Matthew Holst – War of the Worlds: The Threat of Sexual Sin

H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel, The War of the Worlds opens with these words:

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied… With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs … Yet across the gulf of space… intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”

This is an apt description of the threat faced by many Christians in the 21st century, especially concerning the area of sexual morality and sin. We are busying ourselves, serene in the assurance we are masters over ourselves, without giving too much thought to the fact that another world is examining us, drawing its plans against us, seeking to overcome us and ultimately destroy us.

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Matthew Holst – A New Frame of Mind

As the lives of western Christians become more and more dominated by the content that is brought into their lives by various forms of media, we must ask the question, “With what do I fill my mind?” The Apostle Paul makes several pertinent points regarding this question in Romans 12:2, where he wrote: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God and what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Consider the following:

First, Paul mentions our minds, our thoughts and the processes of the mind. It is the “renewal of the mind” with which he is concerned. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep the heart will all vigilance for from it flow the springs of life.” In Prov. 4:26, we read, “ponder the path of your feet then all your ways will be sure.” Consider, think, meditate upon the paths before you. How will we do this without the right mental and spiritual equipment? Our Lord Jesus was concerned about our minds when He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with…all you mind” (Matt. 22:37). Your mind directs your actions–as our Lord says elsewhere: “Out of the fulness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Lk. 6:45). We must always consider that upon which we are setting our minds.

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Matthew Holst – The Wisdom of Sex

Perhaps now, more than ever, Christians need wisdom to process the multitude of temptations to sexual sin with which they are confronted. While it is true that sexual sin has always been a problem in the church, there should be little doubt that the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life are a seemingly ubiquitous danger for Christians today.

The Puritans were well-known for their diagnosis of sin. In fact, it might be one of their lasting legacies. Some modern theologians (e.g. see this and this) have continued that pattern of examining the Christian life by seeking to uncover the root issues which lie behind our external sins. Of course, Scripture itself is the main source for uncovering both surface and root issues. Below are several biblical principles by which we may guard ourselves from sexual sin.

1. Sexual sin is idolatry: The Apostle Paul tells us this plainly in Colossians 3:5: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness, which is idolatry.” That is to say, sexual immorality–whether on a screen or in person–is a replacement god. Nothing should be more appalling and grevious for the sincere Christian, than to turn his or her back on Christ and bow down to another god. That is precisely what we do, however, in idolatry. We de-throne Almighty God and replace him with pornography; or fantasy; or adultery.

2. Sexual sin occurs when we fail to “keep our heart.” Proverbs 4:23-27 provides us with a powerful warning and encouragement to help us keep our hearts pure. “Keep the heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life” (Prov 4:23). The next verses tell us what that looks like: v 24 watch what you and others say; v 25 watch what you look at; v 26 watch what you think about and vs 27 watch where you go. That is to say, if we are not always keeping guard over our senses, we allow ourselves to become subject to wickedness. We strangle the ministry of the Spirit in our lives (c.f. Prov 4:23 & John 7:37), giving ourselves to impurity, through which the Spirit will never work.

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Matthew Holst – Wisdom for Reading the Proverbs

The Wisdom literature is among the most neglected of all genres in Scripture. This is, no doubt, partly on account of the fact that there are an abundance of difficulties when we approach the reading and study of Proverbs — our historical distance from them, the apparent similarity with writings of other wisdom literature from the Ancient Near East, the apparent lack of Gospel focus and the fact that, at times, the Proverbs seem to over promise. Yet as we read them we find that we begin to discover life, wisdom and the fear of the Lord. Facing the difficulties of reading the Proverbs–while knowing that they are necessary for our spiritual growth in grace–here are seven tips on how to get the most out of reading Proverbs.

