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John F MacArthurIn the UK, polls have showed that Britons, particularly younger ones, have no intention of working.

The latest Government findings came out on January 22, 2023. The BBC reported (emphases mine):

Most of the 2.7 million “inactive” people under 25 are students, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The majority of them don’t want a job.

This was also true in 2021, as CityAM informed us:

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows of the 13m Brits who are not looking for work, over half said they were doing so because they did not want to work.

In 2015, a student posted the following message on The Student Room forum. Granted, she sees the possibility of owning her own small business but only just:

I’m 22 now and it’s slowly dawned on me that I have no intention of working/having a career. I find most work boring and I am simply not inspired by the rat race. I think I want to be a small business owner and a stay at home mother.

It seems with feminism most women just aren’t looking to go down the ‘small job, husband and babies’ route anymore. Am I the only one who doesn’t want to work…at all ?

Maybe a small online store or something and a husband and kids. Nothing more (?)

Anyone else ?

The benefits balloon stretches back at least to 2013, possibly earlier. On April 24 that year, the Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, the then-Secretary of State for Welfare and Pensions said:

Around 1 million people have been stuck on a working-age benefit for at least three out of the past four years, despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work.

Ten years on, The Spectator reports that real figures show that five million Britons are receiving out-of-work benefits. Their figures have been disputed, but in November 2022, the magazine’s editor Fraser Nelson explained how the data were put together. For now, this is the message:

How can 20 per cent of people in our great cities be on benefits at a time of mass migration and record vacancies? It’s perhaps the most important question in politics right now, but it’s not being given any scrutiny because the real figures lie behind a fog of data

Every month, an official unemployment figure is put out on a press release – and news organisations are primed to cover it. It’s normally about 1.2 million looking for work: the problem, of course, is so few Brits are actually doing so

The true benefits figure is not to be found on a press release, but buried in a password-protected DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] database with a six-month time lag …

The five million figure ‘seems to be incorrect,’ Full Fact said in their email to us. ‘According to the most recent statistics, there are around 1.5 million people claiming out-of-work benefits.’ But the real figure is more than three times higher – but rather than reply to them, I thought I’d write this blog for anyone interested …

DWP data is now on Stat-Xplore, a versatile open data tool. The password bit is deceptive: you can bypass by clicking ‘Guest log in’ to find an Aladdin’s Cave of data. Look at the dataset ‘Benefit Combinations – Data from February 2019‘. Click Table 5, then click ‘Open table’ to get the numbers …

Nelson has posted graphs and a map to illustrate his figure of five million.

He concludes:

To fail to match up 1.2 million vacancies with at least some of those on out-of-work benefits is not just an economic failure but a moral one. But to solve a problem, you need to recognise a problem. Officially counting all five million people on out-of-work benefits would be a good way to start.

Living a life of idleness, however, is nothing new.

St Paul grappled with the same problem two millennia ago when he planted a church in Thessalonika (present day Saloniki).

The following passage, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, is one example of his command to work:

Warning Against Idleness

6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.[d]

John MacArthur explains why we must work in ‘Work: A Noble Christian Duty, Part 3’, from July 19, 1992.

There were reasons why some in the congregation were not prepared to work:

As we have said in the past … they perhaps have been influenced by some of the Jewish background of the scribes who thought that anything other than studying the law was an unworthy way to spend your life They surely were affected by the general Greek attitude that work was demeaning and sordid and base and low and belonged only to slaves and not to freemen

And they probably had had those predispositions somewhat exaggerated by virtue of the fact that someone had come along and told them that they were already in the day of the Lord and the return of Christ was imminent and there probably wasn’t much use in doing anything other than evangelizing and studying the Word of God.  And so they had given themselves to that happily because of their disdain for work anyway.  Problem was, at least long term, if you can call several months long term for the Thessalonians in that Paul had dealt with it when he was there.  Several months later, when he wrote them the first letter, he dealt with it, and here he is writing a second letter and dealing with it a third time.  They didn’t want to work.  It was beneath them. 

Homer, the famous Greek writer, had said that the gods hated man.  And the way they demonstrated their hatred was to invent work and punish men by making them work This kind of philosophy being existent in that time, it found its way into the lives of those people and thus, when they became converted, it found its way into the church.  Becoming a Christian doesn’t change everything immediately.  We will always have residuals of our past, and we will always to one degree or another be affected by our culture.  And so here in this church in which so many good things had happened, a genuine conversion, a genuine godliness, they were not slack in spiritual service, they had a work of faith and a labor of love, and they did it with patience and endurance because they hoped in the return of Christ.  They worked hard at ministry, but they didn’t want to do the jobs that they had to do in the world, at least some of them

And so Paul was dealing with a church that had its spiritual life on target and was doing well, excelling spiritually, but they had this one problem that dominates the church in terms of its conduct, and that was that there were people there who didn’t work.  They then became a burden on everybody else, and it wasn’t that they couldn’t work, it wasn’t that they had a physical disability, it wasn’t that there wasn’t a job available, they refused to work, seeing it as beneath them or not a priority for those engaged in kingdom enterprises. 

MacArthur cites American statistics on work from 1980 to 1991:

I suppose 25 years ago, a situation like this would have struggled to be relevant in our time then because America was a hard-working country 25 years ago In fact, the American work ethic has always been hailed as sort of the supreme work ethic of the industrialized world.  We have always sort of set the pace for productivity and enterprise – up until more recent years, that is.  Last year, Charles Colson and Jack Eckerd, who heads the Eckerd Company, which operates drug stores in other parts of America, they wrote a book and the title of their book is Why America Doesn’t Work.  Now, that’s really a new thought, a new concept for our culture, for our society.  The subtitle is, “How the decline of the work ethic is hurting your family and future.”  The future of America is changing dramatically.  There are other nations that are putting us to shame in terms of work habits and a work ethic. 

In their book, they point out that we have in America declining rates of productivity, the loss of competitive position in some world markets, and workers who aren’t working And they concluded it is a bleak picture.  And I suppose they ask the right question, the question we would all ask at that point:  What has happened to the industry and productivity that made this country the marvel of the world at one time? …

We have an ethical malaise all the way from the jet set corporate leaders down to the person working at the bench.  The whole concept of work has so dramatically changed, it no longer has a transcendent motive.  There’s no longer something beyond me to make me perform at a certain level.  Thus, the meaning of work has been sapped from everybody from the top to the bottom, to some degreeObviously, some people still work harder than others. 

A 1980 Gallup Poll conducted for the Chamber of Commerce found that people still believed in work-ethic values, 1980, they still believed.  That’s over ten years ago.  Eighty-eight percent said working hard and doing their best on the job was personally important.  But were they doing it?  They said they believed it, it was still sort of in the air in 1980, but were people working hard?  1982 survey came along.  In that survey, it was reported that only 16 percent said they were doing the best job they could at work.  Eighty-four percent admitted they weren’t working hard – 84 percent.  So you can see they were still holding on to a residual ethic that didn’t translate into how they functioned, which meant that it was somebody else’s transcendent value, somebody else’s ethical value imposed on them externally but not truly believed. 

Working hard, they said, was important but they weren’t doing it, so how important was it?  Eighty-four percent also said they would work harder if they could gain something from it.  And now you can see that the ethic is not transcendent, the ethic is utilitarian.  It’s all tied in to what I get out of it, what’s in it for me.  And that’s part of the cynicism of our society.  That’s part of the direct consequence of the 60s’ moral revolution, which is a rejection of transcendent values. 

God is not an issue in anything.  He is not an issue in the way I conduct my sexual life, He is not an issue in my marriage, He is not an issue at my job, He is not an issue in education, He is not an issue anywhere.  God is not an issue; therefore, there is no value beyond myself.  So whatever is enough to get me what I want is enough.  It is a kind of societal economic atheism In fact, psychologist Robert Bellah calls it radical individualism Surveying 200 middle-class Americans, this UCLA professor discovered that people seek personal advancement from work, personal development from marriage, and personal fulfillment from church.  Everything, he says, their perspective on family, church, community, and work is utilitarian.  It is measured by what they can get out of it, and concern for others is only secondary. 

Down to specifics, James Sheehy, an executive with a computer firm in the upper echelons of the work strata, saw first-hand how this kind of utilitarian value was affecting work He wanted a better understanding of the expectations and psyche of younger employees.  Looking at what the future held, what kind of people were going to come up in this generation to work in his company?  What would they be like?  So he decided the best way to find out was to spend his vacation taking a job in a fast-food restaurant He wrote most of his coworkers were from upper income families, they didn’t need to work but they wanted extra spending money.  He watched and listened as his coworkers displayed poor work habits and contempt for customers.  His conclusion was, “We have a new generation of workers whose habits and experiences will plague future employers for years.” 

He writes, “Along with their get-away-with-what-you-can attitude and indifference to the quality of performance, their basic work ethic was dominated by a type of gamesmanship that revolved around taking out of the system or milking the place dry.  Theft, skimming, and baiting management were rampant and skill levels surprisingly low.  The workers saw long hours and hard work as counter-productive.  ‘You only put in time for the big score,’ one said.”  After recounting his experience, Sheehy concluded, “Get ready, America.  There’s more of this to come from the workforce of tomorrow.” 

Doesn’t sound too good if you happen to be an employer, does it?  A recent Harris Poll showed 63 percent of workers believe people don’t work as hard as they used to.  Seventy-eight percent say workers take less pride in their work.  Sixty-nine percent think the workmanship they produce is inferior, and 73 percent believe workers are less motivated and that the whole trend is worsening and the numbers are going up

Imagine. If people felt that way in the 1980s, and it is probable that Britons also did at the time, we are now into a second generation of people who don’t care about work, with a third generation on the way.

MacArthur says:

The more and more people demand recreation and idle time, the more corrupt they will become.  The two go hand-in-hand.  An escalating pornographic, sinful, wicked culture is sped on, the slide is greased, by a shrinking commitment to work.  And we fill up all that time with things that feed the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. 

He lays out why work is a God-given command:

Now, our society may not have a choice but they have to accept this, but as Christians, we can’t accept this.  The Christian faith does not accept a utilitarian work ethic.  The Christian view of work is transcendent.  That is, it escapes me and my world and directs its attention toward God

First, work is a command from God.  Six days shall you labor.  God commands us to work.  Secondly, work is a model established by God for it was God who worked for six days and then rested on the seventh, and God, of course, is the worker who continually sustains the universe Man, being created in the image of God, then, is created as a worker.  Thirdly, work is a part of the creation mandate.  In other words, what I mean by that is it is the role of man.  Stars shine, suns shine, moons shine, on the earth plants grow, animals do what they’re supposed to do, rocks do what they’re to do, mountains do what they’re to do, water does what it’s to do, clouds do what they’re to do, and we do what we’re to do.  As Psalm 104 says, all of creation moves in a normal course and part of it is man rises, goes to work until the setting of the sun.  It is creation mandate.  It is how we contribute to the processes of life in God’s wondrous creation. 

Work is a command.  Work is established as a model by God.  Work is part of the natural creation.  Fourthly, work is a gift from God.  It is a gift from God.  It is a gift through which we glorify Him and the wonder of His creation as we produce things, putting on display the genius of God who created us, in all of our abilities.  It is a means by which we can glorify our Creator.  Just as the beast of the field gives me honor, as Isaiah said, and just as the heavens declare the glory of God by what they do, and we sit in awe of them, so man declares the glory of God, the wonder of His creative genius by doing what he has been given the ability to do.  Work is a gift from God, not only to glorify Him but to give meaning to life.  Work is a gift from God to give us something to do, which avoids the idleness that leads to sin

Work is a gift from God also to provide for needs.  Work is a gift from God so that we can serve each other.  And lastly, in the Christian work ethic, work is to be done as if the boss was the Lord Himself.  It says in Colossians chapter 3 and Ephesians 6 that we’re to work as unto the Lord and not men. 

So the Christian faith does not sanctify the kind of attitude we’re seeing in our own country toward work.  In fact, as I said, 25 years ago, this message may have seemed a bit obscure when America was working productively.  Now it seems to be rather on target for we are suffering today with some of the things that Paul faced in the Thessalonian church But as Christians, we have to establish the standard

I often watch BBC Parliament, not because I love MPs or the Lords, but in order to gain a better insight in to what they are doing to us, the British people.

The number of Opposition — Labour, Liberal Democrat, SNP — MPs who complain that the Conservative government isn’t giving enough handouts, when clearly it is, as we can see from the aforementioned statistics, is mind-numbing.

Moving to MacArthur’s and his congregation’s personal experience, and still tied in to that, this is what happens when work is suggested:

It is an aberrant unbeliever that doesn’t work.  The tragedy of those people, the real tragedy, is that they are so deep in sin and so deep particularly in the sin of drunkenness and irresponsibility and immorality that they have put themselves in the position they’re in And I again say I’m not talking about people who are genuinely in despair, and I’ve seen those people all around the world.  But there is a mass of people who shouldn’t eat because they will not work. 

We see them here at the church They come by and they want money and they want food and we suggest work and they leave.  I was told today by one of the gentlemen in our church, serves with the police department, that they will hold a sign – they’ve tracked them – they will hold a sign, “I need work, homeless, need work,” and recently in one of the shopping centers just a couple of days ago they were tracking to find out what was going on None of them got jobs but they were averaging $15.00 an hour in donations One policeman told me he went by and offered a lady a sandwich purchased at a fast food place and she said, “What’s this?” and he said, “Well, it says ‘homeless and hungry,’ so I’m just giving you this to eat.”  She put it in a bag and he said to her, “Well, aren’t you hungry?”  She said, “I’ll eat it when I get home.” 

So you need to be careful about that.  Sometimes the car is parked around the block and the stash is growing in the back of the car.  Just have to be careful because there are people who don’t work because they won’t work, not because they can’t work.  And if you don’t work and won’t work, then you don’t eat, that’s what the Bible says.  There needs to be an opportunity for you to earn your own food and you need to take that opportunity, and again I want to say this:  It may be that in some cultures there is not enough work to go around and that a person couldn’t do enough work to really make the whole living, then in generosity and charity and love, we make up the lack, but we don’t feed the indolence

Even our blessed Jesus encountered a crowd of this type. After He had fed the Five Thousand, they returned the next day for another miraculous meal. They became angry when He refused them and said that He was the bread of life, which is infintely more important, then and now. John 6 has the story.

MacArthur interprets the episode:

Jesus, you remember, in John chapter 6, fed the multitude and it was a large crowd.  We talk about feeding the 5,000 but it says 5,000 men, so wherever there are 5,000 men, there have to be 5,000 women, at least, and throw in a few thousand mother-in-laws and grandmas, sisters and aunts, and throw in 15,000 kids, at least, and you’ve got a crowd somewhere between 20 and 50 thousand It could have been a massive crowd and Jesus fed them all.  You remember He had those five little cakes, five loaves, they’re actually little barley cakes, and two pickled fish and He just created food.  And I’ll promise you, it was the best lunch they’d ever had because it bypassed the world …

Now, do you realize when He said no to breakfast, I really believe that their anger was turned on Him because in an agrarian society like that, they had to work with the sweat of their brow to produce their own food They didn’t go down to some market and flip out food stamps or a check or a credit card or whatever it is, they didn’t go to a fast food restaurant.  If they didn’t work that day, they didn’t have the food to eat.  And not only a matter of preparation, but a matter of provision.  And so when Jesus – when they saw Jesus make food, they thought they had just found the Messiah who would bring the ultimate and eternal welfare state.  “We don’t even need food stamps, just show up and He passes it out.  And you don’t even have to get in line to collect it, they serve it.”  And when time for breakfast came, they were there and he left, and I think their anger and hostility turned on Him because they knew then what He could do but He refused to do it He could have done it for us as well, but He knows the value and the benefit and the purpose of work.

Concluding on Paul’s message to the Thessalonians, MacArthur says:

So here were these Thessalonians and they wouldn’t work.  And so he says if they don’t work, don’t let them eat.  That will help them get the message.  That’s survival. 

In our world, able-bodied people, believers or not, should be made to feel guilty for depending on the taxpayer for their daily bread. As The Spectator‘s Fraser Nelson said above, it is a moral issue.

Whether we like it or not, work is the order of the day. We must provide for ourselves to the fullest extent possible.

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John F MacArthurThose who have been following the Year A Lectionary readings during the season of Epiphany have good reason to be confused.

On the Second Sunday of Epiphany (January 15, 2023), the Gospel reading was John 1:29-42. The following Sunday, the Gospel was Matthew 4:12-23. Both tell how Jesus called John the Gospel writer, who goes unnamed in his own account, and brothers Simon Peter and Andrew to follow Him.

Why are they so different?

This is why.

John’s account relates how John the Baptist told his followers that Jesus is the Lamb of God and that they should follow Him. From this, we can see that John the Gospel writer, Andrew and Simon Peter became disciples of John the Baptist. John and Andrew spent several hours, probably an overnight stay, with Jesus learning from Him. The following day, Andrew told his brother Peter (John 1:41):

He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).

It was at this point that Jesus named Simon Peter Cephas, meaning ‘rock’ (John 1:42). The name Peter also means ‘rock’. Cephas is pronounced ‘KEFF-us’, by the way:

He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

In John 1:43-51, Jesus calls two more of His initial disciples, Philip and Nathanael.

Because John was with Jesus from the beginning, his Gospel has accounts that the other three — Matthew, Mark and Luke — do not have. John 2 has the miracle of the wedding in Cana and our Lord’s first cleansing of the temple courts. John 3 recounts His first encounter with Nicodemus and the brief simultaneous ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist along the Jordan. John the Baptist says (John 2:30):

He must become greater; I must become less.”[h]

In John 4, we have the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Thanks to her testimony, many other Samaritans from her town believed in Jesus and asked Him to spend more time with them. John begins his account of our Lord’s Galilean ministry in verse 43:

After the two days he left for Galilee.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the synoptic Gospels because they have the same episodes from our Lord’s ministry, with slight variations. Of those three writers, only Matthew was an Apostle.

Matthew lived in Galilee, in Capernaum. Therefore, he knew Jesus only when He began His public ministry there. His account in Matthew 4 is our Lord’s second calling to the same men. It is an escalated call, one designating apostleship, although it is the first in a series of apostolic calls. Each of these calls took the men higher up the rungs of evangelism.

