The Net Pastor's Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 38 Winter 2021
A ministry of…
Author: Dr. Roger Pascoe, President,
Email: [email protected]
I. Strengthening Expository Preaching
“Preaching Hebrew Narratives” (Pt. 1)
In this edition of The Net Pastors Journal, I want to introduce the topic of preaching Old Testament narratives, which I will develop in the following edition.
First, I need to make some introductory comments about the abiding significance of the Old Testament. Note what the Scriptures say about the O.T. For example…
Romans 15:4, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
1 Cor. 10:11, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction.”
2 Tim. 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Luke 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Here, Jesus, the living Word, opened up and explained the written word of the O.T. concerning its testimony to himself.
Second, let me just outline the three sections that make up the structure of the O.T. …
1. The Torah / Law (Genesis to Deuteronomy). This covers the period from the beginning of time to the entrance to the promised land.
2. The Prophets:
a) The Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings). This section covers the period from the entrance to the promised land to the exile.
b) The Latter Prophets. This is made up of 31/2 major prophets (incl. ½ Daniel) plus 12 minor prophets = 15½ in total as follows:
Pre-exilic: Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Joel (9 in total)
Exilic: Ezekiel, Obadiah, Daniel, Jeremiah (3½ in total)
Post-exilic: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (3 in total)
3. The Writings:
Little Scrolls: Ruth, Esther, Lamentations
Theological History: 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, ½ Daniel.
Wisdom: Job, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes
I. Introduction To Hebrew Narrative
What is a narrative? Simply put, a narrative (or, story) is a chronicle of connected events that take place over a certain time period. As such, a narrative’s primary characteristic is movement, a chronological and experiential movement (i.e. not a photograph but more like a movie). Stories do not merely relate the occurrence of events in time, they also link these occurrences of events together – each action in the story gives rise to another action or response. This sets up a chain of events that ultimately reaches a conclusion, which is a very important part of the story because it finishes the story. The conclusion spells out the consequences of the series of actions that took place.
So, every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, just like a sermon, and each of these sections is interdependent on each another. The beginning describes the situation, the need, the problem. The middle describes what action is taken in response to the situation, need, or problem outlined in the beginning. The end develops from the middle in that it tells you the results from the action taken in the middle. Thus, the end also relates to the beginning (as well as the middle), in that it resolves the need, the situation, the problem that the story started out with.
Stories, then, not only describe events that happen in time, they are designed to organize these events, to give “logical meaning and shape to the otherwise incoherent occurrences of events” so that life as portrayed in a story is not “a meaningless jumble of disjointed experiences” (Tom Long, Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible, 72). In fact, the whole of life is a narrative, not one that “signifies nothing”, as Shakespeare asserted, but one that has purpose and meaning because God is in control, working out his sovereign purposes. This is why personal testimonies are so powerful.
There are several types of narrative. For the purposes of this article, when we speak of narrative we mean “historical” narrative with historical referents (i.e. real stories that took place within history), unless the intention of the writer can be shown to be otherwise. Thus, there is real history behind the Bible. O.T. history as we have it is, in fact, literary history. It may have an oral background in parts, various sources may be discovered in certain sections, but we have literature containing narrative that is rooted in history.
It is always good to remember that, like the N.T. authors, the O.T. authors were not only theologians but skilful writers, as Tom Long points out:
“The biblical writers were literary artists of considerable skill and sophistication who were not unacquainted with the creative, even playful, possibilities of language. These artistic tendencies were nor given free reign, however, but were disciplined by the larger theological purposes which governed the writer’s work…This high theological purpose placed the biblical writers…in the middle of an interplay between two forces. On the one hand, they believed in the unwavering character of God’s will, the constancy of the divine promise, and were certain that God had a harmonious plan for creation. On the other hand, they knew that human history was actually disorderly, human freedom was random, and human beings were stubborn and resistant. Narrative became a particularly apt literary form for capturing the fullest possible range of the interplay between these opposing forces…In short, the biblical writers produced narratives not in a vacuum, but out of the struggle to produce a fit between the literary form and their theological world view” (Thomas Long, Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible, 67).
