“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7, ESV)
When I was a child, we did not have all the toys and things that kids have today to keep them occupied. We played games outside. As a very young child they did not involve some technical sports. One of these games was called, “Follow the Leader.” In this one child would be the leader and the others would line up behind to follow and exactly mimic the actions of the one in the lead. If the leader raised his or her right hand, the others would follow. If the leader walked to the left, they would walk to the left, etc.
Here the author of Hebrews tells his Jewish readers to follow the leaders who taught them the truth of God’s word. They were not to stray from their example. The question is, in what specific ways were these of the Jewish community to follow their leaders’ example? We will understand this better in the context of this verse with the following couple verses.
He first tells them to “Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” He is speaking of more than just having a correct doctrinal understanding of their teaching. He wants them to live out in a practical way the teaching that they have received. In verse 9, we see the context as the author mentions that they should not be led away by alien teachings about foods. He stated that these teachings have not profited those who hold to them. It is clear that the teachings to which the author refers are the ceremonial and dietary restrictions of the Mosaic law. As the author had previously mentioned in the letter, these things did not produce righteousness. He further stated that it was grace that strengthened the heart and not foods.
We must again remember the struggle that the Jewish Christians had with regards to the transition from traditional Judaism to trusting Jesus as their Messiah. To trust in Christ alone rather than legalistic observance to the law and its restrictions was a significant leap of faith. Moreover, there were significant domestic pressures on this Hebrew community to revert back to their former traditions. The members of this community who were merely intellectually enlightened and those who were weak in the faith were quite vulnerable. Thus, the author tells them to look at the example of those teachers, who were solid in the faith to follow their example of steadfastness in conduct. They were not trapped by legalism and were enjoying the blessing of grace.
Even today, there is a subtle trap that can enter churches of legalism. Legalism is an elementary religious system, devoid of the Spirit. It is the message of restrictions, of do’s and don’ts, which do not grant grace and profit the heart. Paul wrote, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17, AV). Let us identify those leaders who have learned the highest practice of living by the Spirit, who exude grace and joy in the Holy Spirit, and let us examine and emulate their walk of faith. For then we will experience the grace that strengthens the heart.