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Why I Still Preach the Bible

Tuesday, January 07, 2014 | Comments (9)

by John MacArthur

Sadly and ironically, in its attempt to achieve cultural relevance, mainstream evangelicalism has become essentially irrelevant. As Os Guiness points out, [1][Os Guiness, Dining with the Devil (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), pp. 64–67] the seductive promise of “relevance” is, in reality, the road to irrelevance. When the church markets itself like the world, the distinctiveness of its message is lost and the gospel is irretrievably compromised. The entertainment value may be high, attracting throngs each week; but the eternal value is conspicuously absent, as those same people go home unchallenged and unchanged.

Besides, the quest for cultural relevance is contrary to everything Scripture teaches about church ministry. Preachers are called to preach the Word of God, unfiltered by notions of political correctness, undiluted by the preacher’s own ideas, and unadapted to the spirit of the age.

That is how I have approached ministry from the beginning. My father was a pastor, and when I first told him years ago that I believed God was calling me to a life of ministry, he gave me a Bible in which he had inscribed these words of encouragement: “Preach the Word!” That simple statement became the compelling stimulus in my heart. It is the one thing I have endeavored to do above all else in my ministry: preach the Word.

Pastors today face relentless pressure to do everything but preach the Word. They are encouraged to be storytellers, comedians, psychologists, or motivational speakers. They are warned to steer clear of topics that people find unpleasant. Many have given up biblical preaching in favor of shallow talks designed to make people feel good. Some have even replaced preaching with drama and other forms of staged entertainment.

But the pastor whose passion is biblical has only one option: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).

When Paul wrote those words to Timothy, he added this prophetic warning: “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth” (vv. 3-4).

Clearly there was no room in Paul’s philosophy of ministry for the give-people-what-they-want theory that is so prevalent today. He was no “man pleaser” (Galatians 1:10; Ephesians 6:6).  He did not urge Timothy to conduct a survey to find out what his people wanted. He commanded him to preach the Word—faithfully, reprovingly, and patiently.

In fact, far from urging Timothy to devise a ministry that would garner accolades from the world, Paul warned the young pastor about suffering and hardship! Paul was not telling Timothy how to be “successful”; he was encouraging him to follow the divine standard. He was not advising him to pursue prosperity, power, prominence, popularity, or any of the other worldly notions of success. He was urging the young pastor to be biblical—regardless of the consequences.

Preaching the Word is not easy. The stringent discipline required to interpret Scripture accurately is a constant burden, and the message we are required to proclaim is often offensive. Christ Himself is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8). The message of the cross is a stumbling block to some (1 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 5:11) and mere foolishness to others (1 Corinthians 1:23).

But we are never permitted to trim the message or tailor it to people’s preferences. Paul made this clear to Timothy at the end of chapter 3: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, emphasis added). This is the Word to be preached: the whole counsel of God (cf. Acts 20:27).

In chapter 1 Paul had told Timothy, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me” (v. 13). He was speaking of the revealed words of Scripture—all of it. He urged Timothy to “Guard . . . the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (v. 14). Then in chapter 2 he told him to study the Word and handle it accurately (2:15). He then brings the epistle to its summit by urging him to proclaim God’s Word no matter what. So the entire task of the faithful minister revolves around the Word of God—guarding it, studying it, and proclaiming it.

In Colossians 1 the apostle Paul, describing his own ministry philosophy, writes, “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God” (v. 25, emphasis added). In 1 Corinthians he goes a step further: “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). In other words, his goal as a preacher was not to entertain people with his rhetorical style, or to amuse them with cleverness, humor, novel insights, or sophisticated methodology. He simply preached Christ crucified.

Faithfully preaching and teaching the Word must be the very heart of our ministry philosophy. Any other approach replaces the voice of God with human wisdom. Philosophy, politics, humor, psychology, homespun advice, and personal opinion can never accomplish what the Word of God does. Those things may be interesting, informative, entertaining, and sometimes even helpful—but they are not the business of the church. The preacher’s task is not to be a conduit for human wisdom; he is God’s voice to speak to the congregation. No human message comes with the stamp of divine authority—only the Word of God. How dare any preacher substitute another message?

I frankly do not understand preachers who are willing to abdicate this solemn privilege. Why should we proclaim the wisdom of men when we have the privilege of preaching the Word of God?

With that in mind, over the next few days and weeks I want to give you ten reasons I’m still preaching the Bible after forty-five years of pulpit ministry. This is not an exhaustive list, but I trust it will encourage you to be faithful to proclaim the Word of God to the people of God through the power of the Spirit of God.

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


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#2  Posted by David Owenby  |  Tuesday, January 07, 2014at 8:16 AM

The void of good Preachers and teachers has been partially filled by showman, cool guys, talkers not doers, and dull blades that don't pierce the heart with the truth. Thank you for your diligence to the word in a fast food day in age.

#3  Posted by Mary C Rodriguez  |  Tuesday, January 07, 2014at 1:25 PM

It is a true blessing for the church to have you as a pastor, thank you by exposing so clearly the message of life and salvation, thank you, because despite the burden and how unpopular it may be to the world the message, you follow faithfully expounding Scripture, thanks give my Lord for your life.

