Hebrews 13:17
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
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(17) The present section of the chapter begins (Hebrews 13:7) and ends (Hebrews 13:17) with a reference to the rulers of the Church: Remember your former leaders, and imitate their faith; obey them that lead you now.

Submit yourselves.—Better, yield (to them). Besides fulfilling their injunctions, be ready to comply with their wishes and requests.

For they watch.—The Greek is emphatic: “For it is they that watch on behalf of your souls as having to give account.”

That they may do it.—Be obedient and yielding to them, that they may do this (may watch for your souls) with joy and not sighing (or, groaning), for this would be unprofitable for you; if ye so live that they must watch over you with grief, this will both weaken their hands and bring on you the divine displeasure. No words could more powerfully present to members of the Church the motives for obedience to their spiritual guides; and to these guides themselves the ideal of their work and life, as men who are keeping watch for souls, either with rejoicing or with mourning (Acts 20:31), ever mindful of the account they must give to God for the flock which He entrusted to their care (Ezekiel 3:18; Ezekiel 33:7; Ezekiel 34:10; 1Peter 5:4).

Hebrews 13:17. Obey them that have the rule over you — The expression, τοις ηγουμενοις, implies also, that lead or guide you, namely, in truth and holiness; and submit yourselves — To them with a becoming respect, even though their office should render it sometimes necessary for them to reprove you for some instances of misconduct, or to urge you to duties which you are averse to perform. Give up to them, not your conscience or judgment, but your own will, in all things purely indifferent; for they watch for your souls — With all zeal and diligence they guard and caution you against all danger; as they that must give an account — To the great Shepherd for every part of their behaviour toward you. Chrysostom says, he never read these words of the apostle without trembling, though he often preached several times in a day. How vigilant then ought every pastor to be, how careful of every soul committed to his charge; that they may do it — May watch over you; with joy and not with grief — Greek, μη στεναζοντες, not groaning, under discouragement and grief on account of the little success of their ministry among you; for that is — Or would be; unprofitable for you — Both, here and hereafter; for besides discouraging your guides, it would displease the Lord Jesus, and preclude or endanger your eternal salvation. “He is not a good shepherd, who does not either rejoice over his flock or groan for them. The groans of other creatures are heard: how much more shall these come up into the ears of God! Whoever answers this character of a Christian pastor, may undoubtedly demand this obedience.” — Wesley.

13:16-21 We must, according to our power, give to the necessities of the souls and bodies of men: God will accept these offerings with pleasure, and will accept and bless the offerers through Christ. The apostle then states what is their duty to living ministers; to obey and submit to them, so far as is agreeable to the mind and will of God, made known in his word. Christians must not think themselves too wise, too good, or too great, to learn. The people must search the Scriptures, and so far as the ministers teach according to that rule, they ought to receive their instructions as the word of God, which works in those that believe. It is the interest of hearers, that the account their ministers give of them may be with joy, and not with grief. Faithful ministers deliver their own souls, but the ruin of a fruitless and faithless people will be upon their own heads. The more earnestly the people pray for their ministers, the more benefit they may expect from their ministry. A good conscience has respect to all God's commands, and all our duty. Those who have this good conscience, yet need the prayers of others. When ministers come to a people who pray for them, they come with greater satisfaction to themselves, and success to the people. We should seek all our mercies by prayer. God is the God of peace, fully reconciled to believers; who has made a way for peace and reconciliation between himself and sinners, and who loves peace on earth, especially in his churches. He is the Author of spiritual peace in the hearts and consciences of his people. How firm a covenant is that which has its foundation in the blood of the Son of God! The perfecting of the saints in every good work, is the great thing desired by them, and for them; and that they may at length be fitted for the employment and happiness of heaven. There is no good thing wrought in us, but it is the work of God. And no good thing is wrought in us by God, but through Christ, for his sake and by his Spirit.Obey them that have the rule over you - Margin, guide; see notes on Hebrews 13:7. The reference here is to their religious teachers, and not to civil rulers. They were to show them proper respect, and to submit to their authority in the church, so far as it was administered in accordance with the precepts of the Saviour. The obligation to obedience does not, of course, extend to anything which is wrong in itself, or which would be a violation of conscience. The doctrine is, that subordination is necessary to the welfare of the church, and that there ought to be a disposition to yield all proper obedience to those who are set over us in the Lord; compare notes on 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13.

