The Judgment No One Wants to Hear

“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.’
Then shall they also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?’
Then shall he answer them, saying, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me.’
And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:41-46).

For modern readers this passage might come as a bit of a shock. People are not accustomed to a presentation of Jesus in which He consigns people to eternal punishment; they expect Him, as an embodiment of love, to find some way to let most people or perhaps even everyone into eternal life. Yet that is not the case, and Jesus provides reason for it. This is the judgment that no one wants to hear, but sadly, many will hear it (Matthew 7:13-14).

Jesus has already warned about the fate of the wicked servant who abuses others and lives for him or herself (Matthew 24:48-51), the foolish virgins who were not ready for the Bridegroom’s arrival (Matthew 25:1-13), and the “one talent servant,” the one who did not advance the cause of His Master (Matthew 25:14-30). And yet now, in this presentation of the judgment scene, a different aspect of the situation emerges.

Everything said in Matthew 25:41-46 contrasts with what was said in Matthew 25:34-40. There were those who fed Jesus when hungry, clothed Him when naked, and so on; these people did not do so. The first group wanted to know when they did such things; this group wants to know when they saw Jesus and did not do such things. Ultimately, they either did them, or did not do them, for Jesus when they did or did not do them for “one of these least” (Matthew 25:31-46).

As before, so now: the big picture of this judgment scene involves whether or not we helped people in their time of need. The negative portrayal of Matthew 25:41-46 illuminates and highlights the positive portrayal of Matthew 25:34-40.

We should first note that the people who hear this judgment are cursed and to be cast into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Notice that Jesus does not say that the fire was prepared for them– it was prepared for the spiritual powers of darkness, and there was no need for those hearing this sentence to join them in that fire. And yet they are going there because of the decisions they made in life (cf. Romans 1:18-32). They went down the path of the devil and his angels; they thus reap the same consequences as the devil and his angels!

A very surprising detail about this judgment scene is found in Matthew 25:44: those hearing this sentence ask when it was that they saw Jesus hungry, thirsty, sick, in prison, etc., and did not help Him. It seems to be presented as an honest question– we get the impression that at least some of these people, had they known that it was Jesus who was hungry, thirsty, sick, etc., that they would have provided what was necessary. This is doubtless not true for many of those who will be condemned on the final day, but it will be true for many who will be!

This is consistent with Jesus’ description of “sinners” in Matthew 5:46-47 and Luke 6:32-34. It is not as if Jesus thinks that sinners have no natural affections at all. No, He declares– even sinners love those who love them. Sinners do good to those who do good to them. Sinners will lend to sinners. Sinners greet and are friendly toward those who are friendly to them.

Therefore, there will be on that final day people who were benevolent toward some other people who will yet be condemned. Sure, those people did good things to those who were just like them, who liked them and appreciated them, and who gave back to them. These things are assumed to be true of almost everyone. Jesus raises the bar higher for those who seek eternal life.

These people are condemned in this presentation because they did not help the least of those amongst them– the outcasts, the dispossessed, the widow, the orphan, the homeless, those with a radically different view of things, those whom society or culture or (sadly enough) religious authorities taught them to despise. They, like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), just walked on by. They may not have actively contributed to the destitution of the least among them, but they certainly did not do anything to make it any better. And for that they are condemned.

We imagine that many “heathens,” unbelievers, and others will be in this crowd, and they most likely will be (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). But what might be shocking is just how many “religious” people will comprise this crowd. Sure, they might have seemed pious enough. They probably did all they could to avoid certain sins, and might even have done some charitable work. Yet, like the Pharisees and scribes, they harbored a sense of superiority; in their pursuit of holiness, they forgot about love, mercy, justice, and faithfulness (Matthew 7:20-23, 23:23-24). They were more than ready to help their coreligionists and their middle- to upper-class neighbors; the cry of the truly needy amongst them, however, went unheeded. They heard the cries of those with whom Jesus associated, and did nothing.

Yes, there is more that will go into the sentence of condemnation than just one’s lack of charity– sin, disobedience, rebellion, lack of knowledge of God, and so forth (Romans 2:5-10, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Galatians 5:19-21, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). And yet, just as true charity exemplifies that one has been truly conformed to the image of Jesus the Son in thought, attitude, and deed (Matthew 25:34-40, Romans 8:29), the lack of true charity demonstrates a parallel lack of conformity to the image of Jesus the Son. As long as anyone does not show true charity toward the outcast and dispossessed, there remains conformity to the world and not to Christ.

