From the Archive: Elihu – Righteous Prophet or Arrogant Fool?

When one arrives at Job 32 they arrive at a particular difficulty. Why? Because in Job 32 we meet Elihu.

The speeches of Elihu perplex many theologians for many reasons. He seems to come out of nowhere in the text, and when he bursts onto the scene he really does burst. Four times in the first five verses of Job 32 we read that Elihu was burning with anger. Out of his burning anger he speaks to Job’s friends and to Job, but neither Job’s friends nor Job respond to him once he’s done, and more so, God never responds to his words or mentions him at all in the end of the book when He rebukes Job’s friends and restores Job. Because of all of these things most people are perplexed with what to do with him.

There are three commonly held views on him.

The first view, and probably the least likely to be accepted among Christians, is the view that the six chapters given to Elihu (32-37) are not original to the book of Job. Instead these chapters are a later addition to it that is something of a foreign intrusion into the text. There are largely two reasons given for this view. First, the Hebrew is different in these chapters. It doesn’t match with the rest of the book, thus it doesn’t belong with the rest of the book. Second, the reason Job, Job’s friends, and God don’t respond to Elihu after he’s done is because he wasn’t physically present with them when these events occurred. This is why we don’t see any response to him. As I said just a moment ago, this view isn’t commonly held within the Church, it is mostly found in nonbelieving commentators and textual critics. Therefore we can move onto the next view.

While the last view is the least likely to be accepted among Christians, the second view is probably the majority view among Christians. This majority view believes Elihu to be an arrogant young man who speaks hastily and harshly about things that he is largely unaware of. The reasons for this view are as follows. First, Elihu overestimates his own importance and does truly show himself to be an arrogant young man. Second, while anger isn’t a sin Elihu has sinfully given too much room to his anger and vents it in the direction of these men. Third, Elihu doesn’t contribute anything new to the ongoing conversation between Job and his friends but merely restates what has already been said after rebuking Job and his friends. Like Job’s miserable comforters Elihu also does say some true things but applies them wrongly and draws the wrong conclusions. Fourth, Elihu’s chapters do build suspense within the book of Job but only do so by delaying the judgment of God at the end. Fifth, the reason Elihu is ignored by everyone at the end of the book is because he does prove himself to be something of an irrelevant intruder into an already lengthy conversation. This view is probably the majority view within the Church. You’ll find it in most commentaries, the ESV Study Bible, and the Gospel Transformation Study Bible.

While the second view is the majority view among Christians, the third view is probably best described as the minority view among Christians. This minority view believes Elihu to a good character and even something of a preview of the very things God will say to Job and his friends at the end of the book. The reasons for this view are also many. First, Elihu finds both Job and his friends wanting in the debate. Second, after rebuking the friends Elihu focuses on Job’s words throughout the debate, quoting Job many times without accusing Job of living a wicked life like the friends have done. Rather he moves the conversation toward a proposal that suffering does indeed have a redemptive role. Third, because of these things Elihu’s words anticipate the stance God Himself will take in chapters 38-42. Some who hold this view, at this point, make the claim that Elihu was a prophet sent by God to prepare Job and his friends for God’s words stronger words about to come. Fourth, though not being the answer to Job’s problems, Elihu points in the right direction by functioning, in small measure, as the ‘arbiter’ or ‘mediator’ Job has been longing for. Fifth, this is the reason why no one responds to Elihu in the end, because he was a voice preparing the way for the greater voice to come. This view is the minority view within the Church. You’ll find it explained and embraced in the Reformation Study Bible, and given a ‘nod’ though not embraced in the ESV Study Bible. This is also the view held by Christopher Ash in his commentary on Job that we’ve been using a guide through our series in Job.

Taken these three views into account, we can easily reject the first view which believes Elihu and his speeches to be a foreign intrusion into the text of Job. As for the remaining two views we find believers lining up in both of them. Personally through studying this text I have come to believe the third view, that Elihu is a good character who prepares the way for God’s voice to come. But honesty would demand I also say that while I believe this third view is the best option I also believe I could be wrong about this.

So, I do not hold my view, and I would encourage you to not hold your view on Elihu with a closed fist, but with an open hand willing to adjust as the text demands of us. But for now think of Elihu like this.

So far in Job we come through 30 chapters of thick back and forth conversation about Job’s innocence, and whether or not Job has been right to say what he has about himself and about God. I think the author of Job knows what he has put together here in his work can easily exasperate the reader and is now giving us a bit of a break, or a change in tempo, with the wisdom hymn of chapter 28 and the speeches of Elihu in chapters 32-37.[1] And more so, that these chapters are present between Job’s final plea and Job’s meeting with God show us that Job might be in need of a bit of a break as well. Remember, God isn’t forced to reply to Job right away or quickly even though Job’s final plea in chapter 29-31 is intense. No, God acts in His own time and Elihu’s speeches reinforce this by causing Job to wait a bit longer for his inner angst to be resolved. Yes we have felt deeply for Job as we have watched him suffer and work through the hard realities and questions of why God does what He does. But we also, again and again, have had to almost gasp at Job’s audacity in accusing God of being a wrongdoer and unjust.[2]

Maybe, just maybe, some of what Elihu has to say will be the very things Job needs to hear in order to be prepared to meet God before the end in chapters 38-42.[3]

Citations:

[i]David Atkinson, The Message of Job – The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991) page 116-117.

