Matthew Harmon

  • Perseverance through Prayer and the Spirit (Philippians 1:19)

    NOTEThis is a condensed excerpt from my forthcoming (2014) commentary on Philippians.

    In conjunction with the Philippians’ prayers Paul envisions his perseverance enabled through the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. The rare Greek word translated help (epichorēgia) emphasizes the generous nature of the assistance provided,[1] which is apt considering that the help provided is the Spirit of Jesus Christ.[2] Paul uses similar language in Galatians 3:5 when he describes God as “he who supplies [epichorēgōn] the Spirit to you.” For Paul the gift of the Spirit was the preeminent blessing of salvation through Christ (see Gal 3:1–5:26). The Spirit is sent out by Jesus Christ to mediate his presence in the life of the believer (Gal 3:1-7). Although as a believer Paul already has the Spirit, he knows that persevering in faith to the end requires fresh supplies of the Spirit like those mentioned in Acts 4:31.

    So what then is the relationship between the prayers of the Philippians and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ implied by the grammar? Together they are the instruments that God will use to complete his work of salvation in Paul so that on the day of Christ Jesus (1:6) Paul will be pure and blameless (1:9-11). Furthermore, God uses the prayers of the Philippians to provide fresh supplies of the Spirit to Paul to ensure his perseverance to the end. All three persons of the Trinity are involved—the Father answers the prayers of his people for fresh experiences of the Spirit of his Son Jesus Christ.[3]

    Paul did not allow his firm belief in the sovereignty of God to produce an apathy that assumes it does not matter how one lives. Instead his conviction that God was at work in and through him motivated him to persevere in his devotion to magnify Christ. But this devotion was not an individualistic faith that had no use for other believers. God uses the prayers of other believers as the conduit of God’s Spirit to empower his perseverance in the faith. What a motivation to pray for others! What a privilege that God chooses to use the prayers of his people as a means of supplying his people with fresh measures of the Spirit of Christ to enable our perseverance in the faith to the end![4]


    [1] The Greek noun epichorēgia occurs just one other place in the NT (Eph 4:16). The cognate verb epichorēgeō is slightly more common, occurring five times in the NT (2 Cor 9:10; Gal 3:5; Col 2:19; 2 Pet 1:5, 11) and once in the LXX (Sir 25:22). In Greco-Roman literature it sometimes referred to generous public service (cf. BDAG), and has been found in the papyri to refer to a husband providing for his wife (cf. LSJM).

    [2] Thus the genitive pneumatos (“Spirit”) here is objective – that is, it is the Spirit Himself who is the help given; cp. Fee, Philippians, 132-34; Bockmuehl, Philippians, 84; Silva, Philippians, 76; Fowl, Philippians, 46; Hansen, Philippians, 79-80. Others interpret the genitive as subjective, meaning that the Spirit helps or supplies assistance in various ways; see, e.g., John Young William Eadie, A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (Birmingham, Ala.: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005), 44-45; Vincent, Philippians, 24; Beare, Philippians, 62; O’Brien, Philippians, 111-12; Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 50; Thurston and Ryan, Philippians, 63; Witherington, Philippians, 84-85. Lightfoot sees both, arguing that the Spirit of Jesus is “both the giver and the gift (Lightfoot, Philippians, 91). As for the genitive Iēsou Christou (“Jesus Christ”), it could have a variety of nuances here, including origin (“the Spirit that comes from Jesus Christ”; O’Brien, Philippians, 112; Fee, Philippians, 134-35; Bockmuehl, Philippians, 84; Witherington, Philippians, 84-85), possession (“the Spirit who belongs to Jesus Christ”; Eadie, Philippians, 45; Kennedy, “Philippians,” 427), or apposition/epexegetical (“the Spirit that is Jesus Christ”; Reumann, Philippians, 211-12; Hansen, Philippians, 80).

    [3] Helpfully noted by Fee, Philippians, 138.

    [4] For a thoughtful discussion of perseverance, see Thomas R. Schreiner and Ardel B. Caneday, The Race Set before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance (Downers Grove: IVP, 2001).

    Dr. Matthew S. Harmon is a Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology.

  • Rejoicing in the Preaching of the Gospel (Philippians 1:18)

    NOTEThis is a condensed excerpt from my forthcoming (2014) commentary on Philippians.

    In this context Paul’s joy is rooted in the progress of the gospel through the proclamation of Christ. In other words, it is a joy that is rooted in the gospel rather than his personal circumstances. As he sits in Rome under house arrest his personal circumstances are not favorable, but because his joy is rooted in the progress of the gospel it is impervious to the discomfort he is experiencing personally. The present tense of the verb translated rejoice likely portrays Paul's joy as a continual experience.

    What is our joy rooted in? If we are honest, we find ourselves looking often to our circumstances for joy. When things in our lives are favorable or going our way, we are joyful. But when life takes a turn we do not like, large or small, joy seems like a distant memory. But when our joy is in the gospel of Jesus Christ and its progress in the world, we have an anchor for our joy that will weather even the darkest storms of life. Only in the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done for us will we find the kind of lasting joy that God created us to experience. Everything else will at some point disappoint.