1. Remember the authors and audience of Proverbs. Context always ought to be your starting point. Large portions of Proverbs were written by Solomon and addressed to his son(s). That puts Proverbs, first and foremost, in the sphere of the history and theology of the kings of Israel and, specifically, that of the Davidic covenant. When you are reading Proverbs (and many of the Psalms) you are reading the wisdom of the Kings’ Charter (read Deuteronomy 17:14ff). How should a king be good and righteous king? By knowing and living the Proverbs! Clearly these leadership and life principles apply to everyone in authority – Proverbs speak especially now to pastors, elders, deacons and heads of households, as well as those they instruct.

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Matthew Holst – 5 Don’ts of Pastoral Ministry

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In 1 Thessalonians 2 Paul outlines the character and practices of a godly pastoral ministry. What he writes is a sobering reminder to all pastors, and to churches, of the standards and challenges of the pastoral ministry. His technique for outlining a faithful pastoral ministry is interesting. In vs 3-6 he states five negatives of pastoral ministry, and in 7-12 five positives of pastoral ministry. While Paul wrote pre-eminently about himself and did not intend this passage to be a comprehensive view of pastoralia, the fact that he deals in principles lends a timeless quality to his teaching. Indeed, pastors would do well frequently to re-acquaint themselves with these principles. We want to consider the negatives or “don’ts” of pastoral ministry–all of which are set against the backdrop of Paul’s boldness in preaching the gospel in the midst of suffering (1 Thess.2:1-2). Consider the supremely important context: Suffering in the pastorate tends to fuel the temptation for ministers to run to the “don’ts” of which Paul speaks in 1 Thess. 2:3-6.

First, Paul speaks of the content and motive of his ministry, “our appeal does not spring from error or impurity”(3). It seems Paul has both content (“error”) and motivation (“impurity”) in view when writing this. What Paul taught was the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, which is why he found himself in frequent troubles (c.f. 2 Corinthians 11:23-29). Faithful preaching is what the Christian pastor is called to, and subsequently, suffering for the same message is to be expected. Moreover, Paul addresses the motives for preaching the gospel. Elsewhere (Philippians 1: 12-18), motivation for gospel preaching had been an issue in the church, but not for Paul. He did not preach from impure motives, but was a man called by God to preach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Second, Paul speaks of the goal of his preaching, “so we speak, not to please man, but to please God” (4). Every minister of the gospel knows this temptation, that of man-pleasing. The minister who has not experienced the displeasure of man is the minister who has not preached the truth. To see visible disagreement with what you are preaching, while you are preaching, is simply, unnerving. The temptation is to curtail or dilute the message in some way, so as to avoid conflict. That however, would be to please man, not God. To fear man more than God is the death-knell of the pastoral ministry. A few years ago I officiated at the funeral of a gospel minister; one commendation made of him was this “he was more willing to offend men than God”. As we preach with sensitivity (not looking for trouble) and clarity, may this be said of us also, as gospel ministers.

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Matthew Holst – 12 Things to Know About the Anti-Christ

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One of the Apostle Paul’s great preoccupations in both of his letters to the church at Thessalonica is the second coming of Christ. He was not only concerned with getting the doctrine “right” but also with the great pastoral implications of such teaching. In 1 Thessalonians he writes concerning the second coming of Christ in relation to the resurrection of the dead and the gathering together of saints who are alive at that time. In 2 Thessalonians he reinforces what he had already taught at Thessalonica (2 Thess. 2:5) concerning the dangers of the last days, specifically with regard to the great apostasy in the church induced by the revelation of the Man of Lawlessness.

Depending on your eschatological framework, your identification of the Man of Lawlessness and his activities may differ from what I wish to offer in this post. Coming to terms with the fact that there will indeed be a Man of Lawlessness plays an important role in the life of the believer as he or she eagerly waits for the day of Christ’s coming. In days of relative peace, we must ready ourselves and forthcoming generations–especially our own children–for the days of anarchic deception that will accompany the Man of Lawlessness.