[ii]Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014) page 329.

[iii]Atkinson., page 122.

Prayer and Surrender

Think about surrender.

Defined, surrender means a yielding to, a giving up in favor of another, or giving yourself over to some kind of desire. This is why the synonyms for the word surrender are submission, renunciation, and relinquish. When surrender is thought of in relation to prayer, we can say that prayer takes us to a deeper level of surrender. Meaning that, when we know how great the love of God is toward us in Christ, we will not only trust Him, we’ll surrender our lives entirely to Him.

Tim Keller similarly says, “Meditation is thinking a truth out and then thinking a truth in until its ideas become big and sweet, moving and affecting, and until the reality of God is sensed upon the heart.” In other words, what happens in the believer when God is sensed upon the heart? The heart surrenders to God, yields to Him, and gives up rebelling against Him.

There’s something about this that is very gospel centered.

And that is fitting to point out because Christians are a gospel people and everything in our lives should ultimately come back to, revolve around, and inflame our devotion to the gospel. How does prayer work like this in relation to what we’ve been talking about tonight? It has everything to do with surrender. In Luke 11 we read, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Keller continues on at this point saying, “…there’s never been a parent who desires joy and pleasure and good for their children as much as God. There has never been a parent who desires to hear and answer their children’s heart and requests as much as God. And there has never a parent who desires to shower blessings on their children as much as God.”

This passage not only means these things. It also poses a question: how does God give us joy, how does God hear and answer our heart and requests, how does God shower blessings on us when we deserve the opposite? The answer is the gospel. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, made a request of His Father in Gethsemane and received the serpent and scorpion in return so that all those who believe in Him would never receive the serpent or scorpion. Jesus’ prayers were rejected so that our prayers would be received.

This gospel love, once seen and tasted as sweet and beautiful changes the heart and redirects our prayer away from trying to get God to submit to our requests toward our surrendering to His gracious and wise sovereign plan.

Prayer and Trust

Prayer not only requires trust but takes us to a deeper trust in God.

To illustrate this I want you to think of a young boy walking along the street with his father. The two are having a wonderful time together and suddenly the father stoops down and swings his boy into his arms holding him high in the air. He then kisses him and tells him that he loves him, and puts him back down on the ground. Puritan pastor Thomas Goodwin once spoke of this and then asked the following question. “Tell me this, was the young boy more a son in the father’s arms than he was down on the street?” Do you see why he spoke of this and then asked that question? His answer was that objectively there is no difference, the boy is always his much beloved son. But subjectively there is all the difference in the world, for when the boy was in the arms of his father he was experiencing his father’s love.

Prayer is like this.

Objectively all believers are owned and adopted sons and daughters of God, this is true, beautiful and praiseworthy. But subjectively we can feel the warm embrace of our heavenly Father’s arms. How? Certainly through reading and meditating on His Word, sure. But when the reading and meditating over the Word is coupled with prayer the heart is drawn heavenward to God and we experience subjectively what is already objectively true of us. We experience being lifted off the ground by our Father’s arms. Didn’t Jesus say in Luke 11:11 and following, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Because our heavenly Father loves us so, we can come to Him with anything on our hearts just as a child can come to their father. Think of some of the examples in Scripture we see of the gutsiness people had with God in prayer.

-Abraham asking God to save Sodom and Gommorah (Gen. 18:16-33)

-Moses pleading with God to have mercy on stubborn Israel (Ex. 33:12-22)

-Habakkuk and Job boldly questioning God’s purposes.

There are many others. In all of these moments God not only heard the prayers of His people, He answered. Lesson? God responds when His own adopted children cry out to Him. Yet, if this gutsiness in prayer isn’t coupled with a deep trust in God we could go very wrong in prayer thinking that we can muscle down God’s arm in prayer. This is why the image of the child with his father is so helpful for prayer. That young boy knows his father loves him. Therefore he trusts and knows can ask his father for anything, but that’s not all he knows. He also knows he can trust his father in however he answers that request.

Do you know these things? In prayer you’ll be reminded of these things, and through prayer these things will increase in you.

Prayer and Self Knowledge

Self knowledge is a curious thing.

It once was a fixed truth. You are who you are and there’s no changing it. But in our day and age who you are has become a thing of choice. We can choose who we want to be, what we want to be, even if that goes directly against who God has genetically and physiologically made us to be. One current example is that when one signs up for a Facebook account there are now 71 gender options to choose from. I don’t think we need to linger long on this to see that we are a confused people, laden with incorrect and often exaggerated views of ourselves.

John Calvin begins his Institutes by saying “The whole sum of our wisdom – wisdom, that is, which deserves to be called true and assured – broadly consists of two parts, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.” The way we get a true knowledge of God is from His holy and inspired Word. But an often overlooked implication of this is that when we gain a true knowledge of God we also get along with it a true knowledge of ourselves.

This true self knowledge comes to us in the Word also, but we experience our true selves in prayer. Why does this come to us in prayer? Because when prayer is done truthfully, reverently, and humbly it is near impossible to have an over exaggerated view of oneself. Rather, we gain an honest sense about who we truly are and who we’re truly speaking to.

Seen in this light prayer and our relationship with God is dramatically different than any other relationship we have in this life. Whether the relationship be with a friend, co-worker, stranger on the street, our children, or even our spouse you and I can be very good (and perhaps more sneaky than we’d like to admit) at presenting ourselves in a certain manner that doesn’t honestly reflect who we really are. You can put on a face before friends without much effort, even more so with co-workers who really only sees you during work, even more with strangers on the street who’ll only see you once, and though I think it’s very difficult to do with your own children and husband or wife it is sadly possible, though no one has a closer relationship with you, to deceive even them. People can function like this for years without truthfully allowing anyone to know them for who they really are. It’s a sad and lonely story but a true story nonetheless.

In contrast to all these relationships think about our relationship to God. When our relationship with God is in view, the deception does not easily continue. For God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. He knows everything about you, and therefore with Him and in relating to Him it is impossible to present yourself as someone you’re not. Hebrews 4:13 reminds us, “No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” Or as many have said, “The scrutinizing gaze of the omniscient God completely exposes us.”

All this to say, prayer does not allow us to deceive ourselves, and so in it we learn and in a real sense acquire our true selves. Where is the first place prayer takes us? To a true self knowledge.

Little Seeds that Split Great Rocks

Below is a short and needed post from Tim Challies. As a pastor I see the signs of division all over the place, and was greatly encouraged by his warning. I pray you’re encouraged as well.

In the warmth of a Canadian summer, in the reaches of a distant forest, a maple seed falls from the sky. This seed, called a samara, is a masterpiece of design that looks and behaves much like the blades of a tiny helicopter. As it falls through the air it spins, and this spinning action generates lift, and this lift keeps it aloft long enough to fall far from the smothering shade of its parent tree. As that seed helicopters down, a gentle breeze nudges it so it lands upon a nearby outcropping of rock. For a day or two it lays there, exposed to sun and rain, until a sudden gust of wind pushes it into a tiny fissure. And there the seed germinates, there it finds just enough soil to put down its first tentative roots, there it becomes a sapling, there it begins to grow into a tree. As the years pass, as the maple grows, its roots drive deeper into that crack, they push with steady and unrelenting force, until finally they break the mighty rock in two.

Many churches have been split and broken apart by what began as something little bigger than a seed. The dispute was to the church as the seed was to the rock—tiny, weak, insignificant by comparison. Yet it contained within it all the potential to eventually split the congregation in half. As time passed, as relationships grow distant, as groups were formed, as battle lines were drawn, the dispute pressed harder and harder against the foundation of unity. And then came that final inconsiderate word, that final thoughtless action, that final misunderstood decision, and as a rock breaks apart from the force of the roots, the church was split in two.

From the moment that little maple seed landed in the fissure and began to put down roots, it was only a matter of time before it broke the rock. It was inescapable as long as the sapling remained healthy, as long as it was fed by sun and soil and water, as long as it was able to continue its growth. Sooner or later its roots would be big enough to generate the pressure that would drive the rock apart. The rock’s only hope was for the tree to be torn out while it was still young, while its roots were still shallow and weak. But as long as the roots remained, the danger remained. And one day, inevitably, the rock gave way. 

And just so, each Christian must be on constant watch against little seeds of dispute that fall into little fissures of disunity. For little disputes have their ways of growing into big disputes, their ways of becoming far greater than we would ever have thought, would ever have imagined. How good and how lovely it is when we dwell together in unity; how sad and how ghastly when we allow ourselves to be driven apart. Little foxes running amok can ruin an entire vineyard, little weeds left unpulled can choke out a great harvest, tiny seeds can sprout to split the greatest rocks, and even little disputes, when allowed to grow, can drive brothers from brothers and sisters from sisters.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Book Reviews and Resources

Originally posted by Mitch Bedzyk:

Carl Trueman, a professor at Grove City College and an esteemed historian, has arguably written not only the best but most important work of 2020 with his latest book, entitled, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to the Sexual Revolution. Trueman sets out to understand Western culture and its obsession with individualism and “identity,” particularly our sexual identity. He wants to understand why the sentence, “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body,” is no longer considered non-sensical and self-contradicting but tolerated, and even celebrated. 

In order to do this, Trueman guides us through history and the work of many key figures, such as Rousseau, Nietzsche, Marx, Darwin, Freud, to show how a new understanding of the self emerged that focused on the inner life and sexuality of the individual. To be a truly “authentic” person today, one’s identity must be controlled and molded by our ever-shifting desires. Combined with Freud’s notion that we are fundamentally sexual beings and Marxist ideas of oppression and victimhood, the result is our culture’s iconoclasm and almost complete rejection of nature, history, and Christianity. While our culture may not be rational, Trueman shows it to be at least logical.

I cannot highly recommend this book enough. It is certainly tough sledding at parts, and rather long, but it’s well worth the effort. The issues of sexuality, gender, and individualism are shaping up to be the defining issues of our day and age, if they aren’t already. In order for Christians to stand firm against the coming waves of rejection, misunderstanding, and persecution, we must understand not only what Scripture says, but why our world thinks the way it does. And Trueman’s book is an excellent place to start.

You can purchase the book from several retailers: WTS BooksAmazon, etc. I have complied some reviews of the book by several solid Christian scholars as well as some podcasts, interviews, and video lecutres with Carl Trueman where he discusses the book.

