Telling History

And in the thirty and eighth year of Asa king of Judah began Ahab the son of Omri to reign over Israel: and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty and two years. And Ahab the son of Omri did that which was evil in the sight of YHWH above all that were before him (1 Kings 16:29-30).

Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. Twenty and five years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem: and his mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did that which was right in the eyes of YHWH, according to all that David his father had done (2 Kings 18:1-3).

What is history?

Most people understand history as “what happened in the past.” We all endured history class while in school; we learned about the rise and fall of successive world empires. We therefore ascertained very quickly that history seemed to be the story of those who gained the most power or made new things or developed this or that. The more prominent and successful a culture, defined by its consolidation of power, wealth, and influence, the more likely we would learn about them.

But what happens when we approach the Scriptures? What history does it tell?

We can compare and contrast the stories of two kings, Ahab and Hezekiah, in terms of how they are presented in Scripture and how they would be presented in a standard historical account.

The portrayal of Ahab king of Israel in Scripture is less than pleasant. He was strongly influenced by his wife Jezebel; he elevated service to Baal in Israel; Elijah the prophet strongly opposed him. The Biblical assessment of Ahab is seen sharply in 1 Kings 16:29-30, as children are taught in Bible classes to this day: he was the most wicked of the kings of Israel.

Yet, if seen in a socio-political perspective, things never seem better for Israel than in Ahab’s day. Ahab maintained control over Moab; he made an alliance with Jehoshaphat king of Judah; his marriage is an indication of a strong alliance with the Phoenicians. He seemed to preside over one of the most prosperous and stable periods in the history of the northern Kingdom. From Assyrian chronicles we learn that Ahab along with other allied kings fought against the Assyrian Shalmaneser III in the Battle of Qarqar and seemed to fight him to a draw; who else among the kings of Israel could make such a claim?

Hezekiah king of Judah is portrayed in Scripture starkly different terms. He attempts to reform the worship and service of Judah toward greater faithfulness to YHWH; he is spoken of in terms of his father David, as seen in 2 Kings 18:1-3. After David only Hezekiah and Josiah are spoken of in glowing terms as kings in Judah in the Scriptures.

And yet Hezekiah’s reign, in socio-political terms, was a complete disaster. He rebelled against the Assyrians and faced the full wrath of the Assyrian war machine. All of Hezekiah’s major cities were destroyed save Jerusalem, which itself was besieged and spared only by divine intervention. Judah’s condition was described well by Isaiah in Isaiah 1:2-9: Judah barely escaped total annihilation, and should not glory in its close call.

We should certainly be able to see why so many modern historians view the Scriptures with cynicism and skepticism: they do not exactly tell the story the way the historians have told stories. We who seek to follow God would do well to consider, however, whether the problem is with the Scriptures or with the way the historians would like to tell the story.

The historical narrative of 1 and 2 Kings is often claimed to be a heavily biased source writing during Israel’s exile. Without a doubt the final author is writing during the exile (cf. 2 Kings 25:27-30); he most assuredly uses court or other records more contemporary of the events described. And yes, he is heavily biased; we should expect nothing less. He has a particular message to tell, and a very particular reason for it.

We today tend to speak of 1 and 2 Kings as part of the “historical books.” The Jews considered 1 and 2 Kings part of the Nevi’im, “the Prophets.” Most of the books we consider to be “historical” they believed to have been written by the “former prophets” (Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings). To the Israelites the way their story was told was itself inspired, the proper way to tell what happened in past days.

They certainly could have told their story in a way a bit more amenable to the expectations of historians; many in Israel in fact told themselves that story. Israel had its heyday in past days; Assyria and Babylon proved too strong, and so Israel was overrun. What did Israel get for attempting to follow YHWH? Hezekiah reforms the worship and the Assyrians overrun the land; Josiah would do a similar act and his death would precipitate the chain of events leading to Judah’s doom. In fact, probably more Jewish people would have agreed with their fellow exiles in Egypt who were offering to the “Queen of Heaven,” believing that things were better when they committed idolatry, than those who were moved to repentance and followed YHWH exclusively (cf. Jeremiah 44:15-18). In the story of history, after all, empires rise and fall. Israel rose and fell. So be it.

But that story, even though it seemed to make sense of some of the historical facts, only led to assimilation, first with the Babylonians and then later with the Greeks and Romans. Such people were carried away by whoever had power. But those who stubbornly held to the story of Israel as told by the former prophets put the story together persevered, and they persevered because they continued to tell the story the way God intended. Great socio-political standing and influence meant nothing if it were not accompanied by faithfulness to God; a dire socio-political situation could be overcome if the people proved faithful to God. The former prophets showed far less concern about the socio-economic implications of royal decisions than the spiritual ones. The story of Israel was told to highlight the people’s faithlessness to warn future generations to not follow in the same pattern of disobedience (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-12).

We can learn much from the example of the historical prophets. History is never merely “what happened in the past.” No historian can tell the story of what happened in the past without providing an interpretation and a purpose to those events. They are all understood not only in terms of their believed conclusion but also in terms of the person telling the story. Even when a historical narrative is presented in an entirely factual way, plenty of other facts are left out, not out of denial, but because they do not fit the story being told.

We should not despair; we need not fall into the abyss of full-throated postmodernism, denying our ability to know anything about the past. But we must also be disabused of any notion that history is simply a set of objectively true facts about what people did in the past. History is a great natural resource which we mine in order to tell the story of who we are, from where we have come, and to learn lessons from our ancestors for good or ill. The way we decide to tell that story is as important as the facts which may comprise it.

We have inspired records of the history of Israel and the days of Jesus and the Apostles; we know how God intends for us to understand those stories. We can gain much from that perspective. We may not have an inspired story of the present, but God’s Word remains true: nations will rise and fall, people will acclaim those who gain power, wealth, and influence, but God remains far more concerned with whether people serve the King of kings and Lord of lords or not, and whether people continue to hold firm to the story which He has told in the pages of Scripture. May we tell history in a way that glorifies God and honors His purposes!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Wildfire!

