Presenting Everyone Mature in Christ — Part Two
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Presenting Everyone Mature in Christ — Part Two

From Series: The Pastor's Study, Volume 8

Colossians 1:28-29  (ID: 3363)

The pastor’s great privilege and weighty responsibility was summed up well by Paul: to “present everyone mature in Christ.” In large part, our role begins and ends in simply directing others to Christ Himself. This, however, is no small task! As Alistair Begg reminds us, pastoral ministry is hard work, and no one is equal to it on their own. We need God to graciously equip those whom He calls so that we in turn can motivate others to grow in Him.


Sermon Transcript:

Well, can I invite you to turn again to Colossians 1:28–29? Before I read them, the one thing that I haven’t said in any of these Q and A things is something that I just want to say. It’s fairly obvious, but I tried to address it in one of the questions last night. And that is the importance for us of reading. It almost sounds so commonplace that it’s not worth mentioning. But when I say reading, I don’t mean simply reading by way of investigation, or even reading by way of edification, or reading so that we have material for instruction, but reading, if you like, for the sheer enjoyment and pleasure of reading, and reading outwith the framework of our own immediate study area.

And I find myself drawn constantly—and I’m sure many of you are like me—to biographies and to finding out what is it makes people tick. And I’ve just begun a trilogy, a biographical trilogy, of the late actor Alec Guinness, a well-known actor—and you will know him from films—a Shakespearean actor and so on. And this is the kind of little gem that you find. So, here is illustrative material that is to be stored away, is to be filed, and will become useful at some point. You can judge whether it is useful at this point or not, but nevertheless, I wanted to share it with you.

This is how he begins his biography. Now, remember, he’s up there with Gielgud and the others, and Richardson, and he’s writing now as an older man. He has just a couple of pages by way of introduction, which he calls “Stage Directions”:

Enter EGO from the wings, pursued by fiends. Exit EGO.

Ego, as a very young person, with no professional experience, assumes that his natural place in the scheme of things is up-stage centre but quickly learns that, for a long time to come, he must be down-stage, very much to the side, and with his back half turned to the audience. … His pleasure [will be] in putting little bits of things together, as if playing with a jig-saw puzzle.

The fiends which chase or jostle him are Impatience, Fretfulness, Hurt-Pride, Frivolity, Laziness, Impetuosity, Fear-of-the-Future and, lurking nearby, Lack-of-Commonsense. (“Don’t underestimate common sense” was written across a report at his drama school.) He knows their fiendish characters well enough and despises them but is [himself] constantly caught off guard.[1]

The sublimation that is involved, I suppose, in being the kind of actor that Guinness was—and you say, “How does that man do that?”—it’s actually in the loss of himself and recognizing that he is pursued by these fiends. And every Sunday we come to the pulpit, even as now, pursued by the fiends.

So, verses 28 and 29:

“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

Father, we’ve listened to a lot. We have talked and listened to one another. We have lifted our voices in praise to you. And it would be possible for the wires to be so jumbled up and crossed that it would be precious difficult for us, really, to be coherent at this point in these proceedings. And so we ask for a special measure of your grace, both in speaking and in hearing. Save us from these fiends, Lord. Keep our gaze on Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Our goal in setting forward the Scriptures is the holiness and the unreserved obedience to God of every believer, starting with the believer who’s teaching the Bible.

I should probably acknowledge something, and that is that there is a great danger in doing what I’ve done. That is, just taking two verses out of a letter like this and essentially using them in order to make sure that we drive home at least the point of these verses. I would suggest to you that I wouldn’t necessarily do it with such freedom in a different context. I would feel that it would be important to set it far more within the wider framework of what’s going on in the background of Colossae. You can say, “Well, that’s very clever of you to say, because you’ve just dodged it all.” But no, actually, I think that it’s fairly safe for me to be able to assume that if you do not have a comprehensive grasp of that now, that you are of the mentality and diligence that you can go back and backfill and frame out what Paul is saying in this letter, so that the things that we have focused on in a kind of microscopic way will then be understood better as a result of bringing the camera back further with a far wider lens.

