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(These notes are brief and not “tidied-up”.)

Hebrews 13:17 is often and easily abused passage. It has been more than once to justify lording over the congregation and making the pastor and other leaders beyond question.  However, that is not what it means.

Summary:

The congregation had been taught well (13:7), and the congregation should continue to follow in that path — even though it was difficult work (going outside the camp). Unfortunately, some new teaching had come (which the letter seeks to refute) which had upset the order in the church. The congregation is being told that they should not change their course, but continue to follow their leaders who were going in the same direction. As a further exhortation to follow their leaders, they are told that these leaders will be called upon to give an account for how they have guided the congregation.

There is no warrant to use this passage to mean that leaders are infallible. Christ is the head of the Church. Leaders have only the authority explicitly in the Scripture. They are to lead people to Christ, not to their own opinions. Understood rightly, there is no submission other than to Christ. There is no despotism or abuse in the passage.

Analysis:

Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)

17 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.

Standing alone, this sounds like a free-floating command that the elders are all little popes (or at least a counsel of popes). I have heard this defended with the claim that “Jesus rules the church through his elders.”  The argument, played out is
Jesus rules through elders

Therefore, whatever elders say is what Jesus commands.

This, of course, is the divine right of kings. We could call this the divine right of elders.

It is also a defective sort of sovereignty argument: God is sovereign over all things, but that does not mean that all things are “God’s will”. See John Piper’s “Are There Two Wills in God?”

The argument also proves too much: God is sovereign over everything. God is sovereign over the Red Sea, the insects of Egypt, Balaam’s ass, foreign rulers who attack Israel, the death of Christ:

Acts 2:22–24 (ESV)

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Paul says in Romans 13:1 that God has instituted all governments. When you combine these two elements, you cannot conclude that, since God appoints governments all acts of governments are “God’s will” in the sense that God approves. The murder of Christ, which took place according to God’s plan, was sinful (“the hands of lawless men”).

The same applies for a man who has been appointed a leader in the Church. Just holding an office — even if we say God put him in place (because that applies to everything) — does not mean that everything one does with the office is morally correct.

The second problem with the divine right of elders is that wrenches the verse from its context.

notes:

The first word “obey” is a word that also means “be persuaded”.

The author’s concern is that the community “trust” (peithesthe) and “obey” (hypeikete) their leaders. I take the verb peithō in the passive imperative to mean “depend on” or “put trust” in someone (see also Heb 2:13; 6:9), in order to relieve what otherwise would be a redundancy, since hypeikō—found only here in the New Testament—means to give way or submit to someone (Homer, Od. 12.117; Plato, Laws 717D; Philo, Life of Moses 1.156; 4 Macc 6:35).

Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary, ed. C. Clifton Black, M. Eugene Boring, and John T. Carroll, 1st ed., The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 350–351.

The idea is that they are convincing. The obedience is not enforced slavery.  The word submission means to be orderly. Lenski explains the pair as follows:

“Obey and yield.” One obeys when one agrees with what he is told to do, is persuaded of its correctness and profitableness; one yields, gives up, when he has a contrary opinion.

  1. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James (Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1938), 490.

There are two things here: Is this a blanket command to do anything someone says who is an “elder?”  Second, what is the purpose of this command. I will take the second question first.

The real thrust of the verse is on the purpose: On Judgment Day, the elders will have to give an account to the Lord for how they have done their work. Since these men will be called to account by the Lord himself (“How have you treated my sheep?”), the writer of Hebrews is asking them to not make the elders’ life even more painful. Some people are needlessly difficult — don’t be one of those people.

logical dependence of these clauses is variously exhibited by different interpreters. It is simplest and best to understand all that follows the injunction as reason for it: ‘Obey your spiritual rulers, for they watch over your souls, &c. (Again, obey your spiritual rulers) in order that they may give their account of you with joy, and not groaning; (and obey your spiritual rulers) for such a sorrowful reckoning for your souls were unprofitable for you.’

Francis S. Sampson, A Critical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. Robert L. Dabney (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1856), 471–472.

The emphatic pronoun [they] serves to bring out the personal obligation of the rulers with which the loyal obedience of the ruled corresponded; for they, and no other … Comp. James 2:6 f.; 1 Thess. 1:9; Matt. 5:3 ff. The image in ἀγρυπνοῦσιν ὑ. τ. ψ. is that of the ‘watchmen’ in the O. T.: Is. 62:6; Ezek. 3:17.

