As you know, I like to preach on sermon requests, unless I forget what they are first. This one came to me in one of the church-building hallways after services. A member here asked me to preach on forgiveness, especially forgiving oneself.
This request does not surprise me one little bit. I’ve been hearing similar concerns from Christians for decades. It’s been true in Texas, true in Illinois, and true here. I’ve even seen aspiring hymnists wanting to write hymns about the subject because it’s such a struggle for them.
When I see the topic come up so much, it tells me that a lot of Christians feel like they don’t have good solutions to the problem. We all know that Christians rise from the waters of baptism to walk in newness of life. However, what do we do when guilt from the old life keeps intruding into the new one? For that matter, how do we handle it when we start accumulating sins in the new life too? We know that Jesus forgives our sins, but sometimes we don’t feel forgiven. This morning, then, let’s consider what it takes to make peace with the past.
The first thing that we must do is PUT THE BURDEN IN THE RIGHT PLACE. Here, let’s look at Ephesians 2:8-9. One of my primary rules in studying the Bible is always to seek to explain the text rather than explaining away the text, and this passage illustrates the importance of doing so perhaps better than any other. When I was growing up, I never heard this verse cited in church without somebody following it with “But you still have to be baptized!” The only people I heard quoting it approvingly were people from the denominations. I got the impression that this was a denominational verse instead of a church-of-Christ verse.
Sadly, it is no less dangerous for us to turn away from the whole counsel of God than it is for others to do so, and the consequences of our minimizing this passage are obvious. It shows up in two main places: in all the faithful Christians who are scared to death that they aren’t good enough to go to heaven and in those who are so caught up in their own guilt that the forgiveness of Jesus doesn’t register. You know what both of those things are? They’re symptoms of believing on some level that our salvation is from ourselves.
In fact, if we’re being perfectly honest, both of those things are symptoms of a desire to boast in ourselves. We want to be good enough on the day of judgment, and we want to have been good enough that we don’t have those regrets in our past. The problem is, though, that we know that we have failed and continue to fail, so we suffer beneath all this fear and guilt.
There’s only one way out of the trap. It’s to put the burden of our righteousness on Jesus. Of course we failed in the past! It’s why we became Christians in the first place. Of course we will continue to fail! Otherwise, we no longer would need His grace. We cannot hope to save ourselves or boast in ourselves, but He can and will redeem us.
Second, we must EMBRACE RENEWAL. I like the way Paul puts this in Colossians 3:9-10. It’s a passage that highlights both kinds of renewal. The first is the spiritual change of clothes that is so prominent in Ephesians and Colossians. When we obeyed the gospel, we put off the old self and put on the new self. We are different people now than we were before we were baptized. All the evils that the old self did were left in the water.
However, renewal for the Christian is not just a one-time event. It’s a continuing process. We have put on the new self, past tense, but we are being renewed, present tense. In context, Paul discusses our renewal in knowledge, but this is not the only kind of renewal we experience. In Lamentations 3, Jeremiah observes that God’s mercies are new each morning. We are constantly renewed in knowledge, renewed in righteousness, and renewed in every one of His great blessings.
When we look back, then, on one of those sins that gives us so much guilt now, we must ask if God has renewed us since. Are we still practicing that sin? Is our heart such that we would do it again if given opportunity? If so, we absolutely should feel guilty! We need to repent and get our hearts and our lives right with God.
However, for the Christians who can’t forgive themselves, that’s usually not the case. They usually experience such agony over their past sins because they have repented, aren’t practicing the same thing, and don’t want to.
If that’s where you are, guess what? Those sins don’t belong to you anymore. You’re a different person. You’ve been renewed. You’ve been renewed in your knowledge, renewed in your heart, and most of all, renewed in God’s grace. Those sins have been removed from you as far as the east is from the west, and it doesn’t make any more sense to feel guilty about them than it does to feel guilty about the sins of a stranger.
