Further Observations on Work from Nehemiah

(Note: This article was published on The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

I listened to the book of Nehemiah on the way to and from the town my wife and I recently moved from. I heard several things that grabbed my heart in this great story that highlights the connection between God’s presence and human work, which I call Immanuel labor. Let me summarize some new insights that will supplement what I wrote in a previous article on my blog and in my book.

Here are the topics I will discuss below:

  • Nehemiah was a spiritual leader, even though he was not in full-time ministry
  • Nehemiah was a man of prayer
  • God led Nehemiah to lead this great restoration project by putting ideas in his heart

Spiritual leadership at work

In the first chapter of this book, we meet Nehemiah. We don’t know anything about him. We are told in verse 1 that this book is in his own words. Right away, in verse 2, we see his leadership in action.

He asks his brother and some men about the Jewish remnant that returned to Jerusalem from their long exile. He learns that “those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace” (Neh. 1:3). The wall around the city and its gates were completely destroyed.

This devastating situation affected Nehemiah deeply, who reports that he “sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed” (Neh. 1:4). His heart was broken, which began to move him in the direction that Yahweh called him to get directly involved in repairing the broken wall.

This spiritual leader who God was working in to prepare him for this great work was an ordinary worker. The fact that Nehemiah is the cupbearer to the king was left to the end of the first chapter to set up the narrative by showing that it would be God’s power that was going to get this job done.

As this story develops over the next few chapters of this great book, we will see God begin to use this ordinary man as His co-worker to lead the Israelites to complete this project under His mighty hand. The team will stay focused on the task as long as Nehemiah stays focused on God, which he does.

Supplication and praise

As was mentioned above, one of Nehemiah’s first responses to hearing the news of the wall was to pray (Neh. 1:4-11). Nehemiah illustrated his spiritual leadership primarily by being a man of prayer. This first of several prayers that we will read starts with praise for God’s covenant love, then leads to confession of personal and national sins, followed by supplication asking for favor from the King. We see a variety of prayers offered by Nehemiah listed in Neh. 2:4-5, 4:4, 4:9, 5:19, and 6:9.

Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk who is described in the classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God was someone just like Nehemiah in that he found it easy to pray. In one recorded conversation, he had stated quite simply “All we have to do is to recognize God as being intimately present within us. Then we may speak directly to Him every time we need to ask for help, to know His will in moments of uncertainty, and to do whatever He wants us to do in a way that pleases Him.”  

I read this book early in my Christian walk. So, I often send up a short prayer at work as needed like Nehemiah did with the king. As I head from the parking lot to my building, I pray that God will lead me and give me wisdom. Sometimes I pray audibly when I am alone in my office. I may shoot up a quick silent prayer in a meeting when my temper starts to rise. I confess my sins when I see them. I take time to praise God when He enables me to accomplish a challenging task. There are always plenty of opportunities throughout the day to connect with God.

I think Nehemiah had a sense of God’s presence modeled after David, the man after God’s own heart. (See 1 Sam 13:14.) He understood what David had said in Ps. 16:11, “you will fill me with joy in presence” when he proclaimed to the Israelites that “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). 

Sensitivity to God’s leading

Because Nehemiah was gifted and called to be a spiritual leader and because he remained close to God in prayer, he was able to sense when God was leading him, whether it was something great or small. Nehemiah sought the Lord daily. He acted on God’s promises to lead him. (See Ps. 32:8.)

In Neh. 2:12, we get a first glimpse of how Nehemiah got his marching orders. He describes a secret recon mission after dark to scope out the damage to the walls around Jerusalem that he took with a few men. He did not reveal his true purpose for this tour. What drove him that night was that God had put it in his heart to become part of the solution to the overwhelming problem that his people faced.

I found a similar situation in Neh. 7:5. After the wall had been completed (see Neh. 6:15), Nehemiah gave credit to Yahweh for calling him to take on a follow-on project. He wrote that “God put it into my heart” to assemble the exiles who had returned and compile a list of those who lived in the city. This alludes to God’s command to be fruitful and increase in number (Gen. 1:28) and His promise to Abram that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars (Gen. 15:5).

Although OT believers were not indwelt with the Holy Spirit in the same way as NT believers are, Nehemiah did have God’s Spirit working in his life. God spoke to him as He speaks to us today.

I want to challenge Christ-followers to remember God’s dealings with Nehemiah. We cannot be just like him, but we can be spiritual leaders by becoming men and women of prayer. We can relate to God in the same way. We can seek God’s heart and let Him lead us through changing ours. When we do those things, expect God to do a “great work” in us, with us, and through us, for His kingdom.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 180 articles on faith and work topics. Ninety of these have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See complete list of published articles on Linktree.)

Their Sacrifice was Not in Vain

(This article was written for and published on The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

On Memorial Day, we want to find ways to honor our brave men and women who paid the ultimate price for their country while fighting this nation’s wars. Here, I want to reflect on the idea that their courageous work as a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine was not in vain. Let me paint a picture of a few scenarios where Veterans gave their lives, why they were willing to do so, how Christians are called to live a life of sacrifice like Jesus lived and died, and that their work had a lasting impact.

A few snapshots of sacrifice

Throughout our Nation’s history, both active and reserve service members of our armed forces have often found themselves in harm’s way. Over one million of them have willingly sacrificed their lives. Several memorable examples come to my mind. Most Americans would be familiar with these also.

As Soldiers from the North and South collided on the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July 1863, there were two scenes that were depicted in the movie “Gettysburg” where courage under fire was clearly depicted – Pickett’s charge on the Confederate side and the Battle of Little Round Top on the Union side. In both major battles, men faced overwhelming odds stacked against them by a determined, well-armed, and fierce foe, knowing full well that they might not make it through.

