As with all Christians, pastors and elders will experience suffering. Indeed, shepherds of God’s flock face particular challenges and griefs. In this session, Alistair Begg exhorts church leaders to shoulder their responsibilities with hope of eternal rewards. It will not be in this world that pastors find glory for their humility, service, and resistance of Satan—but while they labor here on earth, God strengthens and establishes men’s hearts for their part in His kingdom work.
Topics: Church Leadership Ministry Pastoral Ministry Pastors
Sermon Transcript: Print
First Peter 5:1:
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Martin Luther was no friend of the pope after his thesis had been made manifestly plain. But on one occasion, in writing, he said, “I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope of Rome. For in my own heart there dwells that great pope, self.” And I don’t know about you, but I think, without any sense of rhetoric or trying to be clever, there is no doubt in my mind that in the space of time that I have been involved in pastoral ministry, no one has given me greater trouble than me; that I am my own biggest problem; that the issues that come our way in ministry do not come to us in a vacuum; they come to us in the framework of our personalities, of our family life, of whatever it might be.
And personality plays a large part in the way in which we respond to trials, to difficulties, to what Peter refers to here as “sufferings.” And it is very, very easy for us to try and pretend we know about things that we don’t know about at all. We’re keenly aware that some of the people who are with us here these few days, when it comes to trials and sufferings, our brothers know this at a very material, a very physical, a very immediate level, in a way that some of us only know in a theoretical way, and even when it comes to the thing that we’re going to give ourselves some thought to just now: the idea of hanging on when you feel like giving up.
The reason that I decided to do this was because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. And someone said, “Well, you’ve got to do something for a breakout,” and I said, “Okay, well then, I’ll try it.” If you want to slip out right now, some of these other things are still on the go. But the only time I remember doing anything like this was years and years ago, when I was very, very young, and I was invited to do a seminar at the Moody Bible Institute. And I’d never done a seminar. I wasn’t really sure what a seminar was. And apparently, it was a sort of low-key something where you went in a classroom. And so, I had to give them titles, but I didn’t know what to give them a title of. And so, out of the blue, I said, “I’m going to deal with ministerial depression.” I thought it sounded fairly good—not that I knew hardly anything about it at all. In fact, I knew nothing about it. And so I assumed, “It’s a safe one. They don’t know anybody called Begg, and they probably won’t show up, so it won’t be much of a problem.” Well, I found my way to this classroom. It was jam-packed. There were people hanging off the rafters almost, and it clearly was not because of any name recognition, because nobody knew me at all. And then I suddenly realized: this is actually an issue. This is an issue.
Now, why do we start here in Peter? Because I want to make sure that whatever we do, we’re counseled by the Scriptures, and that any observations that I’m able to make are poured, if you like, safely through the filtration system of the Word of God itself.
Peter introduces himself here, in chapter 5, not in a very authoritative fashion, as he does at the beginning of his letter. At the beginning of his letter, in chapter 1, he identifies himself as “an apostle,” as someone who has authority under God. Now, here in chapter 5, you will notice that he exhorts the elders as “a fellow elder.” “I,” he says, “am with you in this venture. Together, we are entrusted with the responsibility of feeding and tending the flock of God.”
He is able to speak now to the fact that although at one point in his life, if you think about it, when he was there with Jesus, he essentially ran away from the sufferings of Christ… When everything began to come down on Jesus, he was one of the first to make a run for the border, as it were. And yet, now he has been restored—remember the breakfast meeting—and he identifies himself not only as a fellow elder but as a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed. So, jumping on the back of what Tony has been saying to us, he is living in his now in light of the then—that the experience that he understands in terms of suffering and in persecution and in the pushback of things, he identifies the fact that there is a “not yet” dimension to this which needs to not simply loom in the future but give him that which enables him to deal with the present circumstances.
And this is not something that he introduces here in chapter 5. It’s all the way through his letter. For example, 1:6, he says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” And he immediately points out that behind the trials that we experience, there still is the hand of God. There still is the hand of God—that his providence is actually overruling these things, and it is in order that the faith that you profess may be tested and may prove to be all that God purposes for it to be.
He does the same thing again in chapter 4 and—where are we?—verse 12: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad”—notice, again—“when his glory is revealed.” Suffering now and glory then. He comes back to it again in 4:19: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” And again, finally, just reiterating this in 5:10: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory, will complete his purposes in you and through you.”