Finally, we must LEAVE THE PAST IN THE PAST. Paul makes this point in Philippians 3:13-14. It’s interesting that contextually, Paul is talking about forgetting the good things that were part of his life before Christ. He was working on leaving behind things like being a Pharisee of Pharisees and blameless according to the Law.
However, these kinds of unpleasant memories are joined to guilt over past sins by a common thread of regret. The devil was whispering in Paul’s ear that it would have been better if he had gone on being a wealthy, honored Hebrew of Hebrews. Likewise, he uses even our sorrow for sin as a tool to drag us back into the past.
Indeed, the devil wanted Paul thinking about the past and wants us thinking about the past for the same reason. He doesn’t want us thinking about the present because in Paul’s present and our present is Christ. No matter what pretty shiny worldly things the devil dangled in front of Paul, once the apostle compared them to Christ, he saw them for the garbage they were.
So too for us. The devil wants us to dwell on our guilt, our crushing, agonizing, overwhelming guilt. He wants us to lose sleep over it. He wants us to be unhappy. However, what he does not want us to do is to compare our guilt to the grace of Christ.
He does not want us to think about the infinite love of Jesus that led Him to die on the cross. He does not want us to think about the infinite grace that His sacrifice made possible. Remember too that infinity divided by any finite number remains infinite. Jesus didn’t just love the human race infinitely. He loved you infinitely and me infinitely too, and the grace that cleanses each of us of sin is infinite too.
It's good for us to learn from the mistakes of the past, but we must not define ourselves by those mistakes. Instead, we must define ourselves by the grace of Christ. None of us are or can hope to become anything more than a redeemed sinner, but that’s all we have to be because His grace is enough.
During our recent trip to Hawaii, my wife and I saw many amazing things. Of them all, though, the most amazing was the active volcano. Lauren saw that Kilauea had begun erupting again just before we left, so we decided that we wanted to visit the crater rim after dark, when it would be most visible.
We ended up on the rim about a mile away from the molten part. We could see steam hissing out of vents all over the caldera floor, one of which was stained a brilliant yellow by the sulfur coming out of it. After dark, we could see molten orange cracks forming and closing, and the sides of the crater were lit with red.
As I took the spectacle in, I thought to myself, “Well, I know a sermon request when I see one!” I literally saw a lake burning with fire and brimstone, but I was quite safe from it. However, the day is coming when billions will encounter a lake burning with fire and brimstone, and they will not be safe from it. That’s not a fate I would wish on anyone, so I figured it was time for some straight talk about hell.
The first thing that we must understand about hell is that IT IS A HORRIBLE PLACE. Consider Jesus’ description of it in Mark 9:42-48. Note first of all the list of things that Jesus said are preferable to being cast into hell. It’s better to have a millstone hung around your neck and be drowned. It’s better to have your hand chopped off. It’s better to have your eye gouged out. It’s better to have your foot severed.
None of those are things we want to have happen to us! However, if we were offered a choice between those things and hell, we would be wise to say, “Bring on the millstone. Bring on the axe.”
In fact, Jesus describes hell as a place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched, a description He takes from Isaiah 66. Most of us have experienced a burn, though hopefully only a minor one. Most of us have seen roadkill in the summer that is seething with maggots. Other passages describe hell as utter darkness.
Those things are what hell is like, except that hell lasts forever. In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about eternal fire. In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul describes eternal destruction. On earth, eventually what burns is burned up. The maggot-ridden corpse is consumed. The darkness is ended by dawn. However, there is no relief from the torments of hell.
Of course, these things are not literal. Instead, they are meant to convey to our minds what it’s like to be eternally separated from God. When some people hear this, they say, “Well, that’s not so bad!”
However, we only say such things because we never have experienced the complete absence of God. Every good gift that every one of us enjoys in our lives comes from Him. When God leaves, He takes all the good with Him, and all that is left is misery, suffering, and all the cruelties that the devil can devise.
