Strength in Weakness

And [Jesus] hath said unto me, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

It is a general axiom that strength is good and weakness is bad. “Only the strong survive.” Humans idolize strength and figures of strength. Weakness is universally maligned. No one wants to be seen as puny, sissy, cowardly, or anything else that normally is associated with weakness.

Yet Jesus and His Kingdom turn many aspects of “conventional wisdom” on their head. In the Kingdom, if we want to be strong, we must be weak!

Strength, after all, has its down side: it often leads to arrogance and self-reliance. Weakness also has its value: those who are weaker are generally more humble and more dependent on others.

Paul himself needed to understand this reality, as is made evident in 2 Corinthians 12. So that he would not get puffed up on account of the revelations given to him, a “thorn in the flesh” beset him, even though he appealed to God for its removal. Whatever this “thorn in the flesh” was, it significantly weakened Paul.

And yet that is how Paul– along with every disciple of Jesus– learns the source of true strength. It is not within our own endeavors or capabilities. We only find strength through difficulty, duress, and weakness. When we have to face our own inadequacies and realize that we by our own efforts can do very little, that is when we humble ourselves and submit to God’s strength and God’s ability.

And that is when wonderful things happen. That is when we find the ability to persevere and grow (cf. James 1:2-5). When we give up our pride, our pretension of self-reliance, and ourselves, God can then use us for His purposes and His glory and imbue us with His strength (cf. Ephesians 6:10).

If we cannot imagine ourselves as weak, humble, lowly, and reliant on others, how can we picture Jesus, who was God in the flesh, and yet humble, lowly, and reliant on the Father (John 1:1; 14, John 6:38, Philippians 2:5-11)? By His weaknesses we are saved. We do not have the time or opportunity to pretend that we are strong and in need of nothing. Let us be weak so that we may overcome through God’s strength!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Moving Forward

Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Moving forward.  It is something we know we ought to do in our lives, and yet it is often quite difficult to do so.

We have so much that can weigh us down.  Sin besets us.  We can become discouraged and despair of our ability to do anything.  Fear can paralyze us.  Even simple inertia can keep us from going forward and making changes.

Yet God calls us to continually and irrepressibly go forward.  We have the great cloud of witnesses of the saints of years gone by: their examples of faith in the face of difficulty can encourage us, and we can view them as cheering us on our own journeys.

This is why we must lay aside the weights that keep us down.  While sin may beset us, we must believe in God, humbly confess our faults before Him, and break through (1 John 1:9).  While discouragement and despair may bring us downward, faith and hope can encourage us (Romans 8:23-25, 1 Corinthians 13:10).  While fear may paralyze, God tells us to no longer fear, but trust in Him and His victory (Revelation 1:17-19).  Even inertia can be overcome in zeal for God and His ways (2 Corinthians 9:2).

Yet the only way we can move forward is to keep our eyes focused on Jesus.  He is the way, the truth, the life, and the resurrection (John 11:25, John 14:6).  He suffered temptation and yet did not sin (Hebrews 4:15).  Our faith is based in who He is and what He accomplished, and He is the one who makes up for our deficiencies through His own atonement.

The Hebrew author does not deny that suffering will come to believers, but shows us that through suffering we can gain exaltation.  He suffered the humiliation and suffering of the cross because of the joy set before Him; thanks to Him, we can persevere through our own suffering, since eternity with God is set before us if we endure (1 Peter 1:3-9, 1 Peter 2:21-24, Matthew 10:22).

The forces of darkness provide every reason to become discouraged, to fall into despair, to suffer in sin, and to go nowhere.  Yet God beckons through the example of Jesus Christ to go forward.  The saints of God can encourage you by their example.  Fellow Christians can encourage you on the journey.  But you can only persevere and move forward by looking to Jesus and following His ways in His might and strength.

If we do not move forward, we fall behind.  Let us constantly press onward and upward toward eternity with God (Philippians 3:13-14)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Counting the Cost

Now there went with him great multitudes: and he turned, and said unto them,
“If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete it? Lest haply, when he hath laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, as he goeth to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and asketh conditions of peace. So therefore whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-33).

As we begin a new year, many people consider resolutions regarding new behaviors that they would like to begin.  Great resolutions are often made– and then just as easily broken.  Some persevere with their resolutions.  Many more start out well and fade quickly.  Far more are never realized in any way.  Such is the nature of people: the spirit is always more willing than the flesh (cf. Mark 14:38).

