Those Who Led You

Series: Better: A Study of the Christian Life in Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Oct 13, 2013

Hebrews 13:7

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If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 13.  We’re going to be looking today at just verse 7.  This might be called, “Finishing-Well Sunday.”  I was telling the elders just before we came in that by my calculations I’ve been able to have the privilege of serving the Lord’s Supper in this congregation along with them 137 times in the last seventeen years.  And this will be my 138th and last as your pastor, though I trust the Lord will give us many opportunities to commune together in the years to come.  And one of our ruling elders emeritus said to me a few weeks ago, “Ligon, sometime in your last few months with us would you preach on finishing well?”  Well that’s actually the topic of Hebrews 13:7 and it’s also going to be the topic of my message tonight from 2 Timothy chapter 4 verses 6 to 22 - “How Faithfulness Looks at the End.”  How do you finish well?  Paul shows us tonight; the author of Hebrews is showing us today.  How does a Christian finish well?  How do you live the Christian life all the way to the end and cross the finish line?  That’s the topic of the message today.  

And as we read God’s Word in this one little verse, I want you to be on the lookout for three things.  There are actually three exhortations in this one little verse.  The first exhortation is - remember.  The second exhortation is - consider.  The third exhortation is - imitate.  Or so that rhymes, I’m going to say it this way - Continue to remember, consider the result, and copy the faith.  So be on the lookout for those as we read God’s Word.  And let’s ask His blessing in prayer before we do so.  

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word.  We thank You for it.  We ask that You would open our eyes to understand it, to believe it, and to live it out.  We pray, Heavenly Father, that You would build us up in grace, by Your Spirit, through the Word, and that we would receive the Word for what it is - not the words of men but the very Word of God.  This we ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

This is God’s Word.  Hear it in Hebrews 13:7:

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

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.  May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Our Leaders: Examples to help us persevere in the Christian Life

The author of Hebrews is telling us in this little verse how to finish well.  He’s telling us something that will significantly aid us in persevering in the Christian life.  You will remember in this book that has so often focused us on the theme that Jesus is better, that one of the prevailing pastoral concerns that the author of Hebrews has is that we would keep on believing, that we would keep on believing in Jesus, that we would persevere in the faith, that we would endure to the end.  And the older you get in the Christian life, the more that exhortation makes sense, because the Christian life doesn’t necessarily get easier as you go on.  New challenges arise that you’ve never encountered before.  Old challenges return with new intensity.  Discouragements can surround you and even into your own heart.  And in that context the author of Hebrews wants to give us Biblical encouragement for persevering to the end, for enduring to the end, for crossing the finish line.  And here’s what he says.  He says that he wants us to do three things - Remember, consider, and imitate the Bible-speaking, faith-fueled living, and finish line-crossing godly Christian leaders who’ve led us in the faith and who have now finished the race.  Did you get that?  All of that is in there.  It’s right there in verse 7.  He wants you to remember, consider, and imitate the Bible-speaking - “they spoke to you the Word of God;” the faith-fueled living - “consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith;” and finish line-crossing - “the outcome of their faith.”  The Bible-speaking, faith-fueled living, finish line-crossing godly Christian leaders who led you in the faith and who have now finished the race.  In other words, in order to encourage you to cross the finish line, look to the leaders who led you with the Word of God and they have crossed the finish line.  Look at their lives, look at what they believed, look at how they lived, look at how they finished, and be encouraged and copy them, imitate them.  

I. Continue to Remember 

So let’s break that apart and look at three things in this passage.  The first thing is for us to continue to remember.  Look at the first part of verse 7.  “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.”  He is exhorting us to continue to remember our faithful shepherds who preached the Bible to us.  We are here being called to a proper regard for and ongoing remembrance of those who first instructed us in the faith.  They are here styled, “those who led,” that is, spiritual shepherds, leaders, pastors.  And I want you to note four things about them.  First of all, they faithfully exercised the ministry of the Word.  Look at the language.  “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.”  Their ministry was not their own ideas, their own opinions; it was the Word of God.  They were teaching you the Bible.  Secondly, they lived consistently with their faith - “consider the outcome of their way of life.”  They practiced what they preached.  Third, they were personally known to the congregation.  He says, “Remember them.”  Now you can’t remember somebody that you never knew.  So the very fact that he says “remember” means that you had a personal relationship with them.  And then fourth, notice they’ve already finished their course on earth, faith intact.  Maybe that means not just that they’ve moved on to plant another church; maybe it means they’ve already been translated to glory; they’ve gone home to be with Jesus.  

And notice, by the way, my friends, he doesn’t say, “Remember your leader.”  He says, “Remember your leaders.”   You know we live in a day and age of Christian personality cults where Christians will follow one figure and that one figure will be your spiritual hero, your spiritual leader.  Notice it’s not “Remember your leader.”  It’s, “Remember your leaders.”  I serve here with nine other ministers and seventy-something elders, and I love the fact that you are encouraged to follow your leaders.  First Presbyterian Church has never been built on one man, even though the Lord has faithfully given us for 175 years plus, godly pastors to preach the Word of God.  First Presbyterian Church has had a succession of faithful leaders.  And here, just like that, in Hebrews chapter 13 verse 7, we’re called to remember our leaders.  And the present tense of that exhortation, “remember,” indicates that we’re to continue to remember.  We are to remember with affection and thanksgiving.  We are to continue to learn from them.

