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. 

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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 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.

3 Things We Teach Our Children When We Pray

By Ken Berding

Last week I posted a piece in which I encouraged each of us to actually pray when we pray. Since then my thoughts about prayer have moved in another direction, particularly as it relates to the training of our children. I am becoming increasingly convinced that one of the most significant ways we convey spiritual truth to our children is through our prayers. I believe that when we pray with our children, our children learn about our relationship with the Lord and what we believe about God. Let’s look at three things we teach our children when they listen to us pray.

1.  When we pray, our children learn that we have a sincere relationship with the Lord.

This past Sunday I was talking with a friend about what children learn when they listen to their parents pray. He shared with me that when he was growing up his father’s prayers were formulaic and seemed artificial to him. But in recent years my friend has noticed a change in his elderly father’s relationship with the Lord. What’s significant is that the chief way he has come to recognize the change is by listening to the way his father prays.

I grew up with a mother who had a sensitive relationship with the Lord, and I knew it from the way that she prayed. When I was a child she used to tell me that even if all my friends stopped being my friends, Jesus would always be my friend. I believed her. The reason I believed her is that when she prayed I could tell that she was talking to her closest friend.

 2.  When we pray, our children learn that we actually believe that God can and will answer our prayers.

Honestly, learning how to pray in groups in the United States has been kind of tough for me. When my wife and I lived in the Middle East, we were often around Christians who were expecting God to do big things. We knew it because of the way that they prayed. But one message has come through loudly and clearly to me in most of the prayer meetings I have attended in the United States: we don’t actually believe anything is going to happen when we pray! I want my children to know that when we pray, we are speaking to a God who is strong enough to answer our prayers and who cares deeply enough to act on our behalf.

 (Please note that you don’t generate such faith by trying really hard to believe; rather you increasingly develop sensitivity to the Holy Spirit who helps you know how to pray and who increases your faith as you pray in dependence upon him. But that is another topic for another day.)

 3.  When we pray, our children learn what we believe about God.

I’ve thought more about this since reading Fred Sanders’s recently released book, The Deep Things of God:  How the Trinity Changes Everything. The basic biblical pattern is praying to the Father, on the basis of what the Son has done, empowered by the Spirit. It is, of course, possible that we could communicate to our children a deficient view of the Trinity by praying always to Jesus as a friend, or being overly Spirit-focused in our prayers. (I am not saying that a prayer thanking Jesus for his death on the cross or a prayer to the Holy Spirit asking for him to empower you for witness is wrong, just that it isn’t the biblical pattern.)

Your children will learn from you that God is holy by listening to the way you confess your sins; that God is a God of power when you worship him; that God truly cares when you call upon him in your time of need, and so on. 

When I’m alone with the Lord, one of the prayers I pray more than any other is: “Lord, I want it to be real. I don’t want to be a fake. I need your grace to live out what I teach.” And now, by God’s grace, I want my children to see the same thing in me. I don’t pray for them; I pray to the Lord. But I think it’s good to remember that our children are listening.

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

What is Modesty?

By Nell Sunukjian

I wince when I look at the photo. Don and I are standing in the sun with our firstborn son, flanked by Don’s elderly grandparents. Grandpa has just lifted up our son toward heaven to give thanks. All of us are beaming with joy.

And I am wearing a very short dress.

The dress was in style at the time, but it looks immodest. I wish I had been wearing a different dress for this impromptu, but now important picture.


That’s a tough word.

That’s a tough concept for women.

Modesty is a relative concept that is difficult to define. Take the hijab, for example. When the young woman waited on me at the store, I did an involuntary double take.

“So, N______ allows the hijab,” I said.

“Yes, they’re really good about it,” she answered.

“Why do you wear it?” I asked.

“It’s for modesty.”

“Modesty?” I questioned.

“Yes, to cover the hair and look more modest. Of course, in Muslim countries it works better because a woman wearing one blends in, whereas here it makes her stand out. I get lots of stares!”

“So why do you wear it, if people stare?”

