Six Principles for Discipling Children

I am thankful for the ministry of Awana, church based program which is being used to reach 4 million kids every week in over 120 countries. Awana is a discipleship program that gives children and youth from every background the opportunity to know, love and serve Jesus for a lifetime. God is the Awana leaders and volunteers to bless children in a way that will impact them for a lifetime!

Awana volunteers recognize that the most strategic time in a person’s life to impart spiritual truth is during their childhood. How do we pass on spiritual truth to our children? Deuteronomy 6 provides the answer. Here we discover six biblical principles for discipling children.

Deuteronomy 6 is primarily an exposition of the 1st commandment, “You shall have no other Gods before me” (Deut. 5:7). The very first thing God wants His people to know is that there is one true God, and He alone is worthy of our worship and service.

  1. Follow the biblical pattern (1-3). Moses begins my showing us the biblical pattern for discipleship. Pass it on! To make disciples, we pass on what we have learned to others. Moses taught the parents. The parents were responsible for teaching their children and grandchildren. And the good results of passing on this spiritual truth is that the recipients will have long life (v. 2) and lots of blessing (v. 3).
  2. Focus attention on the one true God (4). Verses are known as the “Shema,” based on the Hebrew word, “Hear.” But the word doesn’t just mean “hear with your ears,” but respond to what you hear with your heart, mind and body.” Verse four declares the uniqueness of the one, true God. The words, “Yahweh is one (achad), are better translated, “Yahweh alone!” Daniel Block writes, “This is a cry of allegiance, an affirmation of covenant commitment in response to the question, ‘Who is the God of Israel?’” (JETS 2004).
  3. Be passionate in your love for God (5). If you are not passionate in your love for God, don’t expect your children to be excited and passionate about God. Verse 5 calls for an all-encompassing love for God. We are to love God with all our heart (intention or will), soul (our whole self) and our might (the superlative degree of commitment. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 in answer to the question, “What is the greatest commandment in the law” (Matt. 22:37).
  4. Recognize the importance of repetition (6-9). What is teaching? The Hebrew word used in verse six means “repeat.” Teaching is helping others to learn through a process of repetition. People sometimes ask me how I learned the Bible. It was by repeatedly studying and reviewing the truths of God’s Word. I believe that repetition with variety is the key t learning. Moses gives us two examples of the element of variety.

The first is to inscribe God’s Word on your hand and forehead. These verses are the basis for the Jewish tradition of putting a phylactery or teffilin (plural for tefillah, “prayer”) on their forehead and arm. This is a visual and ongoing reminder that all we do should be done in the light of His commandments. Putting God’s Word on your forehead, right between your eyes, places is near your mind and in the forefront of your memory.

The second example of variety in teaching is to put God’s word on the mezuzah (literally “doorpost) of your house and gates. This serves as a constant reminder that as we go out of our homes and into the city, we are to obey God’s commandments.

In Jewish tradition, these instructions are applied literally, as they put on their phylactery (a little black box containing a portion of Scripture) and install the mezuzah (a little tube containing a portion of Scripture) at the entrance of their homes. Another way to apply these verses is to have a box of memory cards which are regularly posted on the refrigerator and bathroom mirror for the purposes of remembering and reviewing Scripture.

  1. Emphasize the holy triad (10-19). Three things rise to the top of Moses’ list for training disciples: First, “remember God” (10-12). Forgetfulness of Yahweh’s goodness is the pathway to disobedience and failure. Here Moses offers a warning that success and prosperity can be dangerous to your spiritual life if you don’t remember that God is the source of these blessings! A famous Jewish rabbi said, “Forgetfulness leads to exile. Remembrance is the key to redemption.”

Second, “Fear God” (13-16). To “fear God” means to know who He is and what He expects of His people. The “fear of God” is a reverence and respect for God that leads us to obey His commandments. Moses warns his people to “fear God” by not becoming entangled with the false gods of Canaan or the secular culture.

Third, “Obey God” (17-19). Be diligent to obey God!  As the grand old hymn reminds us, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

  1. Embrace strategic opportunities (20-25). Discipling children requires embracing teachable moments. A teachable moment is when a child asks a question. Drop everything and respond! Moses instructs parents to teach what God has done in history (21-23). Then what God has revealed in his Word (24-25). Finally, teach what God has promised (24). Moses says that our obedience doesn’t just please God, it is the key to our survival. Obedience is for “our good” and for “our life.”

Since I have not really “taught” until I have repeated, here is a summary of six principles from Deuteronomy 6 for discipling children:

  • Follow the biblical pattern of passing what you have learned on to others.
  • Focus children’s attention on the one true God as revealed in Jesus.
  • Be passionate in your own love for God. You can’t teach what you aren’t doing.
  • Recognize the importance of repetition. If you are not repeating, you are not teaching! “Repetition with variety is the key to learning.”
  • Emphasize the holy triad of remembering, fearing and obeying God.
  • Embrace strategic opportunities, like teachable moments when a child’s mind is open and their hearts are tender.

After visiting my wife’s family in Atlanta, Georgia, we were traveling by metro train to the airport. A few stops after we boarded the train, a group of young boys riding their electric scooters got on and began riding up and down the aisle and verbally abusing the passengers. Alerted by the train security, the police boarded the train a few stops later and escorted the boys off the train. It was sad to see a group of who were headed for a lifetime of trouble and possibly jail since they had not been taught the truths of God’s Word. How different their lives might be if they had been discipled through the ministry of AWANA!

Why I write

Among other things, I write. I have written countless college and seminary papers, a master’s thesis, a doctoral dissertation, dozens of articles and about 20 books. You may wonder why I do this. Why do I sit at a desk and write when I could be outside in playing in the sunshine, hiking in the mountains or driving one of my military jeeps? I have been wondering about this myself! Here are seven reasons that keep me at the keyboard. Perhaps they will encourage you to become a writer too!

