Paul loved Christ and His church, and it is obvious from his letters to the local churches that Paul’s love for God’s people was genuine. At the end of Romans, Paul dives off into a series of greetings and acknowledgements. It’s quite clear that while he wrote entire epistles to Timothy, Paul likewise remembered others who worked behind the scenes. Not everyone is called to pastor a church, and the church needs people up front and behind the scenes to run properly.
Paul remembered Mary and how hard she worked. In Romans 16:6, Paul requested that a particular Mary would be recognized for her service. Paul had remembered her diligent work for the glory of God. It apparently made an impression on him.
People Need Encouragement
Paul’s salutations were aimed at those Christians who had labored well—and in many cases well behind the scenes. Serving the Lord is never an easy task. There are always difficulties and challenges along the way. In Paul’s day the labor was often unnoticed and the environment was harsh toward Christianity. Encouragement was necessary in his day, and such encouragement was rooted in Christian love. Paul understood that his friends and fellow servants needed to be recognized.
In our present day, the landscape in America is not as harsh towards Christianity, but Christians still need to be encouraged. Like Mary who labored well in Paul’s day, we must not overlook the faithful ladies who serve in our local churches. Imagine your church without the faithful ladies who give themselves to serve you and the rest of the church. Do you notice the men who do their work quietly in the backdrop of ministry? Don’t overlook them. They are precious in the sight of the Lord.
Recognition Is Not Bad
We aren’t told who this particular Mary is, but Paul knew her. Perhaps she had served him at some place during his missionary journey and was now removed to Rome. We can’t be emphatic about her identity because we simply aren’t given enough information. What we do know is that Paul intended to recognize Mary in a letter sent to Rome. Paul’s desire was to make sure that she was recognized and appreciated for her faithful service.
While I agree that we should trim as much wasteful time and unnecessary announcements out of our worship gatherings, there are times when recognition is a good thing. Maybe a church newsletter, a special letter to the church, or in the weekly bulletin would provide a more natural platform to spotlight some of those people who serve well behind the scenes.
This week I tried to observe those who serve well behind the scenes in my local church setting, and it’s obvious that many people deserve praise and need to be encouraged in their task. Each week we are served by faithful ladies who prepare meals for our midweek meal on Wednesday evening. Without them, the meal would not happen. We are served each week by several men who work diligently to operate our lights, microphones, screens, and much of this is directly connected to our weekly worship. Often such people serve without ever being recognized, thanked, or appreciated by the church.
The next time you’re reading through the New Testament and you see Paul remembering people, let that serve as a reminder that we all should recognize and appreciate people for their work in the service of the Lord. How long would it take to send an e-mail, to hand write a letter, or to speak to them in person on the Lord’s day? Remember those who serve with diligence behind the scenes for the glory of God.
If we’re all honest, prayer is often a very difficult practice to maintain and an easy area to neglect. If the surveys [PewResearch, Barna] are remotely accurate, prayer is an area of deficiency in the evangelical church today. If parents aren’t praying for their children’s salvation and the spiritual maturity of their household, we can rest assured that pastors are being greatly neglected in prayer as well.
You can’t pray for everyone. In fact, not everyone and every situation is worthy of your time investment for prayer. All of us must use our time wisely and superficial requests that popup on social media or come our way in casual conversations must be evaluated carefully before we commit to prayer. However, we don’t have to think twice about praying for our pastors. To neglect praying for our pastors is to walk in disobedience to the Lord.
The Imperative to Pray for Your Pastors
In Hebrews 13:17-18, we see some very important words as it pertains to pastoral ministry. In reading this text recently, it was verse 18 that really impacted me. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Pray for us.” Not only should the church submit and obey the pastors placed over them, but the church is likewise called to pray for them. This comes in form of an imperative. In other words, it’s a command and one that we must not neglect.
Hebrews 13:17-18 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.  Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.