Consider that when a person receives a call to become a priest or a pastor, he goes to seminary. He has received what we know as a divine calling, one to a vocation. However, at that point, the seminarian has not been ordained nor does he go out to preach and to teach until later in his studies. After ordination, he is assigned a church and its flock. He may move on to another church, perhaps a larger one. In some denominations, he might become a bishop or, again where applicable, an archbishop. Those are examples of escalated divine callings, each carrying with it greater responsibilities.

John MacArthur explains our Lord’s calls to His first disciples, who later became Apostles, in his 1978 sermon, ‘Fishing for Men’. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

In the first instance, we go back to John, Andrew and Peter in John 1 and Matthew 4, two different calls, Matthew’s being the second:

Now, this is their call, but I want you to notice something.  This is phase two of their call.  I’m going to give you a little technical thing that’ll help you in your study of the gospels.  We have several different calls of the disciples in the gospel. Each gospel writer, for his own purposes, chooses one or the other.  There was a sequence of things.  In other words, there were at least five different times when Jesus sort of called them; each one taking them to a different level, kind of like you.  Once you were called to salvation, right?  Then, maybe there was a time in your life when you were called to a new level of commitment.  Then, maybe there was a time in your life, like in my life, when you were called to serve Jesus Christ in a specific way.  Then, maybe there was a time in your life when you were called to a specific place, to Grace Church, or some other specific ministry.  In other words, the way God directs us may have phases, and that is true in the case of the disciples.

The first call is in John chapter 1 ... This was their call to salvation.  Andrew, John, Simon, Phillip, Nathaniel and James called to salvation.  This was the initial call, and you remember it was when John the Baptist said, “Don’t follow me anymore.  Follow Him.”  They took off after Jesus Christ, and it was the call to salvation. 

Now, this is phase two in Matthew 4:18.  This is the call to be fishers of men.  They’re now going to follow Jesus, but it was only a kind of a momentary thing here.  It isn’t the full final departing from everything. For now, they followed Him. For this moment, for this day, for this time, they were called to win souls.  They were called to fish for men.  They were called to come after Him.

Before I continue with MacArthur’s train of thought, another question popped up at the service I attended on Sunday. We had a guest vicar preach who pointed out Matthew 4:21 and 4:22:

4:21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.

4:22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

The guest preacher wondered how they could leave their father Zebedee behind.

I suspect that John, having followed John the Baptist and being with Andrew in spending many hours with Jesus once being told that He was the Lamb of God, went home and told his brother James as well as his parents Zebedee and Salome what he had experienced.

In my post ‘John MacArthur on the synagogues of our Lord’s era’, there are several citations from the Gospels on the power of our Lord’s words when He taught and proclaimed the Good News. Imagine you and a friend are sitting alone with Jesus as He discourses on the kingdom of God. It’s just the three of you and He would answer any questions you put to Him. It must have been the most life-changing experience ever for Andrew and John.

No doubt Zebedee and Salome gave their blessing to John to follow Jesus.

In my post on Matthew 4’s account, I cited Matthew Henry’s commentary, which has a follow-up on them:

James and John left their father: it is not said what became of him; their mother Salome was a constant follower of Christ; no doubt, their father Zebedee was a believer, but the call to follow Christ fastened on the young ones. Youth is the learning age, and the labouring age. The priests ministered in the prime of their life.

Returning to MacArthur, Jesus made further calls to His first disciples. The third occurs in Luke 5:1-11 with the bursting fishing nets. This took place in the daytime, which is even more extraordinary as big hauls are caught at night:

Jesus Calls His First Disciples

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

MacArthur says:

There’s a third call.  Luke records it in chapter 5.  This comes after the one in Matthew; it’s different.  There are some similarities, but there are some distinct differences.  As you look at Luke chapter 5 for a moment, you’ll see them.  I’ll show you the level of call here.  In Luke 5, He comes along, and the situation is a little different.  They’re still fishing, which indicates that the second phase, they did not leave their profession permanently.  They simply followed Him for that moment, and now it’s going to be a little more firm.  He’s not going to say, “I want you to just be fishers of men,” generally.  He’s going to say, “I want you to be fishers of men only.”  This is the next step, and this time He stood by the Lake of Genessaret, which is another name for the Sea of Galilee.  Of course, Luke calls it a lake, as I said, because he’s been around.  He’s seen some big stuff, and that doesn’t rank with it.

He saw two boats standing by the lake, and the fishermen were gone out of them and so forth.  He entered into one of the boats, Simon’s, and now there’s a difference here.  All of a sudden, we’re in a boat.  Different than the situation in Matthew.  He says, “Launch out, let down your nets,” and there’s a whole fishing miracle that occurs here.  This is a completely different account.  What it is, is a time for them to come to grips with a real commitment, and Jesus reiterates it in verse 10 There were, “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, partners with Simon, and Jesus said to Simon, ‘Fear not from henceforth,’” doesn’t matter you can’t catch fish anymore.  You remember the story?  They couldn’t catch fish on their own, not without the Lord.  He was going to control the fish. 

He said, “You want fish?  Put it down where I say, and you’ll get fish.  Without me, you won’t get anything.  Don’t worry about whether you’re going to be able to catch them without me. From now on you shall,” what? “catch men.  When they had brought their boats to land they forsook,” what? “all and followed Him.”  You see this is another level of commitment.

I guess this is a part of our life, isn’t it?  At some point in time you come to Christ, and it isn’t long after that somebody says to you, “You are to fish for men.”  But maybe it’s a long time after that, and maybe it’s never for a lot of folks, that you forsake all to catch men.

The next call comes in Mark 3. Why so early in that Gospel? Because Mark’s is the shortest of the four. He wrote in a journalistic style and for the people of Rome that they might know Christ. Every Gospel has a different theme. Mark focuses on Christ’s miracles. In my 2012 post on Mark, I wrote:

Mark’s Gospel focusses on Jesus’s divinity as He expressed it through His miracles. Many men have profited greatly from reading Mark. Some fell on their knees and embraced Christianity as a result …

Mark’s Gospel also ends suddenly. Some translations provide a smoother conclusion in an attempt to tie up loose ends. I read somewhere that the last part of Mark’s scroll might have gone missing, which may account for this.

In the 1930s, a playwright or theatre critic — I don’t recall — fell to his knees one night in New York after having read Mark’s Gospel into the early hours of the morning. I no longer have the link, but, one evening, a Christian friend of his stopped by to chat. Their conversation developed and the friend brought up Christianity. The theatre chap said that he was an atheist. His friend suggested reading Mark’s Gospel. The man said he’d think about it. After his friend left, he couldn’t get to sleep. So he pulled out a Bible — again, I don’t remember if his friend left him a copy or if he had one already — and read through Mark. He read it in its entirety then fell to his knees in awe. He still couldn’t get to sleep, so he walked the streets of Manhattan until early in the morning. That was his conversion story. He never looked back.

But I digress.

This is what Mark 3 says about the calling of the Apostles:

Jesus Appoints the Twelve

13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve[a] that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

MacArthur says this was the official apostolic calling:

In Mark 3, there was another call.  They were not just going to catch men.  They were going to be official apostles.  In verse 14, “He appointed twelve,” Mark 3:14, “that they should be with Him, that He might send them forth to preach, and to cast out demons.”  Boy, now they’ve got miraculous power, and they were given the power also to heal diseases.  So they went from salvation to a general call, to a specific total commitment, and now to a miraculous power.

He says that the fullest calling came in Matthew 10, when Jesus sent the Apostles out to teach, preach (proclaim) and heal:

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve

10 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

The rest of the chapter gives our Lord’s full instructions on what the Apostles were to do and not do. It is the blueprint of Christian ministry to this day. Admittedly, not all clergy follow it.

MacArthur says:

Then finally, the fifth phase is recorded in the tenth chapter of Matthew in the first verse. “And when He had called to Him those twelve, He gave them power against unclean spirits to cast them out, to heal all manner of sickness and diseases.”   He said, “Go,” in verse 7, and He told them all how to go, and He sent them out, verse 16, “As sheep in the midst of wolves,” and they went to preach

Now, do you see the progression here, beloved?  It is to be so with us.  It all begins at some point in time when we meet Jesus Christ, and we accept Him as Savior.  Then a little later the prodding of the Spirit of God, fish for men.  Then, hopefully later, you forsake all and your life is geared for that.  Then the time comes when, in the midst of that, you sense the power of God, and you move out, an official sent one to do His work.

As students of the Gospels know, it took Jesus three years to smooth the Apostles’ rough edges. Sadly, among them was His betrayer, Judas Iscariot. The process did not finish until the Holy Spirit appeared upon them at the first Pentecost, by which time Matthias had replaced Judas. Then the Church took off in leaps and bounds. The powers that Jesus gave them to teach, preach and heal in His name lasted during the Apostolic Era, or Apostolic Age, which lasted until around AD 100. The Book of Acts chronicles some of those events, including those of Saul of Tarsus who became Paul, arguably the greatest of the Apostles, also personally instructed by Christ in his three days of blindness on the way to Damascus and later in an African desert, after which Paul evangelised everywhere he could possibly travel.

One might ask how it works in our time, if all of us, like the everyday men Jesus called, are to do likewise.

Here, too, MacArthur has an answer. He tells the story of a man on the Grace Community Church staff who trained other church members to evangelise:

Several years ago, we brought – I guess all of you know Jim George on our staff.  We could have hired a man to do visitation, to go out and evangelize.  You know what we did?  We decided to support a man, who would train others to evangelize.  If we had just hired a man to evangelize, you know what we’d have now five years later?  We’d have a man evangelizing, but instead we’ve got between 200 and 300 people trained to catch men.  That’s what Jesus did.

As to how we evangelise effectively, MacArthur begins by talking about the Apostles then tells us that obeying the Gospel commands is the surest way:

You say, “Well did they have a great passion for souls?”  I doubt it, seriously doubt it.  I’m quite confident they didn’t have a passion for anything.  So what they’d do it for?  Listen, you want to know something? You want to know how to get a passion for souls?  Try obeying to start with.  That’s where it all begins.  Just be obedient.  I put it this way; obedience is the spark that lights the fire of passion.  The way to gain a passion for souls, the way to have your heart burn for the lost is to obey God and move out, and watch God take the pilot light of obedience and fan it into a forest fire.

Amazing.

Does Jesus want us to evangelise? Yes, He does.

Matthew’s Gospel ends with the Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20:

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

MacArthur reminds us:

Listen, God’s greatest concern is to win people to Himself; Christ’s greatest concern, the Spirit’s greatest concern, the greatest concern of the apostles, and it was the greatest concern of the early church.  When they were scattered in Acts chapter 8, they went everywhere preaching Jesus Christ, endeavoring to win people to Him.

Even in the Old Testament, it was no different.  In the Old Testament God’s great heart was a concerned heart, and it was concerned for those that were lost.  In fact, in Proverbs 11:30, we have this great statement, “He that winneth souls is,” what? “is wise.”  If you know anything about the term “wise” in the book of Proverbs, you know that the term wise is a synonym really for righteous living.  The truly righteous person, the person who really lives with understanding, the person who doesn’t just know but lives it out, is the one who wins souls.  He is truly wise.

MacArthur’s closing words on evangelising are useful:

You say, “Can I do that?”  Yeah.  You say, “How?”  Listen, number one, be a believer.  You can’t be on the team unless you are.

Number two, be available.  Learn how to win people to Christ.  If that means getting involved in an evangelism ministry, then get involved.  If that means reading the New Testament and underlining everything about evangelism and cataloging it and learning it, do it.  Be a believer and be available.

Three, be concerned, be concerned.  Maybe that means reading some books.  Surely, it means meeting some unsaved people.  It all starts with obedience, so be obedient.  Go out and do it.  Even if the passion isn’t there, do it.  Reach out to that neighbor.  Speak the words you’ve always wanted to speak and never have.  Then, realize Jesus is your pattern. Study how He did it.  Then, find somebody else you can follow, and let them be your model.

Be a believer, be available, be concerned, be obedient, be following Jesus, and be taught by an example.  So, Jesus began at the right point, in the right place, with the right proclamation, and the right partners.  The light dawned, beloved, and we’re to carry it to the rest of the world. 

The easiest way to evangelise is to lead by example, wherever we are in life. Combine that with studying Scripture and praying regularly. Our good Lord will take it from there.

John F MacArthurThis year’s Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Epiphany — January 22, 2023 — was Matthew 4:12-23.

It was about the beginning of our Lord’s ministry in Galilee and His calling of two sets of brothers to be among His Apostles, to be fishers of men: Andrew and Simon Peter as well as John and James.

Verse 23 says:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Jesus, as did the Apostles after the first Pentecost, particularly Paul, taught in the synagogues regularly.

John MacArthur describes these houses of worship and their additional functions in ‘The Healing Work of Jesus’ which he preached in 1978.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

MacArthur begins by commenting on the verse itself and how it fits in with Matthew’s Gospel as a whole, with its theme of Jesus as the Messiah, the King of Kings:

Let’s look at verse 23: Jesus began on the right plan “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.”  Now here we come right to those two dimensions of messianic credentials: His words and His works Let’s look at some specifics here.  “And Jesus went about,” that’s an interesting verb.  I want to stop for a minute; it’s an imperfect tense verb, and when you have the imperfect it doesn’t mean it’s less than perfect. It’s just a term used for something that’s continuous action in the past tense It means that He was constantly going about, the idea of a constant endeavor.  You might even translate it, “He was continually going around” – incessant effort is the idea And really what you have in verse 23 – hang on to this thought – is a one-verse summary of the whole Galilean ministry.

Now notice, Matthew will take this one-verse summary and expand it in chapter 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, so that those chapters to come – 5 through 9 – are an expansion of verse 23.  In fact, His words are the subject of chapter 5, 6, and 7.  His works are the subject of chapter 8 and 9.  So Matthew simply introduces those two elements here and then he begins to expand them in the next section, verses 5:1 through 9:38.  First, 5, 6, and 7 – His words – the great truth of the Sermon on the Mount that was absolutely shocking, devastating, and divine. And then His mighty works and miracles, chapters 8 and 9.

So He went all over the place incessantly and constantly, and you’ll notice it says, He “went about all Galilee.”  He was moving all the time.  Now “all Galilee” is a strong expression.  The term “all” is a very strong term, and when it says “all” in this sense it really does mean in a comprehensive sense

The point is this: that to cover 204 villages and to move around through all of that mass of humanity required much time and constant travel and Jesus was busy.  Somebody figured out just to touch every town, moving at a rate of one town a day, is gonna take a half a year, and that would be only if you stayed one day in each place

And so Jesus moved about.  He was going to touch as many as He could.  It was important that the whole of all those people – and remember they were Jew and Gentile mixed, and even the Jewish ones had been exposed to Gentile culture.

That is because Galilee was along the trade route to and from Africa.

The local synagogue was the heart of the community:

First of all it says, in verse 23, “Teaching in their synagogues.”  Within Galilee Jesus chose to kind of center His ministry in the synagogues.  Now the synagogue was the most important institution in the life of any Jew.  Keep that in mind.  It was the most important institution.  It is very like the church is to you, you that are Christians. You love the Lord Jesus Christ, you’re active at Grace Community Church, you’re involved here – this is the most important institution in your life.  Your family is here, your kids are here, your friendships are here, this is your life.  No different in those days.  The whole of Jewish life centered around the synagogue.  In fact, in some cases it would be even more intense because even the politics of life and the economics of life – you traded there, you learned to sort of match up your businesses with people of like trade because they sat according to trade It was everything to the Jewish people.  In fact, the worst thing that could ever happen to a Jew was to be unsynagogued Aposunaggos, “to be unsynagogued” was it.  And you see, that’s exactly what happened when a Jew became a Christian He was dis-fellowshiped from the synagogue.  It was vital.  That’s why the whole book of Hebrews is written.  It was written to Christians, but also there are warnings throughout that book to certain Jewish people who were so afraid of being unsynagogued that even though they believed the gospel, they wouldn’t receive Christ.  This synagogue was the key to their life.

He describes the physical location of the synagogue:

In most cases, the synagogue was built on a hill, using the most prominent hump in the city of the little town, and every town had one.  And there would be the synagogue, and it would be the highest place in the city and usually would be distinguished by a tall pole shooting up in the sky so that everybody could focus on that It was as familiar a sight to go into a Jewish town and see a synagogue spire as it is to go in the middle of New England and see a little church spire in the little villages.  It’s common.

Sometimes, if there weren’t any hills, they would build along the river and the bank of the river, and very often they built synagogues without a roof They just let their worship go up to God … the synagogue they’ve uncovered in Capernaum and have reconstructed really doesn’t have any roof We don’t know if it did or didn’t have one or what kind of one it had, but it was where they gathered.

This was the pattern of worship:

Divine worship was held in the synagogue every Sabbath, every Saturday.  Sabbath ran from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown, and on the second and fifth day of every week they had special services, every Sabbath they had special services Of course, they had special services every festival day, all the feast days and all the special days.  Now basically when they came together on the Sabbath, if it wasn’t a special day, this is how the format went: first there was the reading of the Law and the reading of the Prophets by certain people who were called upon, and then there were prayers offered by the leader, and then there were responses by the people They would respond with amens and various praises to God.

Following that there would be an exposition of some text of the Scripture, and that went all the way back to the return under Ezra and Nehemiah.  When they read the Scripture – You remember in Nehemiah? – “and then Ezra the scribe stood up and gave the sense of it” expository preaching is not something new in this generation It is the kind of preaching in the restoration under Ezra and Nehemiah, and it is historically what the Jews have done in their synagogue, first the reading, then the prayer, and then the exposition And it was interesting, if there was a visiting dignitary or a visiting rabbi, he would be given the right to speak the exposition very often. And that’s where, of course, Paul moved right into the synagogue and used some Old Testament text and took off That was very common.

This is how the synagogue was organised and how it ruled over the community:

The affairs of the synagogue were administered by ten men; basically, ten elders of whom three were called the rulers of the synagogue.  They acted as judges.  They would admit proselytes or not admit them.  They settled issues.  There was a fourth ruler called the angel of the church who was sort of the chairman of the board.  There were others who were called servers who carried out the direction of the three and the one There was an eighth one, according to Jewish tradition, that was the Hebrew interpreter who took the ancient Hebrew and translated it into the vernacular.  There was a ninth one who headed up the theological school.  And by the way, every synagogue had a theological school in it And there was a tenth one who interpreted the theological school instructor stuff because it was usually over the heads of the people So they had this whole organization, this incredible structure.

