A Brief Encouragement Before the Bleak Midwinter

By | November 30, 2023

The lyrics of the Christmas carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” lull us into the chill of a winter gone by:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our experience can sometimes be similar today—we feel the cold, harsh presence of winter, especially when trials and temptations come. In the bleakness of life and the temptation to overwhelmed by circumstances that seem cold and harsh, we must look to Christ and ask Him to minister to us today.

Of many passages that we could recall, remember Christ’s own temptation in Mark 1:12–13: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him” (cf. Matthew 4:1–11; Luke 4:1–12).

Jesus was alone with the Father above, and Satan and predators were His company below. He ate no food, and the weather was hot and harsh. Satan tempted Him sorely, but He prevailed and was strengthened by angels.

In this time, Jesus struggled with His own temptations and trials: “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). As a result, in His humanity, He can fully “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15), and, in His divinity, He strengthens us when we ask for help from above: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God… Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14, 16).

“In the Bleak Midwinter” ends with this line—“yet what I can I give him: give my heart.” As you daily give your all to Him and seek Him in whatever you might face, He will sympathize with you and strengthen you with mercy and grace. Follow His example. Ask for help from above, whatever this winter may have for you.

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Thanking God as a People; Thanking Him One by One

By | November 9, 2023

Thanksgiving comes every year, and giving thanks to God is a standard privilege of the Christian life. It is our obedience: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). It is also a way to glorify God—notice the parallelism in Psalm 86:12: “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.”

So how can we give thanks to God in a way that glorifies Him? Among many passages that could guide us, consider Psalm 65. After firing off four commands for the earth to praise the Lord (Psalm 65:1–4), the psalmist explains why the reader should “Come and see what God has done” (Psalm 66:5a). The Lord did awesome deeds to rescue Israel from Egypt (Psalm 66:5b–7). Then, the psalmist commands again, “Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of His praise be heard” (Psalm 66:8), the reason being that God led Israel through difficulty and yet delivered them “to a place of abundance” (Psalm 66:9–12).

The psalmist then personalizes this praise by speaking from his life. He planned to worship God for being delivered when “in trouble” (Psalm 66:13–15) and then invites his readers to know the story: “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul” (Psalm 66:16). His righteous life yielded an answer from God for deliverance (Psalm 66:17–19), and he expected them to join his final note of praise: “Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!” (Psalm 66:20).

Collectively (cf. Psalm 66:5), what has the Lord done for us as a church this past year? What has He performed among us as an assembly that might provoke the watching world to praise? What experiences have we shared as a whole for which we can give our united thanks to Him?

Individually (cf. Psalm 66:16), what has the Lord done for you this past year? What has He done in your life that you would want His people to come and hear? How has He answered your prayers? How has He provided for you? How has He grown you in Christ? How has He shown His steadfast love to you in specific ways that, if shared, would provoke the rest of us to praise?

During this Thanksgiving season, as you have time, review what God has done this year. Think of the many ways in which God has been good to His people. Review His kindnesses to our church. Recall the kindnesses that He has shown specifically to you, and then share these blessings with others so that they can bless God with you. If nothing else, give thanks to the Father for salvation through His Son made possible by the work of the Spirit in you.

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The Humble Hearer and the Proud Prattler

By | November 8, 2023

In James 1:19, James commands his beloved brothers to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Quickness to hear before speaking too soon is a biblical principle (Prov 18:13) and a wise way to go about conversations. Soft answers turn away anger (Prov 15:1), and James tells us that man’s anger does not produce God’s righteousness (James 1:20).

Therefore, what does James tell believers to do? If man’s anger—tied to a slowness to hear and quickness to speak—doesn’t produce the righteousness of God, then it must be put away. Notice the words that James uses in this command: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness” (James 1:21). Filthiness. Rampant wickedness. These are strong words God uses to describe one who is not quick to hear, but rather quick to speak and quick to anger.

Putting off is one side of the command. The other side is what we are to receive and how we are to receive it—“receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). This hearing of God’s Word with humility seems to be James’ big idea when he tells believers to be “quick to hear.”

If quickness to hear God’s Word is a mark of humility, then its opposite—quickness to speak and anger—reveals our pride (not to mention the filthiness and rampant wickedness of verse 21).

Beyond simply hearing the Word, an honest and humble believer will also do what he hears as a means of persevering in his faith.

But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (James 1:25).

In contrast to those who are blessed for obeying God’s Word, James describes people who consider themselves hearers of the Word and religious people. They deceive themselves because they, in fact, have a worthless religion. First, they think they are hearers, but they don’t act upon what they have heard and seen in the mirror of God’s Word. They simply look and walk away, either not caring enough or too proud to see a problem. They do not persevere and will not be blessed.

Second, they showcase their worthless religion through a failure to live basic, godly lives. The example James gives ties back to his original command in verse 19 for believers to be quick to hear and slow to speak/anger. One who is not a humble hearer but has an unbridled tongue has a worthless religion.

The contrast between these two should sober us. The one who is quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger is described in terms of meekness, salvation, perseverance, a doer, blessed, and pure/undefiled religion.

The one who is slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger is described in terms of unrighteousness, filthiness, rampant wickedness, forgetfulness, a deceiver of his own heart, and worthless religion.

We need to be humble hearers who do what we hear and see in God’s Word. We need to put off proud prattling, in which we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are religious people who don’t need to respond to God’s Word. May God help us to persevere.


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Some Thoughts on Ten Years

By | November 6, 2023

This post is a bit more personal than most of what I offer. My church kindly recognized that I had hit the ten-year mark for the privilege of being our pastor, and what follows below is a short “thank you” that I inserted in our church bulletin. My thanks extends to the greater body of Christ as well. I wouldn’t be a pastor at my current church were it not for all the Christians, churches, pastors, ministries, and more that the Lord has used to make me who I am today. Please consider this note of gratitude to my church as a public thanks to all who have been a means of God’s grace to me.

Dear First Baptist Church,

Last Sunday, you as a church graciously honored me for ten years of service. You also gave me a generous gift. Thank you for your kindness.

Your gift prodded me to search “ten years” in the Bible, yielding some interesting results. After ten years in Canaan, Sarai gave Hagar as a wife to Abram (Genesis 16:3). After ten years in Moab, Orpah and Ruth lost their husbands (Ruth 1:4). Ten years is how long Elon judged, Menahem reigned, and Asa enjoyed rest in Israel (Judges 12:11; 2 Kings 15:17; 2 Chron 14:1; cf. 16:13). That’s every explicit reference to “ten years” that I could find.

A search for “ten,” “tens,” “tenth,” or “tenths” brought so many results that I can only mention a few. God gave Egypt ten plagues (Exodus 7–12) and then gave Israel ten commandments (Exodus 34:28; cf. 20:1–17). Several features in the tabernacle and temple were counted or measured in tens (Exodus 26:1, 16; 36:8, 21; 38:12; 1 Kings 6:3, 23, 24, 25, 26; 7:10, 23, 24, 27, 37, 38, 43). Tithes were in tenths (Genesis 14:20; 28:22; Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 5:11; 6:20; 14:21), and every tenth animal was holy to the Lord (Leviticus 27:32).

Jesus healed ten lepers (Luke 17:12) and told parables with tens—virgins, talents, silver coins, servants, minas, cities (Matt 25:1, 28; Luke 15:8, 17:12; 19:13, 18). John saw that the church in Smyrna would suffer ten days, a tenth of Jerusalem would fall, and the dragon and the beast would have ten horns, representing ten kings (Revelation 2:10; 11:13; 13:1; 17:12).

Oh, and, God made us with ten fingers and ten toes. Thinking theologically, that was apparently a fitting number of fingers and toes for our Lord Jesus Christ.

One author states, “‘Ten’ can be used as a round number or as hyperbole” or something used in “a stock phrase.”* For example, Daniel was said to be ten times better than the Babylonian officials (Daniel 1:20). “‘Ten’ can also be used as a number of completion.”* Recalling Daniel again, ten days were sufficient to test his diet and ongoing health (Daniel 1:12).

Due to moves, college, and seminary, I have never been at another church for ten years. So, personally and pastorally, ten years is pretty special. If the study above teaches me something, I suppose there’s a sense of completeness in that I’m no longer the rookie who came here in 2013, and I can now round my time off in a stock phrase and say things like, “Yeah, I’ve been the pastor here for ten years.” I’ll probably still say that in year eleven.

I heard once that only two out of ten pastors are still pastors after ten years, and maybe one of them will pastor for life. If God brought me through ten years, He can bring me through every year hereafter and into His heavenly kingdom.

Thank you again for last Sunday. To God be all the glory.

~Pastor Huffstutler

* William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), p. 716.

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Prayers for Your Pastor/Husband

By | November 1, 2023

I pray for my husband but not nearly as much as I should. I pray generically for him to have grace and strength in life, and I pray for some certain situations or struggles that I know of. But it never seems quite adequate.

Sometimes I just don’t know how to pray for my husband as I should. While it is a comfort that, when “we do not know what to pray for as we ought. . . the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26), I don’t want to always leave it at these wordless prayers!

So, I decided long ago to read 2 Timothy and turn Paul’s encouragement and exhortations into prayers for my husband. This passage is especially apt for him, because he is also a pastor. If you are a ministry wife, I would encourage you to pray these words for your husband (and tell him you are doing so!). Even if you are not a ministry wife, I am sure that any pastor or husband would be encouraged to know someone was praying in this way for him!

Here is a list of things to pray for your husband/pastor from 2 Timothy:

  1. I pray that you would fan into flame your gifts with courage, love, and self control (1:6-7).
  2. I pray that you would not be ashamed of the Gospel, but rather suffer for it by God’s power, the same power that saved you (1:8-12).
  3. I pray that you would be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2:1).
  4. I pray that you would pass the Gospel on to faithful men who will then teach others (2:2).
  5. I pray that you would share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2:3).
  6. I pray that you would have a single-minded desire to please God (2:4).
  7. I pray that you would obey God’s rules in order to succeed (2:5).
  8. I pray that you would work hard, holding to the promise of blessing (2:6).
  9. I pray that you (especially in times of suffering) would think and meditate on these things (#5-8), knowing that God will give you understanding (2:7).
  10. I pray that you would remember the Gospel, namely Jesus Christ, the One who is risen from the dead (2:8).
  11. I pray that you would be moved to endurance by the truths of the Gospel (2:10-13).
  12. I pray that you would zealously pursue God’s approval by correctly handling Scripture (2:15).
  13. I pray that you would avoid irreverent babble (2:16).
  14. I pray that you would flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace (2:22).
  15. I pray that you would avoid foolish and ignorant controversies; rather than being quarrelsome, I pray that you would be kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently endure evil, and gently correct opponents, for some might repent (2:23-24).
  16. I pray that you will understand that there will be times of difficulty with sinful people who have an external appearance of godliness yet deny the Gospel; I pray that you would avoid these people (3:1-9)
  17. I pray that, despite persecution, you would continue in what you’ve learned in Scripture, knowing that it is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. I pray that you would be competent and equipped for every good work (3:10-17).
  18. I pray that you would preach the word, in season and out of season. I pray that you would reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching–especially in a time when people won’t endure sound teaching but rather find teachers who suit their own fancy and wander from truth to myths (4:1-4).
  19. I pray that you would always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill your ministry (4:5).
  20. I pray that you would be encouraged by Paul’s example of one who has fought the good fight, finished the race, kept the faith, and received a crown of righteousness (4:6-8).
  21. I pray that the Lord be with your spirit. I pray that grace be with you (4:22).



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What the Bible Says about Premarital Sex

By | October 12, 2023

This short article is my summary of “A Biblical Argument Against Premarital Sex” by Mark Snoeberger in Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 20 (2015), pages 45–63. The passages below are helpful as we seek to live holy lives in a fallen world. Young people, singles, and parents instructing their children will benefit by reading what follows.

Two passages in the OT speak against premarital sex.

First, Exodus 22:16–17 commands that, if a man seduced a virgin and lie with her, he must marry her. Having taken her virginity, the man was to become her husband. Or, if the woman’s father refused this marriage, the seducer had to pay the father “money equal to the bride-price for virgins.” Though we are not Israelites who follow Mosaic Law today (cf. Romans 10:4), requiring marriage after an act of fornication, this passage does express timeless requirements in keeping with the moral character of God—sex is reserved for marriage alone, and premarital sex is sin.

Second, Deuteronomy 22:13–21 instructed Israel what to do if a man married a woman but then claimed to discover that she was not a virgin. If he lied, he would be punished. If she had lied, however, she was to be treated as an adulteress and given capital punishment (cf. Deuteronomy 22:22–24). Not only had she committed fornication (premarital sex, and that with someone other than her new husband), but then she lied and violated the marriage covenant by bringing her hidden immorality into their marriage, something more serious than premarital sex as seen above in Exodus 22:16–17. Again, though we do not follow specific requirements within the Mosaic Law as Israelites did then, this passage, too, expresses requirements in keeping with the moral character of God—premarital sex is sin. Lying about it to one’s potential spouse is sin as well.

Two passages in 1 Corinthians 7 are helpful as well.

First, in 1 Corinthians 7:8–9, Paul prefers singleness to marriage but encourages marriage if one cannot control one’s sexual desires. Paul does not offer premarital sex as a third option—fulfilling one’s passions but in a way that stops short of marriage. The single person may either practice self-control or marry. Premarital sex is sin, and sexual desires properly find fulfillment within marriage.

Second, in 1 Corinthians 7:36–37, Paul instructs an unmarried couple. If a man finds himself so strongly attracted to his would-be wife that he fears engaging in premarital sex, they should marry. The couple would be able to fulfill their sexual desires properly as husband and wife. Or, if he is able to keep “his desire under control,” they can let their marriage wait. Like 1 Corinthians 7:8–9, the options are either self-control or marriage. Premarital sex is not a third option—fulfilling one’s sexual desires apart from marriage, even if the man and woman intend to marry one another in time. Premarital sex is sin, and sexual desires properly find fulfillment within marriage.

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A Tale of Two Sons and a Negligent Father

By | September 28, 2023

In Ephesians 6:1-3 God commands children to obey and honor their parents and fathers to discipline and instruct their children in the Lord. A child who obeyed generally lived a long life, a promise first given to Israel in Exodus 20:12.

The sons of Eli the priest serve as dire examples of lives cut short due to a consistent failure to obey. The failure of Eli to discipline and instruct his sons in the Lord contributed to the shortness of their lives, which should prod parents, especially fathers, to faithfully train their children.

1 Samuel 2:12 describes the sons of Eli as worthless men who did not know the Lord. They selfishly and disobediently demanded their choice of raw meat before it was even offered, disregarding the law (cf. Leviticus 7:28-36). The Lord saw this contempt for the offering as a very great sin (1 Samuel 2:17).

Eli, an old and apparently out-of-touch father, heard about his sons’ sins, which included sleeping with the women who ministered at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Eli confronted his sons (rather mildly, it seems), but his sons refused to listen (1 Samuel 2:22-25).

God laid the responsibility for Eli’s sons on Eli himself. He sent a man of God to him to speak, asking Eli why he scorned the Lord’s sacrifices and offerings and honored his sons above the Lord by letting them take the best parts of the offerings to fatten themselves (1 Sam 2:27-29).

The Lord then declared his judgment on Eli and his descendants:

Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. Then in distress you will look with envious eye on all the prosperity that shall be bestowed on Israel, and there shall not be an old man in your house forever. The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep his eyes out to grieve his heart, and all the descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men. And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day (1 Samuel 2:30-34).

The Lord announced His judgment again through Eli’s brave and obedient young apprentice, Samuel, when the Lord spoke to Samuel one night. The Lord promised an ear-tingling judgment against Israel that would personally affect Eli’s house. The reason for this severe punishment was “the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them” (1 Samuel 3:13).

Shortly after, Israel went to war against the Philistines. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were present at the battle with the ark of the covenant of God. The Philistines defeated Israel, captured the ark, and killed 30,000 Israelis, including Hophni and Phinehas (1 Sam 4:1-11).

After suffering the shock of his sons’ deaths as well as the capture of the ark, Eli fell off his chair and broke his neck (in part due to the obesity that may have come from eating the ill-gotten meat from his sons’ sacrificial duties; 1 Samuel 4:17-18). The immediate consequences of Eli’s indulgent parenting and his sons’ disobedient lifestyles had been meted out.

The long-term consequences occurred later. 1 Samuel 14:3 tells us that Ahijah was serving as priest in Shiloh during the reign of King Saul. Ahijah was the great grandson of Eli, the grandson of Phinehas, the son of Ahitub. In 1 Samuel 22:11 we learn that Ahitub had another son serving as priest, Ahimelech (descendent of Aaron’s son Ithamar; cf. 1 Chronicles 24:1-3). Unfortunately, Saul had heard that Ahimelech had aided David and, in his paranoia, ordered the massacre of all the priests at Nob.

Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn and strike the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned and struck down the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; both man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey and sheep, he put to the sword (1 Samuel 22:18-19).

One of Ahimelech’s sons, Abiathar, escaped and fled to David for protection and refuge (1 Sam 22:20-23). Abiathar, for most of David’s life, was a loyal friend and priest. Upon David’s deathbed, however, he transferred his loyalties to David’s oldest son Adonijah, who declared himself king (1 Kings 1:7). Later, after Solomon’s coronation, Solomon removed Abiathar from his position as priest and exiled him to one of the priestly allotments in Anathoth (1 Kings 2:26-27). The narrator describes this punishment as a fulfillment of the Lord’s words concerning Eli’s house.

Both the long-term and short-term consequences of the sins of Eli and his sons were great. Eli was an indulgent, God-dishonoring father. His sons were disobedient and blasphemous. The Philistines killed Hophni and Phinehas, the sword slaughtered a generation of their descendants, and the Lord removed the remaining descendant from his service as a priest.

Eli and his sons serve as warnings to both parents and children. As parents, we need to obey God in our parenting. We cannot honor our children’s desires to the neglect of honoring God. The cost could be great for ourselves, our children, and future generations. And our children need to be faithful to obey their parents in the Lord, for this is right.

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A Brief Summary of Biblical Sexuality

By | September 28, 2023

God created man as male and female (Gen 1:27) with the capacity for sexuality, properly taking place only between a husband and a wife (Gen 2:24; Heb 13:4) for the purposes of procreation (Gen 1:28; 9:1) and relational enjoyment (Gen 2:18, 24). In a fallen world, sex in marriage helps to restrain temptation to sexual sin (1 Cor 7:2, 5).

As Christians, we must remember that our bodies belong to the Lord, are members of Christ, and are temples of the Holy Spirit, having been bought with the blood of Christ (1 Cor 6:13, 15, 19–20; 1 Thess 4:7–8; cf. 1 Pet 1:18–19). It is God’s will for us to control our bodies in holiness and honor (1 Thess 4:3–4). When Christ returns, our bodies will be changed to be like the Lord Jesus Christ’s body, perfect and incapable of sin (1 Cor 15:51–58; Phil 3:21; 1 John 3:2).

Unbelievers reject God’s truth, however, and live according to the impure lusts of their hearts, leading to dishonorable actions with their bodies, to one degree or another (Rom 1:18–20, 24; 1 Thess 4:5).

Lust itself is sin, that is, the willful longing for sex outside of marriage. This lust can take place by looking at someone with lustful intent (Matt 5:28; cf. Jas 1:14–15). This lust can be provoked by pornography, which is itself immoral in its production and various forms of media.

Unchecked lust leads to acts of immorality (any form of sex outside of marriage), which are against the will of God (1 Thess 4:3; cf. 1 Cor 6:18; 2 Cor 12:21; Gal 5:19; Eph 5:3; Col 3:5). These acts include fornication (premarital sex) and adultery (extramarital sex).

Homosexuality is another perversion of sex expressly forbidden in Scripture (Lev 18:22; 20:13). It is contrary to sound doctrine and not in accordance with the gospel (1 Tim 1:10–11). Homosexual sex between men or women stems from dishonorable, sinful passions and is a shameless act that abandons natural sexual relations between a husband and a wife (Rom 1:26–27; e.g., Gen 19:5, 7; cf. 2 Pet 2:7; Jude 7). God punishes this sin by giving the sinner over to the sin itself and its various consequences (Rom 1:27), including exclusion from the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9–10).