During the D-Day invasion in June 1944, as it was depicted in the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, we saw for the very first time realistic, graphic, and disturbing images of men storming Omaha Beach at Normandy, France. These men knew that some of them would survive and would press on to liberate Europe from the Nazi invasion, but most of them would not. Yet, they moved out despite their fear.

More recently, during our twenty-year long War on Terrorism, service members from all walks of life went into harm’s way to fight for a cause they believed in. Despite the messy way that we withdrew from Afghanistan, I trust that our combat Veterans, many of whom are still serving today, know that their efforts to defeat an often-unseen enemy and bring peace to this region did make a difference.

Why are service members willing to sacrifice their lives?

During Memorial Day, we usually say that service members died for their country. They were willing to give their all for the cause of freedom. They sacrificed their lives for their families. That may in fact be true in the majority of cases. However, what I hear quite often is that these selfless men and women actually sacrificed their lives for the sake of the ones who fought side-by-side with them in battle.

Duty, Honor, Country. These are values that our military personnel hold close to their heart. Loyalty is another attribute that is lived out, especially in combat. What drives those who laid down their lives with heroic actions is loyalty to their unit and to their fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:6).

Christians are to live a life of sacrifice like Jesus

The Bible tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ lived a life of selfless service. Even though He was the creator of all things and had built houses for others as a carpenter, He had no home to speak of. He had a close relationship with his heavenly Father and His mother but did not have a wife or family. He owned everything in the universe and yet possessed nothing. He took on the nature of a servant.

Jesus taught His disciples that if they wanted to be great in God’s Kingdom, they needed to be the servants of all (Mark 10:44). They needed to die to self. The Apostle Paul took it a step further by teaching that Jesus’s followers needed to offer themselves to God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). Just as Jesus submitted Himself to the Father to give His life as a sacrifice for our sins, we also need to entrust ourselves to God and consider others’ needs more important than our own (Phil. 2:3-8).

Throughout church history, Christian Soldiers who have enlisted in the Lord’s service, both literally and figuratively, have given of themselves: their time, talent, treasure, and lives. Servicemembers who have freely given life or limb for their country are to be commended and remembered. They did what God wants done in this world. God has maintained justice through their efforts. They worked with God to bring shalom to the people that He loved enough to send His Son to die for.

Your work is not in vain

The key term in my title, “not in vain” comes from 1 Cor. 15:58. The Apostle Paul is concluding his long discussion on the implications of the resurrection of Jesus. He boldly proclaims, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” He wants the members of the church in Corinth to know that the work they have been doing for the Kingdom of God has not been worthless; it has eternal value.

The use of the term “in vain” that is applied to work here immediately recalls the concepts found in the OT book of Ecclesiastes, where the theme of vanity permeates the entire book. Life “under the sun” does appear to be worthless, useless, hopeless, pointless, to no avail, etc. In contrast, however, we know that life “under the Son” is full of abundance, purpose, value, usefulness, fruitfulness, and hope.

As Christians, our labors, whether in vocational Christian ministry or in ordinary jobs, are designed by God to expand His creation and His Kingdom (His rule) on this earth. Because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, whatever work we have done in this life makes a difference now and in eternity. Our faith is not worthless, our message is timeless, our contributions count in Christ, who lives in us.

I want our wounded Warriors and their family members who have lost loved ones to remember that we will never forget their sacrifices. Their final measure of devotion to their brothers and sisters in arms and this country, and their fearless disregard for their own personal safety for a greater cause had a lasting purpose – for freedom. For those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, I believe they will hear these words that we all want our Savior to say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 180 articles on faith and work topics. Ninety of these have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See complete list of published articles on Linktree.)

The Value of the Greeting of the Day

When I was about to graduate from high school in 1976, someone in the class was putting together a list of “Senior Predictions”. Mine was kind of amusing. Whoever wrote it knew me well. They predicted that in ten years I would add, “Good afternoon” to my usual greeting of “Good morning”.

Flash forward ten years. I am a Soldier in Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, learning how to give the “greeting of the day” to an officer or NCO that I meet while walking outside. 

The task is simple. If it is an officer, I initiate the greeting with, “Good morning (or afternoon), Sir (or Ma’am)” and give a salute. If it is an NCO, I would say, “Good morning (or afternoon), Sergeant (or First Sergeant, or Sergeant Major).” The key to success is doing it at the right time before they pass. You must be close enough to identify their rank and gender and give them time to respond.

Flash forward 36 years. I am now a retired Master Sergeant and a Department of the Army Civilian, working at one of our Army training centers. A few weeks ago, while walking down the hall in the next wing from where I work, I passed a Sergeant Major I did not know. I greeted him with a “Good morning, Sergeant Major!” He responded in kind. It felt really good and right. It got me to thinking about how important this greeting is to build a culture of dignity and respect in the workplace.

I would like to take a fresh look at this from a biblical and theological perspective. I will begin by highlighting what greeting God might look like. Then I will describe the blessings that greeting others brings to them as we acknowledge their presence and look for opportunities to serve them.

Greeting God as the day begins

I was recently reminded of the words of a great hymn as I listened to Christian music on the way to work. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty! Early in the morning my song shall rise to thee.”

When we begin the day with “Good morning, Lord!” instead of “Good Lord, it’s morning”, we will probably have a much better day. When your first waking thought is to acknowledge God’s presence with you, it sets the tone to abide in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all day long.

Psalm 5:1-3 is a great Scripture that clearly shows what I have stated. David begins with a sincere prayer to Yahweh, asking Him to listen and consider his lament he is about to share. He describes the words he is using as a “groaning” and a “cry”. He is offering this prayer to God in the morning.

Brother Lawrence, in the book Practicing the Presence of God, illustrated this idea of inviting God’s presence into his workplace. “At the beginning of my duties I would say to the Lord with confidence, ‘My God, since You are with me, and since, by Your will, I must occupy myself with external things, please grant me the grace to remain with You, in Your presence. Work with me, so that my work might be the very best. Receive as an offering of love both my work and all my affections.’”