A Legacy of Godly Leadership

And so I want to pause and I want to speak about three leaders that the Lord has given this church - John Reed Miller, Don Patterson, and Jim Baird.  Their ministries started sixty-two years ago.  Reed Miller was called by this congregation in 1951, had probably preached a little in this church in 1951, came in 1952 as the minister.  And the interesting this is, I knew all three of my predecessors.  I knew them.  I didn’t just know about them; I knew them.  That’s a real blessing.  Now that’s not the usual in a church where pastors are there for two or three years and then they’re gone, but in a church where the ministry of those three men stretched back sixty-two years, that’s pretty interesting.  The interesting thing is, by the way, there are people sitting right in front of me, and maybe out there too, who can remember back five ministers in this church to Dr. Hutton.  There are people in this room today who were baptized by Dr. Hutton.  So you can go back not only to Reed Miller but to Girard Lowe and then to J. B. Hutton.  But I want to pause for a minute and I want to think about the faithful ministry because that’s what the author of Hebrews asks us to do.  Even though the Word of God is the most important thing - the most important thing is that they spoke the Word of God - he doesn’t say, “Remember the word of God that you heard from your leaders;” although he wants you to do that.  He says, “Remember your leaders.”  Why?  Because the way they lived can encourage you and the emphases of their ministries can strengthen you.  

John Reed Miller

Now we could say many things about John Reed Miller, but one of the things that always comes to my mind as I remember him is that he was a defender of the faith.  He was a herald of the truth.  He lived in a time when there were many people in pulpits across this land compromising the authority of the Word of God and the purity of doctrine, and Reed Miller stood on the truth of the inspired, inerrant Word of God and he preached it.  And he set his face like flint into the wind while many people in the culture around him were caving in on truth.  He was a defender of the truth.  So he propounded the Gospel message of the truth.

Don Patterson

And then Don Patterson who followed him, again, you could say many things about Don Patterson.  He was the chairman of the committee that brought the Presbyterian Church in America into being.  He was a preacher of the Gospel. But when I think about Don Patterson, I think of an advocate for missions.  That man had world missions in his bloodstream!  Now this church has been committed to world missions for a long time.  If you go back to the minutes of the Session of this congregation at the turn of the 20th century, in the late 1890’s and the early 1900’s, you can see an emphasis by both pastor and elders of the importance of supporting world missionaries.  And in Reed Miller’s time we started a world missions conference.  But Don Patterson took it up a notch.  In fact, when he retired from First Presbyterian Church do you know what he did?  He became a special envoy of our denomination’s missions agency, the PCA Mission to the World, and he traveled the world encouraging missionaries and preaching mission conferences at churches to encourage them to support missionaries.  And so he was committed to the Gospel mission.

Jim Baird

And then my immediate predecessor, Jim Baird, you could say a lot about Jim.  He was one of the well-known preachers of the evangelical party of the Southern Presbyterian Church and of course one of the well-known preachers in the PCA.  He was certainly one of our founding fathers.  He was a vice-chairman of that committee that Don Patterson chaired that brought the PCA into being.  He was a discipler of men.  He walked into a room and he attracted strong, godly men who would lead in churches.  He just had that gift about him. And he had an emphasis on youth.  He understood that if you didn’t pay attention to the youth of the church then it compromised the future ministry of a church.  But one thing I think about Jim Baird is he had a special love for all Christians.  If you look on your Lord’s Supper panel, one of the things that we’re supposed to meditate on as we come to the Lord’s Table is a special love for all Christians.  Jim Baird had that.  Now you couldn’t ever doubt that Jim Baird was a Presbyterian.  He was very, very conscious that he was from Scottish Presbyterian stock, even though he was the only member of his family born here in the United States; all his other siblings were born in Scotland.  He even pronounced certain names like they’re pronounced in Scotland.  Bill Moore and I have joked about that in the past.  He would say, “Moore.  Bill Moore.”  He had these Scottish pronunciations that would suddenly come out of his mouth.  He was a Presbyterian but he loved all Christians.  And here in Mississippi where Christians had been divided in the civil rights movement, he knew that the solution was not the social gospel; it was the Gospel.  And that’s why he was involved in Mission Mississippi because he knew that the Gospel would bring Bible-believing Christians together whether they were red, yellow, black, or white.  And he was very brave in expressing that special love for all Christians.

There are so many things that we could remember about the faithful ministry of these men and all I’ve tried to do is emulate them.  I’ve tried to not mess up their legacy because we’ve been given a faithful legacy by these men and we ought to remember them and thank God for them and we ought to emulate them.  And that’s where I want to go next.  

