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“The world picks up its skirt and passes by. It leaves you alone, it does not want to associate with you, you have gone down, you belong to the refuse and the gutters, and the world is too respectable to have any interest in you. Here is One who is ready to receive you and to accept you. . . . ‘Just as you are, I am ready to receive you. In your rags, in your filth, in your vileness. Rest.’”
Here is Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great Welsh preacher and longtime pastor at Westminster Chapel in London, explaining what Acts 6 can teach us about the mission of the church and the pastor:
But, and in many ways the most interesting statement of all, I sometimes think in this connection, is one that is found in the sixth chapter of the book of the Acts of the Apostles where we are told that a great crisis arose in the life of the early Church. I know of nothing that speaks more directly upon the present state and condition of the Church, and what is her primary task, than this sixth chapter of the book of the Acts of the Apostles. The essential message is in the first two verses: ‘And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the Word of God, and serve tables.’
This is surely a most interesting and important statement, a crucial one. What was the Church to do? Here is a problem, here are these widows of the Grecians, and they are not only widows but they are in need and in need of food. It was a social problem, perhaps partly a political problem, but certainly a very acute and urgent social problem. Surely the business of the Christian Church, and the leaders particularly, is to deal with this crying need: Why go on preaching when people are starving and in need and are suffering? That was the great temptation that came to the Church immediately; but the Apostles under the leading and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the teaching they had already received, and the commission they had had from their Master, saw the danger and they said, ‘It is not reason that we should leave the Word of God, and serve tables’. This is wrong. We shall be failing in our commission if we do this. We are here to preach this Word, this is the first thing, ‘We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word.’
Now there the priorities are laid down once and for ever. This is the primary task of the Church, the primary task of the leaders of the Church, the people who are set in this position of authority; and we must not allow anything to deflect us from this, however good the cause, however great the need. This is surely the direct answer to much of the false thinking and reasoning concerning these matters at the present time. (Preaching and Preachers, 22-23)
It’s important to note that the Apostles didn’t ignore the physical need in the church (it’s also important to note these were needs in the church). So saying proclamation is primary does not mean everything else is rubbish. In fact, Acts 6 shows that attending to the physical needs of the church is positively necessary.
But this does not undermine the good Doctor’s good point: the primary task of the church is to minister the word, and nothing should supplant or turn us from this essential and indispensable mission.
In July, 1959 Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his wife Bethan were on vacation in Wales. They attended a little chapel for a Sunday morning prayer meeting and Lloyd-Jones asked them, “Would you like me to give a word this morning?” The people hesitated because it was his vacation and they didn’t want to presume on his energy. but his wife said, “Let him, preaching is his life” (see note 1). It was a true statement. In the preface to his powerful book, Preaching and Preachers, he said, “Preaching has been my life’s work … to me the work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called (see note 2).
Many called him the last of the Calvinistic Methodist preachers because he combined Calvin’s love for truth and sound reformed doctrine with the fire and passion of the eighteenth-century Methodist revival (see note 3). For thirty years he preached from the pulpit at Westminster Chapel in London. Usually that meant three different sermons each weekend, Friday evening, and Sunday morning and evening. At the end of his career he remarked, “I can say quite honestly that I would not cross the road to listen to myself preaching” (see note 4).
But that was not the way others felt. When J. I. Packer was a 22-year-old student he heard Lloyd-Jones preach each Sunday evening during the school year of 1948-1949. He said that he had “never heard such preaching.” It came to him “with the force of electric shock, bringing to at least one of his listeners more of a sense of God than any other man” he had known (see note 5).
The Urgent Need for Revival Today, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1959)
“Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. “And wherever he seizes him, he throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast him out, but they could not.” (Mark 9:17-18 NKJ)
I am calling your attention to these two verses, and to the second in particular in order that we may consider together the great subject of revival, and of the need, the urgent need, of a revival in the Church of God at the present time. For I am persuaded that this is a very urgent matter.
In a sense, of course all preaching should promote revival and it is only as we, as Christian people, understand the doctrines of the Christian faith that we can ever hope truly to see the need of revival, and therefore to pray for it. But it does seem to me that there are certain considerations which call for a special and an unusually direct and explicit dealing with this subject at the present time.
Ray Ortlund|10:23 am CT
“Revival, above everything else, is a glorification of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is the restoration of him to the center of the life of the Church. You find this warm devotion, personal devotion, to him.”
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival (Westchester, 1987), page 47.