So the tongue also is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how much wood is kindled by how small a fire! And the tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the wheel of nature, and is set on fire by hell (James 3:5-6).

Those who live in the eastern part of North America can be forgiven for wondering why wildfire might be a great concern; most of the time the east is green and lush. In the West, however, wildfire is an almost ever-present danger. The land is frequently dry. It does not take much to start a wildfire that burns tens of thousands of acres: an unattended campfire. A car accident. Lightning. Wildfires are very dangerous indeed!

James, the brother of the Lord, understood the power of fire and how a great conflagration could start with a small catalyst. Parts of the Levant are not unlike the American West in that way. He speaks of fire in order to help his beloved fellow Christians to understand the great danger behind another element which can start great conflagrations with the smallest of catalysts: the human tongue.

James had begun by warning Christians about not having too many become teachers on account of the stricter judgment teachers will face (James 3:1); he continued by pointing out that the one who does not stumble in word is able to control the body (James 3:2). He explored that illustration further, speaking of how horses are controlled by a small bridle in the mouth, and also introduced the notion of how a large ship is directed by a small rudder (James 3:3-4). He then speaks of the power of the tongue despite its small size (James 3:5-6); he would go on to recognize that while humans have tamed all animals the tongue cannot be tamed, and pointed out that we bless God and curse man with the same mouth, and that such things should not be (James 3:7-12). James therefore has a strong concern with the dangers that come from the use of the tongue.

James does not mince words about the dangers involved. The tongue is small, but boasts greatly. Of all the members of the body it is the tongue that can defile the whole, can set the world on fire, as it itself is set on fire by hell; such is the only use of Gehenna outside of Jesus’ use of the term in the Gospels.

We today know all too well about the dangers of the tongue. We have seen many people whose lives and careers were ruined because of an ill-timed remark or the wide sharing of a thoughtless remark. One is reminded of the story of Justine Sacco, who before departing for Africa made a foolish joke regarding not getting AIDS in Africa because she was white on Twitter. During the flight her tweet was shared many times; when she landed she was informed of the outrage her tweet had instigated and that she had been fired. The Internet proved merciless to Ms. Sacco; people would be foolish for judging her and her character based only on one decontextualized statement. Nevertheless, her example illustrates just how important it is for us to give consideration to what we say.

The danger of the tongue comes from many different sources. It may be, as in the case above, with a poor joke that may reveal more about our thought processes than we would like to admit. It may be the insult or cutting remark uttered in anger; you can claim that you did not really mean it, and ask for forgiveness, and even receive it, but the scars from those words will always remain. It may be gossip spoken and spread, ultimately reaching its subject. As they begin the words may seem very small and insignificant, and perhaps on their own they would be. And yet such messages can take a life of their own; ask any politician whose not well thought out comment would ultimately dog him throughout the campaign and cost him the election.

We do well to recognize how our tongues are always a potential wildfire within us. There are some times and certain contexts in which a foolish or thoughtless word may not cause too much difficulty or distress, as a spark that falls after a wet period in the forest. On the other hand, there are plenty of times and situations in which the ground is dry and the plants desiccated, ready to burn long and hot with only the smallest of sparks; the wrong word in the wrong situation and your life as you know it can be destroyed, your soul in danger of hellfire, and you are left wishing you could just take those words back.

Unfortunately, you can never take back your words. But you and I and all of us in Christ can resolve to not say them in the first place. In many ways wildfire control is dependent on humans using fire properly, and the same goes with our tongues. We must use the tongue to glorify God and bless man made in His image. We must give thought to how we speak for and about others so as to build up and not gossip, slander, or tear down. Foolish jesting is not worth our reputation and standing. May we all seek to control the wildfire in our mouths and seek to restrain our tongues!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus With Us

“Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

The good news according to Matthew ends with truly great news.

Matthew has set forth Jesus’ resurrection from the dead: the women have come to find the tomb empty, for an angel had rolled the stone away, sat upon it, proclaimed the good news of the resurrection to them, and declared how He went before them to Galilee (Matthew 28:1-8). Jesus then appeared the women and instructed them to tell the rest of the disciples to go to Galilee to see Him there (Matthew 28:9-10). The disciples went to Galilee and saw the Lord Jesus; many believed, but some doubted (Matthew 28:16-17). In His final words in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus gives the “Great Commission”: all authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth, and so they are to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them (Matthew 28:18-20a). The Great Commission ends with a promise: Jesus is with them always, unto the end of the αιωνος, “age” or “forever,” and thus “world” (Matthew 28:20b).

We can imagine how the disciples would have found this promise very comforting. And yet, within forty days, Jesus would ascend to heaven (Acts 1:1-11); He will only again walk the earth on the day of judgment (Matthew 25:31-46, Acts 1:11). So if Jesus no longer walked with them, or, for that matter, with us, how could He say that He would be “with” us until the end of the world?

Throughout the book of Acts the Apostles seem to interact frequently in some way with the Lord Jesus. Peter declares that Jesus is the one who, on the basis of the Father’s promise, poured out the Holy Spirit on them (Acts 2:33); Peter affirms that faith in Jesus provided the power which healed the lame man in the Temple (Acts 3:16). The Lord Jesus would give Peter a vision and speak with him in it (Acts 10:9-17). Stephen saw Jesus as the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand (Acts 7:55-56). Paul saw the Lord Jesus in the resurrection and heard Him speak (Acts 9:1-8, 22:6-10, 26:12-18), as would Ananias, whom the Lord called to minister to Paul (Acts 9:10-16). Paul would receive further messages from the Lord Jesus, both direct and spoken as well as through circumstance and hindrance (Acts 16:6-9, 18:9-10, 23:11). We do well to remember how Luke begins the book of Acts, speaking of the previous Gospel as “all that Jesus began to do and teach,” implying that the whole book of Acts continues Jesus’ work (Acts 1:1): Jesus is with the Apostles throughout, strengthening them, empowering them, reassuring them. He may not have been present in the way He had been during His ministry, but He was still there, reigning as Lord, sustaining His people to do His work.