We spent a long time, the whole time, on this question of “What is it that we do?” And the answer that we discovered is very straightforward: along with the apostles, “him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone,” and we need all of the wisdom of God to do it. I don’t know about you, but when I preach on Sundays, I often find that I spend far too long on my first point, and then I’m forced to catch up. In this context, I didn’t even try to catch up, and many of you came and said, “Thank you for stopping.” And I took that as a genuine encouragement. But anyway…

The Goal of Proclamation

So, what is it that we’re doing? Here we go. We’ve said that. Now, why are we doing this? What is our goal? Here, then, is our aim or our goal: “Him we proclaim … that we may present…” “That we may.” That is a purpose clause. So Paul is making it perfectly clear that the teaching and the proclamation and the presentation of Christ are not ends in themselves, so that our goal in setting forward the Scriptures is the holiness and the unreserved obedience to God of every believer, starting with the believer who’s teaching the Bible. Paul’s readers are already “in Christ.” They have heard and they have understood the gospel, and the work of sanctification has already begun in them. And what we’re discovering here is that it is the privilege of the undershepherds of the Lord Jesus to be part of their progress to maturity.

Now, this comes across most memorably, I think, when Paul writes to the Ephesians, and when he says, “Here are the gifts of the ascended Christ that he has poured out upon the church. And he has given, along with that, shepherds and teachers.”[2] And then you remember how important that role is. Let me just quote it from verse 12, for part: “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God”—now, here—“to mature manhood…” To maturity. “Him we proclaim, presenting everyone mature.” “…to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves … carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness [and] in deceitful schemes,”[3] and so on. So as I said on Monday, the fact that these letters were probably written within the time frame explains to us why many of the same thoughts would be in Paul’s mind as he writes.

So this, you will notice, is the goal for all, not just for some. We are “warning everyone,” we are “teaching everyone,” we are seeking to “present everyone.” Now, we shouldn’t just overlook that too quickly. The “everyone” is there by way of emphasis. Says Dick Lucas, it “is evidently intended to rule out any idea of a church within a church.”[4] And if you know the Colossian issue, then you realize that that was one of the great temptations. It rules out the kind of false exclusiveness which is represented in the kind of elitist mentality which can so quickly become prevalent within a church.

And it happens in all kinds of ways. I’m not going to deviate from course and illustrate it from my own history here, but the way it creeps into the church is you will find that somebody decides that the way in which prayer is happening is not really the proper way to pray, so we’re going to have to have another kind of prayer—the real prayer—because they read a book by Mr. Reynolds, and he knows all about it. Or we’re not really experiencing God as we should be experiencing God. And the elders are clearly not experiencing God, and Mr. Reynolds has also written a book on the true nature of the experiencing of God, and so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to have a class not for the run-of-the-mill church but for the crack troops of the church who really want to experience God. All right? And it is a subtle thing. And what Paul is saying here is, “This progress of discipleship—of knowing more of Christ, of going on to maturity—is not special knowledge for a favored few. It is that which is for everyone. It is in direct contrast to the idea of some kind of exclusivity.”

And what he is really saying to these people is something quite wonderful. He is going to reinforce for them all that is theirs in Christ. I thought about this because years ago, when I saw my first American football game, it was in Bushey, in Hertfordshire, between some group and the United States Air Force. And I can’t remember who it was, but just the one team was giving the other team an unbelievable pounding, just destroying them. It goes up, what, seven points a time, doesn’t it? Seven, fourteen, twenty-one… after that I get stuck. But they had the cheerleaders, and the cheerleaders with those pom-poms were saying—they kept saying—“You can do it, you can do it! You can, you can!” The problem was, they couldn’t! But in this case, Paul is actually saying, “You can do it, you can do it! You can, you can!” Why? Because of all that is yours in Christ.

And so what he establishes as a pattern here, which falls to us in pastoral ministry, is the privilege and responsibility of motivating believers to grow. To grow. “Oh,” you say, “but wait a minute. Doesn’t 1 Corinthians 3 make it perfectly clear that while one plants and another waters, that only God makes things grow?”[5] Yes! That’s why we are reminding ourselves that our responsibility is not to make them grow but is to motivate them to grow.

So how does this take place? Well, in actual fact, the answer is in the previous phrase: “Him we proclaim.” So that we could have started, actually, with the goal, and asked ourselves the question, “If the goal is the maturity of every believer, how will we achieve that goal?” And then we would go back to the beginning of it, and we would say, “Well, clearly the answer is, in making the Word of God fully known, thereby presenting Jesus, so as to make the people of God fully mature.”

