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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.

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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 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 2017, John MacArthur preached a sermon on Galatians 4:19-20 called ‘The Primary Importance of Sanctification’.

In addition to preaching well on the text, he also gave a discourse on why today’s churches are so, well, awful, for lack of a better word.

The excerpt follows, emphases mine:

We talk a lot about the economy in America and the economy growing. You do understand, don’t you, that the economy in America grows on massive self-interest, not on altruism, not on wanting to help others; it grows on massive self-interest. The church has bought into that as a way to appeal to those people who live for their own fulfillment. Churches then look and sound and feel like the world, and they advertise God as if He was a product that would satisfy your heart’s desires. Carefully they avoid anything that condemns people, anything that convicts them, certainly anything that terrifies them, like the judgment of hell. They avoid anything that expects people to deny themselves, take up a cross, pursue with passion what is holy, pure, and good. And, again, even in churches where there’s a strong emphasis on justification, and maybe a now and then emphasis on glorification, there is a strict avoidance of sanctification. This plays out all the time.

The church is supposed to look like Christ in the world. And rarely does a day go by that there isn’t some blatant, gross sin and immorality attributed to someone in the media across the country, if not across the world, who is anything but Christlike. Faithful churches are always led by godly shepherds who lead their people away from the world, away from themselves to God, away from the fulfillment of their own desires, their own longings, to seek those things which are above, not things on the earth. The church is in a sad state.

Now, how did we get to this point? I don’t want to belabor this, but this is a little bit of helpful history. Churches for centuries were theological, theological, and biblical. The Bible was the centerpiece, and the theology that the Bible taught established the convictions, and churches were God-centered.

It was even demonstrated architecturally. You go back a few generations, and when churches were built they were built to manifest a kind of transcendent perspective. They were tall, they were high; they wanted to demonstrate something that was above the earth. Some of you have visited those kinds of places where you look up, perhaps in some cases a hundred feet or more, and you see paintings and stained glass and things like that.

There was a sense in which when you went to church you were encountering God, and transcendence was important. It was God-centered, it was Christ-centered. And they trusted in the Holy Spirit for the growth of the church. I’ll say that again. They trusted in the Holy Spirit for the growth of the church.

Churches opposed worldliness. They opposed sin categorically ... But even Protestant churches, even gospel-preaching churches had a sense of transcendence. There was a dignity about them. The music had a dignity. The way people conducted themselves had a dignity. The leadership carried themselves in a dignified fashion. One commentator I read this week said, “Modern pastors look like they buy their wardrobes at Forever 21.” There was a loftiness. There was an ascendency. You came to hear from heaven. You came for an encounter with God.

New churches are not theological, they’re not biblical; they are psychological, sociological. They have given up transcendence – a heavenly experience, for imminence – an earthly experience, to make it as much like what is familiar in the world as possible; to not make you think that you’ve stepped into any kind of different category, either in the style, the fashion, or anything else; make it as worldly, as flat as possible. It is man-centered. And though the names of Jesus and God are used, Jesus and God are like imaginary friends who give you what you want. Churches today trust in their growth techniques, not the Holy Spirit. They trust that by sucking in the world and redefining worship as a mindless musical stimulation while the people think only about their own desires, that somehow this is how you grow a church.

You can collect a crowd that way, but only the Holy Spirit can build a church. Vague spirituality has replaced sound doctrine. True holiness is not an issue, because that would be way too confrontive. You can’t talk to people about self-denial, of giving up everything they long for, everything they think satisfies them, giving it all up in total self-denial for the sake of God; can’t do that. This culture today has drunk too deeply of the wine of self-fulfillment for too long. They are drunk on it.

Attendance in a church and loyalty to a church is never related, it seems, to the love of the truth or the love of Christ, but always to the love of self: “I like what they do, it’s my style; makes me feel good about me.” You might say, “How did we get here?” We got here because ideas have consequence.

Sigmund Freud died in 1939. He was the father of psychoanalysis. His system was a system that rejected God. His system was a system that said man is the ultimate. And so he said, there is in every human being, what he called, the id. And the id is the real you, the authentic you. It’s basically the complex out of which comes all your desires. And if you want to be who you are you’ve got to let your desires go. If you want to be an authentic person, you need to be you. Whatever you is, whatever the complex of your heart’s desires are, you have to be able to fulfill them to be a healthy, authentic person. In other words, unleash your sinfulness.

Obviously, the most eager people to buy into that were young people, because young people haven’t learned lessons in life about how living like that destroys you. So they’re the fertile ground to sow those seeds. The most liberated sinners are the youngest, because they lack the restraints that come from the lessons of life, and so youth become the symbol of authenticity. Youthful, irresponsible desire is elevated to a noble level, and the perpetual adolescent is the most authentic person.

We see it in our culture. The heroes of this culture are so profoundly sinful and so proud about it, that it would be hard to track the record of their iniquitous behavior. But they’re real; they’re the real people. The church is a restrainer. The church is bondage. The church is full of hypocrites, people who dress up like we do because they’re phonies and they are not authentic.

Over the years since Freud, this youthful authenticity movement has taken over the culture. Dramatically it made strides in the 1960s when, for the first time, the selfish, self-indulgent, immoral young person, hedonistic young person became the cultural hero: the hippies – sex, drugs, rock and roll. This is played out in songs like “I’ve Got To Be Me,” “I Did It My Way.” “And so if a church doesn’t let me be me, I reject it.”