Is Jesus still there since the days of the Apostles? Some have suggested that Jesus’ promise extended only to the destruction of Jerusalem, and such “ended the age.” Such is inconsistent with the promises of Jesus and His Apostles and the reality of the faith ever since. It is true that Jesus made Himself known to the Apostles in ways which He no longer does so; they saw Him in life, fully experienced Him, and bore personal eyewitness testimony to His resurrection, and no one since the first century can do so (1 John 1:1-4). There is nothing further to be made known about the good news of Jesus Christ than has already been made known through the Apostles and their associates. And yet Jesus’ promises remain. The universe continues to exist through Him and for Him and is upheld and sustained by Him (Colossians 1:15-17, Hebrews 1:3). Jesus still reigns as Lord (Hebrews 13:8). Where two or three of His people are gathered, He is in their midst (Matthew 18:20). In Revelation 4:1-5:14 John is able to see what goes on in heaven beyond the veil: God is on the throne, and the Lamb with Him, and they reign in glory and honor. We may not be able to see past that veil, yet such makes it no less true and no less real. Furthermore, if we are in Christ, we have His Spirit, the Spirit of God (Romans 8:9-11); by means of the Spirit He maintains His presence in and among His people individually and collectively (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20, 2 Corinthians 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14). Jesus, therefore, remains with us.

The end of the Gospel of Matthew is as its beginning. When narrating Jesus’ birth Matthew directs our minds to the prophecy of Isaiah, that the child born of the virgin would be Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:22-25; Isaiah 7:14); Matthew ends the Gospel with Jesus’ own promise that He will remain Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 28:20).

Thus it cannot be said that Jesus merely was Immanuel, human and in the midst of mankind for a short time, only to depart and abandon humanity. Jesus is Immanuel; He still is “God with us.” Is He with us in the exact same form and way He was with the disciples in Galilee and Judea? Not at all; instead, He is with us in more profound and compelling ways, ruling heaven and earth from the right hand of the throne of God, actively sustaining the creation, and strengthening His people through the Spirit. And so we can have the great confidence, as John declares, that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4); we have hope that as Jesus now is we will be in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-58).

We will experience difficult times and wonder if God has abandoned us. At those times we do well to remember Jesus’ final promise in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is Immanuel; He is with us until we will be with Him in eternity in the resurrection. We may not see Him with our eyes of flesh but we can discern Him through eyes of faith and spirit. We can know that He is there, for in God we live and move and have our being, and Jesus sustains our life (Acts 17:27-28, Hebrews 1:3). It may seem that the forces of darkness are prevailing, but we know that the Lord Jesus truly reigns and will gain the victory over them, having already sealed those who are His (Ephesians 6:12, 1 John 4:4, Revelation 12:1-20:10). May we entrust ourselves to the Lord Jesus and make disciples of all nations as He commanded us, reliant on His strength!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Singing in a Strange Land

For there they that led us captive required of us songs / and they that wasted us required of us mirth / “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How shall we sing YHWH’s song in a strange land? (Psalm 137:3-4)

The agony is palpable.

The historical books of the Bible tell us the story of the people of God, and generally do so in a rather straightforward fashion. So it is in 2 Kings 25:21, tersely declaring that Judah was exiled out of its land. The shock, the agony, the horror, and the astonishment of the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple and the exile of its people would find its voice elsewhere in Scripture. Few places prove as compelling as Psalm 137:1-6.

The Psalter communicated much simply by placing Psalm 137 in its current location. Psalms 120-134 are the “songs of ascent,” which we believe were sung as pilgrims would ascend the hill country of Judah to approach Jerusalem and Zion, where YHWH made His name to dwell. Psalm 135 praises YHWH as Creator, the God of Israel who destroyed their enemies, and the One True God, no dumb and mute idol. Psalm 136 is the grand call and response powerfully affirming YHWH as the Creator God of Israel, who has done great things, who delivered Israel from his adversaries, and who continues to provide, for His covenant loyalty/lovingkindness (Hebrew hesed) endures forever.

But then Israel sat by the waters of Babylon, and cried when they remembered Zion (Psalm 137:1). They hung up their musical instruments upon the willows (Psalm 137:2). The victorious Babylonians, pagans vaunting over their defeat of the people of YHWH, demand to hear the songs of Zion (Psalm 137:3). The Psalmist’s question rang out: how could they sing YHWH’s song in a strange, alien, foreign, and pagan land (Psalm 137:4)? The Psalmist would go on to resolve to never forget Jerusalem; he would rather forget his skill and never speak a word again before he would forget Jerusalem or enjoy anything above it (Psalm 137:5-6).

Ferdinand Olivier 001

We can barely begin to imagine the trauma of exile for those in Israel. Everything they knew and believed about themselves had literally been dashed to pieces in front of their eyes. They watched as thousands of their fellow Israelites, fellow people of God, died from famine, plague, and sword. They watched as the pagans ransacked the holy places of YHWH, whom they had believed to have been the God of Israel, who maintained covenant loyalty, and who overcame Israel’s adversaries. They were led to a distant land as the spoils of war, a land of strange tongues and stranger customs. Nothing could ever be the same again. Who would they become? What happened to YHWH’s promise? How had He let this happen to His people? How could they sing the songs of ascent to Zion when no such ascent proved possible? How could they sing YHWH’s song in a foreign land?

Without a doubt exile began as an extremely disorienting experience for Israel. Many would apostatize, believing the lie that might makes right, buying into the Babylonian propaganda. Yet for many the exile would prove the catalyst unto greater faithfulness; YHWH really was not only the God of Israel but the One True God, the God of heaven. He judged His people on account of their continual rejection of His purposes; Israel deserved far worse than it actually received. YHWH would again visit His people and bring them out of exile; He would again choose Jerusalem and Zion; Israel would again sing YHWH’s song in His land (Isaiah 40:1-5, Zechariah 2:10-12).