Now, this matter, of course, is of such crucial importance that we daren’t get it wrong. Motivating people to grow I don’t think is necessarily easy. And when we get frustrated by the apparent immaturity of some who are under our care, the temptation is that we default to whatever our personality is. So, if it is the sort of personality of the constant exhorter, you know: “Come on!” And then next Sunday, “Come on!” And people are like, “Why does he keep saying that? It doesn’t do anything at all.”

To give warning is an expression of Christian realism. It is to deal with things as they really are.

Now, some of you have green fingers, and I don’t. But this past autumn, I thought it would be nice to make a contribution, since my wife is so painstaking in her commitment to beauty in all matters horticulture. So I got ahold of nine hundred daffodil bulbs. Nine hundred! And one of those things that you stand on, which has you… you put the bulb in, and then you do that. Which seemed like a great idea—for about the first eleven. But there were nine hundred of them! And I did it! I did it. And then it was November, and then it was December, and then it was January. And I would get up in the morning, and I’d look, I’d say, “I wonder if they’re anywhere.” I said, “Maybe I should dig down, see how they’re doing.” It’s not a good idea! And then eventually, a few weeks ago, one, maybe two. But I planted nine hundred! Even my wife was saying, “Are you sure you planted those nine hundred?” So I decided, “I’ll go out,” and I heard about the “horse whisperer,” and so I said, I could be the “daffodil whisperer.” So I said, “Come on!” Nothing! So I just started shouting at them, “Grow, you miserable bulbs! Grow! You’re making me look like a fool!” Then I said to myself, “I know where that song came from. That wasn’t a war protest song. That was the frustration of a weekend gardener: ‘Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?’”[6] Where have they gone?

Now, you get the point perfectly, don’t you? You look out in your congregation. You’ve been here for a year. You think they should be spiritual giants. Now you’ve been here for five, for ten. If you looked at yourself, you realized you’re not doing that well either. But nevertheless, the temptation is to just, “Grow!” So what it becomes is actually a chronicle of despair. And the more our apparent frustration emerges, the more dispirited those under our care become.

Now, in our previous address, we saw that in proclaiming Christ, it involved both negative as well as positive, right? So that it did involve admonishing and warning. To give warning is an expression of Christian realism. It is to deal with things as they really are. We saw that. And some of us have to be careful that our desire for the privilege of warning does not suddenly morph itself into a bad tendency of forever rebuking our flock about their failures and continually telling them what they ought to be and ought to do. And most of us, I think, would agree that we see our own sins most clearly in other people. And we can subtly somehow or another vicariously bypass the work of the Spirit of God convicting our own hearts by simply projecting onto those under our care the need for that which is the need in our own hearts: to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.[7]

Charles Warr, who was one time the minister in St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, tells how his ministry was “helped beyond words” when he was at another church in the west of Scotland in St Paul’s, Greenock. Any of you who were in the American Navy will know where Greenock is. “One day,” and I quote, “Mr. Arthur Caird … looked in to see me.” This is Pastor Warr speaking now:

He looked in to see me. He was always perfectly groomed, and as everyone said of him, just as nice as he looked. After some desultory conversation, he ran his hand over his silver hair, turned on me his kindly eyes that always had a twinkle in them, and delivered himself of some encouraging and heartwarming words about my first year [of] ministry at St Paul’s. Then he paused and after a short sentence went on: “Yes, everything in the garden’s lovely—or nearly [lovely].” I waited, now a little anxious. Arthur Caird rose and came over to me and laid a fatherly hand on my shoulder. “My boy,” he said, “the garden’s still waiting for the blossoming of one flower without which the garden of no minister can be perfect.” Another pause, “I know we’re not everything we ought to be, and no doubt we need a lot of scolding; but we’d all be a great deal better than we are if only you would try sometimes, instead of lecturing us, to show us that you love us!”

Charles Warr records, “These words were a turning point in my ministry.”[8]

Now, I confess to you, brothers, that it’s very hard for me to give you that quote. It’s hard to read it without regret. Failures in this respect. Even now, I know I need to be better. Even now, I want to be better. “Yesterday[’s] dead and gone, and tomorrow’s out of sight.”[9] This is it.

I actually want to be like Claudio Ranieri. Hands up, all those who know who Claudio Ranieri is. One intelligent person, two? Three? Any on this side? A four and a five? Wonderful. Oh, the hands are going up everywhere! It’s like a full-blown Billy Graham Crusade here right now. It’s fantastic.