  1. I have something to say. I will never forget the two weeks of summer vacation I devoted to writing my first book, The Divorce Myth (Bethany House Publishers). Studying the teachings of Jesus, I had come to a new understanding of God’s plan for marriage. It was different from what I had previously believed and from what most pastors preached. I felt that it needed to be shared. My research and study flowed from my mind to my fingertips as I wrote. I was on a roll! It was hard to stop for lunch or take breaks. For me, the desire to write comes from having something important to say.
  2. I like the challenge. Most of my writing has been related to my profession as a Bible teacher. I like the challenge of studying Scripture in order to understand the truth of a biblical text. Before writing, I dig into the original text, background, culture, history and geography of a biblical passage. Then, I work to identify the essential principles and applications. I especially enjoy working on interpretive problems which requires the examination of different views, weighing the evidence for each, and then coming to my own conclusions. Finally, I am faced with the challenge of presenting my interpretation in a clear and understandable way. This was my goal in writing Answers to Tough Questions from Every Book of the Bible (Wiph & Stock). How do you answer the question, “What is the unpardonable sin” in a couple of pages when you could write a book on the subject? It is an engaging challenge to write an answer to a tough question, clearly and concisely, in just a couple of pages.
  3. I enjoy the process. I have heard people say, “I hate writing.” I understand. Writing is one of the hardest things I do. But once I get started on a theme, an article or a book, I find myself compelled along by the shear enjoyment of the process! The process of writing is like building something that will be of lasting benefit to others. During my college days I worked for a construction company building streets. I enjoyed every step of the process—excavating, preparing the road bed with gravel, paving with asphalt, and then finishing the project for inspection. I was proud of the streets I had helped pave. Similarly, writing is the hard work you go through to gain a rewarding result. And I do the work with the hope that my efforts will bless and benefit my readers.
  4. It expands my teaching ministry. Writing gives me an opportunity to share my ideas with people I have never met. I am always honored when someone I don’t know buys one of my books, appreciates what I have written and tells me about it in person or with an email. This past summer I was visiting my daughter’s family in Idaho and joined them for Sunday church. There on the resource rack was a pamphlet on church discipline. I glanced at the bibliography and there was listed my book, Your Guide to Church Discipline (Bethany House)! It was a joy to meet the pastor who had not only read my book, but he quoted from it in his pamphlet. It is a privilege to contribute to God’s kingdom work through writing and publishing.
  5. I want to leave a legacy. I recently retired after forty wonderful years of teaching at Western Seminary. I don’t know how many more years of ministry are yet ahead, but I know that when I leave this earth for heaven, my books will still be on readers’ bookshelves around the country. It is encouraging to know that my family, friends and students will benefit from my books long after I am gone. An ancient Egyptian sage commented about the authors of books. He said, “Their mortuary service is gone; their tombstones are covered with dirt; and their graves are forgotten. But their names are still pronounced because of their books which they made, since they were good and the memory of him who made them lasts to the limits of eternity (J. Blenkinsopp, Wisdom and Law in the OT (Oxford University Press, 1983, p. 7).
  6. It’s easy to get published. Years ago, getting a book published was a difficult and drawn out process. You began by contacting a publisher and submitting a manuscript proposal. If the publisher expressed interest, you wrote and submitted the manuscript. Then you waited months (sometimes years) for their response. Next came the “rejection letter.” Not willing to give up, you repeated the process until you found an editor who believed your book could make the publisher money. Publishing has changed a great deal through modern technology. Now days, just about anyone can publish a book. There are lots of companies which will help you self-publish your book. My last four books were published through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), a company associated with Amazon. To publish with KDP, you write and edit the manuscript, choose the title, create the cover, decide on the price and royalty, and select your channels for promotion and distribution. Kindle Direct Publishing will make your book available on Amazon. When someone buys your book, it is printed, packaged and shipped. And the royalty payment is promptly deposited in your bank account. Self-publishing is not just an easier process. It also benefits your readers. Because you are doing the editorial work yourself, rather than paying the publisher, self-publishing allows your book to be sold at a more reasonable price.
  7. I like sharing my books. It is a privilege to place into someone’s hands a book which you have labored over for years, knowing that what you have written will bless and benefit them. My books are sold on-line through Amazon, but I also make them available at speaking engagements. And I give lots of books away. I give books to friends, family members, students and others who might benefit from my writings. Kindle Direct Publishing allows authors to buy their books at cost. This enables authors to give someone a book for about the price of a Hallmark greeting card! And I think that a book will be on the recipient’s shelf longer than a pretty card.

At the end of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon offered a warning to writers and readers of books. He said, “The writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearing to the body” (Ecc. 12:12). So true! There is always another book to write and another book to read. Heeding Solomon’s warning, I’ll try to live my life with reasonable balance, both writing and reading books.

Meet Tony, A Traveling Man

I spent last week backpacking in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation and taking a break from the media that so dominates modern life. Passing by Sisters, Oregon, on my way to the trailhead I notice backpackers hitch hiking back to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) after resupplying in town. On my way back to Portland after my wilderness hike, I noticed a young man with a backpack looking for a ride. Assuming he was a PCT “through hiker” on his way to the Canadian border and looking for a ride back to the trail, I stopped and picked him up.

The young man thanked me for stopping and introduced himself as “Tony.” I soon discovered that Tony was not a backpacker, but a “traveling man” who was on his way to Portland! I had planned to listen to my audio book, “Dead Wake,” about the sinking of the Lusitania, on my drive home, but now I found myself with an unexpected opportunity. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with having Tony in the car with me for the next three and a half hours, but I decided it was a divine appointment and was determined to make the best of it. Perhaps I could be helpful and maybe share about the Lord.

Tony, 28 years old, had been “traveling” for the last three years. I discovered that “traveling” meant he was, what most of us would call, “homeless.” His parents had divorced and he had not seen his dad or mom for some years. Tony had the smell of cigarette smoke on his clothes and a faint scent of alcohol on his breath. He confided that he struggled with “anxiety issues.” Over the next three hours I got acquainted with Tony. During our conversation, I asked Tony some questions that he was more than willing to answer. His answers gave me new insight into the lifestyle and experience of homeless people.

How do you feel about your lifestyle? “I love it! I have hitch hiked all over the United States.”

What concerns do you have? I really don’t have any worries.

Have you ever had a job? I had a job for about two weeks once. I didn’t really like it.

Would you like to change your life for a more stable situation? No, not really.

What about food? People give me food. I hang out by a restaurant and people bring out their left overs in a little box. Often they are willing to give it to me. I eat when food is available.

Where do you sleep? I have a comfortable sleeping bag and I sleep in the little nooks in front of stores. The owners don’t mind.

How about bathrooms and showers? There are shelters where I can get a free shower and wash up. It isn’t a problem. I don’t like shelters because that is where the Meth heads go and they steal from you.

What about health? Can you get medical help? My grandmother said she had never paid a medical bill in her life. There is really nothing they can do to you if you don’t pay. I do have free medical insurance from a state where I lived for a while. They still carry my medical insurance.

How do get along without a mailing address? I can use a library computer for email and Facebook. If I need to get a regular letter, I can give the address of a shelter and pick up my mail there.

