Big Idea: Remember, consider, and imitate those who taught you the Word.
I want to introduce you to Don Taylor — Mr. Taylor, as we called him.
I wish I could show you a picture of him, but I don’t have one. I can tell you a few things about him, though. He was loud. He spoke in one volume, which was a problem when we showed up for church late and he was the usher. “Hello, Dash family!” he would bellow as we tried to sneak in. It was embarrassing.
He was a printer. He worked at a print shop back in the days when they would set type manually. He took us to visit his print shop one time, and it was the coolest thing ever.
He had a family, although I only knew his son.
But here’s the main thing I knew about him: he was my Sunday school teacher. Every year in church we would line up and be promoted to the next grade. It wasn’t a big church, so there were three of us: myself, and two twins, Ted and Fred. Every year we were promoted, and every year we waited to see who our new teacher would be. And every year we would discover that Don Taylor was promoted too.
And so for years of our lives, we spent Sunday mornings in a dingy basement. I’m here to tell you today that Don Taylor changed my life. A lot of what I learned about the Bible I learned from Don Taylor. Certainly, I learned what it means to follow Jesus with passion from Don Taylor. And I’m not alone. The three boys that were in that classroom — Ted, Fred, and me — all grew to love the Lord. In fact, all three of us are in pastoral ministry today, and I think it’s due, in part, to the influence of this man.
What I want to do with you this morning is simple. I want to follow a biblical command that we read in Hebrews 13:7. I have an agenda today. I believe there are a lot of Don Taylors present here. God has a big purpose for your life. God loves to use people like you and me to accomplish his purposes and to make a difference in the lives of others.
But most of us think that we’re not all that special. We have all kinds of reasons why God could never use someone like us. We’re too ordinary, too flawed.
Today’s passage tells us three things we need to do. First:
Remember Your Leaders
Verse 7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.” The word remember is in the present active tense, which means this is something we’re to do on an ongoing basis. It was usually a term that was reserved for great religious, political, and military leaders. The culture would remember the great heroes and elevate their lives, just like Americans remember George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.
But the writer tells us to do this not with great heroic leaders, but with those who spoke the word of God to us. Remember them. Keep them in mind. Reflect on their lives. Give careful thought to how they lived and what you can learn from them.
Most scholars tend to think that the writer is talking about people who had already died. It’s also clear from verse 17 that not everybody who read this letter was good at honoring leaders. It’s a little like today. We tend to be pretty distrustful toward leaders, so much so that it’s hard to be a leader because of the shots you take. Someone has said, “If you want to make people happy, don’t be a leader. Sell ice cream instead.” Leading is a way to put yourself in the firing line.
Into this context, Hebrews says to do something different with leaders. On an ongoing basis, remember them. Whom should we remember? In particular, those who spoke to us the Word of God. The fact that you’re here this morning probably means, at some point, that someone spoke God’s Word to you. For me, it was Don Taylor. It was also my childhood pastor, Denis Gibson. Neither of them where perfect. In fact, in many ways they were quite ordinary. But Hebrews instructs us to remember them.
So I want to ask you to do this right now. Who first spoke God’s Word to you? Was it a Sunday school teacher? A pastor? A parent? Remember them. Bring them to mind right now.
But that’s not all. Hebrews continues:
Consider the Outcome of Their Lives
Jesus gives us an important principle in Matthew 12:33:
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.
Jesus isn’t giving horticultural advice. He’s talking about leaders. Some leaders produce bad fruit. I’ve known pastors who started out well but got off track. It’s not a pretty thing. They began to wobble in their theology, or they began to get a bit cynical. It didn’t look that serious at first, but it ended really badly in every single case. They produced bad fruit, and the results were devastating.
But some leaders produce good fruit. They prove that they’re good trees because the evidence is all around them. And Hebrews says, “Consider the outcome of their way of life.” Think about the total sum of their accomplishments in life.
When you’re young, you have good days and bad days. It’s really hard to evaluate someone’s life when they’re young. But I’ve discovered that these patterns become deeply ingrained. As we get older, our characters become deeply defined in one of two directions. Some people become nasty and cynical. I’ve met some grumpy old seniors, and it’s not attractive. But I’ve also met some people who have grown sweeter and better as time goes on.