Claudio Ranieri was the man who led Leicester City to the championship of the English Premier League two seasons ago. The odds of Leicester City winning were five thousand to one. It was a truly remarkable thing, probably never to be repeated in that kind of way. And I watched him always, and I was intrigued by him, his demeanor. I wanted to meet him so desperately. I wanted to say, “Oh, I like you! I wish I could be like you.” And then I read this article by one of the journalists. And the journalist said, “Here is Claudio Ranieri: passion without volume, enthusiasm without bluster, cosiness without overbearance, kindness without familiarity.” Wonderful characteristics. He used to say when they lost, he said, “Heh. It’s-a football. It’s-a football.” Similar to Paul. You say, “Well, Claudio, I s’pose.” But Paul in 1 Corinthians 4: “I do[n’t] write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.”[10]

See, the best way for us to motivate our flock to grow is simply by reminding them of all the things that are theirs in Christ. That’s why in verse 27, which we’ve largely ignored, he is pointing out what a wonder it is that the gentiles—which is this great mystery hidden from before, to which he refers in Ephesians 2—that the gentiles, that out of these two, God has made one new man,[11] and the gentiles have become beneficiaries of “the riches of glory,” which, he says, “is Christ in you.” “Christ in you.”

As the Word of God is made fully known, then the Spirit of God is at work like a sculptor on our lives, chipping away at us, so as to conform us to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s been wonderful, hasn’t it, to be led in song and to have these wonderful songs to sing? And there are so many more. And as I’ve said to you, I’m helped always by songs, and as I thought about that, a song from, I think, the ’60s came to mind. It wasn’t a great lyric. But I was singing it to myself as I reflected: “I am a new creation, no more in condemnation. Here in the grace of God I stand.”[12] It’s a bit like what Rico was saying, in part, when you waken up in the morning and say, “Well, who in the world am I?” Well, I am a new creation. No more in condemnation. Now, our people need to know that. ’Cause they come in… We preach every week to men and women’s lives who are largely marked by quiet desperation. No matter what the superficial smiles and cheers are, no matter all the ups that are present in the group, the fact is, if we have opportunity just to pare back the onion just a little bit, we discover that.

And so, what does it mean, then, to motivate them in this way? Well, it’s ultimately the work of the Spirit of God through the Word of God through the servant of God. And as the Word of God is proclaimed—verse 25, again: “I became a minister according to the stewardship from God.”[13] He gave it to me to do what? To present my own opinions? No. To let people know how funny I am? How bright I am? No, “to make the word of God fully known.” And as the Word of God is made fully known, then the Spirit of God is at work—is at work like a sculptor on our lives, chipping away at us, so as to conform us to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So when our congregations say, “Well, what in the world is God doing with us?” in a phrase: he is making you like your Elder Brother. He is making you like the Lord Jesus. And he is using his Word to achieve that end. And so, when he comes to chip things away, it is not to harm, but it is in order to fashion us. “Those he predestined he also called to be conformed to the image of his Son.”[14] That’s his purpose from all of eternity. Says Paul in 2 Corinthians 3, “We … are being transformed into his [image].”[15] Says John in 1 John 3, “And when we see him, we will be like him.”[16] So he not only sculpts us, but he also molds us, applying the truth of God’s Word to the varied circumstances of our lives.

And of course, we know that no matter how well we know our congregation, we could never know the details of their lives. How could we ever make application? People ask all the time, “Well, how are you going to apply this?” Well, we seek to apply it as best we can. But isn’t the mystery when people come to us and say, “You know, I heard this,” or “I heard that”? And you find yourself saying, “I don’t think I ever said that. How did they hear that?” Well, the great mystery of the work of the Spirit, bringing home the Word of God.

Well, notice, too, that the Lord Jesus presents us in the presence of the Father, in verse 21: for we were “alienated,” we were “hostile,” and so on; he has reconciled us “in order to present” us.[17] That’s what he does. Now, here in verse 28: we are engaged in this proclamation in order that “we may present everyone” on that day. Present all those for whom we have had responsibility.