Second, IT IS FOR SINNERS. Look at Revelation 21:6-8. As the words of the Father here make clear, there are only two choices. Either we inherit eternal life from Him, or we are cast into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. There’s no third way.
Also, the catalogue of sins in v. 8 is meant to be representative rather than exhaustive. Hell is not only for those who practice those particular kinds of wickedness. It is for anyone who practices any kind of wickedness. If we practice sin, hell will be for us.
For many, this is their single biggest problem with Christianity. The Bible teaches both that God is love and that most people will spend eternity in hell. Isn’t that a contradiction?
However, I think that those who propose this dilemma have failed to reckon with what God has done for us. First of all, God has been fair. He has revealed Himself to every human being through His creation. He’s given every one of us a conscience.
We all had the opportunity to honor Him and walk righteously before Him. Did we take it? We did not. We chose to reject Him and be evil instead.
In addition, God is merciful. He gave us the opportunity to find salvation through His Son. Do most take advantage of that? They do not. God is reaching out to them, pleading with them to accept the most precious gift anyone ever has been offered. In response, they turn their back on Him and go on being evil.
What’s God supposed to do? Confirm His word with lots of miracles? He’s tried that lots of times. It didn’t work. Reveal Himself directly to people? Last time God did that, they crucified Him. Win them with kindness? He’s doing that right now. It also doesn’t work. Warn them with suffering? He does that too, again with little success.
In short, there is nothing that even God can do with hard-hearted, wicked sinners. He sends them to hell because it’s the only option left. That’s not a loving God’s fault at all. It’s 100 percent theirs.
Hell is a horrible place, it’s where all sinners go, and ONLY JESUS CAN SAVE US FROM IT. Let’s read from His words in John 14:5-6. To begin with, let’s notice here that the alternative to being gathered up and cast into the fire is abiding in Jesus. This means two different things. First, it means being connected to Jesus. We must be saved through Him. We must become His disciples.
Second, abiding means staying connected to Jesus. After we rise from the waters of baptism to walk in newness of life, we actually have to live that way. If we’re uncertain about whether we’re abiding in Jesus or not, He proposes a simple test here. Those who abide in Him and vice versa bear much fruit. There are many things in their lives that show they are disciples. However, if we are living fruitless lives, we should be concerned about that. It shows that we aren’t abiding in Him, and the alternative is not good.
However, we must be careful about assuming that discipleship is nothing more than another opportunity to justify ourselves by works. That’s not it at all. Our good works reveal us as His disciples, but they do not and cannot establish our righteousness before God.
Now that I know that my life is going to be considerably shorter than I had anticipated, as you might imagine, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to its end. Let me tell you, brethren—if I believed that my eternal destination was determined by the things I’ve done, I would be terrified. I know that the only name I can claim on my own is “sinner”.
However, I don’t rely on myself. I rely on the mercy of the One who justifies the ungodly. I know Him too, and I know that I can trust Him. Only He can rescue me from the horrible fate I deserve, and when He does, I will spend eternity praising Him for His salvation.
Love is the most important concept in the Bible. If I had to pick a one-word summary of the Bible, it would be chesed, the Hebrew word that is translated in our Old Testaments as “lovingkindness”, “steadfast love”, or “faithful love”. If we do not understand love, we do not understand Christianity, and we cannot inherit eternal life.
It is not surprising, then, that of all the concepts in the Bible, love is the one that is most abused and distorted. Satan knows that if he can confuse people about love, he can keep them from following Christ. Thus, in our day, we see the word “love” applied to all sorts of sins. “Love is love,” people say, but what they really mean by that is, “This thing that I want to call loving is the same as the love that the Bible celebrates, so it’s just as righteous as Biblical love.”
This amounts, of course, to nothing more than rewriting the Bible to justify what we think is right. Rather than imposing our views on the word of God, we ought instead to be imposing the views of the word of God on ourselves. With this in mind, let’s consider what the Scriptures mean when they say, “God is love”.
