More than 100 years ago the Christian Church faced a crisis FROMWITHIN. It was known as Modernism, and it eventually tore the heart out ofalmost every major denomination in Europe.
The great English preacher CharlesSpurgeon wrote:
“Everywhere there is apathy. Nobody cares whether that which ispreached is true or false. A sermon is a sermon whatever the subject;only, the shorter it is the better.” (From the 1888 Sword and Trowel AnnualVolume Preface)
Those words are over 100 years old yet TRUE TODAY! The trend today(again!) is that that biblical doctrine is out-of-style. People want short,entertaining sermons instead of doctrinal sermons. People want quick, easyfixes. At the heart of this attitude is the belief that it is better to keep peoplecomfortable and interested EVEN if you don’t teach the truth. Personal comfortis more important than teaching the whole counsel of God.
This trend isbecoming so normal that Christian “lite” Churches don’t stand out as badchurches anymore and the misguided think they are the best churches since somany people are flocking to them! Spurgeon’s warning was correct 100 yearsago and is again correct again today.
We are blessed that God has again raised up a voice to speak out againstthis downward slide of the Church and to call the Church back to its biblicalmandates. John MacArthur has put together a five -part video series called“Does the Truth Matter Any More?” to directly confront this growing error in theChurch.
Part One focused on how the philosophy of pragmatism has invadedmany ministries and is “sucking the truth out of biblical preaching” in manychurches. You see, pragmatism says that what determines the worth ofsomething is whether or not results are produced. Good results imply that whatyou did was good. No results imply that what you did was wrong. This isPragmatism. Pragmatism is relativitistic! Everything is measured relative to theresults produced and one will change methods until results are achieved! BUTGod’s word is NOT RELATIVE. God’s word is built on ABSOLUTE TRUTH –
RIGHT versus WRONG. Pragmatism says “Don’t be dogmatic! That isintolerant.”
Why are churches using pragmatism? Pragmatism is being used toattract people to church – church growth! Churches are measuring successbased on size and not on faithfulness to God’s way of doing ministry. We knowthese churches as “seeker-sensitive” churches. They are using strategies takendirectly from corporate America (and NOT from the Bible) to turn the Church intoa product that is sold to consumers who have needs and tastes!
Why is pragmatism wrong in the Church? It is wrong because it
CLASHES with God’s way of doing business in HIS CHURCH! The Bible neitherteaches nor promotes pragmatism. Spiritual and Biblical truth is not determinedby testing what works and what doesn’t work. Truth is tested only by whether ornot it is in the Bible. Pragmatism doesn’t pass the test! Pragmatism doesn’tmatch Scripture! And remember – the majority does not equal right! In fact, themajority is usually wrong (Matt. 7:13-14). Jeremiah is an example of how judgingthings by results (pragmatism) is misleading! He was faithful and never saw asingle convert! (Jer 20:7-10).
The bottom line is that pragmatism as a test of truth is Satanic. It is yetanother way to get us to distrust God’s word and take matters into our ownhands. Unfortunately, pragmatism is sweeping through the modern Church inthe form of self-help sermons, positive thinking teaching, drama, dance,psychology, worldly music, avoidance of offending biblical doctrines, etc.
BUT God’s mandate for the Church is seen in 2 Tim 4:1-2. This passageis best summed-up by the command: PREACH THE WORD! (2 Tim 4:2). EvenPeter made this command clear when he called all of those with the speakinggifts to STICK TO THE WORD OF GOD! (1 Peter 4:11) and reminded elders thatthey are Shepherds (whose primary responsibility is to FEED the flock) (1 Peter5:1-4). Look at God’s words to Ezekiel:
Ezekiel 2:1 -8 1 Then He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!” 2 As He spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet; and I heard Him speaking to me. 3 Then He said to me, “Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. 4 “I am sending you to them who are stubborn and obstinate children, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ 5 “As for them, whether they listen or not—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6 “And you,son of man, neither fear them nor fear their words, though thistles andthorns are with you and you sit on scorpions; neither fear their words nor bedismayed at their presence, for they are a rebellious house.
God made it very clear – PREACH MY WORDS and DON’TCONCERN YOURSELF WITH THE RESPONSE! Given that God alonedraws people and God alone saves people, it only makes sense to doministry the way He prescribes! If we don’t shepherd His way, the crownof glory may not be there! (1 Peter 4:4).
Remember too that when God draws people to Him, He doesn’tdraw through the flesh first and then spiritually! (1 Cor 1:18-24)
1 Corinthians 1:18-24 For the word of the cross is foolishness to thosewho are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.19 For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THECLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God madefoolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God theworld through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well pleasedthrough the foolishness of the message preached to save thosewho believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search forwisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block andto Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews andGreeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
God used Paul to remind us to guard doctrine and life carefully!Titus 1:7a,9 7 For the overseer must be … 9 holding fast thefaithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that hewill be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute thosewho contradict.
All we have to do is look at the first church in Acts to see the truth above lived outin the four priorities of the Church: the teaching of the Apostles, fellowship,breaking bread together and prayer. Yet, many modern churches reject thesepriorities and the holding fast to the faithful word in expository preaching. Theyhave been deceived by the philosophy of men (Col. 2:8) called Pragmatism.
So, what is the alarm here? First, pragmatism used as a philosophy ofministry is sin. Second, as was seen with Modernism, this subtle shift leads tothe destruction of Churches as it accelerates, gains momentum, and crowds outa biblical philosophy of ministry. This philosophy of pragmatism is being usedat the expense of biblical content and command while appealing to the carnalnatures of people.
But as we know from Paul, you cannot appeal to the flesh tobring people to salvation in Jesus Christ (1 Cor 2:14-15). It is not biblical to try toattract the spiritual attention of a fleshly, worldly, carnal person, using methodsthat appeal to their fleshly, worldly carnal desires! God promises to bless abiblical ministry and nothing less. This is not to say that humor and interestingillustrations are wrong! But, when these are done at the expense of biblicalcontent to appeal to people’s carnal natures, then they are wrong.