I think it’s such a challenge, and such a wonderful thing too, isn’t it? You think of Paul in this regard, when he writes to the Thessalonians, thinking about the Parousia, thinking about the day when everything is finally wrapped up. And he says, “For what is our hope, our joy, [our] crown in which we will glory in the presence of the Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and [our] joy.”[18]

Do you remember that hymn, “The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of heaven breaks,” a poem written by [Anne] Cousins, who was a friend of Samuel Rutherford? Her husband and Rutherford were friends. And it runs to about thirty-three verses, I think. It was collapsed into a hymn. And there is a verse in it—and it’s a little Victoriana. It’s a little, you know, cloying. But don’t let that put you off when I read you this. She took the letters and the journals of Rutherford to write this poem. You remember that Rutherford ministered in relative obscurity, actually, in a tiny little place on the River Solway in Anwoth. And so she created the verse, in Rutherford’s words:

O Anwoth by the Solway,
To me thou still art dear
E’en from the edge of heaven,
I shed for thee a tear;
But if one soul from Anwoth
Meets me at God’s right hand,
My heaven will be two heavens,
In Immanuel’s land.[19]

“You are our joy. You are our hope. You are our crown.” Wise shepherds—may we be wise shepherds!—wise shepherds look for their rewards then and not now. Not now.

The Toil of Proclamation

Well, what are we doing? Proclaiming Christ, proclaiming the Scriptures. Why’re we doing it? Well, in this context, in order that we may present everyone mature. And how are we doing it, if you like? What is the experience of doing this? Well, notice there in verse 29: “For this I toil.” “I toil, struggling”—agonizomai—“with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” There’s a lot of struggling, when you read Paul. In 1 Timothy 4: “To this end we toil and strive.”[20] [Colossians 4:12]: Epaphras is struggling. You say, “Oh, goodness gracious, I thought it was supposed to be, you know, just fine. No turbulence, and up we get to a cruising altitude, and we can just look out the window.” Well, no, not at all. At least, if that’s your experience, come and see me afterwards, ’cause I want to learn how to do it. No! Verse 1 of chapter 2: “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you.”[21] This is not a walk in the park. This is not take your laptop down to Starbucks and sit around with a latte, pretending you’re involved in ministry. (I’m just talking to myself now.)

Now, Christopher Ash gave us a really helpful book, right? Zeal without Burnout.[22] He asked me if I’d write a piece about that. I might have written the foreword to it, actually. Goodness gracious, if all the forewords I wrote were put into a book, it’d be terrific! But I found it really hard to write the foreword. Because I don’t know anything about that. Zeal without burnout? That I could burn out? I could rust out quicker than I could burn out! No. It’s a useful book, and it’s a real and present danger for some of us, but, “No,” I said to myself, “no, I should be writing a foreword for a book called Lessons for the Lazy. Or Secrets Sluggards Never Learn.” “As a door turns upon its hinges, so turns a lazy man upon his bed.”[23]

Alan Redpath, when I was a boy, he used to say, “And let me ask you, son, do you have blanket victory?”

I said, “Blanket victory? You mean, like, comprehensive, total victory?”

“No. Blanket victory.”

“You’re gonna have to help me with this.”

“Can you get out of your bed in the morning? Can you beat the blankets?”

Toiling. The word for struggling. These words are not used just haphazardly by Paul. What we know of Paul guarantees this, doesn’t it? His own testimony, his experience of life. None of us have ever come close to approximating all that he went through. But nevertheless, the word that is used here is the word that would be used for a contest, a fight, usually involving weaponry. And, of course, you remember, in Ephesians, Paul is making it clear that we are involved, as the Westminster Confession reminds us, in “a continual and irreconcilable war.”[24]

And part of that war involves the burden that we bear for those who are under our care. For let us not forget that we will give an answer. So we are those who keep watch over their souls, as those who will give an answer.[25] How could this be easy? You think you can go back in the “green room” and say to the person who’s about to preach, “Go on! Get ’em! Get ’em!” I hate it when people say that to me. I want to get him who said it to me! What do you mean, “Get ’em”? What could I possibly do? Nothing! It’s a struggle. And our weapons are prayer and the ministry of the Word. We will give ourselves. Says Lucas, again, there is no shortcut here for lazy pastors or undisciplined believers: the word here in verse 28, the work that is described in it “is harder than anyone who has not attempted it can [ever] imagine,” and it will “sap the strength of the youngest and [the] fittest … people” who endeavor to proceed minus “the strength which God supplies.”[26]

Do you remember in the second volume of Lloyd-Jones, Iain Murray quotes William Taylor, who says, “A young minister is prone to try to attain by one jump the height which others have reached ‘by a long series of single steps in the labour of a quarter of a century.’”[27] If that is the temptation on the front end, what about the temptation on the back end? Those of us who are further along the path, those of us who have less in front of us than we have behind us, we face the danger of thinking that we may just coast. Put it in whatever you do that… you put that thing, and the car drives itself. You know, well, we can just roll along now. Yeah, cruise. There we go. Cruise.