Do you have a phone? Yes, my aunt got me a free phone from the government. I can only use it to make calls. It doesn’t work for Facebook.

Can you go back home to California where your dad lives? No, if I do, I’ll probably be arrested and jailed since I have skipped court appointments in the past. Someday I’ll take care of it. I was jailed in Florida for three months for possession of some pot. Jails give me anxiety.

Do you do drugs? I tried meth, but that is bad stuff. Meth people are grimy and bad. I would never use heroin. I won’t stick a needle in my arm. I use pot and drink beer. I have tried to quit drinking but keep going back to it. I need to go to a place to get help with my addiction. I got sober in jail, but later started drinking again.

How do you get your money? People give me money. I hold up a funny sign and make people laugh. A guy in Las Vegas gave me ten dollars and said, “You made me laugh.” Most of the people in Las Vegas are drunk and give you money.

Why are you going to Portland? I have friends in Portland and the cops are nice. My friends look out for me and don’t steal from me. The cops in other places I have traveled are mean. They will tell me, “Get out of town now or we’ll put you in jail. Just keep hiking up the road.” I had an “open container” in Portland and the cop just shook his head and turned away. Usually, they make you pour it out. Here they are nice.

Where are you going after your time in Portland? I am planning on going to the Oregon coast and then maybe to Seattle.

What about your spiritual life, Tony? Do you believe in God? Yes, I believe in God. I think he looks out for me.

What do you think about Jesus? Have you accepted him as your Savior? I am not sure that Jesus is God. I have accepted him many times when people ask me to.

Do you have a Bible? I have a copy I can give you. I don’t have room in my pack for one, but I can get a Bible if I need one. People are always offering me a Bible.

Before we arrived in Portland, I said a prayer for Tony. He seemed appreciative. He asked to be dropped off on Hawthorne Blvd. where he hangs out with his friends near the Safeway store. Tony is a homeless, traveling man who seems to enjoy life as it is. He is just one of many like him hanging out with friends, sleeping on the street, accepting free food, free money, free medical care and a free phone. He doesn’t have ID and, of course, pays no taxes. Portland has become a magnet for people like Tony, who appreciate the friendly atmosphere, lax law enforcement and easy living on the streets of the Rose City. Amazingly, Tony is my neighbor! He living today on Hawthorne Blvd., a little more than a mile from my house.

I am not sure how to help someone like Tony. He likes the way he is living and is not interested in a lifestyle change. Giving him money will, by his own admission, go for cigarettes, booze and pot. He doesn’t want to go to a homeless shelter because of the kinds of people who hang out there. Perhaps the best we can offer Tony is a ride, a prayer and a listening ear. And maybe few granola bars. That’s what I did for Tony yesterday.

A Visit to the Holy Land

One of the best investments a Christian can make is a pilgrimage to the holy land–the land of the Bible. Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate, called the Holy Land pilgrimage “the Fifth Gospel.” You read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John from the Bible, but you read the “Fifth Gospel” as you walk the land.

Bargil Pixner, Benedictine monk and New Testament scholar adds this thought,  “Five Gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books. One you will find in the land they call ‘holy.’ Read the fifth gospel, and the world of the four will open to you.”

These quotations confirm my own opinion that there is nothing that will strengthen a person’s spiritual life and enhance their understanding of the Bible as much as a visit to the Holy Land–the land of Israel. My first visit was in 1973 when my wife Nancy and I spent the summer studying in Jerusalem at the Institute of Holy Land Studies, renamed the Jerusalem University College. Although I had already been through three years of biblical studies at Western Seminary, my summer in Israel greatly enhanced my understanding of Scripture giving me an appreciation of the geographical, cultural and archaeological backgrounds that are so essential to understanding the Bible as the original readers did.

In the Biblical period, Jewish people set aside one tenth of their annual income to go to Jerusalem to attend religious feasts three times a year (Deut. 16:16). Sadly, many Christians will go a life without visiting Jerusalem even once! Many will object to the costs of travel. Tours range from four to five thousand dollars depending on the season and quality of accommodations. That’s not pocket change! Yet many people will spend 25-30 thousand dollars on a new car, 10-20 thousand dollars on a year of college, and 2-4 thousand dollars on a computer and never make the financial investment to experience the land of the Bible.

Because of the importance of experiencing Israel my wife and I determined to make sure our children got to Israel at least once. So we invested $15,000 in a family trip to Israel. I rented a car and was the tour leader for three weeks introducing my children to the land where Jesus lived, taught, died and rose again. I could have spent the money on a car or a cruise or a remodeling project. But I knew that nothing would enhance their Christian faith like an encounter with the land of the Bible. It is one of the best investments I have ever made in the spiritual life of my family.

Over the years it has been my privilege to take hundreds of students and a dozen seminary professors to Israel. I don’t need to see Masada again or take another dip in the Dead Sea. But I take students to Israel because I know it is the very best thing I can do to help them love God and His Word more than ever before. A tour of Israel is not a vacation. It is a time of intensive Bible study, spiritual growth and prayer. So don’t go through life without doing what Jesus so often did. Go up to Jerusalem!

Teaching my students in Israel

Tomorrow I leave again for another trip to Israel where I will have the privilege of teaching the Bible to a group of Holy Land travelers. I am confident that it will be a life defining experience for them. Maybe I’ll see you there soon.


The Most Important Thing–Love

Grandfather Laney

My thoughts take me back to a conversation I had with my grandfather when I was a young man preparing for the ministry. Grandfather Laney was a strong Christian and taught Sunday School at the United Methodist Church in Kennewick, Washington. My conversation with him on this occasion centered on what was the most important thing for a Christian. Grandfather argued that the most important thing to believe and practice was Christ’s law of love. As a young seminary student I agreed that Christ’s command to love one another was important, but a notch above that was sound doctrine. I argued that knowing and teaching the truth of God’s Word was the highest and ultimate priority for a Christian leader. Well, I didn’t convince grandfather of my viewpoint, and he didn’t convince me of his. But over the last 40 years of my teaching career, I have wondered if grandfather Laney might have been right.

What is love?

Love means different things to different people. In fact, there are four different words for love in the Greek language. The Greek noun eros is used to refer to a love between lovers—a sexual love. This is the kind of love we read about in the Song of Solomon. A different Greek word is used to describe the relationship between parents and children. The Greek word storge speaks of a family affection. The Greek word philia is the most common word for love in the Greek language and refers to the affection between friends. It is a friendship kind of love. This word describes the love that Jesus had for his friend Lazarus.

