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Missing the Point

Monday, January 06, 2014 | Comments (15)

by John MacArthur

The dean of the seminary I attended was Dr. Charles Feinberg, one of the most brilliant and respected men I have ever known. He was Jewish, and after studying for fourteen years to be a rabbi, he was converted to Christ. He knew more than thirty languages. He even told me once that he taught himself Dutch because he wanted to read Dutch Reformed theology. He also read through the Bible four times every year. Needless to say, he was exceptional and intense. We were all rightfully in awe of him, and I loved him at the same time.

In those days, every seminary student had to preach in chapel. When my turn came, I was assigned to preach on 2 Samuel 7, the great text on the Davidic Covenant. My sermon was probably a fine example of structural craftsmanship. It had a zinger for a beginning and a zapper at the end. It would have been a great success, too—if it hadn’t been for my lack of biblical content in the middle section. I preached a “practical” message that was only superficially related to the biblical text. In that passage, Nathan encourages David to build a house for the Lord. And God says, “Wait a minute, you didn’t check in. That’s not the plan.” So I preached about how important it is to not presume on God.

When I finished, I felt pretty good. The chapel audience seemed to have followed with interest, and I even thought I heard some murmurs of approval. But I really only cared about the opinion of one man—my mentor, Dr. Feinberg. The faculty sat behind us when we preached in chapel, and they had legal-sized criticism sheets, which they filled out during our sermons. After we were done preaching, we would stand at the door, and the faculty would hand us their sheets as they left the room. I just wanted Dr. Feinberg’s.

He was at the end of the line, and I could see that he had folded his sheet up very small and very tightly. When he handed it to me, he did not even look up at me. He kept his eyes straight down and walked firmly past. That was not a good sign. So at my first opportunity, I unfolded his paper. I was eager to read his feedback, hoping desperately that he would be impressed with my sermon.

To be sure, I expected some constructive criticism. But the few bold red words that stared back at me were much worse than anything I had prepared myself for. He had completely ignored all the suggested categories and scoring helps that were printed on the sheet. Instead, he wrote across the page a one-line critique that hit me like a hard punch to the solar plexus: “You missed the whole point of the passage.”

That is the worst possible mistake any preacher can make—but especially in front of someone like Dr. Feinberg. Like many young preachers, I had naively concerned myself with just about everything except getting the meaning of the text right. My preparation was focused on delivery, gestures, anecdotes, the right mix of humor and illustrative material, and the alliteration of my main points. I had actually approached the biblical passage itself almost as an afterthought.

Later that day, I received a message instructing me to go to Dr. Feinberg’s office. When I got there, he was sitting at his desk, shaking his head in disappointment. “How could you? How could you? That passage presents the Davidic Covenant culminating in the Messiah and His glorious kingdom—and you talked about ‘not presuming on God’ in our personal day-to-day choices. That would have been a fine admonition to preach from Numbers 15:30-31 or Psalm 19:13, but you can’t reduce 2 Samuel 7 to that! You missed the entire point of the passage, and it’s one of the greatest of all Old Testament passages. Don’t ever do that again.”

He never said another word about it to me, but that incident hit me like a sledgehammer. In fact, it was the deepest single impression I ever received in seminary. Never miss the point of the passage. To this day, when I come to the text each week and begin to study its richness and depth, I can still hear Dr. Feinberg’s heartfelt admonition ringing in my ears. If you don’t have the meaning of Scripture, you do not have the Word of God at all. If you miss the true sense of what God has said, you are not actually preaching God’s Word! That reality has compelled me for more than forty years of preaching.

During those years, I’ve seen numerous evangelical trends come and go. Whether it’s a new way of doing church or the latest self-help book, contemporary Christian fads are transient by their very nature. Pastors who embrace these fads, usually in an attempt to be culturally relevant, inevitably find themselves neglecting the preaching of God’s Word, looking for something else, desperately trying to keep up with whatever is supposedly cutting edge. Many preachers in the current generation seem to find it hard to resist the temptation to approach ministry that way. After all, the endless parade of fads is going the same direction the mainstream of the evangelical movement is flowing. Adapting your ministry to keep up with cultural and ecclesiastical fads is precisely what most books on pastoral ministry advocate. It’s the pattern many of evangelicalism’s best-known pastors have followed. It’s even what most seminaries teach their students.

But for more than four decades now, I have resisted and opposed all those trends. And one of the main things that still constrains me is Dr. Feinberg’s admonition to a second-year seminary student—which continually echoes in my head as I prepare my sermons—reminding me to keep focused on the main thing, to concentrate on getting the meaning of Scripture right, and to consume my energies preaching the Word of God as accurately and as faithfully as possible.

(Adapted from The Master’s Plan for the Church.)