When Cyrus overthrew the Babylonian monarchy and took over the empire, Israel was allowed to return to its land (Ezra 1:1-4). And yet the exile was not fully over; Israel was still captive to foreign powers. Their long exile would only find its satisfaction in Jesus of Nazareth, YHWH in the flesh, having returned to His people, defeating sin and death through His death and resurrection, in His ascension establishing a dominion which would have no end (Daniel 7:13-14, John 2:14-22, Acts 2:36). Israel, and all mankind, received access to God through Jesus, and could become a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, with all the rights and privileges thereof (Ephesians 2:1-18, Philippians 3:20).

Yet before the people of God can inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, they must also experience exile. As Christians we live as exiles and sojourners in this world (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11); we live in its midst, ought to pray for peace and the salvation of all men, and do what is honorable among all, but we cannot love this world, cannot be friends with it, and cannot live according to its customs (Romans 12:1-2, 17, 1 Timothy 2:1-4, James 4:3-5, 1 John 2:15-17). We will be thought strange and consider the ideas and customs around us as strange (1 Peter 4:3-4); no matter how much we may look for a home and security, we will not find it here.

As with Israel, so with us: exile begins as a very disorienting experience. We also are tempted to apostatize, to believe the lie that might makes right, to buy into the propaganda of our nation and our cultural ideology (Romans 12:2). But our exile is designed to prove the catalyst for greater faithfulness, to prove the genuineness of our faith (1 Peter 1:1, 6-7). It is through the crucible of exile that we learn that God is the One True God, who has made Himself known through His Son, and that the only hope of the world is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is through the crucible of exile that we come to understand that the world is out for its own, does not glorify what God would have glorified, and that whatever we have experienced is far less worse than what we have deserved. It is through the crucible of exile that we learn to anchor ourselves in our great confidence and hope that Jesus will return again to gather His people to Him, that we will rise and forever be with the Lord, and dwell in His presence in the resurrection forever (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

It does seem difficult to sing YHWH’s song in a foreign land. Yet we must remember that God has already obtained the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, and we will prove more than conquerors if we remain faithful to Him (Romans 8:37, 1 Corinthians 15:54-58). The day is coming on which we will sing a new song and the song of Moses and the Lamb before the throne (Revelation 5:9-10, 15:3-4); until then, we do well to sing the songs of Zion even in a strange land, glorifying God for what He has accomplished for us through Jesus Christ the Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Waiting for Judgment

I heard, and my body trembled / my lips quivered at the voice
Rottenness entereth into my bones / and I tremble in my place
Because I must wait quietly for the day of trouble / for the coming up of the people that invadeth us (Habakkuk 3:16).

All has been said. Now the waiting began.

Habakkuk acutely perceived the iniquity and injustice pervasive in Judah in the latter days of the monarchy and wanted to know why YHWH was doing nothing about it (Habakkuk 1:1-4). YHWH responded, making it clear that He was quite aware of the situation and had a most terrifying solution: He was raising up the Chaldeans to overrun and destroy Judah (Habakkuk 1:5-11). Habakkuk attempted to make good theological sense out of this response, asking YHWH how He could have a more wicked nation overrun a comparatively more righteous nation in light of His holiness (Habakkuk 1:12-2:1). YHWH responds by affirming the salvation of the righteous and the end of the arrogant and presumptuous by the very earthly realities in which they trust: as they overpower, so they will be overpowered; the wicked in Judah will be overpowered by the Chaldeans as they overpowered the less fortunate; the Chaldeans in turn will be overpowered by another empire, and so on (Habakkuk 2:2-17).

Opera del duomo (FI), donatello, abacuc (zuccone), 1423-1435 dettaglio 02

Habakkuk responds to YHWH’s declarations as promised (Habakkuk 2:1), yet in the form of a prayer-hymn (Habakkuk 3:1-19). Habakkuk trusted in YHWH because he had heard and believed in the great acts of salvation in Israel’s past: the Exodus, the wanderings in the Wilderness, the Conquest, YHWH’s constant deliverance of the kings (Habakkuk 3:1-15). From those acts of deliverance Habakkuk recognized both YHWH’s great power exercised in His anger and His ability and willingness to deliver His people even from the strongest of foes. Habakkuk was one who was righteous and lived by his faith; he did not doubt for a moment all the devastation about to come upon Judah along with the eventual humiliation of Babylon (Habakkuk 3:16-19). YHWH has decreed; it will take place.

We know that Habakkuk’s confidence is well-placed because we know how it all goes down. Within a few years or decades, depending on when Habakkuk prophesied, the Chaldeans would invade Judah, destroy Jerusalem and the Temple, and exile its inhabitants (586 BCE; 2 Kings 25:1-21). Forty-seven years later Babylon itself would be overrun by the Persians (539 BCE; cf. Daniel 5:25-31). Babylon would be destroyed and rebuilt by the Persians; when the Seleucid Macedonians decided to build a new capital at Ctesiphon up the river, Babylon lost importance and soon faded. By the time the Abbasid caliphs built their capital even further up the river at Baghdad, Babylon was a ruin, lost to the sand until European archaeologists who believed in the name of the God of Israel would excavate it. Yes, Babylon would humiliate Judah, but Babylon would suffer even greater humiliation. YHWH would vindicate His name.