And submit yourselves - That is, to all which they enjoin that is lawful and right. There are in relation to a society:

(1) those things which God has positively commanded - which are always to be obeyed.

(2) many things which have been agreed on by the society as needful for its welfare - and these are to be submitted to unless they violate the rights of conscience; and

(3) many things which are in themselves a matter of no express divine command, and of no formal enactment by the community. They are matters of convenience; things that tend to the order and harmony of the community, and of the propriety of these, "rulers" in the church and elsewhere should be allowed to judge, and we should submit to them patiently.

Hence, in the church we are to submit to all the proper regulations for conducting public worship; for the promotion of religion; and for the administration of discipline.

For they watch for your souls - They have no selfish aim in this. They do not seek "to lord it over God's heritage." It is for your own good that they do this, and you should therefore submit to these arrangements. And this shows also the true principle on which authority should be exercised in a church. It should be in such a way as to promote the salvation of the people; and all the arrangements should be with that end. The measures adopted, therefore, and the obedience enjoined, should not be arbitrary, oppressive, or severe, but should be such as will really promote salvation.

As they that must give account - To God. The ministers of religion must give account to God for their fidelity. For all that they teach, and for every measure which they adopt, they must soon be called into judgment. There is, therefore, the best security that under the influence of this solemn truth they will pursue only that course which will be for your good.

That they may do it with joy, and not with grief - Greek μὴ στενάζοντες mē stenazontes - not sighing, or groaning; as they would who had been unsuccessful. The meaning is, that they should so obey, that when their teachers came to give up their account they need not do it with sorrow over their perverseness and disobedience.

For this is unprofitable for you - That is, their giving up their account in that manner - as unsuccessful in their efforts to save you - would not be of advantage to you, but would be highly injurious. This is a strong mode of expressing the idea that it must be attended with eminent peril to their souls to have their religious teachers go and give an account against them. As they would wish, therefore, to avoid that, they should render to them all proper honor and obedience.

17. Obey them that have the rule over you—(Compare Heb 13:7, 24). This threefold mention of the rulers is peculiar to this Epistle. In other Epistles Paul includes the rulers in his exhortations. But here the address is limited to the general body of the Church, in contrast to the rulers to whom they are charged to yield reverent submission. Now this is just what might be expected when the apostle of the Gentiles was writing to the Palestine Christians, among whom James and the eleven apostles had exercised a more immediate authority. It was important he should not seem to set himself in opposition to their guides, but rather strengthen their hands; he claims no authority directly or indirectly over these rulers themselves [Birks]. "Remember" your deceased rulers (Heb 13:7). "Obey" your living rulers; nay, more, not only obey in cases where no sacrifice of self is required, and where you are persuaded they are right (so the Greek, for "obey"), but "submit yourselves" as a matter of dutiful yielding, when your judgment and natural will incline you in an opposite direction.

they—on their part; so the Greek. As they do their part, so do you yours. So Paul exhorts, 1Th 5:12, 13.

watch—"are vigilant" (Greek).

for—Greek, "in behalf of."

must give account—The strongest stimulus to watchfulness (Mr 13:34-37). Chrysostom was deeply struck with these words, as he tells us [On the Priesthood, 6], "The fear of this threat continually agitates my soul."

do it—"watch for your soul's eternal salvation." It is a perilous responsibility for a man to have to give account for others' deeds, who is not sufficient for his own [Estius, from Aquinas]. I wonder whether it be possible that any of the rulers should be saved [Chrysostom]. Compare Paul's address to the elders, Ac 20:28; 1Co 4:1-5, where also he connects ministers' responsibility with the account to be hereafter given (compare 1Pe 5:4).