II. General Characteristics Of Hebrew Narrative
1. Hebrew Narrative Is Scenic.
This is the most common characteristic (e.g. David and Goliath). The action is broken up into a series of scenes in various settings. Usually there is a special relationship between the action, the characters involved in the action, and the setting. Setting creates a distinct atmosphere. So, when you preach O.T. narrative, take note of…
(a) The characters. How are they described (their status, name, origin)? Who is involved? How do they interact? The authors employ various techniques in characterizing the people they write about:
(i) Description. Hebrew narrative gives very little detail; just general descriptions. Hebrew narrative is less interested in presenting the appearance of a character than in guiding the reader into a discovery of what kind of a person the character is.
(ii) Interiorization. The narrator supplies the reader with windows into the mental or emotional state of a character. The narrator may comment on a character’s thought or opinion (e.g. Gen. 8:11b; Ex. 2:24, 25). For example, the narrator may quote extensively a character’s thoughts (e.g. Ex. 2:14; Ex. 3:3).
(iii) Direct dialogue. This is the preferred method in Hebrew narrative for sustaining the action within the plot – who said what to whom.
(iv) Actions. Actions can be narrated without speech. Such speechless accounts of action highlight character. They serve as unannounced commentary on a character’s speech (e.g. Gen. 30:33-34).
(v) Contrast. By placing characters in juxtaposition, an author highlights character traits - e.g. Deborah and Barak (Judged 4-5). Deborah is always decisive; Barak is hesitant.
(vi) Point of View. The author may present information through the voice and eyes of the omniscient narrator or any one of several characters within the narrative - e.g. David and Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11). This narrative begins with background information by the narrator (v. 1). Then the reader sees what David sees (v. 2). The third perspective is that of a messenger (v. 3). In the remaining verses of the chapter, the author shuttles the reader from one character’s perspective to another’s – David’s, Uriah’s, Joab’s, the messenger’s, and Bathsheba’s. It ends with the readers being directly addressed by the narrator: “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (v. 27b). It is important to always figure out who is speaking.
(b) Dialogue. Be careful not to psychologize what is said. Often the first words said indicate the core of the event. This is where motives and thoughts are revealed.
(c) Plot (i.e. the sequence of events). The development of the plot may be simple or complex, but they all have action that progresses through a beginning, middle, and end. Some type of conflict occurs at the beginning, becomes complicated through the middle, and is finally resolved at the end.
(d) Pace. How does the narrative move along?
(e) Narrator. The narrator might be omniscient, hidden, or anonymous. He may express a direct point of view. He may even come through one of the characters.
2. O.T. Narrative Is Succinct.
O.T. narratives are compressed. Therefore, pay attention to arrangement and detail. Be aware of how the author has selected his material. His selection is usually dependent upon the point he intends to convey – i.e. he only includes what we need to know in order to make his theological point. Don’t try to supply the details that the author has not told us unless they are obvious by implication or from another passage.
3. O.T. Narrative Is Subtle.
O.T. narrative shows more than it tells. Great statements may be made in a subtle comment, event, or description. “Only occasionally will the narrator disclose God’s point of view to his readers” (Sidney Greidanus, Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, 207). Generally the point of view has to be deduced. The narrator typically speaks through the words and actions of the characters in the narrative. They are his conduit for conveying his message. He himself usually remains hidden, at least as far as direct, critical statements are concerned.
III. Literary Structure And Devices In Hebrew Narrative
1. Repetition. Key words, phrases, sentences, recurring motifs (e.g. stones in the Jacob narrative, water in the Moses story), and themes.
2. Recurring patterns, structures, and sequences. For example, in Judges Israel did evil…God gave them over…God provided a deliverer…they recovered…they did evil again.
3. Word plays. These are sometimes hard to pick up in our translation but would have been obvious to the original readers or hearers.
