One of the reasons that it is a great honor to peach the word today in this installation is that I get to be a part of something that is vastly more important than most of what, say, the President of the United States does. I mean that literally and without exaggeration.
Donald Trump was installed 36 days ago as President of the United States of America. Today we install your new pastor. Since this installation of the president, he has been meeting with people whose influence may be captivating to the media but who will have little effect on eternity. For my part, I care very little about doing things that have little effect on eternity. This is why I prefer to be here rather than there.
There is no other gathering like the gathering of a Christian church. It is incomparable.
Not only that, but as you gather here under the word of God, and in the power of the Spirit of God — as the eternally loved people of God — you will in fact, and in reality, meet God in your worship. God will come to you in unique and manifest ways that he reserves for the gathered family of God in worship. He will be enthroned uniquely on your corporate praises.He will reveal himself to you as you love him together in this room.
“There is no other gathering like the gathering of a Christian church. It is incomparable.”
He will heal broken marriages as a husband and a wife sing in the presence of God and feel the impossible become possible. He will humble the most arrogant sinner so that he walks out of worship like a little child before God. He will shine his light on your utter confusion, and you will leave knowing the way to go. He will catch you falling over the cliff of hopelessness and by the end of the service you will feel solid ground under your feet. He will convict you of the ugliness of a hidden habit that is quietly destroying your life, and you will walk out, not resolved to be free, but free.
In other words, today we are standing at the front of new chapter in the life of this church. I want you to have a fresh realization of who you are as the everlasting, invincible people of God, and what the word of God is that will be heralded over you for the rest of your days, and what it means that God almighty will meet with you in this very room week after week. If you get this fresh realization, then you will know that what happens here puts the president and the congress and the supreme court in their respectable, but, by comparison, minor role in the universe compare to what happens in the church.
And all that is to say thank you for this privilege of being with you at this momentous time in the life of your church.
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.
Notice that even though this verse is addressed directly to the people of the church — to you — it clearly carries instruction for the leaders for how to do their work. Because it’s telling the people how to help them do their work. “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 . . .”
So the leaders are to keep watch over your souls, and the church is to submit to them in that care. And if we had time, it would be so valuable to talk in detail about nature of that pastoral watchfulness, and the nature of that congregational obedience and submission. But instead of focusing specifically and directly on the what those two roles of pastor and people are, what I want to do is go to what I think is the heart and essence of this verse, which, if we grasp it, will protect us from the abuses of the ministry, and will lead us to experience the essence of the beauty of the relationship between a people and her leaders.
On the one hand it is clear that a pastor, reading this verse, must realize that to be a faithful, loving, biblical, fruitful pastor, he must pursue his joy. If he is indifferent to his own joy in the ministry, he will be not be helpful to his people. Make sure you see this.
The people are being addressed, but the pastor clearly hears what is being expected of him here.
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 [literally: in order that they may do this] with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
So as he ponders he realizes: In order to love my people — to serve them and be of an advantage to them — I must devote myself to being happy in this work. I cannot let my heart be defeated by this work. I can’t act as though emotions are superfluous. As though I just need to do my duty and show up with a plan and word from God. And how I feel doesn’t matter as long as I do my duty. No. This this text says joy is your duty. Because love is your duty, and your people will not be loved without your joy. If you try to do this ministry dutifully, without pursuing your joy in it as part of your duty, this people will gain no advantage. That is, they will not be loved.
Müller: “The first great business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.”
The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. (Autobiography, 1:271.)
How can that not be implied in Hebrews 13:17, when the writer says, “Pastors, if you go about your ministry with groaning and not joy, you will be of no advantage to your people”?
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 [literally: in order that they may do this] with joy and not with groaning . . .
People, submit to their watch-care in such a way that they might do it not with groaning, but with joy. People, seek the joy of your pastors. Respond to them, work with them, so as to minimize their groaning and maximize their joy. “Let them do this with joy!”
But here is what is so striking: the writer makes it explicit why they should do this — why they should try to make the ministry of the pastors a joyful one, not a groaning one. He says at the end of the verse, “Let them [do their ministry] with joy and not with groaning, for [because] that would be of no advantage to you.”
What an amazing argument! In other words, seek the joy of your pastors, because if you don’t, then you won’t have joy from their ministry. Their ministry will be no advantage to you. Seek their joy for the sake of your joy. How does that sit?
The answer is this: When it says, let them do this ministry with joy not groaning, it means joy in God — joy in God, when there are plenty of reasons to groan. And the advantage that the people are seeking when they seek their pastor’s joy in God is that same joy — joy in God, in the face of many reasons to groan.
Would you like to see a picture of this joy? There is only one other place in Hebrews where the exact phrase in Greek, “with joy” (meta charas) occurs — Hebrews 10:34,
You had compassion on those in prison, and with joy you accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
So here is what the ministry of the pastor and the people looked like — and will in our day probably increasingly look like: they identified with imprisoned Christians and their houses were plundered. And instead groaning, they accepted it with joy. In what? “Because they knew they had a better and abiding possession. They had been bought by the blood of Jesus so that they would spend eternity with God in whose presence is fullness of joy, at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
Assumption #1: The joy that the pastor and the people are pursuing is joy in God often in the face of often huge earthly losses.
Assumption #2: To pursue joy in God — not his gifts but himself — is to admit that your heart is desperate and cannot be satisfied without him, and therefore is a humble heart, not a proud egotistical one. It is not proud to feel a cavernous emptiness inside that you know was made for God.
Assumption #3: To pursue joy in God himself as your supreme treasure and all-satisfying pleasure exalts the beauty and worth of God, not yourself. God is glorified in you when you are satisfied in him.
Pastors, seek your people’s joy. People, seek your pastors’ joy. Grow your joy in Jesus together.
Therefore, what this verse is pleading for is a kind of supernatural, Spirit-empowered community where the pastors are seeking their joy in God so that they can be an advantage to their people — that is, that their people might taste and see that the Lord is good — that he is indeed all-satisfying. That they might say with the psalmist in Psalm 43:4, “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy.”
And in this supernatural, Spirit-empowered community the people understand now that their soul, their life, is at stake in finding this same joy through the joyful ministry of their leaders. And so they seek to be joyfully responsive and submissive to their leaders, and to encourage them, and support them, and fan into flame, as much as they can, the Christ-exalting joy of their pastors.
And, yes, church, be obedient and submissive to Jason and the elders. They are not God, they are not infallible, their authority is not absolute, and therefore your submission to them is not absolute. Only God gets absolute obedience and submission. But this text is written on the assumption, and you have called your pastor on the assumption that he and the leaders of this church will be lifting up their Bible and speaking the word of God, not man.
Show your leaders that you want this more than anything, by being obedient and submissive to the that word. And when you do, their joy in God will overflow and it will come back to your advantage a hundred fold.
This kind of God-besotted, joy-filled community in the presence of loss and suffering, will be explosively attractive in these western suburbs. People are hungry for this. They are dying for this and they don’t know it. They don’t know they are made for joy in God, not things. Let them see it. And as God gives you grace, take it to the nations.