It should be further noted that when the writer emphasizes praying for the pastors, he does so in the plural just as he begins in the previous verse with a command to obey leaders. Both are mentioned in the plural. It’s very probable that the writer of this epistle was a pastor in the local church or churches to which he was addressing this letter. Notice that he doesn’t call upon the church to pray for their “favorite” or “preferred” pastor. The church is called to pray for all of the pastors who were watching over them and caring for their souls. You can’t expect the shepherds of God’s flock to watch over you and your family in the night hours, lead you to spiritual nourishment, protect you from the wolves, and lavish you with affection if you’re dry in your devotion to prayer and refusing to engage in intercessory prayer for them.
The Fruit of Praying for Your Pastors
If you look at the context of Hebrews 13:18, you will see that in the previous verse, the writer to the Hebrews is laying out a case for pastoral authority and the need to submit to such God ordained authority. However, he doesn’t end his thought after the phrase, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” He goes on to convey a very helpful thought.
He writes, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17). Notice the goal is for pastors to do their work of shepherding with joy rather than groaning.
Consider the practical and spiritual benefits of praying for your pastors:
- Your pastors will care for your soul with joy.
- Your pastors will stand before the throne of God one day and give an account of their ministry to you with joy.
- Praying for your pastors will make submitting to their authority easier as you consider their responsibility.
- Caring for your pastors is ultimately caring for yourself—practically speaking.
- Pastors are made out of the same flesh that the sheep are made of. They’re capable of sin, compromise, and falling into the traps of the evil one. It’s important to pray for their spiritual wellbeing.
- Pastors often have families too, and it would be wise to pray for the health of their family life, the pastors’ marriages, and the relationship with their children. The church will suffer if the pastors’ families are suffering with sin problems or spiritual deficiencies.
- Pastors need to be free to study and pray in order to properly feed the church from the Word of God. Pray for the pastors’ prayer life and devotion to God’s Word.
At the end of the day, when it comes time to stand before the Lord, we don’t want to be found negligent in our prayers for those who were entrusted to care for our souls. It was John Bunyan who once said, “Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.” 
- I.D.E. Thomas, A Puritan Golden Treasury, (Carlisle, PA.,Banner of Truth, 2000), 211.
One of the most extraordinary patterns of Christian history has been the peaceful freedom given to gospel people in one prosperous nation called America. If you survey redemptive history, it’s normal to see Christians suffering hardship, oppression, and persecution for their faith. It seems that the days of peace and prosperity for the gospel in America are numbered. With the legalization of homosexual marriage and the debate upon restroom policies for transgender people and others who want to self-identify as the opposite sex all point to the obvious clash of world views that will likely continue to restrict religious freedom for Christians. The liberal trends have gained enormous momentum over the past eight years — in ways that even the most liberal historian would not have predicted.
As politicians fight over the recent vacancy in the Supreme Court, it’s apparent that the stakes are high. That point could not be any more clearly portrayed as we look at our choices for the highest seat of power in our nation and the leader of the free world – the presidency of the United States of America. We must admit that our days of religious peace seem to be fading off into the sunset. No matter who becomes president, the people of God are called to be people of perseverance. If we can learn anything from this radical cultural movement, we must certainly learn to live well under the rule of evil kings.
Learning Perseverance from Ancient Examples
The Hebrew people came to Egypt to seek refuge during a horrible famine (Gen. 43:1). They were received because of the faithful leadership of Joseph who had risen to great power beneath the Pharaoh. As the book of Genesis ends, Exodus begins with these somber words, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 2:8). That one sentence defined the horror the people of God would experience under the harsh slavery of a wicked king. However, there were faithful people among the Hebrew slaves who refused to doubt God. From those people who believed the Abrahamic covenant arose Moses after 400 years of slavery. The people of God obeyed their leaders, but they kept their focus on God who had promised them deliverance.