4. Poetic lines in narrative contexts (heightened speech). For example, “To obey is better than sacrifice and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
5. Bookends (inclusios and chiasms). These literary devices are very commonly used to form the narrative structure.
Inclusios are bookends. They show how or where the narrative begins and ends. You see this clearly in the Jacob narrative (Gen. 28:10-32:31) where, first, “the sun set” on Jacob (Gen. 28:11) and later “...the sun rose upon him” (Gen. 32:31). Why did the writer see fit to include this detail? Two reasons:
(1) The two expressions bookend this section – Gen. 32:31 where “the sun rose” connects us back to Gen. 28:11 where “the sun had set.” These two phrases form an inclusio.
(2) The material between 28:11 and 32:31 forms a significant “spiritual cycle” in Jacob’s life, in which he is moving from spiritual darkness (the sun setting – this is probably the darkest period in his life when he had been ejected from his home and had nowhere to stay) to spiritual light (the sun rising – Jacob has turned a significant corner in his relationship with God after all these intervening years and experiences).
Chiasms focus the readers attention on the apex of the narrative. You see an inverted chiastic structure very clearly in the book of Ruth (see Tom Long, 82-86):
The beginning (1:1-22). The downward spiral of Naomi’s and Ruth’s life situation.
a) The development of Ruth’s relationship to Boaz (2:1-23)
b) Naomi’s scheme and Ruth’s response (3:1-18)
c) The upward trajectory and climax – Boaz’s response (4:1-12).
The end (4:13-22). Boaz’s redemption. Ruth and Naomi are blessed. Hope is restored.
6. Analogy and Contrast or Comparison. O.T. narratives frequently make use of analogy in the form of figures of speech such as metaphors, similes, hyperbole, personification (or anthropomorphisms). In this way, the author describes the reality he is talking about in the narrative in terms that appeal to our senses and imagination.
Similarly, contrast and comparison are frequently used by O.T. narrative authors. For example, in 1 Samuel, the author wastes no time in introducing us to the contrast between Hannah (and her son, Samuel) and Eli (and his sons, Hophni and Phinehas). She and her son go on to be blessed by God, while Eli and his sons go on to be judged by God. Similarly, you have the extended, stark contrast between Saul and David in which Saul acts as a foil for David – i.e. Saul’s character traits are the complete opposite of David’s and serve to highlight David’s character.
In the next edition of this Journal, I will outline some suggestions for studying and preaching Hebrew narratives.
II. Strengthening Biblical Leadership
If you thought that your marriage vows were the only time you would pledge to “honour and obey” someone, I have news for you - it should also be the pledge of a healthy church to its leaders. In this article, I would like to develop the subject of “Honoring Church Leaders” based on Hebrews 13:7-8 and 17-19.
The N.T. says little about this subject of the relationship of a church to its leaders, but what it does say is vitally important. This passage in Hebrews 13 teaches us that “A healthy church honors its godly leaders.” The writer to the Hebrews gives three exhortations that define the honor of a congregation for its leaders.
I. We Honour Our Godly Leaders When We Learn From Their Faithful Example (13:7-8)
“Remember your leaders / rulers” (13:7). We are to “remember” our leaders - those who ministered among us, those who influenced us and formed us into who we are today (how we think and act, and what we believe). The writer to the Hebrew Christians is saying: “Think about who they were, what they said and did, the legacy they left, how they influenced your lives. Reflect upon their ministry among you.” This is a profitable exercise, not for nostalgia’s sake but to remember their example of faithfulness and consistency and in so doing to fall in step with their example. They are our heroes, our mentors to whom we look up. They are the primary influencers in our lives, those whose lives are paradigms for Christian living, those about whom we might sometimes wonder: “What would they have said, done, or thought about such-and-such? What did they teach about that? How would they have reacted? What counsel would they have given us in this situation?”