Listen, the synagogue became the court of law, and any disputes or court problems or civil things, they came there; their judgment was made and execution was even pronounced Listen, you know the Roman government only took away from the Jews the right of execution at the time of Jesus They could do everything else.  They could run their own affairs.  The only thing they couldn’t do was take somebody’s life.  That’s why they had to take Jesus to the Romans to have Him crucified.

They ruled their own affairs.  And as we see, the small villages and towns in the time of Jesus, they would have their own court of law.  Also the synagogue was a public school for boys, and the little boys would go there, in their childhood, and learn the Talmud.  And further, the synagogue was a theological school for the men.  So this was the center of the whole concentration of Jewish life.  And when Jesus went there to that place, He would be stepping right into the midst of Israel.

The temple in Jerusalem differed from the synagogue, as it was only there where sacrifices and monetary offerings could be made:

Now there’s a vast difference, remember, between the synagogue and the temple There’s only one temple, and that is at Jerusalem.  That’s the only temple.  There isn’t one there now, as you know, not since 70 A.D. when Titus came in and wiped it out.  But there was only one temple, but wherever there was a small colony of Jews, wherever there was a handful of Jewish men, they could start a synagogue And so they were every place, and they were the platform for Jesus, and they were the platform for the apostle Paul.

By the way, the temple was not a place for teaching, and the temple was not a place for preaching, unless like Jesus you happened to stand up in there and take off The temple was a place for offering sacrifice and making offerings.  But the synagogue was a place of teaching and preaching.  It was essentially a preaching/teaching place.  In fact, the church today pretty well has modeled its patterns after the synagogue Now we still have Jewish synagogues with us There’s one right down the street, only now they call it a – What? a temple. But it isn’t, because there’s no blood sacrifice being offered there.  It’s simply a synagogue, a gathering place.

MacArthur describes how Jesus made use of the synagogues for His teaching:

Well, Jesus took advantage of the opportunity for any dignitary, any visiting rabbi or teacher, to have the opportunity to speak And so Jesus would go in the synagogue and He would teach – Why? because this would reach the heart of Israel Listen, the most zealous people for God were in the synagogue.  That’s where you’d find the true hearts, if there were any in Israel.  That’s where the remnant would be, wouldn’t they?  They’d be there worshiping the true God in the best way they knew how. So Jesus went where they would listen to Him, where they would hear Him – the synagogue.  And He would go in, and He would teach the Scripture That was His pattern – to open the Scripture, to give exposition This is exactly what He did throughout the pattern of His ministry.  Even when He was in Nazareth He broke open His whole ministry by doing an exposition on an Old Testament scripture that referred to Him Even in the Sermon on the Mount He kept referring, “You have heard it said, and the Scripture says, and I say,” and He’d take off from there, either from a scripture of God’s authorship or from some ancient tradition that they had held to. Jesus would move off from there to do the exposition and turn the whole thing to Himself.

And so Jesus was teaching in the synagogues.  By the way, the word didask has to do with didactic, instructive relating of truth The word concentrates on the passing of information.  The word emphasizes the content, the passing on of information.  That’s what Jesus did.  And by the way, His method, I’m quite confident, was expository, taking the text and out of it teaching the principles I really believe this is the greatest way to preach and teach the Word of God.

Proclaiming, MacArthur notes, is different to teaching:

Secondly, it says in verse 23, “Not only was He teaching in their synagogue, but He was also preaching the gospel of the kingdom.”  Now this is a different word – kruss – and it means “to proclaim,” and it concentrates not so much on the didactic method, the relating of truth, the content, as it does on the very voice, the very style of proclamation. And it simply means “He heralded it out,” “He cried out.”  Often about Jesus you see the word ekraxan, “he cried out.” That’s preaching.  Teaching is where there is the careful, instructive relating of content.  It’s kind of from the mind to the mind.  Preaching is the crying out, the impassioned cry of Jesus Christ to the people.  And there it wasn’t so much in the synagogues, although He did both there as well, and the two are mixed up in His ministry so you can’t separate ’em.  There was never teaching without preaching, and there was never preaching without teaching, but the preaching is the crying out.  It is the heralding of the gospel.

Some have said preaching is the heralding of the gospel and teaching is the explaining of the gospel that’s been heralded.  Jesus did both – preaching, making a public announcement.  William Hendrickson, who’s a great commentator, says this:  “Between preaching and teaching there is a difference.  Though it is true that good preaching is also teaching, the emphasis is nevertheless not the same.  Preaching means proclamation.  Teaching, on the other hand, indicates imparting more detailed information regarding the proclamation that was made,” end quote.  That’s the idea.

The proclamation is what is called the krugma, and the teaching is what is called the didach.  You may see those terms sometime in your reading, and there’s never any good krugma without didach It doesn’t do any good to proclaim something if you don’t explain what it is.

MacArthur points out that Jesus avoided teaching about the socio-political issues of the day. He focused only on the kingdom of God:

Look at it in verse 23, the gospel of the kingdom, the good news of the kingdom.  This is what He was always talking about, always.  He was always talking about this.  In fact in Acts chapter 1, after He had risen from the dead, until He ascended, He had 40 days with His disciples, and it says in verse 2 of Acts 1, “Until the day in which he was taken up after he through the Holy Spirit had given commandments unto the apostles whom he’d chosen: to whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs” – now watch this – “being seen by them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”

From the time He began His ministry in Matthew right here, to the time that He was silenced in His ascension, He never spoke of anything other than the kingdom of God.  He never got dragged into social issues that were unrelated; He never got dragged into politics, into revolutions, into economics – He spoke of the kingdom of God.  And it’s a great pattern.  I feel in my heart I need to follow that kind of pattern.  Sometimes people ask me why I don’t say things about this and that and the other thing, and I guess maybe it’s because Jesus, until He was taken up, spoke to them the things concerning the kingdom of God. And if that was His priority, then that’s going to be my priority.

Jesus began His ministry gently by speaking of the good news of the Gospel: repent and be saved. As He neared the end of His ministry, however, He began to pass righteous judgement on wilful unbelief:

… first of all, the word “gospel” means something simple, good news, good news.  It’s good news and the world is full of bad news – Isn’t it? – all bad news.  This is the only good news, really good news.  The teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ was filled with good news.  You know something interesting?  Listen to this: John the Baptist’s preaching is never called good news, never.

Now maybe it was good news, and maybe it might have been called good news, but it never is.  I began to think about why.  Perhaps it is because the note of judgment is so strong, the ax is laid at the root, the winnowing fan is moving, the fire is consuming, and John fired out so much judgment and so much condemnation and cried for such repentance that maybe his message was too strong to win the gracious title “good news.”  But it really was good news, wasn’t it?  It’s kind of like the deal you’ve gotta have bad news before you get good news. But I think the reason John’s is never called good news is because there never really was good news until Jesus arrived.  There never really was any good news until Jesus came.  And it is Jesus who is said to preach the good news.  John was saying, “Get right, repent, get ready, and avoid judgment.”  And then Jesus came along and gave the other side of it, and come to Me and I’ll take you to heaven.  That was the good news.

After the Messiah had encountered more and more of the hypocrisy and more and more of the hostility of the hierarchy of Israel, His preaching became even more stern than John’s.  You know that?  But at the very beginning there was no strong word of condemnation.  Jesus didn’t come saying there’s going to be an ax, and there’s going to be a winnowing fan, and there’s going to be a fire consuming you.  You don’t hear that at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  That comes later.  It was just the good news.  And what is the good news? – the kingdom, the kingdom.  That God is going to establish His rule.  That we can be a part of God’s dominion, that as Paul said we can be translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son, that our sins can be forgiven.  Listen, the gospel of the kingdom is the same gospel preached today It’s just the message of salvation.

The good news is this: God has a kingdom; He wants you to be a citizen; here’s how.  That’s the good news.  Oh, it has all kinds of ramifications, as we’ll see as we go through Matthew.  But it’s the good news of salvation because that’s the way you get in His kingdom.  Once you’re in it has all kinds of features.  There is the element of the kingdom now in us in the Holy Spirit.  There is the element of the millennial kingdom for a thousand years on earth.  There is the element of the eternal kingdom and glory in the new heaven and the new earth forever with God.  It has different facets and wondrous things that we’re gonna see, but for now all we need to know is that the good news is that God has a kingdom and you can be in it.  You can be a part of it.  That’s good news.

I’ll tell you the alternative is pretty sad, isn’t it?  These people had long had a weariness of being in the kingdom of Rome, before that the kingdom of the Greeks, before that the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians, before that the Babylonians.  And even when they tried to do it on their own with their own kings, it was nothing but debauchery and evil.  And the very fact that there could be a kingdom with God was what they had longed for.  This was good news.  Jesus was saying, there’s a way to escape.  There’s good news, there’s a kingdom, and the good news is you can be a part of that kingdom.  How?  What is that good news that gets you into the kingdom?  First Corinthians, chapter 15 and verse 1, tells us.  Here’s the gospel which I preach to you – listen – “For I delivered unto you, first of all, that which I also received” – here comes the good news – “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures…that He was buried…that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”  That’s the gospel, folks.

The good news is this: Jesus died for you.  He rose for you.  Your sin is paid for.  Your eternal life is purchased, and you can be in God’s kingdom.  That’s good news, isn’t it?  And that’s what Jesus came preaching and teaching.  The plan of salvation is the good news.  Oh, He didn’t cover all the ground early on here.  He just simply announced, “I’ve got good news.  God has a kingdom for you.  God has a kingdom for you.”  In fact it would have been an earthly kingdom if they had believed, wouldn’t it?  If they had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, and they’d have been saved there, and the nation Israel had repented, and come to Christ, their kingdom would have been right then and there. 

It should be noted that everyone who heard Jesus understood the powerful accuracy of His teaching and preaching:

The words that He preached; “no man” – the officers had it right – “ever spoke like that man spoke.”  His words about the kingdom for three years went across the land of Israel.  They should have known.  It should have been obvious.  To some it was.  Listen to Luke 4, verse 22, “And all bore him witness.” This was when He was preaching in Nazareth.  And by the way, He did an exposition of an Isaiah passage; took Isaiah and just cracked it open for them.  Isaiah 61 – preached a sermon off of that text, and then they listened, and finally, in verse 22, they “bore him witness, and wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’”  I mean, “these words coming from this guy who grew up in our town, the son of a carpenter.”  Verse 31, “And he came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and he taught them on the sabbath days. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power.”  And in verse 36, they said, “What a word is this!”

In Matthew chapter 24, I think it’s verse 35, He said this: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”  He spoke an eternal word, a powerful word, like no one ever spoke.  They could never confound Him in His words. They could never trap Him in His words. They could never stump Him in His words. They were literally devastated by His words.  They were so powerful that they were literally thrown down in their own tracks when they tried to encounter Him and catch Him in His words.

I pray that John MacArthur’s exposition on our Lord’s preaching and teaching bring His words to life for us, if they have not done so already.

John F MacArthurMy regular readers know that I have been writing about 2 Thessalonians over the past two weeks.

My January 8 post covered 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, which is Paul’s brief yet stark description of the Second Coming.

In the two verses that follow, Paul wrote that he prayed for the enduring faith and love of the Thessalonians, some of whom were preoccupied by the prospect of the Second Coming, expecting it to be imminent:

11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In 1992, John MacArthur preached a sermon on those verses, ‘Praying for the Right Things, Part 1’, which is an excellent examination of prayer.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

MacArthur contrasts Paul’s prayer with many of our own:

That is what I would call a prayer report from Paul.  It is not a prayer, though his letters have many prayers in them, but it is a report of how he prays He is telling the Thessalonians the nature of his prayer for them.  And as you look at that prayer and consider it, you come to the conclusion that he is praying for the right stuff Sadly, the prayers of most Christians are directed toward the wrong stuff. 

Most of the time, Christians pray in regard to themselves and those they love for somewhat shallow things.  The prayers are often misdirected and very shortsighted and, in fact, selfish.  Christians typically pray for health and happiness and success.  They pray for personal benefit.  They pray for comfort.  They pray for solutions to fix all of the little problems of life.  They pray for a healed body or a home or food or a job or a car, a husband, a wife, a promotion, more money.  Those things, while they certainly make up part of life, are very low on Paul’s priority list They’re also very low on the priority list of Jesus, who said basically take no thought for what you eat or drink or wear, knowing full well that God supplies all of those things.  Get on with seeking matters that relate to the kingdom of God.  Often we ask, says James, and receive not because we ask amiss for the sole purpose of consuming it on our own lusts.  So very often we not only pray for the wrong stuff but we pray for the wrong reason ..

I suppose at this particular point I could ask the question of you:  What do you pray for?  When it comes down to you and your life and your family and the people in your world, the people you love, your church, for what do you pray?  What do you desire for yourself?  What do you desire for your spouse?  What do you desire for your children?  What do you desire for the people that you love?  What do you desire for the people in your church?  What do you really want? 

If God showed up and said, “I want to give you three wishes.  Whatever you ask I will do,” what would they be?  What would you ask God for?  Do you have the right values?  Do you have the right priority list?  We live in a world, of course, that is skewed, a world that is deviated, a world that knows little of true value We live in a world where people pursue all the wrong stuff.  And that massive overpowering pursuit that is all around us encroaches on our lives and gets us caught up in the very pursuit of things which mean nothing or should mean nothing to us

The world is full of fools, fools who the hard way learn what is the right stuff and fools who never learn what is the right stuff.  We who know the Lord Jesus Christ and who have the Word of God need not be so foolish.  We need not waste our time endeavoring to get what is ultimately, after all, not even valuable.  We need to spend our time gaining what is priceless.  Three wishes Paul had for them:  worthiness, fulfillment, and powerful service.  Before we look at those requests and their implications, I want us to consider the text from the perspective of prayer.  Paul begins in verse 11 by saying, “To this end also we pray for you,” and he introduces us to his resource.  Whatever it was that he wanted for the Thessalonians, he knew he could obtain only by prayer.  He did not turn to human ingenuity.  He did not turn to some program.  He turned to God. 

MacArthur looks at Paul in his role as shepherd of that flock, even though he was in Corinth at the time when he wrote his letter:

As we think about this great text and before we look at the requests and the reasons for the requests in verse 12, we need to look at this matter of the resource, which is prayer.  “To this end also we pray for you always.”  Several things flow out of that.  First of all, obviously, that he prayed for them.  Secondly, that he prayed for them all the time, unceasingly, which, of course, was typical of Paul.  And thirdly, that in praying for them all the time he had a goal in mind, to this end or for this reason or for this purpose.  His prayers were very pointed.  They were very direct.  They were not generic.  They were not general.  They were specific.  And the three things that were the goal or the end or the purpose or the direction of his prayer were worthiness, fulfillment, and effective service.  That’s what he prayed for.  He sought for them the right stuff. 

The pattern of prayer for the shepherd is a prayer for the sanctification of his people, for the maturity of his people, for the growth of his people, for the development of his people spiritually, and that is that for which Paul prays.  Not only, of course, did he pray for them but he also taught them the Word of God.  That’s the twofold responsibility

There are brief times that we’re able to teach.  There are unlimited times that we’re able to pray.  And the prayer life of the shepherd is a constant thing.  He may not always be on his knees.  He may not always have his hands folded or his eyes closed, but there is seldom a waking moment when the shepherd doesn’t have the sheep on his heart, and being on his heart they are thus carried to the heart of God, and the prayer for sanctification is a way of life.  So we’re not surprised when Paul, in writing his epistles, stops at points to pray or inject a prayer report about how he’s been praying and will continue to pray for them.  So here he says, “I know this, I want you to be sanctified.  I want you to be worthy.  I want you to be fulfilled.  And I want you to serve with power.  And the resource that I tap for that is God.  I go to God.”  And here we’re introduced to a wonderful balance We know we must teach the people because they must obey the Word to be sanctified.  But we also know that it is God alone who can prompt that obedience.  That’s why when anything good happens in our life, who gets the credit?  God.  Because in our flesh, we can do no good thing. 

MacArthur discusses the spiritual tension that the true Christian experiences:

So there’s a wonderful tension there that must be maintained in our hearts and minds that basically says if I’m going to be a sanctified Christian moving along the path to Christlikeness, if I’m going to be growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, if I’m going to be more and more holy, moving from level of glory to the next level of glory, changed by the Holy Spirit to be more and more conformed to Christ, if that process is going on in my life, it demands my obedience.  I must obey the Word and the Spirit.  But I also know that the only way that that can happen is when God empowers it to happen And so I’m caught, as it were, on the vortex of that same tension that exists so many, many places in the Word of God and the truth of the Christian faith. 

But I want to speak to that, if I might, this morning because I think it’s important.  There is a growing response among Christian people to the truth of God’s sovereignty, and I thank God for that.  The church is finally awakening to the fact that God is an absolutely and utterly sovereign God, that God controls all things by the word of His power, that God will do what He will do when He will do it the way He will do it because He has so ordained and because He is absolutely in charge and because He has the power to do it.  God has set in motion His perfect purpose from before the world began.  It is all set and established by His infinite mind and will operate according to His infinite power and purpose.  I’m glad the church has affirmed that.  But I also am concerned that in the affirmation of the absolute sovereignty of God, there come not a depreciating sense of responsibility on the part of the believer, either on the one hand to pray or to obey. 

Just as obedience is an element in which God works His sovereign purposes of salvation and sanctification, so prayer is a human element by which that purpose is effected.  That is a mystery which is not understood but is believed. 

MacArthur looks at the prayers of Jesus, who is all divine and all human — another holy mystery:

In Luke 22 – this is fascinating – Jesus says to Peter, “Simon, Simon,” – and He called him by his old name when he was acting like his old self – “Simon, Simon, behold:  Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat.”  “Satan wants to come after you.”  And the implication is, “And I’m giving him permission.”  But you could also fill in the white spaces, “I know you’re going to survive.”  Right?  He knew that.  He knew Peter wouldn’t totally lose his salvation and be plunged into Satanic power and end up in hell, He knew that.  “Satan wants to have you and he’s going to put you through a very sifting test, and I’m going to let him do it.”  And He knew exactly how it would turn out.  But look at verse 32:  “But I have” – what? – “prayed for you.” 

Do you know that the prayers of Jesus were even a part of the sovereign plan of God?  Jesus didn’t say, “Well, there’s no sense in me praying, I know how this whole deals going to come out.”  Jesus didn’t say, “Well, not only do I know how it’s going to come out, I’m controlling the whole deal, so why should I pray?”  Jesus, in His humanity, gives us an example of one though knowing perfectly the plan of God who yet prayed for that plan to be fulfilled.  He knew Peter would pass the test, survive, ultimately give his life in the cause of Christ as a faithful servant, die a martyr, without renouncing his faith.  Jesus knew all of that, He planned all that, He made that all happen, He effected that in Peter’s life, and yet He prayed for Peter right here.  If the Son joins in prayer along with the sovereign plan of the Father, then should we do less?  Prayer and sovereign power go together with pleading and human responsibility. 

