to do. You have answered three more questions, by which you promised to do specific things in your relationship to Kurt.

In the first of those three questions you really promised to use the benefits of his ministry. Listen again to the question: “Do you promise to receive the word of truth from his mouth with meekness and love, and to submit to him in the due exercise of discipline?” The first part of that question asks you “to receive the word of truth.” It is by the word of truth that those who rule—and particularly those who are devoted to the ministry of the Word—govern and guard your lives in the service of the great Shepherd of the sheep.

So, you receive the Word from your pastor’s mouth, but you do so because it is not simply his word but the Word of the Lord who sent Kurt to you. So, you receive that word with meekness and love, you “obey” and “submit,” as the writer to the Hebrews puts it. You will be like the Thessalonians to whom Paul wrote: “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 2:13). You will be obedient to the command of James 1:21–22: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

Notice that receiving the word can save you. But receiving the word means doing it, not just hearing it. Do not deceive yourselves. Receive from Kurt’s mouth the word of truth with love for the Lord, who is the Word of God incarnate, who is the truth. That is the first aspect of the question’s call to use the benefits of Kurt’s ministry.

The second aspect of this question’s call to use the benefits of Kurt’s ministry is in the words, “Do you promise to … submit to him in the due exercise of discipline?” This appears in Hebrews 13:17 in the words “obey” and “submit.” “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”

Those are dirty words in our culture, which is so sensitive to protecting every individual’s right to be his or her own god. But they are also misunderstood words. These words may conjure up in your mind an image of groveling at the feet of a mean master. But that is not what they mean. The word translated “obey” here means to “be persuaded by those who lead you.” You are commanded to “be persuaded.” That does not mean you should give up intellectual exercise. It means you should listen to their discernment and judgment. Heed their wisdom, which is not really theirs in the first place. Let your conscience and thinking be instructed by your pastor’s leadership, so that you will be persuaded to follow. The word translated “submit” means to “defer” to your brother, not to grovel at his feet.

You will do that as you heed the words of the writer to the Hebrews in verse 7 of this chapter, where he calls you to “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (emphasis added). Again, Paul gives the Thessalonians a picture of what this will look like: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thess. 5:12–13a). Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 16:16: “… be subject [that is, submit] to such as these [who have devoted themselves to the service of the saints] and to every fellow worker and laborer.” And in Ephesians 5:21 he writes that we should be: “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The opposite of submitting, in the biblical sense, is not being respected and treated with dignity. It is disorderly rebellion and mob rule. And in this case, it means rebellion against King Jesus in the person of his appointed governors and messengers.

The call to submit to your pastor in the due exercise of discipline simply means following godly leadership, even when you think it is mistaken, and willingly giving heed to instruction and correction when it is given within the bounds of biblical authority. Your conscience cannot be bound beyond the boundaries of God’s Word, and you cannot be compelled to do what God forbids or faith does not allow. Having said that, submission to Kurt in the due exercise of discipline simply means heeding biblical instruction as it applies to your life, which is your reasonable use of the benefits of Kurt’s ministry of the Word. So, “receive the word of truth from your pastor’s mouth with meekness and love, and submit to him in the due exercise of discipline.

The next two promises follow almost inevitably from the first. The second question is a call to join in the work of your pastor’s ministry: “Do you promise to encourage him in his arduous labor and to assist his endeavors for your instruction and spiritual edification?”

Kurt is not your hired gun. His work is really the work of the church. He is devoted to that work in a more continual way than the rest of you, always on the front lines. You join in the work, first, by encouraging Kurt. The temptation to quit, just give up on the work, is real and powerful at times. It is work that sometimes seems impossible and hopeless—a battle that cannot be won, with no end in sight. Living by faith is not easier because you are a pastor, a seminary graduate, constantly working in the Word. In fact, it may be harder because of all those. At least, sometimes it seems harder. Ministers of the Word need to be encouraged.

“Do you promise to encourage him in his arduous labor …?” Paul commands the Colossians in Colossians 4:17 of his letter to them to encourage Archippus: “say to Archippus: ‘See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.’” Archippus must have been in danger of quitting out of discouragement or weariness. The aim in your obedience and submission, according to the second half of Hebrews 13:17, is that the pastor’s work will be with joy and not with groaning …” Literally, “that they may do this [work] with joy and not with groans of grief.”

Kurt will encounter grief in his work, and he will groan with those who groan. But that work should be a joy to him as well, even in grief. His work should be a joy, rather than grief that he has to minister the mercy of God to people who will have none of it. Kurt should not be like the prophet Jeremiah, whose task was to warn the people of God, although he knew they would ignore him.

So, encourage Kurt in his labors, not just to make him feel good, but to remind him that the One he serves accomplishes his purposes and makes his strength perfect in weak, flawed servants—sinners like Kurt—and like you and me.

The second aspect of this second question as you join in the work by assisting Kurt is: to “assist his endeavors for your instruction and spiritual edification?”

It is, after all, your work. Paul says, in Ephesians 4:11–12, 16:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ … from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

You are the parts, the joints, the workers that are growing and being built, prepared, equipped for work. It is your work, because his endeavors are for your instruction and building in the faith by the Spirit. That kind of growth will be advantageous to you.

So, assist Kurt’s endeavors by laboring with him, studying what he teaches, following where he leads, without complaining or making his work grievous. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, if his work is not joyous, but grievous, it will be “of no advantage to you,” literally, “not worth the price.” The value of his work is enhanced by your encouragement and assistance as investments in the construction project whose chief architect and builder is Christ, and the price of which is Christ’s blood.

The third and last question is a call to support his ministry, to run interference for him: “And do you promise to continue to him, while he is your pastor, that worldly maintenance which you have promised, and whatever else you may see needful for the honor of religion and his comfort among you?” Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:17–18: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” It will not be profitable for you to make it unprofitable for him.

Free him from the distraction of wondering whether his family will enjoy the fruit of his labor when they sit at table and get dressed and take shelter. Wages are not a weapon you can use to push your agenda or move him. Enable Kurt to focus his energy on faithful ministry, caring for you while you care for him. The price you pay will be less than the value of his governing and guarding work, because his work is made worthy by the government and guard-work of Christ, who rules and defends you, who preserves you perfectly, and who uses his appointed servants to do so. So, provide for Kurt, “while he is your pastor, that worldly maintenance which you have promised, and whatever else you may see needful for the honor of religion and his comfort among you.”

Finally, what will you do when you fail in these duties of yours, which you have promised today to keep? You will fail, just as he will fail in his duties, because you are all sinners. As always, go to Jesus, seeking forgiveness and cleansing by his sacrifice, and give praise to him, giving thanks to his name, who makes us complete in every good work to do his will, working in us what is well pleasing in his sight. Go to Jesus as you repent, and go to Kurt to do good and share in the Lord’s work.

Also, seek help from others in that repentance, if necessary. But at all costs, be sure to see your duties and your failures, as well as Kurt’s duties and failures, in the light of the perfect work of Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, who rules you and watches out for your souls, having given an account for you, rejoicing to bear your grief and your sin. In other words, as always, trust Jesus in your relationship to Kurt. I charge you, be faithful to do that.

Endnote

[1] This article is based on a charge addressed to a congregation upon the installation of a pastor, which charge was based on Hebrews 13:17 and the four questions addressed to the congregation in Form of Government 23.9. The name of the pastor used here is fictitious.

John W. Mallin III is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as a teacher in the Presbytery of Connecticut and Southern New York. He is a biblical counselor. Ordained Servant Online, December 2021.

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Ordained Servant: December 2021

A Congregational Charge

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