We’re living in an age that pays little respect to leaders, especially those of a previous generation. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone,” they say, “and we move on to newer and better things. The old was alright for that day and age, but we’re more progressive now, things have changed.” This writer to the Hebrews says: “No! On the contrary, remember the old landmarks, the tried and true paths. Remember those who established you in the truth. Remember those who were formative in your faith. Remember those who labored among you, acting in faith, pioneering with the gospel.” The apostle exhorts us to learn from them…
1. We Are To Learn From The Example Of What They Taught (13:7a).
“...who spoke the word of God to you…” (13:7a). The Word of God was the subject of their conversation, their teaching, their preaching. They didn’t talk or preach about frivolous matters. They didn’t preach the latest “how-to” sermons. They preached the gospel to you. They edified the church, built you up in your most holy faith. Their teaching and conversation was the bedrock that underpinned the church. If you dig down beneath the surface, you’ll find that their teaching still lives on. They may not be here physically but they are certainly here spiritually.
We honour them when we learn from their faithful example. We are to learn from the example of what they taught. And...
2. We Are To Learn From The Example Of How They Lived (13:7b-8).
“Considering the outcome of their conduct, imitate their faith”(13:7b). Their “faith” refers to what they taught, believed, and lived. It undoubtedly refers both to the truth of Scripture which they believed and the personal trust in God that they practiced. These Hebrew believers that are being addressed here were tempted to renounce their Christian faith, to go back to their old Judaistic practices and beliefs. So, this exhortation was particularly appropriate…
(a) Imitate their faith in the trustworthiness of God - the faith by which you live in dependence on God; the faith by which you trust God to provide for all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus; the faith by which you face the future, not knowing where it may lead.
(b) Imitate their faith in the truth of God, the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3), the inspired Scriptures which contain all that we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), the faith which constitutes that body of truth that we believe, trust, and teach.
“Imitate” their faith. This doesn’t mean blindly following them just because they are part of your history, or just because you have an emotional attachment to them. But follow them “considering the outcome of their conduct.” After carefully weighing their life and teachings, after closely examining the outcome of their lives, after noting the fruit of their testimony, after repeatedly looking at the successful legacy of their lives, after considering the totality of their lives (from beginning to end, from top to toe), after observing how they spent their lives, then follow their example! Imitate their faith, live as they lived, speak as they spoke. Be steadfast in the faith as they were.
And lest you think that church leaders can be unreliable (some are good, some are bad; some stay, some leave; some have left a good taste in your mouth, others a bad taste), then, consider and emulate the head of the church, our supreme leader and the ultimate example of faith, “Jesus Christ”, the One who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (13:8). He is unchanging, immutable, perfectly consistent. He is “Jesus”, the Saviour, the One who saves his people from their sins. He is “Christ”, the anointed One, the Messiah, the sent One, the Son of God. He is the changeless One, the One who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
Jesus Christ is the same “yesterday” because he is the God of the past, the God of creation, and the God of redemption, the One who died and rose again. He is the same “today” because he is the God of the present, the One who intercedes for us at God’s right hand, our great high priest (5:6; 6:20; 7:17, 21, 24-25, 28; 9:24). He is the same “forever” because he is the God of the future, the eternal Lord before whom every knee in the universe will one day bow (Phil. 2:10-11).
And because He is always the same, you can depend on him. He is “the One who was and is and is to come” (Rev. 1:8). He is the God of the O.T. and he is the God of the N.T. He is the Lord of the church. If ever there was a ruler / leader whom we can implicitly trust for time and eternity it is Jesus Christ. Human leaders may fail us, but he never fails. Human leaders may come and go, but he never leaves us. Godly leaders point us to Him because He is our full and perfect and changeless example to follow. He never changes. You can always depend on him. “Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure. Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will have no end.” (Ps. 102:25-27). “For I am the Lord, I do not change” (Mal. 3:6).
As you consider the end of those church leaders who have influenced you for good, remember that they only do so to the extent that they are a reflection of our great, eternal, true, and changeless Saviour.
So, we honour our godly leaders when we learn from their faithful example. And notice also, verse 17...
II. We Honour Our Godly Leaders When We Yield To Their Pastoral Rule (13:17).
Today’s society doesn’t like to yield or submit to anyone. The spirit of our age is: “I’ll do it my way. No one is going to tell me what to do.” Sadly this attitude infiltrates the church sometimes. But such lack of mutual submission, such disrespect for authority creates chaos, anarchy, division, disunity and ultimately the effectiveness of the church is weakened and Satan gains an advantage. But the apostle exhorts us to “Obey those who rule over you and submit to them” (13:17a). Why? Because...
