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.

Moral Purity: God’s Will for Your Life

By | October 13, 2022

God washes, sanctifies, and justifies everyone that trusts in Christ, and they will inherit the kingdom of God. The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals—“such were some of you,” says Paul, but a change came “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11).

These titles above characterize people who were given over to sexual sin. Even after faith in Christ, people can continue to struggle with these sins. So, just after 1 Corinthians 6:9–11, Paul instructed them further in 1 Corinthians 6:12–20: the body is not for slavery to sexual sin but for the service of the Lord, both now and forever (1 Corinthians 6:12–14); our bodies are members of Christ and not to be party to prostitution (1 Corinthians 6:15–17); we must flee sexual sin lest we sin against ourselves (1 Corinthians 6:18); our bodies are temples of the Spirit bought with the blood of Christ, so we must glorify God therein (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1–8, whereas Paul could have said “such were some of you” (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9), the Thessalonian Christians were living pure lives, and Paul simply wanted to encourage them further in their purity. As to how they were “to walk and to please God,” Paul said that “you are doing” these things already (1 Thessalonians 4:1; cf. 4:3–8). However, even Christians who excel in moral purity should remind themselves “to please God… more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1). Remember that Judah, Samson, David, and Solomon were believers and yet fell into sexual sin (see Genesis 38; Judges 14, 16; 2 Samuel 11; 1 Kings 11). One can never be too careful.

Paul continues in 1 Thessalonians 4:1–8 to give specific commands concerning God’s will for our sanctification: “that you abstain from sexual immorality”; “that each one of you… control his own body in holiness and honor”; “that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter” (1 Thessalonians 4:3b, 4a, 6a). Christians who live this way reflect a saving knowledge of God, avoid the avenging wrath of the Lord, fulfill their purpose in God’s call upon their lives, and show that the Holy Spirit has changed them from the inside out (1 Thessalonians 4:5b, 6b, 7, 8b).

From just two passages above, we have much to encourage us to live sexually pure lives. The Father declares us holy by faith in His Son. Our bodies are given to Christ to serve Him and not our sins. The Spirit lives within, so His holiness should shine without. Lest we fall, we warn ourselves that the Lord will avenge moral misdeeds in His church.

Whatever our sexual sins may have been, the blood of Christ covers them all. Simply come to His cross and be cleansed. And, however much we might excel in moral purity, may God help us to do so more and more.

Who Are the Holy Ones in 1 Thessalonians 3:13?

By | October 6, 2022

1 Thessalonians 3:13 refers to “the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His holy ones” (literal translation). Are these holy ones angels, God’s people, or both?1


Some conclude holy ones are angels for multiple reasons.

First, Paul could be echoing Zechariah 14:5, a text speaking about our Lord’s final descent to earth to judge the world, an event in which He comes with His angels (cf. Matt 25:31; Mark 8:38). Zechariah 14:5 states, “Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.” Not only does Paul echo Zechariah, but calling angels holy ones is in keeping with how the OT speaks of angels (e.g., Ps 89:5, 7; Jude 14).

Second, Paul speaks again to the Thessalonians about this event “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance” on His enemies (2 Thessalonians 1:7–8).

Third, Paul had to clarify for the Thessalonians that the holy ones (“saints”) in 2 Thessalonians 1:10 were “all who have believed,” lest the Thessalonians think that the holy ones in this passage were angels once again (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:7).

Fourth, Paul does not refer to God’s present people in his Thessalonian letters as holy ones. He only refers to God’s future people as holy ones at Christ’s second coming (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:10).

Fifth, if one holds that the rapture of the saints simultaneously occurs with the final descent of Jesus, there is no eschatological dilemma in 1 Thessalonians 3:13. The glorification of believers (“he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father”) takes place at the same time as the final descent of Jesus with His angels (“at the coming of our Lord with all His holy ones”). 

God’s People

Others conclude that the holy ones are God’s holy people.

