God Blesses and Keeps His Lambs

December 30, 2018 Series: Scripture: Hebrews 13:18-25 by Chris Strevel

Please Pray for Me (vv. 18-19)

A Brotherly Appeal

If another believer warns that you are in danger of apostasy, the last thing you would expect is for him to ask for your prayers. We do not respond well when others confront us, especially in our age. Its various forms of unbelief do not kill truth but erect seven billion gods who care only for their own version of truth. But the gospel does something astounding when it takes saving root in us. The strongest warnings can be given with the deepest personal attachment and concern. Strong truth can be stated without hard feelings and with love, for it comes from the God of love. Because Jesus Christ transforms sinners, our apostle can write “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:38) without lording it over men. He uses his authority boldly, but he is meek at the same time. He rebukes and warns sinners, but also sees them as his spiritual equals and does not hesitate to plead for their prayers. 

Thus, while it is too much to say that the apostle intended to soften his letter by this personal appeal, he certainly designed to reaffirm his love and win their hearts.” His conscience was good before God, but a good man needs the prayers of the saints. Paul had been raised to the third heavens and might seem to be above the need for their prayers, but he warmly said goodbye with a plea for his readers to pray for him. Perhaps we might say that the higher one truly is in Christian understanding and experience, the more approachable, tenderer, and humbler he is. “What do we have that we have not received” (1 Cor. 4:7)? Always be suspicious of the intellectual and spiritual claims of arrogant men who are dismissive of the feelings of others. Heavenly wisdom always brings with it sincere lowliness of mind and tender concern for others, as James wrote (3:14-18). Our Lord and his apostles were very solicitous to gain the heart of their hearers, for being a Christian means having a lowly mind that is truly concerned with the welfare of others and communicating with them in ways that they are most likely to be gained for the Master and kept for heaven.

That We May See You Soon

The strength of Paul’s warnings to his believing countrymen was matched by the strength of his love for them. He wanted to be restored to them, to see them and to rejoice in Christ together. It is strange to find such loving words in this particular letter. Church splits and violent controversies have arisen for far lesser charges than the danger of “drifting away from Christ,” but the apostle now acts as if this is all behind them. Or, can it be instead that he assumes, as he did when he wrote the Corinthians, they would respond to his letter positively? He was conscious of writing God’s word to them, so he certainly believed in its transformative power to bring them back into the old paths. Plus, to take our Lord for an example, when he rebuked Peter strongly, did he love him less? Of course not! He warned Peter strongly because Peter’s heart needed deep searching. He would be a poor physician who left infection behind in the wound, and when the Lord rebukes us, he confronts to purge and then to restore to health. 

But we have raised pride to a deity and made it a right never to hear something we do not like, receive an opinion opposed to our own, or to accept correction meekly, for that would surely mean that we are wrong and not sufficient to define good and evil for ourselves. And it is little better among Christians, for many walk around like little gods, take offense at the slightest provocation, and can easier lift a house over their heads than admit they are wrong. This should not be the case among Christians. Christ has humbled us, and we do not think we are above criticism and correction. In fact, after thinking about what others say in the way of warning, it is often the case that we love them more and want to be around them. If our brother or sister calls us to be more faithful to Christ, or takes the time to give us a gospel lesson, we love them for their pains, for it may be harder to give a rebuke than to receive one. Knowing this to be the case, as soon as we have to warn our children or another believer, let us quickly affirm our love for them and express our desire to be with them, for this will make our goodwill to them abundantly clear. And if we have received correction, let us learn to receive it as coming from Christ and the believer who gave it as his angel to encourage us toward holiness and heaven.