1. They Are Vested With Divine Authority.
This exhortation would have had special significance for these Hebrew believers who were tempted to give up Christianity and return to Judaism. If ever there was a time they needed to obey their godly leaders, it was now. Evidently they had not learned to imitate their leaders and an attitude of independence was prevalent in the church.
But, we must “obey” godly church leaders as to their governance – in their teaching, decisions, and direction of the church. And we must “submit to them” as to their authority, for their authority is derived from the Lord of the church (as well as from the congregation itself).
Authoritative leadership is essential for unity, harmony, and effectiveness. Obedience infers submission, yielding. This doesn’t mean blind, unthinking submission. This doesn’t mean submission that shirks responsibility. This doesn’t mean submission that conflicts with Scriptural teaching or direction, otherwise the admonition in Hebrews 13:9 about “strange doctrines” would be pointless. This doesn’t mean a cult-like submission where you stop thinking, give up your convictions, or blindly follow others. Rather, this is intelligent, discerning submission to godly leaders whose speech and conduct are exemplary. We honour their position and authority while at the same time we engage in thoughtful, respectful dialogue about matters of concern, all in submission to the Lord of the church.
Those whom God calls into church leadership, who have the appropriate gifts, who have earned the respect of the congregation, who meet the biblical qualifications, and whose speech and conduct are pure and compelling, are those who rule with divine authority, whom we are to obey and to whom we are to submit (cf. 1 Thess. 5:12-13). That’s what the text says: “Obey...and submit!” Obviously, corrupt leaders are not in view here (cf. Ezek. 34) - those who lead others in the wrong direction, those who teach false doctrine, those whose lives are not morally pure. That’s not who the apostle is writing about. There is a process and there is divine authority vested in the church to deal with corrupt, sinful leadership (e.g. 1 Tim. 5:20). But that isn’t the issue here. The issue here is evidently that the Hebrews had not submitted to their leaders who were godly men, whose faith they should follow, and whose lives testified to their spirituality. That’s precisely why the writer exhorts them to imitate their leaders, obey them, and submit to them.
We need to make sure that the spirit of the age does not infiltrate our churches, and that our relationship with our church leaders is healthy, transparent, and mutually submissive. We need to submit to godly leaders as we submit to the Lord of the church. Failure to do so is failure to submit to Christ himself and that puts a congregation in grave danger.
We are to yield to their rule because they are vested with divine authority. And we are to yield to their rule because...
2. They Are Accountable For Our Pastoral Care.
“... for they keep watch over your souls as those who will have to give an account” (13:17b). They aren’t dictators who demand unquestioning submission based on fear. They are caring shepherds whose daily concern is for the welfare of the flock of God (cf. Ezek. 3:17-18). This is the responsibility of church leaders – to be vigilant in the oversight of the spiritual and physical well-being of their people. They “watch over your souls” (lit. “they stay awake over you”), “as those who will have to give an account” – an account to the church and, more importantly, an account to God himself.
Godly church leaders are shepherds. They feed the flock of God. They protect the flock from danger. They lead the flock in the right direction. They care for the flock’s welfare. So, for your sake, church leaders bear a heavy responsibility. The greater the care they provide, the greater is our debt to them of allegiance and obedience.
We are to yield to our godly church leaders because (1) they are vested with divine authority, because (2) they are accountable for our pastoral care, and because...
3. They Are Deserving Of Joyful Service.
“... in order that they may do this with joy and not groaning” (13:17c). We are to honour them with obedience and submission so that they may carry out their responsibilities “with joy and not groaning.” The work of the shepherd ought never to be a burden because of rebellious, unthankful, disrespectful, cantankerous sheep. Our obligation is to lighten their load, to render their ministry a joy and not a burden.
You can tell those churches that are not in step with, and do not honour, their leaders. They are constantly complaining (like the children of Israel who just about killed Moses with the burden). They viciously criticize their leaders, tearing them down. This ought not to be. How you treat your leaders determines whether they rule with joy or grief. You bring them joy when you obey, submit, respect, and honour them, not because they get their own way but because they see God’s people happy, productive, and united.