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#1  Posted by Keith Stokes  |  Monday, January 06, 2014at 3:20 AM

Thank You Dr. MacArthur for all you do for the body of Christ. You are one of the few pastors today who stay true to the Word without compromise or apology. Teachers like yourself keep God's truth burning in my heart when so many lull you to sleep with passing trends that won't survive the day when works are tried.

#2  Posted by Parker Walls  |  Monday, January 06, 2014at 3:26 AM

John, thank you. Thank you for your commitment toward the meaning of God's Word. What an awesome story.

I don't have the words to express how much I agree with this, nor how much it encourages me. If I could be more thankful for your efforts and teachings, I would not know how to be. They are truly a blessing in the purest sense, as they reveal the meaning of Scripture to me, and for that I am grateful. I see it cultivate holy affections in my inner man, And the hope of becoming more Christ-like through the power of the meaning of His penetrating truth gives me joy.

And certainly thanks be to God who graciously reveals and gives understanding and empowers spiritual life and growth through it.

I greatly appreciate your teaching of Scripture, as well as your heart for the Lord.

Your faith, encourages mine.

Parker

#3  Posted by Brad Mudgett  |  Monday, January 06, 2014at 5:24 AM

God is good! I recently came across a reference to The Master’s Plan for the Church, which piqued my curiosity. I am looking forward to reading more on this subject. It is a concern & prayer of mine that the church my wife and I attend is honoring to God in all things.

Thank you for your ministry to The Body of Christ!

#4  Posted by Scott Sorum  |  Monday, January 06, 2014at 7:14 AM

Amen Dr MacArthur to your steadfast commitment to resist the latest trends and fads of our culture and stay true to God's Word. You and your ministry are like a shining bright beacon of light in a dark world. Sadly, the church has fallen prey to the ways of the world just as you stated. My wife and I listen daily to your preaching and have learned so much and long to soak in God's truth each day. We will continue both to pray and support your ministry. Words will not describe our gratefulness to you and the ministry there at GTY.

#5  Posted by Miles Bradfield  |  Monday, January 06, 2014at 7:49 AM

Dr. MacArthur,

My wife and I thank you more than my limited knowledge of the English language can express. Your teaching more than anything else has directly lead to us becoming "born again in Christ". I fear without your teaching we might never have known the true word of God and therefore never entering through the narrow gate. I thank you for all your efforts and hard work in fulfilling your pastoral calling. Now I know I must thank Dr. Feinberg as well.

May God Bless You Always

#6  Posted by Sterling Brown  |  Monday, January 06, 2014at 10:52 AM

Pastor MacArthur,

I praise God for how He uses you to preach the Word of God. Because of the ministry He has given you I have accepted the true gospel of Christ and submit to His lordship. Futhermore, I have feasted on the Word of God that you have preached and it matures and grown me more than I can ever thank you and praise our God for in this life and the next. Finally, you have had such an impact in my teaching and preaching ministry as well. I am compelled by the Holy Spirit through your teaching to make sure that I give people the true meaning of the passage. Any thing other than that is not God's Word at all. I am praying for you and the rest of your family and church family too. God bless and please keep it up, godly men like yourself is unfortunately, rare these days. Thank God for you and the rest of godly men (RC Sproul, John Piper, John Calvin, the Puritans, Martin Luther, J.I. Packer, Steve Lawson etc.) that are willing to preach the truth. You guys, by God's grace, the Son's saving work and the Holy Spirit's power, are the models that I am following and what I am passing on to others in and outside my household. We love you and appreciate your dedication and hardwork through the years.

#7  Posted by Steve Atkinson  |  Monday, January 06, 2014at 12:38 PM

Thank you Dr. Feinberg. I was 6 or 7 years old when my mother would take me to listen to John in what is now the chapel at Grace Community. I grew up in that church through my teen years with Tim Jack and others and now I am 50 years. I moved away across the country as a young adult and only recently found Grace to You the last couple of years, rediscovering my foundation in Christ from those early years. I have learned more and have grown more as a Christian and have led my family to Christ. I am critical when listening to other preachers/teachers. John sets a high standard. I can see the fluff of the latest fads and trends as a distraction. I can see how the gospel can take a back seat to false teaching. I know I am like thousands of others who say, I love you John and Thank You for your dedication to God's word, the Bible.

#8  Posted by Link Hudson  |  Monday, January 06, 2014at 1:33 PM

That kind of preaching irritates me, too. But does it mean that if you aren't dealing with the main point of a text that you aren't preaching the word of God. If you read a verse about God being the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" is the main point of that text that the patriarchs will be raised from the dead? Christ made a point from that about the resurrection. That doesn't mean it's a sin not to make this same point every time the text is preached.