First, when Paul uses the Greek word for holy ones (hagios) to refer to beings, he always refers to holy people. Of Paul’s 76 uses of this word, 40 uses refer to people (including 1 Thessalonians 3:13), typically translated saints.2

Second, when writing to the Thessalonians and referring to angels who accompany Christ for judgment, Paul unambiguously refers to them as angels (Greek, angelos) in 2 Thessalonians 1:7. He even distinguishes holy ones from angels by referring to holy ones as human believers in this same passage (2 Thessalonians 1:10, “all who have believed”; cf. 1:7–10).

Third, the identity of holy ones as people is more fitting than angels in the context of 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13. Paul prays for his readers to grow spiritually so that they will be perfected in holiness with all of the holy ones at their judgment, and this prayer prepares his readers for admonitions on holiness in the next two chapters (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 4, 7, 8; 5:23, 26). The idea is something like, “I pray that you grow so that God will perfect you in holiness with all of the holy ones in the future, a holiness that you should be living out right now.”

Fourth, if one holds that the rapture of the saints takes place before the final descent of Jesus (with the day of the Lord in between; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10; 5:2–4, 9), then this verse fittingly speaks of the glorification and positive judgment of God’s holy people before the Father and Son (cf. Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10), a judgment that takes place in heaven after the rapture. The term coming (Greek, parousia) refers to a complex event that includes the rapture of the saints, the day of the Lord, and the final descent of Jesus, in that order (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:14–17; 5:2–4; 2 Thessalonians 2:8).

Even if one holds to a concurrent rapture and final descent, holy ones could still be understood as God’s people in keeping with Paul’s regular use of hagios. In this understanding, Paul mentions Christ coming with His people here in 1 Thessalonians 3:13, and he mentions Christ coming with His angels in 2 Thessalonians 1:7–8. If so, if Paul echoes Zechariah 14:5, he reinterprets Zechariah’s holy ones as people.

Both Angels and God’s People

This position typically understands 1 Thessalonians 3:13 to refer to Christ’s final descent and that Paul echoes Zechariah 14:5. This being the case, Paul reinterprets Zechariah’s holy ones by adding people to Zechariah’s prophecy of angels. Or, perhaps Zechariah’s reference to holy ones was originally ambiguous enough to include both people and angels.

If one understands holy ones in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 to be people who join Christ at the rapture that takes place before the day of the Lord and Christ’s final descent, it would seem that the linguistic parallels to Zechariah 14:5 are only coincidental. No attempt need be made to reinterpret or expand the meaning of the text of Zechariah’s prophecy. 


In order to make a conclusion on how to interpret this verse, one must decide what to do with Paul’s use of hagios, the timing of the rapture, whether or not he echoes Zechariah 14:5, and if so, whether Zechariah 14:5 can mean more than its author meant.

For my own conclusions for each of the factors above…

Holy ones follows its regular use with reference to “saints.” To understand holy ones otherwise would be the lone exception of Paul’s 40 uses of hagios with reference to beings, this one being angels, a highly unlikely conclusion.

As to the timing of the rapture, even within 1 Thessalonians, I believe the Lord raptures and rescues us from the wrath to come, the day of the Lord, before it takes place on earth (1 Thessalonians 1:9–10; 5:2–4, 10). That hour of trial is for the world and not the church (cf. Rev 3:10).

Any parallels between Zechariah 14:5 and 1 Thessalonians3:13 seem to be only coincidental. In 1 Thessalonians 3:13, the judgment scene is not the negative wrath of Christ at His final descent with His angels. Rather, it is a positive judgment for all believers. We are glorified with all of our fellow holy ones before the Father at the outset of the second coming of Christ.

As Zechariah 14:5 is not on Paul’s mind, the words of Zechariah retain their original meaning. We do not have to compromise the ordinary use of language by saying Zechariah thought one thing (angels) while Paul apparently used his words to mean another (people).

  1. For a survey or presentation of each view, see G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 875; Fee, Gordon D. The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 135–36; and D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (rev. ed.; Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 1996), 166–68. []
  2. See Rom 1:7; 8:27; 12:3; 15:25, 26, 31; 16:2, 15; 1 Cor 1:2; 6:1, 2; 14:33; 16:1, 15; 2 Cor 1:1; 8:4; 9:1, 12; 13:13; Eph 1:1, 15, 18; 2:19; 3:8, 18; 4:12; 5:3; 6:18; Phil 1:1; 4:21, 22; Col 1:2, 4, 12, 26; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Tim 5:10; Phm 5, 7. []

Joseph: An Example of Suffering and Patience

By | September 22, 2022

After repeatedly commanding his readers to be patient in suffering (Jas 5:8–9), James points to the prophets and Job as examples for us today: “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (Jas 5:10–11).

