Is Man One, Two, or Three?

By | January 26, 2023

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:23 ESV).

Paul prays in 1 Thess 5:23 that God would “sanctify” his readers “completely,” including their “whole spirit and soul and body.” Does this verse indicate that man consists of three separate components—spirit, soul, and body?1 And if so, what is the spirit in distinction from the soul?

Paul uses these three terms to stress the wholeness of sanctification, one that reaches every part of man. Paul prays, first, that God would sanctify all of them “completely” and, second, that the “whole” of each part (spirit, soul, and body) would “be kept blameless.” Even Paul’s word order brings this wholeness out. Translated somewhat literally, Paul writes, “Now may the God of peace sanctify you wholly, and the whole of your spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Wholeness is his point, not whether or not the spirit is distinct from the soul. If nothing else, we at least see here that man is one, a unity of body, soul, and spirit.2

We could approach Heb 4:12 similarly. The author’s intent is not to teach us that soul and spirit can indeed be divided from one another but that the Word acts to judge and expose whether or not the readers were truly committed to God, searching their inmost parts.

The poetic parallelism in the words of Mary brings out a similar point. Her soul magnified the Lord, just as her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior (Luke 1:46–47). It is not that the immaterial part of her person had multiple entities engaging in similar activities. Her one being glorified God for His favor.3

It is more difficult to explain how Paul speaks of our earthly and glorified bodies in 1 Cor 15:44. Our present, earthly bodies are “natural” or “soulish,” but our future, heavenly bodies are “spiritual.” By using the terms “natural” and “spiritual,” Paul distinguishes the earthly body from the heavenly body, not the soul from the spirit. By calling our earthly bodies “natural,” Paul emphasizes that they are perishable and mortal (1 Cor 15:53). Likewise, by calling our heavenly bodies “spiritual,” Paul emphasizes that they are imperishable and immortal (1 Cor 15:53).

In another sense, the Bible speaks of man as two, a unity of the material (body) and immaterial (spirit/soul). At creation, God created man’s body and breathed life into him, making him a living soul (Gen 2:7). At death, man’s spirit and soul leave the body (Gen 35:18; Ps 31:5), and the dead, separated from their bodies, may be called either souls or spirits (Hebs 12:23; Rev 6:9). After death, man continues in some sort of embodied state (e.g., 1 Sam 28:14; Matt 17:3) until he is reunited with his earthly body and glorified at the resurrection (Phil 3:20–21; 2 Cor 5:1-5). However we understand the soul in distinction from the spirit (if it is possible or necessary to do so), they together make up the immaterial part of man who God intends to be a unity of material and immaterial forever.4

That man is three is hard to say. As we have seen, Scripture does not neatly separate the spirit from the soul in describing the inner workings of a person, what occurs at death, or how to identify an individual. As seen above, in keeping with the greater tradition of the church, it is easier to describe man as being a unity of two (material and immaterial, body and spirit/soul) rather than three (body, spirit, and soul).

Whether we divide the unseen part of man or not, disagreement on this matter should not divide Christians from one another as they maintain the unity of the Spirit in the body of Christ.

  1. For a recent representative of this view, see Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity: The Doctrines of Man, Sin, Christ, and the Holy Spirit (Allen Park, MI: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009), 11–23. []
  2. Most use the terminology of monist, dichotomist, or trichotomist to indicate whether man’s nature should be understood as being one or having two or three components. For an overview of each position, see Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 18–24. []
  3. Charles Hodges, Systematic Theology (New York: Charles Scribner, 1872), 2:50. []
  4. For two other helpful sources (both upholding the dichotomist view), see a summary of historical views in Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1938), 191–92, and a discussion of the resurrection body that correlates several passages above in W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), 869–73. []

Job: An Example of Moral Integrity (Job 31:1–12)

By | January 4, 2023

“The Book of Job” by Sir John Gilbert (1817-1897)

“The best of men are conscious above all others that they are men at the best.”1

This quote by Charles Spurgeon reflected upon Psalm 51:1, David’s cry for mercy after his sin with Bathsheba (cf. 2 Sam 11).

