Homiletics and Hebrews

While we tend to think of the book of Hebrews as a NT letter (and it is), it clearly lacks some of what you would expect to find in a letter and there is a case to be made that its genre sits somewhere between a letter and a sermon: in fact the writer describes it as a ‘word of exhortation.’

Taken as a sermon, it seems to me that it’s worth pastors/preachers reflecting on the book as a means of establishing their own own philosophy of ministry and in thinking about how preaching relates to other aspects of church life.

Here are several observations:

1 – Hebrews expounds biblical content. Much of the book consists of fairly detailed references to Old Testament characters, events, rituals and ceremonies – not least the exposition sacrificial system.

2 – The expositions are oriented to their fulfilment in Jesus Christ.

3 – As well as sections of exposition, there are passages that consist of direct exhortations. The exhortations are strong. Hebrews is no mere intellectual exercise.

4 – Part of the exhortation is that the congregation get involved in the work of exhorting one another. This is fascinating because it appears to show that the writer was not content to do his exposition and exhortation and assume that once the sermon was preached (in this case written and read), that was that. More needed to be done and that meant scope for his readers to speak into one another’s lives.

So as preachers work for the spiritual growth and maturity of their people, their preaching needs to combine exposition with appeal. And – at the risk of sounding heretical to some of my friends – preaching may not enough in the cause. Vital, certainly and you can argue for its pre-eminence in the ministry of a church. But there is also a place for effective personal ministry and its contribution to spiritual growth.

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