Through all of the Old Testament kings, we see Israel learning to live beneath the rule of radically different leaders. Saul served as king. He was the people’s choice. He looked good and seemed like a man fit for the job by outward appearance, but Israel soon learned to live beneath the rule of a poor leader. David was the successor to Saul’s throne, and he is described as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). David was an imperfect man, but a good king. All through the kingly period of Israel’s history, the evil kings outnumbered the good kings. The line, “And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” is repeated at least twenty four times through 1 and 2 Kings in the Old Testament Scriptures. The true people of God among Israel were constantly forced to live well under evil kings.
Unfortunately, the people often walked in the footsteps of their evil kings and followed in their rebellion. Regarding King Manasseh, the Scripture says he “has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did” and “made Judah also to sin with his idols” (2 Kings 21:11). When Hilkiah discovered the Book of the Law that had been lost, it was read to King Josiah. The result was that he “tore his clothes” for he understood the wrath of God was greatly kindled against them (2 Kings 22:8-13). Josiah was a rare king in Israel’s history, a reprieve from the tyranny of evil rulers.
Learning Perseverance from the New Testament
After Pompey conquered Jerusalem, the people of God found themselves under the dominion of Roman authority. Occupied by outsiders, Israel had to learn to live well under evil kings once again. The Herodian dynasty was marked by murder, arrogance, sin, and the crooked exploitation of the Jews through burdensome taxation. This is one reason why the tax collectors were so despised among the Jewish people. They were considered traitors and thieves. Herod the Great was a horrible man, a feared man, and a ruthless man. His ruthless character was put on display while murdering children in Bethlehem during his attempt to kill Jesus. When he died, he split up his land into distinct areas for three different Herods, specifically his three sons – Herod Antipas, Herod Philip, and Herod Agrippa. Their leadership was similar in nature to their father’s leadership. As the people of God lived under their rule, they had to learn to live faithfully under the rule of wicked men. This involved paying taxes and following the rules established by the Roman authorities. Although faithful men like John the Baptist lived in accordance with the laws, he was unwilling to allow the sin of unfaithful leaders to go without notice. John the Baptist called out Herod for his sexual sin, and it landed his head on a platter. There is always a high cost to perseverance during the rule of evil kings.
Following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension came the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the church. Eventually the church of Jesus Christ was pressed between the Roman authorities and the Jewish religious authorities – the Sanhedrin. After being accused of being troublemakers, threatened, and beaten, the apostles were told to stop spreading the gospel. They were forced to make a decision. Would they obey God or men? The apostles chose to obey God. They responded to the threatening Sanhedrin by stating, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). They had learned to live faithfully under the rule of evil leaders as they stood on the shoulders of faithful men and women all throughout redemptive history. They made the right choice.
When evil leaders with sinful hearts rise to power, anything is possible. We are living in such times in our current political climate. It would do us well to learn to live faithfully under the rule of evil kings. It doesn’t matter if you’re more at home in the presence of elephants as opposed to donkeys, the end result will be the same for the church of Jesus in America. Eventually all political parties will fail to respect the church of Jesus Christ in our nation. In the next several years, unless God intervenes, the true church will be tested on the soil of America like never before. Will we obey God or men? We can learn much from people such as Jochebed, Peter, and John the Baptist. As Jesus stated with such great wisdom, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).
It would be wise to obey God rather than men, but as we consider our decisions today, we must remember that debates far more costly than restroom privileges will soon arise. True Christian character, courageous conviction, and God honoring perseverance will be necessary as the cultural pressures continue to reach a boiling point for Jesus followers. When faced with big decisions, it’s vital for Christians to remember our commitment to a greater throne occupied by the highest King.
Truett Cathy, the owner and founder of the Chick-fil-A chain died Monday, September 8th at age 93, surrounded by his family. His funeral will be held today at 2pm at the First Baptist Church in Jonesboro. The legacy of Chick-fil-A far exceeds the chicken sandwich and a pickle. Truett Cathy has left behind a legacy of faithfulness to his family, friends, and employees who follow in his footsteps.