Brooke Foss Westcott, ed., The Epistle to the Hebrews the Greek Text with Notes and Essays, 3d ed., Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1903), 446.

Rightly understood, this is one of the most frightening verses in the Bible for a church leader. (This is the sort of thing Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 3 when he speaks of one’s work being burnt up.) The necessity of giving an account is one of the primary reasons for church membership (by the way). A leader who has a good and right fear of giving an account would never abuse the authority nor mistreat the sheep.

Now what is the scope of the elder’s authority.  The rest of the context matters a great deal. Look up above:

Hebrews 13:7 (ESV)

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

There were leaders who started this congregation and set it in a good path.  The “leadership” of the elder pertains to what they teach: Their job is to teach you the Bible and to model godliness. They are going to give an account for how well they teach the Bible and model godliness: Remember that Jesus gave only one command to the Church: makes disciples. We make disciples by what we teach and how we live.

The elder’s authority is solely what is in the Bible, no more or less. That means if the elder says something, he can only repeat what God has already said. If God says X, then we must submit. If an elder has an opinion, that’s nice but it is not a command.

To obey them. (Ver. 17.) The spiritual government of the Church is an ordinance of Christ, and a means of grace to his people. It is not, however, a despotic government. Pastors and presbyters are simply to administer the Law of Christ. They may not demand submission to what is based only upon their own will or caprice. But, within the limits of their rightful authority, they are to be honoured and obeyed.

D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., Hebrews, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 403.

Jay Adams makes this point with respect to counseling:

Counselors, who exercise the authority of God, are not authorities in their own right. Although they must use the authority vested in them by God, they must not exceed the biblical limits of that authority. Nor by their authority may they conflict with the valid God-given authority of the state or the home. Counselors who advise illegal acts or who teach children to dishonor parents violate God’s authority rather than act according to it.

Nouthetic counseling is subject to the directives of the Bible and is not a law to itself. It is counseling that uses (and does not exceed) the authority of God. Therefore, it is neither arbitrary nor oppressive. Nouthetic counselors must learn to distinguish clearly between good advice that they think grows out of biblical principles and those principles themselves. The latter (“You have no grounds for divorce; it would be sin!”) they may enforce with the utmost authority; the former (“Why not set up a conference table in order to begin to learn how to speak the truth in love?”) they must present with more caution. It is possible that one’s deductions from scriptural principles may be false. The counselor must always allow such deductions to remain open for question by the counselee in a way that he cannot allow a plain commandment of God to be questioned. A conference table may be useful, may grow out of biblical principles, but cannot be commanded; speaking the truth in love must be.

Jay Edward Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), 16.

Thus the counselor’s authority at every point is limited by the Bible itself.

Jay Edward Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resource Library, 1986), 19.

This makes a tremendous difference. The ministry of the Word in counseling, as a result, is totally unlike counseling in any other system because of its authoritative base. This authoritative character stems, of course, from the doctrine of inerrancy. If the Bible were shot through with human error, and were no more dependable than any other composition—if it were not a God-breathed revelation—this note of authority would give way to opinion.6 But, because the Bible is inerrant, there is authority.
This authority must not be confused with authoritarianism.

Jay Edward Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resource Library, 1986), 18.

Thus, when elders decide to take out a loan, change a time for a meeting, pave the parking lot, or any number of other things, they are expressing opinions. When they read the Scripture and say, You can’t commit adultery, they are repeating God. This distinction must be maintained.

In the space between Hebrews 13:7 and 17 we read something which, at first, may seem to be on a different subject:

Hebrews 13:7–17 (ESV)

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

17 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.

But let us consider this a bit more: The Christians are being called to go outside the camp, to bear reproach. The leaders are those who are taking them to this place, who teaching, guiding, protecting (they are being “shepherds”, which rightly understood is a terrifying and difficult task). This instruction is, “There are faithful men who do not sleep as they seek to care for your souls. They wake and pray while you sleep; they teach what you do not know; they chase off the wolves and find a safe space to rest. Follow them, because they are doing you good.