Other sexual sins are so sinful that even unbelievers condemn them, including rape (e.g., 2 Sam 13:14), incest (Lev 18:6–18; 1 Cor 5:1; e.g., Gen 35:22), and bestiality (Lev 18:15; 20:15–16; Exod 22:19).

In the Old Testament, the nation Israel was to administrate severe punishment for various sexual sins according to Mosaic Law (e.g., Lev 20:10–16). In our age, God commands exclusion of the unrepentant, immoral person from the church (cf. Matt 18:15–17; 1 Cor 5:1–11), and, in the end, the unrepentant will not inherit the kingdom of God but will be forever consigned to the lake of fire (1 Cor 6:9–10; Rev 21:8). However, the repentant sinner who finds forgiveness in Christ can see himself in these words: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11).1

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  1. Three sources helpful to me for this post were the relevant chapters in John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World (2nd ed.; Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010); Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Contemporary Issues and Options (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010); and Andreas J. Köstenberger and David W. Jones, God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation (2nd ed.; Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010). []

The Spirit, the Resurrection, and the Son of God in Power (Romans 1:3–4)

By | September 7, 2023

Romans 1:1–7 1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)

The theme of the letter of Romans is the gospel (cf. Rom 1:15–17; 16:25–27). As Paul introduces himself and the gospel (Rom 1:1–7), he describes himself as “set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom 1:1). This is the gospel “concerning His [the Father’s] Son” (Rom 1:3), which Rom 1:3–4 describes as if Paul were quoting a creed, shown by the parallels between verses 3 and 4. What Rom 1:3 states of the Son’s human authority, Rom 1:4 parallels in terms of His heavenly authority. Romans 1:4 also refers to Jesus’ resurrection and climactically identifies Him as our Lord. Notice the parallels in the chart below:

Romans 1:3 Romans 1:4
was descended was declared
from David to be the Son of God in power
according to the flesh according to the Spirit of holiness
  by his resurrection from the dead,

Jesus Christ our Lord

We quickly understand from Rom 1:3 that Jesus is the royal descendant of King David according to His humanity (cf. 2 Sam 7:8–16; Matt 1:1, 6, 17; 22:41–46; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5; 22:16). By its parallelism to Rom 1:3, Rom 1:4 seems to be saying something of Jesus’ heavenly authority. However, Christians have variously understood how exactly this verse refers to this authority. What follows below is my attempt to explain Rom 1:4, phrase by phrase.

Just before we examine these phrases, however, remember that this is a doxological exercise—Rom 1:3–4 climaxes with the title “Jesus Christ our Lord.” So far in Romans, Paul has not called Jesus “Lord.” But, by contrasting Rom 1:3 with Rom 1:4, Paul shows how Jesus is not just a king according to the flesh but the Son of God in power—the Lord! And the better we understand and “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,” we do so “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10–11). 

What is the meaning of “declared to be the Son of God in power”?

Some translate “declared” as “appointed” due to this Greek word’s other seven New Testament uses being translated “determine” or “appoint” (see especially Acts 10:42 and 17:31). Whichever we use, the Father either declares something about a development in the Son’s power or appoints Him to a powerful role that He did not previously hold.

The Son cannot add any power to His divinity, so being declared or appointed “the Son of God in power” must refer to a change of status in His humanity. He was the Davidic king in His humanity, and then the Father declared or appointed Jesus as “the Son of God in power”—He is “Jesus Christ our Lord,” our sovereign Ruler.

But how and when did the Father announce or bestow this power and lordship on Jesus?

One might be tempted to identify the origin of this power with either the baptism or transfiguration of Jesus.

At Jesus’ baptism, the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). The first part of this declaration  quotes from a “coronation psalm” meant to identify a king of Israel, Ps 2:7 (and adds “beloved”). This quotation identifies Jesus as the promised Messiah who would not only rule Israel but all the nations of the world (cf. Ps 2:6, 8–9). The second half of this declaration quotes Isa 42:1, identifying Jesus as the Servant upon whom the Father would put His Spirit so that He would “bring forth justice to the nations.” While Jesus did not immediately exercise all of the prerogatives of His kingly status, He did receive the Spirit at His baptism (Matt 3:16). The purpose of His first coming was to preach the good news in the power of the Spirit of God (cf. Isa 61:1–2; Luke 4:14, 18–21; Acts 10:38).