Through the years, I have grown to love the famous chicken sandwich popularized by Truett Cathy and his Chick-fil-A restaurant. Growing up in the Atlanta area, I can remember eating my first Chick-fil-A when I was 6 years old in Fayetteville, Georgia.
The church I serve as pastor (located in Douglasville) is not far from the home office of Chick-fil-A and they have graciously offered up one of their meeting rooms for our annual staff planning day the past couple of years. During our visit, the Chick-fil-A employees have treated us well – including feeding us a great lunch with their employees. On both visits, we have visited Mr. Cathy’s office. Inside his office, many things stood out (including a dummy of Willie Nelson complete with braids sitting in a leather chair). In front of his desk on the floor is a wooden wagon filled with bottles of Coca-Cola to remind him of one of his very first jobs as a boy which involved pulling the wagon and selling bottles of the drink.
One of the takeaways from my visits to Mr. Cathy’s personal office was his wide influence. Framed letters from former presidents of our country lined the wall as you entered his office. As I stood in his office, which he referred to as his tree house because it was surrounded by trees that lined the large glass windows, I was reminded that he gained his influence by standing firm upon biblical principles and remaining consistent without compromise.
Mr. Cathy was never there when I visited his personal office, but one day as my wife and I were on our way home from a hospital visit, we stopped in a Dwarf House Chick-fil-A in Fayetteville for a quick lunch. As we were waiting to be seated, I noticed a man seated in the booth next to a window that resembled Truett Cathy. When the waitress seated us, I asked if that was Mr. Cathy and she confirmed that it was. After we finished our meal, I approached him and thanked him for his faithfulness to Christ through his business. He responded by saying, “It’s important to never compromise biblical principals – even in business.” I then confessed to sitting in his desk in his office when he wasn’t there during my visit, and he just chuckled.
His words ring true in a day of great compromise and corruption in the world of business. Big business is a cut throat culture. That was not the way in which Mr. Cathy rose to the top. He honored Christ and Christ blessed him. Even through the recent controversy over the Cathy family’s position on marriage, you never heard a vengeful response from Mr. Cathy. He has remained steadfast without compromise.
Many things could be learned from the man who started a chicken empire. Each new store that opens is debt free upon opening day. They compete on the big stage with other fast food restaurants while remaining closed on the Lord’s day. At every turn, it appears that Mr. Cathy has sought to run a business that honored Christ. You can hear stories about how much money he has given away and it will astound you. He has literally given away fortunes in his lifetime for the Lord’s work.
As we say goodbye to a much respected man who started a successful chicken restaurant, we must be reminded of our Lord’s words in Matthew 5:9 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Samuel Truett Cathy loved business. He enjoyed a good chicken sandwich. He really appreciated the artwork of Frederic Remington’s sculptures of the old wild west and had a large collection. He liked cars and had a wide variety in his collection ranging from modern cars to old firefighter wagons to an original Batmobile. Perhaps his family will always remember that Truett Cathy loved Jesus more than all. Mr. Cathy labored to make Christ known through his business so that when people followed Truett Cathy, they would not just learn about chicken, but about Jesus Christ.
As we pray for the Cathy family during these difficult days, we must remember to pray for Chick-fil-A to remain steadfast, immovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord for the glory of King Jesus.
Pastor Josh Buice
The 2013 Easter weekend marked the end of an era for John Piper and the Bethlehem Baptist Church of Minneapolis Minnesota. For 33 years, Piper served as the pastor for preaching and vision – the main preaching pastor for the congregation. Piper served as the main preaching pastor within the Bethlehem Baptist Church context starting July 13th 1980 and continued in that role until December 31st 212. Beginning in 2013, after a lengthy transition plan, Piper stepped back as associate pastor and Jason Meyer accepted the responsibility as the pastor of preaching and vision (the lead pastor role).