Now, all of that just to observe what is no surprise to any of us—namely, that this issue of being challenged, of being pressed upon, of suffering, of being less than in a circumstance that makes us very, very happy about life, it’s not placed in the small print in the Bible. It’s not hidden. It’s not like when you upgrade your Apple Watch and it tells you, “Have you read these things?” before you tick the box. And I don’t even know what’s in any of those things. I never read one of them in my life, and probably I should have. But I just tick the box. I hope they didn’t ask me if I’ve read it. I hope they asked if I’m happy about it. How could I be happy about it, since I never read it? But anyway, I tick the box. But when you come to this issue of being pressed upon and pressed down and burdened—the passage that, again, Tony was proclaiming: you know, “We’re pressed down, but we’re not pressed out; we’re buffeted, but we’re not broken,” and so on—none of it is in the small print.
And all of this is taking place, you will notice, and he’s addressing specifically, here at the beginning of the chapter, those who are involved in pastoral ministry. And he is exhorting these elders, these presbúteros. And these presbyters are to be the shepherds, poimḗn. The epískopos, which he mentions when he deals with the Ephesian folks in Acts chapter 20… You’ve got all those words which give us presbyter. They give us episcopos. They give us episcopal. They give us shepherd or pastor, by dint of the verb that he uses here: “I want you to shepherd the flock of God that is among you.”
We’re not CEOs. We’re not generals in an army. We’re given a high and a holy responsibility to care for those entrusted to our care.
And he wants to make sure that they understand that if they are shepherds, it is inevitable they’re going to be with sheep. The problem is that the sheep stink. I say that on some authority. My grandfather was a shepherd in the Highlands of Scotland, and you don’t really want to have sheep—not in close proximity. They do things, and it’s not particularly nice. Now, they look very nice, and from a distance it can be quite wonderful. But when you get up close, they butt their heads against one another, and they do all manner of naughty things. And so that’s a wonderful picture of your average congregation, is it not? You say, “Well, he said in the breakout session that his congregation stinks.” No, I did not say that. I said that sheep stink.
But you will notice that it is the congregation that is “among you”—that is “among you.” “Among you.” In other words, they’re not over there. They’re in here. They’re in your face. They’re in your phone. They’re in your email. And we live among them. If we don’t, we’re not shepherds. We might be talking heads, but we can’t be shepherds.
And so, what he’s about to say is directly related to the fact that the responsibilities that fall to the shepherd exactly impinge upon all these other elements of it. And so he says, “I want you to shepherd the flock of God that is among you. And I don’t want you to be ashamed of yourselves by prostituting your ministry.” Barnes, in his commentary, says it should not be that any of us are engaged in this “to gain popularity; to live a life of ease; … to rule over … people,” or “to make the preaching of the gospel [simply] an occasion of advancing [our]selves in the world.”
I find that very, very challenging. Why are you doing what you’re doing? “What is it that you’re doing?” we say to ourselves. “Well, we’re shepherding the flock.” “And why are you shepherding the flock? And what does it really mean to do that?” We’re not CEOs. We’re not generals in an army. We’re given a high and a holy responsibility to care for those entrusted to our care. And it is within the context of that opportunity that our responsibility is then pressed upon by the fact that we are, as I’ve said, our own problem. At least, maybe you’re not. Maybe you’ve got another problem. But I think I can be very honest about this.
So, I was on a panel recently with at least one other person, and the question was posed—not to me but to somebody else—“Can you ever think of a time in your life when you were tempted to quit the ministry?” That was the question. And I don’t remember the answer that the fellow gave, but it certainly wasn’t my answer. Because I wanted to grab the microphone and say, “Yes! Yes. Every Sunday night. Every Sunday evening, I do.” The people, of course, would not believe that. But there’s a sense in which it is absolutely factual; it is absolutely true. Because we bring to our responsibilities ourselves. We carry into those situations the burdens that we bear, the concerns for our families, and all kinds of issues.