Joseph received and interpreted dreams from God, marking him as a prophet. So, surveying his life in Genesis 37–50, let’s consider his suffering and patience, being steadfast in the Lord’s purpose, and experiencing the Lord’s compassion, mercy, and blessing in time.

Suffering and Patience

When Joseph was “seventeen years old” (Gen 37:2), he was taken captive by his brothers and sold to some Midianites who sold him to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, in Egypt as a slave (Gen 37:24, 28, 36). This suffering began thirteen years of hardship and affliction that would end at age thirty when Pharaoh appointed him over the land (cf. Gen 41:46).

“After a time” in Potiphar’s house, Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce Joseph (Gen 39:7). When he ran from her advances, she falsely accused him of the same, unfairly landing him in prison (Gen 39:17–20). Nonetheless, as the Lord had blessed him with favor in Potiphar’s house (Gen 39:1–6), the Lord gave him favor in the prison as well (Gen 39:21–23).

“Some time after this,” Joseph interpreted the dreams of his fellow prisoners, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker (Gen 40:1; cf. 40:5–22). The baker was hanged, and the cupbearer lived. “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” for “two whole years” (Gen 40:23–41:1). Joseph’s thirteen years of suffering and patience would soon come to an end.

Compassion, Mercy, and Blessing

We have already seen God’s compassion, mercy, and blessing in the midst of Joseph’s suffering (cf. Gen 39:1–6, 21–23). Now we see these themes again as his suffering and patience end.

Now “thirty years old” (Gen 41:46), Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams of a coming abundance and famine, resulting in his promotion over Egypt with only Pharaoh over him (Gen 41:14, 44). Joseph was given a wife and had two sons, their names indicating that he had forgotten hardship and saw his life as fruitful instead (Gen 41:50–42).

He blessed Egypt by gathering stores in “seven years of plenty” and dispersing it in famine (Gen 41:53, 57). Over the next “two years” (Gen 45:6), Joseph provided for his family as well, revealing his identity in the end (Gen 42–44). Though sent to Egypt by sinful brothers and Midianite traders, Joseph looked back and saw God’s providence instead: “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen 45:5).

Joseph was reunited with his father Jacob that he had not seen for twenty-two years, and they lived together in Egypt for seventeen years (Gen 46:29; 47:28). He received his father’s blessing (Gen 49:22–26), and he forgave his brothers in full (Gen 50:15–21). Joseph echoed to them his life’s refrain: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50:20). Joseph lived for another fifty-four years and died at age 110 (Gen 50:26). His years of compassion, mercy, and blessing were many more than those of suffering and patience.

Lessons for Us Today

God puts us through suffering as we encounter various trials from time to time. When He does, we must be patient to let Him accomplish whatever His purposes may be, whether we know these purposes in time, in full, or neither. As we are patient, God will show compassion, mercy, and blessing—in this life, perhaps, and certainly forever in time to come. May God help us to persevere like Joseph whenever suffering comes our way.

All quotes ESV

How to Raise a Worthless Child

By | September 15, 2022

The book of 1 Samuel begins with a contrast between Samuel and the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas. Whereas Samuel would grow to be a godly boy and young man (cf. 1 Sam 1:28; 2:11, 18–21, 26; 3:19–4:1), Hophni and Phinehas were very sinful.

