Remaining Faithful in Ministry: 9 Essential Convictions for Every Pastor

Remaining Faithful in Ministry: 9 Essential Convictions for Every Pastor

by John MacArthur


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Looking at the heart of the apostle Paul through 9 convictions found in 2 Corinthians 4, veteran pastor John MacArthur calls church leaders to faithful endurance in ministry.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433563034
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 03/31/2019
Pages: 80
Sales rank: 1,116,496
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, where he has served since 1969. He is known around the world for his verse-by-verse expository preaching and his pulpit ministry via his daily radio program, Grace to You. He has also written or edited nearly four hundred books and study guides. MacArthur is chancellor emeritus of the Master’s Seminary and Master’s University. He and his wife, Patricia, live in Southern California and have four grown children.

Read an Excerpt


Convinced of the Superiority of the New Covenant

Second Corinthians 4 begins with Paul saying, "Therefore, having this ministry ..." (v. 1). The word "therefore" of course points us back to the previous chapter. It may sound like an old bromide, but this is an important rule to follow: when you see the word therefore in Scripture, you have to ask what it's there for. In this case, it ties what Paul is about to say to the topic he was dealing with in chapter 3. That chapter is a detailed comparison and contrast of the old and new covenants.

The inauguration of the new covenant (signaling the termination of the old covenant) was not a trifling shift that Paul observed with academic interest as an outsider. It was a sea change that completely upended his life plan and shattered his worldview. Paul was a Hebrew of the Hebrews from a line of Pharisees who belonged to the noblest of the twelve Jewish tribes. He was raised from birth to be zealous for the law. He was devoted to the Pharisaical tradition. He was so fastidious with regard to the law's ceremonies and external features that he looked absolutely blameless to anyone who observed his life. That is the substance of his personal testimony in Philippians 3:4–6.(He gave a similar testimony to King Agrippa in Acts 26:4–5, speaking about the fastidiousness of his legalism and his strict adherence to the demands of the old covenant.)

But when Paul was struck down on the Damascus Road by the Lord Jesus himself, everything changed. The story of his conversion (a version that features the pertinent historical details) is told in Acts 9, and Luke further records how Paul himself retold the story twice more, in Acts 22:3–21 and26:12–23. Paul's testimony in Philippians 3 skips the historical details in order to stress the far-reaching spiritual implications of his rebirth. There he states in graphic language how profoundly his thinking and his lifestyle were changed at his conversion. He says, in essence, that when Christ arrested him that day, Paul suddenly realized that all his old-covenant legalism was no more valuable to him and no less offensive to God than if he tried to offer a pile of manure on the altar. Paul was awakened to the truth of Isaiah 64:6: We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.

The Hebrew noun Isaiah used speaks of a scrap of fabric that has been soiled and stained with an unclean bodily discharge. It is fit for nothing but burning. This is purposely repulsive imagery, but it shows how God views all attempts by sinners to earn righteousness under the law.

What Paul further learned is that a truly perfect, spotless righteousness — the perfect obedience demanded by the law — is imputed to those who believe in Christ. During his earthly life Christ fulfilled every demand of the old-covenant-law and more (Matt. 3:15). And he did it all on behalf of his people, "so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). Therefore, Paul says he discarded his own hard-won self-righteousness because it was no better than human sewage. I count those things as dung, he said, "in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Phil. 3:8–9).

When Paul was converted, every facet of his life changed dramatically, starting with his attachment to the Mosaic covenant. Paul saw instantly that the law condemns sin and cannot save sinners (Rom. 3:20; 7:9–11; Gal. 3:10). "The law brings wrath" (Rom. 4:15). And the law passes the death sentence on everyone without exception, because no one can keep the law. The law therefore has power only to kill sinners, not to redeem them.

The point is not that the law itself is evil. On the contrary, "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good" (Rom. 7:12). Without the law, we would have a deficient understanding of what God's righteousness requires of us (v. 7). The problem lies with the sinner, not with the law.

But the new covenant supplies and perfects everything that was lacking in the old covenant. In the words of Hebrews 8:6, "Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises." More than that, the new covenant completely supersedes and does away with the old: "In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete" (v. 13).

The old covenant was spelled out in hundreds of detailed and demanding commandments; the new covenant is centered on Christ and his finished work. If the centerpiece of the old covenant was the law of Moses (with its rigorous ceremonial demands and its inflexible sentence of death), the heart and soul of the new covenant is the promise of life in Christ. Obviously, the new covenant is "a better covenant" (Heb. 7:22).

The old covenant could not provide righteousness. Christ provides for his people the righteousness the law demanded but could never supply. The old covenant was temporary; it "was being brought to an end" (2 Cor. 3:7). But the new covenant is permanent, never to be replaced. The old covenant pronounced death and doom on sinners; the new covenant offers life.

