Theology 1: Introduction to Systematic Theology

This blog post is part of a series on Systematic Theology. The method of this series is to follow Wayne Grudem’s well-known Systematic Theology. This series also interacts explicitly with Systematic Theology as related to ministry to South Asian Muslims. These blog posts follow Grudem but include significant modifications. The starting point of this study of Systematic Theology follows Grudem’s two presuppositions. “(1) that the Bible is true and that it is, in fact, our only standard of truth; (2) that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists, and that He is who the Bible says he is: the Creator of heaven and earth and all things in them” (Grudem, 26). Click here for the audio teaching of this lesson.

In this introduction to Systematic Theology, there are three primary questions:

  1. What is systematic theology?
  2. Why should Christians study systematic theology?
  3. How should Christians study systematic theology?

What is Systematic Theology?

“Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today’ about any given topic” (Grudem, 21). A doctrine is what the whole Bible teaches about a given topic (Grudem, 25). 

 The best way to understand systematic theology is to compare it with other methods of studying the Bible and theology. Systematic theology is the second of four parts of a process of developing practical theology.[1]

  1. Analytical Biblical Theology is the process of understanding individual books of the Bible or passages. The foundation for good systematic theology is a rigorous study of separate books of the Bible to understand what they teach. Our goal here is to learn what the authors of Scripture meant in their original context.
  2. Synthetic Biblical Theology or Systematic Theology compares and contrasts different passages and books to answer what the whole Bible teaches on a particular subject. Systematic Theology usually only answers the question of what the Bible meant in its original context. The good news is that what was true when the Bible was written is true today. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Whatever the Bible teaches about God, Jesus, salvation, and other subjects is as true today as it was in the first century.
  3. Hermeneutics is the bridge that brings together what the Bible meant when it was originally written with what it means for practical ministry today. In point #2, I noted that the truth about God does not change. Since the Scriptures teach that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, we know that God is all-knowing and all-powerful today. Since Scripture teaches that salvation is by grace through faith, we know that this is also true today. However, theology needs to be applied in many practical ways. The contexts of our lives are different than the times when Scripture was originally written. Therefore, we must go through a process of interpreting how to live out Scripture today.
  4. Practical Theology is how to live out Scripture today. Practical Theology has many different aspects, such as missiology, ecclesiology, apologetics, and ethics.  

Three Reasons Christians Should Study Theology

  1. To gain the ability to respond to Muslim questions and objections. Many Christians have difficulty answering Muslim objections to the faith because they lack a foundation in their own faith. For example, if a Christian has a poor understanding of the Trinity, how can they defend this doctrine against Muslim objections? Those in Muslim ministry have a significant advantage in studying theology. Often encounters with different faiths become an excellent opportunity to strengthen our own understanding of what the Bible teaches.
  2. To overcome false doctrines in the South Asian churches. Unfortunately, some churches in every part of the world are drawn away into false teaching and beliefs. This phenomenon is not unique to South Asia, but it is present in South Asia. Some examples of false teaching in South Asia include the prosperity gospel, Oneness Pentecostalism, and liberation theology. These false teachings are often attractive when we lack strong biblical foundations. Various cults, such as Jehovah’s Witness and Mormons, have found their way into South Asia. Studying theology helps us think clearly about how to respond appropriately to these groups.
  3. To help us think clearly about God and doctrine. All of us practice theology, meaning that every person has ideas about God and what is true. The act of studying theology provides a process to ensure that the study of theology is done well. It is inherently a good thing to understand God well. As we understand Him, our hearts turn towards Him in worship! Right thinking about God guides us in walking rightly in the world. Likewise, the study of various doctrines guides us to think clearly about doctrines such as sin, angels, or prayer. While understanding does not necessarily lead to obedience, it helps us walk rightly with God.

Four Ways Christians Should Study Systematic Theology

  1. With Bible Study. Like the Bereans (Acts 17:11), we should go straight to Scripture when hearing teaching to learn from the Word whether or not it is true. Before embarking on a study of systematic theology, it is necessary to have a deep knowledge of God’s Word.
  2. With Prayer. The Spirit guides us into all truth (John 16:13). Any pursuit of truth must begin with prayer and be bathed in prayer.
  3. With Humility. “Knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor 8:1). Remember that “God has chosen what is foolish in the world” (1 Cor 1:27). Too often, a study of theology leads to pride, much like the Pharisees of the New Testament. Their pride led to an outward religion that lacked an inward spirituality. We must approach a study of theology with soft hearts, eager to learn from God and others. As God teaches us, we should seek to grow in love and humility, rather than pride.
  4. With Others. Studying theology with others protects us from false belief. If we hold a view that is contrary to other Christians that we respect, then we should humbly dialogue with them and have an openness in our hearts that we are the ones requiring correction. 

Islamic Theology vs. Christian Theology

Islamic theology and Christian theology differ in their presuppositions. This theological study is built on two presuppositions. Here they are compared to Islamic presuppositions.

Christian PresuppositionsIslamic Presuppositions
1. The Bible is true and is the only standard of truth.1. The Qur’an is true and is the primary standard of truth.
2. The God who is spoken of in the Bible exists. He is who the Bible says He is, the Creator of heaven and earth and all things in them.2. The God who is spoken of in the Qur’an exists. He is who the Qur’an says he is, the Creator of heaven and earth and all things in them.

While these presuppositions are almost identical, the change from the Bible to the Qur’an as the standard of truth leads to very different theological conclusions. In reality, a third presupposition should be added here about the importance of Jesus in Christian theology versus Muhammad in Islamic belief. I

t is not surprising that a large portion of disagreements between Christians and Muslims center on debates of whether the Bible or the Qur’an is the Word of God. I hope to write more blog posts on that subject.

In South Asian Islam, it is also helpful to know how most Muslims relate Qur’anic teaching to practical living. In Islam, there are four major schools of teaching/jurisprudence (Ar. fiqh). Each of these schools of Islamic thought approach Scripture in different ways. In South Asia, the primary approach is called Hanafi, which comes from Abu Hanifa (d. 767 AD) of Persia. About a third of Muslims in the world are Hanafi, making this the most common fiqh. In South Asia, the Deobandis, Barelvis, Tablighi Jamaat, Sufis, and most others are Hanafi. In contrast, Zakir Naik and some other movements are Salafi, which is heavily opposed to Hanafi Islam. 

In simple terms, Hanafi fiqh permits integrating local practices into Islam (e.g., dargahs). Hanafi fiqh is one reason folk practices are so common in South Asian Islam. Here are the sources of authority in Hanafi Islam listed in descending degrees of authority.

  • The Qur’an is the highest authority.
  • The Hadith is the secondary authority. Zakir Naik and other Salafis reject any authorities past this point.
  • Qiyas. A qiyas is a deductive analogy based on the Qur’an and Hadith. The original jurists, such as Abu Hanifa, wrote the apply the Qur’an and Hadith to issues not addressed in the Qur’an and Hadith. To do so, they used deductive reasoning (i.e., qiyas). The writings of these ancient jurists are foundational today for Islamic theology and practice. How Abu Hanafi interpreted and applied the Qur’an is considered by most to be authoritative in South Asia.
  • Ijtihad. An Ijtihad is the independent reasoning of a Mufti in response to a particular question. Usually, an ijtihad is a significant literary work. A good example in South Asia would be Ahmad Raza Khan Bareilvi’s writings on Muhammad existing as pure light from the beginning of creation. Khan’s writings on this subject have become a source of authority within the Barelvi movement.

Today, most Muslims in South Asia resolve their theology questions by asking for fatwas by Muftis. A Mufti is a highly educated Islamic scholar. Muslims will regularly write questions to these Muftis and ask for legal judgments (i.e., fatwas). For example, recently, some Muslims asked whether it is permissible to use alcoholic hand sanitizer during the Covid pandemic. Deobandi muftis wrote a fatwa calling this halal (Arabic for “permitted”) since no alcohol would be imbibed. The type of alcohol in hand sanitizer is different from that in alcoholic drinks. Likewise, they said it is permissible to sanitize mosques with alcoholic sanitizer. These Deobandi muftis based their opinions on all of the relevant information from the sources of authority above. The writing of fatwas like these also becomes another source of authority in South Asian Islamic practice. Often different schools of South Asian Islam write fatwas directly in contradiction of one another, especially the Deobandi and Barelvi schools. 

For Christians ministering among Muslims, it isn’t easy to navigate all of these sources of authority. However, most Muslims in South Asia are likewise ignorant of these books. Most have never read the Qur’an or Hadith, much less these other writings. Also, most South Asian Muslims believe that the Qur’an should only be read in Arabic. Since most South Asian Muslims do not read Arabic, they are, in essence, cut off from their primary source of authority. Instead, their religious leaders are their source of authority.

Compared to the layers of Islamic authority, studying and applying the Bible to our lives is relatively simple. While we value studying Scripture in its original Greek (New Testament) and Hebrew (Old Testament), we believe that God can speak to us through His Word in translated languages. The reasons that we think this will become clear in the next few weeks as we study the doctrine of Scripture.


[1] Please note that this process is different than what Grudem describes.

Systematic Theology Course

A women’s Bible study in South Asia.

“What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

2 Timothy 2:2 (CSB)

I am embarking on a theological education course with my disciples that will take a little over a year. Next week, I plan to begin teaching through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. I will make a weekly audio recording of these teachings, which I plan to upload to YouTube. I intend that each recording will cover one chapter. However, some chapters (such as the Person of Christ) will undoubtedly take more than one week. After I upload this recording, I will meet with a core of disciples to discuss this teaching. Each week, these brothers intend to make a recording in Urdu on the same subject. In this blog post, I am sharing why I am embarking on this process.

When the apostle Paul wrote 2 Timothy, he was preparing to die at the Roman government’s hands. He wrote to Timothy, his “dearly loved son” (1:2), calling him to Rome to give him final instructions before his death.

Throughout 2 Timothy, Paul emphasizes the passing of his teaching and his apostolic mission to Timothy. 2 Timothy was a succession letter. As Paul prepared to die, Timothy and others would take up his mission to the Gentiles. As Paul modeled, they would pioneer new places with the gospel, make disciples, and establish new churches.

One aspect of Timothy’s succession was a continuation of Paul’s teaching through Timothy. In 2 Timothy 1:13-14, Paul admonished Timothy,

“Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit through the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”

God entrusted this deposit to Paul (1:12). Through years of service together, Paul impressed his “teaching, conduct, purpose, faith” to Timothy (3:11). In 2 Timothy 1:13-14, Paul called on Timothy to continue in this teaching. Then in 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul commanded Timothy to continue to give that trust to others. Just as Paul developed other leaders, including both missionaries and pastors, Timothy was to do the same. In this way, the Pauline mission would continue and grow. Entrusting this teaching to others was one way that Timothy guarded the good deposit he received from Paul.

Paul’s mentorship of Timothy is a picture of our vision. An essential part of the missionary task is to develop more missionaries, just as Paul developed Timothy. To reach the Muslims of South Asia, we need to build local missionaries who can continue the core missionary task among Muslims. In training local workers, I need to explain where I see theological education like this and where it fits in the process. 

Here is our current discipleship plan for when a new Muslim-background believer chooses to follow Jesus. It is in three steps.

First, we teach them the 7 Commands of Christ.

  1. Repent and Believe – Luke 19:1-10
  2. Take Baptism – Acts 8:26-38
  3. Pray – Matthew 6:5-15
  4. Go and Make Disciples – John 4
  5. Love – Luke 10:25-37
  6. Take the Lord’s Supper – Luke 22:14-22
  7. Give – Luke 21:1-4

We teach the 7 Commands by helping new disciples first memorize the Bible story. Some can read the story for themselves, but many new believers are illiterate and require significant repetition to remember. After they learn the story, we ask four basic Bible study questions:

  • What do we learn about God?
  • What do we learn about people?
  • Is there anything we should stop doing?
  • Is there anything we should start doing?

The 7 Commands’ goal is to help new believers become obedient to the basic actions of the Christian life. As we teach these 7 Commands, we follow a pattern to help them grow in obedience. We begin each meeting by asking them how they obeyed the previous teachings. Then we teach the next command. Third, we make a concrete plan about how to obey the new command. In this way, we can help new believers become obedient to follow Jesus over their first month in Christ. At the end of this process, these believers are regularly studying the Word, praying, loving their families and neighbors, sharing the gospel, and meeting with others.

Second, after the Seven Commands, we continue to pour in Bible knowledge. We usually do this by teaching book-by-book through Scripture. The Gospel of Matthew is a typical go-to book after a Muslim first follows Jesus. During this time, the new believer continues to walk out the 7 Commands and make disciples of others, while growing in the Word.

Third, the formation of local churches is always the goal! Local churches are where long-term discipleship and teaching continues. Some new believers will emerge as leaders and desire more long-term training and instruction to grow as missionaries or pastors. This systematic theology course fits within this last category.

Therefore, this Systematic Theology course is designed and aimed at a particular group of believers. It is for those who are already doing the Great Commission among Muslims. This course is not basic discipleship but rather a next step for developing faithful partners in the work.

Bible Question: How Old was Timothy?

Friends and coworkers send me biblical questions on a fairly regular basis. Some of these questions are helpful for others as well. So, as I have a chance, I will put my answers here as well.

This morning, a colleague asked me, “How old do you think Timothy was when he started with Paul and at the writing of 1 Timothy? I’m seeing most people say he got picked up between the age 16-21 and was somewhere between 30-40 when he received 1 Timothy. Are there any textual clues so that we can know?”

There are three things that help us known Timothy’s age: (1) the Pauline chronology as it relates to Acts 16:1-3 and 1 Timothy and (2) 1 Timothy 4:12 where Paul commanded Timothy, “Don’t let anyone despise your youth” (CSB), and (3) indications from Acts 16:1 and Roman culture about the minimum age Timothy could have been when he joined Paul’s team.

The Pauline Chronology

For the sake of simplicity, I am going to refer to Eckhard Schnabel’s Chronology of Early Christian History that appears in the introduction to his commentary on Acts. In that chronology, Schnabel said Paul received Timothy on his team in 49-50 AD. This event occurs in Acts 16:1-3 when Paul picked up Timothy from Lystra. Schnabel said that Paul wrote 1 Timothy in 64-65 AD. For this date, Schnabel assumes that Paul had a first Roman imprisonment during which he wrote Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. After the captivity described in Acts, Schnabel argues that Paul was released and had another period of ministry, during which time he wrote 1 Timothy and Titus. Then Paul was arrested again. During this second arrest, Paul wrote 2 Timothy shortly before his death.

Therefore, for determining Timothy’s age, we can assume that he had been a companion of Paul for about fifteen years by the time Paul wrote 1 Timothy to him.

1 Timothy 4:12 and Timothy’s Youthfulness

Paull called Timothy a “youth” in 1 Timothy 4:12. We should ask ourselves what the Greek term for “youth” meant in the context of the ancient Roman world. The Greek term is neotes, which is a cognate of the Greek term neophyte. The only other times that that neotes occurs in the New Testament is in reference to the rich young ruler who claimed to follow God’s commands “from my youth” (Mark 10:20; Luke 18:21) and Paul who referred to “my manner of life from my youth” in his defense before Agrippa (Acts 26:4). 

Here are two clues from ancient texts that show how youth was understood in Roman times.

  1. The Relics of the Elders that states “But that the age of thirty years is the prime of a young man’s ability, and that it reaches even to the fortieth year, every one will allow.”[1]
  2. Irenaeus’ (c. 130-202 AD) Against Heresies referred to Jesus as a youth *Gr. neophytes). “On completing His thirtieth year He suffered, being in fact still a young man, and who had by no means attained to advanced age. Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age” (2.2.5).

In these texts, a thirty-year-old man is at the peak of his youth. A man can also be considered a youth until the age of forty. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that Timothy was up to forty years old when receiving 1 Timothy. 

How young could Timothy have been in Acts 16?

Another question that we should ask is how young Timothy could have been when Paul took him along as a companion in Acts 16:1-3. Here are two indications from ancient Roman culture.

  1. Roman men would marry as young as sixteen.[2]
  2. Youth in their teens (or younger) were often given as apprentices to learn trades to begin earning for their families. For example, Lucian (c. 125-180) wrote about the family decision to have him become an apprentice to a sculptor. He wrote, “As soon as I finished elementary school, since I had now reached my teens years, my father discussed with his friends what training he should now give me. To most of them, higher education seemed to require much labor, considerable time, no small expense and an illustrious position, while our family fortunes were small and needed some quick assistance.”[3] Thus, as a teenager, Lucian was sent away from his home to become an apprentice to a sculptor. 

In the same way, Paul was taking Timothy along as an apprentice missionary. From a cultural perspective, it is not unreasonable that his parents would have sent him away with Paul as a teenager.

However, there are a few textual clues that indicate a minimum age for Timothy as well.

  1. Timothy was literate. We know this since he was listed as a co-author of six of Paul’s letters. It is doubtful that Paul provided this education. Therefore, it is likely that Timothy had significant education before he joined Paul’s team. In the first century, literacy was not assumed. To be helpful as a co-author of the epistles means that Timothy had more than a basic education. 
  2. The believers in Lystra and Iconium spoke well about Timothy (Acts 16:1). This means that Timothy received a commendation from these local churches as being a good candidate to join Paul’s team. The fact that the churches in two cities spoke well of Timothy is significant. These two cities were 60 miles apart. The fact that believers of both cities spoke well of him as a potential missionary apprentice implies that he had travelled back and forth and had probably played some local ministry role before joining Paul’s team. 

Summarizing all of these indications from the text and from ancient Roman culture, it is very doubtful that Timothy was younger than sixteen when he joined Paul’s team. Considering the fact that he was known in both Lystra and Derbe and may have been involved in local ministry makes it seem likely that he was older than sixteen. 

Conclusion

We have three pieces of information. 

  1. Timothy had been traveling with Paul for fifteen years by the time he received 1 Timothy.
  2. In 1 Timothy 4:12, Timothy was referred to as a youth. This means that he was probably younger than forty when he received this letter.
  3. It is doubtful that Timothy was younger than sixteen when he joined Paul’s team.

Considering these three pieces of information, the most likely age ranges are that Timothy was 16-24 when he joined Paul’s team and 31-39 when he received 1 Timothy.

Why is this significant? This means that Paul modeled the power of missionaries taking young men onto their teams to train. Over years, Paul poured his life into Timothy. By the time he wrote 2 Timothy, Paul was ready to give his entire ministry to Timothy. Paul was willing to give substantial authority and responsibility to a young man who had good character when he joined Paul’s team. This is a great example for us today for leadership development.


[1] See William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 258. I have been unable to locate the ancient source, The Relics of the Elders that Mounce referenced.

[2] Jo-Ann Shelton, As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History. Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 31.

[3] Ibid., 112.


 [ED1]link

Spiritual Warfare in Ephesians (Part 3 of 3)

Picture of Babajan Dargah in Pune, India. Babajan was a female Sufi mystic who came from Afghanistan. 
Photography By AshishCHACKO. Used by permission from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Babajan_Dargah_Camp.jpg.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavens.”

Ephesians 6:12 (NASB)

This post is part three of three posts on Spiritual Warfare in Ephesians. Click here for Part one. Click here for part two.

Ephesians 6:10-20 is the most comprehensive teaching on spiritual warfare in Ephesians. Let us look at six keys to spiritual warfare from this text. Three of these keys were in a previous post. Here are the final three. 

Put on the full armor of God. God has provided what we need for this fight. However, it is our responsibility to use what He has already given us. Here is a list of the armor of God:

  1. Loins girded with the truth (6:14).
  2. The breastplate of righteousness (6:14).
  3. Feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace (6:15).
  4. The shield of faith (6:16).
  5. The helmet of salvation (6:17).
  6. The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (6:17). 

Each of these pieces of armor is symbolic of our spiritual lives. We do not actually have a breastplate of righteousness. However, walking in righteousness protects us in spiritual warfare just as a breastplate protects a soldier. This means that if we have sin in our lives, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the enemy. One of our most potent tools in spiritual warfare is genuine repentance. Consider Hezekiah, who “tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth and entered the house of the Lord” when the Assyrian army reached Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:1). Hezekiah took the enemy’s letter to the temple and spread it before the Lord, acknowledging that God was the true King” (2 Kings 19:14-15). God answered Hezekiah’s repentance by sending the angel of the Lord to strike down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers, decimating their army (2 Kings 19:35).

Likewise, the shield of faith’s purpose is “to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph 6:16). We trust in God that He can protect us and defend us. If our faith grows weak, our first step is to stop and seek Him. Abiding in Christ by faith and righteousness are some of our greatest spiritual weapons in this battle.

I once heard a sermon on spiritual warfare that there are two types of Christians. One type are Christians who face a spiritual problem and then need to go get on their spiritual armor. They are not regularly in the Word and prayer. Perhaps there is sin in their life. Their feet are not daily shod with the preparation to share the gospel. When these Christians face spiritual problems, they have to first go and draw close to Christ. They need to repent and rebuild disciplines of prayer and Bible study.

In contrast, other Christians daily stand in Christ. They are regular in Bible study and prayer. They are filled with faith and walking in righteousness. When a spiritual attack comes against these Christians, they are immediately ready to respond. Paull was this second type. When they beat him and locked him up in Philippi, his heart was so full of Jesus that he and Silas spent the night praying and worshipping. The Lord answered with an earthquake (Acts 16:25-26). Let us also strive to follow the example of Paul. The first step is to simply walk with Christ every day and be filled up with Him. In other words, put on the full armor of God.

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Sometimes, when we face persecution or spiritual problems, we can begin to see people as our enemy rather than the spiritual forces of darkness. It would have been easy for Paul to see the guards and the Roman government as his opponents, but he did not. He viewed his imprisonment as an opportunity to proclaim the gospel, both to the guards (Phil 1:15) and government leaders while on trial (2 Tim 4:16-18).  

In today’s rationalistic age, we often see spiritual issues as the last potential answer. For example, if we become sick, we often turn to earnest prayer and fasting only after exhausting medical solutions. My wife and I are a good picture of this dichotomy. Once, we were traveling in the Middle East. One of our travel companions was detained by the police at the airport. My first instinct was how to find a phone and figure out who we needed to call to help our friend. My wife’s first instinct was to pray. Clearly, my wife was the one who acted wisely.

This point is especially true when we consider Muslims and Islam. Many people have come to see Muslims as their enemy. They see Muslims as an evil invading force that must be stopped. Others take a more nuanced view that sees the majority of Muslims as peace-loving people and only a minority of Muslims who practice an aberration of radical Islam as the enemy.[1] According to Paul, no Muslims are our enemy. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. 

Instead, I have grown to see Muslims as people for whom Jesus has died. Muslims are in bondage to Islam. Islam is a system that holds captive almost two billion people around the world. Every Muslim is created in God’s image. God loves them and created them to know Him. Muslims are not our enemy. Instead, they are victims of the spiritual forces of darkness who are deceiving them. Like Paul, we should not fight against Muslims, but instead, pray for them and ask God to allow us to make the gospel known to them.

Pray. After admonishing the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God and to stand, Paul called them to prayer. In a prayerless state, the gospel will not advance against the spiritual powers of darkness. Sometimes a dichotomy is seen between two types of spiritual leaders. One has a brilliant strategy, but little prayer. He spends his days devising better and better plans. But he lacks the spiritual power and vitality to overcome the spiritual forces holding people in bondage. The other has little strategy but is mighty in prayer. The second person is preferable to the first. However, it is best if the strategist and the prayer warrior are brought together.

In the body of Christ, the strategist and the prayer warrior work together to advance the gospel. This is not an excuse for the strategist to be weak in prayer. In fact, his best strategy will come as he abides in Christ and is guided by Him. After all, God’s Word says that He chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Cor 1:27). God does not need our wisdom and insight. However, as we abide in Him, we pray that God will show us the strategy that He desires. In Paul, we are given a model of a man who was both a prayer warrior and a strategist. Let us follow his example in making disciples of all nations.


[1] It is certainly my experience that the average Muslim in South Asia simply wants to live in peace. They want the opportunity to help their children get good educations to get good jobs and live a stable life, and meaningfully contribute to society. 

Spiritual Warfare in Ephesians (Part 2 of 3)

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavens.”

Ephesians 6:12 (NASB)

This post is part two of three posts on Spiritual Warfare in Ephesians. Click here for Part one.

Ephesians 6:10-20 is the most comprehensive teaching on spiritual warfare in Ephesians. Let us look at six keys to spiritual warfare from this text. Three of these keys are in this post and three will be in the next post. 

Keep first things first. Focus on proclaiming the gospel and making disciples just as Paul did when he went to Ephesus. Be ready to deal with spiritual warfare as it comes. In the armor of God of Ephesians, there is only one weapon, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (6:17). Paul’s purpose was to make the gospel known everywhere for everyone. The first step in spiritual warfare is to simply “Go and make disciples.” In this way, I have heard of spiritual warfare being likened to mosquitos. We do not go out looking to fight with mosquitos; instead, we deal with them as they come. In the same way, we do not go hunting for spiritual forces. Instead, we focus on our commission from the Lord and deal with spiritual forces if they seek to impede our mission.

Paul models an emphasis on proclamation well in this passage. From jail in Rome, his prayer request was not for release from imprisonment nor provision nor comfort. Instead, he wrote, “pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (6:19-20). Paul kept the first things first, despite his circumstances. He focused on making the gospel known to those who had not heard. Let us also follow his example.

Stand. In this passage, the command “Stand” is given three times (6:11, 13, 14). This passage’s primary picture is of a phalanx of soldiers standing in formation together against their enemy. In battle, the goal is to be the last group standing. Boxing provides a good picture of us. The boxer who falls down for ten seconds loses. However, if they continue to get up and stand, the fight continues. In the same way, goal #1 of spiritual warfare is to continue to stand in Christ.

Again, Paul provides a beautiful model for us. Indeed, the spiritual forces of darkness were seeking to trouble Paul. He had faced beatings, shipwrecks, and every possible danger. When he wrote this letter, he had been in jail for years. Yet he stood in Christ. The enemy could not knock him down. Despite his external circumstances, Paul stood firm in his faith. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul noted that his imprisonment led to the gospel spreading faster (Phil 1:12-14)!

Please permit me to share an analogy from the Rocky movies. In those movies, Rocky continued to get up no matter what happened. By the end of each film, he had been severely beaten. His opponents were likewise beaten down. Rocky was simply the one who outlasted his opponent. When we consider the apostle Paul, he was like Rocky. He was knocked down continuously through various attacks and troubles. However, he continued to stand up. In spiritual warfare, follow Paul’s example. Stand firm!

Stand together. One of the most common misperceptions about Ephesians 6:10-17 is that it is an individual’s activity. However, the text clarifies that standing in spiritual warfare is best done as the body of Christ stands together. One reason for this misperception is that English only has one word for “you,” while Greek has two. In Greek, there is a different form for a singular “you” and a plural “you.” In this passage, Paul often uses something we call a collective singular. Let me give you an example. “Put on the full armor of God” sounds in English like something an individual should do. However, an interpretive translation to bring out the collective singular would be like this, “You all put on the single full armor of God.” In the text, “full armor of God” is singular, meaning there is one armor. “You all” are told to put it on. In fact, every command in this passage is best read as a group undertaking this activity together. You all put on the breastplate of righteousness. You all shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace. You all take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.

We make a mistake when we believe that we need to stand alone in spiritual warfare. God has made us all together as the body of Christ. Again, the picture of this passage is of a group of soldiers standing together against their enemy. A single solder, by themselves, standing against an advancing force is vulnerable. It is difficult for them to stand. Therefore, soldiers are trained to fight together. In the same way, the body of Christ is called to stand and fight together. From jail in Rome, Paul called the Ephesian believers to join in his spiritual fight by prayer (6:18-20). Likewise, Paul labored in prayer for the Ephesians (1:15-23; 3:14-19).

Click here to go to part three and read three keys to spiritual warfare from Ephesians 6:10-20.

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Spiritual Warfare in Ephesians (Part 1 of 3)

Picture of Babajan Dargah in Pune, India. Babajan was a female Sufi mystic who came from Afghanistan.
Photography By AshishCHACKO. Used by permission from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Babajan_Dargah_Camp.jpg.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavens.”

Ephesians 6:12 (NASB)

I remember my first visit to Kaliyar Sharif dargah in Uttarkhand, India. The Muslim saint, Alauddin Ali Ahmed Sabir Kalyari (d. 1291 AD), buried there is reputed to have power over demons. When Muslims in that area believe that a family member is demon-possessed, they often bring that family member to this saint’s tomb. Often, they even bind them with shackles, just like the man that Jesus freed from the legion of demons (Mark 5:1-20).

The Kaliyar Sharif dargah, like most dargahs, is a cluster of tombs of deceased Sufis. A colony has now emerged in the country around these tombs with hotels, restaurants, and shops. Every day, thousands of people come to these tombs, seeking blessings and miracles from the saints, who are still believed to be active from their graves. Inside the colony is the dargah itself. Everyone removes their shoes before entering. Shops line this inner area, selling topis, shawls, images, and other items that people buy to use in the tomb. A common activity is to buy something at a shop and bring it into the dargah. They believe it will absorb some of the place’s spiritual power (Urdu barkat) so that they can bring some of the tomb’s power home with them.

As you go past those shops, you reach a crowded courtyard. At the center of this courtyard is the actual tomb, usually inside of a small building. Muslim spiritual leaders, called pirs, take donations, pray for visitor’s needs, and make protective amulets, like tawiz, for those who come.

The first time I stepped into the courtyard, I was immediately almost knocked down by a woman rolling on the ground. I jumped out of the way before realizing that two women were writhing on the floor. Their hands were bound with shackles. A pir stood over them, authoritatively yelling in tongues.[1] Shocked, I began to pray, wondering what kind of spiritual darkness I had wandered into. 

Islam can be understood as a spiritual shackle that holds Muslims in bondage. As Paul shared in Ephesians 6:12, our fight is not with Muslims (i.e., “not with flesh and blood) but against the spiritual forces of darkness that hold Muslims in bondage. Much like the women shackled in that tomb, many Muslims are held as spiritual slaves to Islam. It is our calling to emancipate them from this darkness. 

The book of Ephesians is an excellent place to look for biblical counsel on what to do when we encounter spiritual darkness. Ephesus was home to the great temple of Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19:23-41). When Paul began his ministry in Ephesus, he started by sharing the gospel and making disciples (Acts 19:1-10). He did not start with a strategy of spiritual warfare. He was spiritually ready to stand in Christ when spiritual attacks came (Acts 19:11-20). The result was that “the word of the Lord was growing mighty and prevailing.” 

A few years after pioneering the gospel in Ephesus and planting churches there, Paul wrote a letter from prison to these believers. Paul showed them that God was building a temple in which he would dwell (Eph 2:19-22). This temple would be grander than the temple of Artemis of the Ephesians since Christ was seated at God’s right hand as the one who fills everything in every way (Eph 1:20-23). Throughout Ephesians, there are references to spiritual forces at work in the world (1:21; 2:2; 3:10; 6:12). Paul told the Ephesians, “you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord” (Eph 5:8). He then admonished them not to “participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness” (5:11). The Ephesians had previously been in bondage to these spiritual forces of darkness (Eph 6:12) but now had been saved by God’s grace (Eph 2:1-9).

This post is the first of three posts on spiritual warfare in Ephesians. Click here for part two. Click here for part three.

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[1] By tongues here, I mean that he was speaking in an unknown language similar to some interpretations of the biblical gift of tongues. It is possible that he was speaking in a language that I do not know. He was not speaking the languages of that area of India. 

“Casteism” in South Asian Islam

Today, I am reading Sayyid Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi’s short book, Muslims in India. Nadwi (1914-1999), often known as Ali Miyan, was a renowned Islamic scholar from Lucknow who wrote over fifty books. He was considered a key leader in the Deobandi and Tablighi Jamaat movements. As I read, I am amazed at some of the blinders that he has in this book that prevented him from seeing his own prejudice.

Nadwi wrote that Indian Muslims have a “natural awareness of human dignity and equality” (61). He then elaborated that “Things like social exclusiveness or untouchability are completely foreign to Muslim society.” In brief, Nadwi argued in this book that Muslims stood for complete equality of all and had not fallen into the casteism of Hindus.

However, a few pages later, Nadwi noted two issues in South Asian Islam that are, in essence, caste-related. First, Nadwi noted that marriage among South Asian Muslims occurs only with others of “an equal genealogical status” (68). In anthropology, this is called endogamy, which is a group’s trait to only marry within their own group. The caste system in Hinduism is likewise propagated partly by ensuring that caste members do not marry outside of their caste. One particularly poignant example are the Sayyid, who are something like the Brahman of South Asian Islam.  

In South Asia, the Sayyid function something like the priestly class of Islam. Most believe that Sufi mystics (i.e., pirs) must be Sayyid. Sufi mystics serve as spiritual leaders in South Asian Islam who are mediators between man and God. Therefore, most South Asian Muslims think that only a particular caste of Muslims should be set apart for this vital role. Sayyid are understood to be descendants of the Qureshi Arab tribe, which is the same tribe that Muhammad was from. Therefore, within South Asian Islam, those descended from Muhammad are understood to be a superior caste with special privileges. In fact, Nadwi was Sayyid, meaning that it may have been difficult for him, being from a privileged caste, to see the casteism in his own belief system. Other Sayyids, such as Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan (d. 1898), were famous for their disdain of local converts to Islam, seeing them as second class Muslims.

The second issue that Nadwi noted is seen in this quote,

“The disgraceful treatment meted out to servants by their masters, which is sometimes so outrageous as to reduce the servants to the level of untouchables, is again, a product of the social impulses received from India together with being a mark of the general degeneration that had set in among the Muslims during the declining years of their power (68).”

This quote indicates that many Muslims in South Asia have adopted the South Asian attitude of casteism. Some individuals are privileged above others. In this mindset, the master is of more value than the servant. This mindset has continued in South Asia through the perpetuation of low castes within Islam. For example, Hindu haircutters in South Asia have traditionally been called Nai. When Nai converted to Islam in large numbers, they took the Arabic name Hazzam, while continuing to marry within their own community. If a young man is born into a Hazzam family,  he will also learn the family trade of haircutting. In South Asia, more and more individuals are breaking through the ceiling of their castes through education. However, the basic caste concept persists, even in Islam. In South Asia, many similar groups marry only within their own castes, which are defined by a particular trade. 