No one wants to hear the judgment of Matthew 25:41, but it will be the eternal condemnation of far too many souls. It will come to all those who reject the reality that the image of God can be found in even the least among us, and for those who prove willing to harden their hearts toward their fellow man and carry on as they always have. It is a sentence for people in self-absorbed lives, content with avoiding the big sins without proper concern for practicing righteousness (cf. James 4:17). And it will be distressing declaration to many religious people who worried so much about so many religious things that they forgot about their fellow man, or who were too enamored with the view of religiosity to be bothered to get their hands dirty in the difficult and challenging work of true religiosity. Ultimately, it is a sentence representing the great humbling of many people who were too high on themselves and too dismissive of others. Dear friend, do not let this be the sentence you hear. Change your ways, follow after Jesus of Nazareth, humble yourself, and prove willing to serve the least among you, conforming to the image of Christ in holiness, faithfulness, love, and mercy, and obtain eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Limits of Study

And furthermore, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh (Ecclesiastes 12:12).

The words of the Preacher had been recorded and presented; the famous conclusion is nearing, declaring that to fear God and to keep His commandments is the end of the whole matter (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Yet, sandwiched between some words about the Preacher and this conclusion we have this declaration regarding books and study. Whatever does it mean, and what is it doing here?

Contextually, we do well to remember the situation of the day. There is no such thing as a printing press yet; a scroll (which was used then) was first hand written and then hand copied. Every time a scroll would begin to wear out it would have to be copied again. If there was a need for additional copies of a scroll, it would have to be hand copied for each. Any text that was not continually copied was destined for the dustbin of history– save for the few texts we have recovered from archaeological excavations, the reason that we have any text before 1450 is due to the copying of manuscripts generation after generation. There would certainly seem to be no end to this process!

As you can imagine, studying scrolls would be a difficult task, and it would not be any easier when sitting in rooms that might be a bit too warm or too cold, bereft of the “comforts” of a lot of modern pieces of furniture. There were no computers for fast searches or even concordances or anything of that sort. There were no swivel leather chairs. To devote oneself to study was going to involve much physical discomfort– that is the warning this man is providing for his son!

But this message is not just true for any other book of the Bible or regarding study in general; in fact, it is probably more true for, say, the 150 psalms, or one of the major prophets, than for the 12 chapter book of Ecclesiastes. So why is this message here of all places?

The whole book of Ecclesiastes does well at showing that no thing, when taken to the extreme, really provides the answers we seek in life. Pleasures– women, money, houses, plantations, servants, drink, etc.– do not ultimately provide any lasting and enduring satisfaction (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). Knowledge and wisdom has the same end; death comes for the knowledgeable as well as the ignorant, for the fool just as the wise (Ecclesiastes 2:12-15). Many of the challenging questions about the “fairness” of it all and the prevalence of evil are reckoned as absurd, without sufficient answer to be discovered by man (Ecclesiastes 8:14, 17). When it comes to this life “under the sun,” we cannot point to any one thing and say that it will really provide all the answers, solutions, or purpose for life, no matter how hard we try.

It is quite appropriate, therefore, for Ecclesiastes 12:12 to be appended upon Ecclesiastes, for the messages are consistent. Just as there are limits to the value of pleasures, knowledge, etc., so also there are limits to the value of books and study.

We can only imagine what the author of this declaration would think about the world today. How many millions of books are out there on any number of subjects? Books, magazines, papers, and especially electronic media today run the gamut from highly simplified to highly technical, very general to quite specific, regarding any and every subject under the sun. 200 years ago there were many people who could be termed “Renaissance men,” having a conversant understanding of almost every subject. These days it is almost impossible to plumb the depths of the knowledge and studies regarding one particular topic! How many times have we heard that the sum of all knowledge in this world has doubled? And yet how much more is there left to learn?

This is a very important and serious subject on a spiritual level. We constantly hear how important it is for us to study the Scriptures, and indeed, it is very important to study the Scriptures (Acts 17:11, 2 Timothy 3:15-17). Yet what is the point of studying the Scriptures– merely to increase knowledge of what God has said? We can study and study and will never entirely plumb the depths of God’s message. There is always more to learn; our understanding can always improve. Bible study is a critical part of learning about God in Christ, and even though we will never learn everything, we must still keep learning (2 Peter 3:18).

Yet, as with pleasures and knowledge, so with Bible study– it is not the ultimate purpose of our existence, and it can become weariness to the flesh. Learning of God though Scripture is reckoned to be a part of the life of the disciple, the lessons of which are intended to be taken into life and applied (cf. Hebrews 5:14). We are to study the revealed Word to learn more about the Incarnate Word in order that we might look more like Him (cf. Romans 8:29)!

We have unprecedented access to the revealed Word of God today– different Bible versions, Bible computer programs, and an ever growing body of writing that helps to make sense of the Bible. We ought to be thankful and take full advantage of these resources so as to learn the message of Scripture better. But if we learn about God in Scripture and it just remains an academic and intellectual exercise, and it does not lead to a life that better reflects the image of the Son, then the whole exercise has been entirely futile, absurd, and without profit in eternal terms. Let us remember that Bible study is a good thing– but it is not the ultimate thing. Bible study is designed to lead us to godly living and the practice of the Christian life. Let us study so as to live, and not live merely for study!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Being Abased

I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound: in everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want (Philippians 4:12).