My Gospel Prayers for You (v. 20):

Praying the Gospel of Grace

The God of Peace

Having asked for their prayers, he prays for them. This prayer does what all right praying does – lifts our minds and hearts away from ourselves, to the great God who has done and said wonderful things for us. The petition does not come (v. 21) until after the praise and ascription of blessing to the God of our salvation (v. 20). This rebukes us for rushing forward with our petitions, without first composing our minds and hearts to give God his rightful praise. We must think soberly and reverently of the God into whose wonderful presence we come and whose mighty name we invoke. We want to tell and ask; we must remember, praise, and ascribe first – not only because this is the right order, for to God is due and should be our delight to give him praise and adoration, but also because this would put us in a proper frame of mind to ask in a manner that is agreeable to him and worthy of his majesty. Thus, the uniquely Pauline title, the God of peace, begins the prayer (Rom. 15:33; 16:20; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 5:23). He thinks first of peace because he is consumed with the gospel of peace, the chastisement of our peace that our Savior bore, and the peace we now have with God because he made that peace. Peace is practically synonymous with the gospel of grace. To the God who has made peace, gives peace, sent the Prince of peace – to him be all glory, praise, and honor. If we begin with the God of peace, we shall find it easier to live at peace with one another and to be at peace in our particular circumstances. 

Through Leading the Great Shepherd Out of Death

Are you drifting from Christ, as these believers were in danger of doing? Do you despair of adverse circumstances and shudder when you think how much the world hates the followers of Christ? Does the specter of persecution fill you with foreboding? The remedy for our fears is to understand the gospel carefully, and to understand carefully this and similar gospel prayers found throughout Scripture. Our entire security rests in God’s saving plan, which was accomplished through his Son. The more we understand and pray and live the gospel of grace, the more stable our hearts will be, with freedom from worry and trust in the Lord’s wise government of our lives. Do we doubt that God is able to do great and marvelous works to deliver us or to keep us in good faith while we endure hardship for Christ’s sake? When our Savior lay in deepest shame, even in the dark grave, the God of peace led him from the grave.

This is a rather odd way of saying “resurrection:” to lead him out again from the dead. It implies that he first led him to death and the grave, crucifying the Lord of glory in order to pay the chastisement of our peace (Isa. 53:5). And his name – the great Shepherd of the sheep (Isa. 40:9-11) – shepherd implies leadership, guardianship, and responsibility. It is a fitting title for the whole work and office of Jesus Christ to save us. As the great and good Shepherd, he laid down his life for us; he went to the grave for us, there to bury our sin, judgment, and shame. “Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd,” the prophet Zechariah wrote (Zech. 13:7), for the Father struck down the Shepherd to save the sheep. Our Lord Jesus took upon himself the total responsibility for our salvation. He removed our curse by becoming cursed for us, satisfying God’s righteous justice, and bearing the full load of the shame and suffering due to us for our transgressions against God’s holy law. To save us his sheep, the great Shepherd laid down his life for us. He had this authority from his Father – to lay down and to take up his life (John 10:18). He gave up the ghost – his life was not taken from him – he freely, voluntarily gave it up to redeem his sheep (John 19:30). He allowed himself to be surrounded with the pains of hell and of death (Ps. 18:3-4). And then the Father led him out of the grave.

By the Blood of the Everlasting Covenant

The reason that we are saved and secured through the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that it fulfilled the terms of the eternal covenant between Father and Son. That covenant was made in the councils of eternity, in which the Son agreed to become surety for our sins, offer himself as the ransom price of our deliverance, and to redeem all that the Father had given to him to be his people (John 10:15; 17:2). Zechariah and Ezekiel speak of this “everlasting covenant” (Zech. 9:11; Ezek. 37:26) – a covenant stretching back before time and reaching forward into the new heavens and earth, thus securing all God’s elect in Christ forever. It is because of this covenant that we can boldly affirm that God can never stop loving and saving us, for properly speaking, he never began. There is no before and after with him. Always he has united us to his beloved Son, the Mediator of the covenant and the great Shepherd of the sheep. Always he chose us in Christ, with our salvation, resurrection, and future glory tied to his satisfaction at the cross, victory over the grave, reign in glory. The most important thing is not that we chose Christ or loved God, but that he loved us and chose us to be his own (1 John 4:17; John 15:16,19).