Our churches should be characterized by “joy” not “groaning”, churches comprised of (1) contented people, who are joyful in the Lord, who honour their leaders and gladly follow them, and (2) happy leaders, who are delighted to lead God’s people into an ever deeper relationship with Christ and each other.
There is a blessing for a church which is united, forward thinking, active in serving God, loving others, enjoying each other, growing in the truth, using their gifts to glorify God. Those are the kind of churches others want to be part of, where unbelievers fall down and say, “Truly God is among you” (1 Cor. 14:25). We must always remember that this is not our church. It is Christ’s church – he is sovereign over his church. We are responsible to him. Our leaders are responsible to him. To make their task onerous is to destroy that for which Christ died.
It is “unprofitable for you” (13:17d), the writer says, to make your leaders groan under the burden of rebellion, opposition, and arguments. These are unprofitable activities which wear out your leaders and cause them to lose heart. This can be devastating to the church.
Many pastors leave ministry because it is a burden. When I used to teach at the Stephen Olford Center in Memphis, pastors came to us from all over the world, many on the verge of quitting because they couldn’t take it anymore, disheartened because they were disillusioned about ministry. What they thought would be a joy had become the source of groaning. Everybody loses when that happens. The pastor and congregation alike lose their joy and fruitfulness in the Lord.
Do we need sometimes to make changes in leadership? Yes! And there is a way to do that. But that isn’t the issue here. The issue here is normal, healthy church life – God’s people living together in happy harmony and mutual submission.
So, we honour our godly leaders when we learn from their faithful example and yield to their pastoral rule. And...
III. We Honour Our Godly Leaders When We Pray For Their Ministry Challenges (13:18-19)
This epistle makes obvious certain things about this church. This Hebrew church was not respectful of its leaders and this church was not growing spiritually. That’s why they needed repeated, stern rebukes, and admonitions. Something had happened in the relationship between this pastor (church leader) and the congregation. Perhaps this was one of those congregations that thinks it can get more done by criticism than prayer and dialogue. In any event, this church leader doesn’t beat them over the head with a stick. He doesn’t berate them for their attitude. Rather he exhorts them to “Pray for us” (13:18a).
Why must we pray for our church leaders? Because...
1. They Need Our Prayers To Deal With The Challenge Of Criticism.
“Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live commendably”(13:18). Apparently, the Hebrew believers were critical of this leader’s conduct. That’s why he has examined his “conscience” and that’s why he affirms his determination “to live commendably in all things.” Instead of responding in anger or retaliation to their fault-finding he asks them to “pray” for him. For a leader to ask his people to pray for him is an act of humility, an expression of dependence, an admission of need.
What better way to respond to criticism than in humility. “I need your prayers” he says, prayers of encouragement and intercession, for wisdom and grace. I don’t know everything. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t always act or speak properly. I need your supplications to God for me to help me in ministry. I feel the attacks of Satan constantly in this ministry. So I need the protection of your prayers. Please pray for me.”
Surely, such a humble request for prayer is restorative. It is the catalyst to restore unity. It is the stimulus for renewed love for him. It is the olive branch to induce them to willingly accept his instructions and admonitions and to diffuse their criticism. In any event, whatever had happened, his conscience is clear “...for we are confident that we have a good conscience.” Despite their evident criticism of him, his own conscience is clear. Undoubtedly, some of his teachings were radically new for these Jewish believers. Perhaps his teaching that the O.T. rituals and sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood had been fulfilled in Christ and were now set aside was too much for them to absorb. Nonetheless, he reassures them that he has examined his actions, attitudes, motives, and teachings, so that he is “confident / persuaded” in his own mind and conscience that his teaching is accurate and loving, his admonitions are needed and appropriate, his motives are pure and open. He knows of nothing that he has said or done that needs to be withdrawn or apologized for, or that was just cause for their attitude toward him. Nor does he bear them any grudge for what had happened. He is not haughty about his position. He is not lording it over them. Rather he is acting humbly before them, “...in all things desiring to live commendably.”