We, in the Calvinistic and Reformed church, have not done justice to the Scripture’s teaching on this matter. We often rightly respond to the “Left Behind” industry with dismay and sarcasm. In so doing, however, we have, perhaps inadvertently failed to sufficiently and soberly grasp Scripture’s teaching on this period of history which will be instrumental in bringing about a catastrophic and irreversible apostasy. Here then, are twelve biblical observations about the Man of Lawlessness (MoL) to help prepare us for that day.

1. The Man of Lawlessness will appear shortly, it seems, before the second coming of Christ. (2 Thess. 2:3).

In fact, Paul writes this is a necessary precondition to the coming of Christ. The MoL must be revealed and do his God-denying work, before Christ comes and deals with him. Paul’s application to Thessalonians “Let no one deceive you in any way…”. The second coming of our Lord will not take place until the MoL has appeared.

2. The Man of Lawlessness will have a “coming” or parousia (2 Thess. 2:9). This Spirit-breathed language sets up one of many parallels with the person, work and coming of our Lord. We should not miss this point. The Spirit, with great intention wants you to understand that there will be many parallels between the MoL and our Lord, because the MoL will set himself up as the Messiah. In other words, I believe the MoL is synonymous with the Anti-Christ, as spoken of in John’s epistles. He is the counterfeit Christ.

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Matthew Holst – The “Hate Speech” Card

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Western society, as it slips inexorably into greater unbelief and alienation from God, has created new laws–both written and unwritten–concerning what is and what is not permissible to say in public. “Hate speech,” as it is called, seems to be the only intolerable thing to the worldly mind of our day (c.f. John 8:43). As a secular, humanist society defines what constitutes hate speech, we observe something of a self-protecting cycle – the world is not tolerant of any speech it deems unacceptable. Woe betide any who seek to swim against this particular rip current! The church (at least, the true church concerned for the truth) is in for a torrid time.

At the forefront of this movement is so-called freedom of choice – freedom to define one’s own identity in any walk of life – sexuality, gender, even species (would you believe it?) Anything that stands against this self-definition is branded hate-speech. That is to say, disagreement has become a crime and being offended has become the new virtue. It is an inherently immature position. It does not allow for intelligent discussion or difference, but rather proudly seeks to assert its dominion over any other position, regardless of the validity of that position. It is a censoring of truth; a shutting down of opposition; a silencing of disagreement. In the name of tolerance, the only thing it cannot tolerate is disagreement.

This position has nothing to do with establishing the truth of what is correct, it is simply a smoke screen whereby a section of society can excuse their open rebellion towards God. It uses ridicule (“Don’t you know this is the 21st century? Don’t you know times have changed?” and Don’t you want to be on the right side of history?). It uses media as a platform and prohibits access to its platform for any dissenting voices. This is not a search for truth, but a suppression of such. It is marked by a closed mind, governed by pride, alive and well in the world around us–and yet this attitude is also alive and well inside of the Church.

When they join a Presbyterian or Reformed church, ministers–as well as congregants–take some form of vow in which they promise to submit to the governing authorities of the church–so long as they are in accord with God’s word. Members promise submission to elders and elders and ministers promise subjection to each other–especially with respect to the wider courts of the church (i.e. Presbytery and General Assembly). Moreover every Christian has the duty of mutual submission, to count others better than one’s self, and to hear the counsel of godly brethren. How then do we observe the hate speech mentality in the church?

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Matthew Holst – The Anatomy of Sexual Sin

3.5"x4" Post Card Template In every genre of Scripture, whether it be narrative, Psalms, wisdom or the Gospels and Epistles, warnings against sexual sin are prominent. From Genesis to Revelation, every book of Scripture teaches that believers are to vigorously pursue sexual purity and forewarns against transgressing God’s law in this area. Perhaps the most serious warning is in Revelation 21: 8 “But as for the cowardly, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fie and sulfur, which is the second death” (ESV). Yet how attitudes in the church have changed to sexual sin! No longer the scandal it once was, it is not so much a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’ this sin will happen in the church. We cannot deny that the world’s lax and liberal attitude to sexual sin has permeated the church–to the point that it is now bordering on being accepted as one of the so-called “acceptable sins.”