 When God raised Jesus Christ our Lord from the dead, he was fulfilling his agreement with his Son. Jesus shed his precious blood for our redemption. He fulfilled all righteousness, obeyed every word of his Father, and had no sin. As man, he was and did all that we failed to be and to do. And he did this not in the glorious state in which we were made but in a state of humiliation, dishonor, and direct, constant assault from the evil one. When the Father led his Son triumphantly from the dead, he testified to perfect satisfaction made, redemption accomplished, his sheep ransomed, the heavenly Judge satisfied and reconciled, and death’s power in sin broken (Rom. 4:25). To lead Jesus Christ through the blood of the everlasting covenant, therefore, is perhaps one of the most glorious descriptions of the gospel to be found in Scripture. Resurrection because his blood was sufficient! Resurrection because there is no more condemnation to those who are in Christ! Resurrection because the terms of the everlasting covenant have been fully met! Resurrection because we are redeemed and shall one day be raised bodily by the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead!

What a preface of praise to the second part of the prayer following! What a way for us to pray – to recount to God all the glories he has done for us, to worship him for them, and to depend upon him to bring to us their blessings – all because of Jesus Christ our Lord. And then, to add further joy to our hearts, let us never forget that the blood of Jesus Christ has secured these blessings for us forever. We cannot fail to overcome the world, endure to the end, reach heaven, and be raised from the dead if we are washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. His was no random blood shed but the Lamb appointed from the foundation of the world. His was no mere resurrection from the dead, like Lazarus, but the resurrection of the crucified Lamb, whose emergence from the grave was the death of the grave, the grave itself being swallowed alive by his sinless life and worthy sacrifice.

My Gospel Prayers for You (v. 21):

Living the Gospel of Grace

God Makes Us Fit to Do His Will

God’s saving purposes are not exhausted with the death and resurrection and enthronement of Jesus Christ. We might say that he did these wonderful works for us to effect a mighty change in us. The glory that he has in the salvation of sinners (John 13:31) includes the transformation of the sinner. The work of Jesus Christ is not only to remove the guilt and condemnation of sin but also to break its power and to raise us to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:1-14). And it is important to see this connection – between God’s saving work in Christ and God’s transforming grace in us. They are seamless; the one must follow the other, sanctification justification, and holiness faith. We do not trust half a Savior. He knows nothing of a grace that does not lead to obedience (Tit. 2:11-12). Most who shout grace the loudest often understand it the least, for God’s grace in Christ makes us doers of God’s will, obedient and joyful servants of righteousness (Rom. 6:18-22). His grace, as we see here, makes us complete or able to do God’s will. This is the power of our Savior’s death to sin and resurrection to new life applied to each believer. God’s grace empowers good works. He empowers us to be doers of his will, as was our Savior preeminently and savingly, and as we are by virtue of union with him in his death and resurrection.

God Works in Us What Pleases Him

To do God’s will is to do what is pleasing to him. We learn God’s will from his word alone – not from the outrageous and ever-changing ethical fads of philosophers and cads, or the whims of preachers, or devolving social standards. The Lord has shown us what is pleasing to him: that we do justice and judgment, love mercy, and walk humbly before him (Mic. 6:8). Our Savior said to obey his commands is the proof of true love, so that following Jesus, from the days he walked the earth until he returns, must ever lead us back to his word, the written Scriptures (John 14:15). Seeking God’s will never lead us away from the Bible but always more closely to it.

Since doing his will is said to please him, each one of us should stand ready to do whatever he commands, without a moment’s hesitation, not worrying what the outcome will be or whether we must suffer for obeying God, rather than man. Nothing matters more to us than pleasing our God and Savior. This is the language and proof of our love, love’s empowering dynamic – that we devote ourselves to pleasing our God and Savior (Col. 1:10). We have no life but the one he has given us by taking away the life of his Son on the cross. We have no glory except through our great Shepherd being struck down for us and covered with our shame and spitting. Therefore, against all the criers of cheap grace and against the haters of God’s law, not in the world but in the church, we must insist upon a seamless gospel, a full gospel. God has saved us to be doers of his will; our Savior shed his precious blood so that we would be obedient disciples. This is the true grace of God: “For the grace of God that brings salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Tit. 2:11-12).