In fact, I went looking for somewhere that I had perhaps said this, and I found it—because everything you say now is taken down to be used in evidence against you. And I was asked a question about crippling despondency, and I replied in a similar way. You know, I can’t make a comment about clinical depression. I haven’t experienced it, but I do know it’s real. I cannot comment on facing manic bouts. I’ve not experienced it; I do know that it’s real. But I went on to say, “I’m just talking about the blues. I’m talking about being totally cheesed off. I’m talking about being absolutely fed up. I’m talking about ending a Sunday and wanting to run as far as [I] possibly can from every responsibility in pastoral ministry that [I] have ever known,” to run from “enduring the smiles and the handshakes”—or, worse, the grimaces and the complaints—“wishing somehow that [I] could actually merge with the … pavement that [I’m] standing on and be [done with it] forever. [I’m talking about] waking up at two in the morning and trying to think of one other reasonable thing that [I] could do with [my] life, if [I could] only … get a job—and fearing that the only reason [I’m] still in pastoral ministry is because [I am unemployable—that I] couldn’t get a job.”
And recognizing how easily and how quickly, especially on the back of any sense of success, the Elijah syndrome gets you in a stranglehold. And then you start to say to yourself, “You know, there’s nobody who really understands this the way I do. There’s nobody who really gets what this is like.” And off we go, metaphorically, to find our own little broom tree and sit down under it and commiserate with ourselves. And somehow or another, he sends an angel. You may not think of your wife as an angel, but you probably should. And she comes to you, and she doesn’t quote the Bible to you; she says, “I brought you a bottle of water and a bran muffin. Give yourself a shake, would you?”—that kind of angelic visitation, which really hurt. But in actual fact, that’s what happened to Elijah, wasn’t it? They didn’t sing him out of it. He said to him, “Hey, I’m not sure you’re looking at things correctly.” In other words, it was a reminder to him of the fact that he had experienced that, that that was real, that that was not enjoyable, that he genuinely felt what he felt, and yet he was wrong.
It’s surely fascinating that some of the most profoundly helpful hymns and/or hymns that have become a large part of our hymnody in our circles have more than a tinge of difficulty at the very heart of them. You know, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll” is written out of the heartache of the loss of Spafford’s four daughters. “God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform; he plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm” is written by Cowper, who spent three spells in a mental institution. So the idea that somehow or another, the journey of ministerial privilege is a journey that takes us always up and beyond the cloudy terrain, the turbulent stuff—that you can always go higher than it—is neither true to the Bible, nor is it true to our own human experience.
And so, we have, then, to make sure that we are able to do what we’ve been asked to do, and to do it in a way that is in keeping with what we’re told. So, “not for shameful gain.” We’re to do it not in a grudging way, because we have to; not in a greedy way, because we’re looking for gain out of it; not in a pompous or in a domineering way, because that is not the pattern of the Lord Jesus; and to do it in awareness of the fact that the Chief Shepherd is going to appear, and we “will receive [an] unfading crown of glory.”
You see, part of the problem, I think, is that we look for glory now. But no, if you look for glory in what you’re doing, there’s not a lot of glory in what you’re doing, even if you’re doing it really well. I mean, just be honest. It’s certainly not in the eyesight of the world. Not in the people you went to school with. Not even in the minds of many of your congregation. So if I’m looking for acceptance, for fulfillment, for security, for all of that, in some kind of glorified position in the now, I’m going to be sorely disappointed, because there is nothing that can provide that now. No, it is the prospect of glory then which gives us the wherewithal to experience this now.
So, in straightforward terms, we’re to engage in it with a spirit of willingness, eagerness, and gentleness. Isn’t it interesting, too, how our worst characteristics come out when we’re pressed in this way—that one of the things that has come out of the circles in which many of us move is a high-handed, domineering, bullying type of perspective that has marked out local church leadership? It runs absolutely counter to what he’s saying here: “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” And the pattern is, of course, a pattern of servanthood.
Now, all of this to move to what I suggest, in the balance of the text, is a framework that, if we get it on the wrong side of this, we only contribute to our own problems. And he mentions each of these things in turn: “Clothe yourselves … with humility toward one another, [because] ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” Well, you see, when I think that I deserve more than I am getting, or when I live thinking that I’m not getting what I really deserve, then at the root of that, the problem is, I think of myself more highly than I ought.
You think about what this cost Peter to write. It’s quite interesting, isn’t it? He says, “I’m writing this final little section here, reminding myself and reminding you that I share with you in this as a fellow elder: God resists the proud.” Well, of course! He was the one that got it right: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” And then he began to remonstrate with Jesus. And then he began to distinguish himself from his colleagues: “Even if they all leave you, Jesus, I’m your man. You can count on me entirely.” Well, he was proud. He “grew proud, to his [own] destruction.” It must have pained him to write this down, because this was a lesson that he himself had had to learn most painfully.