What does this mean for Christians who are ministering among the Muslims of South Asia? 

  1. We must not allow the sin of casteism to come into our hearts! We must treat every person with dignity and respect, despite how the society around them considers them. Every Muslim in South Asia, no matter their lineage or status, is created in God’s image. Since they bear God’s image, we are obligated to treat them as our neighbor and equal. We should show all Muslims the love that Jesus displayed when He died on the cross for our sins.
  2. Perhaps the most concrete action we can take to make sure that we do not fall into casteism is to really see the people around us. We should make a practice of looking past people’s jobs and status. We should see their faces and pray for them. As we see them, we will each struggle with questions of how to respond in the face of such great poverty and need. Often, we cannot provide solutions for every need that we see. However, we need to be willing to see the pain and the brokenness around us and bring it to Christ in prayer.
  3. The sin of casteism is alive and well among South Asian Muslims. As Muslims begin to follow Jesus, we must help them to set aside their casteism. 
  4. In Hinduism, those of low caste and untouchables have readily abandoned Hinduism. Some have followed Jesus, while others have become Muslims, Buddhists, or Sikhs historically. In contrast, few Brahman have chosen to follow Jesus. Similarly, it is likely that Muslims of “lower castes,” especially those who have been mistreated by other Muslims because of their status, will be most receptive to the gospel.

A Missionary’s Reflection on Paul’s Letter to the Colossians

A Muslim woman shops at the bazaar outside the Jama Masjid of Delhi, India.

Paul’s driving purpose was to proclaim the gospel where Christ was not known. Paul understood himself as a servant who had a commission from God (Col 1:25a), therefore he operated with the authority and responsibility from God to fulfill his commission. In Colossians 1:25, that commission was “to fill up the word of God.” The context clarifies that Paul’s purpose of filling up the word of God among people groups who did not know the gospel. Paul described the word of God as a mystery that had been hidden but is now manifest to God’s people (1:26). The purpose of revealing this mystery is so that God’s people can make this mystery known among all the nations (1:27). Therefore, filling up the word of God meant bringing the word to peoples and places that did not know. 

Modern missionaries do well to emulate Paul’s missionary burden to proclaim Christ among peoples and in places where Christ has not been named. This is the singular purpose that drove Paul’s missionary journeys and propelled him to plant churches in pioneer areas. Since this is Paul’s missionary model, it is shocking that the vast majority of missionaries work in areas where the gospel is established rather than in pioneer areas among unreached peoples.

Paul’s missionary methods were not based only on his own efforts but also the efforts of his disciples.  Paul’s letter to Colossae demonstrates that Paul not only planted churches himself but trained and equipped others to plant churches. Before writing this letter, Paul had never visited Colossae. The believers in Colossae had never met Paul (Col 2:1). Instead, the Colossians heard the gospel from Epaphras, Paul’s dearly loved fellow servant (1:7). It is most likely that Epaphras was trained by Paul in Ephesus and sent out as a pioneer missionary. Paul sent out Epaphras and others like him to plant churches across Asia Minor (modern southwest Turkey). Acts 19:9-10 says,

“But when some became hardened and would not believe, slandering the Way in front of the crowd, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples, and conducted discussions every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.”

The seven churches of Revelation (Rev 2-3) and others were likely planted by Paul’s coworkers during these two years. Paul won men to Christ, trained them, and sent them as pioneer missionaries. While Colossians is the most complete picture of a Pauline coworker planting a church, Paul sent other coworkers who also planted churches all across Asia Minor. In this way, “all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.”

Colossians 1:3-8 describes Epaphras’ work. Epaphras shared the gospel (1:7). The gospel caused the Colossians to hope in heaven (1:5). This hope in heaven produced faith and love in the Colossians (1:4). Paul emphasized that the proclamation of the gospel led to a heavenly focus, which produced outward change in new believers. In Epaphras’’ ministry, pioneer evangelism that led into discipleship was the foundation for planting new churches.

Paul’s commission from God was to proclaim the gospel broadly to peoples who had never heard and to train others to do the same. Because of his expansive team of coworkers proclaiming the gospel in many places, Paul was able to say that the gospel “is bearing fruit and growing all over the world” (Col 1:6). And, “This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Col 1:23).

In this short letter, Paul mentioned nine coworkers by name.[1] These men acted under Paul’s missionary leadership as part of his team. Modern missionaries do well to head Paul’s example of developing missionaries. By emulating Paul’s model of developing leaders, modern missionaries can evangelize broad geographic areas, like Asia Minor. As Paul modelled, modern missionaries develop leaders best in the trenches, leading by example.

In Colossians, Paul also provided a model of how to transcend present difficulties and remain focused on gospel advance. Paul was in jail when he wrote this letter (Col 4:3) and his disciple, Epaphras, was in jail with him (Philem 23). Although he was imprisoned for the gospel, Paul’s heart was free. No human bond or imprisonment could bar him from Jesus. A hymn about Jesus takes a central place in this epistle, reminding us of how Paul worshipped in jail at Phillip (Col 1:15-20; Acts 16:25). When reading this letter, one can almost hear Paul singing that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. I imagine that Paul’s evangelistic boldness while in jail presented a challenge for his jailers. They were at a loss about how to silence his witness for Christ.

Paul’s only prayer request in Colossians was that God would open a door for him to proclaim the gospel (Col 4:3-4). For Paul, imprisonment was merely one more opportunity to be a witness for Christ. No doubt, Paul was following Jesus’ directions in how to engage in missionary outreach. Our Lord Jesus said,

“They will hand you over to local courts and flog you in their synagogues. You will even be brought before governors and kings because of me, to bear witness to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, don’t worry about how or what you are to speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour” (Matt 10:17-19).