This has reached severe proportions. An illustration: same-sex marriage. Homosexual people don’t care about marriage – just mark it – they don’t care about marriage, they just care about doing what they want to do. They don’t care about marriage.

Why do they want same-sex marriage? They want it established by law for one reason: so that they can put those who are against that sin out of business. That’s all they want; LGBTQ lobbying constantly for acceptance in the culture. It isn’t that they want some kind of political acceptance, they want to make criminals out of the people who spell that out as sin. They want to criminalize Christianity. That’s the only reason any of this is happening. They’re free to do what they want, and they do it. But what bothers them is those who denounce that behavior as sin; they want to make us criminals. So we’re in a tough spot.

The culture, mostly young people, is against us. In the ‘60s after the hippie movement, when immorality just broke loose, there were some kids who supposedly came to Christ; they became the Jesus people. They came to Southern California down to Orange County. There was a guy named Lonnie Frisbee who was leading that movement, who was secretly a homosexual and died of AIDS.

But Lonnie Frisbee had decided they needed to take their kids, that were meeting on the beach and baptizing in the Pacific Ocean, to church. So they went to Calvary Chapel in Orange County where Chuck Smith was pastor. Then it was a four square church, traditional church. And they all showed up on a few Sundays barefoot, long hair, irreverent, casual, with their own kind of music; and the leaders of the church said, “We’ve got to hold onto the young people. If we don’t give them what they want they’ll leave.”

That was already being discussed a lot of places, because the hippie movement caught fire across America – the movement of rebellion against authority, responsibility, duty, expectation; rebellion against right, honor; it caught fire. So the church feared, “We’re going to lose these people if we don’t acquiesce.” So for the first time when the Jesus people came to church, first time I can find in church history, the church began to redefine its own identity and worship based upon the wishes of a rebellious subculture. That definition started then and spread; started in California, spread clear across the country.

Prior to the ‘60s, nobody expected a church service to be rock concert. Nobody expected a church service to be entertainment. Nobody expected worship to be physical stimulation, emotional feelings without engaging your mind. Nobody expected church to be a manipulation of people’s desires to fulfill their own self-styled identity. A church was a church, and it was a place where there was thoughtful, prayerful, biblical, sober-minded hearing from the Word of God, leading to conviction and edification and elevation. It was a heavenly encounter.

But to this modern generation of young peopleserious, sober, thoughtful, scriptural preaching about God, and confrontation of sin, and a call to holiness, and a call to separate from the world and from iniquity is far too absolute and far too offensive. People who want to feel good about themselves the way they are don’t want that, so the church caved in. The church caved in and gave them what they want. And now pastors continue to accommodate those same people – irresponsible, lazy, undisciplined rebels who want what they want – and the church, instead of confronting it, conforms to it. No preaching on sanctification, no preaching on holiness can be done in those environments; they’d empty the place.

This is the situation today. Strong preaching on holiness against worldliness, confronting the desires of the hearts of the “me” generation as sin from which they need to repent is a far cry from the trend.

How true.

I put this post together on Easter Day. What was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon about? The Resurrection? No. Justin Welby preached about the ungodliness of processing economic migrants crossing the English Channel from France to the UK — overwhelmingly single, young men without papers — in Rwanda. That is the Conservative government’s plan which is scheduled to start in several weeks’ time. It is an attempt to reduce the number of migrant crossings which went up from several hundred per annum a few years ago to 28,000+ in 2021.

In a further note on the Church of England, which illustrates what MacArthur is rightly condemning, a 30-something ordinand, GB News commentator Calvin Robinson, is unable to be formally ordained yet because he follows the Bible and is not conforming to the world. The C of E doesn’t like biblical preaching. The C of E is one of the worldliest denominations around. However, many of us stick around because we love the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and, where we can find it, the liturgy of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. We ignore everything and everyone else.

The channel’s article on Robinson’s struggle appeared on Holy Saturday:

When asked what reason the Church gave to him as to why they cancelled his curacy, Calvin added: “They said it would be too turbulent for me to be an ordained minister and have a public profile.

“The official line will be that there [are]n’t enough curacies in London but that is nonsense as I have had several offers for title posts, but even then the Church says no.

“It’s not about there not being enough space, it’s purely politics.”

In response to Calvin’s comments, the Diocese of London told GB News: “In the Diocese of London, we have a limited number of curacies available each year that are considered on a case-by-case basis.

“We work with and support Ordinands throughout the discernment process to establish the right path for each person.

“In this instance, it was felt that there was no suitable option available that London could offer.

“Calvin continues to be a candidate sponsored for ordination. We continue to be willing to work with him to discern the right way forward, and we keep him in our prayers.”

Last year, Calvin Robinson presented an hour-long programme, The Meaning of Christmas.

This year, he presented a similar programme on Easter, featuring classic hymns, a biblical viewpoint and interviews with clergy and laity discussing the meaning of the Crucifixion and Resurrection as well as what it was like living in our Lord’s era under Roman rule:

I, too, will keep Calvin in my prayers for his future. He was a teacher for several years, and he would make a good priest. He’d be an ideal Archbishop of Canterbury.

One can only live in hope for the future.

John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur often laments the state of the Church today.

In May 1998, he gave a sermon on 2 Corinthians 13:1-2, which I cited in my post yesterday.