You know, Augustine said something along the lines that go like this: “There is something about humility that appeals to my ego”—and the idea that somehow or another, if we can only explain to everybody just how wonderfully humble, you know, we are, you end up being such a pain in the neck. David Wells—and I left two books behind that I was going to quote from. Must have been supposed to be in the providence of God, but they were great quotes, actually, and… Doesn’t matter. But Wells, in one of his books, he says, you know, humility is not telling people that you can’t do things. You know, you always have these people: “Is there anybody here can play the piano?” “Oh, no, I can’t play the piano. I’m a terrible piano player.” They’re actually a good piano player. Well, why wouldn’t they just say, “Yeah, I can play the piano”? “Well, it was humble.” No, it wasn’t humble! It was a blooming nuisance. We need a piano player! No, humility is recognizing that I am not the center of the universe—that I’m not even the center of my own universe.
We’re helped, actually, when we go, for example, to the book of Job. And in the context of that, you have these amazing correctives: “Stop and consider God’s wonders. Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash?” “Well, no, actually, I don’t.” “Where were you,” says God, “when I laid the earth’s foundation?” The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power. And the creator of the universe has stepped down into time, has humbled himself; and therefore, we should “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.”
Humility is recognizing that I am not the center of the universe—that I’m not even the center of my own universe.
See, what I’m trying to suggest is that we bring a lot of stuff on ourselves. And one of the problems is when we get a fat head. If you think about it in relationship, again, to Paul and in 2 Corinthians: Paul was a megabrain. Saul of Tarsus had a size 14 brain, for sure, if that’s—you know, if that’s a big one. I don’t know. But he had it. He was phenomenally effective in leadership. And yet he writes, “To keep me from becoming conceited, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan, so that I wouldn’t get a fat head,” he says. The insinuations of the Evil One on the back of whatever that thorn was were such as to seek to bring him down. But it wasn’t Satan that gave him this. Satan took this and did “Na-na-na-na-na-na-na” with it. But God gave it to him. You ever thought about the fact that some of the things that dispirit us, confront us in our weakness, make us feel, perhaps, that we’re not good enough to finish—that “if only I was brighter,” “if only I was taller,” “if only I was in another place,” whatever else it is… And God says, “Well, I’m going to help you with that.” Painful, but absolutely necessary.
When John the Baptist was asked, “Who are you, and what do you have to say about yourself?” he answered in a way that few of us would have chosen to do. He answered in a way that would make it very difficult for people who were trying to put, you know, a little thing in the brochure: a little picture of John the Baptist, and then John—we talked to John last week, and we asked him, “Who are you? Are you a prophet?”
“Are you Elijah?”
“Well, who in the world are you?”
“Well, I’m a finger. I’m a finger pointing. I’m a light shining. I’m a voice crying.”
“Yeah. If you look over there, you’ll see the Lamb of God. He takes away the sin of the world. That’s probably the one you’re looking for.”
There’s nothing worse than going to a wedding where the best man is a royal pain in the neck—whether he didn’t have a good wedding or whatever happened to him. I don’t know what happened to him at all. But it’s like every chance he has to get on his feet to say, “Hey, we’re back with the best man again!” I want to shout out, “Sit down, please! Immediately, sit down! We’re interested in the bride. We’re interested in her mother. We’re marginally interested in the groom. But we’re not remotely interested in you right now, as it happens. So thank you.” You say, “Well, you’ve obviously never been a best man. You wouldn’t say such disparaging things about such a person.” Well, “I will not boast in anything.” That’s what we sing, isn’t it?
I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Well, humility and all of the implications that go with it are part of the constraints, I think, that are used to help us in these circumstances—and along with that, you will notice, anxiety. Anxiety. “Be sober-minded [and] be watchful.” Verse 7: “[Cast] all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.” I don’t know if I’m an anxious person. I think perhaps. I don’t know if you’re anxious. I don’t know if you’re sort of consistently anxious or a wee bit anxious or only anxious about certain things.
Do you worry? Isn’t it interesting how much the Bible has to say even about that, about worrying? It’s not there because it’s theoretical. It’s there because it’s real. It’s realistic. Remember, Jesus says, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” He said to them, “Why do you worry about stuff?” It’s amazing, isn’t it? Paul writes to the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything.” Oh, goodness gracious! Why couldn’t it be “Don’t be anxious about most things”? No: “Do[n’t] be anxious about anything.”