with joy—at your obedience; anticipating, too, that you shall be their "joy" in the day of giving account (Php 4:1).

not with grief—at your disobedience; apprehending also that in the day of account you may be among the lost, instead of being their crown of rejoicing. In giving account, the stewards are liable to blame if aught be lost to the Master. "Mitigate their toil by every office of attention and respect, that with alacrity, rather than with grief, they may fulfil their duty, arduous enough in itself, even though no unpleasantness be added on your part" [Grotius].

that—Grief in your pastors is unprofitable for you, for it weakens their spiritual power; nay, more, "the groans (so the Greek for 'grief') of other creatures are heard; how much more of pastors!" [Bengel]. So God will be provoked to avenge on you their "groaning" (Greek). If they must render God an account of their negligence, so must you for your ingratitude to them [Grotius].

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: the further duty required by Christ from the subjects of his kingdom, is their due demeanour to their present pastors, and church guides, or rulers. He chargeth them to esteem and account of them, as they are, and he hath constituted them in his church, to attend on their ministry and teaching, yielding full obedience of faith to the doctrine which they delivered from Christ, and to be subject to the power and authority Christ hath given them over them for their edification, and not for destruction; and that they imitate them in their believing and holy conversation, Acts 20:18. And this as to all of them, set over them by the Holy Ghost, whether ordinary or extraordinary, as the apostles, evangelists, elders, pastors, teachers, doing all as commissioned by Christ, and in his name exercising their power and authority, according to his express written law about it, Ephesians 4:11,12; knowing that who receiveth or despiseth them, dealeth so with Christ and God, who sent them, Matthew 10:40 Luke 10:16.

For they watch for your souls, as they that must give account: good reason have they to perform this duty, because of their concern in and care for their souls. How great, by Christ’s law, are the night watchings, and day cares, and tears, studies, exhortations, reproofs, comfortings, their preachings, and prayers with tears, and strong cries to God for their souls! Will you pay duty to those who watch to preserve and protect your natural life, and not unto those spiritual watchers, and God’s charge given to them? Acts 20:28-31 2 Timothy 4:5 Revelation 3:2,3. And God will exact an account of them for your souls; and they must render it at a dear rate, Ezekiel 3:17-21 33:7,9. It is at their peril, if they are faithless and neglect their duty, and your souls miscarry, Matthew 18:23 25:14,30.

That they may do it with joy, and not with grief; that they may not only do their work cheerfully and comfortably among you, but that they may give up their account joyfully about you to God, when they have brought you home to him, 1 Thessalonians 2:19,20; and which will be an eternal comfort unto you, 2 Thessalonians 1:7,10. If you be disobedient to them, though they will have their reward for their fidelity from their Lord, yet with what sighs, tears, groans, sorrow, and heaviness of heart, must they see their labours and your souls lost, and to charge you before God with it! 2 Corinthians 3:15,16 12:21.

For that is unprofitable for you: and what damage will both your disobedience to the word of God and them, and their account of it to God, bring on yourselves! Will it then quit the cost to find your punishment more intolerable than that of Sodom and Gomorrah, Matthew 10:15 Matthew 11:22,24, when he will give you your portion with hypocrites, Matthew 24:51, and punish you with everlasting destruction? 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9.

Obey them that have the rule over you,.... Not the ecclesiastical rulers among the Jews, for to these they were no longer obliged, they being no longer under such tutors and governors; nor civil magistrates, though it was their duty to obey them, even Heathen ones; for as for Christian magistrates, as yet there were none; but their spiritual guides and governors, the same that are mentioned Hebrews 13:7 these the apostle exhorts them to "obey": by constantly tending upon the word preached by them, and hearkening to it; by receiving it with faith and love, as it appears agreeable to the Scriptures; for a contrary behaviour is pernicious to souls, and highly resented by God; and by being present at, and joining with them in the ordinances of Christ, as administered by them; and by regarding their admonitions, counsels, and advice:

