Matthew Harmon

  • 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.

  • Worthy: Will We Acknowledge Him? (Psalms 1-2)

    This past Sunday we began a new series at Christ’s Covenant Church on the Psalms. We have entitled the series “Worthy” to capture two key truths: (1) God is worthy of our love, our devotion, our worship; and in light of this (2) we are called to live in a way that is worthy of him. So throughout this series we will focus on these two aspects of the term worthy as we look at various psalms to feed our souls and fuel our devotion to Christ no matter what life circumstances we encounter.

    The Psalms connect with us on so many levels. They express the entire spectrum of human experience and display the full range of God’s character and his dealings with humanity. When we read the Psalms we scale the heights of joyful worship of our exalted God and plumb the depths of despair that come from living in a fallen world. In between we find the daily challenges of living a life of worship. The great Reformer Martin Luther referred to the Psalms as “the Bible in miniature.” In fact, one Luther scholar observes that:1

    Romans gave Luther his theology, but it was the Psalms that gave him his thunder. The Psalms gave Luther a towering view of God, so much so that in preaching the gospel, he was ready to fight the devil himself.

    The 150 psalms that are in the book come from a variety of authors and time periods, some as early as Moses. The primary person associated with the Psalms is King David. He not only wrote many of them, but one of the major themes in Psalms is the promise that God made to him in 2 Samuel 7 about one of his descendants ruling over God’s people and ultimately the world. The book of Psalms is broken up into five “books,” which likely mirrors the first five books of the Old Testament. Sometime after the Jewish people returned from their exile in Babylon these psalms were collected for use in worship. So there is a sense in which Psalms is like a hymnal. But the arrangement and ordering of the Psalms is not accidental. In many cases psalms have clearly been grouped together to make a point that goes beyond the individual psalms.

    That is the case with the Psalms 1–2, as we will see when working our way through them this morning. These two psalms were placed together at the beginning of the Psalms to introduce the book as a whole. When understood together they not only set the trajectory for the entire collection, but introduce key themes that are developed along the way. In addition to that, Psalms 1–2 beautifully capture the dual focus of our series—the worthiness of God and the call to live a life that is worthy of Him. Psalm 1 will lay out for us a worthy life, and Psalm 2 will show us a worthy king. But as we go through Psalms 1–2, the question I want you to keep in mind is the relationship between the two. In other words, what is the relationship between a life that is worthy and the king who is worthy of worship?

    Interested in hearing more? You can find the audio of the sermon here.

    [1] See

  • 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