By far, one of the most important messages I have ever heard in my life was preached by John MacArthur at the 2006 Ligonier Conference. The title of his message was “The Shepherd and the Flock.” As we might expect from MacArthur, the message was a verse-by-verse exposition of 1 Timothy 4:6-16. Since the sermon had twelve points, I cannot say everything I would like to say about his message. However, I would like to comment on one of his points. MacArthur noted that an excellent minister will exercise his spiritual gift. This is found in Paul’s words to Timothy:
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them,so that all may see your progress (1 Tim. 4:13-15).
Notice that Paul tells Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have.” What gift is Paul talking about? While it is possible that Paul is simply exhorting Timothy to exercise all the gifts that God has bestowed on him, most likely Paul is referring to Timothy’s ability to teach–that gift that distinguishes elders from deacons (1 Tim. 3:1-7, an elder must be “able to teach”). MacArthur pointed out in his message that if a man is to truly understand what pastoral ministry is, he must recognize that it is a ministry to which God has called him, and the purpose of the calling is to use your spiritual gift. MacArthur noted that there is a difference between a spiritual gift and a human leadership skill.
This stands out to me because we live in an age where pastors can become preoccupied with many things that take them away from or divert their attention away from their main focus. I was reminded of this recently when reading a quote from Andrew Purves’s book The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ. He writes:
To ministers let me say this as strongly as I can. Preach Christ, preach Christ, preach Christ.
Get out of your offices and get into your studies.
Quit playing office manager and program director, quit staffing committees, and even right now recommit yourselves to what you were ordained to do, namely the ministry of the Word and sacraments.
Pick up good theology books again: hard books, classical texts, great theologians.
Claim the energy and time to study for days and days at a time.
Disappear for long hours because you are reading Athanasius on the person of Jesus Christ or Wesley on sanctification or Augustine on the Trinity or Calvin on the Christian life or Andrew Murray on the priesthood of Christ. Then you will have something to say that’s worth hearing.
Remember that exegesis is for preaching and teaching; it has no other use.
So get out those tough commentaries and struggle in depth with the texts.
Let most of what you do be dominated by the demands of the sermon as if your whole life and reason for being is to preach Christ, because it is.
Claim a new authority for the pulpit, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, over you and your people.
Commit yourself again to ever more deeply becoming a careful preacher of Christ.
Don’t preach to grow your congregation; preach to bear witness to what the Lord is doing, and let him grow your church.
Dwell in him, abide in him, come to know him ever more deeply and convertedly.
Tell the people what he has to say to them, what he is doing among them and within them, and what it is he wants them to share in.
He is up to something in your neighborhood, if you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.
Develop a christological hermeneutic for all you do and say. Why? Because there is no other name, that’s why.
To which I respond: Kyrie Eleison