Rememberthis exhortation to Titus:
Titus 2:7 -8 in all things show yourself to be an example of gooddeeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound in speech which isbeyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, havingnothing bad to say about us.
Many Christians are unaware of dangers to the Church today that comesfrom within. The most deadly problems began as small, subtle errors withinthe Church. To avoid / correct these errors, the Church must begin withbiblically qualified elders who provide a steady, nourishing diet of the Wordof God through Expository Preaching.
The Church is not to relinquish thepower of the Holy Spirit by using man’s techniques! Stick to God’s mandatefor a dead world: Preach the Word (2 Tim 4:1 -3)!
It is amazing that manybelieve that the shift from doctrine to worldly enticement is a positive, majoradvance that is more loving and more gracious! But it is NOT love, NOTgrace – it is PRAGMATISM and it is not God’s way.
In summary of part 1, John MacArthur began by examining the state of the Christian Church today and drew parallels from the history of the church, especially from time of Charles Spurgeon at the end of the 19th Century. He then focused on how the philosophy of pragmatism has invaded many churches. Pragmatism says that what determines the worth of something is whether or not results are produced.
Why is pragmatism wrong in the Church? It is wrong because it CLASHES with God’s way of doing business in HIS CHURCH! The Bible neither teaches nor promotes pragmatism. Spiritual and Biblical truth is not determined by testing what works and what doesn’t work.
Truth is tested only by whether or not it is in the Bible. Pragmatism doesn’t pass the test! Pragmatism doesn’t match Scripture! Pragmatism used as a philosophy of ministry is sin. This leads to the destruction of Churches as it accelerates, gains momentum, and crowds out a biblical philosophy of ministry. God’s mandate for the Church is seen in 2 Tim 4:1-2. This passage is best summed-up by the command: PREACH THE WORD! (2 Tim 4:2).
In Part 2, MacArthur focuses on how worldliness has invaded the Church! In other words, the Church is trying to be LIKE the world in order to ATTRACT the world into the church. Using worldly attractions (like entertainment) and minimizing aspects of Christianity that the world does not like, churches work to create a comfortable and attractive (worldly attractive) environment that acts as bait to lure the world so that the gospel can be presented to them.
Sounds like a great idea, right? Wrong. Worldliness is sin. And like all sin, it is hostility towards God (James 4:4)! Worse than that, the Bible speaks DIRECTLY to how ministry is to be conducted. God has His own way of doing business in HisChurch! As He told Zerubbabel, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit”(Zecharaiah 4:6).
Through Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:4-18 God tells us:
4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, 6 and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete. 7 You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. 8 For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame, 9 for I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters. 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.” 11 Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present. 12 For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding. 13 But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach to you, for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ; 15 not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you, 16 so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another. 17 But HE WHO BOASTS IS TO BOAST IN THE LORD. 18 For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.
As MacArthur said, “God’s people are to be LIGHT to, not LIKE, the world!” John the Apostle, bluntly and clearly stated, 1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone lovesthe world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, thelust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not fromthe Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also itslusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
Wouldn’t you honestly like to ask a lot of the Pastors in seeker-sensitive churches a simple question, like, “What part of 1 John 2:15-17 (written above) isn’t clear or don’t you understand???” Obviously, that is a rhetorical question that arises out of the frustration of seeing God’s churches abandon His way. The frustration is because Church programs are being designed to be like the world! Has the Church lost sight of the FACT that worldliness is still sin?!
Consider the irony and foolishness of using worldly methods in light of John’s passage above. Why would a church draw unbelievers with something that they have to REJECT in order to be saved? (Matt 6:24). How does a church both use worldly techniques to attract unbelievers and then somehow, at the same time, teach that worldliness is wrong? The problem is that they don’t do that latter. That is another key problem with worldliness – it leads to the destruction of doctrine. And the destruction of doctrine destroys a church.
History has shown that false doctrine follows worldliness and it is only a matter of time before a church is dead. For example, in the day of Spurgeon and the downgrade controversy, modernism eventually destroyed the Church OF England and the Church IN England. But we don’t need history to prove this out – abandonment of biblical principles that allows worldliness into a church in the first place, is merely extended and expanded as the pragmatic results are attained.
Once you are willing to compromise one biblical doctrine, the next one is easier to compromise and the next one even easier, etc. Since the world hates true doctrine, a pragmatic philosophy using worldly techniques can only result in a completely worldly church – maybe a big church – but more importantly, a dead Church.
Here’s MacArthur’s “10 Steps to becoming a pragmatic church” from Part 2. These are mostly direct quotes from the video but without some of the quote marks and capitalization used for emphasis.
1.Preach the gospel in such a way that the emphasis is not on counting the cost(where Jesus placed it)…but rather on how easy it is to believe.
2.Before someone’s salvation, emphasize something they must do in order to besaved (like “coming forward” at an “altar call” or “praying a sinner’s prayer” or‘making a decision for Christ”) versus placing the emphasis on their sin and theneed for approaching a loving but Holy God for Divine mercy.
3.Teach half-truths as if they were whole truths (which makes them untruths).
4.Misinterpret Scripture by teaching that grace replaces holiness instead ofproduces holiness.
5.Teach (or at least imply) that grace and law, love and truth, faith and works areopposite one another, and teach (or imply) that (to the Christian) that law is nolonger relevant or necessary…and that strict obedience to the commands of Godis legalism or for more serious disciples.
6.Use fleshly, worldly things (like lavish café’s, book stores, dramas, big screenTVs and excessive humor and entertainment) to attract unbelievers so that youcan evangelize them before they profess Christ…and then teach them thatcarnal, worldly lifestyles are acceptable after they profess Christ!