MacArthur advises us how to pray, citing an example from Isaiah 38:

You want to pray for one another, this is how you pray.  These are the things you pray for because these are the things that concern God.  God doesn’t really care about the little nuances of life as much as He cares about the big, spiritual issues of life.  You see, the purpose of God by the Holy Spirit is to conform you more and more to the image of Jesus Christ The little things in life that come and go are incidental to that process.  They work with that process maybe one way or another.  And so God has a sovereign plan which He will sovereignly fulfill, but within that sovereign plan there is a place for prayer as we line up ourselves up with that plan and as we even become the means to activate that plan for the effectual prayer of a righteous man does avail much – it does avail much. 

And do we need to be reminded of that most fascinating illustration about Isaiah?  Isaiah went to Hezekiah.  “This is what the Lord says,” Isaiah told him, “Put your house in order because you’re going to die.  You’re not going to recover.”  Isaiah 38:1 Told him, “You’re not going to recover; you’re going to die.”  After that, the king wept bitterly, you remember, and he prayed about his impending doom.  Well, it was Isaiah, then, who hadn’t even gotten out of the king’s house after delivering the first message who was told by God, “Go back and tell Hezekiah this:  This is what the Lord the God of your father David says, I’ve heard your prayer, seen your tears, I will heal you, I’ll add fifteen years to your life.”  Amazing.  The prophet’s own account makes it very plain that had the king not prayed, if he hadn’t prayed, he would have died.  So somehow the instrumentality of prayer fits into the plan as does obedience, for if you don’t obey, you won’t be sanctified.  If you don’t obey the gospel you won’t be saved. 

We cannot, then, believe in the sovereignty of God, we cannot just believe in the teaching of the Word of God if it somehow strips us of the passion to pray.  Prayer, then, is the heart longing to unite with the holy purposes of God for their accomplishment

Paul then prays, “And to this end, that God may count you worthy of your calling, fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power,” those three things.  They are magnificent things.  Worthiness, that has to do with spiritual character.  That the Lord would make you the kind of person you ought to be.  Fulfillment, that God would then fulfill in your life circumstances every holy longing And then, finally, that whatever service you do would be done with power.  That’s what God’s after.  A worthy life, a fulfilled life, a powerful life.  That’s the right stuff to pray for.  When you pray for your spouse or you pray for your children or you pray for your friends or you pray for your church or you pray in behalf of your own spiritual life, you pray for those things: worthiness, fulfillment, power in service

MacArthur concludes:

Can you stay focused?  Can you stay at the speed God wants you to stay at, moving toward the goal He wants you to move at with all the stuff going on around you and be undistracted?  Can you stay with the right stuff?  That’s the challenge.  You can’t, on your own, and that’s why Paul prays that you be able to by the power of God.

MacArthur’s reflections add a whole new dimension to the purpose of and petitions in prayer, things to think about in the week ahead.

John F MacArthurYesterday’s post on 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 referenced several of John MacArthur’s sermons, one of which was ‘The Vengeance of the Lord Jesus, Part 2’ from January 19, 1992.

In it, he related a true story about his friend Spencer Nielsen, who was involved in the well-known Nielsen Report, which measures and analyses various types of data to help major corporations market themselves better.

Late in 1991, Nielsen received a complaint about the religious Christmas insert he had included with the December newsletter.

MacArthur takes up the story (emphases mine):

I have a friend, Spencer Nielsen. He writes “The Nielsen Report” … It’s a very scholarly and esteemed newsletter, quoted often in The Wall Street Journal and other places. In the December mailing of his newsletter, Spencer included the gospel, as he likes to do around Christmas, to share that with all of these people. In response to that he receives letters. Here is one from an executive of Bell Atlantic, the phone company on the east coast. “Dear Mr. Nielsen, I am writing to voice my displeasure at receiving the religious material insert in my last issue. This is most inappropriate and detracts from the strength of each subject in a stand-alone manner. You should reevaluate this as a business practice. My guess is that most of your readers were put off by it.” And the letter is signed.

This, he faxed to me, was his reply and he wanted to know if I thought this was a good reply. “Thank you for your December 30 letter. I was pleased to hear you noticed the Christmas message. Regarding your comment that it was inappropriate to include it in my newsletter, there is no such thing as an inappropriate time to talk about Jesus Christ. Each year I get an equal number of letters and phone calls thanking me or objecting to the Christmas message I send. Negative comments are generally because they consider it offensive. The message of Christ is offensive. Christ was crucified by people who considered Him offensive. He tells us we are all born sinners in need of salvation, that we must be washed clean by His blood, shed on a cross, that no one will get to heaven unless they come to the realization they are powerless to save themselves, that Christ died to redeem them from punishment they can’t escape unless they accept Him as their Savior. That’s all pretty offensive, but true. Over the centuries His disciples were stoned, beheaded, and tortured for simply confessing their belief in Him. So I consider myself fortunate in this age to be able to speak freely about Him without anyone being able to stop me. I don’t mind the criticism as long as it brings anyone who is not saved to the realization it is necessary to make life’s most important decision now, before it is too late. Sincerely,” and he signs his name.

MacArthur says:

How can anyone who understands where history is going and what the end of it is take any other approach? If we understand that Jesus Christ is coming to deal out retribution to all those who know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and that what awaits them is pain forever in a ruined condition, away from His presence and His glory for all eternity, it would seem to me that nothing could restrain us from compelling people to that realization, offensive or not. And I thank God for the faithfulness of Spencer and others who hold back nothing. God would be offended if we didn’t warn the sinner.

2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 has the starkest description of the Second Coming outside of Revelation. Paul wrote it to comfort the Thessalonians who were faithful and loving in spite of persecution. Paul assured them that God would punish their persecutors.

MacArthur gives us insights as to how God will exact His divine retribution, including this description of hell:

Who is going to feel the retribution of God? Those who persecute Christians, who are part of a larger group who do not know God because they do not obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

How is this retribution meted out?  Back to verse 6, “After all, it is only just for God to repay with affliction.”  That’s how, with affliction, pain if you want another word, a synonym, pain.  If you want a good definition of thlibō, this is the term used here. It’s used in the New Testament in other places. The best illustration of what it can encompass is in 2 Corinthians 7:5.  Paul says, “We came into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, no relief, we were afflicted.” There’s the same word. “On every side,” and here he defines it, “conflicts without, fears within, but God who comforts the depressed comforted us.”  What is it?  It’s affliction.  It’s depression.  How is it defined?  Conflict on the outside, fear on the inside. That’s why it’s the word “pressure,” “squeeze.”  You’re squeezed between the terrors on the outside and the terrors on the inside.  That’s the punishment.  God is going to give you pain.  God’s going to make you feel that pain, misery.  And that misery and pain with which He will afflict you is further described in verse 9, “And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction.”

Now here we find something that needs our attention: The word “eternal.” This pain, this misery, this depression, this affliction is forever.  The word “eternal” is aiōn and it basically means a period of undefined length, age-long. However long the age is, that’s how long this is.  The reason it’s always translated “eternal” is because it is always associated with eternal things.  Seventy-five times aiōn is used in the New Testament. Out of seventy-five, only three refer to other than an endless duration. Only three times is this word used for other than an endless duration: Romans 16:25; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2.  Seventy-two of the seventy-five mean an endless duration.  For example, it is used of God. God is aiōn. He is eternal, Romans 16:26.  In John 3:16 it is used of our time in heaven, or our period in heaven, which is eternal, forever.  Hebrews 5:9 it is used of our salvation, which is forever.  In Hebrews 9:12 of our redemption, which is forever, and on and on for 72 times; it must mean forever.  The coming age has no end, as God has no end, as we have no end, as salvation has no end.  It is not an abbreviated time, it is forever.

How is this vengeance and punishment going to come?  It’s going to come as pain, pressure, affliction, conflict in…outside and fear inside crushing the person forever.  He calls it here “destruction,” which adds another component, olethros.  The word means “ruin,” ruin.  It has the idea not of annihilation, not of being obliterated and put out of existence, but the idea of the loss of all that makes life worth living.  It speaks of somebody who is ruined.  It would be a… It would be a condition perhaps best, most graphically articulated to you as a condition like the physical condition of a dyingpatient.  You’ve seen them, skin and bones lying on a bed with sunken faces and hollow, glassy eyes, unable to move, racked with killing disease, tortured with excruciating agony, and unable to have the strength to even respond.  Only it is that same condition forever, never the relief of death.  You never die. You just experience the uselessness, the hopelessness, the emptiness of a life with no meaning, no value, no worth, no accomplishment, no purpose, no goal, no future, no change, no hope.  You’re ruined forever.

The Lord Jesus had some terrifying things to say about this ruined existence.  He said it is an experience of fiery torment.  It is an experience that burns with a furious fire and yet gives no light to impenetrable darkness.  It is an experience of weeping and grinding of teeth in pain and frustration.  Soul and body are both ruined as far as worth and beauty are concerned.  Any vestige of the image of God is gone. Consuming worms eat but never die and are never satisfied.  The fire never goes out.  There is no escape.  And worst of all, there’s no second chance.  That’s what happens. God pays back and He pays back with pain and He pays back with pain that lasts forever, pain that renders a person absolutely useless, ruined forever.

Then there are two reasons given why this life is so terrible.  One, verse 9: “Away from the presence of the Lord.”  Wherever this place is called hell, God isn’t there.  There isn’t a vestige of His presence there.  In fact, in Luke 16 … in the story … of Lazarus and the rich man, there is a great gulf fixed between the place where the blessed are and the place where the cursed are.  And that gulf separates the cursed from God and all that represents His presence.  Imagine an existence like that.  Imagine an existence in this kind of terrible, ruined, worthless, useless, purposeless, painful, eternal existence where there is no vestige of anything that connects with God. James 1:17, James said, “All good things come from God. All perfect things come from God.”  There won’t be any of them there, nothing good, nothing meaningful, nothing beautiful, nothing valuable, no joy, no peace, no love, nothing, no pleasure, nothing because God isn’t there.  Jesus said it. In Matthew 7:23, He said, “Depart from Me.” That’s the point, “I don’t know you, go out of My presence.”  That’s what hell is, it’s away from the presence of the Lord.  There is nothing of God there, therefore there’s no beauty, there’s no joy, there’s no pleasure, there’s no purpose.  God isn’t there.  You’re gone, banished, exiled from God.

As Leon Morris says, “Those who oppose the things of God here and now are not engaged in some minor error.”  This is not a minor error.  There’s no fleshly sentiment that can alter the consequences to not knowing God and not obeying the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

Then Paul adds another feature of hell. Not only are they away from the presence of the Lord, but also they’re away from the glory of His power.  That’s a magnificent reality, you know, the glory of His power.  What does it mean?  It means visible splendor, His majesty, and the display of that majesty in power.  They’ll never see that.  They’ll never see that.  There will be nothing of the presence of God there. There will be nothing of the power of God there.  Nothing of His presence to comfort, nothing of His presence to give meaning, nothing of His presence to give beauty, pleasure, joy, peace, happiness, nothing of His presence to bring those things that make life worth living, and nothing of His glory and His splendor and His majesty and His power.

Your company?  The devil.  Your company?  His evil angels.  And yet an eternal loneliness.  Jesus is coming and He’s bringing retribution.  He’s bringing retribution.  Why?  It’s just. It is just.  On whom?  Those who persecute Christians who belong to that larger order of people who do not know God because they do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  And how will the retribution come?  It will come with pain that is eternal that ruins them and they will live forever without any vestige of the presence of the Lord or any display of His glorious power through all eternity.  That’s the coming of Jesus Christ.  That’s what it means to the people who reject Christ.

Unbelievers will say, ‘As I do not believe in God, I don’t care about His presence or the loss thereof’.

However, suppose that the realisation of the lack of God’s presence becomes crystal clear as one goes to meet Satan and his angels forever. In the first instance, following death, the condemned souls are in torment. After the Second Coming, they are reunited with their body in their second death. With the physical aspect, the torment increases.

There is no rest, mentally or physically.

Unlike cartoon depictions, there is no drinks trolley at 6 p.m. There is no fun, no beauty of any kind, nothing to lift the spirit. There aren’t any relationships, either.

It’s hard for us to imagine.

In closing, MacArthur reminds us:

John the Baptist didn’t come along … and say, “It would certainly be wonderful if you would repent,” he said, “Repent, or else.”

Don’t wait until it’s too late.

John F MacArthurIn a 1991 sermon, one of which I used in an exploration of 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15, John MacArthur gave his ten reasons for entering the ministry.

He gave his reasons in ‘The Sheep’s Responsibility’, excerpts of which follow, emphases mine:

Let me just rehearse for you briefly those ten reasons why I’m a pastor, or why I’m a shepherd.

Number one: the church is the only institution Christ promised to build and bless.  He said, “I will build My church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”  And I take great comfort and confidence in the fact that I am a part of the greatest institution on the face of the earth, the local church, and I’m thankful for having a small part in our Lord’s great work of building the church.

Secondly, I’m a pastor because the corporate functions of the body all take place in the church.  As soon as you move outside the church you divorce yourself from the place of celebration, the place of worship, the place of the Lord’s table, the place of baptism, the place of encouragement, the place of edification, the place of instruction.  And if we are going to come as the psalmist said, and worship and bow down, and if we’re going to come and take of the Lord’s table, and if we’re going to come to the waters of baptism, and if we’re going to come to be fed, and taught, and nurtured, and discipled, and to enjoy the riches of fellowship, that all happens in the local church.

Thirdly, I’m a pastor because preaching is the chief means God uses to dispense His grace.  The apostle Paul commanded Timothy to preach the Word.  It is through the preached Word, through the proclamation of the Word that people are edified, and built up, and encouraged, and strengthened, and motivated, and confronted, and convicted, and rebuked, and reproved, and restored.  I have the privilege each Sunday of proclaiming God’s message, once in the morning and once at night.  And to be real honest with you, the reason we have a Sunday night service is simply because we want another opportunity to proclaim that truth and all of the things that go with it.

Fourthly, I’m a pastor because I can be consumed with study and communion with God all my life long.  I would hate to be involved in administrating some organization where I was caught up in the minutiae, and the trivia, and the details of things that are other than the Word of God, because I am consumed by the things of Scripture.  Someone asked me this last week, “What drives you?”  And I said, “It’s my love for the Word of God; that’s what drives me.”  And the fact that I can spend my whole life doing what I love to do is to me a great thrill I was talking to a professional baseball player a few weeks ago and I said, “What do you like the best about what you do?”  And he said, “What I like best about it is that I’m doing what I love to do.”  So am I … 

Fifthly, I am a pastor because I am directly responsible to God for the lives of the people He has given me to shepherd.  And I love that accountability.  I don’t mind being a teacher on the radio.  I don’t mind writing books.  I don’t mind sending out my words to people I don’t know, whether they hear me on the radio, listen to a tape, or read a book.  But I have a relationship with my people like that of a shepherd to the sheep, and I have the privilege and the call of God to watch over their souls as one who will give an account to God And the only way I can discharge that calling is in a local church.  I cannot be accountable for the souls of people on a radio program.  I cannot be accountable for the souls of people who listen to me on a tape or read a book.  I can only be accountable to God for the souls of the sheep in my own flock.  And to that I have been called, and to that I desire to be faithful.

Sixthly, I am also accountable to the people in my church.  Not only am I accountable to God for the people in my church, but I’m accountable to the people in my church for being faithful to God.  Everything is exposed to you.  After nearly 22 years – I’ll be twenty-second anniversary February 9 – but in all of these years, it’s all out there for you to see; everything is exposed there.  My wife, my children, my family life, my personal strengths, my personal weaknesses, the things I love, the things I hate, the style of life I live, it’s all there, and I cherish that accountability. 

You say, “Why?”  Because it holds me – it holds me where I need to be held It’s a constant encouragement for me to reflect Christ in everything I say and do because that’s the only way I can undergird a message.  People can listen to me on the radio, they don’t have any idea how I love.  They can listen to a tape, they can read a book, they have no idea of what my life is like.  But you do, and I know you do, and that kind of accountability is very, very good for me.

Number seven: I am a pastor because I love the challenge of building an effective leadership team from the people God has put in the church.  I really believe that to be an effective leader in the church is the most challenging enterprise there is on the face of the earth There are a number of reasons why.  One of them, for example, is when you start a business or a company and you want to be successful, you can hire anybody you want.  But when you build a church, you’ve got to take what God gives That’s very different – very different.  And it’s a volunteer organization.  You not only take what God gives, you take what the people God gives are willing to give.  And it’s out of that kind of challenge that you’re called to build a leadership team that can advance the Kingdom of God. 

And frankly, I’m not saying this to despair, but I want you to know the Bible says, “Not many of you are wise, not many of you are mighty, and not many of you are noble,” 1 Corinthians 1:26.  We’re basically the common folks of the world, aren’t we?  And I thank God again and again that He didn’t stick me in some elitist kind of church.  I didn’t want to ever pastor a church made up of the elite.  I wanted a church that was the cross section of the whole of the body of Christ, where there were only a few who would be considered the mighty and the noble, and most of us would be just the faithful folks.  I see myself among them, and it’s been a tremendous joy to see the Spirit of God build a leadership team and advance His Kingdom through our church.  What a challenge that is.

Number eight: I’m a pastor because the pastorate embraces all of life – all of life.  I don’t know about you, but I love adventure, and I love variety And if you want a life of adventure and variety, be a pastor.  No two days are the same.  No two days are the same.  I was never made to work on an assembly line.  I would be somewhere under the bed saying the Greek alphabet in a few weeks if I was working on an assembly line; it would drive me stark raving mad My mind gravitates toward variety, and that’s because God’s designed me for that.  And that is true in the ministry.  It embraces all of life.  I can share the joy of parents over the birth of a child.  I can share the pain of parents over the death of a child.  I can share the joy of a wedding.  I can share the comfort necessary at a funeral. 

The gamut of life is exposed to the pastorate.  All of the joys, and exhilarations, and happy times of life, all of the tragedies, difficulties, trials, and pains of life; it is an incredible adventure which can begin at any moment, because any time anything out of the ordinary happens, I’m somehow involved in that It is a joy to go beyond the sermon, which is the predictable part of the ministry, into the unpredictable part, as you stand in the gap for God in the place of Christ in the lives of people.