“It’s what God wants,” she answered.

I asked, “Why does he want that?”

“For me to be modest,” she said again.

What is modesty? Is it necessary for a woman need to wear a hijab to be modest? Surely not. Yet, what does God want from women? Does He give us a list to follow so that we know we are modest? Shall we adopt the hijab just to be ‘safe’ and  ‘know’ that we are pleasing Him? And what about cultural factors such as age, geography and climate, and what activity we might be engaged in, e.g. sports, beach?

Modesty is needed in every century and in every culture. It is needed by women of every age, but it is variable. Modesty has to do with the occasion. What is modest and appropriate for exercise and beachwear, is not appropriate for worship and weddings or the workplace. And modesty has to do with the expectations of the culture in which one lives. Swimmers of an earlier era would not have dreamed of wearing the modest bathing suit I wear to swim with my grandchildren.

What does God have to say in His Word about modesty for women? It may surprise you to learn that He says very little about the word modesty. The word modesty appears only once in the NIV, as does modestly.

Each of these words is translated from a different Greek word. In 1 Corinthians 12:23, “the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty” the Apostle Paul uses euschemosyne. In 1 Timothy 2:9, “I want women to dress modestly” he uses kosmios to convey his meaning. These two Greek words are used infrequently in the New Testament, making it difficult to build a theology of modesty.

But what we can do, quite well, is build a theology of purity. Purity is the value God is seeking in women. This is standard for dressing ourselves. Purity beats modesty any day. Purity addresses a whole different issue—whom does my heart want to please as I clothe my body?

Purity is an internal quality—no one can see it. But as soon as we dress ourselves and live our lives, purity begins to show. Purity is a choice of the spirit, the soul. God calls for both women and men to be pure. The NT writers—Paul, Peter, James and John, all use the same Greek word for purity, the word hagnos. They consider purity an essential of the Christian faith.

Paul says that we are to think about whatsoever is true, noble, right, pure (Philippians 4:8). He wants to present the Corinthian church to Christ as a pure virgin with right doctrine, not deceived by the serpent’s cunning (2 Corinthians 11:2). He admonishes young pastors to keep themselves pure (1 Timothy 5:22), and to instruct the older women to teach the younger women to be pure (Titus 2:5). He counsels young pastors to treat the young women in their churches with absolute purity (1 Timothy 5:2).

Peter says that the purity of a woman’s life can win over an unbelieving husband to faith in Jesus (1 Peter 3:2). He links purity to a woman’s style of dress, saying that her beauty should not come from braided hair, gold jewelry or fine clothing. He stresses that she should depend upon her internal gentle and quiet spirit for her attractiveness (1 Peter 3:1-6).  

James says that the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving (James 3:17). And John uses the word pure to describe our Lord, asking his readers to purify themselves just as the Lord is pure (1 John 3:3).

Wow, powerful stuff about purity.

If we Christian women are truly seeking God’s purity, we will have no issues with modesty.

To be pure is to please God, in every way, with everything that I put on my body. To be pure is to look in the mirror, and ask, “Are you pleased, Lord? Do the clothes that I have put on bring glory to Your Name? Am I dressing for You or to cause men, and women, too, to look at me? Is this neckline too low? Is this skirt too short? Are my jeans too tight? Do these clothes reflect Your purity, Lord?”

Aren’t you thankful that the Lord didn’t decree a dress code in the Bible? We are not called to wear the hijab or the burka, and we don’t have to wear a corset as women did centuries ago, to the detriment of their own health! No, we are free to wear pants to school and comfortable shorts for a hike, to wear a swimsuit to swim at the beach, to wear a skirt to a wedding. And we don’t need a ruler to measure the length of our skirts.

All we have to do is meet God’s standards for being pure.

So easy, and so hard.

May God give us women grace and courage to follow His ways.