This prayer brings to the forefront that God does not save us, then say, “Now, in your own strength, go obey me.” The gospel is not gracious until we get to obedience, only to throw us back upon our own initiative. All the initiative and power unto doing God’s will and pleasing him comes from God himself. This does not make the believer passive but greatly energizes him to seek the grace offered. Jesus Christ died to free us from sin’s dominion. He rose so that we might walk in new life, by the power of his Spirit, drawing from him the “fruits of righteousness” (Phil. 1:11). This is God’s working in us (Phil. 2:13). The gospel glory is that all the fruitfulness commanded of us as believers is fruitfulness worked in us by the power of God, by the immediate, personal presence of his Holy Spirit. Hearing this, we are to ask, to continue asking, and to continue looking to Christ. All strength unto godliness comes from him. If we lack strength, we are not looking to him, or have offended him in some way, or are being tested. In good time, we shall bear good fruit unto holiness. This is God’s will, our holiness (1 Thess. 4:3). But it is likely that many of us, hearing about our duty, never make much progress in it or find much joy in it, because we turn back to ourselves. When we hear that God wants us to do his will, we must run to our great Shepherd for strength, and never stop running to him. Shall we stumble? Yes, and often, but our stumbling is usually the occasion for the manifestation of his greater power through stirring us up to repentance and more fervent seeking of his help.

Now, no believer can ever conclude from this prayer, “Well, if God wants me holy, he will have to do it. There is no point in me trying.” If you think and live this way, you will never be holy, and you will never make it to heaven. Believers try, and our first efforts must be away from self and toward our Savior. “Lord, I cannot, but you can. You have said I will bear much fruit, so I ask you to make me fruitful. Help me to please my God and Savior, to be a doer of his will. May your spirit of ‘not my will, but yours be done,’ rest upon me.” And, we must keep praying in this way. We must keep looking unto Jesus. All the strength unto holiness and working unto obedience is God’s. What great glory is this! “It is God who works in us to will and to do his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Hearing this, let us rejoice. Let us also learn, when we hear about our duty or are confronted with our sins, not to despair of God’s favor or fear his wrath, but rather receive his invitation to come to him for strength. When he says, “Obey me,” he always adds, “I will help you.” But we must ask for his strength, as the apostle does here. “You have not, because you ask not.”

May God Be with You All (vv. 22-25)

After praying, the apostle concludes by urging them to receive his short letter, which he has written to exhort and encourage them to hold fast to Christ. How hard it is for us to receive the things that are of eternal importance, while we readily enough hear what is trivial and short-lived! Even if they are hard to hear and might even offend us, at least initially, we must hear our Savior’s voice warning us and extending his hand down to us. Then, he gives them some encouraging words about Timothy, who appears to have been imprisoned at this point, but was likely to be released soon. They must have known Timothy, and perhaps the apostle’s remarks are intended to encourage them to “man up” a little – as if being imprisoned for Christ was anything to be worried about! His third (v. 24) remark again refers to their leaders, from whom there seems to have been some estrangement – salute or greet them. This is another way of saying to hold them in high esteem. It is likely that their leaders were encouraging them to hold fast, which was causing friction. No, Paul says, esteem them highly and respect their counsel.

Finally, in this regard and to close the whole, Paul commends them to God’s grace. He never gives his name in this letter, for what mattered most for his countrymen’s salvation was not his apostolic authority but the grace of God in Christ that he set forth to them. God’s grace was able to see them through the worst circumstances. It did and has. Nothing can topple the power of God’s grace in us. Nothing can separate us from his love. Whatever our future holds, let us keep in warm and constant memory his good will to us in Jesus Christ.



Our Sacrifice to God

December 16, 2018 Series: Scripture: Hebrews 13:15-17 by Chris Strevel

Strange and wonderful it is to read that we have a sacrifice to make to God. Our sacrifice is not atoning, for to our Savior’s once-for-all sacrifice, we can add nothing. We need add nothing, for by his blood he has obtained our eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12; 10:14). To affirm that there is anything lacking in his sacrifice to obtain our pardon for sin or justifying righteousness is to consign ourselves to everlasting hell. If his sacrifice could not reconcile us to God, certainly there is nothing we can add that could make up for any lack in it. But there is no lack, and this is one point in the previous verses. He suffered outside the camp. He was consumed for our sins, and our sins are carried away from God’s presence and buried in the depths of the sea. “There is no condemnation” is thus the best news anyone can ever hear. When we stand before God, there is no judgment to fear and no restitution to make. No hell opens wide its mouth to receive us. Jesus Christ has suffered all the wrath and curse we deserved, born all our shame, and suffered himself to be consumed with the sorrows of hell and death for our sake. God has put away our transgressions and remembers them no more.