I am a pastor for two other reasons.  Number nine: I’m afraid not to be a pastor.  And that’s the truth.  When I was 18, God threw me out of a car going 70 miles an hour I landed on my backside and slid 110 yards on the pavement By the grace of God, I wasn’t killed, and by the grace of God, I was committed to become a pastor, because prior to that I knew the Lord had called me to that.  I was being rebellious, and I decided if the Lord is going to fight like that, I’m going to give in and be a pastor, or whatever else He wants me to be.  Every time I scratch my back I feel the scars of that, because they’re still there to remind me that I should be faithful to the pastorate, or there might be another highway somewhere in my future.  And that’s all right.

And lastly, I’m a pastor because the rewards of pastoring are absolutely marvelous.  I have to tell you, I feel loved, I feel appreciated, I feel needed, I feel trusted, all of those things.  Why?  Not because of me, but because being an instrument of God changes people’s lives.  When God uses you to preach His Word, teach His Word, apply His Word, people’s lives change, and you have the sense of a marvelous, marvelous meaning to life.  Life is so valuable for me because of what God uses it to accomplish. 

I know you pray for me.  I know you care for me.  I know that.  I owe a debt of gratitude to God for that, because I’m not worthy of that, but I understand that.  That goes with the territory of being a channel through which the grace of God can flow to people.  Though it is God doing it all, and God’s Spirit doing it all, as the thanks is passed back to God, somehow it gets passed through the channel that it came through.  That’s a wonderful and exhilarating reality.

When all is said and done, the joy and fulfillment of being a pastor is the response and the mutual love that the sheep and the shepherd share.  I want you to know that in all the years I’ve been here, I’ve never ministered without joy, I’ve never ministered without fulfillment, I’ve never ministered in a vacuum of love, you have always loved me, you’ve always encouraged my heart.  And it has been the response of the sheep to the shepherd that have made this ministry so exhilarating for me.  And I think anyone in the ministry would say that.  With all of those ten things I gave you, the bottom line is this, I’m in the ministry because the rewards are so great, and the rewards are eternal, and eternally the value of a relationship between a shepherd and his sheep – what a great truth. 

I suppose all the shepherds in this flock, all the elders of this church, would agree that the joy of ministry is linked to the attitude of the sheep toward the shepherd.  When God passes the truth through me to you, and you pass the thanks through me to Him, that’s a tremendous joy.  I’ll tell you, not everybody experiences that The driveways of many churches are blackened with the skid marks from the hasty exits of pastors who have been abused and bashed by a heartless, thankless people That has not been my case.

What an amazing personal account.

Until now, I hadn’t looked up his Wikipedia entry, because his sermons are so fulfilling to read and make Scripture come alive. Who needed anything more?

He has Canadian ancestry. His grandfather, Harry MacArthur, was an Anglican priest. Harry’s son — MacArthur’s father, Jack, born in Calgary — studied theology at a Baptist seminary and was a preacher of renown in the United States. Harry’s father-in-law was a Presbyterian minister, which might have accounted for Jack’s becoming a Baptist. Jack left the Baptists in the early 1950s to found the independent, nondenominational Harry MacArthur Memorial Bible Church of Glendale, California, in 1954, and its successor, the Calvary Bible Church in Burbank. Jack died in 2005 at the age of 91. He was well known for his Voice of Calvary radio programme, which he hosted from 1942 to his death.

I was struck by the translations into various languages that appear next to John MacArthur’s sermons on the Grace To You website. The sermons have been translated into Chinese, French, German, Portuguese and Arabic.

That is certainly quite an achievement, no doubt more than he anticipated when he became the third — and youngest — pastor of Sun Valley’s Grace Community Church in 1969.

In 1986, he was made president of The Master’s Seminary, part of his Grace To You ministry. He transitioned to the role of chancellor in 2019. The Master’s Seminary also has an extension campus in Israel.

It took 43 years for him to preach about the entire New Testament, one verse at a time. He completed this life goal for the glory of God on June 5, 2011.

I hope that John Fullerton MacArthur Jr has many more years of preaching to come.

John F MacArthurYesterday’s post was an exegesis on the Epistle reading from Ephesians 1 for All Saints Day.

In it, I cited John MacArthur’s sermons on Ephesians 1 from August 2021.

Two of those sermons have something more in them: a focus on Christ for the Church and MacArthur’s premise that God has passed divine judgement on us, as Paul discussed in Romans 1.

MacArthur is not normally given to pronouncements of divine judgement in our current era. Nor does he take up socio-political causes, which makes ‘Our Great Savior, Part 1’ and ‘Our Great Savior, Part 2’ all the more interesting.

Let’s look at the second half of Romans 1 (UKESV), emphases mine:

God’s Wrath on Unrighteousness

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practise such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practise them.

I’m old enough to remember that the United States — the world as I knew it, and I was only a child at the time — began changing in the mid-1960s. Every year got stranger and stranger. By the end of the decade, protests took place at universities all over the nation and a particularly violent one occurred at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in the summer of 1968.

The role of the Church

Interestingly, one of MacArthur’s favourite books, an anthology on the Reformation, The Reformation of the Church, was published in 1964.

MacArthur points out that, as long ago as then, the Church was failing in its duty:

… in that anthology of those writers from the seventeenth century, Iain Murray wrote a forward, my dear friend Iain Murray. He wrote this in that same year, 1964—and listen to what he said; and I’m quoting, “At a time when the Christian faith is commanding so little influence on the nation, the church herself should be engaged with questions which affect her own life rather than the life of the masses of the people.”

Wow.

Church has continued to become more worldly in a variety of ways, none of which need mentioning because we all know what they are:

When the church begins to focus on the masses of the people and what the people want, it loses its influence. It almost sounds counterintuitive. Church “experts” would tell you that if the church wants to reach the world, we have to find out what the world wants—when just the opposite is true. The Christian faith will always, always lose its influence when it tries to accommodate the world. You get the opposite results than what you hoped for.

The Church is not called to be worldly but to reveal Christ to the world:

In another statement, “It has become customary for us to act as though the gospel could progress on earth independently of the condition of the church.” Great statement. We think that the character of the church plays apparently a minor role in reaching the world with the gospel. In fact there are so many, these days, so busy trying to find out what the world wants that it’s a very popular notion that the worst thing a church can do, that wants to reach the world, is act like a church. That is the devil’s lie. For the church to reach the world it must refuse to be like the world. It must refuse to define itself by what the world wants, what unbelievers want, what the unconverted desire. The church has one obligation, and that is to be what the Lord of the church commands—not focused on the culture but focused on Christ, not focused on passing social issues, the desires of the devil’s children, but solely on the will of the Lord. Only when churches are what Christ wants them to be are they useful in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

There is nothing in the Bible, in particular, the New Testament, that says the Church should conform itself to the world. Conforming to the world is one of the devil’s best tricks. As I write from England now, I can see that the Anglican Church is on its knees. It is not alone:

Clearly, churches have little influence in the world because they are trying to give the world what it wants, rather than obey the Lord who is the head of the church. There is no text in the entire New Testament that commands the church to give lost sinners what they want; on the other hand the church is to obey the Lord Jesus Christ, to confront the culture as the church. There is nothing in the New Testament that calls the church to change social structures, to be engaged in political efforts, economic efforts. The church that effectively reaches the lost is the church that is relentlessly devoted to being what the Lord of the church commands His church to be. If a church has little influence in the world, don’t ask what the world wants, ask what the Lord requires. Be the church. It has always been our passion here to obey and honor and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ. We have no interest in what the children of the devil want a church to be; that is irrelevant. And furthermore, beyond being irrelevant, it invites the devil in.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a blueprint for the Church and Christian behaviour. The first three chapters focus on the holy mystery of Christ’s bride and the last three chapters tell us how we must act as His followers.

The Reformers, being well read in Scripture, devised the ‘formal principle’, which defines a true church:

The formal principle was simply what the Reformers identified as the truth: that the Word of God is the sole authority in the kingdom of God, and therefore in the church. So the church is to be whatever the Word of God tells it to be. That is the formal principle. We have only one divine revelation for the life of the church, and that is Holy Scripture. And when you get into the New Testament epistles like Ephesians and the rest of them, you find that they are designed to make sure that every subsequent generation of Christians and churches understands the will of the Lord for their life and conduct.

And that is true of the epistles in general, but particularly true of Ephesians. Early on in the ministry here, I wanted to dig into Ephesians because it’s so absolutely definitive as to the life of the church. Here is heaven’s instruction book for the church to be the church. There’s not a word in it about what the world wants. Nothing about how to engage politically, socially, culturally. It’s all about how to follow the Lord who is the head of the church, how to be consumed with Christ. That’s why the epistle begins essentially in verse 3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

Everything is in Christ, everything. It’s all about our relationship to Christ. It’s all about knowing Him, loving Him, adoring Him, declaring Him, and becoming like Him. That’s what the church needs to be. The more it’s like the world, the more it forfeits its influence. The more it tampers with the world, the more divisive it becomes, the more cantankerous it becomes, the more fractured it becomes, the more exposed its weakness becomes. It is a deadly danger for the church, any church anywhere, to be anything other than what the Lord of the church has designed the church to be. And we have all the information in the revelation of the New Testament.

So as we look at the book of Ephesians, we’re going to notice that in the first three chapters the emphasis is on doctrine—that is what we believe. And the last three chapters is the practical section—how we behave. And how we behave is predicated by what we believe.

The memorable line in the film Field of Dreams was ‘Build it and they will come’.

John MacArthur’s Grace Church in southern California has been predicated on Scripture since its founding in the late 1960s. He never used gimmicks or church growth strategies. He didn’t have to. Because he, his other pastors and elders focus on the Bible and on doctrine, the pews are filled for every service. They also have a thriving Spanish-speaking ministry. Thousands of people attend Grace Church every week.

Beyond that, MacArthur also has the Master’s Seminary. Its graduates go on to plant churches around the world.

He says:

Paul’s prayer is that the church would focus on fully understanding what is theirs in Christ. Every faithful pastor should be leading His church into the deep knowledge of Christ. Every faithful pastor must live in the constant expression of a desire to see the church filled with the wisdom and knowledge that comes with a deep revelation of Christ. This is the church being the church, being Christ-centered. Certainly this is my prayer for Grace Church.

God is answering that prayer, most assuredly.

Divine judgement?

Now we come to Romans 1. I placed it at the top, however, so that we could read it whilst contemplating what has happened to the Church and our world over the past six decades.

MacArthur believes that we are living out Romans 1 and that God has left the Western world to its own devices:

If there would ever be a nation of people who held the truth it would be certainly our nation, as well as most of the Western world. We have had the Bible. We’ve had the revelation of God. We all are very much aware that that has been rejected in our nation wholesale; and as a result of that, the wrath of God has been revealed. It is revealed against any society, any culture, any people, who hold the truth in unrighteousness, who turn from God; and that’s exactly what our society has done. And Romans chapter 1 defines the wrath of God. It says this is what it is. God, when He judges a society for rejecting Him, turns them over to a sexual revolution. It’s explicit. We have had that, 30 years ago I suppose, the sexual revolution; that was the first sign of divine judgment. He lets men go into sexual unrighteousness, pornography—really the death of any sense of biblical morality.

The final step is God’s giving people a ‘reprobate mind’:

Reprobate mind is a nonfunctioning mind; and what that means is the final step in divine judgment is a kind of insanity, where nothing makes sense. And out of that, Paul in Romans chapter 1 lists a long list of every imaginable kind of wickedness and sin, that will literally flood and drown a society. In the middle of that list, of course, is deceit and the hatred of God.

So there’s a reason why this country is in the insanity that it is in, and it is the judgment of God. God has allowed this nation that has rejected Him to go down the path of Romans 1 … to the point where there is an insanity that really makes no sense to any thinking person. It’s a reprobate mind, it’s a mind that does not function. And out of that mind that doesn’t function comes every imaginable kind of evil.

It was John Calvin who made the interesting statement that when God judges a people He gives them wicked rulers. When God judges a people He gives them wicked rulers. So this judgment of God, that has sent us down this careening path of transgression, iniquity, and sin, is also aided and abetted by wicked rulers because they tend to be the architects of all of this—if not overtly, certainly covertly.

Mankind cannot ‘fix’ what God has divinely ordained:

So I just want to say that you have to look at this in the light of divine judgment. What is happening in our country—the chaos, the insanity, the nonsense, the things that you can’t figure out, the confusion, the disorder, the disruption—is all part of divine judgment. And if you understand it that way you’re going to realize that you can’t fix it, you can’t fix it. The next election will not fix it. No election will fix it. A new governor in California will not fix it. It cannot be fixed; it is divine judgment, and it is obviously unleashed on us, and we’re in the final stage, the stage of insanity.

The folly of all follies in a situation like this is to think there’s anything you can do in the human realm to stop the divine judgment of God. That’s not possible. This is God judging, and He laid it out in detail. We are under judgment at a severe level, the most severe level revealed in Scripture, short of final, global judgment yet to come in the end of the age, and eternal judgment in hell. What is wrong in this country is not fixable; this is God bringing judgment.

However, MacArthur says that God will protect His faithful people:

The good news is that He protects His people in the judgment, that His cover is over us. We are in the shelter of His protection. We are saved from the wrath to come, and we are protected in the current judgment.

MacArthur says that we must have convictions — hills to die on — as we live through this era:

I was at camp this week with a thousand teenagers over in New Mexico, and the seniors from Grace Church got together and wanted to have a question and answer session. It was wonderful; I love doing it. And perhaps the most telling question came from—these are high school seniors—they said, “What do we need to know, facing university, facing college, going forward? What protections should we have?” And I said, “You need two things, two things, without which you will be a victim of the world. Number one: You need conviction. You need conviction. You have to have some non-negotiables, you have to have some hills you die on. And you have to know why, and you have to be able to substantiate those in the Word of God and in your own conscience. Without convictions you are a cork in the surf; you’ll end up wherever they take you. You need convictions.” And what a blessing to have been, for most of them, brought up in the influences of Grace Community Church where they have those convictions from those who surround them here; and for many of them, their own families. You have to have convictions.

Your convictions are the immovable pillars of your character. They’re the structure. Because what they’re going to want to do in the university is crush those convictions because they’re biblical convictions, and they’re true. And the world is ungodly, and the world is run by Satan, who’s a liar. They’re going to attack you with lies, and they’re going to attack your convictions about God, about man, about sin, about righteousness, about conduct, about morality, about everything. You have to have convictions.

The second thing you have to have is critical thinking, critical thinking. And I think for this particular period of history, this is what is most under attack. And let me tell you how to look at that.

Universities these days—certainly in the humanities side of things, universities these days are concerned about ideologies. You hear a lot about that, an ideology. What do they mean by an ideology? It’s just another word for a philosophy. But ideologies in the current climate are seductive and attractive to people because they are mindless, they are mindless.

Here’s how an ideology works: “What’s wrong in America? White privilege. What’s wrong in America? Systemic racism. What’s wrong in America? Abuse of women.” They want you to buy into the fact that everything that’s wrong in America can be explained by an ideology. They don’t want you to think critically about it.

“What’s wrong in America? Some people have money, and others don’t. What’s wrong in America? Corporations are getting rich, and people are being abused. What’s wrong in America?” They can be reduced to an ideology, a simple, single idea. This is stupidity. And universities are really bent on teaching people to be stupid. This is infantile. You can’t say, “What’s wrong in America? Systemic racism,” no matter what it is; if the bus doesn’t show up on your corner on time, “Well it’s systemic racism.” If you have mold on your bread, “Well it’s systemic racism.” That’s the stupidity of that oversimplification of everything—that is easy for people to suck up and be seduced by it because it’s a one-size-fits-all answer to everything, and you can put your brain in a bag and bury it. You have to think critically. You have to understand.

Then MacArthur describes the pandemic and post-pandemic period. What an amazing analysis:

For example, I’ll give you an illustration. In the United States 99.9 percent of the population survives COVID; that’s a fact. You can’t mesh that up with the behavior they’re requiring. How about this one: “Get vaccinated.” And you’re saying to yourself, “Well let’s see, they lied about Russia. The FBI lies. CIA lies. The National Health Organization lies. The World Health Organization lies. The CDC lies. The director of all of this lies, because he says something different every time he opens his mouth. The politicians lie. They lied about an incident in Chicago. They’re just lies and lies and lies and lies and lies.” And then they say to you, “Be vaccinated; it’s good for you.” I know why people aren’t getting vaccinated—because people don’t believe they’re being told the truth. It’s simple. It’s just the old Aesop’s fable about the boy who cried, “Wolf, wolf, wolf, wolf,” there never was a wolf. And when there was a wolf, nobody showed up.

You can’t keep lying and then expect people to believe you. You have to think critically and thoughtfully and carefully. You have to realize, CDC reports death rate from the normal flu last year was 99 percent lower. Oh, really. What happened to the flu? Where did it go? It went into the COVID statistic.

The chaos of deception and lies forces you, if you want to navigate the world in which you live, to think critically. Are there things wrong with capitalism? Capitalism can be abused, just like socialism is abused. Anything can be abused because sinners are engaged in it. Any kind of relationship, any kind of anything in human relationships is going to have good, bad, and indifferent. But what they want you to do is accept the—buy the package, and shut down alternative discussions. That’s why they cancel culture, because they want you to buy the ideology, they don’t want you to think critically. But we think critically because we think biblically, and we have the mind of Christ. First Corinthians 2:16, “You have the mind of Christ.”

I don’t want to get caught up in philosophy, which is another term for human wisdom. I don’t want to get caught up in empty deception. I don’t want to get caught up in something just passed down from person to person in tradition. And I certainly want to get above the stupid level of the ABCs. You can’t reduce me to some simplistic moron. Human wisdom is infantile compared to divine wisdom.

So look at verse 9, Colossians 2. Look, we don’t pay any attention to that, but we pay attention to Christ, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made” —what? —“complete.” Everything we need is in Christ. First Corinthians 2:16, “We have the mind of Christ.” We have the mind of Christ.

That’s what I told those high school students: convictions, critical thinking. Think like a Christian. Think like Christ. Think biblically. Don’t be kidnapped by lies.