While we know that, and Habakkuk has confidence in it, as Habakkuk puts down his stylus, such is all in the future. For the moment he must wait, and the expectation of terror leads to very physical, and visceral, consequences: Habakkuk’s body trembled, his lips quivered, rottenness entered his bones, and he trembled at the magnitude of what was about to take place (Habakkuk 3:16). Habakkuk knew the terrifying things the Chaldeans would do the people of God and the house of YHWH. It was not yet, but it would be, and soon. Perhaps Habakkuk lived to see the devastation; perhaps not. Regardless, the book of Habakkuk ends with this pregnant expectation: it is going to happen, it will be ugly, YHWH will be vindicated. But it is not yet. When it comes, it will come speedily; but it is not yet (Habakkuk 2:2-3).

As Christians we should be able to sympathize with Habakkuk. We ought to be acquainted with God’s great acts of salvation and judgment: Jesus of Nazareth lived, died, rose again, ascended to the Father, and was given all authority (Acts 2:14-36, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Jerusalem was visited again in judgment, this time by the Romans; the Temple was again destroyed, never to be rebuilt (Matthew 24:1-36). The Romans, in turn, would meet their end (Revelation 12:1-19:21). The promise has been made that Jesus will return as He ascended (Acts 1:9-11): all will rise from the dead, the judgment will take place, the righteous will spend eternity in the Lord’s presence, and the wicked will be given over to their desires in hell (Matthew 25:1-46, Acts 17:30-31, Romans 8:17-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-5:11, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Revelation 20:11-22:6). As Christians, we have every reason to maintain confidence that all these things will take place. Yet we find ourselves in the same position as Habakkuk: we are to wait quietly (2 Thessalonians 3:12). It is not delayed nor will it delay; God is exhibiting patience toward all so they can come to repentance (2 Peter 3:1-9). When it comes, it will come quickly; none will escape (2 Peter 3:10-13).

And so we Christians wait for the judgment. We must keep living by our faith and practice righteousness (Habakkuk 2:4, Matthew 24:42-25:13). It may be within a few years, decades, or perhaps centuries; we cannot know. But we can know that it will happen. The Lord will return. But we wait, as Habakkuk waited. Maranatha!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Blessed Are the Righteous

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked / nor standeth in the way of sinners / nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers:
But his delight is in the law of YHWH / and on his law doth he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water / that bringeth forth its fruit in its season / whose leaf also doth not wither / and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
The wicked are not so:
But are like the chaff / which the wind driveth away.
Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment / nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For YHWH knoweth the way of the righteous / but the way of the wicked shall perish (Psalm 1:1-6).

You certainly cannot judge the book of Psalms by its cover.

The book of Psalms features so many wonderful songs and prayers praising YHWH and extolling His greatness while also giving voice to the pain, suffering, distress, and questions of the people of God. Yet the book begins with a psalm which would not be out of place in the book of Proverbs.

Psalm 1:1-6 is without a doubt a wisdom psalm, well crafted with sharp and vivid imagery. The Psalmist pronounces blessings on the righteous: he does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers (Psalm 1:1). Notice how the Psalmist intensifies the imagery: walking / standing / sitting would denote ever greater comfort and association, and wicked / sinners / scoffers features a progression from bad to worse! Instead the righteous delights in the law (Hebrew torah) of YHWH, and meditates upon it day and night (Psalm 1:2). He has taken the way of YHWH, not the way of sinners.

The Psalmist then describes the righteous in terms of a tree planted by a river (Psalm 1:3). In a semi-arid or arid climate like Israel, riverbanks are one of the few places where water will be found in dry times. Thus a tree planted by the river will produce fruit, will not wither, but will prosper, and so it will be with the righteous (Psalm 1:3).

Tree by River Dee - geograph.org.uk - 792040

The poetic flow of the psalm is sharply interrupted in Psalm 1:4, and for good reason: whereas the righteous prosper, it will not be so with the wicked! The Psalmist compares the wicked to chaff, the cases or straw of grains which provide no nutrition and are left to blow in the wind as worthless (Psalm 1:4).

The Psalmist assures us that the wicked will not stand in the judgment or in the “congregation of the righteous” (Psalm 1:5). YHWH knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:6). Thus Psalm 1 is a pure exhortation to wisdom, representing “proverbial orthodoxy” to the full: blessings and prosperity come to the righteous, but the wicked will perish.

Psalms 1 and 2 have no superscription; throughout time they have been understood as the “introduction” to the Psalms. This means that Psalm 1:1-6 was deliberately placed here as the beginning of the Psalter. Why should we expect the Psalms to begin with such a message, especially since the message of many of the psalms would challenge this “proverbial orthodoxy”?

Perhaps that is the very reason God directed the Psalter to begin the collection with Psalm 1. The world of the Psalms is full of sacrifices, kings, glory to YHWH, but also pain, suffering, doubt, and questions. The Psalmist grapples with the prosperity of the wicked and the struggles of the righteous. The Psalmist tries to make sense of a world in which the people of God suffer under the rule of pagan overseers. And yet Psalm 1:1-6 remains.

Psalm 1:1-6 reminds the reader, singer, or prayer of the Psalms of the two ways, the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked, and of their ends. It always goes best with the righteous: if not in this life, then in the next one. The Psalms in many ways must begin with a full exhortation to righteousness so as to remind Israel that sacrifice alone has never been and is not sufficient to please God. Likewise, Psalm 1:1-6 in many ways serves as an anchor for the whole Psalter: no matter how bad it gets, no matter how terrible it looks, it goes better for the righteous than it will for the wicked. In a world where Israel might be tempted to see too much grey God wants to remind them of the black and white.

We do well to recognize the value of Psalm 1:1-6. If we take it absolutely and expect the righteous to always prosper in this life and the wicked to always perish in this life we will be disappointed; as with all wisdom literature we must understand that many times the author is telling us the way things ought to be and will be when the Lord returns. On the other hand we can easily get discouraged when we see the complications in life, the seeming prosperity of the wicked, and the trials which accompany standing for righteousness. Psalm 1 reminds us of the way things should be, the way things stand before God, and that in the end the righteous will be the ones who are planted by the river and will prosper. The wicked will not endure!

