The Greatness of Jesus Applied at Church (Hebrews 13:7-19)


Big Idea: Jesus calls churches to follow godly leaders, guard their teaching, and suffer like Jesus.

What is the greatest threat to this church?

Years ago, Francis Schaeffer said:

The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us. All these are dangerous but not the primary threat. The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.

In other words, the greatest threat — not just to the church but to the world — is not out there but in here.

The book of Hebrews seems to say the same thing.

We’ve been studying Hebrews. As the writer closes his letter, he’s showing us what it looks like to stand firm in Jesus. A few weeks ago, we looked at what it looks like to stand firm in Jesus personally from verses 1 to 6. We said that the greatness of Jesus leads us to love, sexual purity, and contentment.

But now we’re looking at what it looks like to stand firm in Jesus not just personally but as a church.

This church faced serious threats from outside the church. Christians were facing persecution and imprisonment for their faith in Christ. They faced real dangers out there. You would think that the greatest danger they faced was out there.

But they faced another set of dangers too, not out there but within the church. And that’s what this passage is about.

Do you want to be a church that stands firm in Jesus? Here are three dangers from within and three actions we can take to neutralize them.

One: Lack of Trust in Leaders (13:7, 17)

The first problem is one that we may recognize, because it was common back then, just as it is now. We’re reading between the lines a little, but the writer addresses a problem that seems to have existed in that church: a lack of trust in leaders.

That’s why he speaks to their relationship they have with former and current leaders. Listen to what he says in verse 7:

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (13:7)

Here, the writer’s probably talking about their previous leaders. It seems they were no longer at the church. They may have already died. When he says to remember them, he’s not just saying to bring them to mind. He’s talking about remembering them in a way that affects how you live today. They taught God’s word faithfully. They showed you what it means to follow God. Consider them and how they lived, and continue to learn from them. Allow their example to shape their lives. Remember your leaders from the past.

And then, in verses 17, he brackets the passage with another command. This time it’s about the church’s current leaders:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Here’s what he’s saying: remember and imitate your past leaders, and obey and submit to your present leaders. Reading between the lines, it seems that this is something that some within the church were struggling to do.

Let’s think about what this means before we apply it. The words obey and submit are very important here. They don’t imply blind followership. Obey means to obey with the connotation of being persuaded that the course of action is correct. Submit is also a unique word. It’s the only time this particular word occurs in the New Testament. It means to yield to another. In other words, these are not bullying words. As Jonathan Leeman observes, submission is never absolute and always has limits.

In other words, the writer is not saying to do whatever the leaders say. He is saying to cultivate a general disposition of trust and submission to its leaders.

I love how John Piper puts it:

Hebrews 13:17 means that a church should have a bent toward trusting its leaders; you should have a disposition to be supportive in your attitudes and actions toward their goals and directions; you should want to imitate their faith; and you should have a happy inclination to comply with their instructions.
Now you can hear that these are all soft expressions: “a bent toward trusting,” “a disposition to support,” “a wanting to imitate,” “an inclination to comply.” What those phrases are meant to do is capture both sides of the Biblical truth, namely, 1) that elders are fallible and should not lord it over the flock, and 2) the flock should follow good leadership.

Let me talk about what this looks like here..

Sometimes I look around at this church and wonder: how did we get to be a church like this? I feel so grateful to be part of this church.

Reflecting on verse 7, I have to say: God blessed this church through the leaders who shaped it God used Julian, Nabil, and Paul to shape this church into what it is today. And so verse 7 is very appropriate to us today: Remember them. Consider the outcome of their way of life. Imitate their faith. In other words, take the good that came from their ministry and continue to incorporate it into the DNA of the church. Just because these three men are no longer here at GFC doesn’t mean that we can’t take what they gave us and carry it into the future. Take their love of God’s word and their heart for hospitality, and continue to pursue those things as we carry on.

At the same time, what about our current leaders? Verse 17 says: joyfully follow them too. God has given us elders: Brad, Keith, Nick, Jason, and myself. Cultivate trust in the leaders God has given to this church. Not because they’re perfect. They aren’t! Not because they won’t make mistakes. We will! But because a general disposition of happy trust in godly leaders is not only good for the leaders, but it’s good for everyone. It’s a virtuous cycle: Happy sheep make for happy shepherds, and happy shepherds make for happy sheep. Everyone wins.

Verse 17 talks about the burden of leadership. You don’t know it until you experience it. To serve as an elder or a pastor is a very weighty thing. Every elder will one day give account to God for how they cared for the church. So don’t make their job harder by not cultivating the right spirit toward them!Cultivate a heart that’s inclined to follow your leaders.

Human nature tends to view leaders with suspicion. Don’t fall into that trap. Cultivate a bent to trusting your leaders, because that will not only make their serious job easier, but it will be better for you too.