MacArthur says that the Church has a vital role to play during divine judgement:

I just want you to understand that the church has one great responsibility in the midst of this judgment. It’s not to try to fix what’s wrong in society. That same chapter, Romans 1, gives us our mandate. Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel [of Christ], for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew and the Gentile.” Our responsibility is to preach the gospel—not to be ashamed of the gospel but to preach the gospel, which is the only answer. The only hope is Christ, and the only appropriate response to Christ is to embrace Him as Lord and Savior, and to embrace His glorious gospel.

I guess what I’m saying to you is don’t expect it to get better. But it raises the stakes for what we as believers in the world are called to do. And while so many churches, so many churches, ranging from the liberal churches to the even evangelical churches, are caught up in trying to fix what’s wrong in the world—everything is a result of judgment, even the racial hostility, the insanity of teaching people to hate and living on vengeance and revenge. All of these kinds of things are part and parcel of what happens to a culture when God lets them go. They go to an insanity where nothing makes sense. That’s where we are.

For us, we know the truth because we have the mind of Christ in the Word of God. And our responsibility is not somehow to figure out how to fix the world, but how to proclaim the gospel that can deliver people from the world, from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. The church needs to focus on the person of Christ; and sadly it’s all over the place on social issues, which cannot be fixed, first of all, because people are sinful. And what’s wrong in the world, in society, is a reflection of sin. And secondly, because that sin is compounded when God removes normal, divine restraint, and it becomes a judgment. So the judgment is that sinners get what they want, and it gets worse and worse and worse

You have to see those things for what they are. They’re not fixable; they’re a reflection of fallen sinfulness, a reflection of a nation that has abandoned God, and a reflection of divine judgment itself.

Ultimately, the Church must be a haven in times of judgement:

The church needs to become Christ-centered. For the church to reach the world, it has to stop trying to be like the world, because why would you want to identify with a society under judgment? Understand that what’s going wrong in our society is divine judgment. We have to be the church. We have to be the haven; we have to be the eye of the hurricane; we have to be the safe place. We have to be the place where Christ is exalted and the Word of God is proclaimed, truth is known and believed and lived and taught. We have the mind of Christ, and it’s in the pages of Scripture.

I will return to British politics in my next post. See if we are not under divine judgement, too, as our once great United Kingdom is in a state of collapse in so many ways. No matter what our politicians advocate and try, everything gets worse. It’s unfixable for the time being.

John F MacArthurOne of the things I have found most irritating over the years is the indirect encouragement of emotion by pastors, particularly famous Baptist ones, by using the word ‘heart’ with a tear in their eye.

However, John MacArthur tells us that heart in the Bible has nothing to do with emotion. Heart as used in Scripture refers to the mind. Mention of the gut — or bowels — in the Bible refers to emotion.

MacArthur’s sermon, ‘Strengthen Your Heart’, dated May 16, 1976, is about Colossians 2. It explains this distinction and tells us why we should not be ruled by our emotions.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Let me begin by citing the first three verses of Colossians 2:

2 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

‘Encouraged’ appears as ‘strengthened’ in some translations, which encompasses ‘comforted’. In our world, we see them as three separate concepts, but where Scripture is concerned, the three words go together.

Some reading this will find it hard to stomach the word ‘bowels’. They might do better to think of ‘gut’ instead, as in ‘gut instinct’.

MacArthur begins by giving us our definition of ‘heart’, i.e. linked to emotion, then the biblical one for the word, which means ‘mind’. That is how the Apostle Paul used the word:

Now when we talk about the heart, what do we mean? We have to make that clear, because otherwise we will not understand what he’s saying; because in the English language, the heart is the seat of – what? – emotion. “My heart cries for you,” we say. “I love you with all my heart.” The heart is the symbol of emotion. To the Hebrew it was not the symbol of emotion. Did you get that? In the English language heart represents emotion. To the Hebrew, it did not.

Now the Hebrews referred to two organs of the body, and I want to talk about these two. The two organs that they referred to many, many times in the Scripture are the bowels and the heart. Now we’ll take the bowels first. Don’t panic. There are many references in the Bible to the term “bowels.” They have been fairly well erased in the later translations, but the pure translation of the Hebrew indicates that that is the word.

Now it is used in the Bible to speak of the womb, of the stomach, of the intestines, and of several other abdominal organs; so it becomes a general term for the gut, if you will. When a Hebrew says, “My bowels such and such,” he means, “I feel it in the gut.” That’s what he’s saying. Now watch this. The Hebrews did not know anything of speculative thinking, and they did not know anything of interpreting things in abstraction. Everything to them was a concrete, experiential physical reality.

Turn with me to Psalm 22:14. And here is a description of Jesus on the cross; and this is a prophetic picture of Him on the cross. But I want you to notice how the psalmist expresses what Jesus feels. He’s dying on the cross. “I am poured out like water, all my bones are out of joint;” – a perfect picture of crucifixion; listen now – “my heart is like wax, it is melted in the midst of my bowels.” And here he means, “My whole abdominal area is in upheaval. I feel it in the gut,” is what He is saying. “I feel it, and my stomach is in knots.” A very experiential concept, not abstract at all …

I’ll show you another one. This is very interesting. Song of Solomon chapter 5 – and I know you’re all racing there. Song of Solomon chapter 5, verse 4. Now this is very interesting; just to give you an idea of how the Hebrew expressed his feelings. Now you’ve got to have the picture. The bride is waiting for the bridegroom. It is time to consummate the marriage. This is a great hour.

Now listen, the Hebrew says in verse 4: “My beloved put his hand to the latch of the door, and my bowels are moved for him.” Now you say, “Wait a minute. That’s in the Bible?” That’s in the Bible. You say, “What does that mean, John?” That means is that the bowels include that whole area, including the arousal of sexual desire in the human body. All of that area, even feeling in the genital area, was expressed by the Hebrews in that terminology. You see, they didn’t say, “And I began to sense great overwhelming passion.” That’s an abstraction. The Hebrew defined it in its lowest level of experiential feeling.

MacArthur says that the ancient Jews considered emotions — feelings from the gut — the lowest form of human experience:

Lamentations chapter 2, verse 11. Now Jeremiah, he was a patriot. I mean he was a real patriot, Jeremiah. But he wasn’t a blind patriot. He loved his country when his country loved God. In Lamentations 2:11, he says, “My country’s falling apart,” in essence. He’s seeing the death of his country. That’s why Lamentations is called Lamentations; it’s the weeping of Jeremiah over the death of his country. He says, “My eyes do fail with tears,” – and here it comes – “my bowels are troubled. I feel it in the gut again. The pain in my stomach is – I’m in knots.”

Now you’ve experienced that. He is having psychosomatic responses in his body to anxiety in his mind, but the Hebrew expresses it in terms of the psychosomatic symptom, not in terms of the abstraction. So emotions biblically, in the Old Testament particularly, are not experienced as abstractions, but at the lowest level of experience. And so now, watch this, in the cases of the bowels being used in the Scripture, they have reference to emotional responses, so that to the Hebrew mind, the heart is not the seat of emotion. What is? The stomach. The bowels

… it says in 1 John 3:17, “Whosoever hath this world’s good, and sees his brother hath need, and shuts up his bowels from him, how dwells the love of God in him?”

Boy, that is strange. That is strange. What is he saying? He is simply expressing what, in the Hebrew mind, is an obvious thing. He is saying, “Look, when you see somebody have a need, that need ought to cause a gut feeling in you. It ought to stir you up, and tighten up your stomach, and make you feel some real anxiety”.

Now notice, in every one of those passages that I showed you, the bowels are always responding. They responded to pain, in the first one I told you about; they responded to sex, in Song of Solomon; they responded to disaster, in the case of Jeremiah; and they respond to human need, in the case of 1 John 3. So that that in the Hebrew mind, the bowel is always that which responds. It is emotion. They felt it inside.

That isn’t to say that there is no reference to ‘mind’ in the Bible. Occasionally there is, Revelation 2:23 being a case in point, when the Lord says:

I will search the minds and the heart.

However, overall, the heart is used alone in Scripture. I have read the following passages that MacArthur cites and wondered why the authors did not use ‘mind’ instead.

He tells us why the authors used ‘heart’:

What is the heart? Listen to me. First of all, we see from that passage [Revelation 2:23] the heart is the place of responsibility. It’s the place of responsibility. “The heart is that which is wicked,” in Jeremiah 17. “The heart of man is” – what? – “deceitful above all things, and” – what? – “desperately wicked.” It is the seat of responsibility. It is that which God is going to judge. And He will try men’s – what? – hearts. It is that which is righteous or wicked. When God redeems Israel, He will take away their stony heart, and give them a new – what? – heart. It is the seat of responsibility; it is that which is judged.

I’ll take you a step further. It can’t be emotion then. It can’t be emotion. What is it? Let’s look at Revelation 18, verse 7. And here he’s talking about Babylon the Great, the destruction of the final world system in the tribulation. “How much she hath glorified” – Revelation 18:7 – “glorified herself, and lived luxuriously, so much torment and sorrow give her;” – listen – “for she saith in her heart, ‘I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.’”

Now notice something. To say “in her heart” is a metaphor for doing what? Thinking. “She said in her heart.” What does that mean? She thought in her mind. What then does the heart picture? Not the emotions, but the mind. The intellect and the mind is made up of two things: the intellect and the will. That’s the heart in biblical terminology.

In ancient times, you don’t find them referring to the brain. Listen to this one: “The fool hath said in his brain.” No. “The fool hath said in his” – what? – “heart.” Why? Because the heart was the seat of thought. It was the seat of thinking. And so that the heart represents the mind that sets the pace, and the bowels represent the responding emotion.

You say, “Well how did they get to this discovery?” Well, it’s easy to know how they got to the bowels being connected with emotion, because when they got emotional they began to have what we have today: upset stomachs, colitis, and all those symptoms that we get, ulcers – right? – all right here.

But how did they get the heart out of the brain? Well, some have surmised that because when the brain is really functioning, the heart is really working, and they could feel it throbbing and pulsing. But that’s the way they did it. Real serious thinking, says a Hebrew, can be felt in the beat of the heart. So the heart thinks, and the bowels respond with emotion. That’s the way you are.

Now remember this. In the mind of the Hebrew, and in the Revelation of God, emotions never initiate, they always respond. The heart thinks, and the emotions respond. That is the divine pattern.

MacArthur says that it is important for us to be able to control our emotions, whereas the Baptist pastors I mentioned earlier seem to favour emotions running riot.

MacArthur says:

“I can’t control my emotions.” You know why? Because your emotions will only be controlled by your mind, because emotion is a responder. The key to controlling your emotions is filling your mind with divine truth. That’s the key to controlling your emotions. You see, the emotions respond to what the mind perceives as true. Did you get that? Your emotions will respond to what your mind perceives is true, even if it isn’t true. That’s right.

Have you ever been lying in bed, and all of a sudden you woke up with a jolt when you landed after falling off that forty-story building? You weren’t falling, but your mind perceived it, and your emotions responded to it. You know what that teaches me about emotions? Don’t ever” – what – “trust them.” Don’t trust them, because you can make your emotions do anything if you can just make your mind think it perceives that. And the only way to control your emotions is to make sure that your mind is filled with divine truth. Emotions are like bad little children, they’ll run amuck if you don’t control them. And you say, “How do you control them?” You control them indirectly by feeding the mind.

Let me take you to 2 Corinthians chapter 6 … And here’s what he says, 2 Corinthians 6:11, “O ye Corinthians, our speech to you is candid, our heart is wide open.” Now listen. “Corinthians, listen to me. My speech to you is straightforward, candid, pulling no punches; and my heart” – or my mind – “is wide open.”

“Listen, I’ve got all kind of truth to tell you. It’s in my brain, and my brain’s open. It’s in my mouth, and my speech is wide open and straightforward.” Now watch this. “But on our part, there is no constraint. But there is constraint in your affections.” You know what the literal Greek is there? “You are tightened in your bowels.” That’s the literal translation. “I would certainly like to impart truth from my mind to your mind, but you are all tightened up emotionally. You are straightened emotionally.”

Listen to this. The Corinthians had put an emotional attitude against Paul in the way, and they couldn’t receive the truth. Listen to me. When emotions get ahead of the mind, you’ve got a lot of problems. Paul says, “I can’t even tell you the truth.”

… Just think about the person who comes to church and has something against me. They can’t learn, can they, because they put their emotions in front of the truth. The emotions have stopped being a responder, and the emotions are running the show.

Here the Corinthians were putting emotions first. They wouldn’t accept Paul. They were emotionally upset at him, so they were all tightened, uptight, and they couldn’t perceive truth; they had it all backwards. When people start putting emotions first, then they really get into problems.

MacArthur cites a contemporary example of emotions running the show in church:

One classic illustration of that today is the Charismatic Movement, Pentecostalism. You know what they attempt to do? They attempt to start the emotions without the mind. And they get you there, and you’ve got enough hallelujahs going, and enough running around and waving going, you can bypass the mind and you can really get the emotions flying. The only problem is, the emotions are responding to something they perceive that isn’t the truth, because there hasn’t even been the introduction to the truth. What they attempt to do is short-circuit the truth, and let the emotions run wild; and that’s the opposite of the biblical pattern.

You see, emotions should always respond to the truth. The key then to behavior, and the key to the control of emotion is the heart, the heart as seen as the mind. We need to plant the truth in the mind, and it will control the emotional responses.

Therefore, when we read of the heart in the Bible, we should be thinking of the mind rather than of our emotions:

Proverbs 4:23 says – and this is good: “Guard your heart.” What does it mean? “Guard your mind, your brain, with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” You see? You want to control life; guard your mind, and don’t let anybody short‑circuit it. That’s 4:23.

Proverbs 22:5 further, says, “Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse; but he that doth guard his soul shall be far from them.” The same basic terminology: the guarding of the mind, the Hebrew.

You find it in Proverbs 23:19: “Hear thou, my son, and be wise, and guide your heart in the way.” Guide your heart: guard it, and guide it, that it might hear and perceive the truth, and that your emotion might respond to the truth.

A beautiful passage, Deuteronomy 4:9. I can’t resist reading it to you. “Take heed to yourself; keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your” – listen – “heart.” I’ll read it again. Listen to this: “Take heed to yourself. Guard your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which you have seen, and they depart from out of your heart.” Don’t forget the truth. Guard your heart.

In Psalm 139, a beautiful portion of Scripture, in verses 23 and 24: “Search me, O God, and know my” – what? – “my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts.” You see, the heart equated with thinking. “And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Guard the heart. Guide the heart. Ask God to protect the heart – that’s your brain, your mind.

“A good man” – said Jesus in Matthew 12:35 – “out of the good treasure of the” – what? – “heart brings forth good things.” All the goodness will come out of the mind. The mind must guide the pattern of behavior.

One other passage, Matthew 15:19. “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, theft, false witness, blasphemy.” Jesus said in Matthew 12, “All the good things come out of the thinking process.” Jesus said in Matthew 15, “All the bad things come out of the thinking processes.” So the Bible says, “God, guard my thinking processes.”

Earlier, I mentioned the commonality between ‘encouraged’, ‘strengthened’ and ‘comforted’. Readers thinking that these sound like gifts from the Holy Spirit — the Paraclete — are correct.

MacArthur explains how the meanings tie together:

Now let’s go back to Colossians, and watch what this means to you now. “I wish you knew how great a conflict I have for you and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their” – what? – “hearts might be strengthened.” What do hearts mean? Minds. Paul says, “Number one thing I want out of you is to be strong in heart.”

What about the word “comforted”? You say, “It’s comfort in my Bible.” Sure, parakaleō, parakaleō, a very beautiful word; a word used repeatedly in the New Testament, and a word that always contains the idea of strengthening.

In Ephesians 6:22 it says, “that He might strengthen your hearts.” In 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, “Strengthen your hearts.” The word parakaleō includes in it the idea of comfort. It includes in it the idea of courage, it includes in it the idea of being strengthened, and it always carries all those aspects. In fact, we can look backwards into etymology and we can find the use of this word to mean specifically “strengthened.”

It means to provide a strong, courageous inner man; an intellect, and a will that will act heroically for God. A strong heart means a firm mind: a mind that has courage, a mind that has conviction, a mind that believes, a mind that has principle

He tells us how essential the Holy Spirit is in giving us a strong mind in all the right ways:

You say, “But how do you get strong like that?” I’ll show you. Ephesians chapter 3, verse 16 tells you in one verse. How do you get that mind, that inner part of me strong? Verse 16: “He prays to the Father that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power by His” – what? – “Spirit.”

Who is the strengthener of the heart? Who is it? It’s the Holy Spirit. And we need it. We live in a world with a weak heart. People don’t have convictions. People don’t believe in things. People don’t know the truth. People don’t learn the truth: they don’t pursue the truth, they don’t mine the truth. And he says, “I want you to be strong in it. I want you to be courageous. I want you to be comforted, encouraged, and strengthened by it.” All of that’s in the word parakaleō. And the Holy Spirit is the one that can do it.

You say, “How does it happen, John?” I believe as you yield to the power of the Spirit of God, as you walk in the Spirit, He strengthens the inner man. I think that’s what he’s saying here. You give the Spirit of God control of your life on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis, and the Spirit of God will feed that inner man. The Spirit of God, by the revelation of God, will feed your mind, and strengthen your mind.

As we yield moment-by-moment to the presence of the Spirit of God, we’re strengthened. Paul is a perfect illustration of that. In Acts 9 he tells us that he was converted, and immediately one of the things that began to happen after he was converted was that he began to be strengthened. Acts 9:19 says, “He was strengthened.” Acts 9:22, “But Saul increased the more in strength.”

He became stronger, and stronger. It wasn’t that he was lifting weights, and it wasn’t that he was eating a lot of food. It was that he was being equipped by the Spirit of God, and he became so strong in his heart, he became so solid in his confidence, he became so unflinching in his ministry, that in chapter 20, verse 22, he said, “I go bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem. I don’t know what’s going to happen, except I hear that bonds and afflictions await me. But none of these things” – what? – “move me”

If the word parakaleō means to strengthen, it is the very same word that is used in John 14, 15, and 16 as the name of the Holy Spirit. Do you remember the Holy Spirit being called Paraklētos, the Paraclete? That’s the identical word. You could just as well translate those verses this way.

John 14:16, this would be accurate according to the meaning of the word. John 14:16, Jesus said, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Strengthener.” Verse 26, “But the Strengthener, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things.” John 15:26, “But when the Strengthener is come.” John 16:7 “If I go not away, the Strengthener will not come.” It’s the same word.

