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.

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

Angels

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. 

Conclusion

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.

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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.