Apocalyptic scenarios seem to fascinate us. There is never a lack of television shows that describe, often in gruesome detail, the various ways in which our lives may end as we know them. Most of us must confess that we have watched one or more of these shows at times. It is one thing to think about such situations in the abstract while we maintain our comfortable existence. But what if one or more such scenario actually came to pass?

Unfortunately, many have recently been faced with an apocalyptic scenario in life– their homes ravaged by earthquake, tornado, flood, or fire, and in a moment, everything is gone. If the disaster itself was not bad enough, then there is the aftermath– days, perhaps weeks, dependent on outside organizations for food, shelter, and other necessities of life in the worst cases. Sadly, such people learned what it meant to be abased on account of the disaster, if they had not already learned that lesson before because of other circumstances.

Living in bounty is relatively easy; most of us, most of the time, are filled and abound. In fact, not a few of us are probably too filled and abound a bit too much! But what would happen to us if we ourselves experienced immediate humiliation?

Imagine, for example, that the power goes out. It goes out where you live, where all of your friends and family live– in fact, the power has gone out across the nation. And the power does not come back on for years. What then? Pretty much everything we have grown to depend upon is based on electricity and computerized systems. Where would we find the basic necessities of existence? How would we cope if all of our comforts and luxuries vanished in a moment?

How do you think people would respond to such a disaster? How many people would blame God, wondering how He could allow such a terrible thing to happen to us? While such is a natural and understandable response to the calamity, let us think soberly for a moment. Where did God ever promise us a nice, comfortable existence featuring all the benefits of the modern world with its electricity and technology? Everyone in the Bible lived without them. Nevertheless, how many today, in such a situation, would still find fault?

If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that being abased in such a way would be a bitter pill to swallow. While it would most likely be the end of our lives as we knew them, would it be the end of the world? Would it still not be true that God has given us the gifts of this creation, our lives, and all the spiritual blessings He provides in Christ (John 1:1-3, Ephesians 1:3)? God would remain good, even in such difficult circumstances for us. Such a calamity might force us to relearn what it means to depend on one another and cooperate with one another so that we can survive!

If you are still reading this, it means that the electricity is still on, our technologically advanced lives continue, and we still live in relative comfort. Odds are still strong that the electricity will stay on until the Lord returns. And I hope that we do not miss the point because of the example– there are innumerable ways that we may find ourselves abased in this life, and we have only mentioned a few calamitous ones. Yet we do so in order to force us to think about how we would respond and react to being abased. Can we still maintain our faith and hope in God even if we find ourselves humbled and in want? Can we still bless and glorify His name even if we find ourselves in distressing circumstances? May we all grow in faith so as to praise and glorify God no matter what circumstances may be in which we find ourselves!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Mistakes

Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake” (1 Samuel 26:21).

The quality of a person’s character is not nearly as visible in moments of success and exaltation as it is during moments of error, fault, and humiliation. If our efforts succeed, or if we are proven right about our view on some person, event, or other matter, we feel at least somewhat good about ourselves. But what will we do if we fail? What happens if events do not take place as we had thought, or if everything we thought about someone or something proves to be wrong? What then?

King Saul faced such a situation in 1 Samuel 26. He was convinced that David intended to kill him and his children so as to take over the throne over Israel. Therefore, he hotly pursued David in an attempt to kill him. David is given an opportunity to kill Saul, yet does not do so, and publicly demonstrates this fact, showing that he had no intention of killing Saul (1 Samuel 26:4-20). Saul had been proven wrong. Faced with these circumstances, Saul was willing to humble himself publicly and declare his error. He admitted that he had sinned, acted foolishly, and had made a great mistake (1 Samuel 26:21). A good argument could be made that Saul was only putting on a show, and internally still wanted David, his rival, dead. We are not in Saul’s head; we cannot know for certain. Nevertheless, we can see that Saul was willing to at least profess that he had erred and was wrong.

Recently a gentleman made a prediction that the “rapture” would come on a certain day. He declared that the Bible guaranteed his prediction. And yet that day came and went. But did he admit that he was wrong? No; he would go on to declare that the day was “an invisible judgment day” involving a “spiritual judgment,” and expects the end of the world to come in a few months.

The assertion, no doubt, is quite ridiculous. It is quite evident that what was predicted did not happen. As opposed to just coming clean and admitting his error, however, he instead took the easy way out, attempting to dodge the force of the disappointment and the public humiliation and degradation he brought upon himself because of his previous proclamations.