"The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6). That's the key point Paul makes in 2 Corinthians 3, and he stresses every one of those contrasts. In verse 7 he calls the old covenant "the ministry of death" and the new covenant "the ministry of the Spirit." Verse 9 speaks of the old covenant as "the ministry of condemnation" and the new covenant as "the ministry of righteousness." In verse 11 he contrasts "what was being brought to an end" (the old covenant) with "what is permanent" (the new covenant). That same idea is echoed in Hebrews 13:20, which speaks of the new covenant as "the eternal covenant."

To sum up, the old covenant offered sinners no hope. The new covenant offers "such a hope [that] we are very bold" (2 Cor. 3:12). The ideas of boldness, confidence, sufficiency, and competence constitute a thread that ties chapter 3 together (vv. 4–6, 12). Paul is giving us his answer to a question he had raised at the end of chapter 2: "Who is sufficient for these things?" His answer, in a single sentence, is, "Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God" (3:5). And this entire discussion of the new covenant in 2 Corinthians 3 is therefore a detailed account of how the distinctive features of the new covenant have made the apostles and their fellow laborers competent for the ministry God appointed them to. Every point Paul makes in this context applies to everyone in the history of the church who has faithfully preached the gospel, down to and including those whom God has ordained and called into ministry in our generation and in the years to come.

The old covenant was cloudy and veiled (vv. 13–14); the new covenant is clear and unshrouded. All the mysteries of the old covenant are revealed in Christ. That's what Paul means in verse 14 when he says the veil of the old covenant is removed in Christ. Hebrews 1:1–2 likewise states that God's final and sufficient revelation for this age has been given to us once and for all in Christ. That text and its cross references constitute a formal declaration of the finality and eternality of the new covenant.

It is significant that Paul refers to the new covenant as "the ministry of the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:8). The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is one of the key events that signaled the transition from the old to the new covenant. The Spirit was of course at work throughout the Old Testament era as well, but the full depth of Trinitarian doctrine is simply not prominent in the Old Testament. The Spirit's place and function in the triune Godhead is one of the monumental truths from which the old covenant veil has been removed. He also seems to have a new and unique role under the new covenant, permanently indwelling and empowering every believer, steadily conforming them to the image of Christ by moving them from one level of glory to the next (vv. 17–18). This of course is one of the anchors that held Paul in the knowledge that his competency for the task of ministry came from God. It was proof that the Lord himself would supply sufficient grace for every need. The indwelling Spirit of God assured Paul that even the extreme trials and disappointments he would face in his ministry would ultimately only perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish him (cf. 1 Pet. 5:10). "The Spirit helps us in our weakness" (Rom.8:26). That, as a matter of fact, is the whole theme and substance of Romans 8.

Here was a man who came out of the hopelessness of the old covenant into the certainty and security of the new covenant. Paul never lost his sense of wonder when he thought of the new covenant. He knew what he had been delivered from. Every trial he ever faced was dwarfed by the deliverance that had already been provided to him by God's sovereign grace through Jesus Christ. It was a staggering, unmerited honor for him to be called into the Lord's service, and he more than anyone understood that.

Paul clearly had that very thing in mind when he originally raised the question of his own adequacy. He wrote:

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? (2 Cor. 2:14–16 NASB)

Indeed, no human in himself could ever take on himself such a weighty responsibility or have that kind of everlasting impact. But Paul is a preacher of the new covenant, an instrument of God who will make an impact on people's eternity, either in heaven or in hell. What fool who is given such a calling would settle for anything less than that?

This is a powerful argument for staying focused on gospel truth — proclaiming the whole message of the gospel, studying the details of the gospel, defending the doctrines of the gospel, meditating on the promises of the gospel, encouraging one another with the precepts of the gospel, and singing about the glories of the gospel. We must never forget what a privilege it is to be called as ministers of the new covenant. That is the first and foundational key to Paul's unflagging perseverance.


Convinced That Ministry Is a Mercy

Paul's deeply rooted understanding that his calling was a totally undeserved expression of God's great mercy to him was itself one of the core convictions that kept him faithful to the end. He was called and commissioned for ministry solely "by the mercy of God" (2 Cor. 4:1). That is of course true of every person who is called to serve Christ in ministry. It's not a privilege we have earned. God doesn't call us because of any aptitude or proficiency we develop on our own. We are not in ministry because we are somehow more righteous or more worthy than others. It is a mercy. We all know our own hearts well enough that we should never have confidence in our own flesh. We feel our weakness. We are regularly plagued with personal failings. And I'm sure all genuine believers might wonder why the Lord called us, why he continues to keep us in his fold. For Paul in particular, it was mind-boggling to think that Christ, whom he had once fiercely persecuted, would show him such mercy — even making this former Pharisee an apostle.