7.Downplay, avoid, or outright ignore the biblical teachings that create humility inman and that exalt God, like: The Sovereignty of God, holiness, election, the totaldepravity of man, etc.).
8.Teach the “means of grace” (prayer, Bible study, fellowship, communion, etc.) as if they’re not necessary. Make them optional and only “when we feel led.” Andimply that any real work, or effort, or time put into those areas is legalism.
9.Be “seeker friendly.” That means minimize, dilute or add humor to any preaching that might be perceived as offensive or judgmental. Don’t go overboard onpreaching about holiness, fear, sin, or worldliness and only discuss hellwhenever necessary. And when you do preach on those subjects, mix in a goodamount of humor and light stories… and avoid (at all costs) sending people awaycondemned or guilty.
10.Place ease of understanding, practical application and being relatable abovebiblical accuracy…because people (these days) don’t like to be “preached at.”
In the next part (part 3), Paul’s teachings to Timothy will be contrasted with contemporary theology! MacArthur’s teaching sounds much like Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard it said…” (Matt 5) contrasted with “Scripture says…”
In Part 3, John MacArthur clearly shows that the current “seeker-sensitive” (or sometimes called “seeker-friendly”) church movement is not biblical and completely at odds with God’s plan for His church’s approach to ministry! It once was the goal of the church to be completely biblically-based in ministry and to clearly and plainly teach the Bible. Now, the new goal is to create a non-offensive environment for the non-Christian to be interested in and entertained in. Sermons are to be short or non-existent while music, drama and even comedy and magic dominate the service.
To be a “seekerfriendly” church is to be a benign, non-challenging church without clear, forcefulpreaching as is seen on the pages of Scripture! What is the problem with this? “Seeker-sensitive” and “biblically-based” worship are incompatible and competing approaches. Seeker-sensitive uses worldly techniques and compromises the truth of Scripture. To make the “seeker” comfortable, interested and entertained, one cannot preach the whole counsel of God as Scripture commands. The truth of Scripture is COMPROMISED in order to attain these goals because to keep in a non-Christian “comfortable” you cannot preach the difficult doctrines of sin, judgment, hell, eternal damnation, etc.!
The church that is seeker-sensitive is forging a friendship with the world and as God’s word says:
James 4:4-5 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with theworld is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend ofthe world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that theScripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which Hehas made to dwell in us”?
1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. Ifanyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all thatis in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and theboastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 Theworld is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will ofGod lives forever.
God equates those who would forge a friendship with the world as adulteresses!In other words, to do so is to commit spiritual adultery against God. WorldlinessIS SIN.
Another way the seeker-sensitive movement functions is to cater to the“felt-needs” of people rather than to their spiritual needs. “Felt-needs” arepeople’s own assessment of what they want to hear about in church. Thiscomes from a market-driven philosophy of growth, not from a biblically-basedphilosophy of ministry.
Felt-needs often include loneliness, fear of failure, co-dependency, poor self-image, anger, depression, resentment, etc. The root forall of these is depravity in the non-Christian and the flesh in the Christian. Ineither case, they are sins that need to be biblically-addressed. That means thatin God’s eyes they are sinfully wrong! God commands them to put off these sinsand put on godly living.
Yes, this confrontation needs to done in a lovingmanner, but it still needs to be done, and needs to be done directly. To not do sois to please men and not God. Felt-needs are often determined by surveys,while spiritual needs are determined by Scripture – the whole counsel ofScripture!
The modern seeker-sensitive church needs to learn from the early churchabout God’s way of ministry. Read the following account from Acts 5:
1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece ofproperty, 2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s fullknowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the HolySpirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 “While it remainedunsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not underyour control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart?You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 And as he heard these words,Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all whoheard of it. 6 The young men got up and covered him up, and aftercarrying him out, they buried him. 7 Now there elapsed an interval ofabout three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.8 And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for suchand such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9 Then Petersaid to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of theLord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husbandare at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” 10 And immediatelyshe fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in andfound her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside herhusband. 11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all whoheard of these things. 12 At the hands of the apostles many signs andwonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with oneaccord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associatewith them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all themore believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantlyadded to their number, (Acts 5:1-14).
Talk about an non-seeker-sensitive church! God took the lives of Ananias and Sapphira right in front of the whole church and verse 11 says that “great fear came over the whole church, and over all who hear of these things”! Verse 13 adds that “none of the rest dared to associate with them.” One would think this would have disastrous consequences for the growth of the young church.
But the one thing the seekersensitive church forgets is that God alone adds to His Church (John 6:44)! That is why verse 13 continues “however, the people held them in high esteem” and verse 14 adds “And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number.” If one thing is to be learned from Scripture about the church it is this: It is not our Church, it is God’s Church and He alone calls people to the body of Christ (John 6:44; Col 3:15). The head of the Church is Jesus Christ (Col 1:18-20) – not anyone of us.
Going back to Acts 5, one can see that the purity of the Church is more important to God than having non-Christians there! God judged Ananias and Sapphira because He demands righteousness in His church not worldliness. God used FEAR to drive away unrepentant sinners that day!
When it is seen how God purifies His church with judgment, it is unfathomable how any church would dare use worldly seekersensitive techniques and run the risk of incurring God’s chastening! Yet, in many churches today, Ananias and Sapphira would be welcome (they did give a large portion of the proceeds of the sale, didn’t they?) and strategies are in place to attract more like them!
It is a sad fact that most churches today do not practice church discipline today (Matt 18:15-20). It is a sadder fact that most churches are willing to compromise the authority of the Word of God to make people comfortable and interested. The only way for today’s church to turn back to God is through repentance and a commitment to the authority of the Word of God – the whole Word of God – in every aspect of ministry. Since Scripture contains all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), let us shepherd God’s flock according to this truth!
In Part 4, John MacArthur gives answers to ministering in an age of itching ears. That is, ministering in an age of seeker-friendly churches as we have today.