Lane (and other commentators) note the concern about “strange teaching”. There was something which has invaded the church, something has gone wrong since the former leaders had taught them. There was a conflict in the church about how to proceed. Do they follow the old teachers or do they follow this new teaching? Hebrews says stay in the old paths, follow the same teaching:

The tenor of the passage is clear. The word that the former leaders proclaimed is now threatened by teaching that is inconsistent with the message the community received. The “various strange teachings” competing for their attention are incompatible with the original, always valid, instruction delivered by the founding fathers of the community (vv 7–8). Foreign teaching and the grace of God mediated through the new covenant are mutually exclusive.

William L. Lane, Hebrews 9–13, vol. 47B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 530–531.

The reason for obedience:

The reason for the obedience is introduced by gar which is left untranslated in the NIV: “[for] they keep watch over you.” The Greek pronoun autoi, “they,” is overtly used by the author in its clause initial position for emphasis. The sense is “they themselves and none other.” This serves to place emphasis on the authority of the leaders. The implied predicate of “submit” may be the direct object “yourselves”712 or an indirect object “to them.”713 Lane and the NIV supply “to their authority” as the indirect object.714 The verb translated “keep watch” implies constant vigilance, wakefulness, or sleeplessness. It is used in Mark 13:33 and Luke 21:36 meaning “to be vigilant in awareness of threatening peril.” Here and in Eph 6:18 it connotes “to be alertly concerned about.”715 The shepherding aspect of pastoral duty seems to be implied in this verb, and this is supported by the author’s reference to Jesus the great Shepherd of the sheep in the benediction in v. 20. The NIV renders the Greek “souls” as “you.” Lane, following Michel, wrongly interpreted “souls” here to be a reference to the eternal life of the readers.716 It is better to take it as referencing their “spiritual well-being,”717 or as simply referring to them as persons.

David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 624–625.

Ἀγρυπνέω: first literally, then as here metaphorically “keep watch” (Eph. 6:18; Ep. Diog. 5:2; Barn. 20:2; MM; Bauer 2). The image of a shepherd is implied, thus indirectly in v. 20 their subordination to Jesus, the great or chief shepherd. As very widely in the biblical tradition, rule and caring are joined (Vanhoye 1980.256–259; Laub 1981–82).

Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993), 723.

Now, that does not automatically mean that every man with the title is a true leader. It is only to the extent that the leader is following Christ that one follows the leader. As Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 11:1 (ESV)

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

This command must also be read in the context of all other instructions: Jesus, Peter, John & Paul all have only one common command for leaders: do not lord it over Jesus’ sheep.

An elder’s authority is not based upon his having a title — he is a true elder before God only to the extent he is qualified to the job. A man who is lording it over others is not “really” an elder no matter what he calls himself.

Therefore, rightly understood, the submission of Hebrews 13:17 is only a submission to Christ, because the elder only has derivative authority.

The text also ties with the following material:

Nevertheless, I consider this exhortation to be more closely related thematically to the closing material, which gives considerable attention to the leadership figures to whom the addressees ought to be looking for guidance and for the ascription of honor or censure—local leaders (13:17, 24), the author and his team (13:18–19, 22), God (13:20–21), and Timothy (13:23). These are the figures whose opinions should influence the addressees: the local leaders will “give an account” of the people with whose spiritual growth they have been charged (13:17); the benediction reminds the hearers a final time of the central importance of “pleasing God,” assuring them that God is working in them to produce those qualities and fruits that please him (13:20–21); the author and Timothy both expect to visit the hearers in the immediate future, when they will affirm the faithful and censure the wavering in person (13:19, 23) and discover and reinforce the effects of the written sermon delivered in advance of their impending visit:

David A. deSilva, Perseverance in Gratitude: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle “to the Hebrews” (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), 508.

 

Hebrews 13:17–25 (ESV)

17 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.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.

20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

22 I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. 24 Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with all of you.

Again, the emphasis is upon the movement, the task: there is an emphasis on the ultimate end and the difficulty of the work.

By the way, the Corinthian elders abused Paul (2 Cor. 11). The Apostle John was abused by a church elder (3 John).

Here are some commentators’ remarks:

Obey them, etc. I doubt not but that he speaks of pastors and other rulers of the Church, for there were then no Christian magistrates; and what follows, for they watch for your souls, properly belongs to spiritual government. He commands first obedience and then honor to be rendered to them.These two things are necessarily required, so that the people might have confidence in their pastors, and also reverence for them. But it ought at the same time to be noticed that the Apostle speaks only of those who faithfully performed their office; for they who have nothing but the title, nay, who use the title of pastors for the purpose of destroying the Church, deserve but little reverence and still less confidence. And this also is what the Apostle plainly sets forth when he says, that they watched for their souls, — a duty which is not performed but by those who are faithful rulers, and are really what they are called.