Jesus, Paul, Peter, they’re all saying the same things. Are you anxious about your present effectiveness? Why? You think you’re doing it? Are you anxious about your ongoing effectiveness? Just general usefulness in ministry, when the messenger of Satan comes and either tries to inflate your ego and destroy you in the realm of pride or to puncture your increasingly fat head and to reduce you to somebody who says, “I don’t think I’m any good at all; there’s nothing I can do”?
And isn’t it fascinating how these anxious thoughts will appear from nowhere? I mean, it’s not like you go to your bed and say, “Now, probably around three o’clock I’m going to get on my anxious program.” No! I’m going to bed going, “I don’t want the three o’clock thing.” And yet three o’clock comes, and here they are again, from nowhere, threatening to undo us. It’s real. That’s why songs, poems, and stuff are helpful to us, I think. Again, Cowper’s hymn: we’re tempted to be unsettled by these things, and he says in his poem, he says,
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
You say, “Well, it doesn’t look like that.” And “he plants his footsteps in the sea.” You can’t see footsteps in the sea! “Well, I need to see.” But you can’t see. But it looks all so wrong. But in actual fact, behind it is the care of our loving Father.
People, I think, are bemused with how many times I come up with crazy, stupid little songs from my childhood. But they’re important to me. I sing them to myself all the time:
All your anxiety, all your care,
Bring to the mercy seat, leave it there;
Never a burden he cannot bear,
Never a friend like Jesus!
You’ve got to talk to yourself, sing to yourself:
Said the Robin to the Sparrow:
“I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush [around] and worry so?”
Said the Sparrow to the Robin:
“[Oh], I think that it must be
That they have no Heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me.”
Then adversity. Adversity. And adversity comes on all fronts, doesn’t it? The reason we’re doing this is because we’re saying to ourself, there is good reason why we would find ourselves perhaps saying, “I think I’ll make a run for the border.” And Peter is giving a very realistic picture of what’s involved in fulfilling the task of shepherding the flock of God. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum for us. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum for any one of us. We look at other people, and we admire the gifts that God has given other people that we don’t have in ourselves. We have to learn, then, to thank God for the gifts he’s given to others rather than becoming jealous of those gifts and commiserating with ourselves because we don’t have them. That’s why we’re all better together than any of us is on our own.
And the Evil One wants to come and insinuate these things. And you’ll notice that’s what he says: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” In other words, if we’re going to be successful in this, there’s no place for a kind of dreamy carelessness where we’re just sort of drifting through life. No, we’ve got to be on the alert. Peter has said that earlier on, in chapter 1, where he is saying to them, “[Prepare] your minds for action, and being sober-minded,” thinking properly, “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” In other words, he doesn’t say, “Come on now! Everything’s good. It’s your best life now. It’s a great Friday. Come on!” No, it doesn’t say that. In fact, the Bible never says that. No, the now is set within the context of the then.
We’re all better together than any of us is on our own.
And the Westminster Confession of Faith helps us in this, doesn’t it? It says that the Christian is involved in “a continual and irreconcilable war.” “Continual and irreconcilable war.”
I hope you watched the Six Nations Rugby on TV—now that you don’t have to pay pay-per-view for it. And then you can see what these big guys are doing without helmets and pads and everything else. It’s thoroughly scary, these gigantic creatures running at one another in that way. Well, I played rugby. I played rugby. Hey, cut it out! I played at the back, with fourteen people in front of me. It was very, very important. After the game, I say, “Oh, look at that! Look, I got my knees brown, and my shorts are all scuffed. Oh, that’s no good. I don’t like that.” They said, “Look, do you want to play rugby, or what do you want to do? This is what’s involved. You get broken noses. You get filthy. You get big giants. They jam you into the ground. Welcome to rugby!”
Well, welcome to the Christian life. Welcome to pastoral ministry. I have not had an encounter with anybody carrying a pitchfork, with horns sticking out of their heads. But I’ve had a number of encounters! And that’s all I’m going to say. “What the devil do you think you’re doing?” we might say. Well…
D. E. Hoste followed Hudson Taylor as the leader of the China Inland Mission, and this is what he said on one occasion: he said, “I would not appoint a man to the mission field until he had learned to wrestle with the devil, because otherwise, he will wrestle with his fellow missionaries.” There’s two preoccupations, isn’t there, when we come to the Evil One? One is that we dismiss the notion almost entirely, or the other is that we become preoccupied with it. And the direction here is very clear: “Resist him, firm in your faith, recognizing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by others. And let me remind you of the fact that there is yet a dimension that awaits you.”