The sermon is called ‘The Pattern of Sanctification, Part 1: Church Discipline’.

Whilst discussing the first two verses of 2 Corinthians 13, he also gave an excellent exposition of everything that is wrong in the Church today. Excerpts follow, emphases mine below.

Since 1998, the following has exploded in churches around the Western world. Around the end of the 20th century, church growth rose to prominence. Moving on to the 21st century, the last decade saw a rise in home churches. Online church services surfaced during the pandemic and became normalised. The Church of England hierarchy wants more online services and fewer church buildings, retaining them only in community ‘hubs’. I do despair.

MacArthur points out the folly of it all:

Now, before we look at the text itself, I want to kind of get us into the importance of the subject and the importance of the attitude of the apostle Paul here by sharing with you perspective that I think exists in the Church today. Many people are concerned about the state of the Church. The condition of churches today have caused a myriad of seminars and conferences and books to be written. There are constant calls for renewal in the Church, for better understanding of the culture, for changing the style of the Church to fit the style of the ‘90s, replacing preaching of the Scripture with more interesting methodologies and technologies.

All across our country – in fact, all around the world there are these efforts being made to reinvent the Church. The fear is that the Church is not speaking to the time, people are not listening. The Church has somehow become irrelevant; it has become obsolete. Self-styled experts are saying that the future of the Church is in the balance, and the Church may not survive in the West if it doesn’t become culturally relevant, if it doesn’t learn how to package its message better, if it doesn’t target felt needs, if it doesn’t employ more popular and efficient communication devices that it currently uses.

All of this comes into focus in a new book that’s just been out a couple of weeks. It’s one of those books that you could pick up and read rather rapidly. I read it fairly rapidly; I couldn’t put it down. It just kept compelling me to read. It was sort of like enjoying the pain, actually. It was like there’s something redeeming in this self-flagellation that I’m going through, and I’m going to carry it all away to the end. The book pained me deeply, and every page added more to my pain, but I couldn’t put it down because I was so startled by what the book was saying.

It is a book that calls for the Church to do what I just said: reinvent itself. And it says, on the cover of the book, “Today’s Church is incapable of responding to the present moral crisis. It must reinvent itself or face virtual oblivion by mid twenty-first century.” End quote.

So, the book says that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, and put itself in better cultural relevance, it’s going to go out of existence in 50 years. That statement alone was overwhelming for me. Do you mean to tell me that the eternal God who determined in the counsels of the Trinity, before the foundation of the world, before time began, who He would redeem and how He would gather His own to Himself and bring them to eternal glory is somehow going to find His whole plan coming unglued in the next 50 years? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus Christ purchased with His own blood is somehow going to escape His purposes for redemption and atonement? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus said He would build, and the gates of Hades could not prevail against it is somehow going to become victimized by its own inept[itude]? That is a brash and irresponsible statement, to say that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, it’ll face oblivion by the mid twenty-first century.

The only thing that could possibly obliterate the Church on earth by then would be the end of the age and the return of Jesus Christ and the glorification of the Church. That’s a very irresponsible thing to say. And the author of the book fearing – and I think he probably genuinely fears that the Church might go out of existence – suggests that there are some ways to save the Church, and these are the suggestions. “Develop cyber churches, virtual churches on the Internet.

Secondly, develop house churches which appeal to people because they have low control, low authority, and operate without historical tradition, I might add, or theology.” “Eliminate congregational churches” – like this – “for more congenial, less confrontational, and more dispassionately interactive forums. Preachers must be replaced by presenters who have no notes and don’t hide behind pulpits, and who generate a more positive response for their listeners.

“We must get rid of sermons, because one-sided communication is ineffective, and eliminate series and Bible exposition, because everybody’s attendance is sporadic, and people really get irritated coming in and out of series that they can’t consistently hear. So, we need to play to their sporadic attendance. And every sermon should be a unit in itself because most of the folks will miss the next two weeks before they decide to come back.”

You say, “Well, where did he get those ideas?”

They were the result of a survey. If you ask unbelievers outside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask unbelievers inside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask believers in the Church, ignorant of Scripture, what they want, you can get answers like that. But if you were to survey biblically literate believers, you wouldn’t get answers like that.

So, who is it that determines the character of the Church? You go to the lowest possible source. Unbelievers outside the Church, unbelievers inside the Church, or ignorant believers in the Church. What is the hope of the Church? Is this really it, if we can just disband congregational churches and develop a virtual church on the Internet, will that solve our problem? Will that dramatically affect the Church’s ability to confront the moral crisis of our day, as if that were somehow our reason for existence? And it’s not. Ours is not a moral agenda. Ours is a spiritual one.

Would it be better if we had presenters instead of preachers, and we got rid of pulpits, and got rid of sermon notes, and sat on stools, would that be the difference? And just sort of told stories?

Would it be better if instead of somebody preparing to preach a sermon and giving forth an exposition of Scripture we had a pooling of everyone’s ideas? Would it be better if we never had any continuity in or sermons but had little units week in and week out? Would that really save the Church from virtual oblivion?

And by the way, are we the ones responsib[le for] sav[ing] the Church from going out of existence? Is that our job? That’s all the result of a survey. You see, that’s what people want. And what they want is what they should get. That’s the basic thesis behind all of that.

