At the end of his letter to the Hebrews, the author refers three times to the church’s ‘leaders’ (13:7, 17, 24). In the first instance, the reference appears to be to former leaders, who have perhaps passed away; the second and third times, he is speaking of their current leaders, urging obedience to them and sending them his greetings. ‘Leader’ is an unusual word to find in the New Testament in relation to a church. Normally, church leaders are referred to in the NT as pastors, elders or deacons.
How do we emphasise to someone the seriousness of what we have to say? ‘Now listen very carefully’, or ‘I want you really to pay attention to what I’m going to say’. This is how Paul does it: ‘I command you before God who gives life to everything and before Christ Jesus who witnessed before Pontius Pilate the good confession ...’, and ‘I bear witness before God and Christ Jesus who is coming to judge those who live and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom ...’ (1 Tim. 6:13; 2 Tim. 4:1).
One of the texts most often preached at induction services must be 2 Tim. 4:2, ‘Preach the word!’. It is an obvious choice. But does it mean quite what we think it means? We probably take it to refer to the regular, week-by-week preaching and teaching ministry that a pastor normally exercises from his own pulpit. We imagine, perhaps, Paul instructing Timothy to work his way systematically through Isaiah or 1 Kings, chapter by chapter, expounding the meaning and applying its message to his congregation in Ephesus. But is that quite what Paul meant?
My former pastor, Bob Sheehan, used to say that a heretic was not distinguishable by his looks: heretics do not have horns or an 'H' imprinted on the forehead. Equally, history suggests that heretics can be very nice people with the best of intentions.
Today sees the consecration of Rev. Libby Lane as Bishop of Stockport, the first woman to be made a bishop of the Church of England. This is a historic occasion: since Henry VIII’s break with the Church of Rome over 450 years ago, every Anglican bishop in this country has been male - until today.
Sometimes in preaching, the simplest rules are the best: every sermon needs both doctrine and practical application.
John Owen insisted on this: doctrine alone leads to intellectual pride; application alone leads people away from the gospel. Here is what he says, in his commentary on Hebrews: