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It’s the Lord’s day. Like most Sundays, we ministers in the churches here have to preach two sermons before lunchtime. Around 5:30 a.m., I get out of bed and start preparing for those two sermons. Having committed my way to the Lord, spent time with my notes, and finished my cup of coffee, I pull a traditional Filipino dress shirt out of my closet and pull it over my head. It’s too hot for a suitcoat and tie! We eat breakfast, load our five kids into the car, throw open the gate, and motor away under a canopy of tropical trees. At the entrance of our subdivision, we stop for a moment to let in our seminary student, of whom I am one of the instructors, with his wife and baby boy. Then we pull out onto the main road and begin our journey from the mountains down into Metro Manila. Thankfully, traffic in this megacity is not too bad on Sunday mornings. Yet there are still plenty of fascinating sights for our visitors: jeepneys with artistic (though sometimes rather horrid) designs, slow-moving trikes (which make quite a racket), and swarms of motorcycles (which are about as plenteous as the ants in this country). But inside our car, we enjoy the delightful singing of Protestant Reformed choirs and a spectacular view of one of the world’s biggest cities as we head down the hill. Soon we arrive at a church that has become very dear to me, in a quiet neighborhood in a bend of the Marikina River.
There’s a sign on the gate that says, “Provident Protestant Reformed Church.” The church in this neighborhood began as a Bible study in the early 1990s. Later in that decade, God directed their path to Reformed theology, and they began to embrace the five points of Calvinism. But it wasn’t until 2012 that the Lord brought them into contact with the missionaries of our churches (PRCA), whom they requested to come over and help them. Since then, they have grown tremendously in their knowledge and convictions concerning Reformed doctrine, worship, government, and life. They formally adopted the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, Canons of Dordt, and Church Order in 2018 and joined the Protestant Reformed Churches in the Philippines (PRCP) in 2019. Since 2017, I have had the immense privilege of guiding them through these milestones and continuing the work of building them up as a self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating church here in the Philippines.
Keep reading to learn more about what it is like to do the work of a pastor in a young Protestant Reformed church in the Philippines.
Having parked on the road by the church, we enter the gate and pass by a garden bed that was built from the leftover sediment of a devastating flood. Anyone may pluck the fruits or herbs growing there, and many do. Before our first worship service, I meet with the two elders and two deacons in the library for prayer. Everyone else walks up the stairs and enters the sanctuary. At 9:00, we begin our first service. The second is at 11:00. You would feel very comfortable in the worship services here. They are very similar to the ones in your churches. We sing from the same Psalter, though we do not yet have live musical accompaniment. We use piano recordings for now. We read the law in the first service and recite the Apostles’ Creed in the second. We join hearts in congregational prayer to God and give our offerings to the causes of his kingdom. We have baptisms and celebrate the Lord’s supper too.
But the centerpiece of the worship service is the reading and preaching of the word. Essentially, pastoring a Philippine church is no different from pastoring a church in any nation. It is the great task (the great commission!) to go into the world, to preach the gospel of salvation, and to teach all things Christ has taught us. It is the awesome work, assigned to the minister of the word, to bring the glad tidings of great joy which are unto all peoples. It is the task of proclaiming the gospel of God, who promised to send the seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent and accomplished that wondrous salvation through the cross and resurrection of his Son. It is the wonderful task of calling the weary and heavy laden to come to Christ and declaring the promise that God gives the blessings of salvation to all who believe in him, according as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world. Pastoring a Philippine church is preaching Christ, who gives oh so precious comfort and hope to every elect believer. Like that great missionary of old, I have determined not to know anything, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Like that apostle, too, I do not shun to declare all the counsel of God, including election and reprobation. Hence, too, we preach through the Heidelberg Catechism and proclaim the truth of our only comfort in life and death, that we belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, by declaring the greatness of our sins and miseries, how we have been delivered from our sins and miseries, and how we must show our thankfulness to God by a life of obedience and love.
But unlike you, the saints at Provident PRC occasionally hear those truths in the Tagalog language. Last year, I began using their new Tagalog translation of the Heidelberg Catechism and preaching a little bit more in Tagalog. Using the Tagalog language, one of the main languages of the Philippines, is a very unique aspect of pastoring a Philippine church. In North America, we all speak the same language in our churches, and no other languages. That means communication in the church usually flows smoothly from speaker to hearer and back again. But here, the people of God speak more than one language, which means communication is sometimes a bit difficult for us foreign missionaries. We have to get used to the reality that we are not always going to understand everything that is said, even if we have spent many hours studying their language. The saints at Provident know English very well but also appreciate when I use a little Tagalog and have encouraged me to continue studying their mother tongue. I have found it helpful to know the local language for connecting with the people. A greater knowledge and ability than I have would be even better!
After our two morning services, we eat lunch together at church (some go home for lunch). Pastoring a Philippine church includes certain culinary delights! We think it’s a wonderful practice to sit down together as a church family, after worship, for fellowship with food and drink. Maybe you prefer your roast beef and mashed potatoes every Sunday (we like that too!). But we also enjoy the hot meals of delicious Filipino food, pots of steamy rice, bowls of pork, chicken, or fish soaked in mouthwatering sauces, and mixtures of local vegetables. I haven’t had a meal at church that I didn’t like or one that has given my stomach any trouble. So kain na (let’s eat!)!
As in the PRCA, the children and young people here also go to catechism. I teach Old Testament Bible stories to twelve little children on Saturday mornings. Their dads love to listen too. They never heard those stories before because, sadly, most churches here do not see Christ in the Old Testament, so they don’t bother to teach it. I teach the Essentials of Reformed Doctrine on Sundays after lunch to eight young people plus a few others who are interested in joining the church. Once in a while, too, we have an outdoor fellowship with the youth. Last December, the youth came to our house for a breakfast fellowship around Christmas time. We had cheesy pasta, apple pie, mango and pineapple juice, and three-in-one coffee (you know, the little packets with coffee, cream, and sugar all mixed together). Then we played some games and went for a walk under the trees. Lord willing, we will soon have another youth camp for all the young people of the PRCP.
Other aspects of pastoring the church here include the annual family visitation (which we are about to begin again); the monthly council meetings of elders and deacons (of which I am the chairman); and the evangelism work, which includes a monthly visit to a church north of Manila (which would like to follow in the footsteps of Provident PRC). There are also plenty of other meetings for me to attend as one of the missionary advisors to the classis and to two of its standing committees.
Thanks for taking this glimpse into the pastoral ministry in one of your sister churches in the Philippines. We pray that by means of the new seminary that is now up and running the Lord will someday give them a Filipino pastor to replace me. Until then, I am thankful for the privilege of serving Christ in this church.

I don’t think it’s a very religious story. I think it’s a great fable that’s part of so many different religions and spiritual practices. I just think it’s a great story that’s never been on film.”

It’s about environmental apocalypse which is the biggest theme, for me, right now for what’s going on on this planet. So I think it’s got these big, big themes that connect with us. Noah was the first environmentalist.” ~ Darren Aronofsky, director of the Biblical film, Noah.

Beloved young people, the movie Noah, produced and directed by Darren Aronofsky and released this past March, is not a movie for us Bible-believing, truth-loving, God-honoring disciples of Christ to watch, either for entertainment or education or evangelistic outreach. Nor is any Hollywood drama depicting sacred Biblical history for that matter. I hope to convince you of that in this article. My focus in this article is on “religious drama.” More specifically, my focus is the dramatic depiction of events in sacred Biblical history, which seems to be rather trendy in Hollywood as of late with the 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ, now the 2014 movie Noah, and still others in the works.

But first let me clarify my topic. I am not addressing the matter of drama itself. The question of whether or not drama itself is sinful, and whether or not the Christian may ever watch any drama, is not my topic in this article. That broader topic would demand a whole article or series of articles all by itself. But let me just say that whether or not we condemn drama itself as sinful, we must admit that almost all drama today, at the theater and on the television, is incredibly wicked, and we must not watch it. Almost all drama involves the acting out of horrible sins. Most even involves the repeated committing of actual sins such as blasphemy of the name of God and sexual sins with actors or actresses who are not one’s real spouse. But perhaps worst of all, most drama involves the outright glorifying of sin. Sins against all the commandments are exalted and promoted, sometimes subtly, sometimes blatantly. Evil is portrayed as good, and good as evil. Lies are preached as truth, and truth is condemned as a lie. This is clear: the makers of drama, producers and actors, commit and promote all that is abominable to our God in their sitcoms and movies. Therefore this too is clear: if we watch and enjoy them, we partake in their sins. As Paul writes, “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which do such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Rom. 1:32). By watching we lead ourselves into temptation to commit the very things we see on the screen. Not least of all, we become desensitized to the horror of sin. Beloved young people, I beseech you to follow the example of David who wrote, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me” (Ps. 101:3).

But as I said, my focus in this article is on “religious drama” with particular emphasis on the movie Noah that was recently released. I contend that this too is something we should not watch. Many if not most Christians will disagree with this statement. Many watch these Biblical films and sing their praises. Many view them as evidence of a common grace of God producing good works among the unregenerate, which we may enjoy. Many churches show them in their Sunday services and use them as tools of education in their schools and colleges and even for evangelistic outreach. Some raise concerns about certain wrong aspects or emphases in these films. But they rarely conclude that we ought not to watch them. [1] I do make that contention.

I hope to convince you not to watch Aronofsky’s Noah, and by implication other Biblical movies of the past or in the future. Let me give some reasons not to watch Noah.

  1. Noah is produced by an unbeliever with a secular agenda.

Noah is a Hollywood film. Hollywood is not Christian, but anti-Christian. Hollywood is the lair of the devil and the heart of the wicked world. Therefore we must be exceedingly wary of everything that comes out of it, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John. 2:16). Noah was not even produced by a nominal Christian, as some Biblical films have been, but by a thoroughly secular Jewish man named Darren Aronofsky. He did not produce Noah to teach the sacred history of the flood as a real event of the past, or to refute the claims of evolutionism. Quite the contrary! He made it to earn a lot of money by entertaining millions and to push a secular agenda. Therefore he did not bother to tell the Biblical story faithfully, but he made use of extra-Biblical writings and extravagant “creative license,” and thereby came under the curse of God, for “if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18). Aronofsky has seized this significant event in sacred Biblical history with unholy hands. He does not even believe that it ever took place. He is quoted as having said, “I don’t think it’s a very religious story. I think it’s a great fable that’s part of so many different religions and spiritual practices. I just think it’s a great story that’s never been on film.” Unlike Noah, who was a hero of faith (Heb. 11:7) and preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), Aronofsky is an unbeliever and false prophet.

Noah was produced in part to push a secular agenda on the Christian community. Aronofsky is a secular environmentalist, that is, he worships the creature more than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). He has been fascinated with Noah since he was a child but views him as “the first environmentalist.” He said about the history of the flood, “It’s about environmental apocalypse which is the biggest theme, for me, right now for what’s going on on this planet. So I think it’s got these big, big themes that connect with us. Noah was the first environmentalist.” Aronofsky thinks much of mankind is evil, not because of its hatred of God, but because of its abuse of the environment. He portrays this in the movie as the great sin of mankind for which God destroyed the world with the flood. We are told that he goes wild in his fanatic promotion of this agenda. He twists Noah into a man-hating, animal-loving figure who becomes psychotic while on the ark and plans to kill off his whole family because it would be best for the world if mankind were eliminated. As some critics of the movie have already said, Noah is portrayed as an animal-rights activist and environmentalist wacko, not unlike Aronofsky himself.

We ought not to support this agenda by watching the movie. We ought not to think that we can watch it “with discernment” and be unaffected by the twisting of scripture and the forceful preaching of a false gospel which is no gospel. High-budget films like this one make use of powerful tools, special effects, and emotionally manipulative music to get across their message. We must listen to the warning of our Lord: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit” (Matt. 7:15–17). Aronofsky is a corrupt tree. Beware!

  1. Noah is a profane dramatization of holy men of God by unholy men.

Noah is a profaning of the sacred. I admit that it is a hard question whether we may watch the dramatization of fictitious people and of acts of piety by fellow Christians. But it ought not to be a hard question whether we may watch the dramatization of real men of God, in scripture no less, and of their acts of piety, by men of the world! I cannot watch that. My conscience cries out against it.

Just think. Noah was one of the greatest men of God in Biblical history. He was not perfect, of course, as became evident in his drunkenness after the flood. But he was a man who “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8). He was one with whom Jehovah established his everlasting covenant of grace (6:18, 9:8–17). He was one in whose heart God worked strong faith so that he “being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Heb. 11:7). He and his family were the only ones left of the seed of the woman in those days, and they valiantly lived in the midst of that crooked and perverse generation as the people of the living God over against the world. Noah is in heaven now in his soul, and we will join him soon. He was an outstanding man of God.

Now think. Would you dare to pretend that you are Noah and act out his faith, his piety, and his preaching? Maybe you would. Maybe a child would do that on a small scale. Maybe a catechism or school teacher would do that on a small scale to bring the story alive for the children. But would you dare to watch an unbeliever doing it? Some will say that Russell Crowe, who plays Noah in the movie, is a Christian because he talked about getting baptized a few years ago. Some might say that Anthony Hopkins, who plays Methuselah, also found God while fighting alcoholism. [2] But this is absurd. No, Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, and the others in Noah are men and women of the world. These people are acting out sacred Biblical history? Russell Crowe is Noah? Anthony Hopkins is Methuselah? This is a mockery of the faith and piety of the holy men of God whom they are pretending to be. It is a profaning of the sacred work of Jehovah God in the lives of these men. As one of our ministers once wrote about acting out the holy life of anyone, “To pray, repent of sin, love your wife, or any other calling of God, is too serious to pretend, aside from any good motive. For entertainment, it is blasphemous.”[3]

Add this. If you watch the movie, from that moment on you will have the image of these ungodly actors burned into your mind. When you open your Bible and read Genesis 6-9, the image of Russell Crowe with long, shaggy hair and a beard will leap into your mind, as if he is Noah! When you talk about the man with the longest lifespan in history, the image of Anthony Hopkins living in a cave will come to mind, as if he is Methuselah! That is no small objection to watching the movie.

  1. Noah is not the way God wants us to be taught the scriptures.

Noah is a motion picture. It involves images. There is nothing wrong with making images, or even motion pictures. The Heidelberg Catechism clarifies that when it says that creatures “may be represented” (L.D. 35). We do not condemn art. We do not condemn the making of images of creatures. We celebrate good art. We seek to glorify our God through it. But God condemns the making of images as a means of worshiping him. That is the second commandment: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them” (Ex. 20:4-5). Therefore, as the  Catechism teaches, we must “in no wise represent God by images, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his Word” (L.D. 35). That is why the 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ was so objectionable. It was image worship. Christ is God. To make an image of Christ is to make an image of God. This too is why we must not watch Noah. Note well: If God is brought into this film, it is a sin! If the voice of God speaks to Noah in a dream, for example, that voice is an image of God, a representation of his voice, and that is blasphemous. On the other hand, if God is not brought into this film, that too is a sin, a gross distortion of the true history in which God has the central role.

God does not want us to be taught the history of scripture by means of images and movies. This is the same old controversy about icons. The Reformers rejected the Roman Catholic use of icons, or images, as a means of teaching the people. Our Catechism asks the question, “But may not images be tolerated in the churches as books to the laity? No; for we must not pretend to be wiser than God, who will have his people taught, not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of his word” (L.D. 35). We may add: God will not have us taught by speaking images, actors and actresses on the movie screen. God will have us to be taught by the lively preaching of his word. To the Greeks living in Paul’s day the preaching of the cross of Christ was foolishness. They wanted oratory and drama, philosophy and theater, but Paul assured the Corinthians that “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). He added: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Cor. 1:21–25).

Maybe you reply that you still plan to go to church and hear the preaching on Sunday. You do not plan to put aside the preaching in order to learn about Noah through this movie. But that misses the point. God will not have us taught about him by images. God forbids it. God has commanded us in his word how we are to worship him and learn about him. His way is not visual, but verbal. He wants us to learn not from images, but from words.

In conclusion, I encourage you, beloved young people, to think hard about this matter. Movie-watching is a widespread problem in the churches today. Too many Christians watch movies, and I fear that they do so with little or no discretion. The temptation is very strong. I feel it too. But we must remember that we are pilgrims and strangers in this earth. We must have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but reprove them. We must walk as children of light. We must not set our affection on things of the earth. We must do everything that we do to the glory of God. I pray that we might be given grace not to indulge in this worldly entertainment.

 

[1] One example is Christian movie critic Brian Godawa who gives a critique of the Noah script in an online article: http://godawa.com/movieblog/darren-aronofskys-noah-environmentalist-wacko/. I found the quotations from Darren Aronofsky and gained some insight into his agenda for this movie from this article. See also: http://h.tanalepy.net/?p=2568.

[2] Note that in another (R-rated) movie, this same Anthony Hopkins plays a cannibalistic serial killer named Hannibal Lecter.

[3] Barry Gritters, “Renewing the Battle: Drama, Television, and Movies.” Standard Bearer. Grand Rapids, MI. Vol. 69, No. 19, p. 448. This series, found in volumes 69 and 70 of the SB, issues a strong and still timely warning against the powerful allures of drama. The series was written under the rubric “The Strength of Youth.” I highly recommend it to you young people who, along with me, were not old enough to read it at the time it was written!

Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit: And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel” (Amos 7:14-15).

If you would ask me how I was called into the ministry of God’s Word, I could hardly do better than to quote and apply to myself these words of Amos the prophet. For like Amos, I was no minister, nor was I a minister’s son; but I was the son of a farmer: the Lord took me as I was following a certain path, and he said to me, “Go, preach to my people Israel.”

In this article, I will tell you how it happened.

But first some background. I was born on December 21, 1982 in Grand Rapids, Michigan to James and Kathi Holstege. I am the first of their four children. My three siblings are Nate, Lynn, and Joe. We were raised in the Protestant Reformed Churches, as were both our parents, because our ancestors left the Christian Reformed Church with Hoeksema, Ophoff, and Danhof in 1924 and continued in the PRC up to this day. I was baptized in Southeast PRC and remained a member there until entering the ministry. My parents fulfilled their baptismal vows by sending me to Adams Street Christian School and Covenant Christian High School. In the summers, my dad put us to work on his celery farm plowing, planting, weeding, harvesting, and doing other jobs. When he sold the farm and transitioned into a greenhouse business in the mid-1990s, I transitioned too. After high school I began to pursue a two-year degree in business management at Davenport University with a view to joining the family business. But after one year of college, that changed…

The Lord took me and said, “Go, preach to my people Israel.”

Let me tell you a simple little story of a day I will never forget. What happened on that day was not a mystical experience, not a special revelation, not a vision of God or Christ. But it was certainly a moment in which the Lord took me. It was a day in the summer after my first year of college. I was working in an empty greenhouse, cleaning up after a busy spring season. I was alone, sweeping the dust off the floor. I had a lot of time to think. I must have been thinking about how I had not enjoyed my first year of college. Or perhaps I was fretting over the high tuition expenses that I faced in my second year (I had grants and scholarships to pay for the first year). I began to feel deeply disturbed. I did not want to go into debt for a college education that I did not value or enjoy. And I was very troubled by my lack of enthusiasm about my current path. What happened next was a decisive moment. Yet it will sound very simple. In my mind, I heard my own voice say these words: “You know you have to do it.” That is, you know you must discontinue your current path and pursue the ministry of the gospel. The words were absolute. I do not know how I knew I had to do it. But I knew. And that’s the story.

What happened that day was dreadful to me. I wanted nothing to do with the ministry. I never considered the ministry as a child. I felt no urge or desire to be a minister. In fact, I felt an urge not to be a minister. I did not feel bold or brave enough to preach. I was somewhat shy as a child, and the thought of standing in the pulpit in front of all those people terrified me! I felt the fear of Moses when he said, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10).

Yet the call was overpowering. I could not resist it. It still strikes me how inexplicable it is that I became a minister. Like Amos, I was not the son of a minister, nor a relative of any minister, but I was the son of a farmer. Like Amos, I was just going about my business pursuing a life in the greenhouse industry, not wishing to preach the word. I had no reason to pursue the ministry. I was not drawn to any particular aspect of the ministry. I did not have close interaction with any ministers. I was told by my childhood pastor Rev. Dale Kuiper on a number of occasions that I should consider the ministry. When shaking his hand after a worship service, or after catechism class, he would say, “You really ought to consider the ministry.” I always smiled and brushed his comment aside. I did not agree, and that was that. I was going to enter my dad’s greenhouse business, and that was all there was to it. But I could never fully shake off Rev. Kuiper’s simple words. I was haunted by them. I suppose he planted a seed in my heart, unknown to me, which the Lord later caused to sprout into an irresistible urge to go and preach to his people. Beyond that, I cannot explain what led me to leave the path I was on and to pursue the ministry. But it was the right decision. I never once looked back or doubted the decision in the least. On the contrary, I grew more and more convinced of the call.

Soon I told my parents (who somehow already suspected it). I did not return to Davenport, but I took one semester of classes at Grand Rapids Community College, and then transferred all my credits to Calvin College. God enabled me to succeed and to enjoy my studies. He helped me learn Latin at Calvin, then Greek at our seminary. He helped me finish college and graduate from Calvin in 2006. He helped me through four more grueling but happy years of study at our seminary. In my fourth year the professors sent me to Randolph, Wisconsin for my internship with another Rev. D. Kuiper (not Dale, but Doug). Then God brought me my wife too. I met Leah Regnerus not long after moving to Randolph. We dated throughout my internship and became engaged in the spring of 2010. That summer God confirmed my internal call with two external calls. I accepted the call from First PRC of Holland and was ordained into the ministry in October. In November Leah and I were married, and one year later we were blessed with a son, Gabriel James. Last August the Lord blessed us again, this time with twins, Kirsten Leigh and Kiley Danielle.

If I would give any advice to young men considering the ministry, among other things, I would say this: If you can with a free conscience pursue any other career, do it. If you have a desire to do any other kind of work, do that. And this too: If you were pursuing the ministry, but did not feel compelled to do it, and are now pursuing some other form of work, you made the right decision. You need not feel any guilt or shame about leaving the path that leads to the ministry. If you are called to the ministry, you will know. You might not know with absolute certainty right away, as I did. But that certainty will grow stronger and stronger if you are called. Contrariwise, your doubts will grow greater and greater if you are not called.

Another way of putting it is this: Pursue the ministry only if you feel compelled to do so, only if you can do nothing else. Do not pursue the ministry because someone is pressuring you to do so. You must not be called by a man, but by God! Do not pursue the ministry because you want the attention and praise of men. You must not seek to please men, but God and Christ (Gal. 1:10). Do not pursue the ministry because you enjoy public speaking and are good at it. There are other ways you can use that gift, and that is not even the essential gift of the ministry (I Cor. 2:1-4). Do not pursue the ministry because you love the intellectual life that you see in the ministry. You will find that much of the work of the ministry is of a practical nature (visiting, counseling, meetings). Do not seek the ministry because you want to prove that you are somebody to your parents or grandparents. Even if you do prove it, you will then be stuck in a position in which you never wanted to be.

Pursue the ministry only if you cannot do anything else. If you have the urge to preach the word of God to his people, pursue the ministry! If you feel the longing to reprove, rebuke, and exhort them with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2), pursue the ministry! If you feel compelled to instruct the church in the truth of the Scriptures and to call them to repentance and faith, seek the ministry! If you can find no rest until you have declared on behalf of Christ, “Be ye reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20), then pursue the ministry of the gospel. Pursue the ministry if you want to follow Jesus in the office of minister of the gospel. Pursue the ministry if you long to have God glorified through your preaching. Pursue the ministry if you love God, love his truth, and love his church. Pursue it if you long to comfort God’s people (Isa. 40:1). Pursue it if you are ready and willing to deny yourself many things and to give yourself fully for your whole life to this work.

If you are truly called, the Lord will take you and say to you, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” Woe unto you if you do not give heed to that call!

Young people, Amalek is coming to attack you and to destroy you utterly. Are you ready to fight? Is your sword in your hand? Are you following Jesus, your brave captain? Is Jehovah your banner?

According to the text Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. Amalek was a nation in southern Canaan made up of the descendants of Amalek, the grandson of Esau (see Gen. 14:7; Num. 13:29; Gen. 36:12). Thus Amalek was not just another heathen nation, but a people tracing their ancestry back to Esau, Isaac, and Abraham, and thus to the line of the covenant. Amalek himself did not grow up in the sphere of the covenant as did his grandfather Esau, but Amalek and the Amalekites were the apostate descendants of Esau, that reprobate man who forsook the covenant. Amalekites today are members of apostate churches who say they are Christians, but practice the religion of the world: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Amalek hates the true Christ and his church. Amalek attacked Israel with one purpose: to destroy her utterly and keep her out of the promised land.

Amalek attacked Israel when she was young. Young people, this word is for you! Israel was not an old, well-established, battle-ready nation at this time. No, Israel was still young, unorganized, and inexperienced as a nation. Israel had been delivered from Egypt through the Red Sea only a few months earlier, and had just begun her long, difficult journey through the wilderness to the promised land. Amalek attacked her precisely when she was still young and vulnerable (see Deut. 25:17–18). Likewise the Amalek of today attacks you, young people, precisely now when you are still young, still near the outset of the Christian life, still inexperienced in many of the trials of life, still spiritually vulnerable. Amalek attacks you in the workplace, neighborhood, college classroom, sports field, and elsewhere. Pay attention, young people. This word is for you!

Amalek attacks you through powerful temptations. A young Amalekite man may tempt a young Israelite woman to go out with him. He says to her, “Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are? We could have a lot of fun together. I would love to take you out sometime. We could go dancing together or catch a flick.” He tries to draw her by his flattery, charm, and good looks. Amalek attacks. Or a young Amalekite may tempt a young Israelite to leave his Christian friends and enjoy worldly pleasures with him. He says, “Come! Let’s go to Egypt. You don’t want to wander in this wilderness. You don’t want to live such a strict lifestyle. You don’t have to deny yourself. You don’t have to avoid a good time. Come! Let’s go to Egypt. Let’s have some fun! Let’s go to the bar and get drunk. Let’s go to the theater. Let’s go to the dance club. Let’s go to the casino. Let’s go to Egypt.” Amalek attacks. Or a young Amalekite may tempt a young Israelite by saying, “You should come to my church. You don’t want to go to your church. Your church is so strict and intolerant. Your church is too harsh and old-fashioned. You have to sit through two long, boring sermons every Sunday? Come to my church. We are open-minded and tolerant. We know how to have fun. Our worship services are contemporary with a band, dramas, and skits. You will enjoy it.” Amalek attacks.

Young people, are you ready to fight back?

Israel fought back. Moses appointed Joshua to lead Israel into battle (v. 9). Joshua chose men and led them into battle against Amalek. Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of a hill where they watched the battle down below (v. 10). Moses carried the rod of God in his hand. Whenever Moses held up that rod toward heaven, Israel prevailed against Amalek. But whenever Moses let down the rod, Amalek prevailed against Israel (v. 11). Therefore Aaron and Hur took a stone and set Moses on it. Then they each took hold of one of Moses’ hands and held them up toward heaven until the setting of the sun (v. 12). Then Joshua discomfited Amalek with the edge of the sword, scattering them and forcing them to flee (v. 13). Israel won the victory by an amazing wonder of the power and grace of Jehovah.

Young people, note first that God gave Israel the victory, and God gives us the victory too. The Israelites could not win the victory of their own strength, and neither can we. But God fought for Israel, and he fights for us. Jehovah was on their side. He gave them power. He caused their swords to find their marks. He turned the tide of the battle. He made Israel to prevail. He gave the victory, moreover, through Moses and Joshua, that is, through Christ. Moses and Joshua were types of Christ—Moses up on the hill and Joshua down in the valley. Christ fought for us up on the hill of Calvary with his arms stretched out on the cross. He fought against Amalek and against the devil who works through them. He fought by shedding his blood. He fought until he won the victory. He is greater than Moses because he never grew weary, never let down his arms from the cross, and never needed help from any other. He kept both arms stretched out until the battle was won. He fought in the darkness and finally uttered the victory cry, “It is finished!” Christ also fights for us down in the valley of our lives in our battles against strong temptations. He fights by his Spirit whom he pours into our hearts. He fights by his Word that he preaches through faithful ministers. He fights by giving us the will and strength to fight against the Amalekites when they attack us.

Second, note that God gave Israel the victory through her own fighting and by faith. Israel fought against Amalek. God did not give Israel the victory apart from her fighting. Israel fought. They took up the sword and fought. Moses’ hands held up to heaven were a sign of their faith in Jehovah for the victory. You too must fight. You must take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17), and fight against Amalek, as Jesus fought against the devil. You must fight by saying to the young Amalekite who tempts you to date him, “It is written, Thou shalt not make marriages with unbelievers because they will turn you away from serving the LORD (Deut. 7:3-4).” It is written, “Can two walk together except they be agreed (Amos 3:3)?” It is written, “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14).” You must fight against the young Amalekite who tempts you to go into the world by saying, “It is written, have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but reprove them (Eph. 5:11).” You must fight against the young Amalekite who tempts you to abandon the true church and go to his apostate church by saying, “It is written, stand fast and hold the traditions you have been taught (2 Thess. 2:15).” It is written, “Be faithful unto death, and Christ will give you a crown of life (Rev. 2:10).” You, young people, must fight against Amalek. Are you ready to do so? Is your sword in your hand? Are your hands lifted up toward heaven in faith toward God?

Are you also helping to hold up the hands of your fellow young people? Remember Aaron and Hur. Hold up the hands of your fellow young people when you see them struggling in this battle of faith! When your friend is sorely tempted to date a young man of the world, hold up her hands! Don’t pull down her hands by telling her to go for it, but hold up her hands by urging her to say No to that young man. When your fellow young person is grievously tempted to follow Amalek into Egypt and indulge in worldly pleasures, hold up his hands! Don’t pull down his hands by indulging in those pleasures yourself, but hold up his hands by urging him to say no and to avoid those unfruitful works of darkness. When your fellow young person is powerfully tempted to leave the true church and to join a false or apostatizing church, hold up her hands! Don’t tell her that it does not matter what church she attends, but hold up her hands by urging her to be faithful to the truth of Jesus Christ and warning her against the evil of apostasy. Hold up the hands of your friends toward heaven where Christ sits at God’s right hand. Hold up their hands toward Christ who died for us and saved us from sin and hell. Hold up their hands that they might look to him in faith in all their temptations.

The victory is sure, for Jehovah is our banner. After God gave Israel the victory over Amalek, Moses erected an altar and named it “Jehovah-nissi,” that is, “Jehovah is my Banner” (v. 15). Jehovah is our banner. We fight under the banner of Jehovah himself. We fight in his cause, by the power of his Spirit, and as soldiers of the cross of his Son. Therefore the victory is sure. Amalek will not prevent us from reaching the heavenly Canaan. We are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us. Fight this battle, young people, in that confidence.

Suffering is a grim reality in this world. But the God who controls it by his almighty power is also real. The question therefore follows, What is God’s purpose in our sufferings? The last part of the book of Genesis (Ch. 37-50) is largely devoted to answering this question. The inspired writer answers the question by way of the story of Joseph.

Joseph was one of the twelve sons of Jacob. He was the eleventh son born to Jacob in Padan-Aram. He followed Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun and his sister Dinah. Only Benjamin was born after him. Joseph is seventeen years old at the beginning of our story (Gen. 37:2). He is called a “lad.” He is no longer a child, but he is not yet a man. He is a young person. In fact, at the age of seventeen, he is the same age as many of you young people. Later when Pharaoh exalted him in Egypt, Joseph was thirty years old (Gen. 41:46). Thus, the period of his suffering was about thirteen years. It stretched from his late teens through all of his twenties.

Joseph represents the godly young person who suffers for his godliness. Joseph is a spiritually-mature, godly young man. The whole story portrays him as such. He is godlier at the young age of seventeen than his much older brothers who seem to slumber in wickedness until late in life. Joseph is a young man with conviction. He loves God, and hates sin and evil. And he suffers for it. He suffers not “as a murderer or as a thief or as an evil doer or as a busybody,” as Peter would say, but “as a Christian” (I Peter 4:15-16). Joseph does not so much suffer physical pain or financial woes or the loss of a loved one. But he suffers persecution for righteousness’ sake. He suffers persecution at the hands of his family, which was the church of that day, and at the hands of the world. But Joseph recognizes that God has a purpose with his suffering. In the end he confesses that, although others meant evil against him, God meant it unto good (Gen. 50:20). Joseph represents you godly, believing young people. You are Josephs. I know that some of you might look more like Joseph’s brothers at this point in your life. But I am not interested in that right now. I will address you as Josephs.

Joseph suffered greatly, more greatly than I have ever suffered, and probably more than most of you. As I write this article, I wonder what it was like. I almost have to go to Joseph and ask him: “Joseph, what was it like? What did you experience? Let me walk in your shoes. Let me stand at your side and see what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt. I want to get a sense of what your suffering was like. Otherwise I cannot relate to you.” Are you prepared to do that with me? Let us walk in Joseph’s shoes for a moment.

First, let us look into Joseph’s home life for it was there that his suffering began (Gen. 37:1-11). The first thing we see is that Joseph was hated by his brothers, and that hatred grew. Their hatred was kindled when Joseph brought to Jacob “their evil report” (v. 2). Joseph informed his father that his brethren had a reputation for evil among the natives. We can easily surmise that Jacob rebuked the brothers for that, and they in turn despised Joseph for telling their father. Their hatred grew when Jacob showed open favoritism to Joseph by giving him a “coat of many colors” (v. 3). In fact, when this occurred, they could not “speak peaceably” to him any longer (v. 4). From that point on, Joseph heard from them only the rough words and sneers of those on the brink of exploding in anger. Their hatred grew white hot when Joseph told them his two dreams in which they made obeisance to him (v. 5-11). If you can imagine, we read that “they hated him yet the more for his dreams” (v. 8). In all this, Joseph suffered. His own flesh and blood, those who should have been his spiritual allies, had turned against him.

Can you relate to Joseph already? Have you ever been hated for righteousness’ sake by those who should be your spiritual allies? I see a young man who refuses to party and get drunk while his friends are doing so. For his godly resolve he is mocked and left out. I see a young lady who will not go to the movie theater when her best friend wants to go. For her desire to live the antithesis she is abandoned by that “best friend” with a sneer. I see a young person who refuses to do sexual things with the one he or she is dating. For this young person’s chastity he or she is hated and mocked. I hear godly young people like Joseph being called “goody, goodies,” and “tattle-tales.” I hear them being reviled with words like, “Oh, you think you’re so perfect. You can’t do anything wrong.” It is painful to be hated.

But there is more. Joseph’s suffering was only just beginning. Joseph’s brothers made him suffer the worst possible evil (Gen. 37:12-28). Look and listen. The brothers have been gone a long time in Shechem seeking better pasture for their father’s flock. Jacob sends Joseph to inquire as to their well-being. Joseph journeys to Shechem, but he is told that the brothers have moved on to Dothan. So to Dothan he goes. As he approaches, the brothers see him coming. Listen to their words: “That dreamer cometh. We are far from home. We have an opportunity here! No one will know. We can silence him and his dreams!” An ingenious plan is hatched: “Let us kill him, throw him into a pit, and blame it on a beast.” But Reuben urges a modification: “Let us not kill him, but throw him into this empty cistern.” To this they agree. Now put yourself in Joseph’s shoes. He walks up. He greets them. But only silence replies. A strange aura is in the air. Something does not feel right. Their eyes have a gloomy look. They stare at him blankly. Then, without warning, hands are upon him. His prized tunic is violently ripped off his body. He is pushed forward to a dark hole. “What do they have in mind?” Joseph must have wondered. “Are they going to drown me?” Then he is hurtling down into the pit. A thud. A dry bottom. He looks up, but they are already gone. He is overwhelmed by a deep sadness. But soon, shadows dance on the floor of the pit. He hears voices, and looking up, he sees faces. Hands pull him out of the pit. “What is this?! Was this all just a cruel joke? But who are these strangers? And why are they leading me away?” He perhaps hears the jangling of silver in the pouches of his brothers as they walk away, but little does he know, he has just been sold into slavery. He is put among the other merchandise and carried away into Egypt, as far as he knows, never to see his father again.

Can you relate to Joseph now? Have you ever been thrown into the pit? I see a young man getting beat up, kicked, punched, pushed down, not because of sinfulness on his part, but simply because he is disliked. I see a boy being slammed against the bathroom wall at school or a girl being slapped in the face, simply for being diligent students and godly young people. Have you ever been sold into slavery, i.e. decisively rejected by brother or friend? I see a young person who sits home every weekend because no one cares to call him or her. No one loves him or her. I see another who has been abandoned by his peers because he is not cool enough. I see a young man and woman who terminate their dating relationship and so decisively split ways that they can no longer look at or talk to each other. To be rejected and despised is great suffering.

But there is more. Joseph’s suffering increased even more. He suffered also at the hands of the world, in Egypt, in Potiphar’s house (Gen. 39). At first things went quite well for Joseph there. But soon Potiphar’s wife laid her eyes upon him and lusted after him. She enticed him to lie with her, but he steadfastly refused. But she did not take no for an answer. She even tried to force him, but he slipped away. Then Joseph suffered again. Potiphar’s wife slandered him to the servants of the house: “This Hebrew servant tried to rape me! He came into my room and tried to lie with me. But I cried aloud. Then he ran and dropped his robe here.” She slandered him again to Potiphar. Potiphar was filled with wrath. He seized Joseph, apparently gave him no chance to defend himself, and led him to the prison. He put Joseph in chains, as we read in Psalm 105:17-18: He “was sold for a servant: whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron.” Joseph could get no lower than this. He had reached a depth of suffering to which we struggle to relate. He had been sold into slavery, slandered for his chastity, thrown unjustly into prison and now he was bound in chains, in a dark, dingy prison cell, far away from home and father.

