Obey them that have the rule over you - Margin, guide; see notes on Hebrews 13:7. The reference here is to their religious teachers, and not to civil rulers. They were to show them proper respect, and to submit to their authority in the church, so far as it was administered in accordance with the precepts of the Saviour. The obligation to obedience does not, of course, extend to anything which is wrong in itself, or which would be a violation of conscience. The doctrine is, that subordination is necessary to the welfare of the church, and that there ought to be a disposition to yield all proper obedience to those who are set over us in the Lord; compare notes on I Thessalonians 5:12-13.
And submit yourselves - That is, to all which they enjoin that is lawful and right. There are in relation to a society:
(1)Those things which God has positively commanded - which are always to be obeyed.
(2)Many things which have been agreed on by the society as needful for its welfare - and these are to be submitted to unless they violate the rights of conscience; and
(3)Many things which are in themselves a matter of no express divine command, and of no formal enactment by the community. They are matters of convenience; things that tend to the order and harmony of the community, and of the propriety of these, "rulers" in the church and elsewhere should be allowed to judge, and we should submit to them patiently.
Hence, in the church we are to submit to all the proper regulations for conducting public worship; for the promotion of religion; and for the administration of discipline.
For they watch for your souls - They have no selfish aim in this. They do not seek "to lord it over God' s heritage." It is for your own good that they do this, and you should therefore submit to these arrangements. And this shows also the true principle on which authority should be exercised in a church. It should be in such a way as to promote the salvation of the people; and all the arrangements should be with that end. The measures adopted, therefore, and the obedience enjoined, should not be arbitrary, oppressive, or severe, but should be such as will really promote salvation.
As they that must give account - To God. The ministers of religion must give account to God for their fidelity. For all that they teach, and for every measure which they adopt, they must soon be called into judgment. There is, therefore, the best security that under the influence of this solemn truth they will pursue only that course which will be for your good.
That they may do it with joy, and not with grief - Greek ̀ ́ mē stenazontes - not sighing, or groaning; as they would who had been unsuccessful. The meaning is, that they should so obey, that when their teachers came to give up their account they need not do it with sorrow over their perverseness and disobedience.
For this is unprofitable for you - That is, their giving up their account in that manner - as unsuccessful in their efforts to save you - would not be of advantage to you, but would be highly injurious. This is a strong mode of expressing the idea that it must be attended with eminent peril to their souls to have their religious teachers go and give an account against them. As they would wish, therefore, to avoid that, they should render to them all proper honor and obedience.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing Hebrews 13:17:
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