This verse epitomizes one of my heroes…none other than John MacArthur. Self-described third-level galley-slave, MacArthur has faithfully served his flock at Grace Community Church for more than 40 years. He has not ridden the waves of “the latest trends” or changed his message to have a “relevant” church, but has been a faithful stalwart in correctly handling the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15).
Iain H. Murray has just written an amazing biography, John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock, detailing MacArthur’s ministry – both the high points as well as the frustrations. In a fluid writing style Murray contains so many great points it will definitely take me more than one post to explicate the text.
In the second chapter titled The Bible Takes First Place, Murray cites an early experience of MacArthur at Talbot Theological Seminary that would forever shape his preaching career. He was assigned to preach to the student body and faculty on 2 Samuel 7, the passage where the prophet Nathan’s encouragement to David to build a temple that was overruled by God. John MacArthur took a pragmatic approach to this passage and preached on the importance of not presuming on God. His hero and chief mentor, Dr. Charles Feinberg, handed him a critique (which he would later expound upon with deep disappointment) that only said “You missed the whole point of the passage.” (Page 19)
That criticism (which should be given to most of today’s pragmatic, results-oriented preachers) deeply affected and motivated MacArthur to correctly handle the Word of God and never miss the point of the passage again! When John MacArthur left seminary he began to observe that most churches and pastors devalued the Bible and were solely in the business of making decisions (false converts) and money through evangelistic endeavors.
“The overwhelming thing I saw was spiritual ignorance. Everywhere I went I saw insipid preaching devoid of biblical content. That really disturbed me. I constantly reflected on the Hosea passage, ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.'” (Page 28-29)
In the third chapter, The Early Ministry at Grace Community Church, Murray shows that early on in John MacArthur’s ministry he found that a solid church was not to create concepts or methods or programs to gain followers, but for hearts to be moved by God through Scripture. He was able to quickly able to identify that “the goal of the pastor and leaders of a church should be to generate proper spiritual attitudes in the hearts of the people.” (Page 34) Therefore, John MacArthur developed an early commitment to expository preaching, beginning with verse-by-verse teaching from the opening chapters of Romans. There soon became a passion inside the church to understand and obey the Word of God. Through expository preaching and the correct Biblical application of church discipline, Grace Community Church soon became a thriving church full of slaves for Christ – not simply the audiences of a church being provided entertainment in the form of worship and a pastor cleverly supplying personal stories, but it was the Word of God that inhabited each believer and transformed them into a congregation that evangelized 365 days a year.
Chapter 5 detailed Scripture and Preaching in showing John MacArthur’s relentless work to understand and explain the Scripture correctly. On most weeks, MacArthur puts in over 30 hours for his preparation of one passage, always in context with the book he is preaching on as well with the rest of Scripture. The largest difference from MacArthur from today’s so-called evangelists and pastors is the Biblical fashion at which he molds his ministry.
“The real goal of ministry has always been to keep my opinions out of it as much as possible. I never want to be guilty of giving people the illusion that they have heard from God when in fact they have only heard from me.” (Page 60)
“Even if I never preached another sermon, I would thank God every day of my life for the sanctifying grace that has come to me through the daily study of His precious Word. Pastors should study to know God, not just to make sermons. For me, the greatest joy of preaching comes, not in the final step, proclamation, but in the transformation of my own life.” (Page 61)
“The authority of Scripture is no less evident in the way a preacher handles the Word of God in public. The nature of Scripture as revelation from God must control the manner in which it is taught. There is something seriously wrong when a preacher thinks he must not put Scripture at the forefront of his message lest his hearers are ‘put off’. It is no less wrong when a man thinks the best way to gain a hearing is to sprinkle the message with appealing stories and humour. A man who cannnot get attention with these things, MacArthur would say does not know what it means to handle the sword of the Spirit.” (Murray, Page 62)
“You have to believe that the power of God’s Word will be more effective than any human drama or communication gimmick. Nothing is as dramatic as the explosion of the truth on the mind of a believer through powerful preaching.” (Page 63)
As you can see, most of today’s churches and pastors will say they believe in the authority of Scripture but not many put their ‘money where their mouth is’ so to speak. They will use programs and methods and try to ‘catch the wave’ of evangelical Christianity to attempt to be relevant to today’s generation. What John MacArthur has identified is that today’s generation is inherently the same as every generation and that people’s problem is much greater than just a change of actions or psychology or human will. The Bible is clear that man’s ultimate problem is that one’s heart is wicked and dead. We have hearts turned against God and each person’s heart needs to be transformed and saved by God. The conviction comes through His Word and the Spirit brings life, and then the Word continues to sanctify and grow the believer.
In today’s evangelical Christianity, preachers are adjusting the message to suit the ‘target audience’ and insisting on ‘relevant’ messages. However relevance has made churches move to rock concerts for worship, Bible verses as the footnotes to back up the pastor’s opinions and message points, and guide the church to meet the perceived needs of the people they are trying to reach. If you take MacArthur’s Biblical approach to ministry, you will find that what the sinner thinks they need the most or the thing they are seeking for the most is what they need the least. MacArthur comments:
“The typical presentation today starts exactly opposite of where Paul started. He wrote of ‘the wrath of God…against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men’. But modern evangelism begins with ‘God loves you and want to make you happy’…Let me say that I minister to a rather large group from the baby-book generation, and I disagree with that writer’s unwarrented generalization that they automatically tune out negative truth. The ones truly being saved certainly must and will accept the negative as motivation to repent.” (Page 66)
“Nothing is wrong with the message…If they don’t hear the truth, cool music won’t help. If they don’t see the light, power-point won’t help. If they don’t like the message, drama and video won’t help. They’re blind and dead. Our task is to go on preaching not ourselves, we carry a supernatural message of everlasting life.” (Page 66)
“Church history is strewn with examples of those who thought they could mould the message for their own time – but ended by corrupting the truth…If church history teaches us anything, it is that different times do not require different messages. Those who preach anything other than the unadulterated gospel forfeit the power of God in their ministries.” (Page 66)
As you can see John MacArthur has often stood apart from those in Christianity, challenging what is popular in the same fashion as the Reformers, standing courageous for Biblical truth. Most of this book will challenge your thoughts of church, pastors, ministry, and the Word of God. I encourage you all to read this enjoyable biography, John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock, for you will be blessed by the main subject of this book – not the third-level galley-slave but God and God alone.
“All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.” 1 Peter 1:24-25