Matthew Harmon

  • 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.

  • Preachers with Questionable Motives (Philippians 1:17)

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

    Who then are these preachers with less than commendable motives?[1] First, since Paul is describing his own circumstances, he is almost certainly referring to preachers who are active in Rome where he is in custody. Second, the fact that they preach Christ indicates that they are not the same people mentioned in 1:27-30, 3:2, or 3:18-21. In each of those passages the actions of these groups are described as antithetical to the gospel message itself, whereas here the message is correct while the motives for preaching it are not.[2] Third, about five years before writing this letter Paul had written the Roman church in part to address disagreements over observing food laws and elements of the Jewish calendar (Romans 14:1–15:13). Although we do not know how the letter was received by those in Rome, it is certainly possible that Paul’s attempt to bring unity may not have succeeded. This, along with various rumors of Paul’s rejection of the Mosaic Law, may have been enough to prompt some Roman Christians to preach the gospel in an effort to diminish Paul’s influence and thus cause him trouble.[3] Some thirty years later, Clement of Rome wrote that “Because of envy and jealousy [phthonon; cp. Phil 1:15], the greatest and most righteous pillars were persecuted and fought to the death…. Because of jealousy and strife [erin; cp. Phil 1:15] Paul showed the way to the prize for patient endurance” (1 Clement 5:2, 5).

    Regardless of who these preachers are, Paul likely mentions them not merely to explain his own circumstances but because of potentially similar issues in Philippi. Throughout the letter Paul addresses the importance of unity, not looking out for one’s own interests, and prioritizing the gospel above personal preferences. Thus, Paul’s own example anticipates his exhortations later (1:27–2:18; 4:1-9) in the letter and prepare the way for the ultimate example of self-denial, Jesus Christ (2:5-11).

    Paul demonstrates a tenacious commitment to the progress of the gospel regardless of the implications for him. His attitude reflects that his ministry is not about him, but rather centers on the one he preaches. As Paul testifies elsewhere, “what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5). Yet sadly “The robe of ‘Christian ministry’ cloaks many a shameless idolatry.”[4] The focus of a gospel ministry should not be the personality of the one preaching, but the person who is preached—Jesus Christ.

    [1] For a detailed listing of the various suggestions, see Reumann, Philippians, 202-07.

    [2] The fact that Paul describes them as preaching Christ makes it clear that these preachers are not false teachers such as those he corrects in Galatians and 1-2 Corinthians. Thus, it is not so much that Paul has mellowed in his older years (as suggested by some such as Bockmuehl, Philippians, 81), but rather that Paul is dealing with very different circumstances.

    [3] Along similar lines see Fee, Philippians, 121-23; Bockmuehl, Philippians, 77-78; Silva, Philippians, 64-65; Witherington, Philippians, 81-82.

    [4] Bockmuehl, Philippians, 80.

  • The Past, Present, and Future of Our Salvation (Philippians 1:5-6)

    Here in Philippians 1:5-6 we have the past, present, and future of our salvation in a short span. Paul speaks of “the first day” the Philippians believed the gospel and became partakers of it and its benefits (Philippians 1:5). He then speaks of the “present time” during which the Philippians live, during which they are experiencing fellowship in the gospel and the ongoing work of God in/among them (Philippians 1:5-6). And he concludes by speaking the “day of Christ Jesus” when all of God’s purposes will reach their consummation (Philippians 1:6). On that day “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). It is these temporal references that help the Philippians form a frame of reference for all that God has done and is yet to do.

    What was true of the Philippians is true of us as believers today. God is the one who began the great work of redemption in us, making us a new creation by the work of his Spirit. He continues that work in us as we share in the benefits and implications of the gospel in fellowship with other believers. But we still must await the great day of Christ for that work to be completed by the transformation of our lowly bodies into conformity with the glorious body of the risen Jesus (Philippians 3:20-21).

  • Paul’s Self-Identity in Philippians 1:1

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

    When Paul opens his letters, he always includes a description of himself. Here in Philippians 1:1 that description is servant of Christ. This translation is slightly misleading, since the Greek word doulos refers to a slave rather than a hired servant.1 This is one of Paul’s favorite titles, though it is phrased in a variety of different ways. The moniker reflects his conviction that he belongs to Jesus Christ and is completely at his disposal. It may also reflect Paul’s conviction that Christ dwelling in him was fulfilling the mission of the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 49:6 to be a light to the nations, bringing salvation to them (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20-21; Galatians 1:10, Galatians 1:15-16; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:24-26; see also Acts 13:46-48).3

    But Paul also applies the title “servant” to his coworkers in ministry, including Timothy as he does here (cf. also Colossians 4:12; 2 Timothy 2:24-25). The prominence of the title may also stem from Jesus’ own teaching that those who desire to be great must be servants, following the pattern of Jesus himself (Mark 10:43-45). More importantly this title also anticipates the description of Christ in Philippians 2:7 as one who took “the form of a servant” in an act of self-sacrificial love for others. The work of the ultimate servant Jesus Christ creates servants who are empowered to love and live as he did.4

    Is the category of servant/slave at the heart of your self-identity as a Christian?

    1. For a helpful description of slavery in the Roman empire, see J Albert Harrill, “Slavery,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin and Daniel G. Reid; Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), 1124-27. On the spiritual significance of slavery as a metaphor for the Christian life, see Dale B. Martin, Slavery as Salvation: The Metaphor of Slavery in Pauline Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990) and Murray J. Harris, Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ (NSBT 8; Downers Grove: IVP, 2001).

    3. This is most clearly seen in Galatians 1. For a fuller treatment, see Matthew S. Harmon, She Must and Shall Go Free: Paul’s Isaianic Gospel in Galatians (BZNW 168; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010), 103-22. Of course, given the prevalence of slavery in the ancient world, the Philippians would also have heard this description in light of that; see O’Brien, Philippians, 45; Fee, Philippians, 62-63.

    4. This idea of the work of the Servant of the Lord creating servants is drawn from Isaiah 40; see further Matthew S. Harmon, She Must and Shall Go Free: Paul’s Isaianic Gospel in Galatians (BZNW 168; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010), 71-75.

  • 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