A greeting can build relationships

An exchange of good mornings between two coworkers is a great way to begin a conversation. It may lead to asking them, “How are you doing?” or, “I haven’t seen you in a while. How are the kids, grandkids, wife, etc.?” It can open up doors for us to show compassion and love to our neighbors.

Greeting our coworkers and others we work with is even more important than greeting those we do not know just as a courtesy. When we do this consistently with our bosses, peers, and subordinates, this deepens the connections we have with them, and provides opportunities to minister to them if we notice something may not be right. (I invite you to read another article I wrote and posted on my blog on several lessons I learned at work where I shared my unique concept of 360-degree mentoring.)

Just like the Soldier who learns that the subordinate is responsible to give the greeting of the day to his or her superior, so we too, as servants of the Lord, need to consider others more important than ourselves. (See Phil. 2:3-4.) Jesus said that those who wanted to be great in God’s kingdom needed to become servants of all. (See Mark 10:44-45.) This illustrates humility.

A greeting can acknowledge the presence of those who feel invisible

In addition to blessing those with whom we work every day, perhaps there are others we should greet.

In the OT Law we read about the plight of the leper. For legitimate medical reasons, their highly contagious condition led them to be considered unclean. (See Lev. 13: 45-46.) They were isolated from Jewish society. And yet, Jesus made numerous efforts to touch them and bring them healing.

There are many people for a variety of reasons are somewhat invisible. (See article on my blog.) For example, among students at a university, there will be the uneducated in their midst, perhaps doing custodial work. Working at the successful business will be those who are not so successful. In the midst of the beautiful, young, and healthy, will be those who are less than attractive, old, and sick. These kinds of people tend to be overlooked at work, in our neighborhoods, and even in church.

However, these are the people that Jesus was drawn to: the least, the last, and the lost. Could we not reach out to them, like Jesus did? How easy would it be to acknowledge their presence with a hello?

When you give someone a cheerful greeting, you may give them a much-needed blessing in ways that you may not realize at the time. My wife recently went to a McDonald’s to get an Egg McMuffin because she had to be out of the house early. The gal at the window gave her such a warm, heartfelt, and joyful greeting that it lifted her spirits after a long, hard week in getting our house ready to sell.

Closing thoughts

I trust that these concepts will motivate you to pause and greet those who may need what you have.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 180 articles on faith and work topics. Ninety of these have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See complete list of published articles on Linktree.)

A Mother’s Beautiful Hands

On this Mother’s Day, I had a clear vision to write a poem to focus on the hands of my wife, the mother of my children, the Nana to our grandchildren, who uses them every day to demonstrate God’s unconditional love. I know that the beautiful hands of mothers everywhere are instruments in the hands of a faithful God.

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A Mother’s Beautiful Hands

These beautiful hands, so delicate and small
Make no mistake; they are powerful

As I think back nearly forty-five years ago
I reached out and took her hands in mine
And thus began the slow transformation
From just friends to so much more

We pursued this special friendship
We held hands on walks together
And as we sat across from each other
Drinking tea and eating bagels

It wasn’t long before I asked her a question
Now she wore a diamond ring on her left hand
A year and a half later we added a gold one to it
This hand was mine to hold for a lifetime

After a few years of wedded bliss
And learning to become one
These loving hands held me close
And God brought a new life inside

For much of the next year
These hands fervently prepared
For the arrival of our baby girl
Who had such tiny hands

This young mother’s hands were busy
Keeping this little child alive
She fed her, comforted, and taught her
They kept her warm, safe, and growing

Over the next few years
God handed us two sons
Skinned knees that needed band aids
A mother’s hands never rested

Flash forward twenty years later
A young man asked for my daughter’s hand
When I give him my blessing
A mother must now learn to let it go

Several years later
Our daughter’s hands
Were now a mother’s beautiful hands
As she held her new baby boy

To our joy and delight
The mother of my children
Became a grandmother
With wise, loving, and graceful hands

As I reflect back
On all the mothers who had a hand in this
I know I have been blessed beyond measure
By the loving hands of thousands of mothers

They brought our ancestors into the world
Some lost their lives doing so
They courageously kept their families alive
With those ferocious, gentle, beautiful hands

Let us use these hands of ours
To give a hearty round of applause
To honor all mothers and grandmothers
And the mothers of our children

These beautiful hands, so delicate and small
Without a doubt, they have changed the world

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(Note: I invite you to read a tribute to mothers that I wrote and posted on my blog.)

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written over 170 articles on faith and work topics. Ninety of these have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See complete list of published articles on Linktree.)

Jesus Fulfilled the Scriptures at His Resurrection

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4).

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article where I explained how Jesus fulfilled various OT Scriptures at His crucifixion. I invite you to read the article or take some time to look up these verses which connect to events on the cross: Ps. 22:18, Ps. 22:1, Ps. 22:7-8, Ps. 31:5, Ps. 69:21, Exo. 12:46 and Zech. 12:10. I also wrote a series of articles on how Jesus fulfilled prophecies of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. However, I have never explored how the OT portrays that the coming Messiah would conquer death.

Seeing how Jesus fulfilled OT prophecies concerning God’s chosen one are powerful faith-builders. They demonstrate God’s sovereignty when you discover how He carefully laid out the OT Scriptures to point to Jesus. I invite you to explore this topic with me as we take a deep dive into God’s word. 

Jesus predicts His own death and resurrection

Jesus knew that He would die and rise from the dead. He told His disciples this on many occasions. Here is a list of passages where Jesus mentions He would die and rise again: Matt. 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:18-19, 27:63; Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34, 14:28; Luke 9:22, 18:31-33, 24:6-7; and John 2:19-22.