Job was a godly man who avoided this kind of sin. He was the godliest man of his time (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3; cf. Ezek 14:14, 20). He was conscious of what Spurgeon implied—even the godliest of men can fall into sexual sin and need to take heed to themselves (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Tim 4:16). Job tells us how he lived a life of moral integrity in Job 31:1–12. We can learn from his example.

A Bit of Context

Job suffered greatly (Job 1–2), and his friends repeatedly suggested sin as the cause for his woes (Job 3–37). God contrasted their wrong explanation with no explanation at all (Job 38–41). Even in suffering, Job needed only to trust the wisdom of his sovereign God, patiently and without question. Job did, and he saw God’s blessing, compassion, and mercy (Job 42; cf. Jas 5:11).

In his last reply to his friends (Job 26–31; cf. 31:40b), Job defended his moral integrity. We will consider just Job 31:1–12 in order to focus on sexual purity, dividing the passage into three sections.

First, do not lust (Job 31:1–4).

Job had made a covenant with his eyes not to look upon what would provoke his lusts (Job 31:1; in this case, “a virgin”—an unmarried, younger woman). A life of unrighteous lust would forfeit his portion from God who would give him calamity and disaster instead (Job 31:2–3). God sees our every way and numbers our every step (Job 31:4). He will judge our evil and our good, whether seen by men or only Him (Ps 139:3; Prov 5:21; 15:3; 1 Tim 5:24).

Job lived as Isaiah would later describe: “He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly… shuts his eyes from looking on evil” (Isa 33:15). He knew the truth of what Christ would say: “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). He is an example of Paul’s command for us today: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom 13:14). 

Second, do not lie in order to act upon your lust (Job 31:5–8).

These verses refer to falsehood and deceit in general, sins stemming from an inordinate desire in the heart to take wrongfully from another what can be seen with the eyes (Job 31:5, 7; cf. Prov 27:20b; 1 John 2:16). Job repeats the notion that God knew his integrity and would judge him for this matter as well (Job 31:6, 8).

Applying Job 31:5–8 to sexual sin, we must remember that what the eyes can see may lead to sinful desire in the heart. Then, in order to act upon this desire, we could lie and deceive to feed our sinful flesh. A life of lust and lies can only lead to spiritual ruin. It seems Job knew the process that James would articulate in time—unchecked temptation gives way to sinful desire, sinful desire gives way to sin, sin gives way to habitual sin, and the end thereof is death (Jas 1:14–15). Do not lust, and do not lie in order to carry out your lustful desires. Be honest and righteous instead.

Third, do not commit adultery (Job 31:9–12).

As in the previous verses, Job again pictures how a lustful heart can lead to sinful action. He supposes himself seduced and stealthily waiting at his neighbor’s door in order to sneak in and sleep with his neighbor’s wife (Job 31:9). Perhaps the woman waits for her husband to leave as well, just as the adulteress in Proverbs 7 (cf. Prov 7:12, 19–20), but Job does not say.

Whatever the case, Job feared that God would judge such adultery in multiple ways. His wife could become a slave to do other men’s work and fulfill their immoral desires (Job 31:10; cf. Exod 11:5; Isa 47:2–3). Judges would punish him for his crime (Job 31:11). The consequences would swallow his wealth and haunt him to the grave and beyond (Job 31:12; cf. Prov 6:20–35; Rev 21:8). Job knew neither lust nor adultery but was an example of moral integrity. Like him, we must flee all lust and pursue righteousness from a pure heart (2 Tim 2:22). Lay aside this sin, look to Christ, and let your joy be in Him and heaven above (Heb 12:1–2).


In every section of Job 31:1–12, Job appealed to his righteous actions and the all-seeing eyes of God. He did nothing wrong in this area of his life, God knew it, and he was an example of moral integrity. If Job was the most righteous man on earth in his time, how much more should we take care to live lives of moral integrity?

Don’t give way to lust. Don’t deceive to carry out your sin. Don’t give in to adultery. Put on Christ, and live a life that looks like Him.

  1. Charles Spurgeon. Morning and Evening (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), “August 29.” []

Three Ministries of Pastors and the Obligations of the Church

By | December 28, 2022

In 1 Thessalonians 5:12–13, Paul identifies pastors not with a title but according to three of their primary functions.

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. (ESV)

Pastors work among God’s people.

First, they “labor among you.” The verb “labor” can refer to fishing, walking, farming, tent-making, or any type of honest work with one’s hands (Luke 5:5; John 4:6, 38; Acts 20:35; 1 Cor 4:12; 2 Tim 2:6; Eph 4:28; 1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thess 3:8). Paul uses it elsewhere to describe the ministry of Christians (Rom 16:6, 12; 1 Cor 16:16). Functioning much as a pastor, he uses it of himself as well (Gal 4:11; Phil 2:16; Col 1:29; 1 Tim 4:10). This spiritual, pastoral labor involves the people of the church (“among you”), as well as studying, preaching, and teaching (cf. 1 Tim 5:17).

Pastors lead God’s people in the Lord.

Second, they “are over you in the Lord.” Paul uses the verb “are over” in other passages to refer to those who “lead” (Rom 12:8) and “rule” the church (1 Tim 5:17). Paul requires pastors to “manage” their households well, indicating how they will care for the church of God (1 Tim 3:4–5). This leadership, rule, and management extend only “in the Lord.” Authority is not inherent to a pastor but comes from God as granted by His people and guided by His Word.

Pastors admonish God’s people.

Third, they “admonish you.” Any Christian can admonish another (Rom 15:14; Col 3:16; 1 Thess 5:14; 2 Thess 3:15), and, like Paul who gave pastoral admonition (cf. 1 Cor 4:14; Col 1:28), these pastors admonished the church as well.

From the above, we could make three related statements about a church and its obligations to its pastors.

You are your pastor’s work.

Your pastor works “among you.” Whether he preaches to you from the pulpit or visits you in your home, his work is specifically you. He will account for your soul, and he labors to help you to heaven.

You must follow your pastor in the Lord.

Your pastor does not lead you in minor matters. He leads you “in the Lord.” He gives instruction from the Word and teaches what God has said. As your pastor applies the Word to the church as a whole, it should gladly follow him. The Chief Shepherd guides His sheep through his under-shepherd, and the Lord leads you through him.

You will be admonished.

Your pastor will “admonish you” to provoke progress and Christian growth. Until you see the face of Jesus, sin lies close at hand. Sometimes you will let it rear its ugly head. When it does, your pastor may give you a rebuke. Perhaps he will address the sin of many in a way for all to hear.

May we as pastors do our best in the ministry that God has given, and may we as the church receive this ministry well.

Thoughts from Christmas: The Coming Righteous King

By | December 21, 2022

“To us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). This promise was fulfilled when Mary gave birth to Jesus, fully God and fully man. He came and conquered sin and death, and we look for Him to come again. When He does, He will fulfill the rest of Isaiah’s promise: “The government shall be upon his shoulder… [He will] uphold [His kingdom] with justice and righteous from this time forth and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:6–7). Lest we wonder if Christ will really come again to do just this, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:7).

Jeremiah promised this coming King and kingdom as well: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 23:5–6).

Both of these passages speak of Christ’s coming rule as righteous. In fact, Jeremiah prophesies that our coming King is “a righteous Branch,” “He… shall execute… righteousness,” and His name is “The Lord is our righteousness.” Righteousness is His description, action, and name. Righteousness pervades, and so much so that Jeremiah repeats these verses in Jeremiah 33:15–16.

Though the righteousness of Jesus will be on display throughout His kingdom, we have seen His righteousness already. Speaking of Adam’s sin and the perfect obedience of Christ, Paul compares the two and their results: “As one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Romans 5:18). Jesus lived a perfectly righteous live. In doing so, He fulfilled the Law of Moses for us: “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). This righteousness is His and not our own and given to us through faith—we hope to “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” (Philippians 3:9). “For our sake He [the Father] made Him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Son of God became human for a purpose—to provide forgiveness from sins by dying on the cross and to provide a righteousness from His perfect life that we as sinners could never merit for ourselves. This righteousness is ours by faith and ours forevermore. May we trust in Him for that righteousness now, and may God give us hope to see His righteous Son one day when righteousness reigns throughout the world.

Discouragement and Encouragement in Ministry – A Personal Testimony

By | December 6, 2022

My first year as a lead pastor was a rough year. I was told by many that the church would grow, and people left instead. (The Lord gave many to our church in the next two years, thankfully.) We felt the strain on finances, and, with the small crew we had for our large property, life was busy and often tiring (especially while trying to write a dissertation).

We’ve always maintained our average attendance over the years in spite of people moving, marrying, and going on to glory, which is saying something for a small church in Rockford, Illinois. God has done abundantly more than we could think to ask.

Almost a decade into my ministry now, I was recently digging through my files and found what you’ll read below. I apparently read this to our congregation before my first year was over. I’m glad they didn’t throw me out for being so transparent! If anything, I suppose everyone already knew the things I said, and then I happened to say them. So, thank you First Baptist Church for your patience and mercy with a young and growing pastor. (And the thanks continues!)

The funny thing is, though the kids are older and the nursery is not so much an issue (#9 below), the rest of these matters are somewhat timeless. I though it would be helpful to pass this testimony along. But just before you read it…

Pastors, I haven’t arrived. It was good to preach this to myself all over again. I’m not speaking from a higher plane of sanctification. I was encouraged to read this again, and I hope you find it encouraging as well.

Church members, these things are the kinds of discouragements your pastor faces from time to time. Perhaps this is a little window into their sometimes-discouraged souls so that you can pray for them and encourage them to persevere, especially from the truths at the end.

Ten Things That Discourage Me Most as Your Pastor
and How God’s Word Encourages Me to Be Faithful
May 9, 2014

In all I say below, I believe I say these things as led by the Spirit “of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7). In no apparent order, here are ten things that discourage me most as your pastor:

  1. When my own vices such as ambition, anger, or apathy are the cause of problems in our church.
  2. When people have criticisms about me and refuse to talk to me personally about the matter but feel free to discuss the matter with anyone and everyone else.
  3. When people intentionally schedule something else of little to no eternal value in the place of our times of worship, Bible fellowship, prayer, or occasional church activities.
  4. When people intentionally choose without good reason to be absent for our times worship, Bible fellowship, and pray.
  5. When people are upset that their preference is not met in some way, and I know that there are others whose preference is for the just the opposite, which leaves no one happy in the end.
  6. When laziness or careless planning leads people to abandon the regular ministries they said they would do and then further fail to show consideration to others by notifying them
    ahead of time that they will have step in to fill the void.
  7. Having responsibilities that keep me from spending time with the people in my church, particularly my Ph. D. program (now complete!) and our annual pastors’ conference.
  8. When little things in our church are blown out of proportion simply because everyone knows about them because word travels quickly in a small church.
  9. When my wife has to work in the nursery so much and hardly gets to sing or hear any preaching or teaching at all.
  10. When my discouragement provokes my wife to be discouraged, something which discourages me even further.

In all of these matters, as a pastor, I must be “the one who leads, with zeal” (Rom 12:8). I am commanded to “shepherd the flock of God” that is among me “not under compulsion, but willingly” (1 Pet 5:2). Though there are occasions when people forsake God’s Word and pastoral counsel and provoke me to serve “with groaning” which is “of no advantage to you” (Heb 13:17), there are several truths that rekindle my zeal and will to carry on:

  1. The church will always have conflict and trial, and my suffering through as much is inevitable because, just like any other Christian, I, too, must have my faith refined like gold so that it “may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:7; cf. 2 Tim 1:8).
  2. God saved me and called me according to His own purpose and grace in order to carry out a holy calling that He gave me in Christ Jesus before the ages began (cf. 2 Tim 1:9–10).
  3. This purpose is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ who gives life and immortality to those who believe (cf. 2 Tim 1:11–12).
  4. The Spirit indwells and enables me to faithfully and lovingly guard the good deposit of the gospel and God’s Word that has been entrusted to me (cf. 2 Tim 1:13–14).

Thoughts on Seeking the Best Hymnody for Our Church

By | December 1, 2022

If I could say something to my church about hymnody in 1,000 words or less, the following would be my thoughts. This rough guide is just a few paragraphs, each of which could be expanded into a book and indeed have by others who articulate these matters better than me. I list various kinds of hymnody that we do not want and then what (I hope) we do—what is biblical and best. 

We do not want a hymnody based on Praise & Worship.

As a formal system of thought, Praise & Worship believes that, as the cloud descended on the temple in the Old Testament, so also we can praise God until He “comes down” to inhabit the assembly’s praises today (cf. Hebrews 11:15 with Psalm 22:3b), a descent manifested through tongues, prophecy, and other ecstatic phenomena. This theology misunderstands God’s presence in worship and stems from continuationism. Ironically, though this tradition began with a heavy use of Scripture (especially the OT), it melded with contemporary worship in time, a pragmatic philosophy of worship.

We do not want a hymnody based on Contemporary Christian Music.

Pragmatic from the outset, intentionally or not, Contemporary Christian Music was “experimental,” using novelty for the sake of winning a crowd. Novelty meant the church using the world’s popular music to bring the world into the church, shifting the purpose of the assembly from edification to evangelism. Ironically, though this movement began with an emphasis on evangelizing the world, its pragmatism and church-marketing methods led to targeting certain groups. Boundaries were little to none. Its theology misused Paul’s personal method of evangelism as the mission of the church, becoming all things to all men (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:22).

We do not want a hymnody based on Gospel Music.

“Gospel music” as a category comes from musicians who wrote music intended for revivals and not for churches. These musicians also tested their music in revivals to see which ones would make for good sales in hymnals over time. This music and its hymnals crept into the churches nonetheless, as supplements or supplanting traditional hymnals altogether. Good hymnody gave way to the easy-to-sing, nondenominational, sometimes sentimental, popular camp-meeting choruses of the day. Ironically, because of gospel music’s generally conservative heritage, many churches still sing these songs, not realizing that these “traditional hymns” are actually popular hymns meant for revivals back in the day.

We do want a hymnody using the best hymns, old or new.

The best hymns let the word of Christ dwell richly among us, teach and admonish us about Him, and express thanks to God from our hearts (Colossians 3:16). The Spirit guides our melodies as we are sung to the Lord (Ephesians 5:18–19). We have 2,000 years of church history, and especially since the Reformation, we have many good hymns to sing. Our own hymnal (Hymns of Grace and Glory) has many psalms and good hymns by Calvin, Luther, Watts, Wesley, Spurgeon, and many others. We have a self-published hymnal supplement with more psalms and even hymns by pastors and members of our church.

Some hymns can rise beyond questionable origins to become timeless staples for us today. New hymns can encourage us for a season but may not stand the test of time. Perhaps chapels, colleges, and camps can have simpler songs as long as churches do not replace their liturgy with lighter things. “For everything there is a season” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). When the local assembly gathers to let the word of Christ dwell richly in song, however, we must sing psalms and the best from Christian hymnody.

So how can we maintain a good hymnody for our church?

Here are some basic suggestions to scratch the surface of answering this question.

Have an infinitely high view of God.

We worship Him, His way, according to His Word. Man’s innovation never glorifies God. We glorify Him only as He allows. As we hold Him and His Word as our standard, our worship will be in keeping with Him. 

Continue our practice of expository preaching.

By preaching and knowing the word of Christ as God has given it, and by having this standard for our pulpit, we will expect biblical content in our hymns and have a high standard for the times in our services when we sing as well.