Our text comes from 1 John 4, and it begins with THE COMMANDMENT TO LOVE. Look at 1 John 4:7-8. Notice that the confusion we talked about earlier reasonably can continue through most of these two verses. There are plenty of people who would take “Love one another” and reinterpret it to mean, “Accept the wickedness of others because I have applied the label of love to it.”
However, this reinterpretation comes to a screeching halt when we get to the last three words of v. 8, “God is love.” We don’t get to define love. God does. In fact, God is the definition of love. Once we accept this, love stops being this vague, nebulous concept and becomes something that we know a whole lot about because we know a whole lot about God.
We begin to learn about God through the physical creation. Our world has been marred by sin, but even in its flawed state, it still proclaims the love of God. Every time we look up at the stars or a majestic mountain range, we see the love of God. Every time we spend an evening laughing with family and friends, we feel the love of God. Every time we sit down to a good meal, we taste the love of God. God didn’t have to give us any of these experiences of beauty and joy, but He did because He is love, and love expresses itself in blessing others.
We learn still more about love by considering God in His word. His love is evident not only in the blessings He offers to the faithful, but in His hatred for sin. Sometimes people ask, “How could a loving God send sinners to hell?” Well, how could He not? Sin is selfish and evil. It is the very opposite of everything that God is, and it inflicts incalculable injury on others, whom God loves. If God does not punish sin, He must be indifferent to its nature and consequences, which is the very thing that a loving God cannot be.
However, punishment is not the only way that God addresses sin, which we see in THE EXAMPLE OF LOVE that He offers. Let’s continue reading in 1 John 4:9-10. Yes, a loving God will send sinners to hell, but He does not only send sinners to hell. Notice that John says that we don’t know love by our love for God, but rather by His love for us.
In other words, God loves us even when we don’t love Him. We are selfish. We are evil. We do nothing to deserve His love. Nonetheless, He loves us anyway.
Here, I think we find the answer to the biggest problem we have with love. It’s easy to love when others love us and treat us as we think they should. It’s much harder when they don’t. How do we love when our spouse is a jerk to us? How do we love when brethren slander and mistreat us? How do we love our enemies when they are, well, being our enemies? We continue to love in all these situations because we have learned from God’s example.
This love is revealed in two main ways. First, He sent Jesus to live among us to show us what a perfectly loving human being looks like. Notice that Jesus’ version of love doesn’t look like the world’s version either. He spent a whole lot of time harshly condemning sin and sinners. He talked more about hell than any other figure in the Bible. Those things came from His great love just as much as His healing the sick did.
Second, Jesus didn’t merely live among us. He died among us, not because He deserved to die, but because we did. Jesus surrendered His life, and God surrendered His Son. This shows the lengths to which love is willing to go. Love doesn’t merely serve others when serving is costless. Love is willing to serve even at the cost of tremendous self-sacrifice. If we aren’t giving ourselves up for others and for God, we aren’t loving.
Finally, John urges us toward THE PERFECTION OF LOVE. Consider 1 John 4:11-13. John is very precise with his words here. He doesn’t merely say, “If God loved us”. He says, “If God so loved us”. In other words, if God loved us in this way, we need to love one another in the same way.
God doesn’t only define what love is. He defines how we ought to be loving. This includes not only the parts of God that we find palatable—His kindness and concern for others—but also the parts of Him that we don’t appreciate—His self-sacrifice and hatred for sin.
This is challenging for any of us, but when we succeed, we do something amazing. We reveal that God abides in us and that His love is perfected in us. Because God loves us, His highest goal is to teach us to love like Him. When you get right down to it, isn’t that what every Christian parent wants for their children, for them to learn to love like God does? When we embrace His love ourselves, we truly become His children.