Such disappointing behavior is not new or specific to that gentleman. If we are honest with ourselves, we can reflect upon many times in our own lives when we have been proven wrong but refused to admit it, or things have happened that do not fit into the way we see people or events and therefore have tried to dismiss it. The temptation is very strong to indulge in our own private fantasy land in which we are pretty much always right and very rarely wrong.

Yes, there are times when things may not be exactly as they seem– we might actually have a point, or our views, on the whole, are accurate. Yet the majority of the time we are being tempted to let our pride get in the way, since we always want to be right, and we never want to swallow the bitter pill of our own errors, insufficiencies, and weaknesses.

This is when we ought to remember the example of Saul: when confronted with evidence that shows us that we are wrong, it is always better to admit the error, confess the mistake, apologize, and move on. The bitterness of the humiliation during that painful moment is real, but to pile on error after error in order to justify the original error only extends that humiliation and directs us away from reality toward our idolatrous fantasy land. We must remember that the Lord resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6-10, 1 Peter 5:5b-6).

It is always easier to duck and run from responsibility. Anyone can make a denial. It demands integrity in character to be willing to take up the courage to admit when we are wrong, to apologize, and to be willing to correct our views and actions accordingly. Yes, it hurts. Yes, it seems scary. Yes, it might mean that we have to entirely change the way we look at people and/or things. But is it not ultimately better to come to grips with reality than to believe the delusion and be condemned for it (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, 2 Timothy 4:3-4)? Let us be willing to to admit our mistakes and our error when it is exposed, as Saul did, and remain humble, so that the Lord may exalt us in due time!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Exercise

And exercise thyself unto godliness: for bodily exercise is profitable for a little; but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come (1 Timothy 4:7b-8).

Exercise is not one of those things where there is much middle ground. It is something that you either do or you don’t. If you do it, you either enjoy it or you don’t. If you don’t do it, you probably don’t enjoy it much at all if you ever feel compelled to do it. Exercise is one of those practices in life that also tends to generate a lot of emotion. People get quite passionate about engaging in exercise or in avoiding it.

1 Timothy 4:8 tends to be “ground zero” in religious discussions about exercise. Much is made about how Paul declares that bodily exercise is only profitable for a little, and yet godliness is profitable for all things. And this is quite true, and exactly for the reason Paul provides– the spiritual will endure after the body perishes. All flesh is as grass (Isaiah 40:6, 1 Peter 1:24); if we obsess over our physical appearance and our physique, we are investing too much in what will not endure, and comparatively too little in what will endure.

But let us not distort Paul’s words too far the other way. Paul is not giving license here to gluttony; self-control and sober-mindedness must prevail even in terms of eating and physical exercise (Galatians 5:24, 1 Peter 4:7). Paul does say that there is benefit in physical exercise; yes, it is comparatively lesser than the value of spiritual exercise, but it presents benefits nonetheless. Both Paul and Timothy were far more active than most Americans today; we should not imagine that they would approve of Christians having neither concern nor repentance regarding the care and maintenance of their physical bodies. Just as we should not obsess over the physical condition of the body, so we also should not entirely neglect the physical condition of the body. We are not to be Gnostics; we are to understand that the body has temporal value as the “Temple of the Holy Spirit,” and it is hard for us to “glorify God in our bodies” when we show little concern for our physical health and well-being (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

This entire dispute misses the point of what Paul is really trying to accomplish in 1 Timothy 4:7-8: he is attempting to help Timothy, and us by extension, to understand how to grow and develop spiritually in terms of physical exercise. The metaphor is quite appropriate.

In order to function effectively, a human being must exercise his or her body. If we do not use our muscles, they atrophy and quit working entirely. When we maintain good discipline and work our muscles through exercise, be it through actions in daily life and/or through time we devote to conditioning, we actually tear up our muscles in the process. But when the body works to heal those muscles, they end up growing bigger and stronger. As long as we keep conditioning those muscles, they will maintain their size and/or grow. If we stop exercising at any time, we will experience loss of muscle and will be less strong and dextrous. Exercise must be a continual event– it cannot be done once or only for a short period of time and be successful. Recent studies seem to show, in fact, that the worst thing we could do to our bodies is to exercise in spurts, being active in exercising for a few weeks or months, quitting for a while, and then taking it up again. In such situations it seems that no exercise would be less damaging to the body!