After reading this message, though, you'd expect the final paragraph should be a statement of repentance and recanting for some of the things said in the Strange Fire conference. Was there a single sermon that properly expounded a text of scripture? What about using scriptures to mean something they do not say at all? In II Timothy, Paul tells Timothy to stir up a gift that is in him by the laying on of Paul's hands. A couple of chapters later, we read II Timothy 3:16-17. Preachers at the conference were using this passage about the man of God having the Old Testament, which enabled him to be fully equipped to mean that the Bible is the man of God's only equipment. The passage says no such thing. Why would Timothy stir up a gift-- external to scripture-- if the Bible was all he needed. Clearly he needed grace also, in the form of that spiritual gift, to do his work.

Someone posted a message from John MacArthur's website on the Cessationist v. Continualtionism forum recently Cessationism v. Continuationism Discussion. https://www.facebook.com/groups/358427057627308/ The post linked to this sermon, http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/90-54/does-god-still-give-prophecies

According to the text of the sermon, John MacArthur misquotes Jude, making the book say something that it does not mean. He wrote,

***You remember that Jude said that, "Scripture was once for all delivered to the Saints."***

The verse says the faith was once delivered to the saints. That doesn't mean revelation had ceased. In fact, the faith was delivered before this book was penned, and the book of Revelation had yet to be written. It made no sense for John MacArthur to use the verse to argue for cessationism in this old sermon. Yet this is typical of his approach to the issue-- use a verse that doesn't teach cessationism to assert that it is true. The end result of this type of teaching is that it leads people to disobey 'Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings.", "Let the prophets speak two or three", and "Covet to prophesy and forbid not to speak with tongues." Isn't that worse than preaching on a text of scripture and focusing a sermon on a minor point of the text rather than the major point?

#9  Posted by Mark Rayner  |  Monday, January 06, 2014at 2:05 PM

I am so thankful that Holy Spirit appointed a time in my life (1999) to cross paths with a dear friend, who shared your book, "Charismatic Chaos" with me. I had been attending a Pentecostal church for about 3 years and needed something in my life to help me better understand just what was going on in church? That did it for me. I was determined to read God's Word as much and as often as I could, so between my studies and your teaching, God set me on a course for knowing the Truth. My deepest appreciation to you, and Holy Spirits illumination.

#10  Posted by Jerome Rosana  |  Monday, January 06, 2014at 4:46 PM

Praise God for this story. The word of God should be clearly preached and teach so believers will know what really God is saying to his people. Blessings, from the Philippines!

#11  Posted by Joseph Wade  |  Monday, January 06, 2014at 9:18 PM

Dear Pastor MacArthur,

"Missing the point" was actually right on point. Thank you for sharing this story. I thank God for the way you handle God's word and exalt Jesus Christ by the clear teaching of God's word. I would like to add that "The strange fire conference" not only gave clear understanding about The Holy Spirit, but is also focused on "Truth" I'm thankful for the fact that God's word is enough, I use to be in the "feel good church " that focused on feelings and music that repeated the same verse over and over. I love God's word and love the richness of each verse.

#12  Posted by Dankmar Schroeder  |  Tuesday, January 07, 2014at 6:42 AM

John, thanks for sharing this.

I am a member of a church that regularly twists the meaning of scripture. I was long time guilty of doing this myself. Your teaching made me look closer at scripture and helped me to evaluate every text more carefully. - If we just let scripture speak for itself!

Also: it is important to look at the text scholarly, evaluating the meaning of the manuscripts the texts were translated from. Sola scriptura became important to me. Today many cite their own experience as equal to scripture. Others encourage their fellow believers to trust their pastor more than the scriptures themselves - thus partially discarding the reformation.

I am thankful for your zeal and your ministry.

#13  Posted by Jeff Roark  |  Tuesday, January 07, 2014at 8:09 AM

Luke 10:2-3 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves."

John, you are God's answer to His Son's words...a true worker for the Lord amongst endless packs of wolves. My family loves and greatly appreciates your faithfulness to scripture, and your bold way of illuminating what so many today seem to overlook, or "sugar-coat". Without GTY, I'm afraid to say that we would still be lost sheep in the dark, but thanks to your tireless efforts and God's grace, we can see the true Light every day. Thank you, and may God bless you.

#14  Posted by Lenin John  |  Wednesday, January 08, 2014at 8:30 AM

Amazing article. Has a personal touch to it like no other MacArthur lines. This is the reason I listen and read from the great man. Gives us a sense of humility that we are not greater than the word.

#15  Posted by Cynthia Graven  |  Saturday, January 18, 2014at 9:16 AM

Dr. MacArthur, Thank you for this reminder that we who teach must first be committed to understanding the truth which God intends to communicate to us in his Word. Only as we are diligent and careful learners can we consistently be faithful teachers of the living Word. I am challenged and encouraged that while presentation is certainly important and learner appreciation is desirable, the greater necessity in teaching is that I seek and study and work to be "approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). I do not ever want to miss the Lord's point, either in my own life or in delivering biblical truth to others.