MacArthur brings us the methods of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, in practical applications:

If you’re going to be strong in heart, then you’re going to be strengthened by the Strengthener, and that’s the Holy Spirit. And I’ll tell you what makes a weak Christian: that’s a Christian who walks all the time in the flesh. Right? Listen. Every step you take walking in the Spirit is a step like spiritual weightlifting, just that much stronger in your mind, in your convictions, in the things you know and believe about God.

Now I want to go a step further. Although the Holy Spirit is the Strengthener, He uses human instruments. He uses people like me to strengthen you, people like you to strengthen each other. Listen to Acts 18:23, “And after he had spent some time there,” – that’s Paul – “he departed and went over the country of Galatia and Phrygia” – now listen – “strengthening all the disciples.”

What was he doing? What was Paul doing? What did he do to them? He went in there and he poured into their minds divine truth, and that strengthened them. God uses human instruments empowered by His Spirit to strengthen.

Did you ever read 1 Timothy 6:2 this way? Paul says to Timothy at the end of the verse, “These things teach and strengthen.” Same verb. You know what strengthens people? Teaching. “These things teach and strengthen.” It is the Word of God in the hands of the Spirit of God, whether it’s directly as he ministers to you, or through a teacher that strengthens you.

… “Beloved, when I gave all diligence” – Jude 3 – “to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful of me to write unto you, and strengthen you that you should earnestly fight for the faith once delivered to the saints.” He says, “I had to write you to strengthen you.” “What do you mean?” “I had to impart to your brain knowledge to make you strong.”

MacArthur says that emotions are a sign of weakness. May our minds prevail in God’s truth via the Holy Spirit:

Listen. People don’t get strong by exercising their emotions. Do you understand that? You must understand what it says. “I want you to have strong hearts. It doesn’t mean I want you to have over exercised emotions. What it means is that I want you to have the input of the Spirit of God and the truth of God in your mind.” And so it will come from the Holy Spirit who is the Strengthener; and it will come from other instruments, such as Paul, such as Jude, such as me, such as anybody. And you know something, it will come from you; because if you’re strong, you’ll be able to pass that truth on.

I can think of a world-famous couple who have done a lot of damage — and continue to do so — by relying on their emotions rather than cool-headed, rational thinking.

They caused rifts within a tightly-knit family, rifts which might never be mended. They also caused ongoing anxiety in the matriarch of the family, who was already ill and grieving. She died this month and was buried exactly one week ago.

They did it by putting their emotions first and foremost.

We mustn’t be like that couple.

Instead, let us pray for increased knowledge of the eternal truth via the Holy Spirit, as the matriarch did during her long life of service and devotion.

May our minds be ever strengthened and at peace in Christ Jesus via the Holy Spirit. Amen.

John F MacArthurIn writing this week’s Forbidden Bible Verses post on Philippians 2:14-18, I used, as per usual, John MacArthur’s sermons.

‘Stop Complaining, Part 1’ begins with his view of an overly indulged, complaining generation.

He says that the problem is getting worse, rather than better.

Emphases mine below:

Let me sort of ease in to our subject a little bit, if I might.  We’re in Philippians chapter 2 verses 14 through 16.  And I titled the message, “Stop Complaining.”  There’s a reason for that, and it’s fairly obvious if you look at verse 14 where Paul says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” which are really two ways of saying stop complaining And as I was thinking about this very pertinent message about living your Christian life without complaining, it became very apparent to me that we live in a very complaining society.  And I really believe we are breeding a generation of complainers, and they seem to be getting worse with each passing generation

And as I’ve said to you on a number of occasions, it is a curiosity to me that the most indulged society is the most discontent society, that the more people have, the more they seem to be discontent with what they have and the more complaining they seem to be.  In thinking about this, and there would be many ways to approach it, I was just inadvertently flipping on the radio this week and I heard a speech by a sociologist that was quite curious to me and quite interesting The sociologist made a very interesting point.  He was talking about the young people in our culture, talking about their discontent, talking about their complaining attitude, their resistance to responsibility, and how that nothing is ever the way they would like it And they go through life with a kind of sullen discontent, kind of rejection of things the way they are And he had an interesting thesis What he basically said was this: that in many ways this discontented generation of young people is a product of small families His thesis was that where you have families where the average is two or less, of course the average family now in America is 1.7 children, which is kind of strange to think about; as one brother said to his sister, “I’m the one and you’re the point seven.”  But every family seems to come out at about 1.7.7.  We realize that families are getting smaller and smaller and moving toward one child families, if that.  Most families in America have either none, one, or two children …

And the difference is where you have a small family, the system bends to the child Where you have a large family, the child bends to the system And so, what you have, he said, is young people growing up in an environment where the system bends to them And you have child-centered parenting.

MacArthur grew up in a large family, where choice was not an option:

I know as a child myself, one of the reasons I wanted to grow up was I wanted freedom I lived in a totally conformed society.  I ate what they gave me I don’t ever remember going shopping with my mother, everI wore whatever she brought home I never picked out a thing, never.  I don’t even remember going to a department store clothing section as a young person.  My mother brought me what I needed, and I put it on.  And I conformed to the system.  And I looked forward to adulthood so that I could be free to make my own choices The reverse is true now; children grow up controlling the family and they don’t want to become adults because that means conformity Then, they have to go to work, and nobody at work says, “Now, how would you like your office decorated?  And what time would you like to take a break for lunch?”  Nobody says that.  They put you on an assembly line or they put you in a place where you are forced to conform, so what you have then is a generation of young people who don’t want to grow up.

And this sociologist said on the radio, you ask the average high-school kid, what do you want to do when you get out of school?  What’s his answer?  “I don’t know.”  You ask the average college student, what do you want to do when you’re out of college?  “I don’t know.”  And the reason he doesn’t know is because he is postponing responsibility because responsibility means conformity to a system, whereas childhood for him has been absolute freedom Eat what you want when you want, wear what you want when you want, and your mother will take you anywhere you want to go whenever you want.  And so, you breed a generation of young people who are irresponsible And when they do get a job, they get a job simply to finance themselves so they can enjoy their indulgences, and then when they’re 28 years old their license plate says, “He wins who has the most toys.”  And the whole idea of adulthood is to collect toys, boats, cars, vacation trips, on and on and on.

Now, what you have in this kind of thing, said this sociologist, is breeding moody discontent And you build young people who cannot conform and cannot be satisfied, over-indulged kids who don’t want to be adults, continue to push off responsibility; they grow up in an environment they control They don’t like being controlled And they become discontent They don’t want to take responsibility.  They don’t want to work And their adult years are sad.  They become sullen, very often, they become complainers And I really believe that he’s right in many cases.  One of the curses of our culture are overindulged childish kind of adults who are really complainers about everything Nothing is ever enough.  That’s why we have a whole society with a critical mentality, constantly attacking everything.

The church environment is no different:

Now, I want you to know this has found its way into the church And the church is full of its own complainers, and what is really sad is many of them are run by their children’s discontent People leaving the church because their children don’t like it Can’t imagine such a thing, unless their children control the family.  The church has its complainers.  And here we are with so much, so much.  How in the world could we possibly complain just because every little thing in life isn’t exactly the way we want it?  Frankly, I would suggest to you that few sins are uglier to me and few sins are uglier to God than the sin of complaining.  Frankly, I think the church at large does much to feed this thing by continuing to propagate this self-esteem, self-fulfillment garbage that just feeds the same discontent There’s little loyalty There’s little thankfulness There’s little gratitude.  And there’s very little contentment.  And sadly, what happens eventually is your griping, grumbling, murmuring discontent is really blaming God because, after all, God is the one who put you where you are So, just know who you’re complaining against.

He discusses how famous people from the Bible railed against God, from the very beginning:

Now, having said all of that there is a sense in which this complaining is part of our culture There’s another sense in which it’s not new at all Who was the first complainer who ever walked the earth?  Who was it?  The first complaining human being who ever walked was the first human being whoever walked.  And what was Adam’s first complaint?  “God, the woman You gave me.”  We are in this mess because of this woman.  He didn’t blame Eve; he blamed God.  Eve had nothing to do with it.  God made Eve.  Adam wasn’t married; he woke up one morning he was married.  God could have picked anybody He wanted, He picked her.  Why?  It’s God’s fault.  She led the whole human race in sin.  The woman You gave me, complaining.  Cain complained to God about God’s work in his life, Genesis 4:13 and 14 Moses complained to God for not doing what he wanted Him to do when he wanted Him to do it, Exodus 5:22 and 23 Aaron and Miriam complained to God against Moses, His chosen leader and their own brother in Numbers chapter 12.  Jonah complained to God because he was mad at God for saving the Ninevites, Jonah chapter 4 verses 9 and 10.  And it is still a popular pastime to complain at God And may I say that all of your complaints in one way or another are complaints against the providential purpose and will of God.

There’s a new book out called “Disappointment With God,” very popular and being promoted very heavily.  It seems to me to make complaining against God okay It sort of tries to define God as a lonely misunderstood lover who is really trying to work things out, but is really kind of a victim of all of us and we shouldn’t complain against Him, we ought to love Him What a strange view of God.  He is not some lonely misunderstood lover; He is the sovereign God who has ordered the circumstances of all of our lives And to complain against God, to grumble against God is a sin and we must see it as such.

In the ninth chapter of Romans verse 20, “O man, who answers back to God?  The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?”  Who in the world are you to answer back to God?  What an unthinkable thing to do.  And when describing the apostates in Jude 16, it says they are grumblers finding fault following after their own lusts All they want is what they want when they want it, they don’t get it, they grumble and find fault.  It’s characteristic sin of the proud and it is characteristic sin of the wicked.

Now, the tragedy of this particular sin is that it is so contagious Let me take a minute to usher you back into the Old Testament, chapter 13 of Numbers.  And I want you to follow me and we’ll at least get through this little introduction and I think set the stage for what is ahead of us.  This is really very, very interesting and very important.  We go back to the number one illustration of grumbling, murmuring belly-aching griping people the world has ever known, namely whom?  The Israelites.  Numbers 13 just gives us a little insight in to the potential power of this attitude to spread.  Verse 30 says, “Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, we should by all means go up and take possession of it for we shall surely overcome it.”  Joshua, you remember, and Caleb came back from spying out the land and they said we can do it; God is on our side, we can take it.  “But the men who had gone up with him said, we are not able to go up against the people for they are too strong for us.”  Which is nothing but doubting God.  “So, they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out saying the land through which we have gone in spying it out is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size.”  And then, they said this, “Also we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim, and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight and so were we in their sight.”

So, they come back with this complaining: we’ll never do it, we can’t make it, we can’t defeat them.  It’s a bad report.  It will fail, it will never make it.  Prophets of doom, they are.  And they’re really complaining against the fact that God has told them to go in.

God hates complaining as much as He hates sin.

God killed complaining Israelites. The wages of complaining were death:

Now, go over to chapter 14, watch what happens in verse 36, “As for the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation,” what?  “Grumble against him by bringing out a bad report concerning the land, even those men who brought out the very bad report of the land,” follow this, “died by a plague before the Lord.”  You know what the Lord thinks of grumblers?  He killed them because they spread a brooding discontent against God That’s the issue.  These people complained against God, they complained against God calling them to go into the land, they complained because the odds were against them humanly speaking.  And in their disbelief and complaining against God, they caused the whole nation to grumble, and as a result God killed them with a plague Grumbling really spreads, and your discontent, and your critical spirit, and your grumbling attitude, and your murmuring complaints will infect other people.

Here were the children of God They had been led out of Egypt.  God had parted the Red Sea for them They had seen ten plagues, miraculous plagues at the point of their deliverance And as soon as they got out of the land of Egypt they started to complain, and it never really ended Can I take you through a little trek?  Go back to Exodus and let’s go back to where it started in the Exodus.  Verse 11 of chapter 14, “Then, they said to Moses,” and they’re out in the wilderness now.  “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?”  They said, “What do you bring us out here for, because there weren’t any graves in Egypt?”  Which is a mocking statement.  I mean, wasn’t there a place to bury us there?  You’re going to have to take us to the desert to bury us?  “Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt?”  Here’s the complaint, it’s not like they want it.  They’ve left Egypt, it’s not the way they want it Pharaoh is moving after them, and they begin to complain.  Of course, God did a marvelous thing, He opened the Red Sea, drowned Pharaoh’s entire army and saved them.

Go to chapter 15, they come through the Red Sea, they’ve been delivered, and in that great 15th chapter, the song of Moses sings of God’s great deliverance And it’s no sooner than they’ve done that, verse 22, then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur, and they went three days and they didn’t have any water, three days.  And they came to Marah, they couldn’t drink the waters of Marah, they were bitter therefore it was named Marah, so the people what?  Grumbled at Moses saying, “What shall we drink?”  Again, the same attitude.  Chapter 16, by the way, God provided water for them You remember it.  Verse 27 of chapter 15, 12 springs of water and they camped there and 70 date palms and they had a feast.  “Then, they set out from Elim and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin which is between Elim and Sinai, on the 15th day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt, and the whole congregation of Israel grumbled against Moses.”  Nothing is ever enough.  Part the Red Sea, provide the water, more grumbling.  “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, we would have been better off there when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full.”  Boy, this is a crass crowd, right?  They don’t care about anything but food.  “We’re all going to die of hunger.”  Boy, they’re real deep, aren’t they?  Real deep people.  “And the Lord provides again.”  It’s absolutely incredible.  God sends quail, God sends manna down.

Then, you come to chapter 17 “Then, all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin according to the command of the Lord and camped at Rephidim and there was no water for the people to drink.  Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, give us water that we may drink.”  See, here’s more complaining, griping, grumbling, quarreling, disputing.  “Moses said to them, why do you quarrel with me?  Why do you test the Lord?  He is the one who has ordained the circumstances.  But the people thirsted there for water and they grumbled against Moses and they said, why now have you brought us up from Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

Well, Moses is getting to the end of his rope.  So, Moses cried to the Lord, and I’m sure it was loud, “What shall I do to this people?  A little more and they’ll stone me.”  Some group, huh?  So, the Lord said, “Pass before the people, take with you some of the elders of Israel, take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile and go.  I’ll stand before you there on the rock at Horeb and you’ll strike the rock and water will come out of it the people may drink Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel, he named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord saying, is the Lord among us or not?”  It doesn’t take very long for people to forget the provision of God.

Now, go over to Numbers for just a moment or two because I want you to see this pattern.  Now, they’re at the other end of the 40 years They’re ready.  Time is ready to go into the land.  And it’s not much different Verse 1 of chapter 11 of Numbers, “Now, the people became like those who complain.”  You ought to underline that.  “They became like those who complain of adversity.  Complaining of adversity in the hearing of the Lord.”  That’s where their complaint really was directed.  “And when the Lord heard it His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp The people therefore cried out to Moses and Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire died out.  So, the name of the place was called Taberah because the first of the Lord burned among them.”  40 years later, and they have been complaining the whole time about everything.

Verse 4 says, “The rabble who were among them had greedy desires, and the sons of Israel wept again and said, who will give us meat to eat?  We remember the fish and the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, and we’ve got nothing but manna, crummy manna.”  Day after day, this is typical complaining.  Chapter 14, God keeps on providing.  God sends the spies into the land.  And what happens?  They come out, they give this evil report, we can’t do it.  Verse 27 of chapter 14, “How long,” the Lord says to Moses and Aaron, “shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me?  I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel which they are making against Me.  Say to them as I live, says the Lord, just as you have spoken in my hearing, so I will surely do to you.  Your corpses shall fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men according to your complete number from 20 years old and upward who have grumbled against Me.”  God says I’ll kill the whole lot of you, you’ll never enter the promised land, and He did it.  He did it.

Chapter 16 verse 41, “On the next day,” what next day?  The next day after God had just punished some people for invading the priesthood The next day after God’s object lesson about serious treatment of His law, “All the congregation of the sons of Israel,” verse 41, “grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and they’re saying you are the ones who caused the death of the Lord’s people.”  And the Lord was furious.  Verse 45, He says, “Get away from among this congregation that I may consume them instantly.  Then, they fell on their faces.”  And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put in a fire from the altar and take incense in and bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord, the plague has begun Then, Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold the plague had begun among the people so he put on the incense and made atonement for the people.  And he took his stand between the dead and the living and the plague was checked, but those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah,” where the ground swallowed them all up God just starts slaughtering thousands of them because of their grumbling, complaining, discontent.

You find it again in chapter 20 You find it again in chapter 21 I won’t read them to you.  I suppose the summary of all of it could be in Psalm 106, just listen to this, verse 25.  It says, “They didn’t believe in His word but grumbled in their tents.  They didn’t listen to the voice of the Lord.  Therefore, He swore to them that He would cast them down in the wilderness.”  And that’s exactly what He did.

I read with interest and thought that this must be quite a recent sermon.

How old do you think it is?

MacArthur delivered that sermon on January 15, 1989!

Let’s return to our generation of complainers from that era, 33 years ago, as I write in 2022.

Their parents would have been born in the late 1950s through to the early 1960s, in most cases.

Those young adults, their children, in 1989, would have started getting married and bearing their own offspring in the 1990s.

Here we are, three decades — and three generations — later.

I have an update on today’s youth from Saturday’s Telegraph, July 30, 2022: ‘Our fixation with feelings has created a damaged generation’.

The article is about British youth. Post-pandemic, the main topic that appears in many news articles and parliamentary debates is mental health.

If I had £1 for every time I’ve heard the words ‘mental health’ in parliamentary debates between 2020 and 2022, I’d be living in Monaco right now.

Not only do we have a new generation of complainers, they say they are suffering.

They are suffering because they are too introspective.

Feelings are the order of the day. A dangerous solution to that is the Online Safety Bill currently in the House of Commons. Pray that we can put an end to it, because it has provisions for ‘legal but harmful’ speech. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport — currently Nadine Dorries — can decide what is ‘legal but harmful’ speech.

Whoa!

That is a very dangerous route.

Even more dangerous are the voices coming from Labour MPs, who say that if they are ever in government again — a likely possibility — they will clamp down on whatever free speech remains.

Even worse, the legislation has not been passed, yet, here are Hampshire Constabulary just last Saturday, July 30, 2022, arresting a military veteran for tweeting a meme. The person who complained said that the meme caused him or her ‘anxiety’.

The police don’t ordinarily go to people’s homes to investigate crime these days. Yet, they are all too ready to look into social media.

Five officers attended this man’s residence and arrested him. It appears that no charges stuck, possibly because of the Reclaim Party’s Laurence Fox’s video of the incident. Perhaps the police were embarrassed?