The most frequent word for love in the New Testament is agape. This word is used 120 times in the Bible as a noun and 130 times as a verb. Writers of the New Testament pretty much abandoned the other words for love in the Greek language and focused on agape. This is the love described in John 3:16, which reads according to the Laney paraphrase: “For God loved the world in such a manner as this, that he gave His unique, one of a kind son, so that everyone who trusts and relies on Him might not perish forever, but have abundant and eternal life.”

The reason that the early Christians fastened onto the word agape is that it describes a love not just for lovers, family, or friends. It is a love which extends beyond the most familiar relationships to our neighbors, to our enemies and to the whole world.

Agape love is God’s kind of love because it is from Him and characterizes those who know Him (1 Jn. 4:7). I define agape as an unconditional acceptance; a deliberate and sacrificial commitment to the ultimate good of another person. Jesus commanded his followers to demonstrate this agape toward one another. Using the verbal form of the word, He said, “agape one another, just as I have agaped you” (John 15:12).

Jesus further explained that this agape love would be the distinguishing mark of the Christian. He said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have agape for one another” (John 13:35). My study of this Greek word and its use in the New Testament returned my thoughts to the words of Grandfather Laney. Was Christ’s law of love the highest Christian priority? Could grandfather have been right?

The Priority of Love

I thought of my grandfather again as I studied 1 Corinthians 13. In this classic text on agape love, Paul informs us that whatever gifts one has and sacrifices one endures, it all adds up to zero if agape is lacking (1 Cor. 13:1-3). In describing the nature of agape, Paul uses 14 descriptive statements to demonstrate that love is not just an emotion or feeling. Agape love is a sacrificial commitment to the ultimate good of another person (1 Cor. 13:4-7).

Contrasting the permanent gifts with the temporal gifts, Paul informs us that agape love is the only thing that never fails or fades (1 Cor. 13:8). Paul concludes in 1 Corinthians 13 by declaring that while tongues will cease and prophecy will come to an end, agape love is to be expressed throughout eternity. And while love will share a place with faith and hope, the greatest of these three virtues is agape. Chalk up another point for Grandfather Laney!

The Pattern of Love

Since agape love is so important, we need to know how to practice it. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians provides us with some helpful instruction on the pattern for agape love. In Ephesian chapter 4 Paul gives the believers a series of imperatives on how to live a God honoring life. Then he sums it all up with an exhortation, “Walk in agape love, just as Christ loved you and gave Himself up for us as an offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). Paul is telling believers to practice the pattern of love exhibited in Jesus Christ when he laid down His life as a sacrifice for our sins. Once again, we see that this agape love is not a mere feeling or even an affection.

Agape love is a sacrificial love—a sacrificial commitment to the ultimate wellbeing of another person. And Paul emphasizes that those who have benefited from Christ’s sacrifice, are called to sacrifice themselves for others. Grandfather Laney, I am beginning to see a theme here.

The Goal of Love

Another text came to my attention as I was reflecting on my grandfather’s words. Paul left his young protégé Timothy to lead the church at Ephesus he went on to Macedonia. But Paul’s concerns for Timothy led him to write the young pastor a letter. And in First Timothy 1:5 Paul told Timothy, “The goal, (the telos) of our instruction is agape, from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

Now Paul, isn’t the goal of our instruction “sound doctrine”? Certainly with all the false teaching going on at Ephesus, sound doctrine has to be the number one priority. But for Paul, this is not his number one objective! While sound doctrine is certainly important and should not be neglected, Paul’s ultimate goal—the telos of his instruction—is agape.

Notice that Paul’s goal is not that his disciples will become expert exegetes. Now I hope many of my students will become expert exegetes and won’t be saying ten years from now, “I have forgotten all my Hebrew and most of my Greek!”

And notice also that Paul’s goal is not that you all become powerful preachers. Now I hope that some of my students will become powerful preachers. I hope they will be preaching sermons that are exegetically based, expositionally delivered and practically applied.

Notice too that Paul’s goal is not that seminary graduates become mission minded. But of course I hope that all Christians will be mission minded, seeing the world as God sees it, with an attitude of love, compassion and the offer of forgiveness.

And finally, Paul’s stated goal is not that Western graduates will be caring and compassionate counselors. But I certainly hope all those trained in Western Seminary’s counseling program will be caring and compassionate as they listen to their clients, offering them support and understanding.

All these skills and abilities I have mentioned are good and can be useful in the ministry. But they are not Paul’s stated goal. They are not his ultimate objective. For Paul, the goal of his instruction is agape love – a sacrificial commitment.

Paul wants us to know something of the source and character of agape love. Paul knows that this kind of agape love can come only from “a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith.” A pure heart is one that has been cleansed by the “washing of regeneration” (Tit. 3:5). A good conscience is a conscience that is unfettered by an unconfessed accumulation of sin (1 John 1:9). A sincere faith is a genuine faith, a faith that is without hypocrisy, reflecting an attitude of the heart, not merely the movement of the lips.

I have been thinking about these words: a pure heart, a good conscience, a sincere faith. What Paul is talking about here is character. My colleague, Dr. Norm Thiesen commented recently that with some people their talent exceeds their character. Don’t let that be said of you. Character always trumps talent over the long haul.

Whom shall we love?

If the goal of Paul’s instruction is love, to whom should this love be expressed? Jesus taught, “Love God with heart, soul, and mind” (Matt. 22:37). Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives” (Eph. 5:25). Christians are called to love one another (John 13:34-35). And we are to love our neighbor as yourself (Lk. 10:27) And Jesus taught that we should love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44).

I spent my career at Western Seminary teaching the Bible. And I’m confident that my students will remember some of the things I have shared with them. But I hope they always remember, that the telos, the ultimate goal of our instruction is love. Tops on the list of course objectives and curricular competencies is agape love. And while there are many gifts and virtues we honor in our Christian community, I join my grandfather Laney in saying that the greatest of them all is love.

St. Jerome records that in his old age the Apostle John used to be carried in the arms of his disciples into church. And the only thing he would say to the congregation was, “Little children, love one another.” Finally, they asked the aged John, “Master, why do you always say this?” He replied, “Because it is the Lord’s command, and if this only is done, it is enough.” Wherever God leads you in your life and ministry, take with you God’s love with you.

And as Paul wrote to Timothy, the goal of our instruction has been, and will always be agape love, from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

An Interview with Retired Western Seminary Faculty Member, J. Carl Laney

J. Carl Laney

Carl, How did you happen to come to Western Seminary?