Perhaps this is because we have lost sight of what a terrible offense sexual sin is in the eyes of God. Following the pattern of the world, the church rarely sees the terrible nature of this sin both in its inherent sinfulness and its destructive nature to those who engage in it. What then can we in the church, do to help warn against the epidemic-like spread of sexual sin, especially, though not exclusively in our young people. First we need to diagnose what sexual sin is, before we can seek to counsel and protect those who are tempted or have fallen. Paul, in Colossians 3:5 does precisely that.

Paul wrote “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry”. Paul is very clear – sexual sin, which is manifested in both thought and deed is actually covetousness, which itself is idolatry. More of that in a moment, but consider the common response of those caught or confession their sexual sin. “We just fell into it”, or “I just wanted someone to comfort me during my trial”, or “it just happened”. Not so, according to Paul. Sexual sin NEVER “just happens”, rather it is the end of a long process which starts with idolatry.

In Colossians 3:5 Paul provides us with a list of sins, all inter-related, that always accompany sexual sin. He starts with the acts of sexual sin – sexual immorality and impurity – and concludes with the cause – idolatry. He works backwards from the outward manifestation to the inner cause. To put it another way, he works from the execution of the sin to its conception. Consider his flow of thought, as we treat it in reverse:

– “covetousness which is idolatry”. This is the root-cause. Those who sin sexually are guilty of committing idolatry, in that they have made a god of sex. It matters not what kind of sexual sin it is – heterosexual, homosexual, pornography – or any other, the first sin is idolatry. That is to say, there has been a coup d’état in the heart of man: God has been dethroned and individual, selfish desire reigns in his place. In this particular coup sex is the new god. The sexually immoral has given him/herself over to what is an unlawful practice in the sight of God. Long before the mouse clicks on an image, or a flirtation, or sexual act takes place, the heart has been taken captive by another god. Notice Paul states that idolatry is related to covetousness. To covet is to lust for something you do not have. In sexual sin, it is to lust for something you should not have. In other words, the sexually immoral person desires something prohibited and enshrines it as god in his own life.

– The next sin Paul highlights is “evil desire.” Notice we are still in the realm of the heart, not the body. Note that Paul diagnosis sexual sin as an evil desire. To want something that is inherently evil, that is, something which is prohibited by the law of God. To desire such is evil. How many of us pause to think that the glance to the bill-board, or the lingering look, the flirtation with a co-worker or the fantasy of the mind, is in fact, an evil desire. Paul says that once the heart worships sex, it will conceive all manner of evil desires.

– “passion” – that is living in a manner consistent with the evil desires. It is to be controlled by such desires, so that moderation and abstinence from such thoughts are impossible. To be passionate in sexual sin, is to be controlled by one’s desires for sex. And when one is controlled by sex, sex is your god, and the Spirit of the true God does not rule in you.

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Matthew Holst – Praying Most For What You Love the Most

37086-pray-for-what-you-love Your prayer-life is a measure of your spiritual maturity. Just about any decent book on prayer will tell you so. Your prayer lives exposes you to the reality that what is nearest and dearest to your hearts are those things for which you pray the most. It is an inescapable rule. In this respect, your prayer life may betray the public image which you, in turn, portrayed to others. Just a few years back, I became painfully aware that my prayer life was centered on…me. What a shock it was to realize that my prayers were essentially self-serving!

The practice of prayer has fallen on hard times in the church today. There may be many factors producing this rapid downturn in frequency and quality of prayer. Two of the most obvious are the affluence of western society and the lack of deeply spiritual representative prayer in our churches.