Paul foresaw the seeker-friendly age and addressed it in his second letter to Timothy. In chapter 4, the first 5 verses sum up all Paul has given to Timothy.1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, whois to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove,rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time willcome when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have theirears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordanceto their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and willturn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, dothe work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
The bottom line, core message of those verses is: PREACH THE WORD! (v.2). No matter what anyone else is doing, no matter whether the crowds are going elsewhere – just preach the word! Paul doesn’t anywhere teach that Timothy should do surveys, gather demographic data, research felt needs and then pull it all together into a business strategy with one year, three year, and five year goals – all wrapped with a marketing message (you know, one of those catchy, pithy, one liners like “got milk?”) that you implement to meet people’s felt needs and have success like the world measures it! There is nothing in Scripture (let alone Paul’s message to Timothy) on:
Techniques and methods
Size of the ministry
Size of the giving
Impact on the community
Size of the results of evangelism results
Being comfortable, at peace and without problems
Those are all worldly indicators of success and not God’s indicators of a successful ministry! Let’s be even clearer: Paul doesn’t even tell Timothy to be successful! If you read those verses again, you’ll see one thing – Timothy be committed to doing ministry God’s way and committed to doing it excellently – excellently God’s way! All ministry is to be committed to pleasing God and not man. REAL success is doing the will of God.
Real success is doing ministry excellently, God’s way, REGARDLESS of the outcome. God is concerned with HOW it happens and not WHAT happens. Note: Even if a church is getting “decisions for Christ” and people feel the church is meeting their needs, it may not be a successful church in God’s eyes. God is only pleased when ministry is done HIS WAY. And, you know what, when you please God, men are often not pleased!
Yet today, churches are infatuated with worldly standards of success! Why is this so when size does not signify God’s blessing and when popularity is not a barometer of success to God? In the days of Jeremiah, God was disgusted at the weak messages that drew large crowds. Listen to God speak through Jeremiah:
30 “An appalling and horrible thing Has happened in the land:
31 The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on theirown authority; And My people love it so! But what will you do atthe end of it? (Jeremiah 5:30-31)
Do you see what God is saying? He is disgusted at the message, the method and at men’s response!
The other part of the problem with worldly standards of success is that Preachers neglect vital doctrines in Scripture and water-down the hard message of Scripture so a not to offend anyone. However, from God’s view, the WHOLE counsel of God is to be preached (“Preach the word” is clear, isn’t it? I don’t see “preach the word, except the stuff on holiness, election, hell, morality, etc.”).
As MacArthur repeats at least twice, preachers cannot neglect the vital doctrines of Scripture – “half-truth taught as whole truth is an un-truth, a lie.”
Sum it all up: ANY approach to ministry that is man-centered offends God.
Church leaders time and time again disqualify themselves by being man-pleasers instead of God pleasers. Churches are then ineffective for Christ. This isn’t always seen in the growth-oriented church. It can be and is seen in small churches that merely want to be comfort fellowships instead of Christian fellowships and are afraid of losing people from their pews. This includes 1 Corinthian 1:11-13 churches where Jesus Christ is not protected as the head of the church through loyalty to His commands, but men and women protect the church leaders even though they are not fit for ministry.
So, while seeker-friendly churches may grow large and ineffective for Christ, other manpleasing churches stagnate and wither and also hurt the name of Christ. And, in both cases, the word of God is not preached effectively and powerfully as Paul would have it be.
In the rest of Part 4 and in Part 5, John examines 2 Tim 4:1-5 to see how God defines an excellent ministry. In this passage, there are eleven reminders of duties for ALL ministers that must be done. And as you would expect, God’s hallmark isexcellence, not success.
In Part 4 and Part 5 of John MacArthur’s “Does the Truth Matter Anymore?” John turns to 2 Timothy 4 to see God’s teaching on the foundation of an excellent ministry.
Let’s look a little more closely at these few verses from the beginning of 2 Timothy 4:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is tojudge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preachthe word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, withgreat patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not enduresound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate forthemselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn awaytheir ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in allthings, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2Timothy 4:1–5).
This passage DEFINES biblical ministry. There are eleven reminders from Paul to Timothy that no pastor dare disregard. Those who neglect or de-emphasize these duties are on the spiritual down-grade – they are unable to effectively reach people for Jesus Christ – REGARDLESS of the worldly success factors they might be achieving.
Let’s look at the 11 reminders that Paul gives Timothy. These reminders are covered in MacArthur’s book, Ashamed of the Gospel, as a list of 9! So, included here is the text from that book:
1.REMEMBER YOUR CALLING
“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His Kingdom”—thus Paul begins this final section of the last inspired epistle he ever wrote. He was a prisoner, near the end of his own life, anticipating his own execution (v. 16). He knew he would soon stand before God to give an account. These thoughts were heavy on his mind. And so he reminded Timothy of the seriousness of the young pastor’s own commission. He counseled Timothy to live and work in light of impending judgment. Timothy needed to concern himself with what God thought of his ministry, not what people thought. Notice that Paul invoked “the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead.” He wanted Timothy to understand that the One who would judge him is the One in whose presence he was then ministering. God judges by His own criteria, not by what people think.
Elsewhere Paul says, “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.… So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10, 12). That is the point he wants to make with Timothy. He must not be ministering to please men, but to please God.
2.PREACH THE WORD
What kind of ministry pleases God? “Preach the Word” (v. 2). Obedience to that simple command must be the centerpiece of every truly biblical ministry philosophy. The preacher’s task is to proclaim Scripture and give the sense of it (cf Neh. 8:8). All other content is extraneous. My father is a pastor, and when I first told him years ago that I believed God had called me to a life of ministry, he gave me a Bible in which he had written, “Dear Johnny, preach the Word. 2 Timothy 4:2.” That simple statement became the compelling stimulus in my heart. I have never forgotten that simple biblical instruction from my dad—preach the Word. What else is there to preach?