and submit yourselves; to the laws of Christ's house, as put in execution by them; and to their censures and reproofs, as delivered by the authority of the church; for they are spiritual fathers, and children should obey their parents, and submit to them; they are the ambassadors of Christ, stand in his stead, and represent him, wherefore their authority is great; and they are pastors or shepherds of the flock, whom the sheep should follow:

for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account: they watch not for themselves, for their worldly gain and advantage, and for the estates of men; but for the souls of men, to do them good, to comfort and edify them, to feed them with knowledge and understanding, and for the salvation of them; as such that must give an account to their own consciences, that they discharge their work aright, or they cannot be satisfied; and to the church, to whom they minister, to whom they are accountable, if they are dilatory and negligent; and especially as such as must stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and give an account to him of their ministry, of their use of talents committed to them, and of souls that are put under their care and charge; how they have discharged their duty to the souls of men, and how these have behaved towards them under the ministry of the word: the Alexandrian copy and the Vulgate Latin version read, "for they watch, as those that must give an account for your souls": the sense is much the same:

that they may do it with joy, and not with grief; either do their work with joy, cheerfully; which they do, when they are obeyed and submitted to; when men attend upon the word and ordinances administered by them, and receive advantage, and grow in grace and spiritual knowledge; when they abide by the Gospel, and walk worthy of it; otherwise they do their work heavily, and with sorrow: or else give up their account with joy, and not with grief; either at the throne of grace, where they either rejoice or complain; or at the great day, when they will be witnesses, either for or against those that have been committed to them:

for that is unprofitable unto you; for whose souls they watch; that is, the latter would be so, either to do their work sorrowing, or to give up their account by way of complaint; either of them must be to the disadvantage of such persons that occasion grief and sorrow.

{10} Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

(10) We must obey the warnings and admonitions of our ministers and elders, who watch for the salvation of the souls that are committed to them.

Hebrews 13:17. Exhortation to obedience to the presidents of the assembly. Comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13.

Πείθεσθε τοῖς ἡγουμένοις ὑμῶν καὶ ὑπείκετε] Obey your leaders, and yield to them. Bengel: Obedite in iis, quae praecipiunt vobis tanquam salutaria; concedite, etiam ubi videntur plusculum postulare. The demand presupposes, for the rest, that the author knew the ἡγούμενοι as men like-minded with himself, who had kept themselves free from the hankering after defection.

αὐτοὶ γὰρ ἀγρυπνοῦσιν ὑ̔πὲρ τῶν ψυχῶν ὑμῶν] for it is they who watch for your souls, for the salvation thereof.

ὡς λόγον ἀποδώσοντες] as those who must give an account (of the same), sc. to God and the Lord at His return.

ἵνα] is the subsequently introduced note of design to πείθεσθε καὶ ὑπείκετε. On that account, however, it is not permitted, with Grotius, Carpzov, and others, to enclose αὐτοὶ γὰρὑμῶν within a parenthesis; because the subject-matter of the clause of design refers back to the subject-matter of the foregoing establishing clause.

μετὰ χαρᾶς] with joy, namely, over your docility.

τοῦτο] sc. τὸ ἀγρυπνεῖν. Erroneously do Owen, Whitby, Michaelis, M‘Lean, Heinrichs, Stuart, and others supplement τὸ λόγον ἀποδιδόναι. For the latter takes place only in the future, whereas the conjunctive of the present ποιῶσιν points to that which is already to be done in the present.

καὶ μὴ στενάζοντες] and without sighing, sc. over your intractableness.

ἀλυσιτελές] unprofitable, inasmuch as it will bring you no gain, but, on the contrary, will call down upon you the chastisement of God. A litotes.

τοῦτο] sc. τὸ στενάζειν.

Hebrews 13:17–End. The conclusion of the Epistle.

17. them that have the rule over you] See Hebrews 13:7. The repetition on the injunction perhaps indicates a tendency to self-assertion and spurious independence among them. “Bishops” in the modern sense did not as yet exist, but in the importance here attached to due subordination to ecclesiastical authority we see the gradual growth of episcopal powers. See 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 5:17.

they watch] Lit. “are sleepless.”

that must give account] See Acts 20:26; Acts 20:28.

with joy] See 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20.

with grief] Lit. “groaning.”

unprofitable] A litotes—i.e. a mild expression purposely used that the reader may correct it by a stronger one—for “disadvantageous.”