However, this is not what I mean when I say that Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures. In the Bible, the term “Scriptures” always refers to the Old Testament. When Jesus rose from the dead, this confirmed that He knew all that the Father had planned for Him. But that is not considered fulfillment of Scripture.

Jesus’ post-resurrection explanation of OT fulfillment

In Luke 24:26-27, we read an account of two unnamed disciples who were walking on the road to Emmaus. Jesus walked with them for a while, but they did not recognize him. He chided them for their lack of understanding the Scriptures. He explained how He fulfilled prophecies, starting with Moses.

Perhaps he may have been referring to Gen. 3:15, where God declares that the serpent will bruise the heel of the Eve’s offspring, but that he will crush his head. This statement was a consequence of the Fall in the Garden of Eden after Adam’s sin is the first hint of the gospel. Even though Satan appears to have struck Jesus on Good Friday, His victory on Easter crushed Satan. Exodus 12:46 describes the Passover lamb who had no bones broken and whose blood protected the Israelites from God’s wrath. 

A little while later, in Luke 24:44-45, the eleven remining disciples are assembled together, and Jesus suddenly appears to them. He gives them words of comfort, emphasizing that “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” Oh, how I wish I could have heard that discussion!

In the previous section, I shared two verses that pointed to Jesus’ crucifixion from Moses’ books of the Law, known as the Pentateuch. I had also mentioned how Jesus fulfills Scripture from the book of Isaiah, chapter 53. However, since much of what the prophet Isaiah writes concerns Jesus’s suffering on the cross (see Isa. 53:4-12), we have to look elsewhere for prophecies concerning Jesus’ resurrection.

The last of three major sections of the Hebrew Bible that Jesus listed in addition to the Law of Moses and the Prophets was the Psalms. This is the biggest book of what is known as the writings, which cover the Psalms, the wisdom books (such as Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes), and several others.

In the book of Psalms, in what we call a “Messianic” psalm, we find the only OT reference that seems to point to the resurrection. This Scripture that Jesus fulfills is confirmed in two places in the NT.

The early church highlights how Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures

In a sermon given on Pentecost, Peter quoted Ps. 16:8-11. (See Acts 2:24-28.) David declares, “you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful (or holy) one see decay.”

The Apostle Peter takes time to carefully explain his reasoning in Acts 2:30-31. He emphasized that David was a prophet who could see ahead. He remembered that God has promised that one of his descendants would be on the throne as king. David spoke here, perhaps not knowing what he was speaking of, that the Messiah would not see decay in the grave and that he would rise from the dead.

Tremper Longman III concurs. In his commentary on the Psalms, he indicates that Peter taught “that David himself died and was buried, so he must have had someone else in mind, namely Jesus Christ.” 

Paul also cited Ps. 16:10 in Acts 13:35. He basically uses the same logic that Peter used in his sermon, that David was not referring to himself. Longman writes, Paul “applied it to Christ, who was raised from the dead and thus was a fulfilment of the promise that ‘you will not let your holy one see decay’.” 

What are the implications?

After reading all of these OT Scriptures and Gospel verses, you might be wondering, “What do I need to do with all of this information?  Is there anything implied that I must do to apply these truths?

I do not believe that these passages were intended to lead us to change how we think, speak, or act.  These connections between the OT and NT are meant to make us amazed at God’s holy word, and amazed with the Word, Jesus Christ, who against all odds perfectly fulfills hundreds of OT passages written thousands of years before He was born. Without a doubt, we can trust and follow Him.

I encourage you commit yourself to take every opportunity to notice the countless connections between the Old and New Testaments and learn to enjoy being in God’s presence as you study His holy word.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 175 articles on faith and work topics. Nearly 90 of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See complete list of published articles on Linktree.)

Do I Enjoy My Work Too Much?

A few weeks ago, I saw a question posted on social media from a faith at work organization: “Do you enjoy your work too much?”  This is a legitimate question to ask from a biblical perspective.

I get it. Some Christians choose to spend more time at work than necessary because they like what they do.  This can result in conflicts at home if things are out of balance. This becomes a cycle that is hard to break. Also, making work an idol is something that Christian workers need to be more aware of.

Although there may be valid reasons to be concerned with a Christian who obsesses over his or her job, I do not think the root cause of this is due to finding too much joy in it. To the contrary, I would hope every Christian would find joy at work and be able to express this fruit of the Spirit every day.

I would like to look at this issue through the lens of my unique theology of work, which focuses on the biblical connection between God’s presence and work which I have taught in great detail in my book and in 175 articles I have written on my blog. It informs me of three essential things:

1) The jobs that God provides for His children were designed to be enjoyed

2) Joy at work is a by-product of experiencing God’s presence at work

3) More time at work does not necessarily mean it has become an idol

Let me unpack this a bit.

God provides work that can be enjoyed

Finding the work that we need is always a spiritual journey for the Christian. God prepares us by giving us talents, gifts, and abilities. He leads us and gives us wisdom. There is joy in the journey.

Contrary to popular opinion, I am convinced from Scripture and from my own personal experience that God intended His people to find purpose, contentment, satisfaction, and even joy from the jobs He provides for us. (I encourage you to read an article that I wrote on finding personal job satisfaction.)

Even though Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones couldn’t get “no satisfaction”, I think that Christians can indeed find some measure of it as a by-product of the abundant life Jesus promises (John 10:10). 

We get a glimpse of this idea in the book of Ecclesiastes, which has an awful lot to say about work. Despite the many downsides of work that the writer had listed in Eccl. 2:17-23, he boldly proclaims that one of the best things in life is “to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God” (Eccl. 2:24). He echoes something similar in Eccl. 3:12-13. He concludes, “there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot” (Eccl. 3:22).

So, our work, and the enjoyment of it, is truly a gift from God. I am not sure we can enjoy it too much.

