OBEDIENCE AND PRAYER (Heb 13:17-20)

13:17-20 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they sleeplessly watch over your souls, conscious that they will have to give account of their trust. This do that they may carry out this task with joy and not with grief, for, if you grieve them, there would be no profit to you either in that. Keep on praying for us, for we believe that we have a clear conscience, for we wish in all things to live in such a way that our conduct will be fair. I urge you to do this all the more that I may the more quickly be enabled to return to you.

The writer to the Hebrews lays down the duty of the congregation to its present leaders and its absent leader.

To the present leaders the duty of the congregation is obedience. A Church is a democracy but not a democracy run mad; it must give obedience to those whom it has chosen as its guides. That obedience is not to be given in order to gratify the leaders' sense of power or to increase their prestige. It is to be given so that at the end of the day the leaders may be seen to have lost none of the souls committed to their care. The greatest joy of the leader of any Christian fellowship is to see those whom he leads established in the Christian way. As John wrote: "No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth" (3Jn 1:4 ). The greatest sorrow of the leader of any Christian fellowship is to see those whom he leads growing further away from God.

To the absent leader the duty of the congregation is that of prayer. It is a Christian duty always to bear our absent loved ones to the throne of God's grace and daily to remember there all who bear the responsibility of leadership and authority. When Stanley Baldwin became Prime Minister of Great Britain, his friends thronged round to congratulate him. He said: "It is not your congratulations I need; it is your prayers."

We must give our respect and our obedience to those set in authority over us in the Church when they are present with us, and when they are absent we must remember them in our prayers.

A PRAYER, A GREETING AND A BLESSING (Heb 13:20-24)

13:20-24 May the God of peace, who brought up from among the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of the eternal covenant, it is our Lord Jesus I mean, equip you with every good thing that you may do his will and may he create in you through Jesus Christ that which is well-pleasing in his sight. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Brothers, I appeal to you to bear with this appeal of mine, for indeed it is but a short letter that I have sent to you.

I would have you know that our brother Timothy is at liberty again. If he comes soon I will see you along with him.

Greet all your leaders and all God's dedicated people. The folk from Italy send you their greetings. Grace be with you all. Amen.

The great prayer of Heb 13:20-21 draws a perfect picture of God and of Jesus.

(i) God is the God of peace. Even in the most troublous and distressing situation, he can bring peace to men's souls. In any fellowship where there is division, it is because men have forgotten God and only the remembrance of his presence can bring back the lost peace. When a man's mind and heart are distracted and he is torn in two between the two sides of his own nature, it is only by giving his life into the control of God that he can know peace. It is only the God of peace who can make us at peace with ourselves, at peace with each other and at peace with himself.

(ii) God is the God of life. It was God who brought Jesus again from the dead. His love and power are the only things which can bring a man peace in life and triumph in death. It was to obey the will of God that Jesus died and that same will brought him again from the dead. For the man who obeys the will of God there is no such thing as final disaster; even death itself is conquered.

(iii) God is the God who both shows us his will and equips us to do it. He never gives us a task without also giving us the power to accomplish it. When God sends us out, he sends us equipped with everything we need.

The picture of Jesus is also threefold.

(i) Jesus is the great shepherd of his sheep. The picture of Jesus as the good shepherd is very precious to us but, strangely enough, it is one that Paul never uses and that the writer to the Hebrews uses only here. There is a lovely legend of Moses which tells of a thing he did when he had fled from Egypt and was keeping the flocks of Jethro in the desert. A sheep of the flock wandered far away. Moses patiently followed it and found it drinking at a mountain stream. He came up to it and put it upon his shoulder. "So it was because you were thirsty that you wandered away," said Moses gently and, without any anger at the toil the sheep had caused him, he carried it home. When God saw it, he said: "If Moses is so compassionate to a straying sheep, he is the very man I want to be the leader of my people." A shepherd is one who is ready to give his life for his sheep; he bears with their foolishness and never stops loving them. That is what Jesus does for us.

(ii) Jesus is the one who established the new covenant and made possible the new relationship between God and man. It was he who took away the terror and showed us the love of God.

(iii) Jesus is the one who died. To show men what God was like and to open the way to him, cost the life of Jesus. Our new relationship to God cost his blood.

The letter finishes with some personal greetings. The writer to the Hebrews half apologises for its length. If he had dealt with these vast topics the letter would never have ended at all. It is short--Moffatt points out that you can read it aloud in less than an hour--in comparison with the greatness of the eternal truths with which it deals.

What the reference to Timothy means no one knows, but it sounds as if he, too, had been in prison for the sake of Jesus Christ.

And so the letter closes with a blessing. All through it has been telling of the grace of Christ which opens the way to God and it comes to an end with a prayer that that wondrous grace may rest upon its readers.

—Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)