11 February 2019

"What's Your Name?"

by Justin Peters

hen most of us think of John MacArthur we think of the precision of his preaching and the care with which he has handled God's word. We think of the courage he has displayed in interviews with Larry King and more recently Ben Shapiro as he has boldly declared unvarnished biblical truth and yet done so with love and compassion. All of these things are true.

There is another aspect of John, though, that has had just as much impact upon me as has his preaching. His humility.

Though I do not pretend to know him nearly as well as do many others, I have had the opportunity to see his humility come through in a couple of totally unscripted moments. One such opportunity came on a Sunday morning in November of 2017. I was guest preaching at the Grace Life Pulpit, led by Phil Johnson and Mike Riccardi. John knew that I was there with my wife, Kathy, and invited us to sit on the front pew with him during the morning worship service.

Kathy and I were not there by ourselves, however. Also with us was one of Kathy's close friends, Franke Preston, whom God soundly saved out of lesbianism just a year or so before, and Franke's then 19 year old niece, April. After Grace Life Pulpit the four of us walked to the sanctuary and sat down on the front pew. Kathy sat to my left followed by Franke and then April.

A few minutes after taking our seats John walks into the sanctuary from our left so the first person to whom he comes is April. He extends his hand to shake hers and said, "Hello, what is your name?" She responds, "April. What's your name?" Without missing a beat and without the slightest hint of surprise he responds, "Hi April, I'm John. It's so good to have you here with us this morning."

You see, April is lost. She does not know Christ. She had never heard of Grace Community Church and had no idea who John MacArthur even was. Imagine this scene for a moment and put yourself in John MacArthur's shoes. You walk into the sanctuary of Grace Community Church on Sunday morning for worship, greet someone on the front pew sitting there by invitation, she looks you in the eye and asks, "What's your name?" I'd be willing to bet that it is not often John MacArthur is asked that question—much less on a Sunday morning by someone sitting in the front pew of Grace Community Church. It had to have been at least somewhat surprising to him that this young lady did not know his name, but if it was, you would have never known it by observing this brief but revealing interaction between a seasoned pastor and a young lady who does not know Christ. He was so kind and gracious with her. It was an impromptu reveal into John MacArthur's heart that I will never forget.

Now, lest you think I am giving him undue accolades, I understand theologically that none of us as believers does anything with 100% pure motives. We live in a fallen world with fallen bodies, fallen wills, and fallen motives. Yes, we are new creatures in Christ; the old things have passed away and new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our hearts of stone have been graciously and sovereignly replaced with hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). But within every believer resides rebel outposts of sin that not even the most godly among us can completely put to death this side of glorification (Romans 7). John MacArthur is not an exception to this; a reality, I have no doubt, he would be the first to confirm.

But if anyone had reason to be prideful it would be John. He has preached through the entire New Testament verse by verse, has written dozens of books including a complete commentary set and systematic theology. He has likely done more to champion expository preaching, sound doctrine and equip pastors and churches than anyone in the modern era. He has now had a full half century of faithful pastoral ministry unblemished by scandal. There are very few men of whom this can be said. There can be no doubt that he has had to put to death the temptation to be prideful. But, at least from what I have observed, John does it as well as anyone.

The Apostle Paul was granted the magnanimous privilege of being caught up into the third heaven. Paul writes, "Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself" (2 Corinthians 12:7). Though Paul does not specify exactly what this "thorn" was (The Greek word σκόλοψ—skolops—is better rendered as "stake." This was no minor annoyance.), he does say that it was given to engender in him humility. It seems most likely that the skolops was a false apostle in the Corinthian church who opposed Paul and tried to turn others in the church against him.

John MacArthur has certainly had his detractors and to this day has been unfairly maligned and slandered. He has had more than his share of skolops. But I have never seen him return evil for evil. I have never seen him disparage those who disparage him. As the skolops developed in the Apostle Paul genuine humility, its modern-day equivalents seem to have done the same with John MacArthur.

I pray that one day April will come to be known by God (1 Corinthians 8:3). If so, she will almost certainly eventually come to know who John MacArthur is and will remember that Sunday morning he beautifully displayed to her true Christian humility.

I have learned much from John MacArthur's 50 years of faithful ministry. I have learned much about how to study and preach God's word. As thankful as I am for these things, I am equally thankful for the model of genuine humility he has been to me and countless others.

God gives true humility to His slaves, not to glorify them but to glorify Himself. The humility I have seen in John leaves me in awe of God for I know that this is the good fruit borne from a lifetime of study and application of the scriptures.

"God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:7). I am thankful for the tremendous grace God has given to John MacArthur.



Thanga Kumar said...

No wonder why God used him so mightily - It's the humble that God exalts.

Sharon said...

I can echo what you said, having worked on the GCC staff for almost 40 years, now. God has blessed John mightily, and I thank the Lord for this pastor at whose church I, as an unbeliever in 1971, learned about Jesus Christ, repented, believed, and sat under his ministry (and the ministry of his father, Dr. Jack MacArthur) for almost his entire tenure at Grace Church. In my opinion, there is no greater expository preacher on earth than John MacArthur. Soli Deo Gloria!

The Masters Image said...

I have never had the pleasure of meeting John MacArthur, but I know others who have and they express the exact same sentiment. I know one thing for sure: his ministry has blessed me beyond measure. I feel like he is a member of my family, and he is, because he and I belong to the family of God.

Unknown said...

Well said, brother Justin! So glad to be a fellow believer and share the same doctrine, and also love for John and aslo for the lost.

jen said...

This is a sweet glimpse into the life of a man many of us far away never get to see. We see and hear the preaching,but it's good to hear about his kindness and humility. Thanks for sharing this, Justin.

Unknown said...

To add a little to the story. I just happened to be in the restroom when Kathy,Justin and April got seated so I missed meeting John..when I got back to Reno a few days later my family members were giving me a hard time. A few of the comments were as follows, did you even get to shake his hand? Did he even say hi to you? Lol Me: No! I didn't get to meet him. Lol but it's ok rather I meet him at the 2019 confrence or in heaven, either way I will because we're going to the same place when we die:)

Tom Patton said...

What you observed that morning on the front row is something I’ve been blessed to see countless times before… John MacArthur is the kindest man you would ever want to meet… And the way he treated April is the same way that he has treated countless others before… A servant of the Word indeed! Thank you Justin for sharing this very insightful moment into the heart of a great yet gracious man of God!

Hohn C said...

Great post, Justin!! You've expressed well the humility and kindness that so many of us have seen.