The Hebrew believers are admonished in this verse to be good sheep of Christ in relationship to the undershepherds whom He sends to feed and tend them! They are now the church which is outside of the gate of the city of the earthly Jerusalem. They are the church, who have gone outside of the gate, bearing Christ’s reproach.
But here outside of the gate the church needs shepherd-leaders whom the Lord of the church himself appoints, saying “feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17) These shepherds are to be watchful of the needs of the sheep; they must care for their souls. They are watchmen on the walls of Zion, and they are accountable to the Lord of the Church for their spiritual stewardship “as those who must give account.” And the members of the flock of God have the holy calling to submit to those who go before them with the ministry of the Word.
THE WATCHMEN IN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST (Hebrews 13:17)
The text does not speak directly of “watchmen”; rather the text speaks of your leaders. The KJV translates “Those who have the rule over you.” These are not, self-appointed rulers, usurpers of power, who lord it over the flock of God, as cruel thieves and robbers. (John 10:1-5) For such thieves and robbers do not enter into the fold by the door but climb in over the wall, to rob and to kill. These do not go in and out before the ‘flock finding green pastures for the sheep in the divine Scriptures. They are all sleeping dogs that do not bark at the approaching of the lurking enemies; they love to eat and slumber. (Isaiah 56:10, 11) They are blind watchmen and ignorant of the needs of the flock. However, the text speaks of leaders, who “watch for your souls.” And as such good watchmen they rule over the flock of God. For they have a God-given authority and calling to feed the flock of God over which the Holy Ghost has appointed them. (Acts 20:28) This flock God has purchased with His own blood. One day Christ will present the church to God as a spotless bride, without any blemishes of sin and guilt and shame. This church is the apple of God’s eye.
The “rulers” in the church are undershepherds of Christ, Who is the chief Shepherd. (I Peter 5:4) They are true underlings, under-rowers of Christ. (I Cor. 4:1) As such they are stewards of the mysteries of God. And it is sought in stewards that they be found faithful. That is the chief requirement which is sought in them. They must be faithful to their master to whom they are accountable. (I Cor. 4:4) For let it not be forgotten that Christ is the great preacher in the church. He died and arose again and sits at God’s right hand, and “he came and preached peace to those who are far and to those who are near.” (Ephesians 2:17) And when he sends preachers in the church and rulers these are some of the “gifts” which are graced upon the church by the risen Christ, Who is exceedingly high above all things, that He might fill all things. Hence, he gave to the church first apostles, then prophets and evangelists and shepherds and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:8-16)
Now the Hebrew believers are admonished to recognize these office-bearers in the seriousness of their office and work which was assigned to them by the Lord Himself. Sad to say, ever since the Hebrews were admonished it has been necessary to impress this truth upon the hearts of God’s children, early and late.
We should therefore also notice what is the lofty task of these watchmen appointed by the Lord over the flock of God!
THEY CARE FOR YOUR SOULS (Hebrews 13:17)
In order to understand a bit more what is implied in real Biblical soul-care, it will be necessary to study a bit the Scriptural teaching concerning the “soul” of the redeemed Christian. We are not primarily concerned about the soul of man in general, but our concern. is about the souls of the regenerated people of God, the man of God. This is important for the proper understanding of the care which the undershepherds must give to the flock. It is care for the flock of God, the souls of the redeemed in Christ. Our concern must be that these “souls” shall not be bowed down with grief, fear, and terror, but that the souls shall be joyful in the Lord. Had the writer not desired to speak specifically of “soul-care,” he could simply have written of the watch “over you.” The writer intends that the ministers and elders know that their task is not simply a general care, but it is a care for the souls of the flock.