The irony is that the authorities arrested Paul and Epaphras to stop the advance of the gospel. These men used it as an opportunity for evangelism. Despite their imprisonment, the gospel was bearing fruit and increasing all over the world. The authorities could do nothing to stop the advance of the gospel. Christ was seated on His throne, and Paul was seated with him (Col 3:1).

The imprisonment of Paul and Epaphras became an opportunity for developing more leaders. One purpose of Paul’s letter was to establish Archippus as the leader at Colossae. Paul spoke to him, “Pay attention to the ministry you have received in the Lord, so that you can accomplish it” (Col 4:17). Also, Onesimus became a follower of Christ through Paul during this time. Paul wrote a letter to Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus to appeal for Onesimus to be released from slavery to become one of Paul’s missionary coworkers. Thus, the influence and reach of Paul’s team for the advancement of the gospel grew, despite his circumstances.

In summary, Paul’s driving purpose was to fill up the gospel among unreached peoples and places. In order to accomplish this purpose, Paul developed and sent leaders. He grew a team of coworkers who could fight with him for the advance of the gospel. In the same way, modern missionaries must take up their commission to make Christ known among unreached peoples and places and develop others to do the same. 


[1] Timothy (1:1), Epaphras (1:7; 4:12-13), Tychicus (4:7-8), Onesimus (4:9; Philem 10-18), Aristarchus (4:10; Philem 24), Mark (4:10; Philem 24), Justus (4:11), Luke (4:14; Philem 24), and Demas (4:14; Philem 24).

South Asia has the Greatest Concentration of Muslim Lostness on the Planet

A group of Muslims praying in Bangladesh.

In 2020, there are approximately 586.9 million Muslims in South Asia. This means that there are far more Muslims in South Asia than the Middle East. South Asia are the seven countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Bhutan.

Most missionaries, missionary agencies, and churches put more emphasis on Arab Muslims than South Asian Muslims. Consider this, there are about 47 million Muslims in an Indian state called Uttar Pradesh. This means that there are more Muslims in Uttar Pradesh than in countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, or Iraq. When you think of large Muslim populations, do you think about Uttar Pradesh?

Let me give one more example. Punjab Province in Pakistan has about 114 million Muslims. If Punjab province were its own country, it would have the fifth largest Muslim population on the planet. In fact, the five largest Muslim populations would be like this:

  1. Indonesia – 229 milion Muslims
  2. Pakistan – 212.8 million Muslims
  3. India – 210.1 milllion Muslims
  4. Bangladesh – 159.5 million Muslims
  5. Punjab Province in Pakistan – 114 million Muslims

Luke 10:2 tells us what we need to do when we see these numbers.

“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.”

Our first response is to pray. We need to pray that God will send laborers into these fields to bring His gospel to the greatest concentration of Muslim lostness in the world. As we pray, we should follow the disciple’s example in Luke 10 and GO! There is no better way to spend your life than in pursuit of God’s glory in the nations.


Here is a brief analysis of the number of Muslims in South Asia along with references to how those numbers were calculated. These numbers are extrapolated from the relevant census data from each country.

  • Pakistan
    • 2017 Census, 207.8 million people in Pakistan; 96.0% Muslim. 199.5 million Muslims in 2017.
    • 1998 Census, 132.4 million people in Pakistan; 96.4% Muslim. 127.6 million Muslims in 1998.
    • Growth rate of Muslims is 2.18% per year based on 1998 and 2017 Census data.
    • Therefore, there are approximately 212.8 million Muslims in Pakistan in 2020.
  • India
    • 2011 Census, 1,210.9 million people in India; 14.23% Muslim. 172.3 million Muslims in 2011. 
    • 2001 Census, 1,028.7 million people in India; 13.43% Muslim. 138.2 million Muslims in 2001.
    • Growth rate of Muslims is 2.23% per year based on 2001 and 2011 Census data.
    • Therefore, there are approximately 210.1 million Muslims in India in 2020.
  • Bangladesh
    • 2011 Census, 152.5 million people in Bangladesh; 90.39% Muslim. 137.8 million Muslims in 2011.
    • 2001 Census, 130.5 million people in Bangladesh; 89.7% Muslim. 117.1 million Muslims in 2001.
    • Growth rate of Muslims is 1.64% per year based on 2001 and 2011 Census data.
    • Therefore, there are approximately 159.5 million Muslims in Bangladesh in 2020.
  • Sri Lanka
    • 2012 Census, 20.4 million people in Sri Lanka; 9.66% Muslim. 1.97 million Muslims in 20120.78
    • 1981 Census, 10.3 million people in Sri Lanka; 7.56% Muslim. 0.78 million Muslims in 1981.
    • Growth rate of Muslims is 3.04% based on 1998 and 2012 Census data.
    • Therefore, there are approximately 2.51 million Muslims in 2020.
  • Nepal
    • 2011 Census, 26.5 million people in Nepal; 4.39% Muslim. 1.16 million Muslims in 2011.
    • 2001 Census, 23.2 million people in Nepal; 4.20% Muslim. 0.97 million Muslims in 2001.
    • Growth rate of Muslims 1.82% based on 2001 and 2011 Census data.
    • Therefore, there are approximately 1.37 million Muslims in 2020.
  • Maldives
    • 2014 Census, 437,535 people in Maldives; the Maldives officially considers their population to be 100% Muslim.
    • 2006 Census, 298.968 people in Maldives.
    • Growth rate of Muslims is about 4.8% based on 2006 and 2014 Census data.
    • Therefore, there are approximately 0.58 million Muslims in the Maldives in 2020.
  • Bhutan – while there is a Muslim population in Bhutan, the numbers are so small that they are negligible for the purposes of calculating the number of Muslims in South Asia. Therefore, they are not considered here.