Listen to Paul's own words:

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Tim. 1:12–16)

Every good thing that comes to us is an undeserved mercy. By God's great mercy he calls us, equips us, and surrounds us with men and women who come alongside to serve the Lord in partnership with us. It's an undeserved privilege, and the moment any minister begins to see his calling any other way, he is on the road to disaster.

In his old life as a Pharisee, Paul would never have described himself as the foremost of sinners. Consider again the testimony he gives in Philippians 3. Bear in mind in that context, the apostle was refuting some false teachers who insisted that Gentile converts could not be justified — counted righteous before God — unless they were first circumcised. In other words, they Made circumcision the necessary instrument of justification, rather than faith in Christ alone. Paul refers to them as "dogs ... evildoers ... those who mutilate the flesh" (Phil. 3:2). They were apparently the same cult of gospel twisters who were troubling the Galatian churches, and who seemed to target Paul wherever he went. These heretics gained a following by boasting about the rigorous way they observed the fine points of Jewish ceremonial law, so Paul answered them by recounting his own apostolic credentials: "If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless" (vv. 4–6).

He was recounting how he thought of himself as a Pharisee, not describing his perspective as an apostle. Prior to his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road, Paul thought of himself as "blameless" — and indeed, he had mastered the art of external piety. But the law demands Godlike perfection (Matt. 5:48), and even the great Saul of Tarsus, applying all his energies and a lifetime of Pharisaical training and discipline, fell far short. Once his eyes were opened to the reality of his sin, he abandoned every reason he ever thought he had for boasting. He counted it all as "rubbish" (Phil. 3:8). The Greek noun is skubalon, which means "dung." The very things he had once been most inclined to boast about were emblems of the most shameful self-righteousness — and reminders of the wicked arrogance that had driven him to murderous zeal against the people of God. He truly saw himself as the lowest of sinners, and the least deserving of divine mercy. He wrote, "I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God" (1 Cor. 15:9).

Deep gratitude for God's mercy therefore remained at the forefront of Paul's thoughts for the remainder of his ministry, and it often surfaced in his epistles. When he wrote to the church at Rome, he acknowledged the great debt he owed to God's mercy, "because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God" (Rom.15:15–16). Almost every time he mentioned his own calling, he spoke of it as "the grace of God given to me" (Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 3:10; 15:10; Gal. 1:15;2:9).

To the Ephesians, he wrote:

I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Eph. 3:7–10)

Paul fully intended to take the gospel to the very top rung of earthly authority, right into the court of Caesar (Acts 28:19). Beyond that, as he says here, he wanted the manifold wisdom of God to be made known as publicly as possible, to the open shame of every demonic principality and power. Paul knew full well that goal would cost him dearly in terms of suffering and persecution. When friends in Caesarea begged him not to go to Jerusalem because his freedom (not to mention his life) was at stake, he replied, "I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 21:13). Like the apostles spoken of in Acts 5:41, he rejoiced that he was counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Christ.


Excerpted from "Remaining Faithful in Ministry"
by .
Copyright © 2019 John MacArthur.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction 9

1 Convinced of the Superiority of the New Covenant 21

2 Convinced That Ministry Is a Mercy 29

3 Convinced of the Need for a Pure Heart 35

4 Convinced of the Need to Preach the Word Faithfully 41

5 Convinced That the Results Belong to God 45

6 Convinced of His Own Insignificance 51

7 Convinced of the Benefit of Suffering 57

8 Convinced of the Need for Courage 61

9 Convinced That Future Glory Is Better Than Anything This World Could Offer 67

General Index 73

Scripture Index 75

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“It seems only right that a book bearing this title should come from the pen of one whose life and ministry exemplify such faithfulness. Here is a helpful, challenging, resounding cry to the rest of us to keep on!”
Alistair Begg, Senior Pastor, Parkside Church, Chagrin Falls, Ohio

“What are we to do in ministry when we encounter setbacks? John MacArthur presents nine reasons that the apostle Paul did not lose heart. This concise treatise is marked by gospel clarity and filled with timely observations. Accurate and honest, direct and encouraging, clear and plain, MacArthur has produced a portrait in words. As Paul reflects Christ, so should the faithful minister. Unintentionally, MacArthur here has written his own autobiography.”
Mark Dever, Senior Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC; President, 9Marks

“If C. H. Spurgeon could say of John Bunyan, ‘Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline,’ we can surely echo him: ‘Prick John MacArthur anywhere, and his blood is Pauline!’ In these pages, MacArthur gives us a power-packed guide for the times that instantaneously clears away muddle-headed thinking about gospel ministry. Remaining Faithful in Ministry is simultaneously as bracing as a cold shower in the early morning and as thrilling as the prospect of a glorious day of adventure. If it doesn’t make you want to be a more faithful servant of Christ, beware.”
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary; Teaching Fellow, Ligonier Ministries