Hebrews tells us to consider these people. Think of those who taught you God’s Word, and who’s lives have amounted to something significant.
And so I think of Don Taylor. He’s still alive. I talked to him a few months ago, and he’s just as passionate about Jesus as he was when I was a child. He still loves God and he’s still serving the church.
I think of Denis Gibson, my childhood pastor. He taught me so much. He’s retired now, and he’s legally blind. He isn’t able to do much. He’s done what so many men fail to do: to give up a role that provides identity, and to find meaning in God when you lose career and health. He still loves God in the latter years of his life.
I think of Leila Whitcombe, a pastor’s wife. I met her when I was a student pastor in my early twenties. She was in her 80s, but she seemed younger and more passionate about God than I was.
By the way, you pastor is one of these people. I was talking with one of my friends who attended a church that Deric used to pastor. He had grown up in weak churches. He didn’t have a good grasp on God’s Word. He only sat under Pastor Deric’s ministry for a short time, but it changed the direction of his life. The way that he skillfully handled God’s Word changed him forever. Remember such a person. Consider the outcome of his life.
I’ve read that only 30% of leaders last. Only a few finish well. Isolate those who finish well, and figure out what they did that led them there.
Remember those who taught you God’s Word. In particular, consider the outcome of their lives. What made them that way? How were they able to withstand all the negativity and discouragement and finish well? Remember them. Hold them in high esteem. And consider how they finished, giving thought to how you want to finish as well.
Imitate Their Faith
Verses 7 and 8 say:
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Now we get to the real point. The writer to the Hebrews wants us to go farther than just remembering and considering. He wants to imitate them.
When I was in seminary, I sat under the ministry of a great preacher. I sang in the choir, so I had a view from the back of how he preached. He would shuffle his feet back and forth as he preached. Well, guess what I did when I began to preach myself? I did the same thing.
We all do this. We think we’re original, but we’re all imitating someone in our lives.
The writer to the Hebrews knew that the church was in danger. It seems like some of the Christians in that church were ready to abandon Christianity to avoid persecution. How do we avoid giving up when we feel like it? This verse tells us. Imitate those who taught us the Word and who stayed faithful to the end. Follow their example.
But let’s not make a mistake. You may think that Don Taylor is the hero, or that Denis Gibson is the hero, or Leila Whitcombe is the hero. Not so. The real hero is Jesus. Verse 8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
At first it looks like verse 8 has nothing to do with verse 7. But verse 8 has everything to do with verse 7. What made Don Taylor and the others in my life so impactful? One word: Jesus. We’re told to imitate their faith, and their faith was in Jesus. The people who live the most impactful lives are those who know and love Jesus, who know and love the one who left heaven, lived a righteous life, died in our place, rose again, and who know reigns at God’s right hand.
And here’s the great thing: one day the leaders who taught us the Word won’t be there, but Jesus will always be there, unchanging through the years. His “help, grace and power are permanently at his people’s disposal.… He never needs to be replaced, and nothing can be added to his perfect work” (F.F. Bruce).
That’s why I wrote How to Grow. I’ve been given an incredible legacy. God has brought people like Don Taylor and Denis Gibson and Leila Whitcombe into my life. I wrote this book to follow this command — to remember, consider, and imitate, so I can grow to be just like them, and to influence others as they did.
I’m pretty sure the same is true in your life. And he’s given us this instruction: Remember, consider, and imitate those who taught you the Word. And he will use your life, just as he used theirs.
So let me ask you: Who is the Don Taylor of your life? Who taught you the Word? Who finished well? Who stayed so close to Jesus that they withstood all the pressures to pull away?
Remember them. Consider their lives. And then imitate them. Not only will you live like them, but your life will influence others too. Your life will make an eternal difference.
Lord, thank you for Jesus. Thank you for his life, death, resurrection, and reign. Thank you for those who taught us the Word about Jesus. May we remember them, consider the outcome of their lives, and may we imitate them. And would you use us despite our weaknesses so that we make an eternal difference in the lives of others because we’ve kept this command. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.