Podcasts, Interviews and Lectures with Carl Trueman

Book Reviews

Two Errors the Church Makes with Homosexuality

Living in the first century Roman world Paul would’ve been familiar with homosexual relations.

It was widely known that many of the Roman Emperors engaged in homosexual acts and/or lifestyles. And being one who traveled around the Roman Empire preaching the gospel Paul would’ve encountered many who also engaged in homosexual behavior. And more so being raised as a Jew Paul was taught the Old Testament Scriptures. Where God’s original design in Genesis 1-2 is clear. God made man in His own image, male and female He made them. And after having Adam name all the animals, no suitable helper was found for him. So God put Adam to sleep and created woman from him, and gave her to Adam to be a helpmate, so that they’d complement one another in their God given roles. This is the foundation of marriage. And keep going, this foundational institution of marriage between one man and one woman was one reason the lusts and actions of Sodom and Gomorrah were so wicked. These Scriptures Paul was taught as a young Jew he now knew fuller and deeper from being saved by Christ. And so Paul is very clear: all homosexual activity, from homosexuality between two loving and committed men or two women, to a more violent action like homosexual rape (like what we see in Judges 19), as well as everything in between, is against God’s design for sexual relations between men and women. This is why he speaks of men and women giving up what is in accord with nature in Romans 1:26-27.

Bringing all we find in Romans 1 together, we can see the depths of sin in the heart of man. Man claims to be wise by rejecting the God known from creation. Then in this ‘wisdom’ man continues downward turning away from worshipping God our Creator to worship a god of his own making or a creature of his choosing. Where does this idolatry lead to? For this God gives man over to the sin they love. And being so unrestrained in the chase after sin, man, in his supposed wisdom (v22 is always in play), looks into the ‘mirror’, falls in love with himself, worships himself, and then engages in sexual activity with others like himself. Homosexuality then, is not only sinful. Homosexuality is not only evidence of God’s wrath being poured out from heaven here and now. Homosexuality is ultimately idolatrous false worship, where man has become smitten with his own image.[1]

We believe this. But Christians individually and churches corporately don’t always handle this in the most winsome or wise manner. Two errors are usually made at this point with how we handle the sin of homosexuality.[2]

First, some Christians and some churches in an effort to appear nice, relevant, and winsome make it very clear that they’re eager to welcome gay men and women into their lives and congregations. In many of these cases the traditional view of marriage and homosexuality is held and believed, it’s just not talked about or it’s downplayed so no one is offended. Others in this same vein not only proclaim themselves to be welcoming but entirely affirming of the gay lifestyle, either teaching that Paul doesn’t say what he plainly says here, or that the Bible is simply wrong on this matter. In these cases the traditional view of marriage and homosexuality is flat out denied. This is usually called the ‘liberal’ approach.

Second, some Christians and some churches read what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, believe it, and make the rejection of it a prominent part of their identity. They see homosexuality as the sin above all sins, the pinnacle of human depravity. In some more extreme forms of this, you often hear comments like ‘God hates fags’ or ‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.’ Now because they believe homosexuality to be the sin over all sins they will not seek to befriend, evangelize, or be welcoming to gay men or women at all, even though they will seek to love all kinds of heterosexual sinners. This is usually called the ‘conservative’ approach.

Paul avoids both of these unfaithful postures. And we should too.

On one hand Paul doesn’t affirm homosexuality, he plainly calls it sin here in this passage. So, we should never deny the plain teaching of Scripture in an effort to be affirming of homosexual sin. But on the other hand Paul doesn’t shake his head teaching that homosexuality is the worst sin of all. So, we should never be those who teach and believe that homosexual sin is worse than heterosexual sin? How can I draw such conclusions? Look at what comes next in v28-31, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” Paul is teaching that all of these sins flow from rejecting God and running after idols of our own making. Claiming to be wise, man descends in a kind of free-fall, into a state where all manner of evil becomes possible.[3] Or, we can say man is not as bad as he could be, there is always room for ‘deprovement.’[4]

Every single man or woman in all of history finds themselves adequately represented somewhere in the list of sins in Romans 1. This should make us kind, compassionate, and patient to all sinners, however sin is displayed in their lives.


[1] J. V. Fesko, Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018), 37.

[2] Tim Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, 34–35.

[3] Fesko, Romans, 37. See also Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 53.

[4] Kent R. Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1991), 44.

Top 10 Podcasts of 2020

I like podcasts, a lot. They’re not only a great way to redeem the time whether you find yourself in the car, the gym, or anywhere really, but they’re so many good ones to choose from now! I’m glad they’re becoming more popular these days and that new ones pop up all the time. In a given week I usually listen to more than 10 podcasts regularly. So as this year is winding down I’ve compiled a list of the my favorite podcasts of the year. Be encouraged!

(note: these podcasts weren’t all new in 2020, but they’re the ones I’ve mainly listened to throughout 2020)

10) 5 Minutes in Church History – A brief 5 minute podcast that comes out with a weekly dose of Church history. It’s great, you’ll love it.

9) Ministry Network Podcast – From the folks at Westminster Seminary, looking at ministry from all angles with various guests. Brief, informative, encouraging.

8) Open Book – Brief snapshots of R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur’s favorite books, why they read them, and why they return to them.

7) Pastors Talk – Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman talking over all things current and historic from a pastor’s point of view. Helpful.

6) Simply Put – Doctrine, robust and substantial doctrine, handled in a brief summary form. Hard to do well, but this one does. Excellent listening.

5) The Prancing Pony Podcast – Did you really think there wouldn’t be a Tolkien podcast in this list? This is by far the best Tolkien podcast out there right now. Two regular guys who love the works of Tolkien, where they slowly read and talk through them. Love it.

4) Out of Oz – Hosted by my friends and fellow pastors along with some of their church members, talking through hard/controversial issues. Fun chats, can be quite cheeky at times.

3) Luther in Real Time – Historical reenactments of Martin Luther’s life before, during, and after the reformation. Simply gold!

2) Gospel Bound – A Gospel Coalition podcast hosted by Collin Hansen, covering all things theological, political, and cultural through the lens of the gospel. Hopeful listening.

1) Life and Books and Everything – My favorite podcast find of the year, hosted by Kevin DeYoung and friends, title says it all. This podcast alone has helped me think through the majority of issues that have faced us in 2020. Dive deep into this, you’ll be better for it.

He Rules in the Realms of Frost

It’s cold today.

But despite the cold I rose early this morning and reached for my reading in Charles Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening, and my oh my, it was wonderful. It was so good and so soul warming, I’ve reposted it here below to encourage you. Be encouraged…

December 1, Morning

“Thou hast made summer and winter.” (Psalm 74:17)

My soul begin this wintry month with thy God. The cold snows and the piercing winds all remind thee that He keeps His covenant with day and night, and tend to assure thee that He will also keep that glorious covenant which He has made with thee in the person of Christ Jesus. He who is true to His Word in the revolutions of the seasons of this poor sin-polluted world, will not prove unfaithful in His dealings with His own well-beloved Son.

Winter in the soul is by no means a comfortable season, and if it be upon thee just now it will be very painful to thee: but there is this comfort, namely, that the Lord makes it. He sends the sharp blasts of adversity to nip the buds of expectation: He scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes over the once verdant meadows of our joy: He casteth forth His ice like morsels freezing the streams of our delight. He does it all, He is the great Winter King, and rules in the realms of frost, and therefore thou canst not murmur. Losses, crosses, heaviness, sickness, poverty, and a thousand other ills, are of the Lord’s sending, and come to us with wise design. Frosts kill noxious insects, and put a bound to raging diseases; they break up the clods, and sweeten the soul. O that such good results would always follow our winters of affliction!

How we prize the fire just now! how pleasant is its cheerful glow! Let us in the same manner prize our Lord, who is the constant source of warmth and comfort in every time of trouble. Let us draw nigh to Him, and in Him find joy and peace in believing. Let us wrap ourselves in the warm garments of His promises, and go forth to labours which befit the season, for it were ill to be as the sluggard who will not plough by reason of the cold; for he shall beg in summer and have nothing.”

Taken from Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening, reading from the morning of December 1.

Learning Paul’s Mission

A few weeks ago I began a series of posts introducing us to the Apostle Paul. In the first post we met Paul, in the second post we learned his message, and in this final post we’ll learn his mission.

Romans 1:5-7, “…through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Here we learn this message from God (v2-4) propels him out on a mission for God (v5-7). What is that mission? He begins with his apostolic calling again. His mission is to be what God has called him to be, an apostle. But see how he views it? He views it as something he’s received from Jesus and calls it grace. Grace! Here again is the first mention of another word which will dominate the landscape of Romans, grace. Paul didn’t become an apostle because he chose it as a career among a large list of possible careers, no. God called him into this work, God set him apart to this work, by His grace. This grace of God will, of course, be expanded on later, but here we see the beginnings of Paul’s thought on it. He believes he is what he is by the grace of God alone. Do you agree with him? Or do you believe you are what you are because of what you have done? In this we glimpse the heart of a true believer. Paul works, toils, labors, writes, plants churches, pastors churches, suffers a great deal of pain, agony, and turmoil on account of it, and ultimately dies because of it. Yet, when Paul thinks of all he’s done he doesn’t sit back and congratulate himself on his great and glorious accomplishments, no. He gives all the glory to God and confesses, ‘It was all of grace.’

After laying a foundation of the grace of God on his ministry, Paul unfolds the what, the why, and the where of his mission in v5.[1]

The what is “…to bring about the obedience of faith…” This phrase ‘bring about’ tells us God is going to do something through Paul in the lives of those he ministers to. What will God do? He’ll bring about the ‘obedience of faith.’ Curious phrase isn’t it? On one hand we can say these two words go together. Obedience always involves faith and faith always involves obedience, they belong together like lightning and thunder.[2] But on the other hand there is a sure order to these words we would do well to note. Just as lightning comes before thunder, so too faith always comes before and produces true obedience. So, when put together as “the obedience of faith” we learn the Jesus we have faith in is also the Lord we obey. Yes, faith alone saves, but when faith is true faith is never alone, works always follow. Or we could put it like this: the Christian isn’t one who just believes certain things, the Christian is one who lives a certain way because we believe certain things. Our whole life is a result of what we believe.[3] That’s the what of his mission.