The Affect of Affluence

The affluence and relative ease of western culture has relaxed the grip that Scripture should hold on our lives. Our material lives are easier than they were even one hundred years ago: the present relief we have from infant mortality or child labor, from common sicknesses that often resulted in death but are now treatable have lulled us into a false sense of security. The Puritan pastor and theologian John Owen apparently had eleven children, ten of whom died in childhood–the one who didn’t die in childhood died of tuberculosis soon after she had married. Owen’s wife passed away eight years before him. People once knew–even expected–death and serious sickness to be a present reality in their lives, and often it drove them to prayer. They knew what it was to “number their days and gain a heart of wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12) Sadly, it is not so now. As longevity and better quality of life are now expected–even deemed a right–we have been driven from pondering our mortality and eternal realities to filling our lives with less consequential matters–with trivialities. Prayers for health, wealth, success, family, children, friendship, employment, while not illegitimate topics of prayer (3 John 2), are the topics which saturate most Christian prayers today.

The Affect of Prayer in the Worship Service

The dilution of spiritually rich prayer has also been aided and abetted by prayers from the pulpit. The casual manner of many public prayers–where Jesus is merely our best bud and God is little more than a divine handy man–teach the average Christian how not to pray. Awe, transcendence and a sense of holiness in prayer have been replaced with a superficial familiarity with the Almighty. Ministers lead and teach by example and must teach the manner and the content of biblical prayer.

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Matthew Holst – Christological Ultrasounds

36714-ultrasound-christology One of the great difficulties we encounter when we seek to preach Christ from the Old Testament is the challenge of being able to rightly apply the text–both in its original context and then to our own. After all, a chasm of thousands of years exists between the life of the patriarchs and monarchs of Israel and us. What does their experience have to do with ours? How could Christ be preached to them centuries before His coming, and still be preached to us from the same events, teachings and texts? One of the illustrations that I have found to be most helpful in answering this question is that of an ultrasound. So how can ultrasounds better help us understand how to preach Christ from the Old Testament?

For expecting parents the numerous ultrasounds they undergo during pregnancies can be both a blessing or a great trauma. My wife and I have been blessed with four sons, each of whom was born healthy and each of whom we saw in utero via the ultra sound. We also lost a child in utero while living in the UK. Ultrasounds can bring good news, or bad news.

Ultrasounds give an insight into what is to come–a long expected baby. A typical two-dimensional ultrasound provides a rough and somewhat blurry picture of the little one inside its mother. The new three-dimensional ultrasounds provide even more detail of the little one in the womb. Parents all over the world live in anticipation of the ultra sound – will their child be healthy, or will there be problems in development and growth?

A good report of a child progressing normally is accompanied by that wonderful ultrasound picture, which–in turn–gets framed or placed in a scrap book. Just about everyone is shown the picture, and we all try to make out the various features of the unclear image – a hand waving, and arm or foot, or even a nose. Yet sometimes the ultrasound provides hard, sad or even tragic information. Abnormalities in measurements, abnormal heart beats or even no heart beat. Yet, still a picture of the little one. Perhaps that is all the parents will have of that little one for years to come – a picture, but not a happy ending, at least in this life.

What does all this have to do with hermeneutics and exegesis? The Old Testament is filled with “ultrasounds” of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, I believe–as our own David Murray has said–“on every page”, we will find our Savior, if we only have the eyes to see Him. He does however, appear in the rough and sometimes two-dimensional form that ultrasounds present our children in the womb. As in the picture, so in the text: it is not always clear how our Lord is seen, and sometimes even more difficult to see why things are as the way they are.

Perhaps we can pursue the ultrasound analogy even further. There are blessed ultrasounds of Christ – His kingly reign and majesty, His glory, His care for his flock in protection and teaching, etc. These picture Christ as a the great King and Prophet of his people. And there are others which speak of his sorrow, pain, suffering and death. Here, He is pictured as the High Priest offering up himself as a sacrifice for sins. We see Jesus in death, burial and resurrection-glory throughout all of Scripture.

What do we make of these old testament “ultrasounds”? Whether the child is healthy or sick in the womb, the picture is always precious. It moves the parent with love and tenderness and sometimes sorrow. The picture is cherished. This is what God provided to ancient Israel -“ultrasounds” of the child that would be born “to save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

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