Blessings still attend to those who seek to follow God’s instruction; they will prosper before God. We do well stand firm in God in Christ, as a tree planted by the water, and not be moved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Shooting Our Own

But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another (Galatians 5:15).

It has been reported that if a chicken develops an open wound, other chickens will relentlessly peck at that wound on that chicken until it grows very weak or dies.

Likewise, it is now being reported that allergies have arisen precisely because humans have eliminated or reduced contact with many forms of harmful bacteria. Apparently the human immune system feels compelled to keep busy and attack something; if there is nothing truly harmful then it begins to treat an otherwise harmless substance as a threat and thus the allergic reaction.

Groups of people can act in similar ways. If a group member displays some form of weakness, sensitivity, or problem not suffered by others, the group may attack that point of weakness or problem and it may lead to the end of that person’s association with the group. People seem to need something or someone to be against; if they cannot find or cannot properly identify a real threat they will likely find something that is not really threatening and treat it as if it is a threat. We may call this “shooting our own,” an image taken from the battlefield when members of an army turn on each other as opposed to maintaining their focus against their enemies.

Paul is very concerned about these tendencies playing out among the Christians in the churches of Galatia. Paul’s main purpose in writing is to rebuke and exhort a good number of the Galatian Christians for allowing themselves to be so quickly persuaded to consider observing the Law of Moses and accepting circumcision even though they were called to Christ as Gentiles (Galatians 1:6-7, 3:1-5). He speaks quite strongly about the danger of what they are doing and wishes for the emasculation of those “Judaizing” teachers causing this dissension (Galatians 1:6-9, 5:1-12). Much is at stake; those who remain grounded in the truth of the Gospel as revealed to Paul by the Lord need to defend it and remain firm!

Yet how the faithful Galatian Christians would defend that Gospel is exactly what leads to Paul’s concern. He wishes to remind them that Christ has called them to freedom, that the whole law is fulfilled in loving one’s neighbor as himself (Galatians 5:13-14; Leviticus 19:18, 34). As he would remind the Corinthians, knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1); such is a concern in Galatia as well. He thus warns the Galatians about the dangers of what they are or might be doing in Galatians 5:15.

On a strictly literal level it would seem that Paul would be giving license to a bit of biting and devouring one another: “if you do it, be careful that you do not consume each other.” On the other hand, we could understand the verse as placing the emphasis on the negative conclusion: if you bite and devour each other, beware! You will end up consuming one another. The danger inherent in the outcome remains regardless; if the Galatian Christians are not careful, they will end up destroying each other in their disputations about the faith, just like the chicken with the open wound, treating each other as the enemy as opposed to keeping focus on the Enemy of us all, directing the firepower which ought to be used against the forces of evil against one another, thus doing the Devil’s work for him!

Paul’s warning remains appropriate to this day. It is true that the Apostles warn about false teachings coming from among Christians and even those who serve as elders (Acts 20:29-30, Jude 1:3-23). When such people arise, their doctrines must be exposed for what they are. Yet it seems that some Christians devote themselves to biting and devouring one another, actively seeking out ways to disagree with fellow Christians, to smear them as “the other,” and act as if they are now in Satan’s service, and thus shoot their own and prove quite willing to destroy a part of Christ’s Body because they needed to find something or someone to attack. Likewise, there are times when Christians fall into flagrant sin or completely forsake the truth without repentance; in such cases disassociative actions ought to be done (1 Corinthians 15:1-13, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). Yet there are many other instances when Christians are actually weak, not as strongly connected to the Body of Christ as they should be, and in dire need of love, strength, and care, and yet they are treated like the wounded chicken and “shot” by their own, disciplined and disassociated from as if they were flagrant sinners. It is as if an army would just shoot their wounded as opposed to giving them care and rehabilitation to be made well!

Even though Paul was zealous for the truth and stood firm against the forces of error he always remembered that Jesus came to save people, not condemn them (Luke 19:9, 1 Timothy 1:12-15). Jesus did not need to find ways to condemn people; people do that well enough on their own. If Jesus was only about pointing out sin and actively working to destroy those who sin, He would have no need to die on that cross, to suffer terribly as He did. Does Jesus’ Body have this same mentality as Jesus? If the Body of Christ mercilessly tears into their own if they expose wounding or weakness, are they reflecting Christ? Should the “immune system” of the Body of Christ go haywire and start attacking that which is really harmless because it is not properly discerning what is truly harmful? Should the Army of the Lord do Satan’s bidding and turn their guns on one another, either firing on each other on the same line or for those in the rear shooting the advance guard because the latter “looks like the enemy” because they are the ones at the fore most actively taking the fight to the enemy? Whatever happened to building one another up or strengthening one another?

We are rightly disturbed at the behavior of chickens who would destroy the weak among them. We would be horrified to learn that a unit of the U.S. Army decided it was best to kill all their injured comrades because they were not getting up on their own and pressing forward. Those who suffer from allergies know the misery and pain that comes when the immune system goes haywire. Should we not show equal distaste when such behaviors are manifest in the Lord’s body, the church? Should we not be grieved in pain when and where this occurs? We must defend the truth. We must stand firm against the forces of error. But we must also love our neighbor and not bite and devour one another. We must always remember that flesh and blood are not the enemy, but the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). Let us stand firm against the Evil One, love one another, encourage all men, and seek to find ways to strengthen one another in the truth without shooting our own!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Worthy of the Gospel

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ: that, whether I come and see you or be absent, I may hear of your state, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).

In our sound-bite saturated world full of sloganeering and the expectation of reducing any worthwhile message to 140 characters or less, you could explain what it means to follow the Lord Jesus in worse ways than “living worthily of the Gospel.”