Now look at the why, “…to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake His name…” Paul isn’t undertaking all of this gospel endeavor for personal profit or financial gain, he is no peddler of God’s Word who can’t trusted. Paul’s grand motivation for all things is “for the sake of His name” or for His glory. This is also God’s purpose in all things, the great glory of His name. In this Paul shows himself very healthy and spiritually alive, his heart beats with the same aim as God’s heart. Does yours? It ought to. If you’re ‘why’ is anything else you’re not just off base or unhealthy or in need of an adjustment, you’re an idolater. There is no one like God and there is no God but God. He, therefore, deserves all our love, all our affection, all our praise, all our hard work, and all our obedience. His glory is our great end in all things.

Lastly, Paul’s where. Finish out v5, “…to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake His name…(where?)…among all the nations…” Not just Israel any longer, but the nations. Paul knows further on in this letter he’ll describe how God is now sovereignly working throughout all history to bring a new people together, from all nations, through the gospel. So here he begins with that in mind as he gives us the where of his mission. And as robust as this is, as grand and all encompassing as this is, to these Romans it would’ve been very personal. Why? See what he says next in v6, “…including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…” The nations God has called Paul to includes those in Rome.

And so, after meeting the apostle, learning his message, and learning his mission Paul concludes his greeting with sweet words in v7. “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

This is our message. This is our mission.


[1] Robert W. Yarbrough et al., ESV Expository Commentary: Romans-Galatians, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020), 37.

[2] Douglas Moo, Romans – NICNT, 50–51.

[3] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – vol. 1, 169.

Learning Paul’s Message

Romans 1:2-4, “…the gospel of God…which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”

A few weeks ago I began a series of posts introducing us to the Apostle Paul. In that first post we met Paul, today in this post we’ll learn his message.

In Romans 1:2-4 we come to next great matter Paul introduces to the Romans. That this gospel of God which God has set him apart for isn’t new. Rather the gospel is of old, it’s something God promised long ago. I think too many make too sharp a division between the Old and New Testaments, as if there were no gospel in the Old Testament and no Law in the New Testament.[1] In our daily living as Christians this usually looks like us simply not giving much attention to the Old Testament because we think we’re New Testament people and should just stick to the New Testament. To which I respond, ‘We are indeed no longer in the shadow lands, we are living in the realities, gloriously so! But where do we think the foundation of the New Covenant was laid? Nowhere else than the Old Covenant.’ Or as Augustine once said, “The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed.” This is what Paul’s getting at here in v2. His message, the gospel of God, wasn’t invented by him. No, it goes all the way back to the Garden where God spoke the first words of light into the dark fallen hearts of Adam and Eve. ‘One day’, God told them in Gen. 3:15, ‘the serpent will strike one of your Descendants on the heel, but He will crush its head.’ All the prophets of old spoke of this Descendant of Eve, of His coming, of His entrance into our world, of His life, His death, His resurrection, and His ultimate victory. This means Paul’s eager to tell them and to show them that in these “holy Scriptures” God has made many promises, and in Jesus Christ we come to see how God has kept them all.

But what does he say next in v3-4? He gets more specific, saying this gospel of God promised beforehand in the holy Scriptures is about one thing. It concerns “…God’s Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”

Now we see it. The gospel of God is not about a set of principles or about a certain spiritual program, it’s about a Person.[2] The Person of Jesus Christ. Try as many may, there simply is no Christianity without Jesus Christ. Put anything else before Him or leave Him out entirely and you’ve left Christianity, regardless what one calls themselves. And notice, how Paul’s explanation of the gospel of God doesn’t begin with man, with man’s problems, or with man’s value or worth. No, it begins with Jesus.[3] And more so notice, Paul isn’t content to leave Jesus simply stated and undefined. He tells us what we should know about this Person Jesus Christ. Some today might already begin having issues with Paul. Arguing with him saying he’s getting too deep and going into things he shouldn’t. ‘We just want Jesus, Paul, don’t go into all this doctrine. Doctrine divides.’ Paul sees it differently. I’d argue Paul sees it rightly and clearly. Sure, doctrine may divide, but can we see that when handled properly doctrine divides between what is true and what is false? Or see it like this: Jesus is Paul’s Master, and Paul earnestly desires and labors to make his Master’s glories plain to the Romans, and to us. Let’s see what he says about Jesus.

First, He was a Descendant of David according to the flesh. We know what this means. Not only was Jesus to be the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent (Gen. 3:15), not only was Jesus to be a Descendant of Abraham that would bless the nations (Gen. 12), not only was Jesus to be of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49), He was to be of a particular line, the line of David. Remember 2 Samuel 7? David desires to build God a house but God interrupts these desires and makes David a grand promise and says He’ll be the One doing the house building. Specifically, God will build David a great house, or kingdom and He’ll place one of David’s sons on the throne establishing David’s throne and kingdom forever and ever. This long-anticipated Son of David is Jesus. He was the true divine eternal Son of God before in eternity past, but at a certain point in time this Son of God willingly became something that He was not before as He entered into our world, true Man.