Similarly, at Jesus’ transfiguration, the Father again declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him” (Matt 17:5). Added to the quotations of Ps 2:7 and Isa 42:1 is a modification of Deut 18:15. Whereas Moses promised Israel, “The Lord your God will raise up for a prophet like me… it is to Him you shall listen” (Deut 18:15), the Father used this language as a command to identify Jesus as the consummative Prophet who speaks on God’s behalf, demanding all listen and obey (cf. Deut 18:15–18). Jesus foretold His transfiguration in this manner: “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1). Putting this all together, the text identifies Jesus as the One to whom all power belongs (cf. 2 Pet 1:16–18). Similar to His baptism, Jesus did not immediately manifest His kingship in full.

The Father empowered Jesus with the Spirit at His baptism and declared with scriptural language that Jesus was the Davidic King to rule the world. The Father confirmed this declaration at the transfiguration. Yet, at both events, Jesus did not yet exercise His right to global rule. While these events announced Jesus as the Son of God in power, a greater expression of this power was yet to come. I believe that Paul’s specific understanding of the title “the Son of God in power” is clarified in the phrases to follow in Rom 1:4. In other words, Jesus’ newfound power in His humanity had something to do with the Holy Spirit and His resurrection. 

What is the meaning of “according to the Spirit of holiness” and “by His resurrection from the dead”?

“According to the Spirit of holiness” somehow explains why Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God in power” (Rom 1:4). What does these phrases mean, and what do they mean in relation to one another?

One position, admittedly held by many, is to see the phrase “the spirit of holiness” as a reference to Jesus’ divinity, that is, His divine nature and not the Holy Spirit. Jesus was qualified to be the Son of God in power because of His divine nature. But, as many point out, this would be an irregular use of language for Paul to use to refer to the divine nature of Jesus.

Another position is that “the spirit of holiness” refers to Christ’s obedient manner. This obedience characterized His life, qualifying Him for his heavenly seat above. While this concept is true, Paul typically refers to Christ’s obedience in other ways (e.g., Rom 5:19, “one man’s obedience”).

Instead, whatever the meaning of “according to the Spirit of holiness,” perhaps we could start by understanding “Spirit” to indeed refer to the Holy Spirit and not some other spirit. Admittedly, Paul does not regularly refer to the Spirit in this manner. Any way we take the phrase has a measure of difficulty in this regard. But, assuming this understanding is correct, we remember that Paul ties its meaning to the next phrase, “by His resurrection from the dead.” So, to put it in the form of a question, does Scripture elsewhere connect the Spirit and the resurrection of Jesus in some way so that the Spirit and resurrection together somehow declare that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in power?

Some would say yes, and that the Spirit was the means of Christ’s resurrection, the event that God used to declare Jesus Christ as the Son of God in power. Romans 8:11 could suggest that, as the Spirit of the Father will give life to our mortal bodies through our resurrection, so also did the Father raise Jesus through the Spirit. Tying Rom 8:11 to Rom 1:4, when the Father raised Jesus from the dead through the Spirit, so also was this resurrection the means whereby the Father declared Jesus Christ to be the Son of God in power and thus Lord of all. Acts 13:33 would support this view if this verse refers to the resurrection (“raising Jesus”) and explains it in terms of Ps 2:7 (“You are my Son, today I have begotten you”).

Others would say yes, but with a different understanding and supporting their position with other passages—the Son demonstrated His power through the Spirit because of and after His resurrection when He received the Spirit from the Father. Acts 2:31–36 would support this understanding. After being “raised up” from the dead, Jesus was “exalted at the right hand of God” where He “received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit” (cf. John 14:26; 15:26), and “poured out” the Spirit for the nations to hear and see (Acts 2:32–33). This manifestation of the Spirit by the Son after His resurrection was how the Father declared that He had “made Him [Jesus] both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Stated another way, thanks to the Father raising Jesus from the dead and then giving Him the Spirit, Jesus was declared the Son of God in power when He inaugurated a new age through the outpouring of the Spirit. Acts 13:33 would not refer to the resurrection but speaks of “raising Jesus” in status by declaring Him to be King in terms of Ps 2:7 (cf. Acts 13:22–23). This, I believe, is what Paul means in Rom 1:3–4. 