It was the fall of 1970 when I drove into the parking lot on the east side of Milliken Hall, then a men’s dormitory, and unloaded my typewriter, a few books and a picture of my sweetheart to begin my studies at Western Seminary. I completed my Master of Divinity in 1973 and headed for Israel with my wife, Nancy, where we spent the summer studying at the Jerusalem University College. It was life defining experience for both of us! Returning to Western for further studies, I wrote thesis on “The Geopolitics of the Judean Hill Country,” graduating with my Th.M. in the spring of 1974.

I longed to dig deeper into the Bible and was accepted into the Th.D. program at Dallas Seminary. My studies in Bible Exposition commenced in the fall of 1974 with Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost as my major professor. During my program at Dallas I was given the opportunity to develop my teaching skills as an Instructor Bible Exposition.

Approaching the end of my doctoral program, I began wondering about where I might use my seminary training. One summer afternoon while visiting Portland, I stopped by the office of Dr. Robert Cook, Western’s academic dean. He graciously invited me into his office for a visit. Then he asked, “Would you be interested in returning to Western to teach biblical literature?” Wow! I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough! After faculty interview in the early spring of 1977, I received a letter from President Earl D. Radmacher inviting me to join the faculty as an Instructor in Biblical Literature. One year led to two, and two to three, and a lifetime later I am looking back on an amazing, forty-year career at Western Seminary!

You have been teaching the Bible at Western for forty years. Do you have a philosophy of education that has guided you as a faculty member?

Yes, the verse in Scripture that describes my philosophy of teaching is Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” First, note that Ezra made the study of the Word his priority. He “set his heart” to seek God’s truth. But he was not content with mere head knowledge. Ezra put the lessons he discovered into practice. He was a doer of the Word, not merely a self-deluded hearer (James 1:22). Finally, I see that Ezra taught God’s Word to the people of Israel. Is significant that Ezra applied the truth personally before teaching publicly. You can’t teach what you haven’t studied, and you can’t teach effectively what you have not first applied in your own life. So my philosophy of education is to follow the example of Ezra. I seek God’s truth, apply in to my own life, and then share it with others.

What have you enjoyed most about your teaching career?

I have certainly enjoyed the opportunities my faculty position has given me to research, write, and prepare lectures and resources for my students. But what I have enjoyed most is the privilege of taking students to Israel. In Western’s Israel Study Program, we spend three weeks in the Land of the Bible hiking, swimming, exploring, studying and sharing meals together. This program provides opportunity for biblical discipleship which I define as “companionship in preparation for leadership.” The Israel Study Program is a life defining experience for students, and I have been privileged to share that experience with them.

In addition to teaching, what other ministry activities have you enjoyed?

In addition to my class room ministry at Western, it has been my privilege to serve as interim pastor in a dozen different churches. The longest interim assignment was three years in a Chinese church where my sermons were translated into Cantonese! I love to preach God’s Word and to shepherd God’s people. Weddings, funerals, baptisms and hospital visitation have provided me with a breadth of ministry experience to help my students prepare for their future opportunities. I have also had the privilege of ministering overseas, teaching in seminaries in the Philippines and the Netherlands, and of course, the Jerusalem University College.

What part has your wife, Nancy, played in your seminary career?

Besides being my number one encourager, Nancy has been involved in Western’s women’s ministry, meeting with seminary wives and hosting students in our home. And before our children were raised, she “kept the home fires burning” when I was teaching for Western in Seattle or ministering overseas. There have been three great women in my life—my mother, my mother-in-law, and my wife Nancy. I am who I am today because of their love, their support and their prayers.

What was the most difficult time for you as a prof?

My first year as a prof was undoubtedly the most difficult year academically. I was preparing lectures on material I had studied, but never taught. And the difference between studying and teaching is huge! I remember one night during my first semester after hosting a group of students in our home. I stepped outside alone, looked into the night sky, and wondered if I could really do this. It was the closest thing to a panic attack I had ever experienced. Standing in front of a classroom of student and trying to intelligently and practically teach God’s Word is harder than it looks! I have often left my office for the classroom remembering Psalm 34:4, “I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

Do you have a favorite book of the Bible to teach? What has been your favorite class to teach?

I have often been asked, “What is your favorite book of the Bible?” My answer is, “Which ever book I happen to be teaching!” They are all my favorites! I love the Torah where God introduces Himself to humanity. I love the historical books where God is at work among His people. I love the Poetic books where God’s truth is revealed through rich imagery and metaphor. I love this Prophets where God addresses His people through his spokesmen. I love the Gospels which introduce us to Jesus. I love the history of the advance of the Kingdom of God in the book of Acts. I love the Epistles have enriched my life through sound doctrine and application of principles. And I love the Book of Revelation which gives me hope for the future. I am a Bible guy. It’s all my favorite! I just love teaching the Bible!

Do you have any advice for seminary students today?

My advice to seminary students who are preparing for pastoral ministry is to dig deep into your language studies. One of the best things that seminary offers you is an opportunity to study Hebrew and Greek, the original languages of the Bible (along with Aramaic). There is no need to be fearful of the languages. If I can learn and use the languages, anyone can. There is nothing that has enriched my personal study of the Word more than the ability to read the Bible in Hebrew and Greek. If you are going to teach the Bible to others, you don’t want to go through life just reading about what someone else has discovered from the original languages. With the biblical languages, you can make those discoveries yourself! And if you know Hebrew and Greek, you won’t need as many commentaries. You will be writing your own commentary as you study the original text.

One other suggestion for students is to get to know at least one prof in a more personal way during your seminary career. Stop by a prof’s office and introduce yourself. Invite prof to lunch or to your home for dinner. Ask a prof if you can ride along with him or her on their next ministry trip. Not only will a personal relationship with a prof enrich your seminary experience, you will have someone who knows you well enough to write a reference letter when you are applying for a ministry position!

Is there anything in your career that you wish you had done differently? 

When I was finishing my doctoral program at Dallas Seminary, I thought about the possibility of being an overseas missionary, a church pastor, or a Bible/Seminary professor. Honestly, I wanted to do all three. But in the providence of God, I was led to return to Western Seminary. But as a faculty member at Western, I have had opportunities to serve as a short term missionary and an interim pastor. God gave me my heart’s desire to minister the Word in a variety of contexts and opportunities. The only thing I might have done differently is to have spent more time with my children while they were growing up. I was busy writing books, traveling and teaching. All of a sudden, my kids grew up and left home! I cherish the times we had together and only wish it had been more.

How is retirement? What are you doing to keep busy?