“As John MacArthur reaches his fifty-year milestone as pastor of Grace Community Church, this book is timely, appropriate, and greatly needed. Pastors today are facing enormous challenges from every side. Countless numbers are discouraged, and many are unable to persevere. Here is an invaluable reminder of the essential truths necessary for long-term endurance in gospel ministry. No one is better qualified to produce this material than MacArthur, who has lived the convictions of this book in one pastorate for half a century. Read this, embrace this, and you will be strengthened for the task that lies ahead of you!”
Steven J. Lawson, President, OnePassion Ministries; Professor of Preaching, The Master’s Seminary; Teaching Fellow, Ligonier Ministries

“In this very helpful book based on 2 Corinthians 4, John MacArthur helps us to see from the ministry of the apostle Paul that in the tempests of ministerial life, there is nothing more crucial than an anchor embedded in solid rock. To remain true in the work of ministry we must have Spirit-inspired and unshakable biblical convictions. The apostle Paul braved the worst of storms in his years of fruitful ministry. The convictions listed in this book often buoyed his soul back on top of life’s raging waters. May they do the same for us!”
Conrad Mbewe, Pastor, Kabwata Baptist Church; Senior Lecturer, African Christian University, Lusaka, Zambia

“John MacArthur has done it again—just the right book at just the right time. A model for all of us in ministry faithfulness, MacArthur encourages all pastors in nine specific convictions that are absolutely essential for authentic ministry. This is a treasure of wisdom for pastors and a book that will encourage all true ministers of the gospel. It is saturated with deep biblical conviction and vast pastoral experience. Every pastor—and future pastor—should read this book, and every faithful minister will treasure it.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“The greatest need for Christians today is to stay faithful in an unbelieving world. We are thankful for John MacArthur’s steadying example and teaching. His insight brought from Scripture in these pages provides a message we continue to need this side of heaven.”
Iain H. Murray, author, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography and Evangelical Holiness; Founding Trustee, Banner of Truth Trust 

“Few topics are as important as this one in our day and age. We are living during a time of unfaithfulness at every level—in the family, in society, and in the ministry. It has always been hard to remain faithful in ministry for a prolonged period of time. I am so glad that John MacArthur, a faithful minister of the Word of God for five decades, has taken the time to write about what it takes to be consistent in the pulpit and in life from beginning to end. This book is biblically solid, well written, easy to read, deep, engaging, inspiring, brief, and built on the faithful legacy of the apostle Paul. Of course, we would not expect anything less from the pen of MacArthur. If you begin to read it, you won’t stop until you are finished.”
Miguel Núñez, Senior Pastor, International Baptist Church, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Founding President, Wisdom & Integrity Ministries

“This is precisely what pastors need. We need to be challenged by wise and faithful pastors to stay the course and remain faithful to the end, without compromise and with unwavering conviction. In this little book, John MacArthur does just that. He examines the life of the apostle Paul, encouraging and challenging pastors to follow Paul as he followed Christ. For elders, seminary students, and pastors of all ages, this is a book for those men who are biblically qualified to shepherd the flock of God and proclaim the Word of God in season and out of season for the glory of God alone.”
Burk Parsons, Senior Pastor, St. Andrew’s Chapel, Sanford, Florida; Editor, Tabletalk

“This book could save many ministries, so I pray every church gets a copy of Remaining Faithful in Ministry for their pastor. Here is surprising, countercultural, Pauline wisdom every pastor should heed if he is to endure and flourish.”
Michael Reeves, President and Professor of Theology, Union School of Theology, Oxford, United Kingdom

“John MacArthur’s half-century of ministry at Grace Community Church in itself provides sufficient warrant to title his latest book Remaining Faithful in Ministry. It is a clarion call for pastors to remain faithful to the very end, from one whose life has exemplified faithful ministry. It includes nine essential marks that ought to be written on every pulpit, office desk, and anywhere else that a preacher might look.”
Derek W. H. Thomas, Senior Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina; author, Let’s Study Revelation and Let’s Study Galatians

“Doctrinal, practical, motivational. In these pages, Christ’s minister will find genuine courage and strength from the Scriptures that he might fulfill God’s calling without wavering. There is more biblical truth in this little book than in most volumes ten times its size. Read it over and over again until each truth sticks. Like the dab of honey on the end of Jonathan’s staff, it will brighten your eyes and strengthen you for battle (1 Sam. 14:27).”
Paul David Washer, Director, HeartCry Missionary Society; author, Recovering the Gospel series; Knowing the Living God; Discovering the Glorious Gospel; and Discerning the Plight of Man

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