Matthew Harmon

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

What is Biblical Theology?

Such a question at first might seem obvious—theology derived from, or based on, the Bible. But unfortunately it’s not that simple, because the term Biblical Theology has come to take on a specialized meaning. Perhaps the best way to explain what is meant by biblical theology is to define it along with other “types” of theology:

Systematic Theology—the attempt to organize the teaching of the Bible under various headings such as theology proper (what the Bible teaches about God and his character), anthropology (what the Bible teaches about human beings), soteriology (what the Bible teaches about salvation), Christology (what the Bible teaches about Christ), etc. Examples of this approach would include: The Institutes by John Calvin; Systematic Theology (3 vols.) by Charles Hodge; Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. In the past this was sometimes also referred to as Dogmatic Theology.

Historical Theology—the attempt to trace the development of specific doctrines (e.g., the Trinity) throughout the history of the church. Attention is paid to heretical views that forced the church to sharpen and refine her formulation of doctrine. An example of this approach would be Historical Theology (2 vols.) by William Cunningham.

Pastoral Theology—the attempt to relate Christian doctrine to specific life situations in the church (e.g., sickness, suffering, interaction with the culture). Attention is paid to how Christian doctrine is to be lived out within the church and the culture.

Biblical Theology—the attempt “to explore the unity of the Bible, delving into the contents of the books, showing the links between them, and pointing up the ongoing flow of the revelatory and redemptive process that reached its climax in Jesus Christ” (J.I. Packer, “Foreword” in The Unfolding Mystery by Edmund Clowney, p. 8). Attention is paid to the “storyline” of Scripture and prominent themes across the Bible usually with an attempt to relate them to gospel and/or Christ.

While I certainly believe all of these approaches are important, it is my conviction that biblical theology provides the basis for systematic, historical, and pastoral theology. So, on this blog the focus will be on biblical theology, but given the interlocking nature of biblical theology with the other disciplines, we will often delve into these other areas as well.

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

What Does It Mean to be a Citizen of God’s Kingdom?

One thing you realize very quickly when you travel internationally is the value and importance of a passport. As you enter and leave a country you need to be able to show that passport, or you aren’t going anywhere. That passport is tangible proof of your citizenship, the place you call home. Indeed, in the past it was even common to refer to the country you were from as your homeland.

When we talk about citizenship, we are at some level also talking about our identity. Our citizenship plays a role in shaping who we are, what we value, what is important to us, and how we live. Since as believers we are citizens of God’s kingdom, that reality should shape the way that we we live as sojourners and exiles in this world.

What does it mean to live as a citizen of God’s kingdom? What is it that governs our lives as citizens of God’s kingdom?

This past Sunday I had the privilege of answering these questions as I preached on Philippians 1:27–30. You can find the audio here, and read even more about it in my Philippians commentary.

Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary.

Application: Pressing The Text Upon the Heart (Part 1)

Application should be the ultimate goal of studying the Bible. Howard Hendricks is correct when he claims "Interpretation without application is spiritual abortion." The goal of application is life transformation--becoming progressively more conformed to the image of Christ. Yet despite this, most believers receive very little instruction on how to apply Scripture to their lives. The assumption seems to be that we will somehow just "pick it up along the way" as we grow spiritually.

In light of this, I have decided to write a series of posts on application. Today's post will attempt to briefly sketch a basic theological framework for application. Our starting point is a familiar text:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

Paul commands us to work out our own salvation, while at the same time emphasizing that it is God who is at work in us for his good pleasure. Thus application is the work of God and it is the work of the believer. So as a starting point let's look at each of these.

God's Work. Not surprisingly, all three persons of the Trinity are involved in the work of application. According to 1 Peter 1:14-17, it is the Father who calls his children to be holy as he is holy. Paul makes a similar point in Romans 8:29, when he asserts that the Father "predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of his Son." Thus the Son is the ultimate pattern of God's work in our lives. Of course, it also the Son's work on the cross that makes conformity to him even possible, as our union with him enables us to share in his death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-11). The Spirit is the one who applies the benefits of Christ's work to us, and this is true in application as well. He is the one who enables believers to put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13).

The Work of the Believer. Growth in holiness does not come by waiting for God to zap us. As a starting point we can begin with Paul's paradigmatic claim in Romans 10:17 that "faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ." We are responsible to believe the good news about Jesus Christ and his work on our behalf. All proper application flows out of the gospel. Thus it is imperative that we expose ourselves to the word of God and believe what it says. It is also crucial that we pray for God to do his work in our lives; without prayer our efforts to apply Scripture quickly devolve into self-effort that is rooted in self-righteousness. We must also prioritize the role that other believers play in our lives to assist us in application. Other believers identify our blind spots and confront and/or encourage us when necessary. As we live in fellowship with other believers we are able to grow together in godliness.

Much more could be said, but this is a sufficient foundation for us to build upon. The next post will deal with what I regard as the single most important principle of application.

Idolatry in Christian Ministry

In my continuing study of Philippians, I have been working my way through Markus Bockmuehl’s The Epistle to the Philippians in the Black’s New Testament Commentary. In speaking about some of his Christian brothers in Rome who were preaching Christ more boldly because of Paul’s imprisonment, Paul writes in Philippians 1:17:

“the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” (NASB)

Sometimes one finds a one-liner that captures the essence of what the biblical text says. I found that statement in Bockmuehl’s commentary when he writes:

“The robe of ‘Christian ministry’ cloaks many a shameless idolatry” (p. 80).

In this concise one-liner Bockmuehl identifies one of the most acceptable forms of idolatry in evangelicalism: ministry. In the name of serving the Lord far too many pastors, missionaries, professors, and lay people are, in fact, furthering their own agendas for personal fulfillment and success. In a word, that is idolatry. It is placing ministry ahead of God himself, and it is so dangerous because on the outside it looks good.

Here in the context of Philippians 1:12-26 Paul provides the necessary corrective: to have as our highest aim the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So the question for each of us involved in ministry is this: do you care who gets the credit? Are you fine with others being recognized for their faithful gospel ministry while your own proclaiming of Christ remains under appreciated or recognized? What happens in your heart when someone else receives credit for something YOU did? Can you be content with rejoicing in the progress of the gospel rather than nursing resentment that you did not receive the recognition?

May we take seriously the admonition with which John closes his first letter:

Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)

Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary.

Who is the Worst Sinner You Know?

Paul never lost the wonder of the gospel of God’s grace to him. Even after 30+ years of walking with Christ and serving as the lead apostle among the Gentiles, he remained blown away by the fact that God had saved him. In 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Paul recounts his testimony of how the grace of God transformed his life. Before Christ stopped him on the road to Damascus he “was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (1:13). But the grace of God was more than sufficient to save him, since “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1:15).

At this point Paul makes a surprising statement. We might expect Paul to continue his thought by saying “among whom I WAS the foremost.” Given his life before Christ, who could argue? He was a persecutor of the church and a blasphemer! But instead Paul says “among whom I AM the foremost” (1:15). In other words, Paul thinks of himself currently as the “foremost of sinners.” It is not merely a description of his former life, but a statement of his current experience.

So how could Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, think of himself as the foremost of sinners after 30+ years of walking with Christ? I believe the answer rests in his self-understanding and his God-understanding. Paul knew the mixture of his motives, the impurity of his desires, the extent of his failure to love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. As he grew in his understanding of God he progressively saw the depths of his sin in ways he never appreciated. Combined with his growing understanding of the perfections of God in Christ his sin became increasingly odious to him.

Who came to mind when you saw the title of this post? Did you think of a mass murderer? A child molestor? Osama bin Laden? Hitler? I am becoming convinced that the biblical answer to that question for every single person is “me.” Sure, I haven’t committed the outward acts that would lead others to call me the worst sinner they know. But when we recall Jesus’ exposition of the Law in Matthew 5–6, I reach a different conclusion. I am guilty in my heart of the very sins that Jesus describes. Even my best actions are tainted by sinful motivations, many of which I do not even fully recognize or appreciate.

I am convinced that one of the marks of growth in holiness is paradoxically a growing awareness of the depth and extent of our sinfulness. As the Spirit continues his work in our lives, he exposes the idolatry in our lives in all its various forms. But he does this to cause us to abandon those idols and instead cling to Christ. And that is why we need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily.

So, who is the worst sinner you know?

Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary.

Expository Preaching Part 2 – Content

In my first post I defined expository preaching as preaching in which the content, intent, and structure of the passage determines the content, intent, and structure of the message. Today I want to focus on the “content” portion of that definition.

In contrast to topical preaching (which chooses a topic or subject and then collects various texts that deal with that topic), expository preaching chooses one passage of Scripture as the foundation of the message. The length of the passage can vary significantly, from a single verse to an entire book of the Bible. But the defining characteristic in view here is that the content of the passage determines what the preacher preaches. If the passage deals with the deity of Christ, the preacher preaches on the deity of Christ. If it deals with caring for widows, he preaches on caring for widows. You get the picture.

But expository preaching is more than merely making sure that some of the topics present in the passage are present in your message. Good expository preaching seeks to determine the central thrust of the passage and make that the central thrust of the message. Different preachers refer to this with different terms such as the big idea, the proposition, or the burden of the sermon. In determining the central thrust of the passage, you are making the claim that everything in the passage in some way relates to it. In the same way, everything in the message should in some way relate to the central thrust of the passage.

Determining the central thrust of the passage enables the preacher to know what to emphasize in his message. In a passage of any significant length, any number of elements might catch the preacher’s eye and lead him down a rabbit trail. But the central thrust helps to rein in the preacher and prevent him from simply selecting the elements of a passage that are most interesting to him. It also provides a helpful filter for determining what stays in the sermon and what is left on the cutting room floor.

In the next installment in this series, I’ll discuss the “intent” portion of my definition.

Expository Preaching, Part 1 – Introduction

Today I am beginning a new series of posts on expository preaching. My goal in writing this series is to clarify and articulate my understanding of this important ministry of the church. While I think there are other forms of preaching that are valuable and have a place within the life of the church, it is my conviction that expository preaching should be the foundation of the pulpit ministry of a healthy, gospel-centered, Christ-focused church.

What is Expository Preaching?

Although sometimes referred to as exegetical preaching, I prefer the term expository for the simple reason that it more clearly communicates that the goal of such preaching is to expose–that is, bring into clear view–at least three things: (1) the meaning of the text; (2) the majesty and beauty of the God who spoke the text; (3) the response called for by the text.

So how should we define expository preaching? My preaching professor in seminary Mike Bullmore defined it as preaching in which the content and intent of the passage shapes the content and intent of the message. As I have continued to reflect on and attempt to practice expository preaching, I have built on that foundation and expanded it to define it as follows: expository preaching is preaching in which the content, intent, and structure of the passage determines the content, intent, and structure of the message. The remainder of the series will further unpack this definition; what I want to focus on in the remainder of this post is why I believe expository preaching (as defined this way) is the best way approach to preaching.

Why Expository Preaching Should Be the Preferred Method of Preaching

There are at least three reasons why expository preaching should be the “default” method of preaching in the church.

1. Expository Preaching self-consciously submits to the authority of the text and the author(s) of Scripture. If we truly believe that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then we will want to submit ourselves to its authority. When the preacher sits down to prepare an expository message, he is acknowledging that God’s Word and not his own thoughts have ultimate authority. As Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Expository preaching forces the preacher to first determine what the author said before considering what the preacher will say.

2. Expository Preaching is best positioned to hear the authoritative voice of God through preaching. What God’s people need to hear most is the voice of God himself through the preacher. God brings life through his Word: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11). When the preacher aligns his own words with God’s words he can be confident that God will accomplish his purposes.

3. Expository Preaching is best positioned to build a biblical worldview in the preacher and the congregation. As a general rule the most significant effect that good preaching has is not so much rooted in particular sermons, but the cumulative effect that faithful preaching has over an extended period of time. Expository preaching reveals the way that the biblical authors thought, felt, and believed. It exposes how they viewed the world so that we can then adopt that same frame of reference for evaluating all of reality.

In the next installment, I will begin unpacking the definition of expository preaching.

The Gospel in Habakkuk and Obadiah

This past Sunday was week 8 in my class on the Gospel according to the Minor Prophets. Because the class is 13 weeks and I do both an introductory and summary week, that means that there is one week where I double up and do two minor prophets. So I combined Habakkuk 1 and Obadiah 1.

Little is known about Habakkuk other than he saw this prophetic oracle and in response wrote the prayer/psalm that comprises Habakkuk 3. He likely received this prophetic revelation after the death of King Josiah (609 BC) and the initial invasion by the Babylonians (605 BC). One thing that makes this prophetic book unique is that it take the form of a complaint by the prophet and God’s response.

That complaint centers on how long God will wait before bringing judgment on sinful Judah (Habakkuk 1:2-4). God’s shocking response is that he will use the Babylonians to execute judgment on them (Habakkuk 1:5-11). Habakkuk responds with incredulity: how can God use a people more wicked than Judah to bring judgment on them (Habakkuk 1:12-17)? God responds by assuring Habakkuk that he will also in due time bring judgment on Babylon as well (Habakkuk 2:2-20). Habakkuk in turn responds with a prayer that celebrates God’s sovereignty in judgment and salvation (Habakkuk 3).

While there is much to glean from Habakkuk, I would summarize the theological big idea as this: Even when we cannot trace God’s hand of justice or providence, we can patiently trust and rejoice in His character. Habakkuk models for us how to properly question God when we don’t understand what is happening around us. He does so with humility, ready to receive correction (Habakkuk 2:1). Those who are righteous will live by faith, trusting in God’s faithful character (Habakkuk 2:4). The ultimate example of this is the cross. What seemed like the end of God’s plan was in fact the centerpiece of saving his people.

Like Habakkuk, we know little about the man Obadiah. Depending on how his name is vocalized, it means either “servant of God” or “worshiper of God.” Although there are no clear indicators of when he ministered, the most likely date is sometime shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem (586 BC). The main focus of this brief minor prophet is judgment on Edom for not only failing to help Judah in her hour of need but actively mocking and looting them. God assures his people that Edom will one day pay for her sins, just like all the nations.

The final line of the book points towards the theological big idea: God will soon defeat the enemies of His people and establish His rule over His people forever. Jesus began his ministry by announcing that the time was fulfilled and the kingdom of God was at hand. He could claim that because he was the long-promised Davidic king inaugurated that kingdom through his life of perfect obedience, his miraculous ministry, his sacrificial death on the cross for our sins, his resurrection from the dead, and his triumphant ascension to the right hand of the Father. And one day he will return in glory to consummate his kingdom in a new heavens and new earth where we will dwell with him forever.

Want to hear more? You can check out the audio and the handout below:

Week 8 – Habakkuk & Obadiah (AUDIO)

Week 8 – Habakkuk & Obadiah (Handout)

The Meaning of Grace

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

When Paul greets his congregations with the word grace (Gr. charis), he is likely adapting the standard Greco-Roman greeting (chairein, which meant “Greetings”). By grace Paul refers to the undeserved blessing and favor that God bestows on sinners. In fact, it is not so much undeserved as ill-deserved. In other words, it is not merely that human beings do not deserve God’s favor, but that we have done everything to deserve the exact opposite of God’s favor—his wrath. For Paul the word grace at times seems to function as shorthand for all that God has done for his people in Christ. Perhaps that is why nearly all his letters end with the expression “Grace be with you” (Philippians 4:23).

Do you realize the staggering nature of God’s grace to you? And as recipients of it do you extend that same grace to others?

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.

TGIM – Thank God It’s Monday?

We are all familiar with the abbreviation TGIF – Thank God It’s Friday. It has become such a part of our culture that there is even a restaurant named T.G.I.Fridays! We live in a culture that often lives for the weekend, or the next vacation. According to a recent study, only about 45% of American workers are either satisfied or extremely satisfied with their jobs. A different survey suggests that the number may be as low as 33%. Only 20% of Americans feel very passionate about their jobs. Perhaps most telling was the fact that 33% of those surveyed believed they had reached a dead end in their career.

In light of that reality, a good number of us do not look forward to Monday and the start of the work week. But what would have to happen in our hearts to make us actually look forward to going to work no matter what kind of job situation we are in? To get us to the point where we might actually find ourselves saying TGIM – Thank God It’s Monday?