As it is with the physical body, so it is with our spiritual lives. If we are going to live spiritually, we must exercise spiritually. If we do not devote ourselves to spiritual matters– learning more about God’s Word and will, indeed, but also practicing the spiritual disciplines, including prayer, evangelism, service, etc.– we spiritually atrophy and die (Romans 12:1-2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 2 Peter 3:18, etc.). When we seek to develop spiritually, we are going to be hurt and injured at times, having to learn from failures, perhaps experiencing persecution, but it is through those experiences that we experience spiritual growth (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:3-7). We must continue to devote ourselves to the spiritual disciplines lest we lose what we have obtained and grow weak (2 John 1:8). We must devote ourselves ot the spiritual disciplines continually, understanding that we will not automatically spring up to be spiritually full-grown with only minimal effort (Hebrews 5:11-6:4). While we might experience spiritual growth in spurts, we should not spiritually exercise in spurts– we must maintain a pace if we want to make it to the goal (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Physical exercise does have profit; it is good to maintain a body in decent condition, able to meet the challenges of each day, practicing discipline in what is consumed and in effort expended so that the work of God is as unhindered as possible from physical ailment. Spiritual exercise has greater value because it will endure longer than bodily exercise. Nevertheless, notice how Paul indicates that there is always benefit in exercise and the maintenance of the self-discipline that it demands. Let us maintain that kind of self-discipline in terms of both body and soul, working towards self-control and growth in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Watchman

Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me (Ezekiel 3:17).

This is not exactly the job for which everyone is running to apply.

The job of the watchman was never very glorious. Depending on the circumstances, it was either quite boring or extremely tense. The watchman did exactly that– watch. He would stand on a city wall or on a tower on the wall and look for signals from neighboring cities or looking out for approaching enemy armies or bands of marauders. To be a most effective watchman one would have to find a way to be on the alert at all times even though nothing would likely happen for the majority of the time. Nevertheless, when the warning call did need to be made, time was of the essence. An alert watchman who warns of the danger in advance might likely save the town; an indolent or sleeping watchman might unwittingly mean its destruction. But the worst of all would be the bribed watchman– the one who may betray the town for his own advantage!

God is giving Ezekiel a rather thankless task. Living near the Chebar river in exile, Ezekiel will not be very effective at watching out for the physical enemies of Israel. Instead, God appoints Ezekiel as a more “spiritual” watchman. His task is to warn the Israelites of spiritual dangers. He must warn the wicked to cease their wicked ways. He must warn the righteous to not turn toward wickedness. If he warns them, and they do not listen to him, they stand condemned but he is absolved. But if he does not warn them, and the wicked persist in sin and/or the righteous turn toward sin, they will be condemned and God will require their blood from Ezekiel’s hand (Ezekiel 3:18-21)!

The rest of the story of Ezekiel is the demonstration of how he faithfully communicated God’s message to Israel even though far too many did not obey. He warned; they did not listen; the blood was not required from his hand.

Sadly there always seems to be plenty of need for watchmen. Very few people enjoy being told that they are wrong and that their standard of conduct is unacceptable before God. This has almost been codified in our own day as law under the guise of relativism– what is wrong to one may not be wrong to another, and who are any of us to judge any other? While people remain quite happy to take advantage of some blessing or encouragement from their fellow man, if anyone dares to even suggest that some of their beliefs or practices are wrong, out come these pleas for tolerance and relativism. “You have no right to judge me.” “Just because you think that way does not mean that I do not have to.” “Get out of my business.” This last comment gets to the heart of a lot of people’s attitudes: I am my own master. No one has the right to tell me what to do. I am not accountable to anyone else. And do not believe for a minute that it is just the secularists who say such things; if you ever dare to suggest to many who profess belief in Christ that some tenet of their doctrine or practice is wrong, the same line of logic is employed. The deck anymore seems quite stacked against anyone who would go against the grain to stand up to declare as wrong what God says is wrong and right what God says is right!

We should hasten to note that God gave a very specific charge to Ezekiel and gave him particular responsibilities that came with specific revelations and direction that we no longer have. There can be no national “watchman” or “watchman” for the universal church since there is no authority for such a position and no prophetic revelation to go along with such a position.

Nevertheless, in the New Testament, elders are entrusted with the shepherding of the members of the local congregation with which they work (1 Peter 5:1-4), husbands are entrusted with the spiritual direction of their families (Ephesians 5:22-6:4), and all Christians are entrusted with the encouragement and exhortation of their fellow members within the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Galatians 6:1-4). Every elder and husband will be called into account for how they worked with those under their responsibility and for their direction; every Christian will be called into account as to how they encouraged and exhorted one another (Acts 17:30-31, Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 13:17). There is definitely an element of the “watchman” in these roles. And all believers are charged to reflect the light of Christ to the world, and that light stands as a testimony against the darkness (Matthew 5:13-16, John 1:4, 9-13).

“Watchmen” also need to watch themselves, as Paul encourages in Galatians 6:1-4. We all need warning sometimes. We all need a word to encourage us to do the right and avoid the wrong. When wrong is being done and nothing is said about it, the wrong is made to seem right, or, if nothing else, justified. How many times have people persisted in sin for want of that word of exhortation that shows that the sin is sin and ought to be avoided? How many have perished for lack of proper encouragement and exhortation?

