Hebrews 13:15-19 The two distinctive of a new covenant believer
The new covenant believer carries two distinct characteristics: the fruit of lips which give thanks to God through Christ and the willingness to do good and to share. The author encouraged believers to trust and submit to their leaders so that they could lead them joyfully and effectively. Leaders must lead the flock being fully aware that they will be called to give an account for every sheep in their congregation. Therefore, leaders must carry their responsibility carefully and fearfully teaching and warning every person with the full gospel of Christ.
15 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. 16 And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
The emphasis “through Him” depicts giving continual praise to God in the light of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross. This stands in stark contrast with praises delivered through old covenant promises which were more occasional rather than continual. Old covenant believers praised God only on occasions when they experienced victories and their sacrifices to God were mainly propitiations in nature.
New covenant believers however, praise God continually because of the eternal promises secured through Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. The new covenant promises include glory and blessings in an unshakable and everlasting kingdom. As Christ had offered the perfect sin sacrifice, the sacrifices offered by new covenant believers need no longer be propitiative in nature but sacrifices of gratitude due to His perfect love.
New covenant sacrifices are not propitiations for sins; they are expressions of gratitude from believers’ saved by grace. Such sacrifices include fruit of lips and doing good and sharing. Fruit of lips is a verbal sacrifice that overflows from the heart because of Christ’s perfect love – this is the most basic and spontaneous form of sacrifice by a child of God. The evidence of a true believer is revealed first in the fruit of lips and his willingness to share with those who have need.
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
The literal translation: Trust your leaders and submit to them… The author gave this instruction for the benefit of the believers lest they grieved their leaders depriving themselves of their rightful blessings: for this would be unprofitable for you. The author surfaced two reasons why members should trust their leaders and submit to them:
- Leaders were entrusted with authority and prophecy to shepherd their members towards the unshakable kingdom: for they keep watch over your souls. Leaders are entrusted with authority to break curses and they receive divine revelations (prophecy) of hidden dangers that members may not see. God uses leaders to guide each member through divine wisdom and entrusts them with authority to break powers of darkness. By trusting and honoring their leaders, they are protected by spiritual authority and by prophecy.
- Leaders operate most effectively when they are in a state of joy, not grief: Let them do this with joy and not with grief. Grief is due to disappointment when members stubbornly refused to obey the word of truth or agree with the vision of the kingdom. Leaders become grieved when members do not submit to leadership and dishonor them. As a result of grief, leaders could not operate in their optimum capacity to serve the flock.
18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. 19 And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.
The author urged his readers to pray for his team so that they may conduct themselves honorably and according to good conscience. Good conscience comprised a righteous motivation towards ministry based on God’s kind of love and vision. Doing ministry out of a good conscience involves submitting to God in every decision to do His bidding and to serve each member humbly and responsibly. Some pastors have unashamedly defined their role as sheepherders treating their members as warm bodies in order to beef up their congregation size.
Believers should spend more time praising God for promises yet fulfilled. Old covenant believers praised God only on occasions when they experienced victory, and whenever they suffered, they complained. Such people do not live by faith but are trapped by their present circumstances. They derive energy from good reports rather than from God’s word. The fact that Jesus had taken our curses and sins, thus paving the way to prosperity should garner our total commitment of supreme praise towards Him. “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” depicts a continual trust towards a prosperous future that was secured through Christ. Therefore, when circumstances are not forthcoming, we must go against the grain of our emotions by praising God for His faithfulness. In the process of praising God by the fruit of lips, we will begin to feel differently as the Spirit imbues us with love, faith and hope.
The most basic evidences of a renewed life are the fruit of lips and the desire to share. It is some times challenging and mind boggling to discern true spirituality among churchgoers. Some churchgoers are unreserved in their praises towards God but lack the desire to share and connect with others. Despite their extravagant show of worship, such have not surrendered their lives to God. Some churchgoers are very kind in nature, but possess no passion to praise God. Such have yet to experience God in a personal way. A born-again believer of Jesus Christ however, is willing to share as they are first loved by God. They are also passionate towards God in the fruit of lips which is the evidence of faith and promise obtained.
Leaders increase in their authority and prophecy when they work out of a good conscience. Many leaders and church pastors hold sizeable congregations but lack the power to disciple and transform lives towards godly living. Although they preach the gospel to the masses, but they do not possess the power to heal and break bondages like Jesus did. Hence, they could not shepherd and disciple members towards Christ-likeness and to fulfill their calling. Their messages are directed at keeping members feeling blessed instead of pointing them towards the truth that is necessary for abundant living. Hence, such leaders draw people to the church, but could not bring them into the kingdom. They speak of common grace, which is the willingness of God to bless sinners. But they omit salvific grace, which requires sinners to repent in order to enter the kingdom. Such leaders are flawed in their conscience and motivations. And they will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment for not preaching the true gospel of Christ. Ultimately, leaders will be judged not by the numbers they drew, but by the number of repentant sinners they brought into the kingdom.
When leaders conduct themselves through a spirit-led (good) conscience, they will increase in authority and prophecy. God will use them as His mouthpiece and entrust them with the powers of heaven and hell. Jesus said to the Jews,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.” John 5:19-20
Jesus said that God would increase the scale of His works because He did all things according to good conscience: the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing. The gospel recorded Jesus in good conscience increasing in favor and authority and in his 33 years of ministry culminated in His own resurrection.
Leaders will be held accountable for the doctrine they preach and the way they shepherd each sheep. We see the trend especially in developed nations where the message of the gospel is increasingly influenced by the fleshly desires of the people. Pastors work at growing attendance giving an appearance of church growth. Hence, the substance of Christian messages are geared towards pulling crowds rather than teaching truths for godly living. As people naturally gravitate towards blessings, messages are tailored towards promises of prosperity, health and eternal salvation omitting the necessity for repentance. The author taught that leaders will face the inevitable, which is to give an account of their work. This charge is given to every shepherd who will answer to God directly on the Day of Judgment. God charged Ezekiel,
“Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.” Ezekiel 3:17-19
As God held Ezekiel accountable for the people of Israel, God holds shepherds accountable for the souls of those in their congregation. If people are not told the true gospel that requires repentance, and if they perish, God will judge the shepherds for every soul lost: but his blood I will require at your hand.
- Are you accustomed to mulling unsolvable problems with your mind going in circles? Or do you give praise to God through Christ for His promises? Make it a habit to wake up in the morning praising God for promises yet fulfilled. In the night, before you retire, praise God for promises fulfilled in the day.
- Do you focus on acquiring wisdom and power of God through a good conscience or do you seek an appearance of success? As you endeavor to work through a good conscience, God will in His time prosper you in ways you cannot imagine.
Dear Lord, I praise you for your perfect love towards me. I offer my time and resources to bless those who are weak. As I endeavor to work out of a good conscience, use me to preach the gospel and bring many into your kingdom. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.