Joy at work comes from experiencing God’s presence

David expressed this connection well: “In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11). Jesus said something beautifully similar in John 16:24: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

It is easy for the average Christian to function with an unbiblical sacred vs. secular mindset. He or she experiences God’s presence in the sacredness of Sunday morning worship sessions, in prayer, while spending a meaningful quiet time in God’s word, or on a mountaintop. How many Christians can say with me that they go into their workplace every day experiencing God’s presence from start to finish?

In Practicing the Presence of God, we learn about Brother Lawrence. He is described as having “a heart that had learned the most essential ingredient of the Christian life: how to remain in the presence of God daily.” It was said of him, “The good brother found God everywhere, as much while he was repairing shoes as while he was praying with the community. He was in no hurry to go on retreats, because he found the same God to love and adore in his ordinary work as in the depth of the desert.”

I also see joy as a natural (albeit supernatural) by-product of seeing God fulfill His divine purposes through us at work, as He works with, in, and through us to meet the full spectrum of human needs all around us. This is not a positive feeling about a great salary, work environment, or position, but a deep knowledge that God has put you at just the right time and place to use you as a light in a dark place.

Spending a lot of time at work

I believe that one of the underlying assumptions that drove this question was that people who enjoy their work too much were choosing to neglect their other God-given responsibilities such as family.

However, it does not mean that those who spend a lot of time at work are doing it with impure motives. Consider those who are in jobs that require more than 40 hours/week. This would include fields such as business, medicine, ministry, parenting, and the military. Working overtime is sometimes necessary to keep up with the never-ending demands and needs of customers. We need to make a distinction between the time expected for certain jobs and the choice to be obsessed by the jobs themselves. Grant Howard in Balancing Life’s Demands wisely reminds us, “Time is not synonymous with importance.” 

If you have one of these kinds of jobs, only you and your family can decide if you can stay the course for a short season or for the long haul. If you know God has called you to it, He will see you through it.

Closing thoughts

Bottom line – don’t let anyone steal your joy. The joy that comes from experiencing God’s presence that you boldly express through every thorn, thistle, and trial you are faced with will speak volumes to the truth of the gospel message that you hold dear. “The joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Neh. 8:10).

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 175 articles on faith and work topics. Nearly 90 of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

Scriptural Metaphors Used to Describe Experiencing God’s Presence (Part 2)

I had good intentions. I wrote Part 1 of this series in July 2018. I intended on getting back to it sooner than I did. Part 2 ended up on the back burner for over three years. It’s time to put this article to bed.

In my last post, I highlighted the main metaphor that was used in the OT to describe how believers could remain close to God in their daily lives, by walking with God. In this article, I want to look at two corresponding images found in the NT – abiding in Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Abiding in Christ

This word picture that describes how we relate with the second person of the Trinity is probably quite familiar to most Christians. In John 15:1-7, Jesus presents another metaphor that describes who He is. In addition to being the light of the world, the bread of life, etc., Jesus states that He is the vine.

Jesus is not talking about some kind of clinging vine that you sometimes see climbing up a tree or spread out over the side of an old house. A grapevine is more or less equivalent to the trunk of a tree.

Jesus said in verse 5 that He was the vine and that we are the branches. He said that if we abide or remain connected to Him, we will bear fruit: we would grow healthy grapes to the glory of the Gardener. There would be something tangible that others could see that would naturally flow from this supernatural connection to Jesus by faith. (Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22-23.)

For me, throughout my day, I am often reminded to draw near to God’s presence by abiding in Christ. I do this by humbly expressing my dependence on Him. I read, meditate, trust, and obey God’s word and I pray in Jesus’ name through constant adoration and praise, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.

Being filled with the Spirit

In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he describes how Christians are to rest in their union with Christ, to walk in unity with believers and in light among unbelievers, and to stand strong against spiritual opposition. One of the keys to this walk of faith is to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

Paul contrasts being controlled by God’s Spirit with being drunk. Alcohol can overtake a person’s natural tendencies and can lead them to say and do unprofitable and unloving things. When we give God’s Holy Spirit control, He overcomes our fleshly bent and empower us to do Christlike things.

I have used a great illustration for many years to explain how the Holy Spirit changes a Christian from the inside out and how being filled with the Spirit is distinct from being indwelt by the Spirit.

Imagine a glass of milk. Plain 2% milk. It looks like every other glass of milk. Next to it, I have a jar of Hershey’s Syrup. Putting the jar right next to the glass does nothing for the milk. The milk has to accept the chocolatey goodness. When we pour it in and stir it a bit with a spoon, the very nature of the milk changes to resemble the Hershey’s Syrup. It is not like the other glasses of milk. It has been transformed into something better. Guess what? We can’t make it go back to the way it once was. 

The Hershey’s Syrup has now taken up residence in the milk. But if we just let it sit for a while, perhaps the syrup might start to separate from the milk and sink down to the bottom of the glass. It hasn’t left the milk, but the milk has begun to lose it distinctive chocolatiness. What do we need to do? I think we need to get a spoon and give it a vigorous stirring. Then it will look as good as new.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have been indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit. He will never leave us if we are true believers. (See Eph. 1:13-14.) We just need to allow Him to fill us up with His presence.

How can we consistently walk, abide, and remain filled?

Christians are to live out their faith by intentionally relating to all three members of the Trinity as it is described in Scripture. I make an effort to walk with God the Father, abide in Christ, and be filled with the Spirit. The more I do that, the more I am empowered by God to remain in His presence.

There are many times I fail on a daily basis. Something called sin always seems to get in the way.

So, how do I deal with that? The answer is simple. I confess and forsake my sin when I need to (1 John 1:9). The Holy Spirit convicts me. I know when I have unconfessed sin, as David described in Ps. 32:3-4: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (I invite you to read an article I wrote about losing and regaining our sense of God’s presence.)