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

The Difference of One Word

By John McKinley


The Christian belief system is consistent and coherent. This shows in the way that adjustments in one concept of the system often require modifications in other aspects. Increased clarity about one topic elucidates other topics. The interdependence of my beliefs was again displayed when I came across a common mistranslation of a single word in Luke’s gospel. Once I had been persuaded that the prevailing translation was misleading, I experienced shifts in the ways I view and relate to God, and how I pray and think about God’s involvement in daily life. These implications of a single word have been strong reverberations that I am grateful to experience.

The single word in this little earthquake is the noun anaideia. The word occurs in the New Testament only in Luke 11:8. Normally, anaideia is translated as “persistence” (NASB, NRSV), “impudence” (ESV), “boldness” (NIV84), “shameless persistence” (NLT), and “importunity” (KJV, RSV). The context is Jesus’ parable on prayer in which a friend goes to his neighbor-friend at night for bread. Translations take the words as describing the asking friend’s dogged determination to nag his neighbor until he receives what he has asked for. Persistence in asking is the point of the parable. That’s what I’ve always heard and thought about it. Now I think that’s misleading.

This parable seems similar to another parable in Luke in which a widow goes to a bad judge for vindication (Luke 18:1–8). The widow’s persistence in Luke 18 is a clear theme that seems to influence the translation of anaideia in Luke 11:8. Typical interpretation of the parable of the friend at night in Luke 11:5–8 is that we should be persistent by continually insisting through prayer that God pay attention to our need. This meaning is usually paired with the next statement in vv. 9–10 that we should ask, seek, and knock, not simply once, but in a continual and persistent way. This meaning pictures God as reluctant to respond to his children, and requiring that they show they really mean what they ask for by nagging God for their needs. Prayer then becomes work to progressively pry open God’s hand to release what we have asked of him.

Early Christian interpreters thought the meaning of anaideia in Luke 11:8 must be the persistence of the asking friend, a kind of disregard for shame in bold and persistent pressing for a response, despite the embarrassment of doing so. Christian writers were unique in taking the term this way. The only extrabiblical uses of anaideia to mean “persistence” occur in Christian writings in relation to this biblical passage. By contrast, no one else used the term in this way, since the uniform meaning for anaideia in 258 occurrences in the TLG database (including the LXX, Josephus, and Greek papyri) is always a negative concept that David Garland renders “shamelessness” (Luke, ZECNT, 467). The term is frequently a synonym for disgrace. Never does anaideia occur as a positive concept in the way of “persistence.”

Important in interpreting Luke 11:8 properly is to identify the “shamelessness” with the grumpy neighbor instead of with the friend who is asking and knocking. Notice that the friend asks only once; impending shame from social pressure does the rest; what will others say when they hear a neighbor has refused to help his friend in severe need? The term should be descriptive of the grumpy neighbor as a man who has no regard for his own disgrace in such a cold-hearted refusal of a friend in need to provide food for a near-starving visitor. Garland rightly points to the social shame that the grumpy neighbor would suffer for flippantly refusing his friend in need as the operative pressure moving him to action. Such coldness would be comparable to a friend refusing to lend his car to a friend who needed to drive his pregnant wife to the hospital to give birth (Garland’s contemporizing example).

I think Garland is right to distinguish the parable of the widow in Luke 18 as not about prayer in general, but in connection with eschatological distresses during which Christians must not lose hope. God is not to be likened to the bad judge, and God is not to be likened to the grumpy friend who initially refuses to give bread at night. These two parables are not mutually interpreting. Both parables display a greater-than relation of comparison. If even a grumpy neighbor will respond positively to a request, then how much more will God as a loving father respond. If even a bad judge will respond to a widow’s firm resolve, then how much more will God vindicate his people in connection with the return of Jesus (the preceding context in Luke 17).

When linked with Luke’s presentation of the Lord’s prayer to “Father in heaven” (Luke 11:1–4) and the comparisons for prayer with what even evil parents do for their children (Luke 11:11–13) the emphasis on God’s readiness to respond to his children’s requests in prayer is much stronger. This emphasis on God is commonly eclipsed by the interpretation that prayer requires human persistence. That was the primary change for me, to see God differently as a loving father, eager and willing to give everything that is truly good and needed. Second was a change in how I understand prayer as a simple ask-for-what-you-need appeal to God, by contrast to a tug-of-war that must be engaged with God before he is willing to dispense the things we have repeatedly appealed for. These are different views of God and prayer that motivate me to pray more, though with less repetition, since I am no longer nagging him to give what I need.