Only something as powerful as the gospel can transform our work from drudgery to delight. Curious? At this link you can listen to a recent sermon I gave from Ephesians 6:5-9. It was part of our church’s series entitled “The Gospel Changes Everything,” in which we walked through the entire book of Ephesians.

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.

Living in Light of the Last Day (Philippians 1:20)

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

Paul’s goal of being vindicated on the final day can be accomplished whether by life or by death. These are the two possible outcomes for Paul as he contemplates his fate before the Roman judicial system. Christ being magnified is not dependent upon a particular outcome to Paul’s legal situation. If Paul is released, Christ is seen to be great in his power to move the hearts and minds of those earthly authorities that have jurisdiction over Paul. If Paul is executed, Christ is seen to be great in that he is worth suffering the ultimate price to follow him.

This verse provides much rich material for reflection and application. First, we should note Paul’s eschatological orientation. All of life, and even death itself, is viewed from the perspective of the last day. All of Paul’s hopes are directed towards that unshakeable reality that one day Christ will consummate his kingdom, cast all his enemies into the lake of fire, and dwell with his people in a new heavens and new earth. Every experience, whether good bad or indifferent, was evaluated within this eschatological framework (cf. 1 Pet 1:13). These are words that much of the Western church has lost sight of in its pursuit of relevance and its focus on social justice devoid of the good news of Jesus Christ and the call to repent and believe. What ultimately matters is the verdict of God on the final day, and this verse lays out the two options: we will either be ashamed and be cast out of God’s presence, or Christ will be magnified as his work through his servant is detailed.

Second, this verse provides one more indication that the ultimate goal of Paul’s life is to glorify God. For the Christian, everything is subsumed under this one heading of glorifying God. And glorifying God is not limited to life; it extends to how we die as well. Such an attitude is possible because death does not have the final word for the Christian (1 Cor 15:54-57; Heb 2:14-18).

Third, Paul’s attitude makes it clear that the preservation and extension of physical life is not the highest end. Paul could have virtually guaranteed a longer life had he simply “toned down” his devotion to Christ, but he refused. Unfortunately, too many Christians live as if physical life is the highest goal. The words of an old hymn capture this reality well:[1]

It is not death to die,
To leave this weary road,
And midst the brotherhood on high
To be at home with God.

It is not death to close
The eye long dimmed by tears,
And wake, in glorious repose,
To spend eternal years.

It is not death to bear
The wrench that sets us free
From dungeon chain, to breath the air
Of boundless liberty.

It is not death to fling
Aside this sinful dust
And rise, on strong exulting wing
To live among the just.

Jesus, Thou Prince of Life,
Thy chosen cannot die:
Like Thee, they conquer in the strife
To reign with Thee on high.

Fourth, God expects his Son to be glorified in tangible ways in our bodies. Often when Christians talk about glorifying God it is in the context of doing specifically spiritual things, like Bible reading, prayer, evangelism, etc. But God intends that our entire lives are to glorify God, even to the most mundane activities of eating and drinking (1 Cor 10:31). Others err when they live as if the physical is bad or evil while only the spiritual is good. The spirit of Gnosticism, it seems, has not entirely died out. But Scripture makes clear that God has given us bodies through which he intends to be glorified. Our bodies are the sphere in which God intends the name of Jesus to be made great.


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.

A Biblical Theology of Servanthood

One of the things I most enjoy in teaching is tracing a biblical-theological theme from Genesis to Revelation. So when Brian McCrorie, the pastor of Heather Hills Baptist Church, invited me to come to his church’s leadership retreat and teach on a biblical theology of servanthood, I eagerly accepted.

So in the 75 minutes I was given, I attempted to show that because we failed to serve God in the way we were created to, God raised up servants to point forward to the ultimate servant Jesus Christ. Throughout redemptive history God gives the title “servant” to key figures such as Adam, Moses, Joshua, David, and the Isaianic servant, each of whom anticipates some aspect of Jesus’ identity.

Want to hear more? You can listen below and follow along with the handout:


A Selective and Necessarily Brief Biblical Theology of Servant (Heather Hills Study Retreat 01-09-2015)

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.