And it’s that which he then finishes with, you will see in verse 10: “After you[’ve] suffered a little while, … who has called you to his … glory,” he “will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, … establish you.” Who does this? “The God of all grace.” He is the one who “called you”—“called you,” ultimately, “to his eternal glory in Christ.” Yeah, he called us to leadership in the church, but ultimately, the call is a much higher call to eternal glory, one day, in Jesus. “And in the meantime,” he says, “if you’re feeling that you need to draw the strength from yourself or run away and hide, you need to know that he will himself restore you.” The word that is used there is for the mending of nets or the work of an orthopedic surgeon who’s putting things back in place and in order. He will “strengthen” you.
In other words, again, the word that is used there is the support that would be given, for example, in those big things that make that noise when they’re building buildings. I remember one time speaking in a church in Hong Kong, and they were building something next door, and it went like this: “And you’ll see in verse—” Boom! I said, “You’ll see in verse 5—” Boom! And it went on for the whole sermon. Eventually, I got into a kind of rhythm. But what they were trying to do, what they were doing there, was they were laying a foundation so the thing would not topple over. That’s the promise that is here: “He will strengthen you. He will support you so that you won’t topple.” And you will notice that he will “establish you.” “Establish you”—make you steadfast, so that you’re not blown away like the wind blows the chaff away.
And isn’t it fantastic that he comes as “the God of all grace”? He “will himself”—he “will himself”—do this. Well, he uses people. He uses circumstances. But he’s personally our Father. He’s personally interested in it.
I had an album years ago, when you had albums—although I believe it’s coming back. It was called Man in Black, by Johnny Cash. And this is when I lived in Britain. And he had a song in there. It was called, “I Talk to Jesus Every Day”:
And I talk to Jesus every day,
And he’s interested in every word I say,
[And] no secretary ever tells me he’s been called away;
[And] I talk to Jesus every day.
The love of the Father, ministered to us through Christ by the Holy Spirit, so as to say to us, “Hey, I’m the one who put you in the position. I’m the one who keeps you in the position. I’m the one who will provide for you.”
There is no ideal place to serve God except the place he set you down in. You may come here from another church, another building, and look at this and say, “Oh, that would be lovely. I get that. I could do that.” But you’d better understand something: that when I drive in my car and I drive past some of those lovely little white churches that can hold about 120 flat out, I say to myself, “Now, I would like a go… I would like a go at that.” And the Lord says, “Would you just do what I asked you to do, and repent of your fat head, and acknowledge that you are far too anxious, that you fight with yourself, you fight with your wife, and you fight with other people when you should be engaged in the great fight against the Evil One? And don’t doubt—don’t doubt for a moment—that I will fail to complete what I’ve begun in you and through you.”
And the strange thing for me at this stage in my life is that—just on a personal note—you know, I used to hear fellows who are the age that I am now, and I used to, as a young man, look and say, “Well, it’s going to be great, you know, when I get to that thing, where you sort of know everything, you understand everything, you can do everything.” And here I am. And you can’t, and you don’t, and you didn’t. The longer I go, the harder it gets. Maybe you feel the same way.
Hey, let’s go bowling. Let’s leave the ministry together. Why don’t we do that? Say to the people coming down for the second session, say, “We lost about seven hundred!” “Oh, yeah, they were at Begg’s thing. They all quit the ministry. They’re done. He convinced them it was a great idea.”
Questions and Answers
Alistair Begg: Okay, do we want any Q and A, or just go get coffee? Anybody want a question? There’s a question there, Noah, right behind you. Get that microphone going, brother. Oh, you don’t even have the microphone? There we go. Microphones are appearing from everywhere. We’re going for dinner, right? Dinner’s at 5:45, but we’re supposed to stop at 5:30.
Just say your name, where you’re from, please.
Russell Rice: Russell Rice from Fort Worth, Texas.
Alistair: I know you. Go.
Russell: Question is: How do you compare and contrast the concepts of happiness versus joy? Is there some relation to pride and humility tied to that somehow?