Continual Praise and Confession (v. 15)

Offered through Christ Alone

The implication of “Jesus paid it all” is not “I need do nothing.” Too often the just desire to protect the all-sufficiency of Christ’s atoning sacrifice has led to a sort of do-nothing attitude. This is usually from a misguided fear that any emphasis upon works must inevitably undermine salvation by grace alone through faith. We learn, however, that the powerful implication of Christ’s death is the Christian’s vibrant response of praise and good works. These are not meritorious. In fact, as the apostle closes the letter, he places “by him” in the prominent grammatical position. It is by Christ, by his atoning sacrifice, by his cleansing blood, that we offer these sacrifices of praise and obedience. Their worth lies not in that they come from our hands but that they are cleansed by Christ’s – his sacrifice and intercession at the Father’s right hand. Surely if we had a clearer understanding of the merits of Christ in heaven, praise and good works as sacrifice would not scare us but elevate the splendor of our Savior. All our lives are acceptable to God through him as a living sacrifice. We are not identified with Christ once only, but ever after we do all in his name. When we pray and praise, obey and serve, God accepts these as sacrifices of praise and confession because of his Son. This is one important reason that Christians are followers of Jesus. It is not simply that we need initial cleansing, forgiveness, righteousness, and acceptance with God; we require continual representation from Christ, for his worthiness alone makes our feeble offerings pleasing to our loving Father. Never should the Christian forget that he needs Jesus Christ at every stage of his life and journey.

A Sacrifice of Praise (Hos. 14:3)

Hosea anticipated the day would come when bloody sacrifices would be ended and that our calves would be praise and thanksgiving (Hos. 14:3). This is the Old Testament source for Hebrews 12:15, and it is an important historical and theological observation. After the finished work of Jesus Christ, we still have a sacrifice to make, but it is one of praise and adoration. We tend to belittle this idea or offer the sacrifice quickly because we can. It was not possible to offer quickly a lawful sacrifice under the Levitical system. Atonement is serious business; praise is no less serious business, and it is hardly a sacrifice worthy of the name if it is hastily muttered sitting in the drive-thru waiting for your order. What God has done for us in Christ is serious! Wonderful! Worthy of our careful praise! The more we understand Christ’s sufferings and sacrifice, the greater our wonder and the fuller our praise will be.

And although his sacrifice was once-offered, its benefits come to us without ceasing, which is the reason we must praise God continually for his indescribable gift of life and salvation through his Son. Would not the church thrive and be strong and remain focused if she praised God continually for his grace and mercy in Jesus Christ? Would we not be more constant in following Christ, resisting temptation, and loving one another if we were praising him day and night for his sufferings and sacrifice for us? If we reach a place where Christ’s sacrifice does not much move us, or when hearing the preacher tell the old gospel story makes us squirm a bit, our hearts have surely grown cold. Our first love has been lost. There is not a higher religious plane upon which little thought needs to be given to the saving work and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The highest plane is a life of praise, when we offer our bodies, our lives, and our praises to God continually as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). Our God and Savior is pleased with these sacrifices. That they are called sacrifices should quicken us to give him our best when it comes to praise and service, not the least with which we can get away. Perhaps we should think of the sacrifice in this way. When we offer half-hearted praise, distracted praise, it is the same as bringing a three-legged or one-eyed lamb to the priest. We do this daily, and yet few are alarmed by the poor quality of our praise or the coldness that seems to satisfy us. It is no wonder that God seems so far away. He has given everything in his Son, and we offer back to him crumbs and dust. At least let us be inspired to sing his praise more heartily, to obey him more carefully, and to struggle against our sins more manfully. He has done great things for us, and he is worthy.