The care that is here intended is what we would callspiritual-psychological care, and not what is calledphysical-pneumatical care. The latter, one can give outside of the camp of the true Israel of God. No one will deny that one’s body is deeply affected by the turmoil of a troubled soul. David cries out in Psalm 32:3 “. . . my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long, for day and night thy hand was heavy upon me; my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.” David’s body suffered much with the anguished conscience which needed to be sprinkled with the blood of sprinkling on the altar. That no one will deny, who reads the Scriptures and believes them. Nevertheless, David’s problem at bottom was spiritual, deeply, profoundly spiritual, and it affected his soul, his mind, will, and all his affections. It was a spiritual-psychologitial problem which needed the soul-care of the sound words of reproof that resounded in his ears from the lips of Nathan, the prophet, “Thou art the man!” (II Samuel 12:7) David needed the therapy of the Word of God which is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (II Tim. 3:16) He is called to repentance so that he writes a Psalm in the Holy Spirit which becomes the song of all who sin as did David, who in deep contrition cry to the Lord for the healing of their souls in the forgiveness of sins. It was through, the sound words (health affording words) that David once more has spiritual health, his soul is revived and is caused to experience that the High and Lofty One, Who inhabits eternity, Whose name is holy, dwells in the holy place, and with the humble and contrite of spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Isaiah 57:15) And David is given us as an example of the soul which needed care by a prophet watchman in Zion. And this prophet understood his calling as a watchman who cares for the souls as one who shall give account. Nathan’s care was deeply spiritual-psychological. He knew how to address the king. It was true, spiritual-psychological soul-care, and it was used by the Lord as His means to bring about the fruit of righteousness. To God be the glory both for the means and the fruit!
Perhaps it can serve some purpose to enlarge upon this teaching of Scripture just a bit. We will call attention particularly, to two passages here in the book of Hebrews and elicit from them what we believe to be sound teaching on this subject.
We call attention, first of all, to Hebrews 6:19, where we read, “which hope we have as an anchor or the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth mto that within the vail; whither the forerunner for us has entered, even Jesus, made an high priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.” Now what, to our mind, is striking here is that the writer in this portion refers to the soul in its spiritual relationship to Christ and to the blood of sprinkling in the holy place before God. The soul must not be tossed to and fro with all kinds of fear and doubts. For in the context this is not simply the soul of mankind in general, the mass of the damned, but it refers to those “who have fled for refuge to take hold upon the hope set before us”! That hope is the perfect salvation in the day of Christ. And this hope is anchored for us within the vail of the heavenly temple, where we can come to the throne of grace. (Hebrews 4:15, 16) This throws. light on the question of what is meant by “soul.” It is the soul of the redeemed saint, the children who walk in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham. The writer is addressing the sons of Abraham as they need to have assurance concerning the salvation as the “heirs of the promise.” And we should notice that soul-care is connected with the “Immutability of God’s counsel.” We must be assured that, when our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, we shall surely be saved. God promised this salvation of old, and he confirmed with an oath. Now we have “two immutable things” by which we have consolation with God. True soul-care needs to be caring for the soul, that it may have an “anchor within the holy place,” and must see in Jesus’ ascension the fulfillment of the promise. When the soul has this anchor high in the heavens, it may be a bit tempest tossed, but the anchor holds. And so the soul looks away from self to the promises of God. And all the pedagogy of the preaching and teaching of the watchmen must be such that it points away from self to the ever and abiding faithfulness of God.
Now it ill behooves us not to submit to such watchmen, rulers who care for our souls, as those who must give account.
The means which the watchmen use to care for our souls is the Word of God. This is underscored in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is quick (living) and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart.” Here too the writer speaks of the “soul” and does this in connection with the “spirit” and the “heart” with its thoughts and intents which are judged by the Lord. Now it ought to be evident that that “soul-care” here is connected with the preaching of the Word, and also is a matter of “laboring to enter into the rest.” Only when we labor to enter into the rest of God is our soul healthy in faith and love. And the Word of God is living and powerful and turns us inside out to ourselves. Yea, it pierces into our very bones and marrow. And, therefore, a good watchman will warn both the righteous and the wicked in the church of Christ. Thus was the mandate to Ezekiel 3:17, “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word of my mouth, and give them warning from me . . .” And the word that a watchman speaks in the name of the Lord pierces into the bones and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intent of the heart. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that the sheep of the flock submit to those who watch for their souls as they who must and shall give account in the day of Christ.