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

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.


[1] http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/i/i/n/iindeath.htm.


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:

MP3

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.


Why Teach the Storyline of Scripture?

In anticipation of a one-week biblical theology course that I am teaching with Jim Hamilton at Northland International University in January, we were asked why it is important to study the storyline of Scripture. You can see our responses below:

Jim and I are excited to be working together in this class, and would love for you to join us. The course applies to the degrees for Master of Arts, Master of Ministry, and Doctor of Ministry. The great thing is that Northland will scholarship the cost of tuition for any first time student. You can find more information on the course here.


Are You a "Saint"?

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

As evangelicals we often talk about ourselves as “sinners saved by grace.” While this statement is true, the Bible also describes believers as saints. According to its consistent use in the New Testament, the term translated saints (hagios) refers to all believers, not a special class of individuals who are super-spiritual as in the Roman Catholic tradition. The term simply means “holy ones” or those “set apart” for God’s special purposes,1 so in that sense every Christian is a “saint.”

This language is drawn from the Old Testament (Exodus 31:13; Leviticus 11:45, Leviticus 19:2; Daniel 7:18, Daniel 7:27), and particularly Exodus 19:5-6, where God refers to Israel as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Believers’ status as “holy ones” stems from the fact that God himself is holy (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:13-16). So believers demonstrate that they are set apart for God’s special purposes by living lives that reflect (albeit imperfectly) the moral purity of God himself. So while the focus of the term is on the believer’s status/identity because of their faith in Christ, those who truly have that status will reflect it in their lives (Hebrews 12:14).


[1] See BDAG 2.d.β. Fee suggests translating hagios as “God’s holy people” which he explains as “believers in Christ as constituting God’s people, set apart by the Holy Spirit for God’s purposes and distinguished as those who manifest his character in the world” (Philippians, 65).


The Gospel in Zephaniah

This past Sunday was week 7 in my class on the Gospel according to the Minor Prophets. We worked our way through Zephaniah 1, one of my favorite Minor Prophets. Based on the brief genealogy in Zephaniah 1:1 he appears to have been the great-great-grandson of King Hezekiah of Judah (715-686 BC). He prophesied during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC), during which the book of the Law was rediscovered in the temple (ca. 622 BC; see 2 Kings 22:8-13). Given the number of places where Zephaniah seems to echo the language of Deuteronomy 1, it seems possible that he wrote after this rediscovery but before the destruction of Nineveh in 612 BC.

The main theological theme in the book is the Day of the LORD. Throughout the book, Zephaniah describes the utter destruction and desolation that will come when the fire of God’s jealous wrath is unleashed. The Day of the LORD will bring judgment on God’s enemies and salvation for his people. On the one hand, the focus in Zephaniah is on the impending destruction of Jerusalem that eventually comes in 586 BC (Zephaniah 1:7-13; Zephaniah 3:1-8). On the other hand, the language used goes beyond that event to the judgment that is coming on the entire world (Zephaniah 1:2-6, Zephaniah 1:14-18). That’s because all throughout history there are a series of “days of the LORD” that anticipate the final and ultimate “Day of the LORD” at the end of human history. These small “d” days of the LORD include the destruction of the Northern Kingdom (722 BC) and the destruction of Jerusalem (586 BC), as well as the crucifixion, Pentecost, and the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD). All of these events in some way anticipate the final Day of the Lord at the end of human history when God will bring final judgment on his enemies and consummate the salvation of his people.

How can we as God’s people today benefit from Zephaniah? What is it that God has to say to us today through this Minor Prophet?

I believe the starting point is determining the theological big idea, which I would summarize as follows: Yahweh is a mighty warrior who brings judgment but saves the remnant who flee to him as their King.

While Zephaniah describes in terrifying detail the coming Day of the LORD, he closes with a stunning picture of God restoring his people (Zephaniah 3:14-20). As the true King of Israel, Jesus dwells in the midst of his people. He is our mighty warrior who rejoices over us with gladness, is quiet in his love, and exults over us with loud singing.

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

Week 7 – Zephaniah (AUDIO)

Week 7 – Zephaniah (Handout)


God’s Good Gift of Sleep

Psalm 127 is a well-known passage of Scripture. The first half (1-2) emphasizes the necessity of God superintending our work if it is not to be in vain, while the second half (3-6) extols the blessing that children are, picturing them as arrows in a man’s quiver. But tucked away at the end of verse two is a little appreciated line:

It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives to his beloved sleep.

What Solomon indicates here is that apart from the LORD’s blessing of our labor, it is vain (cp. Eccl 1:1-18). But this last line also recognizes the good gift that sleep is to his people. When we rest our heads on the pillow at night, we are in effect implicitly trusting both the sovereignty and goodness of God. We are trusting his sovereignty because sleep is the cessation of our labor. It is us recognizing that whatever remains undone, God alone is sovereign over it. We are trusting his goodness in surrendering to the rest that our bodies need to enable us to function. It is us recognizing that we are not God.

If you’re anything like me, it is easy for my mind to run wild at the end of the day as I lie in bed waiting to fall asleep. Often my mind turns to the things that did not get done, or what must get done for the next day. This can easily turn into sinful anxiety (cf. Matt 6:25-34). At the root of our anxiety is often the idol of control. Deep down we believe that we either have or must have control. And if we push that even further, it is at the root rebellion against the One who truly is Sovereign.

So tonight as you lie in bed, waiting for sleep to overtake you, and your mind turns to the things you did not get done, rest in the goodness and sovereignty of God. And then embrace sleep as God’s good gift.


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.


5 Foundations for Unity in the NT

One of the perennial issues when discussing NT theology is the tension between the diversity of the individual documents and the claim that they contain a unified message. When reading through the NT, it does not take long to realize, for example, that Luke sounds different than John, and Paul different than both of them.

So what basis is there for seeing unity in the midst of such diversity? I suggest the following five foundations, offered in approximate order of significance in my mind.

  1. The various NT authors explicitly or implicitly work from the same basic kerygma. A comparison of the Gospels with the speeches in Acts as well as the teaching in the epistles reveals a basic sequence of events and actions pertaining to Christ that unify their message and establish parameters for true in contrast to false doctrine. Especially helpful in this regard is the work of C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Development.
  2. The various NT authors all wrote in the context of the mission of Jesus and the extension of that mission through the church. Each of the NT documents arose in the context of missionary expansion of the church. The Gospels testify to the mission of Jesus, Acts connects the mission of the church to the mission of Jesus, the Epistles address issues arising in the advance of mission, and Revelation describes the consummation of Jesus’ mission in a new heaven and new earth. Particularly noteworthy on this point is the work of David Wenham, “Unity and Diversity in the NT,” in G.E. Ladd, A Theology of the NT, 712-713.
  3. The various NT authors all claim continuity with and fulfillment of the OT hope. Although done in a variety of ways (promise/fulfillment, typology, salvation-history), all of the NT authors see the person and work of Jesus as the realization of what the OT promised. Note here should be made of C.H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: The Sub-structure of NT Theology. The OT supplies the conceptual framework for their understanding of Jesus and significance of his actions.
  4. The divine inspiration of the various NT authors produces a demonstrable unity of thought. I have placed this one fourth for the simple reason that I want to show that arguing for unity in the NT does not exclusively hinge on accepting the inspiration of the NT. Of course, as one who firmly believes in the inspiration of both the OT and NT, it makes sense that there would be unity in the various documents if He was in fact responsible for their production. In one sense then we could argue that the diversity of the NT documents is a product of the individual human authors and their peculiar modes of thought/expression, while their unity is the result of the one Spirit inspiring those different authors to produce exactly what God wants said exactly how he wants it said.
  5. The recognition by the church of these NT documents as inspired and authoritative led them to organize them into the canon. The very fact that the church recognized some documents as authoritative and others as not demonstrates a conviction that there is in fact a core to the apostolic message. While not denying that this was a process not without dispute, the church’s recognition of these documents indicates a perceived unity among the 27 documents that should not be dismissed lightly.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list; no doubt others can think of other reasons for seeing unity in the 27 diverse NT documents. As to the order, I have chosen to prioritize the first three in order to stress that claiming unity in the NT does not rest solely on one’s belief in divine inspiration and the acceptance of the canon.


Week 12 – Conclusion and Review (Jeremiah)

Now that we have reached the end of our journey through Jeremiah, we spent our final class period reflecting on what we have learned about God, humanity, and redemption. It was a great discussion of what God was doing in people’s lives through the timeless message of Jeremiah.

On a personal note, I think the most significant insight I gained was seeing a glimpse of imputation in Jeremiah I had never noticed before. In Jer 23:5 YHWH promises to “raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shalll reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” He will be called “The LORD is our righteousness” (23:6). Later in Jer 33:15 God reiterates this promise of a righteous Branch from the line of David. But in this passage it is Jerusalem that is given the name “The LORD is our righteousness” (33:16). The righteousness of the righteous Branch is given to the people whom he redeems. As such it aligns with what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Interested in hearing more? You can listen to the audio below and follow along with the handout:

MP3

Week 12 -Conclusion and Review (Handout)


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.