Paul doesn’t leave it at that but goes on with more detail about the nature of Jesus. First, He was a Descendant of David according to the flesh, that’s v3. See what comes second in v4, He was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead…” Some read this as teaching us that Jesus was simply human before the resurrection and then became the Son of God after the resurrection. I disagree. That’s not what Paul is saying.[4] The Son of God has always been the Son of God. The point he’s making here is that there are stages of Christ’s work to see. He – the true, the divine, the eternal Son of God – took on flesh, and in His earthly ministry His glory was largely veiled. He was King of kings while on He walked among us but He went ‘incognito’ if you will. Then something happened that changed everything. What happened? The resurrection. In the resurrection, by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power, meaning His glory is veiled no longer. He has been inaugurated, He has been enthroned, above all and overall to His rightful place. Paul is saying the resurrection is not only where we see Jesus as the Son of God, but the resurrection is where we see Jesus as the Son of God in power.[5] Which is why Paul concludes recognizing Jesus to be what He truly is, “Jesus Christ our Lord.” This theme will be the grand foundation for everything Paul says later on in chapter 6 about how we’re to view ourselves as those who’ve been redeemed and how that resurrected power changes our daily life.

So follow Paul here in v1-4. What is the gospel of God promised long ago in the holy Scriptures all about? It concerns Jesus. Eternal Son of God, Seed of David, Messiah, and Lord.[6] This is what Paul was set apart for. This is his message.


[1] R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 18.

[2] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2014), 12.

[3] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 2 102.

[4] John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 7.

[5] Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, 13.

[6] Douglas Moo, NICNT – Romans, 48–49.

Render to Caesar – Render to God

Mark 12:17, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…” 

Do you realize how startling this would have been to a Jewish audience? Jesus, in this one phrase, told Jews that it was ok to pay taxes to an idolatrous government with an idolatrous coin. This is more than just a clever answer saving Jesus from the trap set for Him. Many people think that in this phrase Jesus not only created but validated what we now call the separation of Church and State. I don’t disagree with that, I just think that there’s much more going on here than just the separation of Church and State. Not only is Jesus saying that paying taxes to Caesar is ok, but by saying that paying taxes to Caesar is ok He is also saying that the Roman government is a legitimate government. You know what that means? A pagan government that rejects the one true God, according to Jesus, is a legitimate government.

This means, at least, two things. 

First, Christians should be good citizens, and in order to be good citizens Christians are to give to the existing government what they are due. Government, according to the Bible is seen as a good thing ordained by God that Christians can and should be a part of while recognizing that it doesn’t have to be Christian in order to be good. So every government, pagan or Christian, reflects an innate authority based in God’s authority alone. Yet because of the fall of man in Genesis 3 we now know that all governments do not properly reflect authority, but rather tend to reflect the abuse of that authority. So even though authority is by nature a good thing, we recognize that not all authority is used for good. Within the words of Jesus here we find that even though all governments have been affected by the fall, rather than rejecting government and seeking to establish our own, we must work at government so that it more reflects proper justice and authority. This means Christians are to be law-abiding people, tax-paying people, and people who pray continually for those in working within governmental offices. This is how we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

Second, Christians are not only to be good citizens, but we’re to be globally good citizens. Think about it. Jesus could have required that those who follow Him to only obey and pay taxes to earthly governments that recognize and submit to the one true God, but He didn’t. Rather because Jesus taught a submission to and the legitimacy of the pagan Roman government, this becomes a principle that is to be followed by every Christian in every nation. Think of how it was in Old Testament: one people, one nation, one God. It was a theocracy, where all citizens were expected to follow and love God. Now, Jesus says, for His followers it’s no longer this way. His followers are no longer to be looking to build one nation or one earthly kingdom but are to be good citizens of the earthly governments we find ourselves under. Why? Jesus’ “Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Because of this no earthly kingdom should ever be identified with God’s people.

Here me loud and clear: Americans are not God’s chosen people. Modern Israelites are not God’s chosen people. Modern day Jamaicans are not God’s chosen people. No, God’s people are a global people. Redeemed men and women who do life in every nation, language, people, and tongue as good citizens showing forth the good character of God in whatever nation they happen to live in.

Now, Jesus could’ve stopped here in His answer and would’ve successfully navigated the crafty question meant to trap Him. But He continued to make another point clear. Not only should we render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but the second half of His answer in v17 is, “…render to God the things that are God’s.”

Notice what Jesus is saying. The Denarius He was holding had an inscription on one side that said Caesar was the ‘son of divine Augustus’ which was meant to convey that Caesar was a god. This is also held up in other historical literature where we read the phrase ‘Caesar Kurios’ (Caesar is lord) was a common motto in first century Greco-Roman culture. By saying ‘give to God what is God’s’ Jesus is contradicting the coin He’s holding. The coin said Caesar was a god, yet Jesus clearly makes a distinction between Caesar and God, which ultimately means Caesar is not god. Because Caesar is not god, and God is God, the extent of a government’s authority and the extent of God’s authority are different. Governments really do have authority in the lives of their citizens, but their authority is not a universal authority. It has borders and boundaries. Whose authority is universal? Whose authority transcends all of man’s limitations? God’s. So Christians are to obey the government, but Christians are never to worship the government or its leader. Our duty to earthly governmental authority is limited, because we have a greater allegiance to God, and whenever we find these two authorities (of God and government) clashing, we go with God every time…no compromise. This means when the government commands us to do something that is morally wrong, we as Christians, are called to disobey those authorities and obey God instead because God’s holds a higher authority over us.