I really don’t like the word “retirement” because it seems to suggests leaving the ministry. As long as God gives me breath, I want to be serving the Lord! But reaching the age of seventy, Nancy and I agreed that it was time for a transition. I wanted to step aside from Western and give the younger profs the opportunities the Lord had afforded me. And so I concluded my career at Western on July 31, 2018. I felt that I had prepared myself financially for this transition. But I realize now that I had not prepared myself emotionally for the separation from Western.

People ask me, “How do you like retirement?” Honestly, I don’t like it. I love to teach and I miss the opportunities I had to mentor students and interact with them in the classroom. Retiring from Western left me without an office, without a position, and without fellowship with seminary colleagues and staff whom I have grown to love. “Retirement” is harder than you think! And yet, God is graciously meeting these needs in other ways. I have been invited to Seminary events, new student dinners, and to lunch with faculty friends. I have established an office in my basement and am busy writing a new book (“A Short History of Israel”). I am teaching a Sunday School class on Genesis 1-12 and preparing for two Israel trips this spring. I have had a wonderful career teaching the Bible at Western Seminary, and for that I am very thankful. And by God’s grace, I will continue to enjoy a full life with travel, ministry, recreation and visits with friends and family.




Biblical Creation: Interpreting Genesis 1:1-3


Carl Laney, Th.D.

The Gap Theory       (Thomas Chalmers; George H. Pember, Earth’s Earliest Ages; Scofield Reference Bible; Arthur C. Custance, Without Form and

Statement of Theory: This theory is motivated by the desire to harmonize the Genesis account of creation with the vast time periods of earth history demanded by uniformitarian geologists.

Genesis 1:1 — An independent, narrative sentence describing an original perfect creation.

Gap — A gap following the fall of Satan in which the earth underwent a cataclysmic change as a result of a divine judgment on a pre-Adamic race.

Genesis 1:2 — An independent, narrative sentence describing the chaotic condition of the universe (Jer. 4:23-26; Isa. 24:1, 45:18) after the fall of Satan (Ezek. 28:12-15; Isa. 14:9-14).

Genesis 1:3 — An independent, narrative sentence describing the first step in the process of reconstructing and reforming the judged earth.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth perfect and beautiful, but at some subsequent period the earth passed into a state of utter desolation as a result of divine judgment. Genesis 1-2 describes the refashioning of the earth after a vast geologic period.

Objections to Theory (see Whitcomb, Early Earth, pp. 116-34).

  1. The Hebrew syntax links verse one and two and does not allow for a gap between these verses.
  2. The theory must redefine the “very good” of 1:31 for the earth would be the domain of a fallen, wicked being, Satan (2 Cor. 4:4).
  3. The theory assumes that death prevailed before Adam in contradiction to the fact that the curse came after Adam’s fall (Gen. 2:17, 3:19; Rom. 5:12).
  4. The theory leaves us with no clear word from God concerning the original perfect creation.  This would seem unusual in light of the Scripture’s emphasis on God as creator (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 11:3).
  5. The theory contradicts Exodus 20:11 which states that within six days (not before the first day) God made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.
  6. The theory diminishes the significance of the world flood since it assumes that the major fossil bearing formations were laid down by the catastrophe of Genesis 1:2.
  7. The verb “was” (hayetha) should not be translated “became” implying a chronological development after creation for the waw disjunctive in 1:2 is used to describe circumstantial information (cf. Zech. 3:1-3; Jonah 3:3; Gen. 2:25) relating to the preceding clause, not something which happened subsequently.
  8. “Waste and void” (tohu wa-bohu) do not necessarily indicate divine judgment (Isa. 24:1; Jer. 4:23). The empty space (tohu) of the heavens (Job 26:7) is not something evil. Rather the earth was originally created “unformed and unfilled” but God fully intended for it to be inhabited (Isa. 45:18).
  9. “Darkness” is not always a symbol of sin and judgment (as in Jn. 3:19 or Jude 13) for Psalm 104:19-24 and 139:12 makes it quite clear that physical darkness is not inherently evil. The evening of each day included darkness and was a positive blessing providing for man’s rest and refreshment.
  10. While “created” (bara) does not in itself demand the idea of creatio ex nihilo, it certainly allows for it, and this doctrine is confirmed by Hebrews 11:3. ‘asa (‘to do or make”) stands as a synonym for bara in Genesis 1, and does not signify a reforming of preciously existing materials as in the case of yasar, Genesis 2:7. The occurrence of ‘asa in Exodus 20:11 is devastating to the Gap Theory.

The Recreation Theory (Unger, Bible Handbook; Barker, Waltke)

Statement of Theory: Original creation is not recorded in the Genesis account. The “gap” during which Satan fell and the original creation passed under divine judgment occurs before Genesis 1:1. The refashioning of the earth (Gen. 1:1) from its judged and chaotic state took place at a much later period in geological history.

Gen. 1:1      An independent summary statement of that which is unfolded in the following verses. It describes a relative, not an absolute beginning.

Gen. 1:2      These three clauses are circumstantial to verse 1 describing the condition of the earth at the time of the principal action of verse 1 or when God first spoke.

Gen. 1:3      An independent narrative sentence describing the first action in the process of bringing the earth into its present order.

Genesis 1:1 does not refer to an original creatio ex nihilo but to a reforming or refashioning of the earth after the divine judgment resulting from the fall of Satan and some angels.  The theory posits a more aged earth and claims to solve the alleged conflict between the Genesis account of creation and modern science.

Objections to Theory

  1. The objections to the Gap Theory (except for 1 and 7) hold true as objections to the recreation theory.
  2. The theory arbitrarily distinguishes between John 1:3 and Hebrews 11:3 as describing original creation and Genesis 1:1-3 as recreation.
  3. The theory leans heavily on hypothesis and is founded more on what is not revealed than on that which is revealed.
  4. The principle of preference for the clearest interpretation would direct the interpreter away from such a hypothetical reconstruction of creation events.  Interpreters should choose the clear over the obscure.

The Original Creation Theory (Leupold; Whitcomb, The Early Earth; Weston W. Fields, Unformed and Unfilled)

Statement of Theory

Gen. 1:1      An independent narrative sentence giving the record of the first part of God’s work on the first day of original creation. This verse reveals that God the Creator first made the material heavens and earth.

Gen. 1:2      Three circumstantial clauses describe the condition of the earth as it was until God began to form the original material into its present form. The earth was in a perfect yet unfinished state during the first part of the first day of creation.

Gen. 1:3      An independent narrative sentence showing the manner in which God worked — by His word — and the first step in the process of bringing the well-ordered universe into its present form.