Preaching the Word is not always easy. The message we are required to proclaim is often offensive. Christ Himself is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (Rom. 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8). The message of the cross is a stumbling block to some (1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 5:11), mere foolishness to others (1 Cor. 1:23). “[The] natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14). Why do you suppose Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (Rom. 1:16)? Surely it is because so many
Christians are ashamed of the very message we are commanded to proclaim. As we have noted, Timothy evidently struggled with the temptation to be ashamed. Paul admonished him not to be “ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” or ashamed of Paul (2 Tim. 1:8). Timothy seems to have become a timid soul, exhibiting “a spirit of timidity,” not at all like the strong and courageous apostle Paul. He was young, and some people demeaned him because of that (1 Tim. 4:12). He knew full well that even being associated with Paul was dangerous. Publicly proclaiming God’s truth could land him in prison with Paul. At the very least, he was sure to incur hostility and debates from Jews who were antagonistic to the Gospel.
What is more, Timothy apparently struggled with the impulses of youthful lust (2:22). He may have felt he was not all he should be. Those were some compelling reasons for Timothy to silence his proclamation. So when Paul commanded him to preach, he was demanding that he go against his own inclinations and inhibitions.
What was the Word that Timothy was to preach? Paul had made this clear at the end of chapter 3: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16, emphasis added). This is the Word to be preached: the whole counsel of God (cf Acts 20:27). In chapter 1 Paul had told Timothy, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me” (v. 13). He was speaking of the revealed words of Scripture—all of it. He urged Timothy to “Guard … the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (v. 14). Then in chapter 2 he told him to study the Word and handle it accurately (2:15). Now he is telling him to proclaim it. So the entire task of the faithful minister revolves around the Word of God—guarding it, studying it, and proclaiming it.
In Colossians 1 the apostle Paul, describing his own ministry philosophy, writes, “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God” (v. 25, emphasis added). In 1 Corinthians he goes a step further: “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1, 2). In other words, his goal as a preacher was not to entertain people with his rhetorical style, or to amuse them with cleverness, humor, novel insights, or sophisticated methodology—he simply preached Christ crucified.
There have always been those in the pulpit who gathered crowds because they are gifted orators, interesting storytellers, entertaining speakers, dynamic personalities, shrewd crowd-manipulators, rousing speech-makers, popular politicians, or erudite scholars. Such preaching may be popular, but it is not necessarily powerful. No one can preach with supernatural power who does not preach the Word. And no faithful preacher will water down or neglect the whole counsel of God. Proclaiming the Word— all of it—is the pastor’s calling.
And so preaching the Word must be the very heart of our ministry philosophy. Any other philosophy replaces the voice of God with human wisdom. Philosophy, politics, humor, psychology, homespun advice, and human opinion can never accomplish what the Word of God does. Those things may be interesting, informative, entertaining, and sometimes even helpful—but they are not spiritually transforming, and they are not the business of the church. The preacher’s task is not to be a conduit for human wisdom; he is God’s voice to speak to the congregation. No human message comes with the stamp of divine authority—only the Word of God. I frankly do not understand preachers who are willing to abdicate this solemn privilege. Moral lectures and motivational talks are no substitute for God’s Word. Why should we proclaim the wisdom of men when we have the privilege of preaching the Word of God?
3.BE FAITHFUL IN AND OUT OF SEASON
Paul next reminds Timothy that this duty is a never-ending task. Not only is he to preach the Word, he is to do it regardless of the climate of opinion around him. He is to be faithful when such preaching is tolerated—but also when it is not. Let’s face it—right now preaching the Word is out of season. Humanity is experiencing God’s wrath as He gives people over to the consequences of sinful choices (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28), “the due penalty of their error.” Society may be feeling this divine abandonment in our age more than ever before. And the decline of preaching in the church can actually contribute to people’s sense of helplessness. Martyn Lloyd- Jones argued that “in many ways it is the departure of the Church from preaching that is responsible in a large measure for the state of modern society.… The Church, having abandoned her real task, has left humanity more or less to its own devices.”8
This is certainly no time for weak men, weak messages, and weak ministries. What is needed is moral strength and courage, and uncompromising proclamation of the truth that can set people free. “So far from saying that we must have less preaching and turn more and more to other devices and expedients, I say that we have a heaven-sent opportunity for preaching.”9
But the market-driven philosophy currently in vogue says that plainly declaring biblical truth is outmoded. Biblical exposition and theology are seen as antiquated and irrelevant. “Churchgoers don’t want to be preached to anymore,” this philosophy says. “The baby-boom generation won’t just sit in the pew while someone up front preaches. They are products of a media-driven generation, and they need a church experience that will satisfy them on their own terms.”
But Paul says the excellent minister must be faithful to preach the Word even when it is not in fashion. The expression he uses is, “be ready.” The Greek term (ephistēmi) literally means “to stand beside.” It has the idea of eagerness. It was often used to describe a military guard, always at his post, prepared for duty. Paul was speaking of an explosive eagerness to preach, like that of Jeremiah, who said that the Word of God was a fire in his bones. That’s what he was demanding of Timothy. Not reluctance but readiness. Not hesitation but fearlessness. No cool talk but the fire of the Word of God.
8 8 Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 35.
9 9 Ibid., 42.
4.REPROVE, REBUKE, AND EXHORT
Paul also gives Timothy instructions about the tone of his preaching. He uses two words that carry negative connotations and one that is positive: reprove, rebuke, and exhort (2 Tim. 4:2). All valid ministry must have a balance of positive and negative. The preacher who fails to reprove and rebuke is not fulfilling his commission.
I recently listened to a radio interview with a preacher who assiduously avoids any mention of sin in his preaching because he feels people are burdened with too much guilt anyway. The interviewer asked how he could justify such a policy. The pastor replied that he had made the decision to focus on meeting people’s needs, not attacking their sin.