Notice the sins of these sons. They were generally “worthless men” and “did not know the Lord” (1 Sam 2:17). They showed themselves irreverent bullies and gluttons by eating sacrificial meat with its fat and taking it by force (1 Sam 2:13–16; cf. 2:29; Lev 3:17; 7:22–27). They slept with the women who helped at the tabernacle (1 Sam 2:22). They refused to listen to rebuke (1 Sam 2:25). As it was still Israel’s era of rule by judges, perhaps the lawless spirit of the day encouraged their sins as well (cf. Judg 21:25). It is no surprise, then, to find their sin described as “very great in the sight of the Lord” and that “it was the will of the Lord to put them to death” (1 Sam 2:25). As promised, they died on the same day, and God exterminated Eli’s descendants from the priesthood altogether (1 Sam 4:1–22; cf. 2:27–36; 1 Kgs 2:26–27, 35).

Notice also the sins the father. He honored his sons above God by refusing to restrain them from their blasphemous life described above (1 Sam 2:29; 3:13). In fact, he joined their sins by fattening himself with the meat that his sons so wrongfully took (1 Sam 2:29). Hophni and Phinehas would answer for their own sins, but Eli would answer for letting them live unrestrained. When he learned his sons had died, he “fell over backward,” and the fat from his unrighteous diet was too much for his elderly spine to sustain—he died when he hit the ground (1 Sam 4:18).

Parents, if you’d like a primer on how to raise a worthless child, follow the example of Eli. Let your children’s sins run wild, and even participate in some of them yourselves. As you train your children to go such a way, as with Hophni and Phinehas, they will not depart from it when they are old (cf. Prov 22:6).

But, obviously, no Christian parent would ever want such a thing. Instead, we desire to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Col 3:21; Eph 6:4). From morning to evening, we want them to hear the words of God (Deut 6:7). We hope that they would listen to our instruction and follow our guidance even when we are old (Prov 1:8; 23:22). As God is gracious, we would even hope that our households might teach others by example (cf. 1 Tim 3:4; Titus 1:6).

May God be with each of our families to raise our children as we ought, and may they each come to the knowledge, joy, and growth of their salvation in Jesus Christ.

Forsaking Sinful Ambition and Fostering Humility Instead

By | September 15, 2022

Imagine telling a group of people that you had a month to live. Instead of comforting you, some of them ask for your most valuable possessions, angering the others because they didn’t ask first. Or, imagine that after your death, everyone started looking for your wallet or figuring out who would take your television. As a police chaplain, I’ve seen some interesting responses to the news of someone’s death.

Jesus experienced something like this once upon a time. For a third time in Matthew, He plainly told His disciples that He would be murdered and raised from the dead (Matt 20:17–19; cf. 16:21; 17:22–23). In response, James and John asked through their mother for special places in his kingdom, and Jesus promised them suffering instead (Matt 20:20–24). The ten were angry with the two brothers, prompting Jesus to teach them all that greatness to God is achieved through humble service, prizing the needs of others over self (Matt 20:25–27). The superlative example of such humility is the Son of Man. He gave his life as a ransom for many and now sits exalted with the Father on high (Matt 20:28; Phil 2:9).

In this story, the disciples show us how deeply sinful ambition roots itself in our souls. Jesus had recently taught the disciples to humble themselves like children (Matt 18:3–4) and to turn no one away from Himself (Matt 19:13–14). Twice, Jesus taught that many who are first would be last and the last first when He sits on His throne (Matt 19:30; 20:16). He even promised the twelve prominent places in His kingdom (Matt 19:28). Yet still, James and John excluded the ten to ask for first place next to Jesus on His throne.

Lest we proudly look at the disciples and say, “Ah, but that’s not me,” one author reminds us, “One of the problems with pride is that we can see it in others but not in ourselves” (Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins, p. 105; e.g., Luke 18:9–14).1  We can repeatedly hear God’s words on pride and still fail to see our sin. Instead of asking God for His kingdom to come, we ask in advance for nice seats when it does (cf. Matt 6:10). Maybe we even want His kingdom to wait so we can build our own little kingdom right now. And, like James and John, maybe we even ask God to help us along the way. How desperately wicked our hearts can be (cf. Jer 17:9–10).

Remember this—God hates pride and opposes the proud (Prov 8:13; Jer 50:31; Jas 4:6). He prizes humility and rewards it in time to come (cf. Jas 4:10). Jesus said as much to James and John.

