According to Heb. 13:17, submission to leaders is necessary because they have a God-given responsibility and a God-examined accountability. Their responsibility is to keep watch over souls. The leaders of a church, who have been verified as possessing the biblical qualifications, as put forth in 1 Tim. 3, have been given the God-given task to shepherd the flock by providing oversight, instruction and correction. This verb, watch, in v.17 combines the ideas of awareness and alertness.

The fact that these leaders are tasked with keeping watch implies that there is something to watch out for as it relates to the safety of the sheep. What are the common dangers leaders must be aware of and on the alert for?—deception, despair and disobedience. Faithful shepherds watch out for anything in those categories that can harm a soul and then they bring the word of God to bear on those situations in the form of encouragement and correction.

That being said, this leadership is governed by a very important truth—they will give an account for their watch care. This means that God will assess how they watch over souls. If they neglect blatant issues in the flock or lord over the flock with heavy-handedness or spend their time promoting their opinions instead of God’s authoritative truth, there will be a strict judgment. Christ shed His blood for his sheep, so he will not deal with mistreatment of his sheep lightly. So both those in authority and those in submission must realize there is a tremendous weightiness to this God-given responsibility and God-examined accountability.