Glorifying God by Confessing Jesus Christ As Lord

However one understands Rom 1:3–4 and uses other Scriptures to clarify its meaning, we can all agree that Jesus Christ is Lord and the exalted Son of God who sits in heaven above, exercising His power over all. As we confess Him as Lord, we glorify Him and our heavenly Father!

The God Who Thunders

By | July 31, 2023

According to the National Weather Service, “Thunder is created when lightning passes through the air. The lightning discharge heats the air rapidly and causes it to expand. The temperature of the air in the lightning channel may reach as high as 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun. Immediately after the flash, the air cools and contracts quickly. This rapid expansion and contraction creates the sound wave that we hear as thunder.”

I recently sat outside in my porch during an extremely intense thunderstorm. As I listened to the deafening thunder and saw the continuous flashes of lightning, I thought of the passages that describe God in terms of thunder.

God’s power in the creation and control of thunder is amazing. Job 28:26 tells us that God decrees the thunder and lightning. In Exodus 9:23 and 9:33, God sent thunder, hail, and fire on Egypt and then caused each to cease. Thunder and lightning also marked God’s presence on Mount Sinai, causing the Israelites to tremble (Exodus 19:16, 19).

Several passages also compare God’s majestic voice and power to thunder (Job 37:4-5; 40:9; Psalm 29:3). Sometimes his thunderous voice is a means of judgment (1 Samuel 7:10). Job also states that one cannot understand the “thunder of his power” (Job 26:14). In heaven, flashes of lightning and peals of thunder surround God’s throne (Revelation 4:5).

As I sat in that thunderstorm and heard peal after peal of ear-shattering thunder, I was awe-struck to think that this was but a taste of God’s glory, majesty, and power. Amazing.

But what amazed me even more was the reminder that God’s response to prayer is also compared to this powerful and awe-inspiring thunder.

2 Samuel 22 records a song that David likely wrote early in his kingship.[1] David described God, initially using several names that have to do with protection and help. David took refuge in and sought protection from his Rock, Fortress, Stronghold, Shield, and Deliverer.

Next, David described his distress with metaphors that portrayed him in a weak, needy, and helpless condition. Cords and snares of death bound him while waves of death and torrents of destruction encompassed him. David certainly didn’t sugarcoat his situation. He was helpless, and he knew it. So what did David do?

In his distress, he called on the Lord—from his entangled snare low in the water’s deeps (cf. 2 Samuel 22:17). And God, from His temple high in the heavens heard that cry.

What David records next is God’s response to his cry, again described in metaphorical language. But in contrast to the language that described David as being weak and helpless, David describes God as being amazingly powerful and passionate in his response to David’s prayer.

David illustrated God’s strength and power in meteorological terms. With darkness and clouds surrounding him, God bent the heavens to come down. He sent forth coals of fire and arrows of lightning. His rebuke was like a strong blast of wind. When the Most High spoke, he thundered.

“The Lord thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered his voice. And he sent out arrows and scattered them; lightning, and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen; the foundations of the world were laid bare, at the rebuke of the Lord, at the blast of the breath of his nostrils” (2 Samuel 22:14-16).

David saw himself in his weakness. He humbled himself and cried to the God of thunder who thunderously responded and delivered him.

“He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters” (2 Samuel 22:17).

In verse 28 David says, “You save a humble people.” One cannot see God for who he is and not be humbled. One cannot even sit in a thunderstorm and not be humbled at one’s own insignificance and lack of power. David humbled himself by recognizing the great chasm that separated him from his great God. He meditated on the magnificence and power of God, called on God for help, and saw that power work on his behalf as God came down to help him.

The National Weather Service warns us: “Remember, if you can hear thunder, chances are that you’re within striking distance of the storm.”

But remember, too, that if you can hear thunder, you are in the presence of the One who sends the storm. He is powerful to save and to deliver you.

[1]While intended as a song of personal worship, David apparently also gave it to “the choirmaster,” as the superscript above Psalm 18 indicates. This psalm is nearly identical and was intended to be used for public worship.


Image by Ron Rev Fenomeno from Pixabay