But people’s deepest need is to confess and overcome their sin. So preaching that fails to confront and correct sin through the Word of God does not meet people’s need. It may make them feel good. And they may respond enthusiastically to the preacher, but that does not mean such preaching meets real needs.
To reprove, rebuke, and exhort is to preach the Word, for those are the very same ministries Scripture accomplishes: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Notice the same balance of positive and negative tone. Reproof and correction are negative; teaching and training are positive.
The positive tone is crucial, too. The word “exhort” (parakaleō) means “encourage.” The excellent preacher confronts sin and then encourages repentant sinners to behave righteously. He is to do this “with great patience and instruction” (4:2). In 1 Thessalonians 2:11, Paul talks about “exhorting and encouraging and imploring … as a father would his own children.” This often requires great patience and much instruction. But the excellent minister cannot neglect these aspects of his calling.
5.DON’T COMPROMISE IN DIFFICULT TIMES
There is an urgency in Paul’s charge to young Timothy: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2 Tim. 4:3).
That is a prophecy reminiscent of those found in 2 Timothy 3:1 (“Realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come”) and 1 Timothy 4:1 (“The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith.”) This, then, is Paul’s third prophetic warning to Timothy about the difficult times to come. Note the progression: The first one said that the time would come when people would depart from the faith. The second one warned Timothy that dangerous times were coming for the church. Now the third one suggests that the time would come when those in the church would not endure sound doctrine, but desire instead to have their ears tickled.
Fearless preaching is all the more necessary in such dangerous times. When people will not tolerate the truth, that’s when courageous, outspoken preachers are mostdesperately needed to speak it.
Why are people unwilling to endure sound teaching? It is because they love sin. Sound preaching, as we have seen, confronts and rebukes sin, and people in love with sinful lifestyles will not tolerate such teaching. They want to have their ears tickled (v. 3).
Paul employs the expression “sound teaching” in 1 Timothy 1 as well. In verses 9 and 10 of that chapter, he speaks of “those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching” (emphasis added). A society filled with and influenced by liars, perjurers, murderers, and homosexuals is by no means tolerant of sound teaching.
Note that Paul does not suggest that the way to reach such a society is to soften the message so that such people will be comfortable with it. Just the opposite is true. Such ear-tickling is abominable. Paul urges Timothy to be willing to suffer for the truth’s sake, and keep preaching the Word faithfully. That’s the only way intolerant people can be exposed to the truth, which alone can soften their hearts.
Incidentally, the interpretive question raised by this passage hinges on the word “they” in verse 3. To whom does the word refer? To the world? Or to the church? Surely it includes the world—unregenerate people seldom are willing to tolerate sound teaching. But here
Paul is speaking of people to whom Timothy preaches. This seems to refer to people in the church. It suggests that a time would come when professing Christians in Ephesus would not stand for sound preaching.
But isn’t that also the state of the church in our society today? In fact, it is precisely what marketing experts are pointing out to church leaders. The whole basis of their philosophy is that people don’t want to hear the truth proclaimed; they want to beentertained. The marketing plan says, give them what they want. Scripture saysotherwise.
There are thousands of supposedly evangelical churches worldwide that cannot stomach sound doctrine. They would not tolerate for two weeks strong biblical teaching that refutes their doctrinal error, confronts their sin, convicts them, and calls them to obey the truth. They don’t want to hear healthy teaching. Why? Because people in the church want to own God without giving up sinful lifestyles, and they will not endure someone telling them what God’s Word says about it.
What do they want to hear? “Wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (v. 3). Ironically, they seek out teachers. In fact, they heap to themselves teachers—but not sound ones. They choose the teachers who tell them what they want to hear. They want what tickles their ears and feeds their lusts. They want what makes them feel good about themselves.
Preachers who offend them, they reject. They accumulate a mass of teachers who feed their insatiable, selfish appetites. And the preacher who brings the message they most need to hear is the one they least like to hear.
Unfortunately, preachers with ear-tickling messages are all too abundantly available. “In periods of unsettled faith, scepticism, and mere curious speculation in matters of religion, teachers of all kinds swarm like the flies in Egypt. The demand creates the supply. The hearers invite and shape their own preachers. If the people desire a calf to worship, a ministerial calf-maker is readily found.”10
This appetite for ear-tickling preaching has a terrible end. Verse 4 says these people will ultimately “turn away their ears from the truth and will be turned aside to myths.”
They become the victims of their own refusal to hear the truth. The phrase “they will turn away” is in the active voice. The people willfully choose this action. “Will be turned aside to myths” is in the passive voice. It describes what happens to them. Having turned from the truth, they become victims of deception. As soon as they turn away from the truth, they become pawns of Satan. The absence of light is darkness.
This is happening in the church today. Evangelicalism has lost its tolerance for confrontive preaching. Now the church is flirting with serious doctrinal error. Christians madly pursue extrabiblical revelation in the form of prophecies and dreams. Preachers deny or ignore the reality of hell. The modern gospel promises heaven apart from holiness. Churches ignore the biblical teaching on women’s roles, homosexuality, and other politically-charged issues. The human medium has overtaken the divine message.
This is evidence of serious doctrinal compromise. If the church does not repent and return to the up-line(as Spurgeon would say), these errors and others like them will become epidemic.
Look again at the key phrase in verse 3: “wanting to have their ears tickled.” Why won’t they endure sound doctrine? Why do they heap to themselves teachers? Why do they turn away from the truth? Because down deep inside they simply want to have their ears tickled. They don’t want to be confronted. They don’t want to be convicted. They want to be entertained. They want preaching that produces pleasant sensations. They want to feel good. They want their ears tickled with anecdotes, humor, psychology, motivational lectures, reassurance, positive thinking, self-congratulation, ego-massaging sermonettes, and agreeable small talk. Biblical reproof, rebuke, and exhortation are unacceptable.