Piper grew up as the son of an itinerate evangelist in Greenville, SC. Piper went on to college to major in Literature with a minor in Philosophy at Wheaton College (1964-68). It was there that he met his wife Noël and they married in 1968. Piper went on to Fuller Theological Seminary where he was introduced to the writings of Jonathan Edwards. Piper went on to do his doctoral work in New Testament Studies at the University of Munich, Munich, West Germany (1971-74). Following his graduation, Piper pursued a teaching career at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota where he taught for six years.
After a period of time in Piper’s life where he was considering leaving teaching in pursuit of pastoral ministry, Piper’s father thought he had found his niche and encouraged him to remain at Bethel College as a professor. In fact, Piper said that his father wrote him a “page and a half letter to dissuade” him from leaving the academic world in pursuit of pastoral ministry.1 Piper believed that his father had seen many things in ministry as an evangelist and was afraid for him. Piper’s father told him that he was the “quiet reflective type – not the proclaimer.” Eventually, Piper could not escape the calling and he followed the Lord’s leading. He left Bethel College and became pastor of Bethlehem Baptist in 1980.
As you go back through the many sermons, books, and articles of Piper’s ministry, several key things surface quickly that point to the reasons that he was an effective pastor.
In his candidating sermon before Bethlehem Baptist Church, January 27th 1980, Piper said these words:
Not to mention in a church where 107 people are over eighty years old, and another 171 are over the age of sixty-five? If I didn’t believe I could say to every gray-haired believer in this church that the best is yet to come, I wouldn’t bother candidating. But it’s true, and I do believe it. I don’t mean a fat pension and a luxury condominium either. I mean Christ, and you all know that.
Piper, without any doubt, was a visionary pastor. He was not a pastor with a mere title as “pastor of preaching and vision” – he was a true visionary. That is clear from his early sermons where he was looking into the future and preparing for his exit – even 5 years after arriving at Bethlehem Baptist Church. His vision worked to shape the landscape of Bethlehem and prepare the church for his exit. Piper knew that he would not last forever at Bethlehem – and as a visionary leader he desired for his church to be in a healthy place when the final day presented itself for his exit. He demonstrated this understanding by raising up pastors and gifted leaders within the church, by leading the church in building projects, by leading the church to pay off debt, and many other areas of practical leadership that he provided Bethlehem Baptist. Piper consistently placed Christ before the congregation of Bethlehem – with bold and visionary leadership.
In his final sermon as pastor, he said:
This is where I began my ministry almost 33 years ago. This is where we will end. My text then was: “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). My aim and my prayer was to be a God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated pastor. My closing word now is “To him — to Jesus Christ — be glory forever and ever. Amen.
One of the gloomy indictments of expository preaching is that it turns the pulpit into a running commentary that becomes divorced from passionate proclamation of truth. While that is a serious charge issued to many pastors, it is not one that can be given to Piper throughout his 33 year pastoral ministry. Piper was a passionate expositor who preached with a theological depth that is missing in many pulpits. His model of preaching was expositional, theological, and practical on many different levels.
In defining preaching, John Piper said:
Preaching is also exultation. This means that the preacher does not just explain what’s in the Bible, and the people do not simply try understand what he explains. Rather, the preacher and the people exult over what is in the Bible as it is being explained and applied.
Preaching does not come after worship in the order of the service. Preaching is worship. The preacher worships—exults—over the word, trying his best to draw you into a worshipful response by the power of the Holy Spirit.
My job is not simply to see truth and show it to you. (The devil could do that for his own devious reasons.) My job is to see the glory of the truth and to savor it and exult over it as I explain it to you and apply it for you. That’s one of the differences between a sermon and a lecture.
The preaching of Piper, as a pastor, was both extraordinary and simple. It was extraordinary in the essence that it was theologically rich and Christ exalting while being delivered through a passionate heart. The preaching of Piper was:
- Christ exalting
- Spirit empowered
- God glorifying
Under Piper’s leadership as pastor, he led Bethlehem to adopt the following mission statement that would define their ministry and his preaching:
“We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.”
