What would you like your gravestone to say? What is the final thing you would like to have said about you at your death? Now granted that is not something you give a lot of thought to, but what would you like to have written there? Perhaps a number of things come to mind. Dr. James Dobson’s father’s gravestone has the simple words, “He prayed” on it; that says a lot. My father’s gravestone has those beautiful words from Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” That is the hope and confidence of the resurrection. So what would you like yours to say?
Here is one for you to consider: “His life was imitated by all who knew him.” Or how about this: “Her life was a model and example for everyone to follow.” Those are pretty strong statements aren’t they? Everything you do and say was worth imitating. I mean, we may be pretty good people but we don’t live the kind of life that should be imitated by anyone! But that is what the passage that we read this morning is in fact saying with respect to leaders in that church. Leaders are to live the kind of life that we should be imitating. Let’s read Hebrews 13:1-8.
I. We are to imitate the leaders. Who are the leaders?
Some think that these leaders were the founding fathers of this church who are now dead. What must be remembered about these leaders is the “outcome of their way of life.” This refers to the way in which they lived their lives, but the phrase is also used to refer to the end of one’s life on earth. These leaders both lived and died in their faith. And the author to the Hebrews encourages his readers to seriously reflect on these leaders who have now finished their earthly service. This means that a leader’s work has implications that reach far beyond our time on earth.
II. What is the responsibility of the leaders? It covers two main areas.
First, the leaders must speak the Word of God. Let me ask you something: Are preachers the only ones who speak God’s Word? Perhaps those of you who are leaders do not preach, but in many ways you still speak the word of God to those in your care. Don’t elders speak the word of God when they conduct family visiting and offer comfort and encouragement to those under their care? Don’t deacons speak the Word of God as well as they tend to the needs of the hurting and distressed? Leaders, be keenly aware of the words you speak as leaders of these people. Are they words that are based on and illuminate what God’s Word says? Are they words that people may look back on some years later and say that they benefitted greatly from the words you spoke? You leaders are influencing people much more than what you realize by what you say.
The second area that leaders must be aware of is their lifestyle. The Hebrews are to consider the outcome of the way of their leader’s lives. The way leaders live their lives has a great impact on others in the church. Leslie Flynn in “Dare to Care Like Jesus” tells the following story: “A Christian woman, living in Nairobi, Kenya, told of a young Kenyan who was employed as her houseboy but who had decided to work for someone else. The woman, not wishing the houseboy to leave just when he had learned the routine of the household, offered to increase his pay. The young man replied that he was not leaving for higher pay. Rather, he had decided he would become either a Christian or a Muslim. He had come to work for the woman for three months to see how Christians acted. Now he wanted to work for 3 months for the Muslim to observe the ways of the Muslims. Then he would decide which way of life he would follow. The Christian woman was stunned as she remembered her many mistakes in her dealings with the young man. She exclaimed, ‘Why didn’t you tell me at the beginning?!’”
Leaders, make sure you live your life in a way that can be imitated. What the church needs today are leaders who are living out the Word of God in their lives so that others can see this and imitate them. Now that is a scary thought for leaders, isn’t it? How can the life of a leader be held up as a pattern for others to follow? The key word in this verse is faith. People need to see how the Christian faith makes a difference in life. It makes a difference in the way you do your business. It makes a difference in the way you handle problems. Faith means that when you make a mistake as a leader, you know how to handle it by confessing and repenting. When people look at leaders, they should see faith at work! How? We will see how after we look at the responsibilities of believers.
III. What about the responsibility of believers?
First of all Christians are to remember their leaders. And they are to take their leaders seriously as they remember them. What is your attitude to the leaders of the church? I suspect that often we feel indifferent toward them than remembering them. Remember your leaders because their words and deeds are worth remembering.
And consider the outcome of their way of life. In other words, look closely at what they are saying and doing. Listen to them carefully and learn from them. Watch carefully how they live and act and think about that as well. Now in one sense we do that quite well. We study their lives and see the inconsistencies and mistakes they make. We are more than willing to point those things out. But the reason for considering their lives is so that we can imitate their faith. So how can we do this? By looking at and accepting the truth of verse 8!
Verse 8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” One problem with church leaders is that they are prone to temptation and sin. But the Christian faith is not one that relies solely on leaders. And so while we have leaders that we can imitate, we have the perfect and changeless example of Jesus that we can follow without fear of being misled. Another problem with leaders is that, being human, they also will die. And once they die, even if their teaching and memorable examples remain on, they are not available for consultation and assistance.
For example, if you were to go through my library in my office you would find many books from the pastor I had when I was growing up, Rev. Marinus Goote. He often greatly encouraged me as I went through seminary. However, he has been dead now for over 20 years and so I can’t write him or talk to him anymore. But Jesus is alive and is always there to go to in our needs and to receive his help. His example and influence are things that will never go away.
Jesus is also with us as he was with the readers of Hebrews: yesterday, today and forever. In the great yesterday, he died for us on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. Today, he is in heaven helping us. He actively listens and helps all of his people in their needs. And he lives forever and will someday return for those who are eagerly awaiting Him. Jesus lives on forever and his work is irreplaceable and unchanging. And that is the key to the success of any church. It is important to have good and efficient, Spirit-led leaders. It is important to listen to the leaders as they bring the Word of God to us. It is important to have these people as models for us to follow. And it is important for people to listen and follow the example the leaders provide for them. But the key for all of us is to follow Jesus’ example in all our lives.
Leaders you are reflecting the light of Jesus into the world of these people here. Speak, act and live in such a way that people see it and are reminded that it is Jesus who is causing you to shine so that it makes a difference in people’s lives. Will your service be remembered? What might your tombstone say? “His or her life and faith were imitated by all.”
And I challenge you people of this church to heed these leaders. Pray for them and support them in their work. Imitate the way their faith works out in their lives. But above all, I challenge all of us in this year to focus our eyes firmly on Jesus who does not change, who is the same yesterday, today and forever.