II. Consider the Result

If you’ll look at the second thing in verse 7 - “consider the outcome of their way of life.”  In other words, the author of Hebrews is saying, “Consider the result of your spiritual leaders’ lives.  Carefully observe how they live.  Take careful notes of how they finish. Reflect on the manner of their living, the way they live, the way they die, the way they finish the race.”  You see, that’s a key emphasis of the whole book of Hebrews.  You’ve got some Christians in this congregation who are wavering.  They’re thinking about turning back.  And he says, “No, no, no.  Look at your spiritual leaders.  They didn’t turn back. They crossed the finish line.  They kept believing in Jesus to the very end.”  And the author of Hebrews wants you to cross the finish line, and he wants you to cross the finish line by believing the Gospel, trusting in Jesus.  He wants you to think about, carefully consider, reflect upon how your spiritual leaders lived and finished.  And note that it is assumed here that true Christian leaders will live lives that reflect their faith, what they teach.  In other words, they will practice what they preach.  

Many of you have heard of the famous liberal theologian, Paul Tillich, who taught for many years at the University of Chicago.  There wasn’t a clause of the Apostle’s Creed that that man didn’t deny. But he was revered in academic circles.  When he died and they went into his office and pulled out the drawers of his desk, they were stuffed with pornography.  And his wife held him in contempt because she knew what he was really like.  He might have been revered in the ivy covered halls of the University, here and in Europe, but she knew what he was really like.  One thing I can say about my predecessors - Reed Miller, Don Patterson, Jim Baird - they were, and in Jim’s case, are, the real deal.  What you see is what you get.  What they preach is how they live.  And my friends, that ought to encourage you.  Sham leaders and fallen pastors don’t disprove Christianity.  In fact, they prove that Jesus was right when He warned us that there would be sham leaders and fallen pastors, hypocrites and wolves.  Jesus warned us this.  Paul warned us this.  Peter warned us this.  But seeing godly men like Reed Miller and Don Patterson and Jim Baird, fight the good fight, finish the race - what does that do?  It strengthens your arms.  It encourages you.  You face in your culture an opposition to the truth.  Reed Miller did.  He didn’t back down.  You face in your culture a resistance to the Gospel.  Don Patterson said, “Where do we take it?”  You see, being able to look at how men live out what they believe, especially when they invest it in your heart, encourages you to go on to the end.  

III.  Copy the Faith

And that leads me to the last thing.  What does he say at the end of verse 7?  “Imitate their faith.”  That’s an interesting way of putting it.  Continue to remember your faithful shepherds; consider the result of your spiritual leaders’ lives; copy the faith of your spiritual leaders.  Imitate their faith.  Now you might have expected him to say, “Imitate their life” because he’s just been talking about their life.  Consider their life.  So why does he switch to faith?  Because he understands that the way you live flows out of what you believe.  The way of life flows from faith.  What you believe informs how you live.  The truth informs your practice.  Your doctrine informs your duty.  Your theology informs your ethics.  And so their way of life, the way they lived, the outcome of their way of life, the result of their conduct flowed from their faith.  And so he says, “Imitate their faith because if you imitate their faith you will imitate their life.”  So he’s not just saying parrot their actions; he’s saying follow their faith and then you will live like they lived.  You’re not just sort of copying what they did.

Follow in the footsteps of faith, not just mannerisms

Have you ever noticed that?  Students, students will actually copy the mannerisms of pastors and teachers that they admire.  There’s a joke all over the reformed evangelical world - you can tell a guy that’s studied under John Gerstner in seminary because at points in his preaching he will attempt to talk just like John Gerstner talked.  We call it “the Gerstner growl.”  And you will hear R. C. Sproul do it and you will hear Mark Ross do it.  I’ve lost count of the preachers that I’ve heard do the “Gerstner growl” and I know exactly where they got it from!  But notice he’s not saying, “Copy their mannerisms.”  He’s saying, “Copy their faith.  Believe what they believe so that you live like they live and so that you cross the finish line like they crossed the finish line.”  That’s what he’s saying.  Follow in their footsteps of faith.  Believe what they believed in order to live the life they lived.  

A Faithful Testimony

I love what John Calvin says about this verse.  He says, “They,” speaking of these faithful leaders, these ones who led, “They rendered a faithful testimony to sound doctrine though their whole live as well as in death.”  That would be a pretty good epitaph on a gravestone, wouldn’t it?  You know, for somebody to pull up to your grave and see the words, “She rendered a faithful testimony to sound doctrine through her whole life as well as in her death.”  That would be a pretty good epitaph.  Is that the epitaph you’re shooting for?  If you will look back to your faithful leaders who first taught you the truth, who spoke to you the Word of God, who practiced what they preached, and who crossed the finish line, there is encouragement for you because the things that you’re going through they got through, and that is a very hopeful thought.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word.  Thank You for the encouragement that You give us through godly spiritual leaders who speak to us the Word of God.  May You continue the legacy of their lives in our faith for generations to come.  We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

Now let’s continue to worship God, using for the second time in this service, a text written by Robert Murray M’Cheyne.  The choir sang that beautiful hymn, words from Robert Murray M’Cheyne.  Now we’ll sing number 378, “Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face.”

Through the finished work of the One in whose wounds your names are written, receive God’s blessing.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God our Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.

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