Jesus knows this, and that is why He intends for everyone to “count the cost” of serving Him.  It is a decision that is not to be taken lightly: Jesus is demanding all of those who come to Him.  They are to suffer the shame and humiliation of the cross.  They are to forsake every other connection and tie if need be to serve Jesus.  To become a disciple of Christ is to be entirely changed; life will never be the same (Galatians 2:20).

Yes, the cost is great, but the reward is even greater (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).  Furthermore, while the cost of not serving Jesus is milder in life, its consequences in death are quite severe (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

All of these factors must be considered and a firm decision is called for.  There can be no “fence-sitting” on this question: you either decide to become a disciple of Christ or you decide to go your own way.  A lack of a decision is a decision against Him.

It is a decision that each must make for him or herself.  What will you choose– a hard life and a great eternity, or an easy life and a heinous eternity?  You must count the cost.

Even those who decide for Jesus must continually consider themselves and their faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).  Do you still have your first love (cf. Revelation 2:1-7)?  Are you growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)?  Are you pressing upward toward the goal (Philippians 3:14-17)?

As we reflect upon the past year and make decisions for the new one, let us consider the state of our soul.  Let us count the cost and be firm in our decision.  Let us strive to grow in Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Divine Kindness

“But love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil” (Luke 6:35).

Love and kindness come easily for those who are loving and kind to us.  We enjoy time we spend with those who love us and who are kind to us.  We get together with them and eat and give presents and receive presents.  We recognize that such people in our lives help make life worth living.

Can you imagine attempting to share such gifts with those who hate you?  What happened if you gave gifts to ungrateful people?  What if you did good to others and were repaid with evil?  What happens if you lend someone money and they never repay?

According to human logic, we would at best have nothing to do with such persons, and at worst do them harm (cf. Matthew 5:43).  It is expected that lovable people are loved and unlovable people are shunned.  It is expected that those who are ungrateful get little and those who do not repay have no credit.

Yet, in the Kingdom of God, all of these things are turned on their head.  Jesus turns the world upside down!  He prayed for those who reviled Him and crucified Him (Luke 23:34).  He prayed for His disciple whom He knew would deny Him (Luke 22:31-32).

As it is written,

For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life; and not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation (Romans 5:6-11).

While it is always easier to point fingers at everyone else, we must recognize that we, too, have spent our time in unkindness and ungratefulness (Titus 3:3-8).  God has showed kindness to us when we were unthankful and evil.  He showed us mercy despite our unmerciful attitudes.  He was not yet willing to condemn us even though we were willing to condemn others.  He provided wonderful gifts even though we forsook Him.

Therefore, it ought to be but a little thing for us to show divine kindness: love and help not just those who love us and help us, but also to those who make us uncomfortable, those who might use and abuse us, and those who may hate us.  After all, without God showing us such divine kindness, where would be be?

Ethan R. Longhenry

Taking the Cross

“And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).

After two millennia of veneration of the cross, it is easy for us to forget what the cross meant in first century Judea.  It was a symbol of Roman power, the fate for any who dared to stand against Rome.  It represented a horrifying way to die, perhaps the most cruel form of punishment and death ever invented by mankind.

For Jews crucifixion was even worse.  Death on a tree meant being accursed (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).  There was no glory in a cross, at least in the way that men consider glory.

These realities, therefore, were what came to mind to the disciples listening to Jesus.  A cross meant humiliation, shame, being despised, reckoned as accursed and defiled.  This was no “easy street.”

We also have to remember that at this point, Jesus has not yet been crucified.  While Jesus no doubt knew what would eventually befall Him, we should not interpret this verse as meaning that Christians must be physically crucified.  Such is not Jesus’ point.

Jesus is telling all those who would be His disciples that if they really want to be worthy of Jesus and eternal life, they must live a “crucified life.”  They must bear the shame and humiliation that comes from serving Jesus.  If they are considered cursed by man, so be it, if they may only win Christ.

Jesus’ disciples must renounce all that they have and, in a type, die in Him.  It is no longer to be about oneself.  It is now all about Christ.

“Taking the cross” is not a statement about wearing jewelry; it is a statement of the humiliation and sacrifice necessary to follow Jesus.  Many are called to do so, yet precious few answer.  What will it be?

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

Ethan R. Longhenry