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"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." Hebrews 13:17
Condition for obedience
The most common objection to obeying a leader is that s/he doesn't deserve to be obeyed! It seems that the condition for perfect obedience requires perfect leaders and perfect leadership. However, in God's wisdom, He has placed imperfect leaders who lead imperfectly in the Church and in the world. So that's it. We're off the hook. We don't need to obey any leaders then. Right?
A matter of the heart
A similar question was raised with Jesus. After giving Jesus the correct answer concerning the greatest commandments, the expert in the law smugly asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" (see Luke 10:25-37). Jesus saw right through the man's self-righteous heart that was actually asking, "Who deserves to be loved?" In response, Jesus tells the parable of the merciful Samaritan and turns the question around by asking the expert in the law, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" Jesus addresses the condition of the expert in the law's heart. The question is not "Who deserves to be loved?" Rather, the question is, "What is your heart attitude toward others?" Similarly, the question is not, "Who deserves to be obeyed?" Rather it is, "What is your heart attitude toward leaders and authority?"
Obedience to God or man?
Some may object and say, "As long as I am obedient to God's authority, I don't need to submit to any man." The problem with this attitude is that what we are in the natural is a reflection of what we are in the spiritual. John addresses this very principle when he writes, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother." (1 John 4:20,21). We deceive ourselves when we think we can have a submissive heart toward God but not to human leaders. God-given authority serves to develop submissive hearts that reveal one's attitude toward God by the way we submit to one another. Paul writes, "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ....Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord." (Ephesians 6:5,7). The same principle applies to husbands and wives, parents and children as well as to submitting to governing authorities (see Romans 13:1,2). Obviously we are not to submit to ungodly leaders or leadership but that is not the issue I want to address here but rather the attitide of our hearts toward authority in general.
How can one develop a better attitude toward authority and imperfect leaders and leadership?
"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. Pray for us." Hebrews 13:17-18
Our primary motivation for sincere submission must be to serve the mission! God appoints leaders to lead people to fulfill His purposes. Leaders have a job to do and they need help. Leaders teach and equip so that Body of Christ will mature and be equipped so that everyone can do his or her work (see Ephesians 4:11-16). Submission to leaders serves the greater purpose to glorify God. It is not about the leader! It is about the mission that needs to be fulfilled. Our attitude toward a leader will either hinder him or her and burden him or her or it will help make his or her leadership a joy. Criticizing and exposing the leader's imperfections does not help get the job done. Supporting, helping and praying for the leader will help get the job done. When the leader is burdened, it is of no advantage to the "followers" because the work is hindered. We must keep in mind that we are serving the greater good and that honouring the leader's responsibility will help get the job done. Leaders are not leaders because they are perfect. They are leaders because they carry a responsibility.
I want to encourage you to be purposeful about developing a submissive heart toward authority and leaders in your life. Make their responsibility a joy! Here is how:
- Pray for your leaders (parents, teachers, bosses, presidents, pastors, etc).
- Encourage your leaders.
- Help your leaders.
- Thank your leaders.