#4  Posted by Russell Aubrey  |  Tuesday, January 07, 2014at 8:18 PM

Your ministry is a breath of fresh air. Having canned my TV four years ago, I get a chance to listen to at least one sermon each night, sometimes more. I consider it a real blessing. I am curious, John, as to why you don't preach more on end-times prophecy, as it relates to current events. With today's dramatic circumstances surrounding Israel, it would seem to be more relevant now than ever. To me it is the only interesting portion of Scripture that you don't touch on very much. Of course, you may consider your sermons on Revelation to fit this good enough, and they do, but I'm sure you understand my point. With your knowledge and insight, I feel a little lost not hearing from you on this very important subject. Especially you.

#5  Posted by Rose Michels  |  Tuesday, January 07, 2014at 9:14 PM

Amen Brother John! Looking forward to your 10 reasons. Sharing this post now because it's rich in truth.

#6  Posted by Sharlene McKelvey  |  Tuesday, January 07, 2014at 11:28 PM

Well said, Pastor MacArthur!! I praise our Gracious God for all that you said, Dr. MacArthur, and I also praise the work of The Divine Holy Spirit that sets your mind and heart to an absolute, pure heart's determination and strictness to teaching and preaching the Word of God that exhaults our Savior, The Lord Jesus Christ. I listen to your sermons every day and/or every night; sometimes both. I try to catch your radio broadcasts, but I do look them up on your website, together with your television broadcasts; I listen to every word of the sermons you have taught, past and present, and I am now beginning to study along with them. I pray and do trust God is raising up Pastors from TMS who will continue your tireless teaching which will continue to be a blessing to the world. I am without words enough to express the joy of learning truth in Scripture, and also, that you hold steadfast to teaching as God would have you teach. I wish I could remember which of the many doxologies I heard from a sermon I heard on GTY just this morning which would fit what praise and worship I want to give to The Lord at this moment, but my head swims from all that you teach though I do try to absorb it all; I have your Study Bible and a few of your books. Thank you, Dr. MacArthur and Grace to You for all that I learn and am able to share with family and friends. You are faithful to The Word. As you once said, "You will go nowhere until faith dominates your life. Period." I wrote those words in my JM Study Bible, together with something I also heard you say on a radio broadcast: "We are all creatures of faith, even if our faith rests upon the unreliable. All, though, can develop faith in the worthwhile when we finally learn, once and for all, His Word (Word) is the reliable truth (Truth). He signed it with His life (Life). That is how I wrote it in my Bible and shared with my adult children, with the emphasis on the words that represent Christ: Word, Truth and Life. Thank you and I thank God for your relentless desire to teach others the truest form of pastoring to the many in the world who are listening. I am thankful for the outreach of The Strange Fire Conference and that you are unwilling to stop there. I know you will be faithful until the end; meanwhile, you are teaching us how to be faithful and the reason it is so important to our lives and to that of our family and friends to be taught, learn and grow so that we may also be faithful until the end. I cannot thank you enough. I pray for your continued, blessed ministry and its very specific teachings of God's Word; an outreach that I know God honors; with all my heart, I believe God will see to it that no details are lost as He continues to raise up faithful teachers, such as yourself, who will bring Truth to people like me who live across the U.S. from GCC, as well as others around the Earth that God, Himself created. To God be the Glory. Carry on the faithfulness to teaching the Truth; precious fruit!

#7  Posted by Dankmar Schroeder  |  Wednesday, January 08, 2014at 4:58 AM

John, I want to thank you for this blog. And you are right. A lot of churches go the entertainment way.

But unfortunately it is also possible to go the other way: preach hard against sin, teach people tithing money, which is not scriptural (Israel (!) was supposed to tithe on produce and herd animals), and make no distinction between Old Covenant and New Covenant. On the top of that many of these churches teach easy prayerism (absence of biblical repentance) and yet still think they are biblical. Balanced wholesome preaching is key.

#8  Posted by Horace Ward  |  Wednesday, January 08, 2014at 7:36 AM

This article is so thought provoking

#9  Posted by James Rivera  |  Wednesday, January 08, 2014at 8:56 AM

Praise The Lord Jesus for you and your boldness to proclaim the true gospel

Message. It doesn't matter what man saids preach the word of God without

apology. Praise The Lord for the attacks which confirms the truth

in your preaching. It doesn't matter what man saids or thinks. It's all

about what the Word saids.

#10  Posted by Michael Allen  |  Saturday, January 11, 2014at 8:45 AM

"Pastors today face relentless pressure to do everything but preach the Word. They are encouraged to be storytellers, comedians, psychologists, or motivational speakers. They are warned to steer clear of topics that people find unpleasant. Many have given up biblical preaching in favor of shallow talks designed to make people feel good. Some have even replaced preaching with drama and other forms of staged entertainment."

Absolutely a recurring feature of the New England church plants. If you can't tell whether you are in a house of God or a Software Expo, you need to find a church where the difference is evident. Too many pastors in Cambridge and Boston suburbs who draw attention to themselves with anecdotes about their lives and use projector screens as punch lines for their topical sermons.

Thank God for the expository preachers like MacArthur who use social media as a tool to further the gospel and not as a substitute for the Word.