In his biographical sermon on John Newton, Piper said, “Oh how rare are the pastors who speak with a tender heart and have a theological backbone of steel.” One of the blessings of a visionary leader is normally their clarity or transparency. Piper has remained theologically transparent since his arrival on campus at Bethlehem Baptist in 1980. From his earliest sermons, you can see his theological depth and clarity shining through. One of the criticisms that has been directed toward Piper through the years centers on his Calvinistic doctrine. It has been said that he is teaching people how to covertly Reform churches through Calvinism. Although John held seminars on the TULIP acrostic in order to instruct the church on the doctrine of Calvinism by accurately defining terms and showing the theology from Scripture, he never sought to become divisive. His mission appeared to be clarity rather than division. Those people who have made such critiques of Piper’s theology would find his explanation of Calvinism impressively balanced and clearly founded upon Scripture by listening to his series on the TULIP.
Jonathan Edwards had a massive influence upon the life and ministry of Piper, but as you can see in his annual biographical sermons, he was impacted by many pastors, theologians, and missionaries of history. These different men helped shape his way of thinking, preaching, world-view, and missionary heart. Piper was the quintessential pastor-theologian of our present church age. Piper is the author of many books, articles, theological journal entries, and he remained humble enough to hold the hands of mourning family members as he prayed and preached simple funeral sermons. His ministry is truly amazing.
Piper’s theological vocabulary painted a picture of the theology he was seeking to expound from the Scriptures. In describing John Newton’s preaching, Piper said:
Instead of excessive abstraction in his preaching, there was the concrete word and illustration. Instead of generalizing, there was the specific bird or flower or apple or shabby old man.
He had an eye that saw everything as full of divine light for ministry to people. For example, in his diary for July 30, 1776 Newton describes his watching the eclipse of the moon.
Tonight I attended an eclipse of the moon. How great, O Lord, are thy works! With what punctuality do the heavenly bodies fulfill their courses. . . . I thought, my Lord, of Thine eclipse. The horrible darkness which overwhelmed Thy mind when Thou saidst, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Ah, sin was the cause—my sins—yet I do not hate sin or loathe myself as I ought.”
Oh how we preachers need eyes like this. Seeing God and his ways everywhere in nature and life and making our communications full of concreteness from daily life.
Piper exemplified a colorful vocabulary that came alive in his poetry and preaching. The vocabulary was not used to fly over the heads of his listeners, but rather as a tool to illustrate his preaching. His vocabulary was assisted by his many different hand signals and non-verbals that often characterized him in the pulpit – and those gestures are certainly a mark of his passionate preaching style.
Just as we could say that Piper was the quintessential pastor-theologian – we could likewise label Piper as a great model for the pastor-missionary or pastor-evangelist. To say that John Piper’s heart bleeds for the nations would be an understatement. That missionary heart can be clearly seen in two of his books:
Both of these books have provided a sobering reminder of the calling of the church in an age of rampant materialism. Before David Platt’s Radical came Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life. Long before people were making fun of David Platt for cutting back on Goldfish snacks for the children, Piper was thundering his warning regarding the American dream to thousands of college students at conferences and from the pages of his books.
Through the preaching of Piper, Bethlehem engaged their neighborhood with the good news of Jesus Christ. They learned this from his example. He was a pastor who lived in the neighborhood of the church – a radically diverse and poor neighborhood. John was not an “ivory tower” pastor who was separated or above his neighbors. He lived with them and was visible walking the 600 paces2 to church from his house every week for 33 years.