Confessing His Name

There were a variety of sacrifices prescribed under the Levitical economy. One sort was that of free-will or thanksgiving offerings. By these, the worshipper expressed his thanksgiving to God for mercies received. This is undoubtedly in the apostle’s mind – God has done great things for us – we respond with worship, our praise and thanksgiving. The phrase at the end of verse 15 is sometimes translated “giving thanks to his name,” but it is more correctly translated “confessing his name.” Thanksgiving would be a part of this, but this sacrifice is more specific. It is ascribing to God the sole glory for doing great things for us, saving us through his Son, crushing him instead of sending us to hell forever. Confession is a sacrifice in that we tell God and man that from God alone we have received all good and blessing. He has saved us in Christ – praise him! Praise him! Tell among the peoples his doings, and confess his saving grace among men. Has he answered our prayers, fulfilled his covenant promises to our children, provided for us? We have received untold blessings from him, but how slow we are to offer him the sincere confession of our hearts. “Lord, you have done this. What do I have that I have not received from you?”

Before men, this confession is a vital part of our witness in the world. The blind need to hear us confessing that all our good comes from God. You are such a nice person, they say. You respond, No, I am a sinner, but Jesus Christ has cleansed me and given me his Spirit to curb my horrible sins and help me. You have such well-behaved children; you must be great parents. No, God keeps his promises to me and my children. I could do nothing apart from his goodness to me. Confession is a vital way we keep the incense rising to heaven and fill the earth with God’s glory. Wherever we are, and especially in our Lord’s Day worship, when the gospel trumpet calls us together on the first day of the week, we make our sincere, earnest, and careful sacrifices to God. We praise him for his excellent greatness and his saving love. We confess that all the good we have, he gave it to us. We did not deserve anything but hell. The worst disease and pain, or the hardest losses and sufferings that anyone can endure, these are still far less than we deserve. All praise to God for his goodness and grace to us in Christ.

Good Works and Fellowship (v. 16)

Do Not Forget to Do Good and to Share

Still looking for ways to say “thank you” to our merciful Father, the apostle turns to good works. He speaks of “doing good,” which ought to remind us of Peter’s remark about our Lord Jesus, that he “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). “Doing good service” was the apostle’s directive to slaves (Eph. 6:7), and here the significance of good works is elevated to be one of the sacrifices of praise we make to God. It is fine and necessary to speak praise, but we must also live praise. Good works for the Christian have nothing to do with meriting God’s favor or earning heaven. They have everything to do with praising God and union with Jesus Christ. The fruits of righteousness, as the apostle calls them in another place, are by Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:11). As we walk in fellowship with him, we shall be fruitful in good works (John 15:1-11; 2 Pet. 1:8). It is impossible for us to walk with Jesus and not be fruitful. But we must remember to do good. It is easy for the Christian to forget doing good to others as the extension of his praise and confession to God. We become absorbed with our affairs, or in the case with these Hebrews, with the troubles of life. We forget others. Being redeemed by his blood does not mean we are freed immediately from the sinful flesh and worrying about our earthly lives. We have to fight against fear all our days. Most Christian fighting begins with remembering – what Jesus has done for us; where he is and what he is doing at the Father’s right hand; how we should live since he has lived and died for us. We would be readier to do good if we kept his love and sufferings in constant memory.

This is especially true when it comes to “sharing,” as the King James translates the common word for “fellowship.” When troubles come, we tend to forget our corporate duty to minister to one another. It is easy to fall into an “every man for himself” kind of thinking. But in this world, believers need constant fellowship. If you do not want it or feel your need for it, something is very wrong with you. Christ’s life in us by the Spirit means that his love for his brothers and sisters will enter into our very essence as Christians. And then when trouble comes, we shall want to be with other believers to encourage them and to receive encourage from them. Think about what is being said here. The executioner may be coming, but do not hide from one another. Do not think that you can bear your earthly trials alone. Perhaps you need the attitude adjustment or even the rebuke of a fellow-believer – be joyful! Why are you afraid? Do you not know that Jesus Christ rules the raging seas of life? We need to hear these things from one another. We need to cry together, bear one another’s burdens, and feel at liberty, at perfect liberty, to share the grief and sorrows of the soul, as well as to confess our sins to one another so that we can pray for each other. Our Lord Jesus never calls us to make a solitary pilgrimage to heaven. The way may be narrow, but we are crowded upon it together, each encouraging the other to hold fast to Christ. Do not forget this.