These large differences in my experience turned on the meaning of a single word.

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

A Leader’s Heart, Part 2

By Mick Boersma

Nehemiah is one of the most heralded examples of leadership found in the scriptures. We have been focusing on his heart, and saw in Part One how he (1) cared enough to accurately assess the circumstances confronting his people; (2) was sensitive to the brokenness of his people; and (3) was focused continually on redeeming the lives of his people.

As we again engage in the narrative (Neh. 2:11-20), it is obvious that cooperation by all the residents is crucial. This challenge brings out yet another quality of Nehemiah’s heart:

He wisely recruited other leaders in his quest to rebuild the walls for his people.

In verse 12 we read that he took “a few men” with him to inspect the walls. This group most likely consisted of his brother and some very trusted companions Nehemiah may have had in his traveling party.

In verse 17 we see that at the right time, after his careful and quiet inspection of the situation, he briefed the officials, Jews, priests and nobles mentioned in verse 16. The result of the wisdom he demonstrated in how he investigated and when he brought in the city leaders is highlighted when these leaders respond in verse 18, “Let us arise and build!”

Recruiting workers is one of the most challenging aspects of church leadership. I belong to a congregation of 5000 that is seeking to mobilize the laity to provide ministry in many areas that paid pastors used to oversee. It will be interesting to see how well this works.    

Nehemiah’s leadership demonstrates that wisdom is a key to realizing full cooperation and success in important ministry work. As he was careful in his research and planning, sensitive to the brokenness of his people, and embraced the goal of redemption, not self-promotion, is it any wonder he gained the trust of the leadership and the people?

Now the task before all of them was enormous. Over 140 years of neglect would not be easy to correct. If my wife and I neglect our garden for too long, we pay a heavy price in pulling weeds and untangling branches! So we come to the final feature of Nehemiah’s heart as he, the leaders and the people begin the wall restoration project–a quality of character that would be tested from start to finish.

He persevered in his goal of providing hope and security for his people.

In pastoral ministry, it is exciting to start new projects and embark on necessary changes that bring new life to our congregations. And it is joyous to celebrate the successful conclusion of such endeavors. Yet many churches and their leaders fail to finish well.

Persevering when the job is hard, the resistance fierce, and the resources slim is a quality of heart found in faithful leaders; leaders like Nehemiah.

In verses 19-20 we are introduced to some of the pressure the builders will face. Nehemiah will receive pressure from Sanballat in the North, Tobiah in the East, as well as Geshem in the South. But his leader’s heart is not swayed or intimidated. He is a man who perseveres, stays the course of his call and convictions. His goal is to lift the reproach upon the people by restoring the place God has chosen to reside–Jerusalem–the Holy City. Nothing short of bringing back God’s glory before the nations is his goal, and his leader’s heart will see the work through to the end.

When I was a young man growing up on our farm in Iowa, one of my summer tasks was to cultivate the vast fields of corn. Climbing aboard the tractor at first light was always exciting. The roar of the engine, the smell of fuel and dirt, and the rush of a brisk morning breeze greeted me. Several hours later, however, after riding back and forth across the field countless times, the thrill was gone. It became a challenge to drive the machinery skillfully. Carelessness was a constant enemy, because it could lead to a damaged crop, personal injury or even death.

I began to learn all those years ago that life requires perseverance. Those long hours on the tractor helped me begin to understand how difficult it is to stay the course, but also how blessed it is to finish the journey well. A joyful harvest was our reward. Nehemiah knew this truth long ago, and his steadfast heart led God’s people to a blessed future.

