Okay, this one’s going to be the most controversial—or at least the one initially suspected of being the most controversial. Someone’s going to mutter something about “patriarchy” and turn away in disgust.
Well, I hope not. In the end, there shouldn’t be anything much controversial in this post, assuming you think the Bible is God’s Word. (If you don’t, then of course you’re welcome to your opinion, but this whole blog probably isn’t of much interest to you—except maybe this part.)
Anyhow, this concept is directly stated in Scripture, and since I’m committed to believing—and reporting—whatever it says, this command gets a post.
So here goes.
This biblical command, like the last one, is in Hebrews 13:
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 (He 13.17).
Several things to note here. First. The verbal structure is compound: “obey and submit.” The first verb is often translated “persuade” or “trust” or some form of “confidence.” Note the emphasis on a meeting of the minds, on agreement by the object. This is not the verb the biblical writer would use for “Because I said so!” This is not the word for autocratic decrees. It means the object (that’s you or me) heard what the man said, thought about it, and agreed that this was the right thing to do.
The second verb is much less common; in fact it’s used only once in the New Testament, here in this verse. It’s used some in the Greek classics, including Homer, but that’s centuries earlier and may not reflect usage at the time of the New Testament. It does appear in the Old Testament Apocrypha. (Nerds may consult these references: 4 Maccabees 6.35 [“yield”]; Testament of Abraham 9 [“yield”]; and the first-century Jewish writer Philo, Moses, 1.156 [“obeyed”].) It seems to refer to giving way, as we would at a “Yield” sign in traffic. In the latter case, we yield not because we’re convinced, but because it’s the law, and if we don’t we’ll be at fault in any ensuing accident. In interpersonal actions like that described in our passage, it seems to imply submission even in cases where we’re not convinced.
Note that there are two reasons the writer cites for submitting:
- Pastors are accountable (to God, of course, though that’s only implied, not stated). They’re being held accountable for “watch[ing] for your souls,” which is of course a good thing, if it’s a responsibility from God; and if “they may do it with joy,” then what they have done meets with the approval of the God who made us, in whose image we are, and whom he loves enough to die for us. This language clearly does not allow for leaders who are abusing their authority, and it gives no room for mindless submission or cult-like devotion.
- These implications are directly confirmed by the succeeding statement that their being judged negatively for that care would be “unprofitable for you.”
When I was studying martial arts in college, I learned elements from all the major subcategories of judo, “the gentle way.” These included nage waza [throwing]; katame waza [grappling]: osaekomi waza [pinning]; kansetsu waza [joint locking]; and shime waza [choking]. Of these the most dangerous—by far—was shime waza. When we did judo demonstrations for the public, we never demonstrated these techniques, for the safety of little brothers everywhere. Most of these techniques are not technically “choking”; they cut off not the airway, but the carotid arteries, causing unconsciousness in seconds. I once demonstrated one of these in front of two physicians, and they came right out of their seats. It’s stuff to be highly respected and “not tried at home.” I will never use one of these techniques outside of a dojo, apart from a clear and present danger.
When we began to learn these techniques, our sensei applied a hold to each of us and told us sternly, “Don’t be a fool. When you feel this fade happening, tap out. Immediately. You’ve lost, but you want to live to fight again.”
Now, that’s a terrible illustration to use for pastoral care.
But here’s the biblical point. When your pastor tells you the truth, and when you know he’s telling the truth, don’t fight him; do the right thing, admit that he’s right, and correct your thoughts and actions. The consequences for resistance in those times are too severe to mess around with.
In those moments, he’s more than just a friend with an opinion. Listen.