God Is Pleased with These Sacrifices

If we need further encouragement, God likes these sacrifices very well. This should be enough. The Lord likes it when I share my food, money, time, or home with other believers. Let me fling open the doors, give away what he has given me, spend and be spent for my brothers and sisters. Our Father who loved us and crucified his Son is well pleased when we do good to one another – give, pray, share, encourage, challenge? By all means, then, let us seek greater strength in Jesus Christ to do these little goods that please him so much and that our Savior will remember on the last day as having been done unto him! Personal piety is unto public piety and good works. Fail to seek daily fellowship with Christ, and your ability to do good must falter, and then God’s praise is withheld. And think ahead, to the last day and eternity, when there must be crowns, innumerable crowns to cast at the feet of Jesus Christ. These crowns are the good works of praise and service we do now. Some do not like this kind of talk, for it makes them fearful that salvation, after all, is not really freely gracious. It is, and it is also powerfully transforming. We are strengthened by the Spirit to do good works, which will be rewarded in heaven, and which rewards will be cast at the feet of Jesus in heaven, with the whole multitude of men and angels singing WORTHY TO THE LAMB THAT WAS SLAIN.

As much as we love Jesus Christ, therefore, as much as we love the gospel of free grace, which teaches us to live godly, soberly, and righteously in the world (Tit. 2:11-12), let each one of us seek to offer these sacrifices to God. Let us be continually praising him – you will find your heart lighter and your complaints less as you stop wasting energy upon worries and frets and hurts you have suffered from others. Let each one of us confess that all the good we have comes from our God, that we are unworthy of the least of his mercies, and that all the worthiness is Jesus Christ our Head and Surety. Christians are not glory-hogs; they are glory deflectors – all glory to God, to the Lamb, and to the Spirit who has taught us these truths and liberated us from serving the worst imaginable, most tyrannical gods – sin and self. Let each one of us resolve to go about doing good, in the strength of Jesus Christ, according to God’s will, so that we are ready to share, open our homes and hearts, and comfort all fellow-believers. Perhaps God is so little known now in Western countries because Christians have abandoned the altar of Christ and the sacrifices that please God so much. Let us rebuild faith in this one altar, Jesus Christ and his finished work, and by him offer to God the sacrifices that set us apart as his worshippers and confess to the world that he is worthy of all praise and service.

Obedience to Church Rulers (v. 17)

The Duty: Obedience and Submission

Although the language of sacrifice is not used in reference to this command to obey their rulers, obedience is a confirming seal of our faith and devotion to God (Matt. 7:23; Luke 6:36; 1 John 5:1-3). It ought to arrest our attention when we see the marked distinction between those “doing lawlessness” and those who “do good.” The former will hear, “Depart from me,” while the latter will hear, “Well done.” It is also evident that these believers needed to be reminded of their duty to obey and yield to their church leaders, for they encouraged the people to stand fast during persecution. A hard command to obey! Hold fast to Christ, and you may suffer and die; drift away from him, and you may save your skin but lose your soul. Few choose the life to come over the present life, but these pastors and elders were apparently commanding these believers to do just that. Their former leaders had blazed a trail of faithfulness (13:7), and if they will listen to their present leaders, all will be well. Sadly, however, we quickly lose the godly impressions made by dead pastors, and we easily ignore our living ones. Especially if they are unimpressive or have other flaws that test our willingness to yield, then God is sifting us. Shall we obey them out of reverence to him? Will we yield to them only when we agree with them? The duty commanded here is that when godly leaders preach, teach, and govern in terms of God’s word, then we are bound to obey them. A disobedient and stubborn spirit dishonors Christ and will pollute any other sacrifices we offer to him. He likes nothing better than obedience (1 Sam. 15:22). It is the sacrifice that pleases him most.