Paul is imprisoned in Rome somewhere around 59-61 CE (Philippians 1:12-13, 4:22); he writes to the church in Philippi which he had helped begin around a decade earlier (ca. 49-50 CE; Acts 16:11-40). The Philippian church was a source of support and strength for Paul; they provided for his needs many times, he has little need to rebuke them, and generally spends the time in his letter to them encouraging them to persevere and abound in what they are already doing (Philippians 1:3-11, 4:14-20). Having given thanks for their faith and association in the Gospel, speaking of his current situation, and considering his future (Philippians 1:1-26), he provides an important and definitive exhortation in Philippians 1:27: to live as worthy of the Gospel of Christ, to stand firm in one spirit, striving together for the faith of the Gospel with one mind.

Paul uses very specific language in this verse. To “live” is in Greek politeuesthe, literally, to be a citizen or behave as a citizen would, thus, to live in accordance with the polity; therefore, to “live worthily of the Gospel” is really to conduct oneself according to the constitution of the Kingdom of God, following Jesus’ commands, pursuing the Kingdom life God intends under the reign of His Son (1 John 2:3-6). This term would resonate for the Philippians who lived in a Roman colony; they would have seen quite clearly what was expected of Roman citizenry, but here are encouraged to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God. “Striving together” for the faith of the Gospel is the Greek sunathlountes, literally, wrestling, competing, contending at the same time alongside/with another; he uses the same term to describe how Euodia, Syntyche, Clement, and others “labored with” him in Philippians 4:3. This “striving with” evokes teammates working together to win at a sport; so with the “conflict” or “contest” in Philippians 1:30, the same term used in Hebrews 12:1, but also as in fighting the good fight of faith in 1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7, perhaps showing that a military understanding of comrades fighting together would not be entirely inappropriate for this passage.

Thus Paul exhorts the Christians of Philippi to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God in Christ, in a way worthy of the Gospel. A life worthy of the Gospel is, by definition, worthy of the good news proclaimed regarding Jesus of Nazareth, His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and the hope of His return (Matthew 1:1-25, Acts 2:14-36, Acts 17:30-31, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, etc.). A life worthy of the Gospel is consistent with the life of Jesus, manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, having turned aside from the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:17-24, 1 Peter 2:18-25). As the Lord Jesus came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many, who humbled Himself by taking on the form of a servant, and proved willing to suffer for the sake of others and to overcome evil (Matthew 20:25-28, Philippians 2:5-11, 1 Peter 2:18-25), so it must be with those who would live according to His life and reign in His Kingdom. The good citizen of the Kingdom of God in Christ will not conduct him or herself as citizens of the Rome would; they are about love, patience, humility, service, consideration of the needs of others, holiness, righteousness, and joint participation in Christ with the fellow people of God; so much of this will be utterly foreign to citizens of Rome or otherwise of this world who lived and continue to live for more selfish and carnal purposes!

It remains important to stress that Paul did not intend for the Christians of Philippi to live lives worthy of the Gospel individually and independently in a bubble. To live as citizens of the Kingdom of God in Christ in such a way so as to be worthy of the Gospel demands perseverance in one spirit, in one soul striving together for the faith of that Gospel (Philippians 1:27). The Philippians must strive together in light of the trials they have and will no doubt be soon experiencing: they have adversaries, they are or are about to suffer on Christ’s behalf, and are involved in same conflict as Paul himself (Philippians 1:28-30). If Acts 16:16-24 are any indication, the Philippian Christians would be accused of practicing and encouraging the practice of customs not lawful for Romans, and experience imprisonment, beatings, and perhaps even martyrdom. Divided they would fall; only if they remained united would they stand firm and strive together through this trial. It is likely not a coincidence that two of the churches born in the midst of persecution, Philippi and Thessalonica, proved notable for their maturity and strength in Christ, while churches which experienced more prosperity and less external harassment, like Corinth and Laodicea, proved more carnal and immature. The faith will either be fully rejected or become quite precious if your life is endangered by it; solidarity and community with your fellow people of God proves necessary when forsaken by worldly family members, friends, co-workers, and the like.

Despite fear-mongering to the contrary, no such significant danger of persecution is on the horizon for twenty-first century Christians in the Western world. There are some parts of the world where Christians do experience this type of persecution, and we do well to pray for them and to seek to encourage them as we have opportunity (1 Peter 5:9-10). Yet our need to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God in Christ, worthy of the good news of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and promise of return, persevering in one spirit, striving together with one soul for the faith of the Gospel is no less acute. Our world today is full of people who claim certain moral standards without living by them; plenty of people live independently in alienation, quite lonely, yearning for connection, but resolutely going to trudge along in their own path. This has never been the way of the God who is One in relational unity, holy and righteous, loving, gracious, and merciful; if we live as hypocrites with a country club or entertainment venue attitude toward the church and thus the fellow people of God, we prove to be citizens of this world, not worthy of the Gospel of Christ and not reflecting the values of His Kingdom. “Lone rangers” cannot remain so in Christ! No; the only way we will make it through is together, standing firm together, striving together, encouraging and edifying one another. Yes, this demands a high level of doctrinal agreement, but doctrinal agreement alone is not true unity. As Paul continues in Philippians 2:1-4, true unity demands considering the needs of one another as greater than our own, seeking out one another’s needs, demanding love, humility, and service. This unity does not come easily or automatically; it demands great effort and constant vigilance. It will lead to hurt, suffering, pain, and agony; consider, after all, all that Jesus endured from the people of God. Yet it remains the only way forward if we really want to participate as citizens in the Kingdom of God in Christ; it is the only way to live worthily of the good news of Jesus who lived, died, and was raised again to reconcile all things back to God (2 Corinthians 5:18).

As God is One in relational unity, so we will only truly find life in God when we strive to be like Him, conformed to the image of Christ, participating as a citizen of the heavenly Kingdom, living worthily of Christ, one with one another and one with God (John 17:20-23, Romans 8:29, Philippians 1:27). To share in the resurrection of life and to jointly participate in eternal life with the fellow people of God in His presence is, after all, the hope of the Christian in Christ; if we do not share in even a glimpse of that life now, how can we share it in the life to come? We do well, therefore, to seek to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God in Christ, living like Jesus, standing firm and striving together with the people of God, becoming ever closer to God and one another just as God intended, and be prepared to participate in the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Alienation

Wherefore remember, that once ye, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision, in the flesh, made by hands; that ye were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12).