Now, if you ask me what the Church needs, I don’t need a survey. I just ask the Lord of the Church, and He’s revealed it in His Word. And what the Church really needs is more consistent, faithful, clear theological exposition of the mind of God through the pages of Scripture. What it needs is better preaching, better sermons – and I may get in trouble for saying this – fewer small churches with ungifted, untrained, and unskilled preachers.

The Word must dominate the Church and bear its God-intended power and authority over all who hear. You see, the only way that the Church will ever effectively counter the crisis of our time – moral crisis, spiritual crisis – is when the Word of God is working powerfully in the Church – listen to what I say – to produce not information, but “holiness.” There’s the operative word, folks. Write that down somewhere; that’s the theme of the message this morning.

You see, the hope of the Church and the impact of the Church is all connected to the purity of the Church. Holiness is the issue. When Jesus first addressed the Church in Matthew 18, the first time he ever said anything related to the Church, in that great sermon in Matthew 18:7, the first thing he said about it is this, “If somebody’s in sin, go to him. If he doesn’t listen, take two or three witnesses. If he doesn’t listen, tell the church. And after the church has pursued him, if he still doesn’t repent, throw him out; treat him like an outcast.

The first instruction our Lord ever gave to the CHURCH had to do with sin. In that very first sermon, Jesus said, “If you ever lead another believer into sin, you’d be better off if a millstone were put around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.” The Lord of the Church is concerned about the purity of the Church. He’s concerned about the holiness of the Church. Sin is the issue to the Lord of the Church, and it should be the issue for us. But I daresay you can go from conference to conference to conference, and book to book to book, and this is not the concern today. You won’t hear talk about the holiness of the Church, the purity of the Church.

When I was at Moody this week, I spoke, and I basically said to them, “You know, I’m going to preach the sermon I’ve prepared for my own church on Sunday.” I kind of tweaked it here and there a little bit. But I said to them what I’m going to say to you, because everybody’s talking about church growth and how to grow your church and have a successful church in a flourishing ministry and more folks and church growth is a begin thing. And I said to them, “It may surprise you to hear this, but I really believe the single greatest contributor to the impact of our church, to the growth of our church, to the ministries of our church, to the effect of our church – the single greatest factor that exists – has existed through the years of Grace Community Church – the single greatest contributor to the influence, and the strength, and the growth of our church has been” – and I paused, and it got real quiet, and I said – “church discipline.” And there was a pall over the meeting.

Church discipline. That is not normally considered a principle of church growth. Most people would assume, “If you want to kill a place, do that. Just start poking around in everybody’s life and they’ll split.” Not the people who love righteousness. Not the people who hate sin. Not the people who want to honor God. Not the people who care about obedience. And that’s the Church, isn’t it? That’s the true and redeemed Church.

It may surprise you to hear this. I believe that ignoring church discipline is the most visible and disastrous failure of the Church in our time. Because what it conveys is we aren’t really concerned about – what? – sin. The Lord of the Church is concerned about sin. The apostle Paul was concerned about sin. It left him with a constant, unrelenting ache in his heart.

The problem with the Church is not that it’s got bad methodology or bad technology. The problem with the Church is it’s lost its interest in holiness. It’s lost its interest in maintaining purity. Churches have become content to be fellowships of independent members with minimal accountability to God, and even less to each other

The absence of church discipline – and I mean it’s absolutely a foreign thing in churches – the absence of church discipline is a symptom of the moral decline, the theological indifference of the Church. It’s a symptom, I believe, of a shallow commitment to Scripture. It’s not as if the Bible is unclear on the subject. It couldn’t be more clear. It is a lack of reverence for the Lord of the Church. It is saying, “Well, I know you’re concerned about the holiness of the Church, but we’re really not. We have other things to be concerned about.” Church discipline is not an elective; it is not an option; it is a necessary an integral mark of true Christianity and life in the church.

And I say it again; the absence of church discipline is the most glaring evidence of the worldliness of the Church. And the worldliness of the Church is the reason for its impotence. And you can have all of the entertainment, and all the hoopla, and all the big crowds that you want and not impact the world. It’s the purity of the Church; it’s the holiness of the Church that is the cause of its power. The problem is the Church is unholy.

Even the idea of confession of sin is outdated in an age of moral relativism and moral ambiguity. The answer is not let’s break up the congregation and produce less accountability; let’s get down to house churches where we have less authority, less confrontation, more autonomy, more independence. The answer is not let’s have more compassion; let’s have a kinder, gentler church.

Albert Mohler, who’s the president of Southern Seminary, writes – and I quote – “Individuals now claim an enormous zone of personal privacy and moral autonomy. The congregation, redefined as a mere voluntary association, has no right to intrude into this space. Many congregations have forfeited any responsibility to confront even the most public sins of their members.” He says congregations are consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and what he calls congregational engineering. And most churches just ignore the issues of sin.

Let us contrast that approach with that of St Paul:

Well, the apostle Paul wasn’t that way. We’re learning, at the end of the book here, about the faithful pastor’s concerns. What is it that concerns a faithful pastor? What is it that concerns Paul? Well, he’s giving us a summary of that, starting in chapter 12, verse 19, running all the way to chapter 13, verse 10. That whole section is a summation of what concerns Paul.