    Paul also models for us a prioritization of the progress of the gospel. He is not blind to the selfish motives that some have in preaching the gospel, but he remains grateful that the gospel is still going forth. In this he is a model for us as we observe the advance of the gospel through ministries that we have reason to believe have suspect motives. We can rejoice that the message of the gospel is going forward, even while we retain serious concerns about those taking it forward. Notice that Paul does not say that the motives are unimportant! But he does indicate that he can find joy in the fact that people are hearing the gospel, even though the instrument is flawed. The challenge is learning to rejoice in the progress of the gospel without turning a blind eye to those preaching it for selfish motives.

    Dr. Matthew S. Harmon is a Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology.

  • The City of Philippi in the Bible

    NOTE: This is a condensed excerpt from my forthcoming (2014) commentary on Philippians.

    Located on the major Roman road known as the Via Egnatia, Philippi was “a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony” (Acts 16:12). Because of its strategic location Philippi became a strategic location for trade despite the fact it was 13 km from Neapolis, the nearest sea port.

    As a Roman colony, Philippi was intended to be a miniature version of Rome. However, the Roman character of the city did not erase the previously existing Greek Hellenistic culture. As the lingua franca of the Empire, Greek was widely spoken. Many of the Greeks and Thracians in the area who were displaced by newly settled Romans remained in the area. Witherington sums it up well when he writes “We must then talk about a Roman overlay of culture and custom on top of the indigenous Greek Hellenistic culture which still continued in various ways.”[11]

    What was the population of Philippi in the middle of the first century A.D.? While any estimates must be tenuous at best, a safe estimate is 10,000–15,000.[14] The vast majority of that population would have consisted of slaves, service providers, and peasant farmers. Most of them would have lived either at or below subsistence level. With the grant of land to retired soldiers nearly 80 years before Paul set foot in Philippi, military veterans and their families would have comprised an important minority within the population. They would have been especially influential among the elite within Philippi. Yet as a percentage of the population they would have been quite small, perhaps as low as even three percent according to one estimate.[15] Although estimates such as these are necessarily speculative, Peter Oakes argues that about 40 percent of the population were Roman citizens, while the remaining 60 percent were “non-citizens who were largely Greek-speakers.”[16]

    Religiously, Philippi was a typical first-century city in that there were a large number of gods worshiped. One particular area that deserves mention is the possible presence of the imperial cult, in which the emperor was worshiped as a god. There is no doubt that the ideology of Caesar’s claim to be Lord and Savior who brings salvation and peace to the world would have been widely known throughout the Roman Empire and particularly in the Roman colony of Philippi. Such ideas were part of the cultural milieu, consistently reinforced by proclamations and celebrations of the emperor’s acts. But it does not follow that the imperial cult was the central religious cult in Philippi and as a result serves as an interpretive grid through which Philippians must be read; such a claim goes well beyond the evidence.

    A final issue to discuss is the presence (or lack thereof) of Jews in Philippi. Since Luke refers to a “place of prayer” (Acts 16:13) rather than a synagogue, it appears that the Jewish population in Philippi was extremely small. According to Jewish tradition (Mishnah Megilah 3b, 5a), ten Jewish men were required to form a synagogue. Thus it would seem there were not enough Jews in Philippi to meet even this minimal threshold. In fact, Luke goes out of his way to emphasize that Paul and his companions spoke “to the women who had assembled” alongside the river (Acts 16:13). And Lydia, the woman singled out as the initial convert, is identified as a “worshiper of God” (sebomenē), a term that refers to a Gentile worshiper of Yahweh! Every piece of available evidence indicates a negligible Jewish presence in Philippi.

    [11] Witherington, Philippians, 5-6.

    [14] Oakes, From People to Letter, 44-50. He bases this estimate on the square acreage of the city, likely population density, and the size of the theatre. Other estimates range from 5,000 on the low end to 20,000 on the high end.

    [15] Ibid., 50-53.

    [16] Ibid., 50.

  • Treat Your Pastors Well

    As a professor at a seminary, I have the great privilege of training men for pastoral ministry. Every year new faces come in, full of excitement and trepidation as they start taking classes to prepare for pastoral ministry. What most of them don’t realize is how dangerous their calling truly is. According to some recent surveys,[1] somewhere between 1,500–1,700 pastors leave the ministry each month. That means on average 50–57 pastors leave the ministry every single day. These studies go on to note several more disturbing statistics:

    • 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider a close friend.
    • 33% of pastors confess having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior.
    • 70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
    • 90% of pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.
    • 80% of pastors believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
    • 80% of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.
    • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
    • 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
    • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.

    And although this last statistic is not found in these studies, I know that it is true from the Bible:

    • 100% of pastors have a dangerous enemy who is absolutely determined to destroy them and the people they lead

    These statistics are sobering, and quite frankly frightening. So the question for us as brothers and sisters in Christ to help these men that God has called to lead us? How should we treat our elders?

    I believe 1 Timothy 5:17-25 lays out four things we as God’s people must do:

    1. Provide for their needs (5:17-18)
    2. Protect their reputation (5:19)
    3. Pursue their repentance (5:20-21)
    4. Provide their reinforcements (5:22-25)

    Interested in learning more? You can hear more from the sermon I recently preached at Christ’s Covenant Church. You can find the audio here.

  • About Matthew Harmon

    Since 2006 Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He is also a member of Christ’s Covenant Church, where he serves on the Preaching Team, leads a small group, and teaches regularly in their Life Education classes.

    Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology, which is a forum for all matters pertaining to biblical theology (and some entirely unrelated).

    Follow him on Twitter: @DocHarmon