Have pastors who oversee what is sung.

As pastors, we need to be choosing and encouraging the best hymns, whether for the congregation, a group, or a soloist. Pastors steward the whole household of God, hymns included. We cannot overlook what God means us to oversee.

Love one another.

Realize that in churches great or small, there are people who are more or less conservative, or perhaps have not given hymnody any serious thought at all. I believe that the rule of thumb is to be more conservative when gathered as a congregation so as not to violate anyone’s conscience (cf. Romans 14:1–15:7). Each church has its own heritage and tradition, and the matter of worship of song must be handled with patience and care by pastors and everyone else.

Encourage excellent music.

There is no good substitute for excellence in leadership and accompaniment in music, whatever the instruments may be. A pastor or a godly man should lead (cf. 1 Timothy 2:8, 11–12), and instruments should be played in such a way so as to aid and not distract from singing or the text. This does not mean perfection but the best that we can give.

May God help us to sing our praises to Him and His Son by the Spirit to glorify Him.

Wholehearted Thanks to the Lord

By | November 23, 2022

David wrote Psalm 138 to thank the Lord for His help to him as Israel’s king. The following is a section-by-section summary of David’s thoughts, applied to us today. We learn from him that we must…

First, give thanks to the Lord (Psalm 138:1–3).

David begins by giving thanks to the Lord from his whole heart (Psalm 138:1). Similarly, he declared his praise to the Lord “before the gods” (Psalm 138:2). David’s meaning for “the gods” could have been the false gods of Israel’s enemies, a reference to angels in heaven, or human rulers on earth (cf. Psalm 82:6 with John 10:34–35). Perhaps the last option is best as David speaks of kings in Psalm 138:4–5. Whoever his audience was, they heard David give thanks to the Lord for His steadfast love and faithfulness, shown by giving strength to his soul in his day of need (Psalm 138:2–3).

Like David, we should be a thankful people, calling to the Lord for help as necessary and thanking Him when He gives it.

Second, look forward to when everyone gives thanks to the Lord (Psalm 138:4–5).

David was one king thanking the Lord. Then he promised all kings would give thanks to the Lord for His words and ways (Psalm 138:4). Together they would sing of His glory (Psalm 138:5). Perhaps they do so as they lead their nations to bring their glory into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:23–26).

In Testaments Old and New, the Bible promises a day of perfect praise. As we give thanks to the Lord right now, so also one day the whole world, kings and their nations, will praise the Lord in perfect harmony. What a day that will be!

Third, know that the Lord will bring us to that day (Psalm 138:6–8).

David’s trouble from his enemies humbled him before the Lord, and, though king, he made himself lowly to ask for the Lord’s help (Psalm 138:6–7). The Lord gave it and fulfilled His purpose in David’s life—not to forsake him but to preserve him as king over Israel (Psalm 138:8). This love and protection were the Lord’s steadfast love to David, something that lasts forever (Psalm 138:8). David would be one of all the kings who would praise the King of kings forever.

Sometimes we wonder if present difficulty will ever allow us to see that day. Sometimes difficulty clouds out that day in our minds altogether. However, when we are beset by trouble and the Lord’s enemies seek to take us down, we must humble ourselves before the Lord and ask Him for His help. As with David, He is fulfilling His purpose in each of us, working all things together for good (Romans 8:28; Philippians 1:6). He will never leave us nor forsake us. His steadfast love endures forever, helping us even now (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24; Jude 24–25). For this, we can give thanks.

Allegiance to Jesus Christ Alone

By | November 16, 2022

Human sin will worm its way into our Christian institutions until Jesus glorifies us all. Churches, conventions, fellowships, colleges, universities, seminaries, mission agencies, networks, associations—all of these institutions require people, and people sin from time to time. When they do, their sin brings reproach to Christ and the institutions that bear his name. Some sins are so significant that they threaten to destroy these institutions altogether, something like what beset the Corinthian church in the days of Paul.