And we could sum it up in a word. He’s concerned with the spiritual well-being of his flock. That’s what he’s concerned about. Corinth was a challenge. The city was gross in terms of its wickedness. People who came to Christ in that city were coming out of very immoral backgrounds. They brought some of that garbage into the church. He had to write to them 1 Corinthians to confront a long litany of iniquities that they were still engaging in, even though they were in the church and calling themselves believers.

Having sorted out those problems in the writing of 1 Corinthians, it wasn’t long until false teachers had come, and along with false teachers came pride, and along with pride came more sin. And Paul could see the subsequent impotence of that unholy situation and the loss of testimony, the loss of evangelistic impact that would follow.

Paul knew that the problem in Corinth was not going to be whether they were culturally relevant or not. The false teachers criticized Paul for not having a relevant message, not taking into account the expectations of the Corinthians for what oratory ought to be because of what they were used to. They had criticized Paul because his person, his persona was unimpressive, and his speech was contemptible; he was a lousy communicator; he didn’t speak in the venue that people were used to hearing. He didn’t have all of the personal charm to woo the audience.

He had already addressed the issues that he didn’t speak with men’s wisdom, and he didn’t come in the wisdom of the world to achieve divine purposes. He already had laid it down that he was going to come and speak the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God was the power. And behind that came this conviction and commitment to the fact that the church had to be holy. And what Paul feared in his church was error and sin. Either one of those destroys the church. Theological error, theological ignorance or inequity devastates the church.

I can think of very few pastors who would pursue Paul’s route. Yet, it is the correct one for the Church.

There is the world, the slave to sin. And there is the Church, which teaches that the way to eternal life is through the repentance of sin, a turning around of ourselves and our worldly ways towards … holiness.

Do we notice how the more modern and relevant the Church becomes, the more people avoid it?

There is another problem and that is the use of churches as tools for evangelising. Evangelising is a necessary activity but, done properly, it takes place outside of the church service, not during it.

The church service is designed for worship of our Lord and the exposition of Scripture, not winning converts off the street.

How bad do things have to get before our clergy realise the error of their ways? Sadly, I fear this will drag on and on for decades.

bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 12:19-21

19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. 20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

————————————————————————————

Last week’s post concluded Paul’s self-defence against the accusations of the false teachers who had inveigled themselves with the Corinthians.

His letter then turns towards the spiritual state of the Corinthians.

He says that he has been doing much more than defending himself; in fact, he has been speaking in Christ in the sight of God for their edification (verse 19).

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us (emphases mine):

This was his great aim and design, to do good, to lay the foundation well, and then with care and diligence to build the superstructure.

John MacArthur has more on this verse, noting the sarcasm here, tempered by calling the Corinthians ‘beloved’:

Verse 19 – why then are you giving this all to us? – end of verse, “It is all for your” – what? What’s the word? – “upbuilding, beloved. At the same time that he was seeking to reverence God, at the same time that he knew who his judge was and that he was seeking to please God and God alone, he also sought the spiritual well-being of the Corinthian church. And here’s the point; if he w[ere] discredited, they wouldn’t listen to him. If they didn’t listen to him, they wouldn’t hear the Word of God. If they didn’t hear the Word of God, they wouldn’t grow, bottom line. Their sanctification was dependent on listening to him.

He wanted to convince them that he was the true spokesman of God not so they could sit in judgment on his life, but so they could listen to his teaching. “It was all for your upbuilding; it’s all for your edification. You’re not my judge, but you are my spiritual responsibility. You’re not going to sit in judgment on my life, but you are going to sit under my teaching. And only if you trust in me as the true apostle of Jesus Christ are you going to hear what I say and believe it and therefore grow. “

He calls them beloved tenderly here. He’s been sarcastic, and I think putting in the word “beloved” sort of balances it off a little. “You’re not my judge, but all that I’m teaching, all that I’m trying to accomplish here ultimately benefits you, because when you hear the truth, you’re built up in the truth.”

MacArthur explains the transition of subject matter from the false teachers to the Corinthians themselves:

So, in 12:19 and 13:10, he speaks of his commitment to building up the church. And in between those two verses is the final section on how that is done. This is a very, very instructive portion of Scripture. It is at the end of the epistle; that doesn’t lessen its importance. In fact, if anything, it heightens it. He has reached a kind of crescendo here, and he gives us a summary of what is involved in the building up of the saints which is the passion of his life.

He fears that when he finally sees them again they might not find him in a good mood if he finds them reverting to the sins he warned against in 1 Corinthians: quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder (verse 20).

Henry says that Paul did not want to be harsh on the congregation unless he found good reason for so doing:

He would not shrink from his duty for fear of displeasing them, though he was so careful to make himself easy to them.

Paul ends the chapter by saying that he fears God might humble — humiliate — him before the Corinthians for their stubborn sin and that he will grieve for the souls of the many who had not repented of their impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality (verse 21).

Henry offers these observations. ‘Professors’ here means those who profess their faith:

Note, (1.) The falls and miscarriages of professors cannot but be a humbling consideration to a good minister; and God sometimes takes this way to humble those who might be under temptation to be lifted up: I fear lest my God will humble me among you. (2.) We have reason to bewail those who sin and do not repent, to bewail many that have sinned, and have not repented, 2 Corinthians 12:21; 2 Corinthians 12:21. If these have not, as yet, grace to mourn and lament their own case, their case is the more lamentable; and those who love God, and love them, should mourn for them.