Warning must be made to avoid sin. Exhortation must be given to encourage righteousness. Everyone ought to be humbled and chastened by their own transgressions into realizing that the task of sounding out that warning is nothing to relish or enjoy. But it must be done. Let us remember that we are accountable to God. Let us remember that we should be thankful that someone is willing to care enough to warn us about the possible dangers of our behavior. And when we warn others, let us keep our own weaknesses and transgressions in mind, remembering that the goal is to show the love of God toward others so that they will not perish but might obtain eternal life. Ultimately, we all stand or fall before Jesus our Lord for what we have done in the flesh; we will not be judged for what others have done, but we will be judged for how we related to others (cf. Romans 14:1-12). Let us avoid sin and seek to serve God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Remember Jesus Christ

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel (2 Timothy 2:8).

How often has the call gone out to “remember” something or someone?

In American history, “Remember the Alamo!” was the cry of the American soldiers during the war with Mexico that led to the liberation of Texas. In more recent times, many people have exhorted us to remember 9/11 and the tragic events that took place on that day.

These exhortations to “remember” exist not because there is much of a concern that the events will be entirely forgotten– history books are filled with pages chronicling such things– as much as it is an exhortation to keep the person or event in mind. “Remember the Alamo” means to remember the sacrifice of those who died there and to maintain their cause. Such are exhortations to persevere in conduct on account of the person or event of the past.

This is no less true in Christianity, and this is why Paul exhorts Timothy to “remember Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:8). We should not imagine that Paul was worried that Timothy would somehow forget that Jesus existed or forgot about who He was. Paul is reminding Timothy to keep Jesus in mind, since who He is, what He has done, and what He represents gives meaning to the entire creation!

Jesus is the “Christ,” of the seed of David (2 Timothy 2:8). Whereas many today might think “Christ” was Jesus’ last name, it really is a title– the Christ (or Messiah, from the Hebrew) is the Anointed One, the expected King of the Jews, the Branch of Jesse and David (cf. Psalm 2, 110, Isaiah 7, 9, 11, etc.). Paul is reminding Timothy that Jesus is the fulfillment of the expectations of Israel and the rightful King over all (Matthew 5:17-18, 28:18-20).

Furthermore, Jesus is risen from the dead (2 Timothy 2:8). He abolished death through His resurrection, providing life, immortality, and light to all those who serve Him faithfully (2 Timothy 1:9). Jesus’ resurrection is a reminder that the current world has been corrupted by sin and death but that believers can have confidence in the ultimate victory over such difficulties in the resurrection (Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15). These truths are all part of the Gospel Paul preached, the means by which God will save those who follow Him (2 Timothy 2:8, Romans 1:16).

What is good for Timothy, in this case, is good for us. While we may not forget what Jesus has accomplished, it is easy for it to not always come to our minds. It should not be this way. As we go through our lives, enduring times of difficulty, enjoying times of prosperity, and everything in between, we must remember what our lives are to be all about. We must remember what ought to be motivating us to serve God and the light of our ultimate hope in this often dark and distressing world.

When people do not keep their goal in mind, they easily wander off the path toward that goal. When soldiers do not remember why they are fighting, it is easy for them to lose heart. The same is true for Christians who do not keep Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, constantly before them in their minds. If we remember who Jesus is, what He has done, and our hope in Him, it will be easy to endure and persevere all trial. We will be better motivated to “fight the good fight of faith” if we remember our Lord and Savior (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18, 2 Timothy 2:3-4).

Jesus the Crucified and Risen Christ is Lord of all and the Source of life, peace, and hope. Let us keep Him constantly in mind so that we can endure the trials of life and be able to stand on the last day!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Service Despite Distress

And [Jesus] came forth, and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14).

If there were a time when it would have been perfectly understandable that Jesus would not have wanted anyone around, this would be it.

Opposition to His teachings was mounting (Matthew 12:1-45). At least some of His earthly family members thought that He was delusional and felt compelled to try to intervene (Matthew 12:46-50). He had returned to His hometown of Nazareth and was rejected by those with whom He had significant contact in His life (Matthew 13:53-58). And then word came that John the Baptist, the Elijah who prepared the way for the Lord, His cousin in the flesh, a kindred servant of God, one who understood rejection and the weariness involved in speaking truth to power, had been executed by Herod (Matthew 14:1-12).

It is little wonder, then, that Jesus takes out some time alone to pray (Matthew 14:13). We can only imagine the distress He might be feeling– the pain of rejection, grief over the death of His compatriot and cousin, and perhaps many other difficulties. Nevertheless, while He withdraws to pray, the people follow after Him to seek Him (Matthew 14:13). Even at a time like this there is little peace and little quiet. What would Jesus do?