The wall Nehemiah rebuilt is now in ruins, but the benefit his leader’s heart brought to his people remains to this day. As those who have been grafted into the family of God, people from all nations stand as fruit of his labor in the preservation of the nation and faith of Israel.

It is my prayer that we all possess a leader’s heart. May we handle the challenges of our ministries with care, sensitive to the brokenness of our world and the people God has given us. May we have hearts of grace that continually seek redemption and restoration, only available through the cross of Jesus and empowered by his Spirit. Might our leadership reveal wisdom in developing and energizing leaders in our congregations.

And lastly, let us persevere in our labor, whatever that may encompass, as the apostle Paul encouraged all the saints to do when he wrote to those in Corinth, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord”  (1 Cor. 15:58).

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

A Leader’s Heart, Part 1

By Mick Boersma

Pastors have many roles. They are teachers, evangelists, caregivers, guardians, and leaders. Much is written about these areas of endeavor, but perhaps none as much as leadership. Recently the Society of Human Resource Managers released figures from a global survey of corporations that revealed 57% of all of the organizations surveyed employ outside vendors to provide leadership training. Companies know the great importance of good leadership.

When listing great leaders, we think of Nehemiah, the man who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem during the time of the great Persian Empire. Many books have been written about his skillful handling of a desperate situation. But I’d like us to look at his heart as he expertly leads. When looking for a new king, the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

As we follow Nehemiah upon his arrival at Jerusalem, a broken city, verses 11 through 20 of Nehemiah chapter 2 reveal several key features of his leader’s heart. Having sought permission and been given support for his venture, he arrives in Jerusalem after a long and arduous journey. 

Many would arrive at such a scene and immediately decide what needs to be done, give orders, and push for a quick solution. Not Nehemiah. While he was a man of action, he was also a man of careful observation:

He cared enough to accurately assess the circumstances confronting his people.

It seems he took three days to re-gain strength after his nearly 1000 mile trek. And after resting up, he took a few men and quietly toured the walls so as to not alert the many enemies of God’s people, those who did not want Jerusalem to regain its position as a place of worship and influence.

He also very carefully inspected the walls, making sure to note the exact circumstances facing the people. Being careful with such details would assure a wise approach to the project and success in bringing protection to God’s people and honor to His name.

One of my hobbies is working with wood, building furniture and other items of household use. Woodworkers have a saying: “Measure twice, cut once.” It is better to make sure your measurement is correct than to try and stretch a board you have cut too short! 

We demonstrate a leader’s heart when we take care to know our people, their circumstances, and the challenges they face in their lives. Such leaders do not force solutions on others, but listen to the hearts of their people and create ministries that meet their needs. Careful sermon preparation, program planning, organization, and counseling reflect the heart of a leader who honors God.

Having done his careful inspection, Nehemiah speaks to the leaders and says: “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire” (v. 17). Here we see a second feature of Nehemiah’s heart:

He was sensitive to the brokenness of his people.

The walls he examined had been compromised for over 140 years. The city had lived in this desperate state for so long, the people most likely did not even notice the brokenness.

My wife and I own a house near our university. Occasionally we repaint the walls. When we take down pictures and other ornaments, stand back and look at the wall, we are always amazed at how dirty the walls really are. We did not see this until we cleared away the wall hangings. 

Nehemiah, as one not living in the rubble, but in the courts of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, was sensitive to the damage, the hopelessness, and the reproach these people had been to their neighbors and most importantly, to the Lord their God. A leader’s heart remembers what once was true, and what could be true again. He or she is sensitive to the broken spirit, the lamenting soul. Faithful ministers see the heartaches of their people, and they take to heart the neediness of those they are called to love in Christ Jesus.

As we read on in verse 17 and through verse 18, we see Nehemiah’s response to the brokenness of the city and its people, and discover another most precious feature of a leader’s heart:

He was focused continually on redeeming the lives of his people.

When Nehemiah first heard of the plight of his brethren in Jerusalem, he “sat down and wept and mourned for days... fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (1:4). In this, he reflected the heart of Jesus, who viewing the city centuries later would weep over it, desirous that his own people recognize the salvation that was at hand (Luke 19:41).