Brother, it’d be better if we died than we cruised. The devil’s not remotely concerned about dead pastors. He’s really concerned about half-dead pastors. Where somehow or another along the way, the joy has gone. Or the toil has gone. Or we decided that we are in a position now where we don’t have to be bothered with any of that stuff. Well, listen. The constant study and teaching of the Bible will be enough to teach us what it means. Do you remember in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, when they come on the gravediggers, and one of the gravediggers is joking around, and he’s singing. And somebody says, “Has this fellow no feeling of his business?” And Horatio replies, “Custom hath made it in him a property of easiness.”[28] “I’ve been doing it so long now that I don’t really get concerned about it one way or another.” Better that we died. Perkins, in the sixteenth century, says to his people, “You are a minister of the Word. Mind your business.” And to mind our business is to realize that this is a toil.

Now, there is something of a mystery, isn’t there? The same mystery that you have in Philippians [2]: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”[29] You’ve got a similar statement in verse 29: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Working hard and the supply of the energy of God are somehow or another interwoven.

The thing I think it is important to see is that we discover God’s power at work within us in the context of work. There’s no sense in which Paul appropriates divine energy, as it were, in a vacuum. What he’s saying is, “When I put my shoulder to the plow, I was amazed that even though I came to the task in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, I discovered God powerfully at work within me.”[30]

We discover God’s power at work within us in the context of work. There’s no sense in which Paul appropriates divine energy, as it were, in a vacuum.

Preparation is toil, isn’t it? Well, it really is. You sit with your Bible, you sit with a pad or whatever you use, and you say, “Dear Lord, this is the passage, as you know, of course, and I can’t think of a single thing about this passage.” And then you say, “Well, I think I’ll go to the bathroom.” So you go through there for a little while, get a drink of water, come back. And it’s still there, the blooming thing! I mean… and the sheet, with nothing written on it. That’s okay. It’s just Wednesday. Now you fast-forward and it’s Friday. Loved ones, it’s toil. I used to think… Now, don’t… I’m not gonna play fast and loose with you. Over time, one’s facility and ability with the text ought to get better. We ought to be able to get to things without a lot of the rigmarole that was part and parcel of our early startings. But with that said—with that said—it remains a real toil. The preparation is toil, the preaching is toil, and the aftermath is an absolute struggle. The aftermath is a struggle.

I don’t know ’bout you, but I don’t come down from the pulpit going, “There we go!” No. I come down, I want to go through that door and try and beat the people who leave from there so that I can get up the stairs before they even see my face. It’s a struggle. ’Cause then you go up the stairs, and somehow or another, he’s always up there. The Evil One. Yeah. Either to inflate you with notions of usefulness: “Hey!” Or to deplete you, to undermine you, with any notion of effectiveness. It’s the great danger, isn’t it? The danger the Evil One comes and says, “You know, everybody is really interested to hear what you have to say.” You say, “Oh, really? Hmm…” Or he comes to you and says, “You know what? Nobody cares a thing about what you have to say!” Both ways, you’re a dead man. It’s a struggle.

The longer I tell this story, the more I start to think it might even be fictitious itself, but I know that it isn’t. And it has to do with Lloyd-Jones, and it has to do with Eric Alexander as a young man, who preached for us here some time ago—not when he was a young man. But Eric Alexander was leading a meeting at which Lloyd-Jones preached. And Lloyd-Jones preached, and preached powerfully and with great effectiveness. If you ever saw Lloyd-Jones preach, he was a fascinating fellow, and he didn’t like it if it was cold, and he wouldn’t have liked any of this music at all. He would have left the conference about after the first song on Monday. And he was wrong on that, but that’s by the way; we’ll talk about it in heaven.

But he didn’t like being cold, and he would sit on the platform wearing his coat. And if he still felt cold, he would start off with his coat on. And he preached, and preached his heart out, and he sat down. And Eric Alexander was a young minister, and he was so excited that he got to lead in for Lloyd-Jones. And he sat down beside him and he said, “Dr. Lloyd-Jones, how do you feel?”