Alistair: Yeah, maybe. You know, it’s a truism, isn’t it? But I think, you know, somebody said happiness is dependent upon what happens, whereas joy is something deeper and grows from another place. And I think… I’m not sure that’s the complete answer to that question, but I do think that is right—first of all, that joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives in a way that happiness is not. I think of happiness as more…
Well, let’s go to a hymn again: “My God, I thank thee, who hast made the earth so bright, so full” of all these wonderful things and so on. And it goes through: “And I thank you for this, and I thank you for that, and this makes me happy, and that makes me happy, and I’m really quite happy.” And then it goes, the hymn writer goes,
I thank thee, too, that all [my] joy[s]
[Are] touched with pain,
That shadows fall on brightest hours,
[And] thorns remain,
So that earth’s bliss may be [my] guide,
And not [my] chain.
And I think the hymn writer’s on to something there: the idea of joy unspeakable and full of glory as you weep at the open grave of your loved one. There is nothing remotely happy about that situation. Funerals are supposed to be sad. They are not twenty-first birthday parties saved for later on, for showing photographs of everybody’s ski trips to Vail and everything else. Do what you want to do, but I’m just telling you, it gives me the crawls. Because here, I got a dead body lying here, right? He’s not “in the next room,” you know, like they tell you when you go to the funeral home. They give you a little card: “Do not worry for me. I am in the next room.” No, he’s not! I was in the next room. He wasn’t in the next room. And he… But up here we’ve got “Whoa, fantastic! Oh, this is…” I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m like a schizophrenic. I thought we were having a funeral, for crying out loud, not a twenty-first birthday party!
Sorry, brother. That was a question about happiness. That’s okay. It’s okay. It’s all right. We’re done. But this is not going out over any media. Is it going live? Yeah. That’s perfect. Yeah.
Sam Weddington: I’m Sam Weddington from Bristol, Tennessee. It’s my first conference, and I actually came to thank you. Over the last two years, it was the Word of God spoken through you at some really critical points that kept me from running for the hills. So, thank you.
Alistair: Well, thank you.
Sam: And the thing I’m processing now, because I respect what you have to say, is I want to know: some of the greatest wounds that I have experienced as a minister in the last two years have come from fellow ministers.
Alistair: Other ministers.
Sam: I’m struggling with forgiveness, and that’s… Could you help me with that?
Alistair: Well, I don’t know if I can help you with that, but I do know that as hard as those things are, love always takes the initiative. When I’m in that mode, I’m tempted to say, “Well, you know, they’re going to have to be the ones that, you know, come to me and say they’re sorry and everything else.” And sometimes the hardest thing that we can do is the best thing we can do and the right thing we can do.
The other side of that, though, of course, is that we do cast our cares upon the Lord. I mean, we have to say to him, “Lord, you know that I’m harmed by this, I’m saddened by this, and I really feel quite resentful about it as well. I confess my resentment to you. I couldn’t hide it from you.”
Are you married or single? You’re married? This is another area where we got the challenge of either bringing our wives into the realm because we want their support or keeping them out of the realm because we don’t want to poison their feelings about other people.
Right now, I can’t think of a decent thing to say to you, brother, quite honestly, except that forgiveness is right in the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, you know: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I think part of the thing that I find difficult is saying it and then letting my feelings catch up with what I’m saying. And that’s where, you know, sometimes God uses others in our lives to help us in that way. But it’s right for us to forgive and to try and catch our hearts up to our mouths, if you like.
Derek Howard: Derek Howard from South Carolina. Is there ever a point that you would encourage a pastor to quit?
Alistair: Yeah. I think probably. I think… I mean, we’re going to create a hypothetical situation, but I would say this: that our ability to lead is directly related to the Scriptures, right? So that it is the Bible that acts as the tiller that guides the boat through the water. Where a congregation is no longer willing to submit to the authority of the Bible, now we have lost our ability to lead. What will happen then is either by dint of our personality we’ll try to drive things, or wherever it might be. But we are servants of the Word as well as servants of the people, and the way we serve the people is by the serving up of the Word. And when our children are no longer being nourished by the food that we’ve been given to provide, then that would be one place in which I would say, “There’s probably another place that I could serve and operate.” That’s the first thing that comes to mind. There may be other situations, too, but that would be one.
We are servants of the Word as well as servants of the people, and the way we serve the people is by the serving up of the Word.