As Jared Wilson puts it:

It is my goal now, for as long as God would have me simply as a sheep and not a shepherd, to be as low-maintenance as I can manage for my church. When my pastor sees me coming … I want him not to inwardly sigh or tense up or have to marshal some extra patience or energy but to relax a little, smile, and feel safe…
Good church folks love, respect, and submit to their pastors.
This does not mean idolizing them, treating them like celebrities, or becoming yes-men. It doesn’t mean becoming our pastor’s rubber stamp committee. But it does mean giving grace not just to your fellow sheep but also to your shepherds. In fact, they may need more, as the responsibilities they carry are more burdensome and they will have to give a greater account before God. Submitting to your leaders means repenting of the impulse to “yes, but” everything they say, especially if what they say isn’t sinful. In matters of differences of opinion, it means being circumspect in how we voice our own.
…How can we work toward our leaders’ joy and not their anxiety? It’s no advantage to us to be a nagging pain to our pastors. They will have to give an account for how they pastored us. And we’ll have to give an account for how well we presented ourselves to be pastored.

What’s the first danger we face? Not trusting our leaders. What’s the solution? Follow your leaders. Cultivate trust in them. Let’s keep the best from our past leaders, and let’s cultivate a willingness to follow good leaders. That’s the first danger and the first way to counter that danger.

Here’s the second danger:.

Second: False Teaching (13:8-10)

This is the second danger the church back then faced, and it’s one we face today too. Read verses 8 to 10:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.

The writer’s just spoken of the church’s past leaders in verse 7. In verse 8, he says: stick to their teaching. Jesus hasn’t changed, so don’t go looking for new teachings. The leaders of this church may change, circumstances may change, but Jesus and his gospel will never change, so the same message that has been preached in this church since day one should be the message that continues today. Stick close to the gospel teaching that formed the church. That preaching is as relevant today as it was back then.

The writer warns against “diverse and strange teachings.” If someone ever comes in with a new message, watch out! There should be a reassuring unoriginality in what’s preached. We don’t need new truths; we need to be reminded of the truths that have been taught by the church over thousands of years. Our job is to guard what we’ve been given in Scripture and passed down.

What exactly is the false teaching he warns against? In their case, it probably had to do with dietary laws and feasts from Judaism. They were tempted to abandon Christ and to go back to Judaism. But he’s just spent the whole letter arguing that Jesus is better. Don’t leave Jesus for false teaching. You won’t get what you’re looking for! When you come to Jesus, you find grace, he says. You don’t get that from any kind of food or any other kind of teaching, so stick to Jesus. Don’t trade him for anything new.

This is a second threat from inside the church. Satan likes to infiltrate the church and to introduce false teaching within it. One of the greatest problems the church faces isn’t attacks out there but corruption of the truth from within. Don’t let it happen here.

Paul warned, “Fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). What did he say to do? Stay alert! That’s the same thing the writer of Hebrews says. Don’t be led astray. Make sure that what’s being taught here is the same Scriptural message that’s been passed down faithfully from Jesus, the good news of what Jesus has done. Don’t get led away by anything else.

What are the dangers we face?

  • Lack of trust in leaders, so cultivate an attitude of trust in them
  • False teaching, so refuse to be led away from truth

Here’s the third and final danger that we face in this passage:

Third: The Desire for Respectability (13:11-14).

For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

Here’s the final danger they faced: they wanted the approval of others. They wanted to be accepted. They wanted to be respectable. Following Jesus meant that they faced criticism and social pressure. And if they really cared what people thought, then it made it hard for them to follow Jesus.

Just like today. Stand up and say that you’re a Christian, and people may look at you funny. You follow a Savior who was crucified and despised by the world. You believe some crazy things according to the world’s way of thinking. You’re one of those people? You may find yourself outside the circle of respectability.

Just like Jesus, the writer says.

Leviticus 16:27 described what happened on the Day of Atonement: “The bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp.” So when Jesus made a sacrifice for his sins, he offered himself outside the camp. He was taken outside of Jerusalem, rejected and despised by his own people.

Jesus suffered outside the camp; we have the privilege of joining him there.

What’s the greatest threat to the church? It’s not out there; it’s in here. There are outside threats, but some of the greatest threats we face are the threats that will spring up from within.


  • Don’t distrust your leaders. Cultivate a general attitude of trust in them.
  • Don’t get led away by false teaching. Cling to the truth of Scripture about Jesus.
  • Don’t desire respectability. Follow Jesus outside the camp.

Jesus calls churches to follow godly leaders, guard their teaching, and suffer like Jesus.

That’s what it looks like, in practical terms, to stand firm with Jesus as a church. With God’s help, we can resist these dangers. With God’s help, we can cling to him because Jesus truly is above all, and he’s worth it.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada