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The Good Book Blog


The Good Book Blog

The Good Book Blog is the faculty blog of Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Representing the diverse areas of specialty within the seminary, but bound by a common commitment to biblical authority, the blog seeks to engage with important topics in biblical studies, theology, philosophy, spiritual formation and Christian education. The Good Book Blog is a resource for anyone seeking solid biblical scholarship that engages contemporary ideas from a decidedly evangelical perspective. 

Visit the Good Book Blog at: http://thegoodbookblog.com

God Has Dealt Bountifully with Me

By Nell Sunukjian

The colors and smells of fall have arrived, even here in southern California. Red, yellow, gold, and peach-colored roses, fresh from my garden, are tucked into a round pumpkin. Homemade pumpkin bread, smelling of cinnamon and ginger is fresh from the oven and ready to be tucked into our mouths.

Thanksgiving is almost here.

Sometimes, though, we have trouble entering into the full spirit of Thanksgiving. Perhaps we’ve experienced a loss recently, as my friend, Jan, did when her mother died. Or, someone we love may have inoperable cancer. Maybe one of our children is not following the Lord. And we feel sad, and even a bit ungrateful as Thanksgiving approaches.

At times we may even feel God has forgotten us.

                  Where is God?

                  Why can’t I sense God’s presence?

                  Have you forgotten me, O Lord?

                  How long will my enemies triumph?             

King David felt this way once. He felt despair and desolation and it seemed like it would last forever! In Psalm 13, he kept saying, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?”

Some scholars think that David was physically sick when he wrote this psalm, and that he was deeply discouraged because he hadn’t heard from God. Clearly some situation which was unchanged was causing him sorrow.

He admitted to God that he was wrestling with his thoughts, and feeling great sorrow every day. And he wanted it to end!

We get to these places, too. We may have prayed for healing from a sickness and are no better. We prayed earnestly for a sister to recover from cancer, but she continues to get worse. Our son or daughter is not seeking God as we have asked and we find that God is distant—where is He? How long will it be until He answers my prayer?

What did David do to solve the dilemma of waiting for God? He continued to pray to God and to put his hope in Him. David knew that he himself couldn’t solve the problem. If he was physically ill, he knew he would die without God’s help. He knew that the answer lay with continuing to seek God in prayer. So he called out to God in verse 3, “Look on me and answer me, O Lord, my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death.”

Even though David couldn’t sense God and didn’t know where God was, David didn’t turn his back on God. He turned toward God and put his full confidence in Him. He said, “I have this enemy, this sickness and sadness, and You are distant, O God, but I will put my trust in you anyway! I’m not going to give in to my enemies! They are not going to win! I’m going to put my trust in You; You are my Lord and my God. Look on me and answer me. I have no one else to turn to and I’m going to choose You and not listen to the taunts of my enemies.”

And so he prayed. He poured out his heart to God. He told God that if he was ever going to see light in his desolation, God would have to shine that light. And he wanted God to shine that light so that David’s enemies would not think they had triumphed over him! He wanted God to answer him so he could triumph over his enemies (verses 3 & 4)!

When we are ill or have a continuing problem that God doesn’t seem to hear and we think He has forgotten us, we can choose to give in to that. We can say, “I’m just not going to pray anymore, because how long has it been since God answered me? I give up.”

We can choose to do that.

And then our enemies win.

OR,

we can choose to follow David’s example and say, “I’m not going to give in to my enemies! I’m going to put my trust in God and not let my enemies win. I’m going to keep on praying!”

We can keep on praying for healing, for ourselves or for others. We can keep on praying that our son or daughter will follow the Lord. If God doesn’t answer and it seems so long, we can choose to keep on! And not give up! And not let our enemies win!

As David continued to pray, his spirit did an about-face. He said, “As for me, I’m putting my trust in God’s unfailing love! (verse 5) I’m leaving these enemies, these doubts, this uncertainty about why You don’t answer, God, and I’m just putting my trust in You. I’m putting my confidence in Your unfailing covenant love! You made a covenant with Israel—You promised Your love to them, to me, and You, not my enemies, are the truth and the way and I’m going to follow You! I’m going to rejoice in the salvation You are bringing me!”

And so, we must, as King David did, turn toward God—even if we think He has forgotten us—and we must continue to trust in God’s unfailing love.

That’s what trust is, that’s what faith is. It’s walking toward God when there is no evidence. Otherwise, why would we need to trust Him?

And then we come to this marvelous verse that ends the psalm, verse 6. David, looking toward a future that has not yet changed, but speaking as though it has, says, “I’m going to sing a song of praise to God for He has dealt bountifully with me.”

David chooses to praise God, even this God who seemed to have forgotten him, because David focuses on the truth—GOD HAS NOT FORGOTTEN HIM. No, indeed, looking ahead as though it has happened, David says that not only has God not only not forgotten him, God has dealt bountifully with him! God has been better to him than he could have ever hoped. God has been more generous with him than he even asked for. God has been lavish with him.

And so with us.

When I am tempted to stop praying for my son or daughter who doesn’t follow the Lord, I can follow the example in this psalm. I can by faith say, “Wait a minute. This is God we are talking about. He can’t forget me! He has me engraved on the palms of His hands! He sent His precious Son, Jesus, to die for my sins so I could be forgiven! He’s preparing a place for me in heaven. He can’t have forgotten me. It’s not possible! He has promised to love me. He loves the whole world! “

So, by faith I can choose the truth. God has not forgotten me. Instead of forgetting, He is dealing bountifully with me. He is dealing lavishly with me. He is treating me with deep love and provision, far more than I deserve or could ever expect.

I can choose to look to the future, and I can say, “Oh, how good God has been to me. He’s been even better than I imagined. He’s been not just good, He’s been bountiful.”

And for you, God does the same. You pray for healing from the cancer, but if He doesn’t heal in this life, you can still say that God has dealt bountifully with you. After all, we have salvation! We have eternity! We have so much to rejoice in with those things.

“Lord, You are good. We turn from our own way, and our complaining, and our wrong thinking that you don’t hear us, and we look at You. We gaze at who You are—Your unfailing love for us, Your salvation. We know that You will be good to us. We say, by faith, O Lord, that we give You praise, for You have dealt bountifully with us and You will continue to do so.”


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.


Lessons from the Fog

By Joy Mosbarger

A few weeks ago I had an early morning meeting that required me to get up and leave home way before it was light. As I walked out my front door, I noticed for the first time that not only was the world still shrouded in darkness, but it was also shrouded in fog. This immediately brought back strong memories of the years I lived in California’s Central Valley where heavy fog at certain times of the year was commonplace. And most of those memories were not pleasant.

In fact, most of those memories involved driving, and the primary emotion they evoked was apprehension. My first memory of driving in the fog happened during my first year of college when the college closed down for a “fog day.” In my naiveté, I viewed this as an opportunity to leave early for a planned weekend in Southern California. I soon realized the folly of my decision when I got on the freeway and could hardly see more than a few feet in front of me. Eventually I developed a strategy of getting behind a big semitrailer. I stayed just close enough so I could see its lights. If it slowed down, I slowed down. If it speeded up, I speeded up. If it changed lanes, I changed lanes. Needless to say, my eyes were intensely focused on those lights.

The fog that was present on my way to my early morning meeting was not as thick as that Central Valley fog often was. But it was thick enough that I adopted my strategy of keeping my eyes focused intently on the lights of the car in front of me, my hands tightly gripping the steering wheel. In the midst of my intense focus, a line from one of the songs that was playing on the radio jumped out at me... “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” The connection between the intensity of my focus on that car in front of me and the idea of fixing our eyes on Jesus struck me immediately. That thought was followed almost instantly by a powerful grief that I so rarely focus as intently on Jesus as I was focused on that car in front of me.

Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us that we should run with endurance the race of life before us with our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of our faith. The Greek participle that is translated “fixing” (aphorōntes) evokes the idea of directing close attention on one thing without distraction and to the exclusion of anything else. Unfortunately, I am easily distracted. But when driving in the fog, I realized that if I took my eyes off of that car or truck in front of me, I could miss a lane change or a sudden stop. Straining to look beyond that car or to see what was happening on either side of me could result in the failure to notice a key move on the part of what should be the object of my attention. Fixing our eyes on Jesus involves a decision to turn away from all else that might distract us and gazing intently at Jesus alone.

And the reason we are to fix our eyes on Jesus is that he is the author and perfecter (archēgon kai teleiōtēn) of our faith. He is the author of our faith—the pioneer or originator. He is the one who has gone before us and provides the only sure example of how the life of faith is to be lived. And he is the originator of the individual path that each of our lives of faith is intended to follow. In addition, Jesus is the perfecter of our faith—the one who has brought the life of faith to a successful conclusion and makes it possible for us to do the same.

Hebrews 12:2 indicates that this successful conclusion and one of the ultimate goals of the life of faith is to sit down in the presence of God. Jesus has gone before us and was the first to attain that goal. And through Jesus, we too can enter the presence of God. On that foggy morning a few weeks ago, I was just trying to get to my meeting on time and in one piece. That’s why I fixed my eyes on that car in front of me. But during that trip I was challenged to fix my eyes consistently, with the same intensity and focus, on Jesus. Because my ultimate goal is not to get to a meeting; rather it is to arrive safely in the presence of God. Jesus is the only one who knows the safest and best path to that goal. And he will lead me there if I keep my eyes fixed on him.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

3 Ways Jesus Teaches Us to Respond to Family Frustration

By Klaus Issler

We must look to Jesus to show us the way to be strong people who are compassionately tender at appropriate times. Jesus experienced a wide range of emotions himself. He openly wept (see John 11:35); He felt deep compassion for people (see Mark 3:5); and he even displayed righteous anger (Mark 3:5). Consider this episode in His life for our instruction.

After Jesus' wonderful mountaintop experience of His transfiguration, Peter, James, John, and Jesus return to find an upset father surrounded by a crowd in debate and the other disciples who, although experienced at the ministry of exorcism, were not able to cast a demon out of a boy. The father approached Jesus to lodge his complaint: “I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not” (Luke 9:40; see also Matthew 17:16; Mark 9:18).

Instantly Jesus let out a very personal and emotional response, “O unbelieving and perverse generation, . . . how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” (Luke 9:41). The comment conveys frustration regarding the lack of faith of the father, of the crowd, and even of His disciples—or, as J.P. and I prefer to say it, a lack of God-confidence. Jesus then dealt with the situation: "Bring your son here'" (verse 41). As the boy was being brought to Jesus, the evil spirit threw him into a convulsion. When Jesus rebuked the demon in the power of the Spirit (see Matt 12:28), the boy was instantly healed. Later, while alone with His disciples, Jesus responded to their question regarding why they could not cast out the demon. “Because you have so little God-confidence” (see Matthew 17:20).

From this passage, consider the following general points, which may offer some guidance for how to respond appropriately with God's grace when facing difficulties and crises that arise with family members, friends, fellow church members, colleagues at work, and neighbors:

1. In a conflict situation, leave room for healthy emotional venting.

“Venting” suggests the letting off of a bit of internal emotional steam or frustration. R. T. France notes that rhetorical questions, as Jesus made in this particular situation (for example, “How long shall I stay with you and put up with you?”), "need be no more than idiomatic expressions of frustration."[[i]] Because Jesus never sinned (Hebrews 4:15), His expression of frustration gives us permission also to vent our own frustrations. But we must also notice how He did so. He identified the object of His frustration in their lack of God-confidence ("What an unbelieving and perverse generation!" Matthew 17:17; Luke 9:41) as one commentator translates it)[[ii]]—more of an aside to Himself, the lament of a prophet. It's not a blaming statement starting with you, but with “I” although a few Bible versions unfortunately interpret the emotional Greek interjection “O” as “You” here. Then, he owns His feelings: "How long shall I... put up with you?" And it’s not the time for fix-it solutions yet. Now is the time for appropriate emotional expression and feeling the hurt or pain of the one venting....

2. Together work on dealing with the immediate situation.

Jesus asked for the boy, and the disciples brought him. Jesus interviewed the father about the problem and diagnosed it. He healed him, in dependence on the power of the Spirit (Matt 12:28), and gave the boy back to his father. So, after we leave some time for emotions to be vented and affirmed, we then look at the pressing need together as partners, rather than as adversaries. Of course, honest venting and empathic listening sets the best tone to move to this second step. If we start looking at the past to fix blame, we've moved back into the mode of sinful compulsions and defense mechanisms, and we're also wasting valuable time and energy that could be used to work on the immediate problem. If there is an immediate issue, it must be addressed right away. That is the primary concern, not the history of how we got here.  "So what do we do now?" We face the conflict as a team. It's our problem, not your problem. We postpone any discussions of what brought the conflict on....

3. Later, privately and at leisure, discuss the episode and brainstorm ways to decrease a recurring problem.

After the healing was completed, the disciples went privately to Jesus and asked Him why they couldn't cast out the demon. Jesus explained that it was their lack of God-confidence. He then used the occasion to teach about God-confidence (see Matthew 17:20–21).

Once the impending crisis is addressed in some fashion, we can agree on the best time for reflecting on the event, when emotions are calmer and the pressing need of the problem won't oppress the tone of the conversation. We can then be honest about what went wrong. Each of us can admit the part we played. If need be, we can apologize and ask for forgiveness and receive it. For those of us who tend to fix problems, we can then offer systematic solutions that might help prevent this kind of problem from recurring.

At this point, a deeper question arises: how is growing deeper in our relationship with God tied with being more aware of our emotions? Because honesty before God is highly valued by Him, as indicated in David's psalm of confession: “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place" (Psalm 51:6, emphasis added). If we know that God wishes us to open up our deep emotions to Him, we can't go on living the same clueless way. To ignore God's invitation to open us to His searching gaze would indicate a willful resistance to His loving embrace in the deep parts of our lives. Rather, as David closes Psalm 139, let us invite God in: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (verses 23–24).


This blog article is adapted from The Lost Virtue of Happiness: Discovering the Disciplines of the Good Life by J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006), Ch 3: “Forming a Tender, Receptive Heart,” 61-79.

[i] R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 366.

[ii] John Nolland, Luke 9:21-18:34, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 35B (Dallas: Word, 1993), 505.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

How Biblical Backgrounds Help Make Scripture More Engaging

By Joe Hellerman

Last Saturday evening, my wife and I had a delightful dinner out with two of our very best friends, John and Leah Hutchison. Before we left the house, I had about fifteen minutes to kill while Joann was still getting ready. The nerd in me has something lying right on my nightstand for just such occasions: a volume of Josephus’ Antiquities. I picked it up, intending to read a little Greek, and stumbled across a story that had escaped my memory but is worth revisiting.

In the passage Jews and Samaritans are going at it in the presence of king Ptolemy Philometor (186–145 BC...), in Alexandria, Egypt. The point of contention has to do with what social anthropologists call sacred space. The Jews were convinced that God had chosen Mount Zion in Jerusalem as the place he wanted to be worshipped. The Samaritans insisted, instead, that Mount Gerizim, in Samaria, was God’s sacred real estate. They had even built a temple there to offer sacrifices. Now the two groups are arguing their respective cases before Ptolemy.

At one level, there is nothing particularly new here. We see the same disagreement reflected in an observation made by the woman at the well in John 4:20: “Our fathers worshiped on  this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

What is striking in Josephus’s account, however, is just how high both Jews and Samaritans were willing to “set the stakes,” so to speak, with respect to the outcome of the debate. As the story unfolds, Josephus tells us that the disputing parties “requested the king to sit in council with his friends and hear their arguments on these matters, and to punish with death those who were defeated” (Ant. 13.75). Yikes!

The king gathers a large group of his friends, and the smackdown begins: “Sabbaeus and Theodosius made speeches on behalf of the Samaritans, while Andronicus, the son of Messalamus, spoke for the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea” (13.75).

The outcome? “Andronicus persuaded the king to decide that the temple at Jerusalem had been built in accordance with the laws of Moses, and to put to death Sabbaeus and Theodosius and their party” (13.79)—thus giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “a hill to die on.”

This is an informative illustration of both the value and the limitations of the use of background materials for New Testament exegesis. There are some examples where historical or cultural background illuminates a passage in such a way as to make sense of the text for the very first time. But this is seldom the case. Generally, extra-biblical data, judiciously applied, simply helps us to see more clearly—and appreciate more deeply—what is already apparent in the text itself.

We gain no profound new insights into the Jew–Samaritan schism (in general) or into John 4 (in particular), for example, from our text from Josephus. But we do get a better sense of just how seriously both Jews and Samaritans took their respective convictions about the proper place to worship God.

This, in turn, makes Jesus’ pronouncement in John 4:21 all the more striking: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” In a instant, Jesus sweeps sacred space completely off the map (pun intended) in a world where holy ground was something to defend to the death.

Biblical backgrounds do for the interpreter what color cinematography did for The Wizard of Oz. You can follow the story just fine in black and white. But when that house hits the ground, and Dorothy walks out into a world of living color, well, the story is all the more engaging. So it is for biblical backgrounds. God’s story as revealed in Scripture is already quite clear. But it often benefits greatly from a little local color here and there.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.


2 Striking Truths about the Last Supper

By Joy Mosbarger

Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ words at the Last Supper—or at least with some of those words. When we celebrate communion together, we regularly hear “this is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” and “this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Recently, however, I read through Luke 22, which includes the Last Supper and the events surrounding it. In addition to these familiar words from the Last Supper, I was struck by some of the other words spoken by Jesus on this momentous occasion.

After Jesus and the disciples settled together around the Passover table, the first words Jesus spoke were these: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). As he faces a time of unimaginably intense suffering in his life, Jesus has a deep and powerful longing to be with his disciples. Though Jesus clearly needed to be with his Father as he approached the suffering that was to come (vv. 41-44), he also seems to have felt a need to be with his disciples—his closest earthly, human friends. Jesus’ profound yearning to be with his disciples at this darkest, most difficult place in his life is quite remarkable.

This desire is even more remarkable when considering the major imperfections of the disciples, which are on display for all to see in the events following the Last Supper in Luke 22. Their immediate reaction to Jesus’ disclosure of his imminent suffering is not sympathy, but a discussion of which one of them is going to betray Jesus (v. 23). This is immediately followed by a dispute that arose among them as to which of them should be considered to be the greatest (vv. 24-30). He later asks them to pray that they might not enter into temptation while he is alone in prayer with the Father. Instead, they fall asleep (vv. 39-46). Judas betrays him (vv. 47-48), and Peter denies him (vv. 54-62). Their actions do not reveal the disciples as being intent on encouraging and strengthening a friend in a time of great need. Yet in spite of the disciples’ human frailties and failures, of which Jesus was well aware, he still earnestly desired to be with them at this horrendously grueling point in his life.

There are two truths in particular from this narrative in Luke 22 that I find most striking and extraordinary. First, Jesus loved his disciples as they were and strongly desired to be with them. It is obvious that the disciples needed Jesus in profound ways. Yet, on some level, Jesus “needed” the disciples—or at least he wanted them with him in this place of deep struggle and pain. And he didn’t want to be with them because of the depth of their maturity; rather, he longed to be with them with all their flaws and defects because he knew that they (except maybe Judas) loved him to the degree that they were capable of doing so. I find it immensely comforting and quite astounding to know that Jesus actually wants to be with me with all my imperfections and weaknesses—because I have a lot of them.

Second, though the disciples were with Jesus in this place of deep anguish, they didn’t really hear what he had to say. They were more focused on themselves and what they perceived as their needs. They seemed to be more worried about which of them would betray Jesus rather than the fact that Jesus was going to be betrayed. During their last hours with the greatest human being who ever lived, they were arguing about which of them was the greatest. When Jesus asked them to pray while he was alone with the Father, they fell asleep. With momentous events of eternal consequence taking place around them and in the presence of the one at the center of these events, the disciples seem to be missing the significance of Jesus’ words and the privilege of Jesus’ presence.

It saddens me to realize that often I am welcomed into the presence of Jesus, who earnestly desires to be with me, and all I can do is think about and talk about me. I miss what he is saying and doing, which is of much greater, deeper, and lasting significance than what I am saying and doing. Jesus gave his body for me and poured out his blood for me; he willingly sacrificed all for me. Shouldn’t that motivate me to recognize the eternal, incalculable value of reveling in the privilege of enjoying his presence and closely watching for what he is saying and doing while I am with him?


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

7 “Churchy” Words and the Need for Clarity

By John McKinley

Occasionally I find myself in a conversation with a non-Christian friend. Sometimes, I have to pay close attention to the language I use if the talk turns to things related to God and ultimate reality. I do the same when I talk to my children about Bible things. I want to be understood, but the normal Christian terms are a foreign language to many people, Christians included. The terms are difficult to use when they don’t communicate.

We are moving in the West further along this path as a post-Christian culture. No longer are Christian terms and biblical concepts commonplace. Most people are not familiar with the story of Job, or Peter’s triple denial of Jesus. It is ironic that so many Americans claim to be Christians, attend churches, and value the Bible while so few are able to recount the Ten Commandments. Things have changed; meanings that once were common in the culture have become rare in the minds of many people.

The shrinking of biblical and theological knowledge in the American culture has also occurred in evangelical churches. Whatever the level of Bible reading and meditation was in earlier generations before now, it seems that the current levels are low. This means that we retain culturally the frameworks and vocabulary of Christianity while having lost touch with their substance. In other words, people can still talk like Christians as in a masquerade (but they don’t know they’re in costume). Newer Christians can even adopt the language of mature experience with God, though they have not been there personally.

English Bible translations have unintentionally helped to drive a wedge between Christian substance and the language of everyday conversation and thought. I find myself frequently having to adjust words and insert definitional phrases for words that I’m pretty sure my children don’t understand when we read the Bible. Certainly we must continue to use large words that carry theological weight: propitiation, justification, atonement, righteousness, regeneration, trinity, incarnation, and redemption (among others I can’t think of right now). Each of these stands for a definite doctrinal teaching of the Bible that must be explained, grasped, and repeated using special terminology. I don’t think that other terms will do for describing these realities of salvation and God.

The terms that are distinctly religious but don’t seem to communicate any longer are a distinct category that causes me concern. These words are repeated in Christian songs and discourse regularly. Many times I stop and ask myself what the term really means. I ask students what they mean when they say, for example, “It’s for God’s glory.” I reply: “What do you mean by glory?” They don’t have a clue. They really mean that that the event or decision in question somehow serves God’s purposes. If so, then let’s just say that. My concern is that we have settled for using as jargon the Christian terminology because it seems rightly religious, not because we understand or intend the actual meanings these terms stand for.

My list of seven troublesome words and brief explanations is below, with suggested alternatives. Feel free to consider them for yourself and wonder about the continuing usefulness of these terms that most non-Christians have no idea what we’re talking about. Many Christians are foggy on the meaning as well. This is an appeal for clarity in our communication.

1. Exalt, exalted

I had an idea of this, but I had to confirm it with the dictionary. Why? Because people don’t use “exalt” in conversation about anything unless they are talking about a biblical passage or some topic close to a Christian activity. The word is a strong verb, but the coincidence of using it only for religious talk makes it seem like a religious term. Use of terms in a religious way drives a separation between “normal life” and our thoughts and actions as Christians. Instead of using “exalt” in our songs just because the Bible translations use it, we may do better to say “lift up” or “honor” because these are commonly understandable terms for the same idea “exalt” functions today.

2. Bless, blessed, blessing

I love the idea. The English word comes from blood, as in consecration through sacrifice. In different contexts the meaning may be “happiness” or “to please” or blessings that are “good things.” Is “blessed” different from the normal condition of “happy”? Only Christians use the word because there is a religious background to it in biblical translation. Webster’s Dictionary opened my eyes to the levels of meaning I had no idea about with this word: “1. to make or declare holy by a spoken formula or a sign; hallow; consecrate; 2. to ask divine favor for; 3. to favor or endow; 4. to make happy or prosperous; gladden; 6. to praise or glorify”; etc. We may need to use rich phrases instead of the shorthand of one word: “I want to please God,” “God has done so much good for me,” “God has filled up my satisfaction,” “I desire the best for her,” “May God care for you today.” (Incidentally, the word we have reduced to “bye” and “goodbye” came from the richer “God be with you.”)

3. Glory, glorify

The term is all over the Bible, our songs, our conversation. The OT term has the idea of “to be heavy,” as in the weightiness of God’s love and demonstration of his power. The NT term has ideas of “shining light, splendor, honor, praise, to show the truth.” It’s often similar to praise, but praise is usually done about someone else, while “glorify” is something God may demonstrate about Himself by doing something grand. As substitutes, I suggest we can say: “When God’s people make sacrifices, it shows the truth about God, that He is worthy of these sacrifices,” “They saw the truth about Jesus when He was transfigured.”

4. Behold

I don’t think I’ve ever said this word except when reading aloud the biblical text. I think it means “Look!” or “Here” in most cases. Why don’t we just say that, or “pay attention!” “Look at this!”

5. Grace

In biblical usage grace is related to “gift,” both in the undeserved favor we have with God because of Jesus (including forgiveness and righteousness), and the unearned empowerment of God’s presence and action in our lives. Grace is sometimes an operative power (a veiled reference to the Holy Spirit). Grace is mostly a work of God towards us, and not so much a work we do towards others. Sadly, Christians seem to use “grace” in the way the culture has taken over the term to mean, “let me slide here.” Banks offer a “grace period.” I would prefer that we retrieve the biblical meaning of “grace” and separate this usage from merely “forgiveness” or “give me a break here” or “love” that the term has come to mean.

6. Sin, sinful, sinners

I saw a fingernail polish label “Sinful Colors” and realized how empty the term sin has become for our culture. Some Christians are still uncomfortable with the term, so they talk of their “sins” as “mistakes” or they say, “I messed up.” When I thought about everyday language that fit what the Bible actually means by “sin” I settled on “failure” and “crime.” Both of these alternative terms make sense to non-Christians and Christians alike. Since we are a culture that is far removed from target-metaphors drawn from spears, slings, and archery, maybe it’s time for an update. Our “sins” are crimes against God and other people. We have a rap sheet that makes us felons before God (if we are apart from Jesus). I like crimes because the term has revulsion to it. It’s also less easy to label lying as a “little crime” the way we might do with saying “little sins” as in the term peccadillos. No, when I lied, I committed a crime; I am a criminal. I think everyone understands that severity better than the terms “sinner” and “sinful” that are mostly religious (and meaningless to many people).

7. Holy, holiness

I love the terms. I think the concept is really large in the Bible and theology, much bigger than what most of us intend when we throw the term around in songs and aspirations. I think we usually intend the idea of “moral purity” when Christians say “holy.” As with other terms on my list, holy probably conveys little or no meaning to the non-Christian. The concept is based on the absolute otherness, uniqueness, and separateness of God from us in all ways. Being the Holy One, God is the only one who is God. God’s otherness and differentness includes separation and purity from evil. The way we use holy, in my limited observations of songs and discourse, rarely fits the biblical usage. I say we retrieve the fullness of the biblical meaning and intend that. Otherwise, when we mean to say “morally pure,” we could just say “righteous” or “good” or “morally pure.” Holy means so much more than what we intend by it; we risk cheapening the concept through casual and slipshod usage.

That’s my list of seven terms that I think need closer attention in how we use them. I appeal for the sake of non-Christians, and for newer Christians. Let not the jargon sweep us away. Additional terms are discipleship, sovereign, praise, hallelujah, hosanna, free will, and headship.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.


Proverbs 31: An Impossible Standard?

By Nell Sunukjian

Many women, and men, too, avoid studying Proverbs 31:10-31 because they think it presents an unrealistic and unattainable standard for women. I can’t tell you how many articles I have read that describe this lady as ‘superwoman’ and, therefore, not applicable for the average female.

But would God really put a job description in His Word if it were unattainable? Surely our knowledge of Him says the description of the woman of noble character was placed in the Scriptures to encourage us, male and female. It’s for our edification; there is much we can learn from it about becoming wise women.

Proverbs is a textbook on wise living. The phrase “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” is found 14 times in Proverbs and notably, the book closes with a flesh-and-blood example of one whose whole life has been given to the pursuit of wisdom—the Proverbs 31 woman. She demonstrates in daily life that wisdom is not an esoteric idea dispensed to learners; it is living in wise ways, living in harmony with God’s creation and His laws. Wisdom is right living, good decisions, and honorable choices.

The poem opens with the idea that a wise woman—one who fears the Lord—is valuable, though quite rare. And she is worth the search! For when found, she will be of the highest personal character and fiscally responsible. She is described in verse 10 as being of “noble character” and “worth far more than rubies.” Verses 11-12 speak of her financial savvy. Her husband has “full confidence” in her and “lacks nothing of value.” Those are monetary words. And so are these: “she brings him good, not harm.” She not only guards the family assets; she also brings in a significant amount of income. She’s a moneymaker!

The first major section of the poem, verses 13-19, delineates how hard this woman works to provide for her family and to earn income. It’s arranged in a chiastic structure, with ideas leading up to the main idea and then backing away with parallel ideas. Kinda like the way my sister and I communicate. If you hear us talking, you may be confused—we give each other an idea, and then another and maybe one more before we finally get to the main point. Then we back out, repeating our ideas as we go. That is what the chiasm does.

So as we work our way in and out the chiasm, we see that the wise woman works hard to provide and to bring in income for her family. She works hard with wool and flax (verse 13), using the distaff and spindle (verse 19), tools that enabled her to make the sheep’s fleece into woolen thread and the flax plant into linen so they could then be woven into fabrics. Wool, of course, was the winter fabric, snuggly guarding its wearer against the chill. And linen was the comfortable, breathable cloth for warm summer time.

She plans and trades, using her resources well and bringing profit from her endeavors (verses 14 & 18). And she works vigorously at all she does—rising early—using the strength of her body to finish her tasks (verses 15 & 17).

All this is done to turn a profit so she can invest the money in a vineyard; this is the climax of the chiasm in verse 16. She buys a property she has been eyeing—one that would bring grapes, wine, and income to her family.

As this first section of this beautiful poem ends, we see a younger woman, intent on blessing her family with her skills by acquiring wealth for her husband and herself. It reminds me of our early marriage. My ‘vineyard’ was a public school where I taught to provide for our family of two while my husband pursued his seminary degree and two doctorates. The investment I made in his education has blessed us financially for many years since because he has had options for ways to support our growing family. Both of us look back with joy on the years that I supported our family.

In the next section we learn what the woman who fears the Lord does with the profit from all her hard work and planning. Yes, it has taken her a number of years to get here, but now she has wealth and wisdom and she uses it to bless others, in verses 20-27. She has accumulated much, not to be greedy, but so that she can give it to others. She has, not only wealth to give, but she also has wisdom to give. The point of this second section, which is also a chiasm, is that this the kind of woman who brings honor to her husband. He is known in town as “noble woman’s lucky husband.”

Again, we see the corresponding ideas as we work to and from the central point. The first idea is that she gives—of her wealth to the poor and of her wisdom to those who need it (verses 20 & 26-27). To the poor, she is benevolent, actively involving herself for the needy in her community. To her household, she gives wisdom laced with kindness. She wisely watches over her household, ruling it with kindness. These two endearing qualities are the hallmark of her mature years—she is benevolent and she is kind.

She faces the future with confidence in verses 21 and 26; she has provided for her family, as fully as she can, for predictable essentials (the children will grow and will need new clothes for school) and unforeseen events (while it snows only rarely in Jerusalem, her household is prepared for it). She does not fear the future. She goes into old age smiling with confidence in her God.

She continues to use her talents to enrich the family as she trades the quilts and linen garments that are manufactured in her household (verses 22 and 24).

And her greatest gift is to her husband, because the respect she has earned in their community brings honor to her husband when he meets with the leaders of the township. They are well aware of her contributions and her talent for making money. They recognize that she is a kind and benevolent woman who has blessed their entire community. He receives reflected honor from her achievements, though he has achievements of his own as a leader in the community.

The poem concludes with her rightful receiving of the love and respect from her family in verses 28-31. They have observed this woman in all the seasons of her life and they give her praise and bless her. This probably didn’t happen when her children were small. So, those of you with small children, don’t hold your breath! But as the children grew up, they realized what she had done for them and they expressed appreciation. Some of you reading this may need to make a phone call or write a letter to your mom to tell her how glad you are for the good job she did. It will encourage her to hear that from you.

The author concludes by noting that all of this didn’t just randomly happen; this was a life lived in fearing the Lord. The woman of noble character shows us what it looks like to live a life of wisdom, from the beginning of adulthood to the end. She is the embodiment of wisdom, right living.

And she is in the Scriptures as an example, and an encouragement to us 21st century women, that we might fear the Lord and live as wise women.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

Women in Jesus' Genealogy

By Nell Sunukjian

Genealogies rarely contain interesting tidbits about our ancestors, especially the more unacceptable ones. But Jesus’ genealogy does. In fact, it even seems to highlight several rather shady characters.

And they are women.

There are five women in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. In a time when genealogies didn’t normally contain even a single female name, why are these women included? And what does their presence imply?

In the book of Matthew, the author gives us the list of Jesus’ ancestors in the first chapter. The list begins prestigiously enough with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But then the genealogy begins to falter. Wait a minute, what is Tamar doing here? Didn’t she solicit sex with her father-in-law (shudder) and wasn’t that how Perez, her son, was conceived? Tamar was a woman of unidentified origin (many scholars think she was a Canaanite) who had been widowed by two of Judah’s sons, and had been promised to the third and youngest son, Shelah. Judah, fearing for the life of his third son since the Lord had struck the other two dead, delayed giving him to Tamar. In fact, he probably didn’t intend to ever allow Shelah to marry Tamar.

Tamar was stuck in a very hard place; because she had been returned to her father’s house to wait for Shelah, she had no status, no inheritance, no Social Security would ever come her way because her only route to the future was through children and she was not a mother. And she was not eligible to remarry since she was ‘waiting’ for Shelah.

So she took matters into her own hands.  Much of what follows is difficult for the modern reader to understand. After Judah’s wife died, she posed as a prostitute, though she was not. She wanted a Judah offspring—Shelah was preferable, but denied that, she would have a child through the tribal chief himself (Gen. 38:1-25).

Judah’s role is incriminating. He readily propositions a ‘prostitute,’ little dreaming she is his daughter-in-law. He soundly condemns Tamar when her pregnancy is revealed, and even intends to have her burned to death in a shocking case of a double standard.  But Tamar has cleverly protected herself and the identity of her child’s father by holding Judah’s personal belongings—cords and a seal and staff.

Finally, we see some good action from Judah when he acknowledges his paternity and proclaims that she is more righteous than he is (Gen. 38:26). He was seeking an irresponsible sexual encounter; she was seeking to responsibly protect her future and even his, by providing a child who would live and produce offspring. She was indeed more righteous than he. In a culture when women had few rights, Tamar thoughtfully invested in the future (Gen. 38:27-29).

Matthew acknowledges Tamar’s rights by including her in the Messiah’s genealogy. The Lion of the tribe of Judah needed this determined woman to form his earthly genealogy.

A second surprising inclusion is Rahab. Rahab clearly was a prostitute, and a Gentile, living in Jericho (Josh. 2:1). Despite her occupation, she seems to be a woman with kindness in her. She provides financially for her parents and siblings and she is quite willing to hide the Israelite spies who have come to search out a way to attack and defeat Jericho. She has a compassionate heart and hides the spies on her roof.

Rahab wants a way out of the life she is living. She believes that the people of God will take her city because the fear of the Lord and what he is doing has fallen on her and the people in her land. She has heard the stories of how the Israelites came out of Egypt and how the Red Sea dried up to allow them passage across. She has heard of the defeat of her powerful neighbors across the Jordan River, King Sihon and King Og. She realizes that Jericho is the gate to Canaan and she wants to survive the attack she knows is coming. She, like Tamar, has cords that signify belonging. “Hang this scarlet cord in this window where you let us down, and we will spare you and all in your house,” the spies instruct her.

It happened as planned. Rahab and her family were saved during the compete defeat of Jericho by Joshua’s army. Later, Rahab marries Salmon, a Jew whom tradition says was one of the spies she hid. They have a son, Boaz, who grows up to become a righteous and godly man (Ruth 2:1).

The third woman is Ruth, also a Gentile, and like Tamar, a widow, but this woman’s sexual purity has not been compromised. In fact, the highest words of praise are spoken by Boaz in identifying her as a woman of virtue, a woman of noble character (Ruth 3:11). She is a woman who from the time she heard the name ‘Yahweh’ has been an earnest follower, thanks to the instruction of her mother-in-law, Naomi. Following Naomi’s sound advice, Ruth entreats Boaz to marry her and to provide for her and Naomi in their old age, provision which will come in the form of a precious son, Obed. And little did Naomi and Ruth know, but this tiny son of theirs would be grandfather to King David (Ruth 4:16-22) and therefore, in the lineage of Jesus Christ.

The fourth woman is not named, but she is identified as Uriah’s wife. She married David, but she did not properly belong to him. She had been seduced by Israel’s greatest king, and to some extent, she was complicit, though as the powerful one in the ‘relationship’ David clearly carries the blame. He instigated the adultery with the beautiful wife of one of his finest generals. Later, to protect himself, David has General Uriah placed in battle where he is sure to be killed. The story is full of death, for the child from the adulterous union dies, too.

Eventually, by God’s mercy, David repents. And God grants a son, Solomon, to him and his now legitimate wife, Bathsheba. And through Solomon, the line to the Messiah flowed.

The fifth and final woman in the genealogy is Mary, officially married to Joseph, and mother of Jesus who is called the Christ (Matt. 1:16). Mary is Jewish; Mary is a virgin to whom no taint of sexual scandal had come. Mary is a devout believer in Yahweh. To him she entrusts herself: her reputation, her future, and her entire hope. When the angel tells her she will be pregnant by the Holy Spirit, she believes (Luke 1:35-38) and accepts what has never happened before. Where did this slip of a girl, just recently come into womanhood, get this kind of faith and trust? “I am the Lord’s servant,” were her amazing words. She comprehended in an instant, what generations of Jewish women had never understood: the Messiah would be born of a virgin. She wasn’t sinless, but she was a godly, virtuous, and young Jewish girl.

And so the genealogy concludes. Five women are included, mostly poor, mostly misfits, widows, unimportant, unknown, sinful women who changed the course of history by their simple, obedient lives. One might suppose that the women in Jesus the Messiah’s genealogy should have all been the finest Jewish women, but they weren’t. Most weren’t even Jewish at all. And except for Ruth and Mary, they had tarnished sexual histories. They were ordinary women, trying to get life right, but missing the goal.

In other words, they were women just like us: ordinary, tarnished by sin, unlikely to shape the course of history. They are in the Savior’s genealogy to give us hope, and to foreshadow the kind of people Jesus the Messiah came to save.

He came from a lineage of sinners to save sinners.

But He remained sinless.

And we will be like the women from Jesus’ genealogy as we put our whole future into the hands of our God, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He offers to give our simple lives great significance as we follow him. Like the women of the genealogy who put their hope in the coming Messiah, following him is worth far more than we will know until eternity.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.


Why We Want a Divine Warrior

By Charlie Trimm

God’s role as a divine warrior is most likely one of his more neglected characteristics. Some today have gone so far as to reject any talk today about God being a divine warrior, viewing it as tired metaphor that should be retired. But most Christians have simply stopped thinking of God as one who fights. Not only does it not seem to mesh well with the picture of the peaceful Jesus but it is also out of step with most of contemporary culture. In spite of these concerns, looking at the martial actions of YHWH in the Old Testament (YHWH is a transliteration of God’s name in Hebrew) can help us understand better the God that we serve.

One of the most important aspects of YHWH as a divine warrior is why he fights: to combat injustice and bring order to the world. The first major battle YHWH fights in the Old Testament is against the Egyptians in the exodus (the topic of my dissertation). YHWH does not fight them because he hates the Egyptians, but to rescue Israel from Egyptian oppression. Many other examples could be given from the Old Testament of God rescuing his people when they called out for help in the midst of oppression.

While the idea of a divine warrior might seem quaint to many today, I think that we have retained the concept but changed its form. The basic idea of a divine warrior is calling on someone outside the “system” to come and fix a problem inside the system. The Israelites saw no way within the system of ancient Egypt that they would be rescued (for example, the law courts would rule on their behalf to stop their oppression), so they appealed to their God, a divine warrior who was greater than the system. Today, action movies provide a way to dream about various solutions to the problems of our contemporary world from “outside the system.”

The 2012 movie Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise, portrays the adventures of a former military policeman who brings justice to an innocent man convicted of murder by finding the true criminal through legally suspicious means. The tagline illustrates the desire for a divine warrior: “The law has limits. He does not.” When the system (in this case, the legal system) does not work, we desire someone or something outside of it to fix the problem. The scene in Iron Man in which Tony Stark rescues the civilians from the terrorist attack is a similar dream about solving a contemporary problem from outside the system. We may not call on divine warriors today, but many of our solutions for injustice sound suspiciously like divine warriors, such as American military strength, the UN, or technology in general (watch the original Star Trek TV series from the 1960’s for the belief that science can solve most of the world’s problems).

Even though our systems often work quite well, we still see a world that is badly broken. We can partially heal this broken world, and I am excited to hear stories about Christians doing just that (including many Biola graduates!). However, ultimately we need a divine warrior to come and permanently end injustice and bring order to our broken world. The end of our Bibles portrays just such a picture: Jesus the divine warrior returning to earth in glory (Rev 19). As we are surrounded by injustice and cruelty, we look forward to that day when the divine warrior will come to set everything right.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.


5 Tips to Survive in Ministry

By John McKinley

Michael Wilkins recommended these axioms to me. It has taken me several years to figure out and understand what they mean. They have worked like seeds for me. I’m sure he would elaborate on them differently (and better) than I’m doing here. But this is what I see in them:

1.  Face and Accept Yourself

Be honest about your wounds, weaknesses, vices, and failures, as known and provided for by God who accepts you. Justification means that God himself has made you worthy to enjoy his presence and favor, now that you are in Jesus. Embrace and own who you are and how you have developed under God’s care, with particular abilities, biases, and weaknesses. It may be that God’s acceptance of you (he has justified you in Jesus) is the catalyst for you to accept yourself.

2.  See that God Accepts You as You Are

Justification means that none of your misdeeds and failures has kept God away from taking you on entirely. Justification means that none of your good deeds can make you more acceptable to God than you are in Jesus. Instead, God has completely taken you on, with all your sin, and provided you the needed righteousness accomplished by Jesus. Jesus alone is your standing with God. Jesus alone is your perfection as a creature with God.

Christians contradict the doctrine of justification by grace alone when we say we can please God by our obedience, and displease him by our sin. That’s not justification, but moralistic performance sneaking in through the window. Instead, when we do well with God, we enjoy God. When we fail, we suffer for turning aside from God; we enjoy God less. What seems too good to be true is that we have been justified. The vicissitudes of daily moral intentions and actions do not constrain or enlarge God’s love towards us. God accepts you as you are because of Jesus.

3.  Look to Growth in the Good and Out of the Bad

We all have phases of thinking we’re brilliant and wonderful, and then later fearing that we are really just wretched, incurably selfish, hopelessly lazy, and weak in the face of temptation to sins. The truth is that we’re not that great despite what others might say about us. Because of God’s work, Jesus is being formed in every Christian. I see the temptation to try and develop ourselves according to some set of values of what a Christian is supposed to be. Avoiding that moralism, we can look to Jesus, and desire his values, goals, and methods for living with others as the good we seek.

Jesus’ form of life must displace our own deformed values, goals, and methods of living that we must outgrow and repudiate. Some of these might be particular roles in relationships, such as performance roles cast upon us in a family of origin that we fulfill as the “black sheep,” “the golden child,” “the pampered princess,” or “the intrepid achiever.” We have to hate some things that get in the way of loving the new life Jesus mirrors to us in his life. Our inclinations to compare ourselves with others in competition or envy, and our illusions of self-improvement must die. If the first two items of accepting ourselves and accepting God’s acceptance of us are clear enough in our grasp, then it can be easier for us to let go of the garbage that obstructs us from God. We can receive the new growth for our enjoyment of God. This is more difficult practically than we realize because it calls for God’s work to completely unmake and reconstruct our identity (cf. Eph. 2:10).

4.  Forget Yourself

The Christian life is surrender to God for his purposes, as in Jesus’ choice to align with God in Gethsemane: “not my will but yours be done.” We must leave off merely attempting to further our own dreams and status. For God to take over and work through us, we have to stop trying to drive our own lives as if we were responsible to make something of ourselves. As a person, of myself, I am nothing, and I deserve no credit for anything good (only for my failures and crimes). God can do ministry through a donkey; God can get praise and honor from rocks. The only worth about me is that I am a member of Jesus, and he works through me. Forgetting ourselves means we do not take ourselves seriously, and we despise the illusions of pride, boasting, and self-satisfaction with our influence, efforts, or achievements.

5.  Get with God’s People

Despite being a nothing on my own, God works ministry through me, as with a lightning rod struck by a bolt, or as a hose filled with water. As I live in the midst of others, I experience God’s active power worked through them to me, and God’s life worked through me to them. We can both refuse to take ourselves seriously, and take very seriously the ministry God might do through us.

We can serve God’s purposes by taking care in what we say and do, so as not to damage or obstruct his work by our stupid political opinions, insensitive slander of others, sloppy preparation, or otherwise misleading of those we are connected to in ministry. For example, if we tell a joke in poor taste, that can obscure what God might otherwise have provided for someone through us. A harsh word can influence someone to mistrust us. A sloppy theology can muddy the clarity of perception that someone might have held.

Being with God’s people also takes us out of ourselves into their lives and God’s. We see God’s wise works in saving them, which reminds us to forget ourselves, and to accept ourselves, and to face ourselves as we truly are, in total need of God, constantly.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.


What Should We Ask God For?

By Kenneth Berding

I am regularly vexed by how shallow my prayers can become. When I pray for something—and I know that all prayer is not for things—what should I pray for? Only for my family? For someone I know who is ill? For God to help me in the day ahead? For God to resolve whatever problem is currently worrying me? I often sense that there is some content that I’m missing when I’m praying. Do you sense the same thing?

With this concern in mind I recently embarked on a quest to figure out what I was missing scripturally about the content of prayer. I decided to focus on the letters of Paul since he has a lot to say about this topic. I read through all of Paul’s letters, taking notes on everything he asks people to pray for, or that he mentions others are praying for, or that he in fact is praying for in his letters. Once again, I wanted to uncover areas that needed attention in my own prayer life that are emphasized in Paul’s letters.

I discovered that there are three main categories of what to pray for in Paul (applied to praying for other believers—though you can pray the same for yourself). Here is a summary:

  1. Ask God to grow them in their Christian faith.
  2. Ask God to make them bold in sharing their faith.
  3. Ask God to deliver them from evil/the Evil One.

Here are the details:

The most common category that Paul prays for is that believers might grow in their Christian faith. Though this is the largest category, it is interesting that this is one area of prayer that many of us can easily neglect when we pray for others. Here is a list of the types of things you can ask God to do in Christians you know. (Note that you can also ask the same things for yourself!)