Can you relate to Joseph? Have you ever been slandered by a wife of Potiphar for righteousness’ sake? Some of you have been unjustly treated by your unbelieving bosses for your refusal to work on Sunday. Some of you have been called names: You bigot! You hateful, intolerant people! Some of you have perhaps been mocked by your ungodly professors at college, or even been given bad grades on your homework for your Christian views. These are the sufferings of Joseph. These are our sufferings.

God had a purpose in Joseph’s sufferings.

God had a purpose first of all for Joseph. His purpose was Joseph’s good. Joseph himself recognized this later on when he said to his brothers, “Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good…” (Gen. 50:20). God intended to do good to Joseph through his sufferings. Indeed, God used Joseph’s sufferings as the means of exalting him. God purposed the hatred of his brothers as the means to bring him to Potiphar’s house where he blessed Joseph and exalted him as overseer of Potiphar’s house (39:2-6). God purposed the slander of Potiphar’s wife as the means to lead Joseph into the prison of Pharaoh where God blessed Joseph again and exalted him over all the other prisoners (39:21-23). God purposed Joseph’s imprisonment as the means to lead him into Pharaoh’s house to interpret his dreams, and thus as the means to exalt him to the highest position of power and honor in Egypt, under Pharaoh (41:41). God exalted Joseph through his sufferings so that Joseph would come to realize that his exaltation was solely the work of God, and not of himself. God exalted him through suffering so that Joseph would not trust in his own flesh but would look to God. He exalted him through suffering to reveal to Joseph the great power of his saving grace.

God’s purpose in your sufferings is also your good. You may not always recognize it right away. But God always wills suffering for your good: to test your faith and reveal to you and others that you are a true believer; to purify your faith and obedience from the dross of self-trust and self-confidence; to chasten you, if you are walking in disobedience, so that you turn from sin and serve God again. But even if you cannot put your finger on what God’s purpose is, you may know that his purpose is your good and salvation and glory.

God also had a purpose in Joseph’s sufferings for Joseph’s brothers and family. Joseph also recognized this when he said to his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:7). God used Joseph’s sufferings as the means to put Joseph in a position to save his family, the church. God intended to send seven years of famine, so terrible that Jacob and his family would nearly starve and be in danger of death. God’s purpose was then to preserve his covenant people, out of whose bosom Christ would come, through Joseph. He purposed thereby to show that the salvation of his people and the coming of Christ were wholly dependent on his sovereign, saving grace.

Moreover, God’s purpose was to save his church through Joseph’s sufferings, and I submit to you that Joseph was therefore a type of Christ.[1] One man suffered that others might live. Joseph suffered for the earthly salvation of the church of his day; in like manner, Christ suffered for the eternal salvation of the elect church of all ages. Joseph, although still a sinner, suffered as a righteous man; Christ suffered as the perfectly righteous man. Joseph suffered the hatred of his own family, the church of his day; Christ also suffered the hatred of his fellow Nazarenes, the church of his day. Joseph suffered ultimate and decisive rejection when sold into slavery; Christ suffered that same kind of rejection when he was crucified at Calvary. Joseph was thrown into the pit and then into prison; Christ descended into the bottomless pit and prison of hell. Joseph submitted to great humiliation, but was thereby exalted by God to great exaltation in Egypt; Christ submitted to the deepest humiliation, but was thereby exalted to the highest exaltation at God’s right hand. Joseph from his exalted position saved the church of his day; Christ from his exalted position saves the church in our day.

So remember, young people, that as Joseph suffered to save his brethren, Christ suffered to save you. Also remember this: We must still suffer as Christians because we are members of Christ’s body. We do not suffer for our sins because Christ accomplished that perfectly at the cross. But we suffer to fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ (Col. 1:24). We suffer as partakers of Christ’s sufferings (I Peter 4:13). And therefore, Jesus tells us, we are blessed! We must rejoice and be exceedingly glad when we suffer for his sake! (Mt. 5:12). It is a great privilege to suffer for Jesus’ sake! And such suffering will be rewarded with a crown of glory in heaven. Also this: The sufferings that we experience now are not worthy to be compared to that crown of glory because the glory will far surpass it (Rom. 8:18).

Finally, God has a purpose in Joseph’s suffering for himself, namely, his own glory. God led Jacob and his family into Egypt in order that he might later deliver Israel from bondage by a mighty hand and a stretched out arm—to reveal his power and grace, unto his glory! God sent seven years of terrible famine in order that he might save Israel from starvation and preserve his covenant people—to reveal his covenant faithfulness, unto his glory! God led Joseph into the deepest depths of suffering in order that he might exalt him to the highest heights of power and honor—to reveal his power and grace, unto his glory! God wills your suffering in life and death in order that he might comfort you in it by his Spirit and save you from death’s dark pit through the resurrection of Christ—to reveal his power and mercy, unto his glory! So give glory to God in your sufferings. Even when we walk through the difficult paths of sorrow and rejection, he is worthy of our praise. Lift up his name and exalt him.

The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]

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