MacArthur looks at some of the words in the original Greek manuscript:

Now, look at Paul’s concern, verse 20, “For I am afraid.” He says the same thing at the beginning of verse 21, “I am afraid.” What is he saying here? He has some fears. The word is phobeō, from which we get the English word “phobia.” It’s not talking about a superficial thing; it’s talking about a deep-seated fear, a deep-seated anxiety

Such a fear, by the way, was reasonable because the last time he went he found that. It was reasonable because since that last time, false teachers had gained the ascendency, and many of the Corinthians had followed their lies, and you don’t follow error without attendant sin; iniquity follows error. Theological error is followed by behavioral iniquity.

So, he realizes that there is great potential for sin to be in that church, because they have false teachers there who are leading them astray. And he’s afraid that when he goes there, he’s going to find that is present – sin and no repentance, as he notes in verse 21 …

Strife, for example, he already spoke to them about in 1 Corinthians 1:11. It means rivalry, discord, debates – literally battles. And then the word “jealousy” – zēlos – envyings. He confronted that in 1 Corinthians 3:3. And then angry tempers – thumos. “Outbursts” is the word, fits, sudden explosions of anger, out of control hostility. He addressed that in 1 Corinthians 6:1 and following. And then disputes – eritheia – factious attitudes, divisiveness, partisanship. He addressed that in 1 Corinthians 1:11.

And then slanders, which is open, loud-mouthed criticism, public insults, public vilification. He spoke of that in 1 Corinthians 5:11 and 6:10. And by the way, that’s an onomatopoetic word katalaleō – la-da-la-da-la. “Gossip” is another word used here. That, too, he had to address in an indirect way in 1 Corinthians 11:18. Gossip is quiet whispers of criticism. That’s a word in the Greek that’s even hard to pronounce – psithurismos. It’s like, psss-shh-shh-shh-shh – another onomatopoetic word. Whispers of criticism. “Arrogance,” that’s another word that is sort of onomatopoetic. It starts out with a P-H-U (blowing sound), hot air, puffed up, overblown. He referred to that in 1 Corinthians 4 and 5 and 8. And then he closes with disturbances, disorder, tumults, anarchy. They may have been trying to exercise congregational rule, where everybody does what’s right in his own eyes.

And 1 Corinthians 11:20 and following, 1 Corinthians 14:26 and following deal with that. Every one of these sins had been dealt with in 1 Corinthians. They were a part of pagan culture; they got dragged into the church, and Paul’s afraid he’s going to come there and find they’ve all sort of come back again. Because if people are following error, they inevitably are going to follow sinful behavior. And these are the things he fears he’ll find.

Familiar sins. They were part of the habit patterns of these people before they came to Christ.

MacArthur explains Paul’s priorities as a minister in Christ. Sanctification of the flock was his — and should be any pastor’s — ultimate goal:

If you are concerned for the sanctification of the Church, which you must be, because that’s what you’re called to do, if you’ve been given for the upbuilding of the saints, and you’re committed to that, there are six things you must be consumed with. One is repentance, two is discipline, three is authority, four is authenticity, five is obedience, and six is perfection. And those are the six features that Paul works through down to verse 10 of chapter 13.

The pastor is concerned that his people become like Christ. Paul the apostle was concerned that his people became like Christ. And it was that concern that literally consumed his heart and his mind. It moved his emotions, and it moved his will.

His concern for them had very little to do with their physical well-being; it had very little to do with their health, very little to do with their wealth or prosperity, very little, if anything, to do with their success, very little to do with their comfort, very little to do with their personal satisfaction or the fulfillment of their desires and goals. That was not an issue for Paul.

The faithful pastor’s concern was for the sanctification of his people. He was concerned for their spiritual well-being. And I daresay it is fairly common that most churches and most Christians in them become preoccupied with the physical concerns of the church and much less preoccupied, if at all, with those which have to do with personal sanctification

Of course he’s concerned to be a part of times of suffering, and times of pain, and times of illness, and times of loss, and times of difficulty in the matters of physical life, but only insofar, really, as they touch the spiritual dimension, because that’s where the real concern lies.

2 Corinthians 13 closes the book. Next week’s verses are about the necessity of repentance in gaining eternal life in Christ.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 13:1-4

In response to reader H E’s guest post last week on declining church numbers, another faithful reader of mine, George True, responded with an excellent comment about a truly Catholic priest in Arizona.

It’s too good to leave there, so here it is in full:

There is a firebrand priest here in the Phoenix AZ area by the name of Father William Kosco. He has publicly, from the pulpit, denounced the Catholic bishops of America for their cowardice in going along with all of the cultural Marxist insanity. He has also publicly denounced Joe Biden as someone who is diametrically opposed to every fundamental teaching of the Roman Catholic church. He has said that Joe Biden would receive Holy Communion at his church only over his (Father Kosco’s) dead body. He has declared that Joe Biden, being a public figure, must PUBLICLY repent of his sins against God and his nation in order to be allowed Communion.

The pews at Pastor Kosco’s church, St Henry’s in Buckeye AZ, are FULL.

At this point, allow me to post a tweet that I saw shortly after reading George’s comment. It ties in well, as it shows a church full of worshippers (click on the tweet, and when it opens in a new tab, click the image to see it in full):

Now on with the conclusion of George’s comment:

He is showing all priests, Catholic and Protestant, how to put butts in the seats. Start boldly and fearlessly declaring the truth, speaking out against evil, and affirming the fundamental precepts of our faith. People are hungering and thirsting for the truth, and they will flock to shepherds who exhibit courage in the face of evil.