 John Calvin, Hebrews, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Heb 13:17.

Starke:—The teachers of the church, are leaders, conductors, guides; they must therefore so point the way to blessedness, as themselves to lead the way therein, and conduct their hearers to blessedness, not only with their doctrine, but also by their life and example (Phil. 3:17; 1 Pet. 5:3).—It is one of the hidden ways of God that upright teachers of whom there are so few, and to whose preparation so much belongs, are removed by an early death. Disciples who have such teachers should follow them faithfully be times, and hold them as all the dearer and more worthy (1 Thess. 5:12, 13; Isa. 57:1, 2).—Righteous, faithful teachers shine in life and in death. Happy they who dwell in memory, upon their holy walk, and edifying death, and thus secure their own preparation for a future blessed departure (Matt. 5:14 ff.).

John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Hebrews (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 217.

Loyalty and obedience to the leaders of the church, as those charged with responsibility for the brethren, is enjoined. Them that have the rule over you. Better, your leaders. The officers of the congregation are probably meant. Cf. vs. 7, where former leaders are mentioned. They watch. Suggesting the watchfulness of a shepherd or a sentinel. This responsible and arduous service should call forth a ready response in obedience and devotion. That they may do this with joy, and not with grief. Better, groaning. Do not thwart their efforts and make their burdens still heavier by disobedience. This were unprofitable. Disobedience and wilfulness will not only disappoint their efforts, but bring disaster upon you as well.

Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. Shailer Mathews, The Bible for Home and School (New York: Macmillan Co., 1908), 121.

Our author evidently has as much confidence in the present leaders as in their predecessors. Perhaps they were leaders in the wider city church from whose fellowship and jurisdiction the group addressed in the epistle was tempted to withdraw. At any rate, the leaders carried a weighty responsibility; they were accountable for the spiritual well-being of those placed in their care. No wonder they lost sleep101 over this responsibility—for the “watching” could well involve this as well as general vigilance—if some of their flock were in danger of straying beyond their control. The readers are invited to cooperate with their leaders, to make their responsible task easier for them, so that they could discharge it joyfully and not with sorrow.102 The idea is on the same lines as Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian Christians to lead such lives in this world “that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain”103 (Phil. 2:16).

101 Gk. ἀγρυπνέω, “keep watch,” has the etymological sense of chasing away sleep.

102 Gk. στενάζοντες, “groaning.” Moffatt (ICC, ad loc.) quotes Sir Edward Denny’s lines:

O give us hearts to love like Thee,

Like Thee, O Lord, to grieve

Far more for others’ sins than all

The wrongs that we receive.

103 Cf. 1 Thess. 2:19f.

F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 385.

As the section began (ver. 7) so it ends, with mention of their leaders. Then they were bidden to remember those who had passed away: now they are to be obedient to the injunctions and tractable to the wishes of their successors. Sleepless, as the shepherd when the wolf is prowling round the fold, such is the phrase which describes their watch for souls; and as the Church is thus exhorted, surely they themselves are searched and stirred. They must give account. Ezekiel’s denunciation of the evil shepherds, and our Lord’s of the hireling, both will apply to them if they are faithless (Ezek. 34:7–10; John 10:10–12). Nay, the flock must suffer if their watch, though vigilant, be joyless and discouraged, through their wilfulness. But a congregation, a parish, is often far more responsible than it suspects for a dull and ineffective pastorate. And then it suffers the penalty in its own spiritual shortcoming: ‘Unprofitable were that for you!’ Now who can read a passage like this, and doubt the scriptural foundation for a stated and authoritative ministry? We obey them as we obey our parents and governors. But as our submission to a sovereign or a father is not absolute, but only while it does not clash with our obedience to Christ, so it is with these: obedience is due to them ‘in the Lord.’

A. Chadwick, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Devotional Commentary, ed. A. R. Buckland, Third Edition., A Devotional Commentary (London: Religious Tract Society, n.d.), 223–224.