This view accepts Genesis 1-2 as the account of God’s original creation of the universe creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”). The clauses in Genesis 1:2 imply no imperfection but merely describe the earth as unformed and unfilled early in the first day of creation. The earth was not imperfect, but only unfinished until the completion of creation on the sixth day.

Objections to the Theory

  1. The verb “was” (hayetha) in 1:2 should be translated “became” inplying a chronological development after creation.
  2. “Waste and void” (tohu wa-bohu) are terms which indicate divine judgment (Isa. 24:1, Jer. 4:23).
  3. “Darkness” is a symbol of sin and judgment (Jn. 3:19, Jude 13).
  4. The word “created” (bara) does not in itself demand the idea of creatio ex nihilo. 

These objections are answered under “Objections” to the Gap Theory (# 7-10), p. 2.

Support for Theory

  1. The view avoids the tenuous hypothesis of an original creation, divine judgment, and cosmic chaos which allegedly antedates the creative activity of God as recorded in Genesis 1-2. There is nothing explicitly revealed in Scripture which lends support to such a theory.
  2. The view avoids arbitrary distinctions between John 1:3 and Hebrews 11:3 as original creation, and Genesis 1:1-3 as a recreation.
  3. The view avoids the obscurities of the Gap Theory and Recreation Theory. It is definitely the most clear and simple interpretation of the text.
  4. The view is advocated by such careful scholars as Leupold, Keil, E.J. Young, Umberto Cassuto, John C. Whitcomb, John Davis, and Weston W. Fields.


Weston W. Fields, Uniformed and unfilled, Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing House, 1976.

Gerhard F. Hasel, “Recent Translation of Genesis 1:1,” The Bible Translator (October, 1971): 154-67.

Merrill F. Unger, “Rethinking the Genesis Account of Creation,” Bibliotheca Sacra (1959): 27-35.

John C. Whitcomb, The Early Earth, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972.

E.J. Young, Studies in Genesis One, Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1964.

Note also the articles in Christianity Today, October 8, 1982, February 1, 1985, and August 19, 1988.

The Most Important Question

At the end of July, I will complete forty years of teaching at Western Seminary and transition into a new phase of life commonly known as “retirement.” I don’t like that word and prefer to think of myself as “repositioning” for the next decade of my life and ministry. I look forward to some new and different opportunities of ministry, travel, and time with family.

As a Bible prof at Western, I have enjoyed the privilege of teaching each book of the Bible, from Genesis through Revelation—many, many times. What a privilege it has been to study God’s Word and to share the fruits of my study with young men and women who are preparing to serve the Lord. I have learned a great deal from my own study and research, but I have also learned a lot from my students! The questions they have raised in class have challenged me and stimulated me to dig deeper in my search for understanding and to provide biblically based answers to their questions.

There is one question which stands out among all the others which were asked during my tenure at Western Seminary. And this question wasn’t even asked by a student. It was asked by our academic dean, Dr. Jim Sweeney, during an annual faculty interview. I recall that Jim asked a number of questions about my teaching, my family and my overseas ministry. Then before my interview concluded, he asked one more question. “Carl, is there anything going on in your life that would bring embarrassment to Western Seminary if it were known publically?”
It was a question I had not expected. But it may be the most important question I was asked during my career at Western Seminary. It was a personal question. It was a caring question. It was a question of accountability. Jim was telling me that he was concerned not only about my academic life as a prof, but my personal life as a Christian leader. Jim’s question reflects the fact that Western Seminary is more than an academic institution and a training center for students of Bible and theology. Jim was acknowledging that Western Seminary is a Christian community where discipleship and accountability takes place not just with students, but among the faculty and staff as well.

By God’s grace I was able to provide the dean with a “no” answer to his question. Thankfully, there was nothing going on in my life that would bring dishonor to Jesus Christ or to Western Seminary. But this question has lingered in my mind over the years. It was the anticipation of having to answer that question at my next faculty interview that helped me to say “no” to the temptations I faced during that year.
As Christian leaders, we want to live God honoring lives. We want to be the holy men and women that God has called us to be. As Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).” God has given us the resources to live holy, sanctified lives (Romans 6-8). But we can’t do this alone. We need each other. We need the Christian community to hold us accountable, hear our confession when we fail, and pray for us when we are weak.

One of my former students visited my office to give me an update on his ministry. We had a wonderful visit as he told me of how God was opening up a new opportunity for Christian service. Before he left my office I put my hand on his shoulder asked him the most important question that had been asked of me. I asked him if he was keeping pure and steering clear from those sins that are so damaging to our Christian character and ministry. I asked because I cared. I asked because we need accountability in the body of Christ. I asked because we are at war with an enemy who is seeking to destroy us. I asked because I wanted to intercept sin before it could wreak havoc in a brother’s life. I hope my question had the same impact on my former student as the dean’s question had for me.
Asking a Christian leader or someone we admire a question about their personal, spiritual life may not be easy. We tend to put such people on a pedestal, forgetting that they are just like us—men and women of flesh, with the potential for temptation and sin. But it is time for us to begin asking the hard, accountability questions of our friends, colleagues, pastors and Christian leaders. We will do so if we really love them and truly care.

Maintaining Marital Faithfulness

God’s Word is quite clear: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exod. 20:14). Yet we read so frequently of Christian leaders who have become involved in immorality. I will never forget the heartache our faculty experienced many years ago when a colleague confessed at a faculty meeting that he had gotten involved in an illicit affair. He lost his faculty position, his marriage and his family. Although he later repented and returned to a God-honoring way of life, his sexual sin brought great grief to his family, friends and the faculty of Western Seminary.

The fact is, these moral tragedies don’t have to happen. Nobody has to commit adultery. God, by his grace, always provides a way for us to avoid sin. The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians that with every temptation God provides “a way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13). With this in mind, many years ago my wife, Nancy, and I agreed on some precautions that we would take to keep our marriage strong and avoid sexual compromise.

  1. We have committed ourselves to marital faithfulness. We have made this commitment in a time of strength to protect us in a time of vulnerability.


  1. We make our relationship a sacred priority. While there are lots of demands on our time and attention, our marriage is at the top of our list of shared priorities.


  1. We strive to dress and look our best. Recognizing that appearance is important, we work to keep ourselves healthy, fit, and attractive to each other.


  1. We make each other feel needed and appreciated. We contribute different things to our marriage and value each other’s contributions to this relationship.


  1. We are committed to strengthening our marriage. We recognize that the 2nd law of thermodynamics applies to marriage and we work to prevent deterioration in our relationship.