We can imagine perhaps what we would do. We might lash out, taking out our distress on the people. If we had more control we might politely inform them of our difficulties and attempt to get some space.

Yet Jesus did no such thing. He sees the multitude, and while He might still be experiencing His distress, He also perceives the distress of those who have gathered to Him. He might be feeling pained, but He also knows that many of the people before Him have been experiencing great pain and distress for many years. He has compassion on them and heals those who are sick.

Jesus would later teach that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and this is a great example (Matthew 20:28). He was sent for a purpose, and the best way to endure the challenges and distress that came along with that purpose was to persevere. What He was experiencing was not really peculiar to Him; many people throughout time have experienced similar forms of rejection, grief, and pain. He looked to His Father for strength, received it, and continued to do the Father’s work.

The whole reason why Jesus mentioned that He came not to be served but to serve was to instruct His disciples that they were going to have to serve to fulfill God’s purposes in the Kingdom (Matthew 20:25-28). To that end, therefore, Jesus’ example is a path for us all (1 John 2:6).

There will be times in our lives when we are going to be in great distress. We may have all sorts of bad news come at us in rapid succession. We may be rejected by some people and alienated from others. We might experience challenges relating to family, friends, and other people with whom we have frequent interaction. We may get news of the untimely end of someone whom we love deeply. There will be times of pain, distress, grief, and suffering.

What shall we do? It would be easy to withdraw and speak sharply to anyone who would disturb our quiet, but what does that really accomplish? We could attempt to politely decline opportunities to work with others, but what is the end of such things?

Jesus provides the way. Our pain and distress is real, and it must be handled as if it is real. As opposed to lashing out against others, or just letting it tear us up internally, we are to take it before God in prayer (1 Peter 5:7). We are not able to endure it on our own, but God has the strength to endure it and sustain us through it. Other people can provide sympathy; God can comfort you and give you peace (Colossians 3:15).

Then we must realize that others in our lives are also in pain and distress, and we do best to help serve them as Christ has served us. It is in service that we have the opportunity to lose ourselves so as to help others; our troubles and trials can be relegated to the back burner when we support others throughout theirs!

God has a purpose for us, and He guaranteed that we would experience times of distress (Acts 14:22, Ephesians 3:10-11). We can shut down and turn inward to our own hurt or we can reach out to God and then serve others, as Jesus did. Let us choose the path of Christ and serve despite distress!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Iniquity of the Fathers and Children

“…visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing lovingkindness unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5c-6).

As God is speaking with Israel, declaring His law to them, He teaches them some things about Himself. As part of the second commandment, in which God declares that Israel is not to make any graven image to bow down to it or serve it, having declared that He is a jealous God, He then establishes that He visits the iniquity upon the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him, but shows steadfast love to those who love Him and keep His commandments (Exodus 20:4-6).

This is one of the most controversial declarations that God makes about Himself. Many wonder about the fairness of all of this, presuming that God is punishing children for the sins of their fathers. But God declares at other opportunities that He does no such thing– each person must bear the guilt of their own sin (Deuteronomy 24:16, Ezekiel 18:1-32).

Some people suggest that there is a contradiction here, but such does not respect the precise wording of what God has said. God says that He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the third and fourth generation “of those who hate [Him]” (Exodus 20:5). Therefore, those upon whom their iniquity is visited have their own iniquity. “Innocent” descendants will not suffer the penalty for guilty ancestors. If a child repents of the sins in which his fathers walked, God shows mercy upon him (e.g. 2 Kings 22:16-20).

Instead, God is declaring how, as we would say, “the apple does not fall far from the tree.” Children walk in the ways of their fathers. If the fathers disobey God and do not follow Him, the children likely walk in the same way. This is especially true in relation to the second commandment– if the father makes a graven image, bows down to it, and serves it, the children are likely to follow in the same footsteps. That tendency would prove to be the undoing of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 17:15-18)!

God is making it clear that He does not forget. Perhaps the iniquity of a given generation is not immediately visited upon it; such does not mean that God is not there or that God does not care, but that, as Peter will later say, God is patient, not wishing for any to perish but that all would repent (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). When judgment is established and punishment meted out, it is just, righteous, and holy. None can declare that God is unjust!

What is often lost in translation is the other half of this declaration: for those who love God and who keep His commandments, He bestows His steadfast love (Exodus 20:6). This cannot be found with any other; it is not as if any idol has ever loved its maker. God sustains and provides for those who seek after Him, as the Hebrew author demonstrates powerfully in Hebrews 11.

There is much to gain from this declaration of God’s response to people. It shows that we should not be surprised when people follow after their parents down the same path, for better or worse. We can have confidence in the ultimate day of Judgment and that all will receive due recompense for what they have done (Romans 2:5-11); nevertheless, we often like to see justice executed more speedily. If justice is not executed speedily, it is not as if God has neglected to take the sin into account. If such justice is eventually reckoned, it is not as if God can be charged with unfairness or prejudice if one generation gets punished for a sin that previous generations committed seemingly without punishment.