TEACHERS and rulers* are again recognized, and the Hebrews are exhorted to obey them, and to yield themselves to their teaching and rule, to adapt themselves to their peculiarities, and to carry out their wishes and arrangements with a willing mind; for therein God is honoured, and the welfare of the congregation promoted. Ministers watch for your souls as they that must give account of their stewardship. Their responsibility towards God is great; their labour towards you is incessant and anxious. You may well meet them with confidence and a plastic mind, trusting that their counsels are the result of thought, prayer, and experience. Nothing discourages a minister more than the want of response on the part of Christians to his advice, entreaty, and plans. He returns from his work to God, not with joy, but with sighs and tears, with complaints and grief. “This is unprofitable for the people.” They only hinder and retard the blessing which would otherwise come to their hearts, homes, and neighbourhood.

* Verses 7 and 17 show that there was a stated ministry, that there were recognised and regular teachers and pastors in the congregation, whose gifts not only, but whose office was acknowledged. Adolph Saphir, The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Exposition & II, vol. 1 (New York: Gospel Publishing House, 1902), 879–880.

Verse 17. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, etc. The import of the phrase, τοῖς ἡγουμένοις ὑμῶν, “your leaders,” or “rulers,” which the Apostle again uses to designate the pastors of the Hebrew Christians, has been explained in the note on verse 7. It is, as we have seen, a very suggestive phrase, indicating the position and duties of those who stand at the head of the Churches.—Dean Alford has correctly marked the difference between the two verbs employed in the first clause, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves,”—that the former refers to the cheerful following of their instructions, and the latter to a dutiful yielding in cases in which personal inclination or preference might be interfered with.—This exhortation is enforced by the consideration of the solemn responsibility which rests on Christian pastors. They have to “watch over the souls” of their people,—to maintain a constant, and, as it were, a sleepless, regard to everything that would affect their safety or impede their growth in holiness, and to strive, in every possible way, to lead them onward in the path of life and peace. And for the faithful execution of this trust they are responsible to the Lord Jesus. Before them lies an “account,” to be rendered to Him who has bought His people with His own blood; and the anticipation of this may well incite them to diligence and fidelity.—The latter part of the verse, “that they may do this with joy, and not with grief,” or, more literally, “that with joy they may do this, and not lamenting,” must be understood as referring not to the final rendering of their account to Christ, but to their present watchful care over their people. And the sentiment which is thus brought out is very impressive and beautiful. The Apostle exhorts the believing Hebrews to follow the instructions of those who stood at their head, and sought, with sleepless vigilance, to promote their spiritual interests, and even to yield to them in some things which might cross their own inclinations; in order that the exercise of this pastoral care, in itself so laborious, and involving a responsibility which might well oppress the strongest mind, might be rendered a matter of joy, and not be connected with deep and constant sorrow. “For this,” he adds, “is unprofitable for you.” If a pastor’s heart is grieved and wounded by the conduct of his people, he will not be able to contribute, as he might otherwise have done, to their edification and establishment; and thus the Church will lose the full benefit which was intended to result from the appointment of the Christian ministry.

Henry W. Williams, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1871), 423–424.

The author is concerned that the listeners put their confidence in them and submit to their authority. The first verb means to put one’s trust in someone (2:13; 6:9), while the second, which occurs only here in the New Testament, is stronger and means ‘to give way, yield or submit to someone’ (usually in authority).155 In response to this exhortation the listeners will adhere to the word of God that their leaders speak and follow their direction rather than revert to Jewish ways of thinking or be influenced by other strange teachings (13:9).

The rationale for this appeal is ‘because they keep watch over your souls’. Hebrews recognizes that the whole community is summoned to be watchful against sin and bitterness and to care for others through encouragement and exhortation (note 3:12–13; 12:15). But leaders have a special, God-given responsibility156 to do this. The verb ‘keep watch’ means ‘to go sleepless’, and from the literal meaning it takes on the sense of being alert or watchful (Mark 13:33; Luke 21:36; Eph. 6:18).157 Godly leaders are diligent and tireless. They look after the lives of all in their care, but particularly those who are negligent or prone to spiritual laziness, or who fail to recognize the importance of fellowship with other believers (2:3; 5:11; 6:12; 10:25).158 As leaders watch over the souls of others, they will strengthen the hope that anchors the soul to heaven (6:19), and foster the perseverance that leads to salvation (lit. ‘to the preservation of the soul’, 10:39).159

Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 529.