Hebrews 13:17. Πείθεσθε, obey) Evince (have) remembrance towards your deceased teachers, Hebrews 13:7; obedience towards them that are still alive.—ὑπείκετε, submit) This is more than to obey. Obey in those things which they command you to do as salutary: submit, even when they seem to demand a little more. Ἵνα, that, depends on this verb.—αὐτοὶ, they) As they are zealously careful, so, when they wish you to be careful, you ought to submit.—ὡς λόγον ἀποδώσοντες, as they that are to give an account) Truly this consideration both causes a man to be watchful, and to avoid any abuse of authority. The soul of Chrysostom was always struck with these words, as he himself confesses at the beginning of the 6th Book de Sacerdotio, on which passage we have made some observations, p. 490.—μετὰ χαρᾶς, with joy) if they see you respond to their vigilance.—τοῦτο, this) This τοῦτο does not refer to they who are to give an account, but to they watch. Disciples ought to obey and submit to their teachers, so that with joy, etc. It would be not a joyous (μετὰ χαρᾶς) thing for the teachers themselves to give in their account with sorrow [therefore τοῦτο does not refer to the giving in the account]: on the contrary, to watch with sorrow, is not hurtful to the teachers, it is “unprofitable” to the hearers.—καὶ μὴ, and not) He is not a good minister who does not either rejoice or grieve, or do both.—στενάζοντες, with grief) The groans of other creatures are heard; how much more of pastors?—ἀλυσιτελὲς, unprofitable) Sorrow, opposed to joy, from which griefs (groans, implied in στενάζοντες) are derived, greatly weakens the teachers; and their sighs are not profitable, nay, are very injurious to the disciples.

Verse 17. - Obey them that have the rule over you (τοῖς ἡγουμένοις ὑμῶν, as in ver. 7), and submit yourselves (to them): for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it With joy, and not With grief (literally, groaning); for that is (rather, were) unprofitable for you (i.e. their ministry is for your profit; if its result be their giving in their account with groans, its whole purpose will be frustrated). In this allusion to the ἡγουμένοι as in vers. 7 and 24, there is evidence of the existence of a regular order of ministry in the Hebrew Churches, such as many allusions in St. Paul's Epistles show to have formed part of the constitution of the Churches to whom those Epistles were addressed (cf. also Acts 14:23 and Acts 20:17, 28, etc.). The word itself (ἡγουμένοι) which is here used might, indeed, denote any persons who took the lead in the congregations; but the urging of the duty of submission to them, in virtue of their office of watching for souls for which they would have to give account, shows plainly that a special order is here, as elsewhere, referred to. Observe also below, ver. 24, where "all the saints," i.e. what we should call the laity, are mentioned in distinction from the ἡγουμένοι. (For similar injunctions, cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 and 1 Timothy 5:17, τοὺς προεσταμένους ὑμῶν and οἱ προεστῶτες πρεσβύτεροι being the words there used.) The special injunction here to obey and submit may have been called for by some deficiency in this respect among the Hebrew Christians. Possibly it was among the people rather than the pastors that there were any signs of wavering between the Church and the synagogue, and that one purpose of the admonition is to strengthen the hands of the former, in whom confidence is placed. Hebrews 13:17They watch (ἀγρυπνοῦσιν)

See on Mark 13:33, and comp. Luke 21:36; Ephesians 6:18.

With grief (στενάζοντες)

Lit. groaning. See Romans 8:23, 2 Corinthians 5:2, 2 Corinthians 5:4; James 5:9.

Unprofitable (ἀλυσιτελὲς)

N.T.o, olxx. From ἀ not, and λυσιτελής paying for expenses. Hence, what does not pay; unprofitable.

I may be restored to you (ἀποκατασταθῶ ὑμῖν)

Not implying imprisonment, but enforced absence through sickness or other cause.

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