  1. We have Christian friends and family who pray for us and hold us accountable. We are so thankful for moms, dads and friends who have prayed for us over the years.


  1. We take care not to “sexualize” friendships with members of the opposite sex. We enjoy friendship with both men and women, but never allow those friendships to become fantasy or physical.


  1. We recognize the spiritual aspects of our physical union. While we enjoy the physical relationship of marriage, we recognize the priority of our spiritual relationship as a brother and sister in Christ.


  1. We are available to one another for intimate times. We don’t allow busy schedules, travel, and late night television to infringe on the special oneness that is exclusively ours in marriage.


  1. We keep the sparkle in our physical relationship. Thoughtful cards, gifts, comments and little surprises keeps the romance in our marriage.


  1. We know that times of separation offer opportunities for temptation, so we plan carefully for the times we are apart. We take special care during periods of separation to avoid potentially compromising situations.


  1. We take responsibility for our own sexual response and have determined to be “safe” persons with those who might be vulnerable. We are committed to protecting, rather than exploiting, any naïvely available person we may encounter.


  1. We recognize that the delights of illicit sex are mere fantasy and illusion. We refuse to believe Satan’s lie that the most exciting and satisfying sex is outside of marriage.


  1. We refuse to entertain sexual fantasies involving friends or acquaintances of the opposite sex. We know that purity in mind is essential to maintaining purity in heart and body.


  1. We recognize the deep pain and permanent damage caused by adultery. While God is always willing to forgive and restore a repentant person, we have chosen to be faithful to each other and avoid bringing unnecessary hurt and pain to ourselves and our family.


This past June Nancy and I celebrated our 47th anniversary. And I am happy to say that taking these precautions has enabled us, by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s enablement, to remain faithful to each other these many years. We hope these guidelines will help other Christians maintain marital faithfulness for their own good and for God’s glory.





Remembering Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea is a relatively minor figure in the New Testament. We don’t think much about him except around Easter when believers remember the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Yet Joseph’s importance is evident by the fact that he is mentioned in all four gospels (Mt. 27:57, Mk 15:43, Lk. 23:51, Jn. 19:38). And much can be learned from his example.

To distinguish him from other “Josephs” in the Bible, he is identified by his home town, Arimathea. The Gospel of Luke records that Arimathea was a “city of Judea,” or more literally, “a city of the Jews” (Lk. 23:51). In his Onomasticon (144:28-29), Eusebius identifies this city with Ramathaim-Zophim and locates it near Diospolis (near Modern Lod). The Crusaders identified it with Ramla on land which had once been allotted to the tribe of Dan. Geographers have not been able to identify Arimathea with certainty, but Luke’s reference suggests that Joseph was from “the city of the Jews” was therefore representative of the Jewish theological tradition. Yet he is clearly a follower of Jesus We’d call him a messianic Jew—a “Jew for Jesus.” What else do we know about Joseph?

Joseph was a rich man (Mt. 27:57). Matthew, the former tax collector, points out that Joseph was a “rich” man. While riches can be a hindrance to one’s spiritual life and development, this is not always the case. Both Joseph and Zaccheus (Lk. 19:1-9) are examples of rich men who possessed wealth, but didn’t let their wealth possess them.

Joseph was a prominent Jewish leader (Mt. 15:43). Joseph was a recognized and prominent leader in the Jewish community—a member of the Sanhedrin, the body that ruled the Jews in matters of their religion. As a member of the Sanhedrin, he would have enjoyed the respect of his peers and honor in the Jewish community.

Joseph had a kingdom hope (Mk. 15:43, Lk. 23:51). Both Mark and Luke point out that Joseph was “waiting for the kingdom of God.” Like most Jews of his day, he expected that God would soon establish His kingdom rule on earth by sending the Messiah to lead a military revolt that would expel the Roman occupiers from Jewish lands. But his understanding of God’s kingdom was no doubt modified by the teachings of Jesus who preached that the kingdom was a present spiritual reality (Mt. 13) that would have a physical consummation at His return (Mt. 24-25).

Joseph was a disciple of Jesus (Jn. 19:38, Mt. 27:57). Like other Jewish people in the early first century, Joseph was a student of the Torah as well as the Jewish traditions found in the Mishnah. He had studied the prophecies about a coming “prophet like Moses” (Dt. 18:15, Jn. 1:45, Acts 3:22-26). Joseph had embraced Jesus as the promised prophet and had become a disciple of Jesus. A disciple is a “learner.” Joseph was a student of both the Messianic prophecies fulfilled by Jesus as well as the teachings of Jesus. However, because of his position as a leader of the Jews, Joseph was unwilling to let his faith in Jesus be known publicly. John tells us that he was a “secret” follower of Jesus “for fear of the Jews” (Jn. 19:38).

Joseph was a courageous man (Mk. 15:43). Although Joseph was fearful for his own reputation and relationship with other Jewish leaders in the community, he was able to overcome his own fears after the crucifixion of Jesus. Mark records that Joseph “gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.” Someone has said that “courage if fear under control.” It must have taken tremendous courage to go before Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus, especially so soon after his colleagues in the Sanhedrin had demanded His crucifixion. Perhaps the words God spoke to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous” (Josh. 1:6), were ringing in his ears as he entered the Praetorium (the governor’s residence) to make his appeal to Pontius Pilate.

Joseph was a generous man (Lk. 23:53). Joseph’s generosity is evidence by the fact that he freely offered his new, rock cut tomb, as a burial place for Jesus (Mt. 28:60). The bodies of common criminals were often simply tossed into a ravine to be scavenged by wild dogs and carnivorous birds. Joseph was not going to let that happen to the body of Jesus. It took courage to intervene and generosity to provide a decent burial for his honored rabbi. His generosity actually fulfilled a prophecy, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death” (Isa. 53:9).

Joseph was engaged in sacrificial service (Lk. 23:53-54; Jn. 19:38). Lastly, Joseph was a man who was willing to sacrifice his own ceremonial purity to remove the body of Jesus from the cross and transport it to his tomb for burial. Touching a dead body would render Joseph ritually impure and mean that he would be unable to participate in Passover with his family (Lev. 11:24-25). For Joseph, there was something more important that enjoying the food, fun and festivities of the Passover Seder. He was willing to forgo all this for the sake of honoring the body of Jesus.

Joseph wasn’t a perfect man. He was fearful and slow to let others know of His faith in Jesus. Yet, as a disciple of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea was able to overcome his fears to honor and serve his Savior. May his example of courage, generosity and sacrificial service inspire us as followers of Jesus today.