It is so important to notice that in responding to the mess in Jerusalem, Nehemiah does not berate the people for allowing this to continue, but instead includes himself in the pain when he says, “You see the bad situation we are in.” And again, “Come, let us rebuild the wall... that we may no longer be a reproach” (v. 17).

From the day he arrived on the scene, Nehemiah’s heart was bent on restoring the beauty of the eternal city. He did not come with an accusative heart. He came with a desire to redeem, restore, and bring grace to his people to the glory of God. Yes, the people are later called to repentance and restoration of their spiritual obligations as God’s chosen. But even in this, he and all the leaders include themselves in confession and renewal.

We, too, as shepherds of God’s people, must keep the eyes of our heart on redemption, restoration, helping our people know the freedom of forgiveness, the beauty of God’s grace, the hope of the gospel. We do not criticize, blame, or become bitter at the brokenness of lives and the struggles of the church. Instead, we call upon the Lord our God to deliver, to show mercy and grace to all as we worship and serve him.

Now, the project ahead was going to take everyone’s cooperation and effort. In light of this, we will see, in our next installment, the approach Nehemiah’s heart takes in meeting this great challenge.

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

We Need God to See

By Alan Gomes

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

The Bible is God’s very word and therefore carries the authority of God himself. And that word of God, Scripture tells us, is a powerful thing—“living and active and sharper than even a two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). It floods the soul with its resplendent rays, laying bare God’s truth and putting all darkness to flight. Yet, as this text tells us, not all receive the truth of this light, and some esteem it as folly itself. How can this be? If Scripture is “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), how could any reject its authoritative claims?

In order to experience sight two things are needed: a source of light and the capacity to see it. Both are necessary. A blind person, who lacks the capacity to see light, simply will not and cannot experience it, however bright and powerful the light might be.

And so it is with the light of God’s word. Our text tells us here that the “natural person” is blind to the things of God’s Spirit. The “natural person”—the psuchikos anthropos—is one whose affections are what we might call “soulish”—animated by the natural and sinful passions, operating in and through the powers of his or her own weak and corrupt fleshly energy, curved inward upon self and upon the things of this world.

Such a one not only fails to understand the things of the Spirit of God but is positively hostile to them, deeming them “foolish.” Furthermore, the natural person simply cannot understand these things. It is impossible for him or her to do so because, as the text tells us, these are “spiritually discerned.”

The things of God’s Spirit are understood only by one who is actuated by a new, dynamic, spiritual principle of life--in short, one who is “born anew.” This transforming work is effected immediately by God’s Spirit, who alone can implant the new dispositions and capacities and affections that make belief in the truth of God’s word, and submission to its authority, possible.  

Some crucial practical applications follow. We must confess our utter dependence on God’s Spirit if we would have people accept the truthfulness and authority of God’s word. Only God can work this disposition and inclination in the heart of man; it is by the Spirit alone that men and women, “dead in their trespasses and sins,” are made alive. We must beseech the Spirit to open the heart, so that when we have presented that which is most needful for them to see, they will have the eyes to see it.

Accordingly, we must despair of our own resources, powers, and abilities to bring men and women to accept the truth of Scripture. We shall not change people’s hearts through the force of our clever arguments or apologetic prowess. We shall not reason them into the Kingdom. Nor should we think that if we just shower people with enough love or entreat them with sufficient tears that this will work in them a belief in Scripture’s authority. No, we must believe that men and women will accept Scripture’s authority only if the Spirit precedes and performs a work of supernatural grace—a work which is, as one classic Protestant confession of faith puts it, no less efficacious than the power it took to raise Jesus from the dead.

Yet, reason and love and entreat we must. When God is pleased to open the heart, then will the reasonableness of his word shine forth in its full potency to the now enlightened soul. Though only the Spirit Himself can restore the power of sight, God has given us the privilege of presenting the objects of sight through the foolishness of preaching. It is then alone that those who have lived in darkness will see a great light.

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