So how can we be humble?2

First, live for God’s will and not your own. His will for us to know Christ and His salvation and to continue a life of obedience to Him (Col 1:9–10). Not only do we humble ourselves in repentance when we initially come to Christ, but we continue to put on humility as we walk in Him (Col 3:12; cf. 2 Kgs 22:19).

Second, prize God’s glory and not your own. When we see ourselves for who we really are and God for who He is, we are undone by our sin and the glorious holiness of our God (e.g., Isa 6:5; Ezek 1:28; Rev 1:17).

Third, even in what you have and do, boast in the Lord and not yourself. Acknowledge His mercy in salvation and thank Him for every good gift (1 Tim 1:15; James 1:17). Your circumstances, skills, and salvation—all things are from Him, through Him, and to Him, so to Him be the glory, not you (Rom 11:36; cf. Deut 8:17–18; Isa 26:12; 1 Cor 3:7; 4:7; 15:10).

Fourth, serve others and not yourself. We saw this in the words and example of Jesus, and the letters remind us to honor others more than ourselves (Rom 12:10; Phil 2:3). Jesus washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:14–15) and died for us all on the cross (Matt 20:28). He serves as our High Priest (Heb 8:1) and will serve us in time to come (Luke 12:37). What an example we have in Him.

Humbles yourselves before God, and He will exalt you time. Think on these things over and over and let them have their way. As we saw with the disciples, we can hear from God repeatedly on this matter, only to sin again. We must come to Christ and clothe ourselves with Him, humility and all. As we do, may He put our sinful ambition to death and help us to humbly serve like Him.

  1. Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins (Carol Stream, IL: NavPress, 2010), 105. []
  2. All of the thoughts to follow are spurred from “Chapter 6: Humility,” in Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness (Colorado Springs, CO. NavPress, 2008), 67–80. []

A Ministry of Integrity: 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12

By | September 8, 2022

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians briefly describes how the messengers delivered the gospel with power, Spirit, and conviction (1 Thess 1:5). Paul describes his ministry again in detail in 1 Thess 2:1–12. Several themes stand out.

First, in speaking about himself and his fellow missionaries, Paul’s primary concern was to uphold the integrity of the gospel of God. He spoke of “our coming to you,” which involved “boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God” (1 Thess 2:1, 2). It was “our appeal” which stemmed from being “entrusted with the gospel,” and “so we speak… words… to share with you the gospel of God” (1 Thess 2:3, 4, 5, 8). In doing so, Paul says, “we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you” (1 Thess 2:12).

Second, pointed to God Himself as the source of their ministry. He mentions God nine times in the course of this passage. They had “boldness in our God” to preach “the gospel of God” as “approved by God” so as “to please God” (1 Thess 2:2, 4). With “God as witness” (1 Thess 2:5, 10), they spoke “the gospel of God” (1 Thess 2:8, 9) so that the Thessalonians would “walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thess 2:12).

Third, concerning all of the above, Paul reminded the Thessalonians that they knew the integrity of their missionaries, and so did God. These reminders are several: “you yourselves know… as you know… as you know… God is witness… you remember… you are witnesses, and God also… for you know” (1 Thess 2:1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 11).

Fourth, this integrity was shown in various ways. God sent them as messengers (1 Thess 2:4, we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel) and gave them the message to speak (1 Thess 2:2, the gospel of God). They therefore spoke it boldly (1 Thess 2:2) because they spoke “to please God” and not men (1 Thess 2:4). Their integrity was also shown in their perseverance, overcoming their persecution in Philippi and Thessalonica (1 Thess 2:2), as well as working to provide their own funds while being in Thessalonica (1 Thess 2:9). Finally, their integrity was marked by love. Serving their “brothers” (1 Thess 2:1, 9), they were gentle and loving like a mother, providing instruction like a father (1 Thess 2:6–9, 11).

Fifth, seeing what their integrity was, we are assured of what their ministry was not. It was “not in vain… not from error… not… from impurity… not… from any attempt to deceive… not to please man… never… with words of flattery… never… with a pretext for greed… nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others… not… a burden to any of you” (1 Thess 2:1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9).

Just as Paul, Silas and Timothy, may God help His messengers today serve with this same integrity.


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