  • Ask God that they might be of the same mind with other believers. (Romans 15:5-6)
  • Ask God to fill them with joy and peace in believing and in hope by the power of the Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
  • Ask God for his people to do the right thing when there are relational conflicts. (2 Corinthians 13:7 in its broader context)
  • Ask God to make his people “complete.” (2 Corinthians 13:9)
  • Ask God to give a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of God. (Ephesians 1:15-17)
  • Ask God to enlighten the eyes of the hearts of believers (Ephesians 1:18-19):
    • to know the hope of his calling
    • to know the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints
    • to know the surpassing greatness of his power toward those who believe
  • Ask God to grant them strength through his Spirit in their inner selves so that Christ might dwell in their hearts through faith. (Ephesians 3:16-17)
  • Ask God to root them and ground them in love. (Ephesians 3:17)
  • Ask God to help them comprehend along with other believers what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that they might be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18-19)
  • Ask God for their love to abound more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, that they might approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:9-11)
  • Ask God to fill them with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, resulting in them (Colossians 1:9-12):
    • walking in a manner worthy of the Lord
    • pleasing him in all respects
    • bearing fruit in every good work
    • increasing in the knowledge of God
    • strengthened with all power according to his glorious might
    • attaining all steadfastness and patience
    • joyously giving thanks to the Father
  • Ask God to encourage their hearts (Colossians 2:1-2, prayer implied):
    • being knit together in love
    • attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding
    • resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself
  • Ask God to make them stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12-13)
  • Ask God to make them increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people. (1 Thessalonians 3:12)
  • Ask God to establish their hearts without blame in holiness at the return of Christ. (1 Thessalonians 3:13)
  • Ask God to sanctify them entirely; and to preserve their spirits, souls, and bodies complete and without blame at the coming of Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
  • Ask God to count them worthy of their calling. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
  • Ask God to fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of the Lord Jesus might be glorified among them. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
  • Ask God to comfort and strengthen their hearts in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:17)
  • Ask God to direct their hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ. (2 Thessalonians 3:5)
  • Ask God to grant them peace in every circumstance. (2 Thessalonians 3:16)
  • Ask God that the fellowship of their faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in them for Christ’s sake. (Philemon 1:6)

The second largest category relates to the mission that God’s people are doing. In some cases Paul is asking for prayers for himself in this category; sometimes he is praying for others. Here is a list to help you pray for people (and for yourself!) in this category:

  • Ask God to open a way for them—or yourself—to go and do ministry somewhere. (Romans 1:10-12; 15:32; 1 Thessalonians 3:10-11)
  • Ask God to bless and make successful a particular area of service. (Romans 15:31)
  • Ask God to give utterance in the opening of their mouths, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 6:18-19)
  • Ask God to allow Christ to be exalted in them whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:20)
  • Ask God to open up a door for the word, so that they might speak about the mystery of Christ and to make it clear. (Colossians 4:3-4)
  • Ask God to make his word spread rapidly so that God might be glorified. (2 Thessalonians 3:1)

A third category consists of prayers for deliverance from some sort of suffering, just as Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:13): “Deliver us from evil (or the Evil One).”

  • Ask God to rescue someone from persecutors. (Romans 15:30-31)
  • Ask God to aid someone suffering or being persecuted. (2 Corinthians 1:11)
  • Ask God to deliver someone from prison (or to preserve them until their final future deliverance). (Philippians 1:19)
  • Ask God to keep someone from shame, and that Christ might be exalted in them whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:20)
  • Ask God to rescue them from perverse and evil people. (2 Thessalonians 3:2)
  • Ask God to strengthen and protect them from the evil one. (2 Thessalonians 3:3, prayer implied)
  • Ask God to work with kings and others in positions of authority so that believers may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Finally, here is a list of a few other things that we can pray about that are found in the letters of Paul. The items in this list don’t easily fall into any of the above three categories.

  • Ask God for people to come to salvation. (Romans 10:1; cf. 9:1-5)
  • Ask God to work spiritually in a spouse or child, including moving them toward salvation. (1 Corinthians 7:14-16, prayer implied)
  • Ask God to help you personally interpret a tongue you have spoken in a meeting. (1 Corinthians 14:13)
  • Ask God to take care of the things that worry you. (Philippians 4:6)

My personal take-away from this time of study was that I needed to pray more for the first two categories listed above: 1) for the spiritual growth of my fellow believers—including such particulars as were listed above, and 2) for their boldness in proclaiming the word of God and its effects.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

The 6 Top Factors in Growing Churches

By Gary McIntosh

A recent check on Amazon.com discovered that over 25,000 books are listed under the category of Church Growth. This is an amazing number of books given the fact that the North American Church Growth Movement is only forty-one years old. In comparison consider that just over 6,900 books are listed under the category of Church Renewal, even though the Church Renewal Movement is about fifty years old.   

With such a large number of books written on the topic of church growth, it is only natural to ask if there is any consensus on what factors are found in growing churches in North America. One recent study discovered that those who have studied what makes churches grow note 115 different factors. However, only six (5%) of the numerous factors are mentioned by 70% of all authors. To put it another way, two-thirds of everyone who has written about what makes churches grow agree on just six factors. What are those factors? I thought you’d never ask!

The following are the consensus factors that are found in growing churches in North America:

Spiritual Dynamics

In spite of the criticism that church growth ignores the spiritual dynamics of growth, researchers over the last forty years name this as the number one factor found in growing churches (actually it was a tie with the next factor). 

What is included in spiritual factors? The following aspects were mentioned the most: bold faith, biblical commitment, Christ centered, passionate spirituality, regenerated membership, Holy Spirit empowered, personal prayer, corporate intercession, loving relationships, emphasis on spiritual disciplines, and obedient lives.

Effective Evangelism

This aspect of growth tied with spiritual dynamics as the number one factor. Since churches must reach new people for Christ in order to grow, the fact that researchers mention evangelism is not surprising.

What is included in effective evangelism? The following aspects were mentioned the most: lifestyle approach, concern for needs, desire for conversion growth, focus on families, concern for new disciples, outward focus, interest in church multiplication, and evangelism training.

Strategic Planning

The third factor that was highlighted the most was planning and goal setting. Growing churches buy into the concept that what is measured improves. While most churches measure money, growing churches make bold plans and then measure their results. 

What is included in Strategic Planning? The following aspects were mentioned the most: strategy, multiplying ministries and groups, finances, functional facilities, decision-making, analysis, evaluation, appropriate risk, set direction, objectives, established vision, right discernment of the church and community, and monitored results.

Excellent Leadership

The next two factors tied for the fourth most mentioned component of growing churches. It is a well-accepted understanding that everything rises and falls on leadership, and church growth students agree.

What is included in Excellent Leadership? The following aspects were mentioned the most: commitment to growth, effective use of authority, willingness to let others lead, expectation of growth, dealing with obstacles, contextually away, value on continual learning, motivational, trustworthy pastor, pastor stays long enough, and understanding and application of growth principles.

Productive Assimilation

Also tied for fourth place was productive assimilation of newcomers into the life of the church. Growing churches keep more people than they lose out the back door. They also help newcomers identify and use their spiritual gifts in serving those inside and outside the church.

What is included in Productive Assimilation? The following aspects were mentioned the most: newcomers involved quickly, welcoming climate, attempts to close back door, multiplies groups and classes, offers ministry training, stresses spiritual gifts, mentoring relationships, uses small groups, and builds a people flow strategy.

Inspiring Worship

The final factor that was noticed by over 70% of church growth researchers was inspiring worship. This factor included everything that helps make corporate worship dynamic, such as preaching, music, atmosphere, etc.

What is included in Inspiring Worship? The following aspects were mentioned the most: a pastor who loves people, biblical preaching, passionate communication, authentic leadership, being alive spiritually, contextually appropriate, and team ministry.

Other factors most certainly play a part in the growth of a local church, but these six factors garnered a consensus of all researchers over the last forty years. A church that emphasizes these six factors will most assuredly be better off than a church which does not. 

Which of these factors is strongest in your church? Which one or two are the weakest? Which factors do you need to work on this coming year?


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.