This concluding chapter of the book of Hebrews contains some very practical guidelines for members of all churches everywhere. These principles, which ought to be taught to every new believer and every new church member, deal with two issues: love and leadership.
“Brotherly love” (v.1) is that special kind of affection that is unique to believers. It is a by-product of the self-sacrificial love of Jesus that held Him to the cross and is expressed in saving grace. It is stated in family terms (“brotherly”) because it characterizes the way we treat each other in the family of God. This love is more than a feeling; it is the driving force behind the tangible actions that set the church apart. We show that love to strangers because we remember what it was like to be taken in by the love of Christ when we were strangers to grace (v.2). (Note: the original readers of this letter, being Jews, would remember when two of their heroes mentioned in chapter 11, Abraham and Gideon, had “entertained angels” without realizing it. The point is not to be on “angel alert”, but to express love by showing hospitality to anyone God sends your way. He might be testing the sincerity of your brotherly love.)
Another way that love is expressed is in prison ministry. The original readers of this letter probably had friends and fellow church members who were imprisoned for their faith. A letter, a visit, or a gift would assure them that they were not forgotten by the rest of “the body” (v.3). True Christian love should also be expressed in the home, as married couples love each other unselfishly and guard the purity and fidelity of their relationship. The author mentions one thing we should never love: money (v.5). When you love money, it never loves you back — it enslaves you and often deserts you. But when you love Jesus, He sets you free and never leaves you! When we learn to be content in Him, we can face the future fearlessly (v.6).
In verse 7 the subject changes to leadership. It is helpful to remember that the author was writing from a Jewish perspective to Jewish readers. They were used to following the leadership of priests and rabbis in the synagogue and the temple, but now they were being led by pastors in the church. Pastors are imperfect men, sinners saved by the grace of God, but they have a special assignment from Jesus to do three things. First, pastors preach and teach the Word of God, backed up by a life of integrity and faithfulness (v.7). It is true that the most important sermon the pastor ever preaches is his life.
Second, pastors lead the evangelism, discipleship, and ministry efforts of the church (v.17). When God appoints leaders to churches, the implication is that the members should follow that pastor’s lead. The words “obey” and “submit” are intentionally strong, for they speak to the importance of the church’s mission and the necessity of a unified ministry. Members who resist the pastor’s leadership often do so because of a past experience with a pastor who led poorly or led members astray (but that doesn’t make it right). Such was the case with the original readers of Hebrews, who had dealt with some false teachers who tried to lead them into “strange teachings” that would pull them back into Jewish legalism (v.9). The answer was to follow Jesus first, the ultimate Leader who is always trustworthy (v.8), and then to follow pastors who follow Jesus and are faithful to His Word.
Third, pastors are to “keep watch over the souls” of church members (v.17). Pastors are the gatekeepers of the doctrinal integrity of the church, the guardians of truth. They are to watch to see if members are being led into error, which can be destructive and divisive. Pastors are to take seriously their ministry as shepherds, caring for hurting sheep, going after wandering sheep, and feeding all the sheep. As a pastor, one day I will have to answer to God for how well I led. I will give an account, a report to the “Great Shepherd” (v.20) about the spiritual condition of the sheep under my care and how well I led them to impact lostness with the gospel. Like the author of Hebrews, I ask for your prayers as I do that (v.18). I want to lead honorably (v.18), do the Lord’s will (v.21), please Him in everything, and give glory to the Lord Jesus.