One cannot say better than that. May the good Lord continue to bless Father Kosco and his congregation.

Last week, I ran a series on the Revd John MacArthur and the court battle involving his Grace Community Church regarding indoor worship in Los Angeles County.

It seems as if John MacArthur is an outlier, with no support from clergy from other churches.

Last week ended on an optimistic note: ‘A court win for John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church’.

One of my readers, H E, sent in the following comment concerning religious and other restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak.

Some time ago, H E gave me permission to repost his comments, and I am happy to do so now. This is excellent (emphases mine below):

Thank you for your series of articles about Pastor John MacArthur and his court fight to permit his church to hold indoor services.

I concur with John Cheshire that it is disappointing that mainstream church bodies generally have not supported Pastor MacArthur’s efforts.

I live in the US. In elementary school, I was taught that the rights enumerated in the US Constitution (freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc) are inalienable, natural rights given by God (teachers could say ‘God’ in those days) which pre-exist and supersede civil law.

What troubles me is that governors and mayors in the US issued dictates that forbade a citizen from exercising his God-given rights, despite the fact that, at their inauguration, these officials swore to uphold the Constitution which guarantees free exercise of such rights. I live in the state of New Jersey. Our governor, Philip Murphy, stated on television that he had not considered the effect of his restrictive executive orders on the Bill of Rights. In that interview he stated “the Bill of Rights is above my pay grade.”

(As a sidebar, there have been no calls for the removal of Governor Murphy on the basis that either he lied when he swore to uphold the Constitution or he is incompetent. On the contrary, his approval rating is about 70%).

Policemen are sworn to uphold the law. Implicit in this oath is the understanding that a policeman should not enforce an illegal law. Nonetheless, policemen in New Jersey, acting on an executive order from the Governor, walked into a Jewish religious service, arrested the Rabbi, put him in handcuffs, and hauled him off to jail because he had the temerity to hold a religious service that violated the Governor’s dictates.

For the police to disrupt a religious service and arrest the person leading the service is appalling to me and unheard of in the US, in my personal experience. This is something I would expect to see in China. The legal system in the US is normally reluctant to interfere with religious activities and arrest religious leaders. (I understand that this is a reaction to the shameful way the courts and the police treated Mormons in the 1830s and 1840s). In fact, all one needs to do is to call himself ‘Reverend’ and establish a ‘church’ and he pretty much can do what he wishes. As an example, see Al Sharpton who for decades has been a political rabble rouser, but somehow is untouchable by the courts and the police.

It’s good that the court ruled in Pastor MacArthur’s favor. But what if it hadn’t? Would this mean that Pastor MacArthur’s inalienable right to assemble and worship God is void? How can this be? How can the exercise of one’s God-given, inalienable rights be dependent upon a decision of a local court judge, whose normal job duty is to adjudicate parking tickets?

In my opinion, the issue here is that there should never have been orders by local officials to close church services. They simply don’t have the legal authority to do this. And policemen should never have obeyed orders to enforce such unlawful directives.

The problem we face is that our society has devolved to the point where God-given, inalienable rights have been reduced to the level of municipal ordinances, subject to the whims of petty public officials.

How do we get our rights restored? Through the courts? I don’t see this as likely since the courts are an arm of the state and work to uphold the interests of the state against the citizens. Elect new representatives? We elected Donald Trump as President and the Deep State has blocked nearly every action he has tried to take. I don’t know what the answer is.

I replied:

I don’t have an answer, either …

I am not surprised, though, that other churches aren’t openly supporting John MacArthur, although, no doubt, they’ll gladly take any benefits accruing from a court decision in Grace Community Church’s favour.

First, most pastors in established denoms are left-wing. Secondly, the last thing they want to do is stick their heads above the parapet. A lot of those denominations have hierarchies, too, therefore, individual pastors cannot take those sorts of decisions independently.

The independent Evangelical pastors probably want a quiet life but will gladly let MacArthur do the heavy lifting and then reap the rewards any wins bring.

Today, by chance, I came across an article at LifeNews.com:

‘Judge Fines Church $3,000 for Holding Worship Service, But Abortion Clinics Can Kill Babies’ chronicles the stories of two other California churches that have fallen foul of the law recently. One is in Ventura County. The other is in Santa Clara County:

California Pastor Rob McCoy of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks appeared before Judge Vincent O’Neill in Superior Court of Ventura County on Friday, August 21 and was held in contempt of court.  Godspeak Calvary Chapel was fined $500 per three services, for two Sundays, or a total of $3,000.

Pastor McCoy received an order from a Ventura state judge on Friday, August 7, banning the church’s in-person services. Superior Court Judge Matthew Guasco issued a temporary restraining order to Pastor Rob McCoy, the Church, and Does 1-1000, along with anyone “acting in concert with them” who might attend worship in the future. Governor Gavin Newsom ordered no singing or chanting, and then ordered no worship, even in private homes with anyone who does not live in the home.

Godspeak Calvary Chapel (Church) held three worship services on Sunday, August 9 and August 16. An evidentiary hearing is set for Aug. 31.