That’s the goal, but it’s easy to get off track. There are millions who believe that they are walking in the love of God who are not. That’s a disastrous delusion, and we must avoid it.
John tells us that we can know that God and His love abide in us because He has given us His Spirit. Sadly, some mistake their intuition for the prompting of the Spirit. I know a brother whose wife left him because she believed the Spirit was leading her to run off with another man. She was being led, all right, but it didn’t have anything to do with God!
Instead, we allow the Spirit to lead us when we seek guidance from the inspired word of God. Then, the Spirit transforms us by the renewing of our minds so that we become different people. With enough study, we train our conscience and no longer need a Bible with us to know what the Spirit wants us to do. If we need to, we always can return to the word and check to make sure that we still are walking in love.
I’m fond of saying that too often, the Lord’s church in America does a great job of attending to the spiritual needs of married people with kids at home and a not-so-great job of attending to the spiritual needs of everybody else. This is unfortunate for a couple of reasons. It’s not particularly helpful for Christians who aren’t part of the favored group, and it ignores what the Bible has to say to those people too.
Among those neglected in this way are widows. The Scriptures have a lot to say about widows in 1 Timothy 5:3-16. True, much of this text is taken up with a discussion of whether a widow is worthy of church support, but along the way, Paul identifies several characteristics that a widow must possess to be righteous.
This teaching, though often overlooked, is extremely relevant. We have many widows in this congregation as well as many other single people who are kind of in a widow-ish position. Even the rest of us will find many things to benefit us here. With this in mind, then, let’s consider what the Scriptures say about the godly widow.
First, the godly widow HOPES. According to 1 Timothy 5:5, she puts her hope in God. Yes, obviously, all of us should put our hope in God, but I think this is particularly important for widows because it defines their purpose.
Let me explain. Many women, especially in the church, spend their adult lives taking care of others. They get married, and they take care of their husbands. They have kids, and they care for them and generally keep the household running smoothly. Many times, a widow has had to deal with her husband’s prolonged illness, tending to his every need. Now, though, he’s gone, and there’s nobody left to take care of. What do you do now?
Paul gives us the answer. Rather than focusing on caring for your family, you shift your focus to inheriting eternal life. Just like you used to get up every day and make sure that the food was cooked and the dishes were washed and the laundry was run, now you get up every day with the goal of making sure you receive your reward.
Second, the godly widow PRAYS. 1 Timothy 5:5 describes her as continuing night and day in prayer. Here too, I think Paul is calling widows to a perspective shift.
Most adult women live busy lives. In addition to all the household stuff we’ve already discussed, many of them work outside the home too, and they have all sorts of other responsibilities to boot.
For most widows, 90 percent of that stuff isn’t happening anymore. Indeed, you may be the aging parent that others are tending! That leaves a whole, whole lot of time, time that often hangs heavy on widows’ hands. What do you do with it?
Easy. You pray. You pray a whole, whole lot. You pray for every good thing you can think of, God’s blessing on your family, God’s blessing on the church, God’s blessing on each member of the church, and for you yourself to grow up into the image of Christ. All that time isn’t a burden. It’s a gift. Use it well.
The beauty of prayer is that it’s something that every Christian woman of sound mind can do. I know that some of the sisters here don’t have much physical capability left. They’re simply not strong enough to carry out the acts of service I’ll be talking about later. However, everybody who is capable of comprehending this sermon is capable of prayer, and even if we can’t work anymore, God sure can!
Third, the godly widow ENTERTAINS. As per 1 Timothy 5:10, she shows hospitality. This is another consequence of widows having more time and fewer people on their hands than they used to. Lauren and I entertain a lot, but let me tell you, it’s not easy, especially for her! We have to fit in prep around the rest of our schedules, and we have two lovely children who are determined to make as much mess as possible while cleaning up as little as possible.