But the truth of God does not tickle our ears; it boxes them. It burns them. It first reproves, rebukes, convicts—then exhorts and encourages. Preachers of the Word must be careful to maintain that balance.
In John 6, after Jesus had delivered a particularly hard message, Scripture tells us, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore” (v. 66). As the crowds left, our Lord turned to His disciples and asked, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” (v. 67). Peter’s reply on behalf of the Twelve is significant: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (v. 68). That was the right response. It revealed the difference between true disciples and hangerson: their hunger for the Word. Jesus said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:31, KJV). People seeking to be entertained or fed, curiosityseekers, and people who just follow the crowd are by no means true disciples. It is those who love the Word that are true followers of Christ. They will not desire preachers who tickle their ears.
10 10 Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, 4 vols. (New York: Scribner’s,1900), 4: 321.
6.BE SOBER IN ALL THINGS
The attitude of the excellent minister must be one of thoughtful sobriety. “Be sober in all things” (v. 5) is not merely a warning against drunkenness. Nor is Paul suggesting that Timothy should be somber, joyless, gloomy, morose. Sober means self-controlled, steady, attentive. It describes a state of mental alertness and control of one’s faculties.
The excellent minister is a solid person, a stable person, like an athlete who has brought all his passions and appetites and nerves under complete control to perform at a maximum level. To put it in the negative, a preacher is not to be flaky, not to be trendy, not to be a pursuer of whims. In the face of a changing world, in the midst of a vacillating church, in the context of a rocking and reeling society, ministers had better be rooted, steadfast, stable, rock-solid. We cannot compromise when the pressure is on.
The church has had enough erratic, trendy, whimsical preachers whose style depends on the mood of the mob. What is most needed now are those who remain totally steadfast in an unstable world, and who know their priorities. We need ministers whose heads are clear of deceit, false teaching, and unorthodox notions. We need preachers who will courageously declare the whole counsel of God. How wearisome it must be to God to hear His inspired Word replaced by insipid, innocuous pablumdribbled out of pulpits!
The noble preacher is balanced, consistent, solid. He is unmoved by the cries ofthose who beg to have their ears tickled.
Obviously, excellent ministers cannot be those who yearn for earthly applause. Neither can they be lovers of earthly comfort. The life of ministry is not a life of leisure. Timothy needed to be willing to endure hardship (v. 5). He could not have the kind of ministry God desired of him unless he was willing to go through some suffering.
No ministry of any value comes without pain. I often encounter young men headed for ministry who are looking for a church without problems, a ministry without challenges, a congregation that will make life easy. There is no such place for the faithful preacher of the Word. The notion that ministry can be both effective and painless is a lie. You will encounter hardship if you preach the unadulterated Word. And when adversity strikes, you have two choices. You can endure and remain steadfast, or you can compromise. The faithful minister holds the line for the truth. You cannot do that and escape suffering. “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will bepersecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Thus faithfulness and hardship go hand in hand.
This is a repeated theme in 2 Timothy. In 2:1, 3, Paul wrote, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.… Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” Now he reminds Timothy again that suffering is as much a part of the faithful minister’s duty as any other aspect of the work.
Did Timothy follow Paul’s counsel? Evidently he did. Hebrews 13:23, an obscure little verse, says, “Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I shall see you.” The writer of Hebrews obviously knew Timothy well and loved him. He tells the Hebrews that Timothy had been “released.” Released from what? The Greek word used there suggests that Timothy had been released from prison. We can assume that when the suffering came, Timothy endured it. He did not compromise. He remained faithful, even though it evidently meant imprisonment. He did not try to find a cheap way out.
8.DO THE WORK OF AN EVANGELIST
At first sight it might seem that the command to “do the work of an evangelist” is an abrupt change of direction. But it is not. Paul was encouraging Timothy to reach out beyond the comfort level of his own flock and boldly proclaim the Word to unbelievers.
Paul was not suggesting that Timothy’s office was that of an evangelist. He was telling him that part of his duty as a pastor was to evangelize unbelievers. Again, Paul was commanding Timothy to declare the truth boldly.
Timothy may have been tempted to seek a haven in the comfort of the flock. Paul was urging him to minister instead on the front line. He wanted Timothy to face the world courageously and preach Christ crucified. He wanted him to proclaim sin, righteousness, judgment, and God’s law. He wanted him to declare the depravity, not the dignity, of humankind.
He wanted him to herald the Second Coming and warn of eternal judgment. He wanted him to magnify the cross, the resurrection, the atonement, grace, and faith. He was urging Timothy to be solemn and persuasive in confronting unbelief.
9.FULFILL YOUR MINISTRY
Paul’s brief charge to Timothy ends with a final imperative: “Fulfill your ministry” (v. 5). “Fulfill” means accomplish, fill it up, do it all. He might have said, “Don’t serve God halfheartedly; do it with all your might.” Paul was coming to the end of his own life, and he was able to say, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (4:6–8). He wanted Timothy to reach the same point someday.
Remember, this charge from Paul to Timothy has implications for every Christian. We are all to be ministers in some sphere of service. Whether you are a mother ministering to her own children, or pastor of a huge congregation, these principles apply to you. There is no room for compromise. There is no place for timidity. There is no time for delay. There is no need for fear. Fill up your service to the Lord; accomplish it all.
That is possible only if the ministry is done right.