Let me add a personal note here. There have been many times over the past several years when I sensed the presence of God at work. It occurred to me one day that it was not my efforts that drew me close to God. It was Jesus’ work on the cross that paid the penalty for my sin, allowing me to recognize and enjoy His presence at work, at home, at church, or wherever I happen to be. I recalled a key verse that exhorts us to maintain our walk with God by faith: “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). It’s all about grace. God’s merciful, abundant, and amazing grace.

I hope that you will be more mindful to walk, abide, and be filled at church, at home, and at work.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 175 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

Reflection on Rocket Scientists

You have probably heard it said many times, “It’s not rocket science!”

This common phrase which can be used on many occasions comes with the understanding that rocket science is a technologically complicated field. It is something that only true rocket scientists can fully understand and master. They must have a superior intellect and years of higher education to do it.

I have had an interesting take on this phrase that I have said quite often.  Here it is: Rocket science is not rocket science to a rocket scientist. 

The term “rocket science” as it is used in this context, refers to complicated projects or ideas that are extremely difficult to execute or comprehend. For those who have formal training and advanced degrees in the field of astrophysics, engineering, or some related field, doing what they do is not something extremely difficult for them to think about or do. They have all the tools they need.

However, I imagine that there are a host of other things, like sports, auto mechanics, teaching, or construction that might be a major challenge for them. These skills are “rocket science” to them.

I would like to explore this topic from a biblical and theological perspective. I am hoping that what I share in this brief article may be of some help to the vast majority of us who are not rocket scientists, as well as those who are.

God’s brilliant plan to create humans in His image to function as His coworkers

To begin this discussion, we must start at the beginning. “In the beginning, God created” (Gen. 1:1).

What God made was absolutely perfect. However, it was incomplete. God’s creation needed help. In Gen. 1:26-28, we read what is commonly known as the creation or cultural mandate. It is both a command and a blessing. God created human beings who were gifted with His own creativity. He called them to be His coworkers so that they could maintain, sustain, and expand what He had made.

In Gen. 2:5, we learn that God made the rain but needed man to work the ground. This illustrates that God’s original intent was for humans to be His coworkers. I call this connection Immanuel labor.

God equipped men and women will the skills necessary to sustain His creation

God created male and female so that they could “be fruitful and multiply.” Humans were not clueless. Their bodies and minds were designed to know what to do in order for that to happen. I believe that when their babies were born, they inherently knew how to care for them, as do most parents today.

After God created the Garden of Eden. Adam was charged “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). He and Eve suddenly became gardeners. Since God created trees, there would be a need at some point for lumberjacks and carpenters. There was gold and precious stones in the ground (Gen. 2:11-12), so there would be a need for goldsmiths and jewelers, some of whom would later build a tabernacle in the wilderness. Later, in Gen. 4:17, we see that Cain built a city. In Gen. 4:20-22, we read that Cain’s descendants became those who took care of livestock, played music, and forged instruments of bronze and iron.

Daniel Doriani, in his book Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation, shares this insight: “In this description of the very earliest stages of human history, we find God’s creativity and expanding blessings being expressed in the diverse professions and vocations of his people. . . All these different professions are being established as the means by which society is advancing under God’s plan – a plan honoring every vocation that furthers God’s purposes.”

How did these unique individuals develop the skills and talents needed to do this work? Likely, it was a process, similar to how young people today figure out what they want to do when they grow up.

It may have begun with interest. “What is that shiny rock in the ground?” This led to involvement. “I wonder if I can make something useful with this pliable piece of metal.” As involvement continued, it became experience. Perhaps they received some training and education from others who were also involved. Eventually, they developed marketable skills that God could use to accomplish His work.

Over time, God sovereignly equipped a wide variety of ordinary workers to do what He needed done in the world. Economies and civilizations were built at the hands of these talented men and women. God equipped those who were made in His image with innate abilities to learn, grow, develop, create, and become everything that He needed them to be in order to meet the wide range of human needs.

How do you see your own intellect, talents, and strengths?

Let me attempt to tie it all together now.

I have observed that many people see all jobs on some kind of continuum. Some jobs are simply beneath them; others, like rocket science, are too hard or out of reach. Their job falls somewhere in there.

Recall that God initially made people in His image who developed the interests, skills, and expertise needed to sustain and expand His creation. I believe He still does that today. Therefore, all jobs have value and contribute to what God wants done in this world to meet the needs of those He loves. It is not biblical or helpful to look down on some jobs and hold other jobs in high esteem. All are of value.

I believe God created some people with the ability to do rocket science. (I will address that shortly.) He created many others for different kinds of work.

Take a quick inventory of the many talents, aptitudes, gifts, skills, and abilities that God has entrusted to you to use in your sphere of influence, among your family, church, and community to glorify Him. I believe you are smarter than you realize. You might even do things that rocket scientists can’t do.

In 2017, I saw a movie that moved me deeply. Hidden Figures tells the story of a team of Black female mathematicians in the early 1960’s who worked brilliantly and diligently behind the scenes at NASA, amidst a hostile environment. In spite of many challenges, their work contributed significantly to the success of the first manned space flight. This film demonstrated how God put the right people with the right skill sets at the right time and place to do a good work that had an enduring impact on society for the common good.

I invite you to take a minute or two to praise God for leading you on your career journey, even if you did not realize it at the time. He has graciously provided all of the talents and skills you needed to do the work that He called you to do over a lifetime. Thank Him for what He has given and also for what He has not given you. You were designed for a purpose. Go out and fulfill it with excellence and joy.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 175 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

Take Not Thy Holy Spirit from Me

On the way to chapel one Sunday in early February, we were listening to the classic worship song by the late Keith Green, “Create in Me a Clean Heart”.  It is a great tune, set to the words of Psalm 51.

The chorus is from verse 10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” The first verse is from verses 11-12: “Cast me not away from thy presence, O Lord. And take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and renew a right spirit within me.”