These things are played out for us in Acts 4. The authorities in place told the apostles not to speak or preach in the name of Jesus Christ and it was Peter and John who responded in Acts 4:19-20 saying, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” So in their example we see obedience to authorities but we see a greater obedience to God. A more modern example is found in Washington D.C. Capitol Hill Baptist Church is a historic church in Washington D.C. When they were founded in 1878 they labored to put Jesus’ teaching about government into their statement of faith, and this is what the came up with, “We believe civil government is of divine appointment, for the interest and good order of human society, and that magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously honored, and obeyed, except in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Lord of the conscience and the Ruler of the kings of the earth.”

Today 138 years later they still hold to this paragraph. They did well, and we would do well to heed it still.

Before we finish note one final implication: because the ultimate allegiance of Christians belongs to God and no nation or government, it is therefore problematic to say that any one nation on earth is a Christian nation. For us, just because the principles of Christianity influenced the founders of our nation, and just because we have had some presidents who were Christians, this does not mean that most Americans are Christians, that most government employees are Christians, that the Christian worldview is the American worldview, or that one has to be an American to be a Christian. No, America is not God’s country. No earthly nation is God’s country. His country is our heavenly country that is already here but not yet fully here.

As Christians, we are dual citizens. We are citizens first and foremost of the city of God, and secondly we are citizens of the city of man. We enter into the city of God by faith in Christ’s work on our behalf, and we show our faith in Christ within the city of man by our good works done for our fellow man.

May those good gospel works flow forth into the politically chaotic 2020.

Meet the Apostle Paul

In reading the Bible ourselves and in hearing the Bible preached I think most Christians have grown far too accustomed to how Paul’s letters begin. Such that we don’t really pay attention to them any longer. In essence, we rush past these introductions to get to the content that really matters. This is something we must indeed stop doing. We must come to understand that we rob ourselves of great riches if we do this. Take Romans 1:1 as an example. You might think it’s just a general introduction from Paul to the Romans, that it isn’t very different from how he begins his other letters, and that there really isn’t anything we can learn from it. But a closer look at v1 shows us how Paul, from the very outset, is eager to teach the Romans. Teach them about what? We’ll let’s look into it to see.

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…”

Remember, it’s likely that most of the Christians in Rome have heard of Paul but Paul has never met them or been to visit them, so he must introduce himself to them. See how he does it? As was common for letters in the first century Paul begins with his name, but he then does something unexpected. After telling them who he is, he immediately tells them Whose he is. “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.” Whatever else the Romans might learn about him, Paul is anxious to teach them this most important thing about himself. He’s anxious to introduce them to the one Person in his life that matters most, the one Person Paul cannot think of himself apart from, Jesus Christ.[1] Paul could’ve easily said ‘Paul, eminent theologian, master of the Old Testament Scriptures, frontier missionary, gospel champion.’[2] But no, he says he’s a servant of Christ Jesus.

Don’t miss it. The very first thing he wants them to know about himself is that he belongs to Jesus.

This word ‘servant’ is key. The Greek word used here is doulos which is more rightly translated ‘slave.’ But you won’t find this is most English translations, because slavery in our modern world brings to mind such appalling things, most English translations avoid the word slavery and use servant or bondservant instead, which really ends up softening what Paul’s saying here. We’d do well to see this as it is. Paul doesn’t view himself as being a free man, no. He doesn’t come and go as he pleases, no. Christ is his Master and he is his Master’s possession. That’s the first thing he wants the Romans to know about him.

The second thing he wants them to know is that he has been called and set apart to be an apostle. This language of calling and setting apart is very similar to how God speaks of Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament. Israel was and the Church has now been brought out from the rest of the world and made separate. But Paul also brings in the word apostle to clarify what he means in this. Paul uses this term in v1 to teach the Romans that he’s not a rogue figure out and about on his own mission, teaching his own ideas, trying to create his own religion. No, Paul is an apostle, a ‘sent one.’ One whose been chosen, called, selected to be an officially authorized representative of Christ along with Peter, James, John and the other apostles.[3] Those hand selected 12 who were with Jesus and eyewitnesses of His resurrection. The Romans may have never met Paul, but they should certainly listen to Paul since he’s an apostle. Why? Because as an apostle, he’s writes with the full authority of Jesus Christ Himself.

The third and final thing he wants the Romans to know as he begins in v1 is that God called and set him apart as an apostle for a reason. See it? The gospel of God. Here we have the first mention of the word that will dominate this letter, gospel. Paul will soon say he isn’t ashamed of this gospel and then spend the rest of the book explaining both the contents of the gospel and how the gospel transforms our lives. But did you note how he says this in v1? Paul identified himself earlier as one who belongs to Jesus, so we could say Paul is Jesus’ Paul. Well, what gospel is this? What gospel has Paul been set apart for? Not Peter’s gospel. Not John’s gospel. No, God’s gospel. The gospel belongs to God!

Romans then, is a letter about God. How God acted to bring about salvation, how God’s justice can be preserved in that salvation, how God’s purposes are being worked out in history, and how God can be served by His people throughout all their lives.[4]

You’ve now met the Apostle Paul. In posts to come I’ll introduce you to his message and his mission.


[1] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 1 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 32.

[2] Kent R. Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1991), 16–17.

[3] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 38.

[4] Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 41.