The Reckoning: To the Chief Shepherd

Ever merciful and knowing our many weaknesses, the Lord gives us a description of the work of pastors and elders. If people and pastors took it to heart as they should, there would be far more mutual prayer and assistance given and far less complaining. First, he reminds the people that their pastors and elders tirelessly watch over them. The verb implies sleeplessness or at least intense watchfulness, so that although pastors cannot be with you day and night, or may visit infrequently, nevertheless, you are never long out of their minds. They pray for you constantly. They warn you even when warnings are unwelcome. They try to set a good example for you. If a pastor were paid a king’s ransom to watch over you, it would be small recompense for the grief he feels for the sheep, the hours he spends praying for them, and the burden he carries for them. As Paul once wrote to the Corinthians, “Who does not fall into sin, and I do not inwardly burn” (2 Cor. 11:29)? No man would undertake such a responsibility unless called of God. No man who is legitimately called rests easily while even one sheep wanders. He knows that an accounting is coming, not to men, but to God.

All the sermons in the world so carefully prepared, all the accolades and support that may be given, none amounts to a penny if a pastor does not have Christ’s approbation. And this is where the verse contains a description and indirect plea to church leaders to be such men who tirelessly watch over the sheep. There may be any number of reasons why a man may want to preach or govern in Christ’s church. Motives are diverse, and not all are noble. But this one should seriously alarm and awaken all godly men who profess to have a call from God. Be sure that if Jesus Christ loses none of his sheep, he will demand an accounting for each one he places under your care. For rulers young and old, this is a sobering thought. When you want to entertain yourself or make a name for yourself, ask, “Have I prayed ardently for Christ’s lambs, for he died for them? Have I warned as faithfully as he would have me? Have I a set a good example for them and walked closely with Christ so that I would have his strength to do so?”

If we took this more to heart, it would give courage, meekness, and diligence in the duties of proclamation, governing, and discipline. Courage would come, for if we are to stand before Christ, then absolutely nothing – not the wrath of the devil, the threatening of wayward sheep, or the mockery of the world – must prevent us from watching over those for whom he shed his precious blood. And since the accounting will be to him, we must win the sheep to him, which necessitates great meekness, otherwise the sheep will not listen or follow. And diligence – no wonder that James warned us against becoming teachers (3:1) – it is sufficiently sobering to think of answering to Christ for one’s own life, but for another’s? No wonder the apostle confessed with honest self-abhorrence and weakness, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Christ in us is sufficient, and if we are seeking him, he will give us all we need to stand boldly in the day of reckoning. Then, we shall throw yet more crowns at his feet.



The Incentive: Joy to Them and Blessing to You

Since we would rather choose almost any other sacrifice than obedience, we are given a final incentive. Obedience to our church leaders gives them joy. More than any money or notoriety or appreciation, a godly leader wants to see Christ’s sheep walking in the truth. This is his greatest joy (3 John 4). He has your future meeting with Christ before him perhaps more than you do. And if you are faithful to the Lord Jesus, you will want to bring him the joy of seeing you faithful to the gospel and obedient to his just commands. You have a duty to make your pastors and elders joyful when they think of you. And by making him joyful, if we can flip the final words, it will be an extremely profitable relationship for the sheep – profitable now through joy and encouragement, profitable unto eternity through Christ’s approbation and everlasting gladness. He states this negatively. If we are not obedient to the gospel, then our leaders will find their responsibilities to be a grave challenge and sadness. Then, it cannot but be that a relationship that Christ ordained for mutual joy and good, will bring to you great sorrow and disappointment.

This is one reason so many hop to a different church when they cannot agree with a minister or find fault with their elders. This is understandable at one level, for church leaders and members are weak and grow frustrated with each other. Perhaps both should remember the final accounting. Pastors will give an answer for each sheep. Should that not make you think twice about thwarting their efforts, being unapproachable, or difficult to talk to? And do you want a profitable bond with a man called and equipped by Jesus Christ to help you to heaven? Make his calling an easier one by seeking the grace to obey and have a yielded spirit. Nothing is more terrifying for the prospects of the church than pastors and elders who are asleep, neglect the sheep, and will not warn and go after the wayward. Close behind are sheep who run off as soon as they are confronted for their sins. And let all church leaders remember that a day of accounting approaches. Throw off the mantle of laziness and neglect. Be in earnest for the good of Christ’s sheep. Your service to them may be thankless now, but he takes it as personally given to him. He will never forget it.