HOLDING FAST THE FAITH
At the height of the Down-Grade Controversy, two weeks after he was censured by the Baptist Union, Charles Spurgeon preached a message entitled “Holding Fast the Faith,” in which he said, We must never hide our colours. There are times when we must dash to thefront and court the encounter, when we see that our Captain’s honour demandsit. Let us never be either ashamed or afraid. Our Lord Jesus deserves that weshould yield ourselves as willing sacrifices in defence of his faith. Ease,reputation, life itself, must go for the name and faith of Jesus. If in the heat of9the battle our good name or our life must be risked to win the victory, then let ussay, “In this battle some of us must fall; why should not I? I will take part and lotwith my Master, and bear reproach for his sake.” Only brave soldiers are worthyof our great Lord. Those who sneak into the rear, that they may be comfortable,are not worthy of the kingdom.…Brethren, we must be willing to bear ridicule for Christ’s sake, even thatpeculiarly envenomed ridicule which “the cultured” are so apt to pour upon us.We must be willing to be thought great fools for Jesus’ sake.… For my part, Iam willing to be ten thousand fools in one for my dear Lord and Master, andcount it to be the highest honour that can be put upon me to be stripped ofevery honour, and loaded with every censure for the sake of the grand old truthwhich is written on my very heart.…Before I could quit my faith … I should have to be ground to powder, andevery separate atom transformed.11
Spurgeon closed with these words:
Everybody admires Luther! Yes, yes; but you do not want any one else to dothe same to-day. When you go to the Zoological Gardens you all admire thebear; but how would you like a bear at home, or a bear wandering loose aboutthe street? You tell me that it would be unbearable, and no doubt you are right.So, we admire a man who was firm in the faith, say four hundred years ago;the past ages are a sort of bear-pit or iron cage for him; but such a man to-dayis a nuisance, and must be put down. Call him a narrow-minded bigot, or givehim a worse name if you can think of one. Yet imagine that in those ages past,Luther, Zwingle, Calvin, and their compeers had said, “The world is out oforder; but if we try to set it right we shall only make a great row, and getourselves into disgrace. Let us go to our chambers, put on our night-caps, andsleep over the bad times, and perhaps when we wake up things will havegrown better.”
Such conduct on their part would have entailed upon us a heritage of error.Age after age would have gone down into the infernal deeps, and thepestiferous bogs of error would have swallowed all. These men loved the faithand the name of Jesus too well to see them trampled on. Note what we owethem, and let us pay to our sons the debt we owe our fathers.It is to-day as it was in the Reformers’ days. Decision is needed. Here is theday for the man, where is the man for the day? We who have had the gospelpassed to us by martyr hands dare not trifle with it, nor sit by and hear it deniedby traitors, who pretend to love it, but inwardly abhor every line of it. The faith Ihold bears upon it marks of the blood of my ancestors. Shall I deny their faith,for which they left their native land to sojourn here? Shall we cast away thetreasure which was handed to us through the bars of prisons, or came to uscharred with the flames of Smithfield?
Personally, when my bones have been tortured with rheumatism, I have remembered Job Spurgeon, doubtless of my own stock, who in Chelmsford Jail was allowed a chair, because he could not lie down by reason of rheumaticpain. That Quaker’s broad-brim overshadows my brow. Perhaps I inherit hisrheumatism; but that I do not regret if I have his stubborn faith, which will not letme yield a syllable of the truth of God.
When I think of how others have suffered for the faith, a little scorn orunkindness seems a mere trifle, not worthy of mention. An ancestry of lovers ofthe faith ought to be a great plea with us to abide by the Lord God of ourfathers, and the faith in which they lived. As for me, I must hold the old gospel: Ican do no other. God helping me, I will endure the consequences of what menthink obstinacy.
Look you, sirs, there are ages yet to come. If the Lord does not speedilyappear, there will come another generation, and another, and all thesegenerations will be tainted and injured if we are not faithful to God and to histruth to-day. We have come to a turning-point in the road. If we turn to the right,mayhap our children and our children’s children will go that way; but if we turnto the left, generations yet unborn will curse our names for having beenunfaithful to God and to his Word. I charge you, not only by your ancestry, butby your posterity, that you seek to win the commendation of your Master, thatthough you dwell where Satan’s seat is, you yet hold fast his name, and do notdeny his faith. God grant us faithfulness, for the sake of the souls around us!
How is the world to be saved if the church is false to her Lord? How are we to lift the masses if our fulcrum is removed? If our gospel is uncertain, what remains but increasing misery and despair? Stand fast, my beloved, in the name of God! I, your brother in Christ, entreat You to abide in the truth. Quit yourselves like men, be strong. The Lord sustain you for Jesus’ sake. Amen.12
10-12 “Holding Fast the Faith,”
Spurgeon did his part. He passed the baton to another generation, and they passed it to another. They finished their course having kept the faith, and now it is our turn. Will we keep the faith? Will we fulfill our ministry? Are we willing to suffer hardship for being faithful? Are we committed to a biblical ministry of preaching the Word without shame? We who love the Lord and His church must not sit by while the church gains momentum on the down-grade of worldliness and compromise. Men and women before us have paid with their blood to deliver the faith intact to us. Now it is our turn to guard the truth. It is a task that calls for courage, not compromise. And it is a responsibility that demands unwavering devotion to a very narrow purpose.
In the same sermon I have been quoting from, Spurgeon included this reminder:
Dear friends, this name, this faith, these are our message. Our only business here below is to cry, “Behold the Lamb.” Are any of you sent of God with any other message? It cannot be. The one message which God has given to his people to proclaim is salvation through the Lamb—salvation by the blood of Jesus.… To tell of Jesus is our occupation, we have nothing to say which is not comprised in the revelation made to us by God in Jesus Christ. He who is our comfort is our one theme.13
12 12 Ibid., 83–84.
13 13 Ibid., 81.
That echoes Paul’s words to Timothy: “Preach the Word.” We have nothing else worth saying. There is no other message. There is no other valid ministry. Until the church recovers the centrality of that truth and that single-minded commitment to our calling, evangelicalism will continue to be pulled relentlessly further into the down-grade. God’s judgment was swift and terrifying.1
1MacArthur, J. (1993). Ashamed of the gospel : When the Church becomes like the world. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.