And Lloyd-Jones said, “Tired.”

That wasn’t good enough for Eric. So he says, “Yeah, but, I mean, anything else?”

And he said, “Young man, I think that this,” pointing to the pulpit, “is the closest that a man will ever come to the experience of childbirth.”

Now, I suggest to you that even when you allow for the eccentricities of the Welsh, which he was—which always need to be moderated by the phlegmatic approach of the English, which then can be corrected by the Scots and turned into an argument by the Irish—even when you allow for that, it is a challenge in this respect, isn’t it? Because you take that and set it against the gravedigger scene. O God, do not let this ever become a custom of easiness whereby the sense of… there’s just nothing there.

Well, we should end, shouldn’t we? Who’s equal to this? Who is equal to this? That’s what Paul asks in 2 Corinthians.[31] And the answer is, not one of us, in ourselves. But those who are called by God are equipped by him. He uses the strangest of people. Some of us have good voices; some of us have squeaky voices. He uses us despite ourselves. But there is a definite underlying strain that is present with usefulness in the service of God. And that is why I quoted from Guinness. Because the thing that kills us all is our pride. “This is the one to whom I look, says the Lord”—Isaiah 66:2b—“he who is humble, contrite in spirit, and trembles at his word.”[32]

So what shall we do? Let’s make it our goal, first of all, to present ourselves as workmen who do not need to be ashamed, workmen rightly dividing the word of truth.[33] Because only then will we ever be able to present everyone mature in Christ Jesus.

And so, in many ways, the verse with which I end is the verse which gave rise to this conference twenty years ago and from which we’ve never deviated. Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4: “[As for you, Timothy,] keep your head … endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, [and] discharge all the duties of your ministry.”[34] And we say together, God being our helper, we will endeavor to do so.

A brief moment of silence, and then we’ll be led in a closing song.

Father, thank you that you have chosen to put your treasure in old clay pots so that the transcendent power might be seen to belong to God and not to us.[35] Thank you for the immense privilege. Come and fill us afresh with the Holy Spirit, with joy in service, with diligence in application, to the glory of your name. Amen.


[1] Alec Guinness, Blessings in Disguise (New York: Knopf, 1985), xiii.

[2] Ephesians 4:7–11 (paraphrased).

[3] Ephesians 4:13–14 (ESV).

[4] Dick Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philemon: Fullness and Freedom, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1980), 70.

[5] See 1 Corinthians 3:7.

[6] Pete Seeger, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” (1955).

[7] See 2 Peter 3:18.

[8] Charles Warr, The Glimmering Landscape (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1960), 117. Paraphrased.

[9] Kris Kristofferson, “Help Me Make It through the Night” (1970).

[10] 1 Corinthians 4:14 (ESV).

[11] See Ephesians 2:13–14.

[12] Dave Bilbrough, “I Am a New Creation” (1983).

[13] Colossians 1:25 (ESV).

[14] Romans 8:29–30 (paraphrased).

[15] 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV).

[16] 1 John 3:2 (paraphrased).

[17] Colossians 1:21–22 (ESV).

[18] 1 Thessalonians 2:19–20 (NIV).

[19] Anne R. Cousin, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” (1857). Lyrics lightly altered.

[20] 1 Timothy 4:10 (ESV).

[21] Colossians 2:1 (ESV).

[22] See Christopher Ash, Zeal without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice (n.p.: The Good Book Company, 2016).

[23] Proverbs 26:14 (paraphrased).

[24] The Westminster Confession of Faith 13.2.

[25] See Hebrews 13:17.

[26] Lucas, Colossians and Philemon, 79.

[27] William M. Taylor, The Ministry of the Word (New York, 1876), 4, attributed in Iain Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith, 1939–1981 (1990; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2004), 458. Murray’s quotation of Taylor differs slightly from Taylor’s original.

[28] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 5.1.

[29] Philippians 2:12–13 (paraphrased).

[30] 1 Corinthians 2:3–5 (paraphrased).

[31] See 2 Corinthians 2:16.

[32] Isaiah 66:2 (paraphrased).

[33] See 2 Timothy 2:15.

[34] 2 Timothy 4:5 (NIV).

[35] See 2 Corinthians 4:7.

Copyright © 2020, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.