Well, maybe just one more question now.
Charles: Charles from Riverside County, California. It was the great Russian writer Dostoevsky who seemed to make a point that it would be easier to die as a martyr than it would be to give our lives over to the service of God, ’cause a martyr serves once, and then they’re gone; this costs us all of our most virile, entrepreneurial years that we otherwise might have had. And I’m just wondering: Agree or disagree?
Alistair: How could I possibly disagree with Dostoevsky? I mean, he’s the guy who said if God is dead, then all things are permissible, right?
Well, I don’t… It’s an interesting thought. I’m going to have to think about it. I don’t like the idea of dying at all. I’m not partial to death. So the idea of “Dying as a martyr would be easier”? I don’t know. What do you think? You don’t know either? That’s great. None of us know. It’s perfect. There’s somebody, when you go to dinner, brother, that’s going to know the answer to that question.
You got one last one?
Calvin VanderMey: My question kind of disappeared, but Calvin VanderMey, Grand Island, New York. I just wanted to say thank you on behalf of my daughter. The reason: I’ve never been to a Bible conference for eighteen years. I just haven’t. But very thankful to be here, and the reason I’m here is because my daughter, twenty-year-old daughter, listens every day to your podcast and your messages from over the years. And it kind of struck me when the brother over here was making a comment—How do you handle disagreements and attacks and complaints and so on and so forth?—my daughter… I have been through difficult times like that also, but every day, she writes me Scripture verses, and most of them are coming from your podcast. She’ll write it on… Not one of your stories! Sorry. But the Scripture you use. And I have little Post-it Notes. I have stacks of them. She’ll write out the Scripture verse, and from that writing to me every single card she started a card ministry. She writes the verses out. She doesn’t just put the reference, so the person—they’ll never look it up. She writes it out for them.
And so, I thank you, and that has encouraged my preaching to be more expounding, less stories. Stories are fun, but making sure people walk away with the Scripture verse and reading that verse. So thank you.
Alistair: Well, thank you, and tell your daughter thanks for listening and thanks for passing it on.
Mac, you going to come and wrap this up, or do I wrap it up? You come. All right.
Hey, fellows, thank you. I’m going to try this again tomorrow. If you think this was rotten, I’ll try it again tomorrow afternoon. And, you know, the things that I left up the stairs were the really good parts. But there was nothing I could do, ’cause I looked down, I said, “Oh, goodness gracious, it’s all up the stairs.” But anyway, c’est la vie. It’s all part of the… C’est la guerre. All right. There we go.
 1 Peter 1:1 (ESV).
 See John 21:15–19.
 2 Corinthians 4:8 (paraphrased).
 Albert Barnes, Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians and the Epistle to the Galatians (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1851), 80.
 Alistair Begg, “The Pulpit: Its Powers and Pitfalls” (conference presentation, Preach the Word, Anaheim, CA, September 20, 1999), https://www.truthforlife.org/resources/sermon/the-pulpit-its-power-pitfalls.
 See 1 Kings 19:3–7, 10.
 Horatio G. Spafford, “It Is Well with My Soul” (1876).
 William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774).
 Matthew 16:16 (ESV).
 Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29 (paraphrased).
 2 Chronicles 26:16 (ESV).
 Augustine, The City of God 14.13. Paraphrased.
 Job 37:14–15 (NIV).
 Job 38:4 (NIV).
 Philippians 2:3 (NIV).
 2 Corinthians 12:7 (paraphrased).
 John 1:19–23 (paraphrased).
 John 1:29 (paraphrased).
 Stuart Townend, “How Deep the Father’s Love” (1995).
 Luke 12:25 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 12:26 (paraphrased).
 Philippians 4:6 (ESV).
 Cowper, “God Moves.”
 Edward H. Joy, “All Your Anxiety” (1920).
 Elizabeth Cheney, “Overheard in an Orchard.”
 1 Peter 1:13 (ESV).
 The Westminster Confession of Faith 8.2.
 D. E. Hoste, If I Am to Lead (1968; repr., Singapore: Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1987), 8. Paraphrased.
 Johnny Cash, “I Talk to Jesus Every Day” (1971).
 Adelaide A. Procter, “My God, I Thank Thee, Who Hast Made” (1858).
 Matthew 6:12 (KJV).
 Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, pt. 4, bk. 11, chap. 4.
Copyright © 2022, 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.
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