Paul dealt with sinful division in the church. In writing to the Corinthians, he introduced the matter with an imperative: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor 1:10). Factions of people were jockeying to follow one Christian leader over another (cf. 1 Cor 1:11–13), so Paul would more narrowly command, “Let no one boast in men” (1 Cor 3:21).

This division brutalized the church with quarreling, jealousy, strife, and pride (1 Cor 1:11; 3:3; 4:6), corrosive elements that Paul feared would destroy the work of God (cf. 1 Cor 3:16–17). Godly people sent word to Paul to ask for help (1 Cor 1:11). The problem was so severe that Paul ended this section of his letter with a threat to come to Corinth wielding his shepherd’s staff, a contrast to coming “with love in a spirit of gentleness” (1 Cor 4:21). Paul deeply desired his spiritual children to follow Jesus Christ, not act as arrogant fools by pledging allegiance to one of his servants (cf. 1 Cor 4:14–20). They were not being “spiritual people” but “merely human,” void of the Spirit of God (1 Cor 3:1, 5). Instead of living according to the gospel and wisdom of God, they were living for the flesh and wisdom of men (cf. 1 Cor 1:26–3:5).

Interestingly, it was the people creating these factions and not the leaders. They were pledging allegiance to Paul, Apollos, Cephas, or (perhaps piously) Christ (1 Cor 1:12). Knowing the problem at hand, Paul addressed the matter at length (cf. 1 Cor 1:10–4:21). Apollos wanted no such following and even avoided Corinth for a time (cf. 1 Cor 16:12). Peter traveled through, and then he traveled on (cf. 1 Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5). Like Paul, these men knew that a following for themselves or anything else other than Christ was wood, hay, and straw meant for fire in the day of judgment. There is no commendation from Christ for men who follow men, and there is no reward from Christ for men who gather followings unto themselves (cf. 1 Cor 3:10–15). Only work built on the foundation of Christ lasts both now and forever. Reward comes to servants who preach Christ and not themselves.

So, wanting God’s commendation (cf. 1 Cor 4:5), Paul downplayed himself and other leaders, even calling each one a “what” instead of a “who” (1 Cor 3:5). Whatever success Paul and others had seen in Corinth, it was granted and governed by God (1 Cor 3:6–9). These leaders were not celebrity superstars but servants of Christ and stewards of truth (1 Cor 4:1). Paul did not care what they thought of him or anyone else as all would be judged by God alone (1 Cor 4:2–5). He simply cared that everyone looked like Christ, whether they heard the Word from him, Timothy, or anyone else among their “countless guides” (1 Cor 4:15–17). That alone would please God in the present and draw his delight in the day of judgment.

If we could learn something from Paul and his words to Corinth, friends, please don’t pledge your allegiance to one leader alone, however godly and effective he may be. Some leaders plant, some leaders water, and God will give the growth (1 Cor 3:6–9). God spreads his work among many and does not save it all just for one leader. Every true Christian leader simply wants you to see past himself and give glory to God alone.

Christian leaders, please don’t call for allegiance to yourselves. As you are faithful, respect and love may come (cf. 1 Thess 5:12–13), but as enjoyable as these affirmations may be, they are not ends unto themselves. Moreover, crowds can be fickle, and, as they did with Christ, they will cast you down as quickly as they propped you up. Build your work on Christ alone, and you will receive wages according to your labor (1 Cor 3:8). The best “well done, thou faithful servant” comes from Christ and Christ alone (cf. Matt 25:21, 23).

May God deliver his church from division, and may God help us all to pledge allegiance to Christ alone.

The Premillennial, Pretribulational Rapture of the Saints

By | November 11, 2022

The rapture is the event in which “the dead in Christ will rise first” and “then we who are alive, who are left” are “caught up together… in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). We can never know when exactly the rapture will take place, but Scripture at least indicates that it precedes a coming 1,000 years, as well as another seven.