The occasion for this psalm of David, as indicated in the inspired instructions written above verse 1, was “when the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” What a great psalm of confession and repentance! It is a useful template for our own prayers of contrition whenever we are convicted by the Holy Spirit over a particular sin in our own life.

However, I want to clarify something that many Christians may not have considered. When David asks God to not take His Holy Spirit from him, this is not something Christians need to worry about.

Let me discuss the Holy Spirit’s relationship to Christians, share a bit of what I have learned recently about the Holy Spirit and OT believers, and how we can use Psalm 51 in our personal worship.

The Holy Spirit dwells in all Christians

Jesus taught His disciples that God the Father would be sending a Counselor (or Comforter) who would be present with them forever. Jesus indicated that the third person of the Trinity would not only be with them but would reside in them (John 14:16-17). Later, Jesus reminded the disciples that it was good He was going away, since He would be sending them His Holy Spirit (John 16:7).

The early church experienced the work of the promised Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) as He was poured out on all believers as it was prophesied in the last days. (See Joel 2:28-32.)

The Apostle Paul taught extensively on His role in the Christian’s life. In Rom. 8:9-11, Paul makes it clear that the Holy Spirit indwells all Christians. In 1 Cor. 6:19, he reminds the Body of Christ that their bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in them. This indwelling of the Holy Spirit is just one of the many irreversible transformations that happens to every believer when we receive Jesus.

The indwelling Holy Spirit was not normative for all OT believers

James Hamilton Jr., in his book, God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments presents and in-depth discussion on a fascinating topic that has rarely been taught.

He contrasts the relationship between believers and the Holy Spirt in the OT and the NT. He states, “The Old Testament does say that some have the Spirit (see e.g., Num 27:18), but it is by no means clear that this is the experience of every member of the old covenant remnant. The New Testament, on the other hand, indicates that the Spirit regenerates and indwells all believers (see Rom 8:9-11).”

Hamilton points out that only select individuals in the OT had the Holy Spirit dwell in them. These were the prophets and kings whom Yahweh had chosen, called, and equipped to fulfill His purposes.

When David prayed that God would not take His Holy Spirit from him, in addition to his real and raw grief from displeasing God due to his sin, I believe that David was also begging God not to remove His blessing and anointing as Israel’s King, like God had done previously with Saul (1 Sam. 16:14).

The purpose of confession

We do not confess our sins in order to receive God’s forgiveness. We received His forgiveness the moment when we were saved. Jesus’ death on the cross paid for our sin. David exclaims in another psalm, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:11-12).

No, we confess our sins, as needed, whenever a sin is brought to our attention, to experience God’s forgiveness, to restore our fellowship with Him as a child of God, and resubmit to His lordship. (I invite you to read an article I wrote on losing and regaining our sense of God’s presence.)

In the classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God, it was said of Brother Lawrence, “When he sinned, he confessed it to God with these words: ‘I can do nothing better without You. Please keep me from falling and correct the mistakes I make.’ After that he did not feel guilty about the sin.”

How should we pray Psalm 51?

I still think this is a valuable psalm for Christians to personalize and make it their own prayer of repentance when they find themselves aware of or convicted by the Holy Spirit of a sin. You could read the psalm word for word, as it is. The words are right and true and sincere. But here’s what I usually do. I take my time and modify it to my own situation as needed, changing the words slightly.

Instead of praying, “Have mercy on me” and “blot out my transgressions” (v. 1), I simply thank God for His mercy that He has already lavished on us in Christ through His atoning sacrifice on the cross. I thank Him for completely blotting out all my transgressions – past, present, and future, according to His promises. I pray with the confidence of a Christian, not with the uncertainty of an OT believer.

When I get to Ps. 51:11, I cannot in good conscience pray that God would not take His Holy Spirit from me. I believe that is something He cannot do, based on Jesus’s promises as discussed earlier. I have to modify this part. I just thank God for the gift of the Comforter who will be with me always.

Closing challenge

The thing about worship songs is that we sometimes find ourselves singing spiritual truths that we may not fully understand. We have to be careful to worship with our hearts and minds fully engaged.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

What I’ve Learned About the Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament (Part 4)

In my last article, I discussed the concept of a type, which is how the OT foreshadowed the coming Messiah. In this fourth and final article in this series, I will share excerpts from a research paper that I did on a NT passage that is full of references to the OT to highlight a useful interpretative approach.

The purpose of this paper was to present a detailed analysis of the use of the OT in one of the NT epistles. I selected 1 Cor. 10:1-13, which directly quotes Ex. 32:6 and alludes to several other events in the books of Exodus and Numbers. I will uncover the meaning of the NT text first and the OT texts second, and then offer a few applications for life and ministry. (Read this text before moving on.)

Meaning of the New Testament Texts

My Bible has an appropriate title for this portion of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians: Warnings from Israel’s History. Paul brings his readers back to the wilderness to remind them that they have much in common with the OT saints. The Israelites had been identified with Moses and had personally seen and experienced God’s deliverance and provision. Despite many blessings, they still fell into idolatry and God’s judgment. So too, the church in Corinth, who had been blessed even more through their identification with Jesus, could easily fall into idolatry and experience eternal consequences.

Carson and Moo, in An Introduction to the New Testament explain that the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness offers an example that is directly applicable here: “it is all too easy to begin well but not persevere, and thus to fall under God’s judgment.” Also, note that the theme of God’s deliverance bookends this section. Paul starts by alluding to God’s physical deliverance of the Israelites in and after the exodus and ends with practical suggestions for the church to deal with temptation by drawing upon the resources of God’s spiritual deliverance in order to stand.