For many widows, hospitality is much easier. You by yourselves don’t make as much mess as your husband and kids used to, and you have more time available to prepare. I think the widows here easily could be at the forefront of welcoming strangers to our congregation. I know that some of you are more introverted than others, and that the thought of inviting people you don’t know into your home makes you quail.
However, that’s why there are many members in the Lord’s body. If you’re not up to the task of making dinner conversation by yourself, there are extroverted Christians in this congregation who will happily do it for you. Invite them over along with the visitor, and sit back and watch them do their thing!
Basically, the point is this: if widows in the first century were known for hospitality, widows in the twenty-first century can be too.
Similarly, the godly widow SERVES. 1 Timothy 5:10 describes her as having washed the saints’ feet. As we know from our study of John 13, this was not a mere ritual. Rather, foot-washing was a humble, gracious response to the problem of filthy first-century streets making others’ feet filthy. Worldly people in that time considered foot-washing demeaning; godly widows considered it an opportunity to serve.
So too, godly widows today can be women who do what needs doing. In a congregation this size, there’s always something to do! There are meals to be prepared. There are welcome cards to visitors to be written. For that matter, there are cards to everybody to be written. There are children’s Bible classes to be taught. There are outsiders to invite to services. The list goes on and on. If you’re out of ideas for something else to do, ask the elders, and they will be delighted to make suggestions!
In short, opportunities to serve abound. I don’t think every widow should be doing all of these things, but I do believe that every widow should be doing as much as she can physically handle. There’s nothing sadder than a sister in Christ who complains that her life is meaningless but is choosing not to do any of the things that would make her life meaningful.
Finally, the godly widow HELPS. As per 1 Timothy 5:10, she helps the afflicted. There are a lot of different ways I could take this, but in particular, I want to consider the Titus 2:4 responsibility of older women to teach the younger women.
I’ve heard a lot about this one from both sides. Lots of younger women in the church insist that they can’t find older women to teach them, while older women in the church insist that they can’t find younger women who want to be taught. I wonder if the problem here is a misconception about what teaching should look like. If the older women try to “teach” by going up to the sister wrestling her screaming child in the lobby and telling her how she kept every one of her 27 children under perfect control back in 1975, that’s not going to go over very well!
Instead, we should note that the first thing older women are supposed to be teaching is love, and I don’t know of any way to teach love other than showing love. Widows, if you want a younger woman to listen to you, be her friend first. Listen to her. Spend time with her. Help her make it through life. Soon enough, you won’t have to bring up the things you want to talk about because she’ll be asking you about them first.
In our Bible reading this week, we will come to 1 Timothy 3, the text along with Titus 1 that paints the Biblical portrait of the elder. The eldership is so important that Clay and I decided that we needed to devote both sermons today to the subject. However, neither one of us is going to preach on what are commonly called the qualifications of the elder. If you want to know my thoughts on the topic, you’ll have to read the bulletin article!
Instead, we’re going to focus on the day-to-day interaction between the congregation and the eldership. Though understanding what makes a man fit to be an elder is vital when appointing elders, it doesn’t come up a whole lot otherwise. However, we continually need to know how we should treat them, and they continually need to know how they should treat us.
The former is my responsibility this morning, and our responsibility toward elders can be summed up in one word: submission. Americans tend to believe in what we might call “contingent submission”. They will submit to an authority so long as they agree with it, but not otherwise. Is that really what God expects of His people, though? Let’s explore this as we consider the Biblical witness about submitting to elders.
There are three passages that speak to this topic, and the first tells us to RECOGNIZE AND REGARD our elders. Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13. This passage doesn’t use the word “elder”, of course, but when it talks about those who lead us in the Lord, it’s very clearly talking about elders, and it describes two kinds of appropriate treatment.
The first is to give them recognition. This isn’t about greeting them when we pass them in the hallway before services, though that’s a good thing to do! It’s about recognizing them for having taken on the work and burdens of the eldership. I know lots of current and former elders, but I’ve never heard any of them say that being an elder is easy.