We describe the rapture as premillennial because it takes place before the Millennium, the thousand-year rule of Christ on earth (Revelation 20:1–6). We describe the rapture as pretribulational because it takes place before the Tribulation, a seven-year period of divine wrath characterized by its name (cf. Matthew 24:21, 29; Mark 13:19, 24; Revelation 7:14). Explaining the rapture’s timing before the Tribulation requires a bit of explanation.

Multiple passages refer to a future seven years of tribulation whereby God pours out His wrath upon the world.

Daniel 9:24–27 spoke of seventy sets of seven years to come, sixty-nine of which would end when “an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing” (Daniel 9:26). The anointed Jesus Christ was cut off at the cross, and seven years are still to come.

Revelation 11:2–3 tells of 1,260 days to come, followed by 42 months. 1,260 days is 42 months of 30 days each, and 42 months is 3.5 years. So, 1,260 days followed by 42 months is seven years, Daniel’s seven years to come.

God’s initial judgments during this time affect the entire earth and its inhabitants (cf. Revelation 6:4, 15), and then God’s judgments increase in severity as time goes on. Daniel 9:27 prophesies that the Antichrist makes a covenant with Israel for the first half of these seven years but breaks it and persecutes Israel for the rest of this time. Daniel 7:25 and 12:7 speak of this persecution as well. Revelation 12:1–6 speaks of Satan’s role in the matter. Matthew 24:15 refers to the events at the midpoint in the Tribulation and records Jesus calling the rest of this time “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21). All seven years are tribulation, the second half of them greater tribulation than the first.

Thankfully, Jesus rescues us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9). This rescue is soon (Revelation 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20), and Jesus promises, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world” (Revelation 3:10). The means whereby Christ keeps us from this wrath is the rapture of the saints (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). We go up to heaven with Him (cf. John 14:2–3) and, seven years later, come down to rule with Him in His kingdom (Revelation 3:21; 19:11–16). May God hasten that day as we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

A Week to Entrust Doctrine to Faithful Men Who Can Teach

By | October 22, 2022

This past week, it was my honor to teach at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC. My class was “The Theology and Development of Leadership,” a class for four students working on their Doctor of Ministry degree. They included a former pastor on deputation to be a missionary in Peru, a Korean seminarian burdened to be a missionary to Japan, a pastor in a small city in Michigan, and a former camp director serving in a discipleship role at BJU. All of them, Lord willing, will indeed take what they received this week and use it in their ministries. They had to read about 1,500 pages leading up to our class, and they still have papers to write, which I will read and grade in time.

Getting us together was a technological feat. We had two large-screen TVs at the ends of my eight-person table. One connected to my computer to share my screen as necessary, and the other “Zoomed” two of our students in via video from Michigan and Indiana. The other two were in the room with me, and all three of us were “Zooming” back to them with a camera of our own.

Monday was a half-day of lecture, three full days the next, and Friday was only three hours. My body was spent at the end of each day, but thanks to an instant-cup coffee maker, I always had coffee ready at hand. My nights were typically spent on the phone with Holly and the kids, others as necessary, but mainly in readying my notes for the next day, using my classroom as an office. Thankfully, I had taught the class before, so most of my 104 pages of notes were already finished. Nonetheless, I needed to revise and review them to get them fresh in my head again. Reviewing my notes was as good for me as I hope it was in teaching them to the men.

One of my favorite aspects of this week is always the presentations by the men. They each read a biography of a Christian leader, summarized his life, and pointed out lessons for us to learn. The men presented excellent, balanced 20-minute looks at the lives of Captain Allen Gardiner (South America), D.L. Moody (USA), Watchman Nee (China), and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Germany). I enjoyed being their student instead of their teacher.

The travel on both ends of my week allowed some hours to prepare to preach for Sunday, and I read some things for fun as well. During the week, I enjoyed eating a couple of meals with my nieces (college sophomores) and other friends and seeing the campus of my alma mater. There seems to be a good spirit among the students on campus, undergraduate and above. The campus looks just as beautiful as ever. May the Lord continue to bless BJU for His glory until Christ comes again.