The man tweeting this — unrelated to the incident — is former firefighter Paul Embery, a GB News panellist and Labour Party member who is active in unions, someone concerned about freedom of expression:

Guido Fawkes has more on the story and points out (emphasis in the original):

Arresting people for causing offence or anxiety, all while Hampshire recorded 8,000 burglaries in the last year, probably isn’t the best use of police time…

How did we get here?

The Telegraph article consists of an interview with Gillian Bridge, 71, who is an addiction therapist, mental health advocate, teacher and author of many years’ experience in schools and prisons.

Now you might think she makes all manner of apologies for today’s youth.

Au contraire!

Gillian Bridge was aghast to find that the BBC put great emphasis earlier this year on how young Britons were reacting to the war in Ukraine. She said:

there was this expectation that they were going to be enormously distressed – and about something that was not affecting them directly. Meanwhile, what were they doing in Ukraine? Living in bomb shelters; giving birth in cellars. But we were supposed to worry about the ‘anxiety’ young people were experiencing here? Frankly, I found that terrifying.

She said that this was not surprising, because in our post-pandemic world, feelings in a world of short attention spans are the only thing that matter.

As such, Ukraine is less important now. It shouldn’t be, but it is:

Terrifying, but “not surprising”, she adds with a sigh. “And you’ll notice that just like other political subjects that have prompted huge emotional outpourings on and off social media of late, things have now gone very quiet on that front. Once we’ve had these ‘big’ emotions, we are no longer particularly interested, it seems.” She cites our celebration of the NHS as another example. “People were virtually orgasmic about their pan-banging, but how many of them then went on to volunteer or do something tangibly helpful?” It’s in part down to our gnat-like attention span, says Bridge, “but also the fact that a lot of the time we’re not interested in the actual subject, just the way we feel about it.”

Mental health problems, real or otherwise, have spun out of control over the past few years, even pre-pandemic:

the 71-year-old has watched our “fixation with feelings” balloon out of all proportion, eclipsing reason, and predicted how damaging it would be, especially for the young. However, even Bridge was shocked by figures showing that more than a million prescriptions for antidepressants are now written for teenagers in England each year, with NHS data confirming that the number of drugs doled out to 13 to 19-year-olds has risen by a quarter between 2016 and 2020.

Child mental health services are reported to be “at breaking point”, with referrals up by 52 per cent last year and some parents even admitting that they have been sleeping outside their children’s bedrooms in order to check they are not self-harming. There is no doubt that we are dealing with an unprecedented crisis – one that was definitely heightened by the pandemic. “But Covid cannot be held responsible for all of it,” cautions Bridge. “And while antidepressants can be very effective, we need to be asking ourselves how we reached this point? Because whatever we’ve been doing clearly isn’t working.”

Bridge blames this on too much introspection:

At the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference in 2019 Bridge told the 250 independent school heads in attendance what she believed to be the root cause of this mass unhappiness: “This focus on ‘me, myself and I’ is the problemIt’s taking people who are vulnerable to begin with and asking them to focus inwards.” And in Bridge’s ground-breaking book, Sweet Distress: How Our Love Affair With Feelings Has Fuelled the Current Mental Health Crisis, the behavioural expert explains why too much emphasis on emotion is as bad for our health as a surfeit of sweet treats. Indeed the “empty calories contained in some feelings” have only helped our “sense of self-importance to grow fat”, she says. Hence the “emotional obesity many are suffering from now”.

Cancel culture and censorship are part of this dreadful focus on feelings:

The book – which kicks off with Bridge’s assertion, “We’ve been living in a gross-out world of personal emotional self-indulgence and sentiment for decades now … decades which have seen the nation’s mental health worsening” – is a succession of equally magnificent declarations. Magnificent because she has pinpointed the cause of a whole range of societal problems, from mental distress and the determined fragility of the young to the woke chaos of universities and cancel culture.

Interestingly, Bridge believes that this toxic focus on feelings began in the 1970s. MacArthur and the sociologist he cited spoke in 1989The timing makes sense.

Bridge told The Telegraph:

Certainly the touchy-feely approach to things had already started in classrooms back in the 1970s.

From there, it gradually expanded, year after year, decade after decade:

Flash forward to today, when every boss can be silenced by an employee starting a sentence with: “I just feel that …”

Whereas you could do so in the old days, it is now taboo to downplay someone’s feelings, and that is not a good thing:

The great value of feelings today, Bridge tells me, “is that no one else can ever deny them … so if you feel offended then someone has genuinely harmed you”. Celebrity culture has promoted this new way of thinking as much as social media, “where you can witness people actually gorging on themselves, getting high on the strength of their own feelings just as they do on sugar – self-pleasuring, basically. And listen, it may feel good in the short term, but it’s very bad for us in the long run.”

People can convince themselves that their feelings are the truth, their truth, anyway. That omits fact, what really happened. Bridge mentioned Meghan Markle’s complaints:

Take the Duchess of Sussex, she points out, and her litany of “heartfelt” complaints. “Just last week there she was explaining that she didn’t lie to Oprah about growing up an only child, because she felt like one, so it was, as she put it ‘a subjective statement’.” Bridge laughs; shakes her head. “We really are tying ourselves up in knots now, aren’t we? Because it’s all about me, myself and I, and someone like Meghan has made it so much easier for people to follow in her footsteps, when the reality is that feelings are not immutable. They are not fixed, an absolute. They are not fact. And they are certainly not something that must override everything else.”

Yet there is a natural neurological process whereby the brain is able to turn feelings into fact, Bridge explains. “If you revise, rehearse, repeat and reinforce, then you create a fact, and that fact will then be embedded in your memory: ‘your truth’. Going back to Markle, that’s crucially a truth that no amount of counter-evidence can challenge.”

Bridge says that encouraging children to emote and focus on their feelings is unhelpful for them and for society at large. The focus on feelings originated in the United States, the source of all bad ideas in our time:

“The worst possible thing you can do with a child is to give them a fixed idea that they are feeling a certain way,” she says with aplomb. So those “emotional literacy” classes that started in California and are now being taught at schools here in the UK? The ones using a “traffic light” system, with pupils as young as four being asked to describe their “happiness levels” accordingly? “A terrible idea,” Bridge groans. “Feelings are simply physiological sensations mediated by cultural expectations; they go up and they go down!” Yet thanks to the pervasive narrative that every feeling should be given weight, “instead of enjoying the limitless health and optimism of youth” many youngsters “are now entrenched in their own misery”.

Bridge then tapped unknowingly into what MacArthur preached about in 1989, the notion that there were once roles for us in life, conformity to social expectations:

The desire to feel significant (either by embracing victimhood or by other means) is hardly new where young people are concerned, Bridge reminds me, and her tone is notably empathetic. “Let’s not forget that people used to have a role in life assigned for them within their communities. You might do an apprenticeship and then go and work in a factory or go into your father’s firm, or you might be preparing to get married and have babies. Now people have to find their role, they have to choose an identity, and that is much more complicated for them.”

Remember when we older folk — the 60+ group — were taught resilience at home when we were children? ‘Tomorrow’s another day’? It meant that today’s setback was temporary and, sure, we were hurt or upset, but better times were on the way. And, sure enough, they were.

Parents and schools are not teaching children about the temporary nature of setbacks. Therefore, today’s children lack resilience, which gave all of us who learned it so long ago hope for the future:

“The reason ‘everything will look better in the morning’ is so important,” says Bridge, “is that just like the children who did well in [Walter Mischel’s famous 1972] marshmallow experiment, they were able to predict the future based on their past.” That ability to delay and see the bigger picture is closely associated with the development of the hippocampus, she explains, “which is memory, navigation and good mental health. Yet by immersing ourselves in feelings and the now, we’ve blotted out the ‘OK so I’m feeling bad, but tomorrow will be another day’ logic, and we’re trusting the least intelligent part of our brains. As parents, we should all be discouraging this in our children. Because a child has to believe in tomorrow.”

Developing resilience is good for brain health, and it helps us to survive.

Bridge says that altruism also helps our brain health. We look out for others, not just ourselves. She says:

Studies have shown that it protects us from mental decline in our later years, but that the self-involved are more likely to develop dementia.

She cautions against cancelling or revising our history, whether it be factual or cultural:

Learning and a sense of history are equally important when it comes to brain health. “Yet again we seem to be distancing ourselves from the very things that we need to thrive. We’re so threatened by history and its characters that we try to cancel them! When you only have to read something like Hamlet’s ‘to be, or not to be’ speech to understand that it encapsulates all of the issues and irritations we still suffer from today. And surely knowing that gives you a sense of belonging, a sense of context, continuity and, crucially, relativity?

Alarmingly, Bridge says that some young people believe that suicide is a melodrama, not a final act:

they don’t actually realise it’s the end of them. Instead, they are almost able to view it as a melodrama that they can observe from the outside. Which is a deeply distressing thought.

Scary.

Bridge warns that too much introspection can lead to criminality:

Although it’s hard to condense everything she learnt about the criminal brain during those years down to a tidy sound bite, “what was notable and important in this context,” she says, “was their fixation on themselves. So the more a person looks inwards at the me, myself and I, the more they’re likely to run afoul of everything, from addiction to criminality. In a way, the best thing you can do for your brain is to look beyond it.”

She tells me about a prisoner she was working with “who came up to me and said: ‘I’ve got mental health’ – as though that were a disorder. Because people have become so ‘into’ the problem that the phrase is now only negative. That’s surely one of the most worrying developments of all. And it’s why I refuse to use or accept the term ‘mental health’ unless it is prefixed by ‘good’ or ‘bad’.”

Incredibly, with all the misplaced importance on feelings, Bridge says she has never had a bad reception to her talks:

… she stresses she “has never encountered negativity anywhere I have spoken”. Yet another reason why Bridge isn’t about to dampen her argument.

She thinks there might be the seeds of a turnaround, based on news items over the past few weeks:

“I think people understand that it’s time for some tough talking,” she writes in Sweet Distress. “There is increasing evidence that families, schools and universities are being overwhelmed by an epidemic of mental ill health.” So whatever we are doing isn’t just “not helping”, but harming? “Absolutely. But I am seeing more and more people speaking up about this now. The narrative is changing. Just look at what the Coldstream Guards fitness instructor, Farren Morgan, said last week about body positivity promoting ‘a dangerous lifestyle’. He’s right.” She shrugs. “It’s no good saying ‘it’s OK to be any size you please’ when we know that if children have bad diets, that can in turn lead to obesity – which in turn makes it more likely that they will suffer both physically and mentally later on.”

She mentions the new smart dress code implemented by the head of Greater Manchester Police – the one that, according to reports last week, helped turn the force around into one of the “most improved” in the country. “These officers were performing better at work because they were dressed smarter. So what does that tell us? That if you have a disciplined life and if you accomplish the things you set out to do, that gives you self-esteem – which makes you happier. But of course none of this happens if we are just sitting around ‘feeling’ things.”

She suggests that a good way of getting young people out of the cancel culture narrative is to point out that, someday, they might be cancelled, too. Also note the final word:

How do we get people out of themselves when they are so entrenched, though? How do we root them when they are flailing to such an extent? “By giving them a sense of being part of history! By getting them to see that if they want to cancel someone who lived 50 or 100 years ago, then in 50 or 100 years’ time someone may have entirely ‘valid’ reasons to cancel them. By building the inner scaffolding that will keep them standing throughout life’s ups and downs. And you know what that inner scaffold is called?” she asks with a small smile. “Resilience.”

Get Gillian Bridge into the new Government, coming soon, as an adviser. The nation needs someone like her. She would be perfect in helping us to defeat our mental health pandemic.

John F MacArthurThere’s nothing better than a good conversion story.

I could read them all day long.

In 1988, John MacArthur gave a sermon on Philippians 1:19-21, which I used for my Forbidden Bible Verses post on that passage.

MacArthur began that sermon, ‘Joy in spite of death’, with an amazing conversion story effected through the Gospel according to St Matthew.

Emphases mine below:

As we come to the study of God’s Word this morning, I – before we get into it – want to share with you a wonderful experience I had this week.  I met this week a gentleman who will fit into my rather short list of the most unforgettable people I have ever met I had about three or four days to spend with him off and on because we kept intersecting one another and at some times we spent hours together talking.  He’s a fascinating man who reminded me again of the power of the Word of God His name is Ezekiel, and that’s a great start Ezekiel is a man in his sixties, a man who for many, many years was one of the greatest generals in the Israeli army, who can tell you tale after tale after tale of battles and victories that he won with his troops that have no explanation other than divine intervention.  He was one of the master strategists in the history of Israel.  He is a true Israelite in the sense of geography and heritage His family lived in the land of Israel before it was the state of Israel.  In fact, his family goes back to the time of the Ottoman Turks before the British occupation.  So he is truly a man of the land.  He is of genius capacity intellectually, being the chess champion of Israel who has competed internationally and is renowned for his ability.  He is what is called a grand master in bridge and has won all over the world, defeating most of the world’s teams with the team which he leads.

When he retired from military service in Israel after being very successful and very eminent as a strategist, he went into business for himself And in a matter of a few years, because of his abilities and his contacts, he became a multi-millionaire And it wasn’t very long before he was making so much money that he had plenty of time and plenty of money on his hands and he became a compulsive gambler And so he traveled all over the world, everywhere from Atlantic City to Las Vegas to Monte Carlo to you name it.  Where there was gambling, he was there, gambling huge amounts of money up to the losses of one million dollars in a given year.

Finally he was about ten months ago struck with a heart attack – no, I guess a little longer than that – struck with a heart attack and almost died And while he was in the hospital his wife said to him, “This has got to stop I’m not going to live with this anymore, this running around wasting money and being gone all the time.  And I don’t want you to do it, and now you’ve had a heart attack and you’ve got to stop this and settle down.”  She said, “If you do it again, I’ll leave you.”  And so in good faith to her he put all of his assets in her name to protect himself from himself And no sooner was he over his heart attack then his compulsion dictated to him what he would do So he took off again to gamble, at which point she divorced him And so he came to Atlantic City, his wife divorced him and now had possession of everything which was in her name. And all he had was what he had in his pocket, which he proceeded to lose in gambling in Atlantic City.

With just a few thousand left in his pocket and destitute now and realizing that he had lost his marriage and that he had lost his dignity and he had no reason to live, he decided to go to the twenty-second floor of Trump Tower and dive out He planned the whole suicide.  And on the way from his hotel room to the top of the building to jump out, he got sick.  And he told me, interestingly enough, he got too sick to kill himself, which I thought was pretty curious.  And he went back to his room – he was too sick to jump.  And he went back to his room and he began to spit up blood and so he called the house doctor, and they determined that he had pneumonia, rushed him to the hospital On the way somebody rolled him and took all his money And he got to the hospital with no money.  They let him stay for about a week until he was cured of pneumonia.  And upon his release, all he had in his pocket was a ticket to Israel seventeen days later – no wallet, no identification, no money, no nothing.  He said, “Where am I going to go?”  And they suggested the Atlantic City rescue mission.

So this great Israeli general, this great genius, this chess champion, grand master bridge player, wealthy entrepreneur, world jet-setter landed at the Atlantic City rescue mission.  For fifteen years of his military life he had studied the Old Testament with a fine-toothed comb because he wanted to be the master of all the military strategy of the Old Testament so that he could apply it in the contemporary battles in which Israel fought So he became a master of Old Testament data.  Since the age of six he had systematically memorized the Old Testament, so he knew it all from beginning to end.

He went into that rescue mission with nothing but the clothes on his back and a ticket to Israel seventeen days later, figuring he would stay there as nothing more than an indigent until he could get on his plane and leave.  The first day he was there another person staying there came up to him and said, “You look Jewish.”  He said, “I am.”  He said, “Here’s a Bible; read Matthew.”  He said having nothing else to do he sat down and read Matthew twice.  At the end of the second reading, he knew Jesus was the Messiah and embraced Him as his Savior.

Two readings of the gospel of Matthew.  He said to me, he said, “When I finished the second reading of Matthew, I totally understood the whole Old Testament. I understood every bit of it.”  And he said, “I want to tell you, Jesus is on every page, every page.”  And he said to me, “In fact, Jesus is Jehovah.  And Jesus is Elohim.  And the lights were going on.”

That was nine months ago He still hasn’t used the ticket.  He is still here.  He has nowhere to go.  He has no home.  He is still here studying the Bible eight to ten hours a day And now he’s beginning to understand the New Testament.  He said, “I understand the New. I understand everything Paul said. I understand everything Jesus confronted.  I know all about the Pharisees.  I understand that I was raised in Pharisaic Judaism.”  He says, “The whole Bible has come alive to me from cover to cover.”  And we sat by the hour and discussed the Word of God.

And he had a Hebrew Old Testament and a Hebrew New Testament, and we were going at it hour after hour after hour.  And he said, “All I want to do the rest of my life is study the Bible – study the Bible and tell my people about the Bible.”  He said, “I’m going back to Israel.  I’m going to buy a yarmulke because you can’t teach the law without a yarmulke.  I’m going to put on a yarmulke, and I’m going to teach the Bible.”

Incredible mind.  In fact, he is overwhelming with his insight in Scripture because his culture is so totally Old Testament orientation that everything makes sense to him.  And I walked away from that thrilled again at the power of the Word of God.  And I thought to myself, How do you approach a genius, Jewish, gambling, entrepreneurial military general?  What approach do you use?”  How about saying, “Read Matthew”?  What a powerful simplicity there is in that.

Hezzy, as he likes to be called – that’s his nickname – Hezzy and I have become friends.  He wants to come here and meet you.  Some day I think he will, if the Lord gives him life.  He has angina.  But again, I was reminded of the power of the Word of God.

Now having made that justification, I will preach from it – Philippians chapter 1.  Let’s open our Bibles together – with the confidence, the confidence in our hearts that the Word of God is alive and – What? – powerful, alive and powerful.

What an amazing story.

I hope that Hezzy returned to Israel eventually and that God blessed him abundantly, in life and in death.

Because he knew the Old Testament by heart, Matthew’s Gospel tied everything together for him and made the Bible come alive.

Other Jews have become Christians by reading Matthew, which the Apostle purposely began with our Lord’s earthly lineage for their benefit.

It is a pity that more people do not read the Bible regularly. Admittedly, it took a long time for me to do so. I was in my 50s when I started in earnest.

My advice is not to wait, because the sooner one understands Scripture, the sooner one truly embraces Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

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