Indeed, the opposite is true. I suspect that most members of this congregation never will know even 10 percent of what the elders go through for us. We’re not supposed to know it, and if we knew it, we wouldn’t want to know it. However, because that other 90 percent is there, we should show them honor for dealing with it.
Second, we are to regard them highly in love. Sometimes, this can be very difficult. How can we respect the elders when we believe they’re making a mistake? How can we respect them when they’ve hurt or offended us?
The key, I think, is to recognize that if we only had to respect elders when we naturally wanted to respect them, God wouldn’t have had to command us to do it. Even when we don’t want to, we still are responsible for respecting the office if not the man. They took on significant burdens on our behalf, and even when they fail, as anyone would sooner or later, we should show them honor and grace.
Second, we must BE RECIPROCALLY HUMBLE. Consider 1 Peter 5:5. There’s a lot in this text about how elders should behave, and Clay is going to tackle that for us this evening. However, the responsibility of everyone else in this text is twofold: be subject and be humble.
“Be subject” is where we find the core idea of this sermon: to be in submission. No one puts elders over us. Instead, we put ourselves under them. In spiritual matters, we follow their example and judgment.
I fear that in the American church these days, “submit” has taken on the meaning of “coincidentally go along with until I disagree”. However, if all we really are doing is submitting to an eldership until they ask us to do something we don’t want to, who really is our authority? Is it them, or is it us? Now, elders don’t have the right to add new sections to the Bible or to demand that we follow their think-so’s, but we should hold ourselves responsible for doing what they ask.
It helps when we approach our relationship with the elders from the perspective of humility. As the subject heading for this section implies, everybody, sheep and shepherds alike, has the responsibility to deal with others in a humble way.
However, shepherds can’t make sheep be humble, and sheep can’t make shepherds be humble. All we can do is make sure that we have a humble spirit within our own hearts.
Humility means a number of things. It means listening patiently to others to show them that they are heard and understood. It means not immediately insisting on our own way. It means not dogmatically assuming that we are right and the other is wrong. All of these things are part of the humility that we owe our elders. When we don’t lose our cool, insist, or assume, we too glorify God!
Finally, we must BEHAVE PROFITABLY. Here, let’s read from Hebrews 13:17. There are some things here that are familiar. We once again see the instruction to submit to, this time combined with a command to obey. Both of these amount to the same thing in practice.
However, there are some new elements here, and the first is the Hebrew writer’s justification for being submissive and obedient. We are to do this because they watch over us as those who will have to give an account. I tell you, brethren, that the latter part of that weighs heavily on the conscience of every elder I’ve ever worked with! They make their decisions about the flock with the knowledge that someday, they’re going to have to explain themselves to the King of kings.
This motivates them to keep careful watch over the flock because they know their souls are on the line. As a result, our elders are a precious spiritual resource to us. They are as interested in our lives as we are, but they have something we don’t—an outside perspective on our lives, viewed with the judgment and experience of an elder.
That matters a lot! Have you ever noticed how blind people are to their spiritual problems? It’s as plain as day what the issue is and what they ought to do about it, but they just won’t!
Well, I’ve got some news for you, brethren. It’s not just other people who have trouble seeing their lives clearly. It’s every one of us. All of us need a trusted outside perspective—like elders—to see ourselves clearly.
This explains the last part too. They watch over us, they help us make good spiritual decisions, and they beat themselves up over it when we don’t. Sure, we can make them suffer, but we do so at the cost of our own souls. That isn’t exactly profitable!
It’s profitable for us, then, to do our best to make our elders’ lives as joyful as possible and as grief-free as possible. When we’re making some spiritual decision, we should ask, “How would the elders feel about this?” I feel this way not only about the commandments of Scripture, but about the personal requests that our elders make of us. If they ask us to do something, and it’s an area in which we have liberty, why not make the choice that makes their lives easier? This too finds favor with God.