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Alistair Begg: Ministers can gain strength through their weakness

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–A minister’s weakness may be his greatest asset because it continually keeps before him his absolute dependence upon God, Alistair Begg told students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Nov. 2.

“Have you ever considered the possibility that your limitations and your handicaps [may] prove to be the key to your usefulness in the service of Christ?” Begg asked. “That is so antithetical to our western preoccupation [with self]. The apostle Paul considered this and lived by it.”

Begg, pastor of Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, delivered the sermon as part of the Mullins Lectures Oct. 31-Nov. 2 at Southern Seminary. He spoke four times during the week.

One of the great dangers that ministers face, Begg said, is a failure to recognize fleshly weakness, the presence of spiritual pride and an overestimation of his own capabilities. Begg said evangelical churches are fraught with unbiblical preaching and methods — largely because of Americans’ preoccupation with the cult of personality.

Said Begg, “Though it is so antithetical to western narcissism, I must live [in a way] so that no one will think more of me than what is warranted by what I do. … Never mind all this stuff about how you have to sell yourself and promote yourself and exalt yourself. You know what the Bible says, ‘He who humbles himself will be exalted and he who exalts himself will be abased.’

“[Do you] want to amount to nothing for God? Talk about yourself. Explain to everybody how terrific you are. Let them know how powerful you are in everything you do. Push yourself to the front of the line. Advance yourself within the class. Take the first seat. Get on the front of the bus. Do it all and welcome [yourself] to obscurity and uselessness.”

Through self-promotion and selfish ambition, a minister may promote himself in such a manner that he becomes very popular and surrounds himself with many people, Begg said. But popularity is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessing, he said.

Preaching from 2 Corinthians 12, Begg spotlighted the apostle Paul as a man who was well acquainted with both his limitations in ministry and propensity for self-love.

“The danger of spiritual pride is a real one, and spiritual pride is the ugliest one of all, because when I am guilty of spiritual pride, it says that I have lost sight of the cross,” Begg said.

In addition to boasting about self, many in ministry boast about their experiences. In the Corinthians passage, Paul upbraided those who would brag about their spiritual encounters and the apostle honed in on his own weakness and dependence upon God as ministerial strengths, Begg said.

“Of all of the contexts in which boasting is inappropriate, surely this one heads the list. [It is inappropriate] to boast about experiences [with] God, to boast about the fact that God — who is sufficient in and of himself, who needs nothing and no one in his self-existence — dares to come and introduce himself in a moment in time to some lowly, weary pilgrims, and picks them up and hugs them and assures them of his love.

In another sermon in the Mullins Lectures, Begg decried the state of the evangelical church in America. Evangelicalism has grown weak due to a defection from biblical teaching and a certainty of biblical doctrine, he said. Begg said the lack of solid teaching among young persons in churches is a particularly troubling trend.

“Go amongst the average young people’s group in a local church and you will discover that they are dreadfully untaught,” he said. “They are tremendously effective in all kinds of methodologies and practices. They are adept at basketball and a number of other ways of reaching into the community. But when it comes to them giving any kind of straightforward statement as to why they are not actually a part of [the Church of] Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, they couldn’t do it at all.

The average young person couldn’t explain the doctrine of the Trinity if “it jumped up and bit them,” Begg said. “The whole idea of the humanity and deity of Jesus Christ is something that has largely just passed them by.”

The remedy for the church’s growing sickness, Begg said, remains the same as it has throughout the history of Christianity: preaching the Word of God. Remaining faithful to the teaching and preaching of God’s Word will change people in a way in which pragmatic methodologies and programs will not, he said.

“The answer is still the same: Preach the Word,” he said. “Some people say this is a recipe for failure and for disappointment. They say: ‘Who actually believes that this can actually make a difference in our day? Don’t you realize that there are all kinds of methodologies and mechanisms that are necessary and need to be put in place? You surely can’t believe that just by the preaching of the Bible there is going to be this transformation that the Bible speaks of.’ But that, of course, is the challenge and it is surely clear that what Paul was referencing when he says, ‘Preach the Word,’ was something very different from much of our preaching today.”
This sermon can be heard in its entirety at http://www.sbts.edu/news/audio/speakers_chapel.html. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: ALISTAIR BEGG.

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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