Paul alludes to several important features of Israel’s history in verses 1-5 that are found in the Exodus narrative: the cloud, food, drink, and rock. According to Goppelt, in The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New the cloud that Paul is alluding to is the one that protected the Israelites from the Egyptians right before they crossed the Red Sea towards the Promised Land (Ex. 14:19-20). The “spiritual” food Paul speaks of is the manna that God’s people gathered daily for their sustenance. The drink is the water that Yahweh faithfully provided as needed through rain and miraculously through Moses. Keener, in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament suggests that the food and drink mentioned here correspond with the bread and wine that represent the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, which Paul brings up later in 1 Cor. 10:16. The rock mentioned here brings to mind those instances when Moses spoke to or struck a rock and water came forth.

The word translated “example” in 1 Cor. 10:6 and 11 is the Greek word, typos, where we get the words type and typical. Goppelt announces, “God dealt in a typical way with Israel in the wilderness, in a manner that is a pattern for his dealing with the church in the last days.”

In a discussion of a similar passage where Paul quotes the OT in 2 Cor. 8:15, Hays, in Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul highlights Paul’s method of operation which effortlessly applies to our passage in 1 Cor. 10. “By implicitly likening the Gentile Corinthian church to Israel in the wilderness, it suggests an extensive series of suppressed correspondences – silent echoes – that Paul chooses to leave unexplored here. Israel redeemed and graced, Israel as pilgrim people, Israel grumbling and unfaithful: here is the original story that is now played out again in the experience of the church.”

Meaning of the Old Testament Texts

The main idea of Ex. 32:6 that Paul cited with an introductory formula, “as it is written”, in 1 Cor. 10:7, was that in Moses’ absence, some Israelites convinced Aaron to build a golden calf and an altar. They worshipped it and “sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” Hays proposed that the reason Paul quoted this verse was to draw attention to the eating and drinking of the idolatrous Israelites to contrast with the eating and drinking they did as Yahweh provided for them in the desert. The main idea of the other portions of Scripture from the book of Numbers that Paul alludes to in vv. 8-10 is that God’s people disobeyed Him by committing sexual immorality. Due to their lack of trust in God’s faithfulness, they had put the Lord to the test and complained, resulting in God’s judgment.

The other incidents of disobedience mentioned in 1 Cor. 10:8-10 come from Numbers. Verse 8 takes us to Num. 25:1-9, where we see Israel committing sexual immorality with the Moabite women, which led to idol worship, which resulted in the death of 24,000. Verse 9, regarding putting the Lord to the test, alludes to Num. 21:4-6, where “the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses” and complained about the lack of bread and water. As a result, Yahweh sent poisonous serpents and many died. The last incident Paul alludes to in v. 10 is not clear as to its source. Numbers 14:2 seems to be the best fit, where the entire generation (except Joshua and Caleb) perishes.

It is noteworthy that the words “eat” and “drink” in this verse quoted in 1 Cor. 10:7 are found between v. 3, where Paul states that the Israelites ate and drank the food and water that God provided them in the wilderness, and v. 16, where Paul mentions the cup and the bread the Corinthian church holds as they participate in the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Cor. 10:1-2, Paul alludes to the cloud and the sea, linking them to a baptism “into Moses”.  Goppelt believes that the “immersion under the clouds” that precedes the crossing of the Red Sea creates a one-time “redemptive event that corresponds to Christian baptism.” In a subtle but undeniably intentional way, Paul has shown a typological relationship between the Israelites and the church.

Paul cites Ex. 32:6 and alludes to other OT narratives to effectively warn the church in Corinth not to have anything to do with idol worship. Goppelt concurs: “God’s dealing with Israel should discourage the church from participating in sacrificial meals where idolatry is clearly involved.” But there is more. 

This text is foundational to our basic understanding of the church. They are just like the Israelites in many ways. If they saw God’s deliverance and yet struggled with disobedience, the church will do no less. Hays states, “Here Paul regards the written scriptural witness as a word for the instruction of his own community, a word intended by God precisely for the eschatological moment in which apostle and church now find themselves . . . the community is to flee from association with idols (10:14) and to beware of overconfident presumption upon the grace of God (10:12).” 

Applications for Life and Ministry

This rich passage has several practical applications that are worth unpacking here.

First, Baker, in Two Testaments, One Bible mentions that this passage, along with several others (Matt. 5:17; Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:14-17), confirms the “permanent value of the Old Testament.” This should motivate Christians to diligently study the OT Scriptures. Baker also indicates that the OT “is the essential historical basis of the New Testament and Christianity, without which they cannot be properly understood. The coming of Christ was the consummation of a long history of God at work in human affairs.” Baker concurs. He declares that “every part of the Bible reflects the consistent activity of the One God.” We would do well to consistently study the OT to find common redemptive threads.

Secondly, these repeated warnings from the Scripture of how God’s chosen, delivered, and blessed people experienced the consequences of their own sin and idolatry should cause us to take a second look at our own conduct. Hays instructs us that Paul brings the story of the exodus to the attention of the church in Corinth in order to force them to consider: “let the one who thinks he stands (the ‘strong’ in the Corinthian church) take heed lest he fall (1 Cor 10:12). The story is not over yet, and the church should imagine itself to be, analogously to Israel in the wilderness, a pilgrim people that has not yet arrived at its promised destination.” We cannot take for granted our relationship with God. Just because we have been born again, walked with the Lord, served Him for decades, and are saved eternally, does not mean we are above causing damage to the Kingdom by our sins.

Third, this section is extremely helpful for believers today in handling the various temptations we face daily. They are a common experience for all who believe. God has not only provided instruction from the Scriptures to warn us, but He still continues to provide His own presence through His Holy Spirit to empower us to fight, flee, and have faith in God’s deliverance in every battle that we face.           

I trust that this in-depth look at this NT passage that uses the OT extensively was helpful for you to see how to apply some of the things we discussed in this series and that this increases your understanding.

(Note: I invite you to read a series of articles I wrote a few years ago on a similar topic: how David and the other psalmists often take God’s people back to earlier OT themes.)

About the author:

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Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)