It appears that their criticism of him was about his conduct and after examining himself, he says: “I desire in all things to live honorably, commendably.” His appeal to them reminds us of Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians: “O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open to us... Open your hearts to us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have cheated no one. I do not say this to condemn you; for I have said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together” (2 Cor. 6:11; 7:2-3). And again, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved.”(12:15). What a contrast between the grief Paul suffered from the Corinthians and the abundance of joy he received from the Philippians (1:3-4) and Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:19-20; 3:9).
This is a challenge to us, isn’t it? I have been in pastoral ministry for many years and I’ve had my fair share of criticism. I know whereof I speak. And now I teach and mentor so many pastors whose ministry is a grief and not a joy because of criticism. They love the Lord and desire only good for God’s people. They give of themselves over and over, taking the low place, setting themselves at the disposal and mercy of the congregation, only to be rebuffed by opposition and false accusations and have their hearts torn out over disputes and tensions.
Soon they begin to lose heart. They think that they are inadequate, that perhaps God didn’t call them to pastoral ministry after all, that someone else would be better leading this congregation. Sometimes that may be necessary, but often it is not. Usually these men are true servants who diligently minister to God’s people.
Church leaders are not perfect. There may be times when you legitimately disagree with them. But continue to respect them and deal with them kindly. They deserve our encouragement and support in prayer, when they take the low place, when their consciences are clear, when they live commendably before us.
We honour our godly leaders when we pray for their ministry challenges. They need our prayers to deal with the challenge of criticism and...
2. They Need Our Prayers To Deal With The Challenge Of Disunity.
“But I especially urge you to do this, in order that I may be restored to you more quickly” (13:19). This is a specific, urgent, heart-rending plea. I don’t know what happened among these Hebrew believers but this pastor begs them to pray so that he can see them again soon and so that he can enjoy their fellowship again. I don’t know if their criticism had led to their estrangement or whether other circumstances had led to it. Whatever had happened he urges them to pray so that this distance, this schism, may be healed and unity, harmony, peace, joy, and fellowship may be restored.
Disunity is a great burden to godly church leaders for they know “how good and how pleasant it is for God’s people to dwell together in unity” (Ps. 133:1-3). They know that disunity was the plague of the church that Jesus’ foresaw and prayed for in John 17.
So, you can see, from this passage, that “A healthy church honors its godly leaders.” We honour our godly leaders in three ways: (1) by learning from their faithful example; (2) by yielding to their pastoral rule; and (3) by praying for their ministry challenges.
At the end of the day it all comes down to prayer. So, let’s covenant together to pray for our pastors, staff, and church leaders. They need, want, and deserve our prayers. They are faced daily with the burdens and care of the church. Let me encourage you to become actively involved as a prayer partner in your church, holding up the arms of your leadership team just as Aaron and Hur did for Moses in Exodus 17. You can be an “Aaron and Hur Prayer Partner” who prays for your leaders when they meet together to discuss the spiritual and practical affairs of the church. Pray that they will have wisdom, compassion, discernment, and faithfulness to the truth.
Above all, may we honour our leaders by learning from their faithful example, by yielding to their pastoral rule, and by praying for their ministry challenges. It’s the only solution for the church and the world.
III. Sermon Outlines
Title: Letters to the Seven Churches: Laodicea – The Sickness of Prosperity (Rev. 3:14-22)
Theme: A church that becomes independent of Christ may become redundant for Christ
Point 1: Christ knows the attitude of every church (3:15-17)
1a) He knows when a church is self-satisfied (15-16)
1b) He knows when a church is self-deluded (17)
Point 2: Christ knows the need of every church (3:18-19)
He knows that we need…
2a) … his riches to cure our spiritual poverty (18a)
2b) … pure garments to cover our spiritual nakedness (18b)
2c) … healing eye salve to correct our spiritual blindness (18c)
2d) … his chastisement to cause our spiritual repentance (19-21)
Conclusion: “He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the church” (3:22)
Related Topics: Pastors