North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara, California was also fined $5,000 for singing in each of the two worship services yesterday, although social distancing was practiced. The four-page letter posted on the front door of the church said, “North Valley Baptist is failing to prevent those attending, performing and speaking at North Valley Baptist’s services from singing. This activity is unlawful. The county understands that singing is an intimate and meaningful component of religious worship. However, public health experts have also determined that singing together in close proximity and without face coverings transmits virus particles further in the air than breathing or speaking quietly. The county demands that North Valley Baptist immediately cease the activities listed above and fully comply with the Risk Reduction Order, the Gatherings Directive, the State July 13 Order and the State guidance. Failure to do so will result in enforcement action by the county.”

Santa Clara County had North Valley Baptist Church under surveillance:

Santa Clara County acknowledged in its cease and desist letter they had been sending agents into the church to spy on the congregation during worship services.

In his defence, the church’s pastor pointed to the Bible:

Pastor Jack Trieber said, “You can’t have any law against assembling in God’s house. None. I know we have a Constitutional right to worship, but we have a Higher Power that we answer to. I have a biblical mandate. We have obeyed authority in this church. We’ve always obeyed authority. But when local authority begins to disregard this authority, we go with this book right here,” he said pointing at the Bible.

This is the crazy situation that Newsom has created during the coronavirus outbreak. You can meet in church for anything except worship:

Gov. Newsom’s orders allow the church to feed, shelter, and provide social services, but the same people in the same building cannot worship. In order words, non-religious services are acceptable but religious services are banned. People can receive food, but not take communion. People can be housed overnight, but cannot hold a short worship service, Bible study, or meet for prayer. People can receive counseling to find work but cannot be counseled on finding eternal life.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The same governor who encourages mass protests, bans all worship and is now fining churches for their right to assemble and worship. The same governor who says the church can meet for secular services, bans the church from having religious worship. This unconstitutional hostility against religious worship must end.”

Absolutely. I could not agree more.

Thank you, H E, for another excellent comment. The quotes from LifeNews.com reinforce your salient and important points on this topic.

It is cruel that, during a time when church becomes even more important during a life and death health situation, California’s governor forbids his residents from seeking communal solace in God and in Jesus Christ.

This week, I have been writing about the Revd John MacArthur‘s — and Grace Community Church‘s — battle with Los Angeles County over holding indoor church services during the coronavirus restrictions.

On Wednesday, August 19, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors asked the county court to hold both MacArthur and his church in contempt of court for having held indoor worship on Sunday, August 16. The Thomas More Society issued a press release that day stating (emphases in bold mine):

Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, are the targets of a County of Los Angeles request to be held in contempt of court. Thomas More Society attorneys are representing the internationally followed preacher and his church and defending their religious freedoms against the county’s unconstitutional violation of the right to worship together.

Jenna Ellis, Special Counsel for the Thomas More Society, responded to the attack by the county:

The LA County Board of Supervisors has decided to continue their unconstitutional attack against Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church. They are now asking the court to hold the church in contempt for simply being open for worship last Sunday. Pastor MacArthur is standing firm that church is essential and has no plans to yield to this tyrannical board, which is clearly defying the constitution’s mandate to protect religious liberty.”

MacArthur and Grace Community Church are suing the county – and the state of California – for attempting to shut down their worship under COVID-related orders that violate the state’s constitution. The lawsuit was filed after MacArthur received a cease and desist letter prohibiting indoor worship and threatening him with fines and imprisonment should Grace Community continue to worship in their church building.

After a California Superior Court judge denied the county’s request for a temporary restraining order against MacArthur and his congregation, the church held weekend worship services. Following that, the County of Los Angeles asked the court to hold the pastor and church in contempt.

The Revd Dale Matson, an Anglican priest serving the Diocese of San Joaquin in California, sent me a positive update from the Thomas More Society, which is representing Grace Community Church. I am most grateful to him for sending me the news during a time when I have been busy offline.

The Thomas More Society’s press release dated Thursday, August 20, reads in part:

The Los Angeles County Superior Court announced on August 20, 2020, that there is no court order prohibiting Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church from holding indoor worship services. The renowned minister and his Sun Valley, California, congregation are being targeted by the County of Los Angeles, which has made repeated attempts to shut down the non-denominational, evangelical megachurch. Thomas More Society Special Counsel Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri are representing the church, defending the religious freedom of the pastor and congregants against the county’s unconstitutional violation of the right to worship together.

Ellis responded to the judicial finding:

We are pleased with the outcome today. Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff correctly found there is no court order prohibiting Grace Community Church from holding indoor services. LA County continues to harass and target Pastor MacArthur. Having failed to get a court order to shut down the church they have sought three times, theyre going to try again by hauling us back into court. Ironically, LA County said in its application for contempt that, Grace Church cannot thumb its nose at the court when decisions dont go its way, yet thats precisely what LA County is now doing themselves. We will simply continue to defend our clients constitutionally protected rights because church is essential.

What unprofessional, if not vulgar, language for the county to use, especially with regard to a church.

That aside, this is excellent news not only for John MacArthur, his church and the congregation but possibly also for other churches in Los Angeles County, if not California as a whole.

Well done to Jenna Ellis, Charles LiMandri and Judge Beckloff.

I share Fr Dale’s sentiments regarding this ongoing legal battle:

I think a lot of churches will be looking to see the results. God bless this pastor and church.

I hope that the clergy and congregation of Grace Community Church enjoy a lovely Sunday together in air-conditioned comfort.

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