It is far better for us, however, to love God and do His commandments, and thus bask in His steadfast love (cf. 1 John 2:3-6). This opportunity is extended to anyone, no matter what their ancestors have done or believed. No one is forced to live in perpetual fear of God’s punishing hand; all today have access to God’s mercy through Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 5:6-11, 1 Timothy 2:4). Let us not stand in fear of punishment, but let us love God and do His commandments!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Jealous God

Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them, for I, the LORD thy God, am a jealous God…(Exodus 20:5ab).

God is not just providing commands for Israel on Mount Sinai– He also gives reasons as to why the commands exist. But the reason behind the second command may seem rather baffling. The Israelites are not to make an image of any thing in all the creation to bow down and serve it because YHWH is a jealous God. A similar declaration is made in Exodus 34:14 in a similar context– the reason that Israel is to not make a covenant with the inhabitants of Canaan is because they are all to be destroyed, lest they intermarry and begin serving other gods.

This statement, then, is clearly not an aberration. But what does it mean? How should we understand the idea that God is a jealous God?

Many people place the most negative spin imaginable on the idea. They make God out to be a very insecure and domineering deity, unable to stand the idea that Israel would shower another with affection because it would significantly dampen His self-image. In this view, all of the negative aspects of jealousy are highlighted. Such a view is a direct descendant of the Gnostic view of the God of the Old Testament– they imagined that “Yaldabaoth,” the “Creator God” of the Old Testament, was a minor deity, unaware of the existence of greater deities beyond him, who acted like a tyrannical despot, from whom the Logos came to set men free. Little wonder, then, that many who seek to challenge and question the faith turn to a passage like this and demand answers as to how God can be righteous and just while being jealous.

But there is no real need for us to imagine God as jealous in such a negative way. After all, in the very next verse, YHWH declares how He will show lovingkindness to those who love Him (Exodus 20:6). God loves Israel– that is why He led them out with a mighty hand from the bondage of Egypt (cf. Exodus 20:2). And, as Paul will later declare, love does not seek its own and is not provoked (1 Corinthians 13:5). Thus, perhaps God’s jealousy has less to do with God Himself and more to do with His desires for His people Israel.

Illustrations can be instructive. One of the prevailing images used in the Old Testament to describe the relationship between God and Israel is that of marriage (e.g. Hosea 1-3). Correspondingly, bowing down to other “gods” and serving them is described with the image of adultery (Jeremiah 3:1-3).

Therefore, an element of God’s jealousy for Israel does likely involve a desire on the part of the Husband to be the sole Beloved in the sight of the wife. But this jealousy is based more in a desire for the benefit of Israel than for the benefit of God.

Paul will later describe in Romans 1:18-32 the descent of man that begins with making gods out of the creation as opposed to serving the Creator. It is not a pretty picture, and it was graphically illustrated in the case of Israel in Ezekiel 16. Idolatry leads to sexual perversion, perversion among other human relationships, and the general degradation of society. Hosea 4:1-3 paints a dismal picture of Israel’s condition. And it all started because Israel did not respect the first and second commandments. It all went downhill from there.

In the New Testament, the prevailing image describing the relationship between God and Christians is that of Father and child (cf. Luke 15:11-32, Romans 8:14-17, etc.). There is also an natural jealousy in that relationship, and everyone who has ever been a parent can understand it. Good parents always want what is truly best for their child, and they earnestly desire that their children follow in that path. If that is the case with earthly parents, how much more so is that the case with our heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:5-11)? Is this desire not a form of jealousy? As it is written,

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:5 ESV)

To what end is this jealousy? Our betterment. God is jealous for us not because He is some insecure, megalomaniacal God, but because He wants what is truly best for us. Just as earthly parents beam with joy when their children follow in the good paths in which they directed them, so God rejoices when His children follow in the good path in which He has directed them (cf. 1 John 2:3-6). Likewise, just as earthly parents mourn when their children prove rebellious to their own hurt, God mourns when people rebel against Him to their own hurt and disadvantage, both in this life and in the next (Romans 1:18-32, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

The same temptations exist then as now to divinize that which is less than God and to descend from there. Evidence of this is pervasive in our society, and tragically, even in our own lives. This is why God is a jealous God– He is jealous for us and for our betterment, so that we can have that which is truly life, both in this life and in the life to come. We must humbly understand that God loves us and seeks our own good even when we do not understand or prove to be rebellious. We should be thankful that God is jealous, earnestly desiring us to lead us in the good path that leads to life. Let us follow that path, serve God, and experience true life!

Ethan R. Longhenry