Piper’s preaching led his congregation to engage unreached people groups around the world by praying, sending, giving, and going. Through his passionate mission focused preaching, many left Bethlehem over the 33 years never to return as members. They left their jobs and spent their lives for Christ on far away lands. He writes in his book, Desiring God, these words:
Nature teaches us that every believer should be a soul-winner. (As Andrew Murray said), “It is an essential part of the new nature. We see it in every child who loves to tell of his happiness and to bring others to share his joys. Missions is the automatic outflow and overflow of love for Christ. We delight to enlarge our joy in Him by extending it to others. As Lottie Moon said, “Surely there can be no greater joy than that of saving souls.”3
It is my earnest prayer that God will continue to use Piper in this new season of his ministry. Although he is no longer a pastor – he remains a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. One statement that he made in his sermon titled, Why Expository Preaching is Particularly Glorifying to God from the 2006 Together for the Gospel conference resonated with me and will forever be a vivid picture of preaching. He said:
God did not ordain the cross of Christ or create the lake of fire in order to communicate the insignificance of belittling his glory. The death of the Son of God and the damnation of unrepentant human beings are the loudest shouts under heaven that God is infinitely holy, and sin is infinitely offensive, and wrath is infinitely just, and grace is infinitely precious, and our brief life — and the life of every person in your church and in your community — leads to everlasting joy or everlasting suffering. If our preaching does not carry the weight of these things to our people, what will? Veggie Tales? Radio? Television? Discussion groups? Emergent conversations?
God planned for his Son to be crucified (Revelation 13:8; 2 Timothy 1:9) and for hell to be terrible (Matthew 25:41) so that we would have the clearest witnesses possible to what is at stake when we preach. What gives preaching its seriousness is that the mantle of the preacher is soaked with the blood of Jesus and singed with fire of hell. That’s the mantle that turns mere talkers into preachers. Yet tragically some of the most prominent evangelical voices today diminish the horror of the cross and the horror of hell — the one stripped of its power to bear our punishment, and the other demythologized into self-dehumanization and the social miseries of this world.
I will never forget three different sermons that I heard Piper preach in person. The first one was when I was a college student in 2001. He preached at an event known as One Day and I remember hearing him powerfully calling us to lay our lives down for Christ and stop chasing the American dream. At that time, I was on a pursuit for that very thing – it was my goal to work in the business world and to become a millionaire. I left very unimpressed with Piper. I remember saying to other college students, “His message is too radical and none of these students are going to take that man seriously.” At the time, I could not fathom his position because I was an unconverted church member.
The second time I heard Piper preach in person was while as a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He preached “We Work with You for Your Joy” in 2007 in chapel. His passion for pastoral ministry was extremely contagious, and I had to learn to “eat crow” from what I had said about his ministry back in 2001. The man that I claimed would have no lasting impact upon that sea of college students sitting in the field had greatly impacted my life.
The last time I heard John Piper preach was at the Ligonier conference in 2011. He preached a sermon taken from the title of his book – “Let The Nations Be Glad.“ Immediately after the session ended, I approached him on the floor and expressed my thankfulness for his ministry. I told him that his ministry had greatly impacted my life and I was grateful for his commitment to gospel proclamation and pastoral ministry.
Good preachers are scarce and great preachers are a special gift to the church. Piper has been one of those men that seem to surface in church history about every 100 years. What made Piper so effective as a pastor? While his leadership and passion in the pulpit stand out, it seems that God placed a special anointing on his pastoral ministry in ways that appear to be extraordinary. It is my prayer that God will continue to use him to impact other pastors and missionaries in this next season of his life. May it be that God would raise up an army of preachers who possess this God saturated vision and a desire to lift up Christ and run to the nations with the banner of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God – let it be!
Justin Taylor writes:
We are witnessing the end of a remarkable pastoral ministry—but not the end of his Christian service and ministry. My prayer, and eager expectation, is that the Lord will continue to use John Piper and to keep him faithful in this next season of life as he finishes strong for the glory of God in Christ Jesus.
Pastor Josh Buice
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1. “John Piper and John MacArthur: A Conversation” – Youtube
2. Taylor, Justin. “John Piper’s Farewell Sermon.”
3. Piper, John. Desiring God, 1996, 205-206.