To many loneliness and alienation is a fate worse than death. Who really wants to be entirely alone?

As Paul writes to the Ephesians (and if Ephesians is an encyclical letter, which is plausible, to other congregations of Christians as well), after describing the initial condition of all mankind and how God has acted in Christ to provide salvation (Ephesians 2:1-10), he then turns specifically to the Gentile Christians, of whom there were likely many in Ephesus and Asia Minor, and spoke of how God reconciled Gentiles with Jews, the people of God, to make one new body of God’s people in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-18). As with his description of salvation, so with his description of the in-gathering of the Gentiles: he first describes the condition of the Gentiles before they found reconciliation in Christ in Ephesians 2:11-12, and it is not a pretty picture. They were the “uncircumcision,” used in derogatory ways (e.g. 2 Samuel 1:20). They were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, having no part of the nation of the people of God; they were strangers, or outsiders, not sharing in the covenant of promise given to Abraham and maintained through Isaac and Israel (Genesis 12:1-50:12). Therefore they found themselves with no hope of resurrection or reconciliation and without God, the source of light and life, in the world (Ephesians 2:12). People of the nations (“Gentiles” meaning “nations”) found themselves in quite a distressing and difficult place: they were out there alienated from God, His people, and therefore all that is good and holy.

Almost two thousand years later we all find ourselves, at some point, in this condition; when we live in sin we are separated from God (Isaiah 59:2), have no hope in the resurrection but a fearful expectation of judgment (Romans 2:6-11, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Hebrews 10:26-31), and at a fundamental level find ourselves alienated from the people of God (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 1 Peter 4:3-5). Is that any way to live or seek to maintain existence?

Modern life and culture have only exacerbated man’s condition of alienation. In the past, for better or for worse, people most frequently spent most of their lives within a few miles of where they were born; everyone knew everybody, and quite often, everybody’s business. It was not that long ago when neighbors actually knew one another and looked out for one another; neighborhood children would play with each other and grow up together. People had to interact with each other when traveling and while shopping. These days many extended families are spread across the country or even the world; many move frequently; technology develops ways to function without interaction. If anything our fellow man becomes a matter of irritation: those other cars on the road leading to traffic delays; other shoppers who are in the way or taking too long at the register. Even the Internet with its great promise of connecting people around the world easily leads to alienation when people choose electronic contact over personal contact. We may have new and better toys, yet they have come at the expense of our relationships with one another. Why are we surprised, then, when so many people are depressed, anxious, and feel quite alone and alienated from their fellow man?

Despite the popular myths of society man was not made to be fully independent and alone. Humans were made in the image of God who is Three in One, One in relational unity (Genesis 1:26-27, John 17:20-23). As humans we need connection with God and with fellow human beings in order to live and thrive! Such is why Paul does not stop with the story at Ephesians 2:12 any more than he did in Ephesians 2:3; the great news of Jesus Christ is that all who were once alienated from God and His people can now be reconciled through the blood shed by Jesus, and we can share in the hope of resurrection and life together with God and one another for eternity through Jesus’ resurrection (Ephesians 2:1-18, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Thanks to Jesus we do not have to suffer from alienation any more. Through Him we can be reconciled to God (Romans 5:6-11). Then we can become the people of God and share in that work and community together (Acts 2:42-47, 1 John 1:7)!

Sadly there are times and places when and where Christians feel alienated and alone. Perhaps they work in difficult places. Perhaps their congregation is not fostering a strong sense of community within itself. Perhaps the Christian has not proven willing to open up so as to be part of the larger group, afraid of getting hurt or burned for the first time or yet again. Perhaps the Christian or the members of the church have believed a bit too much in the American myth of complete independence and self-sufficiency. Regardless of the reason, this ought not be, for how can the people of the God who is One in relational unity survive and thrive when living in alienation, isolation, and loneliness?

The church, as Christ’s body, must reflect the will of its Head, the Author and Finisher of its faith and practice (Ephesians 5:25-32, Hebrews 12:2); as Jesus is One with the Father and the Spirit, so He wills for us to be one with one another in His body (John 17:20-23). Such is why He said that His “mother and brothers” are those who do the will of His Father, privileging the spiritual relationship over all others (Matthew 12:46-50). Such is why Paul exhorts Christians to prefer one another in honor, expecting the members of the body of Christ to have the same care for one another (Romans 12:10, 1 Corinthians 12:24-25). Therefore, building strong relationships and community within the local congregation is not an optional work, but crucial for the spiritual health of all involved. It will not always be pretty; relationships never are. It will require a lot of growth and change on the part of many, yet that is exactly what we are to experience while in this life (1 Peter 1:3-9).

A group of people professing Christ but as alienated from one another as they are from the rest of the people with whom they interact in the world does not reflect the will of God in Christ for His body, and the people of the world know that. Why bother being associated with a group of people who have as little to do with one another as the people they already know, especially when that association comes with additional levels of guilt and shame? When the church looks like the world, then the church has failed. But when people of the world see Christians love each other, care for each other, strengthening the relationships with each other, are there for one another in good times and bad, and that Christians are therefore able to draw strength from one another and are built up in their faith, just as God expects in John 13:34-35, Ephesians 4:11-16, they can see how radically different that is from the alienation present in the world, and all of a sudden being part of the people of God becomes a much more attractive proposition! The orphan can find a family; the introvert can find acceptance; the one who feels like they are always failing find support; and all who are part of the group live in the confidence that whatever may come they have the people of God to hold them up and sustain them no matter what!

Deep down we are all very scared of being alone. Christ has redeemed us from that fear; are we willing to trust in Him and make it a reality for ourselves and our fellow people of God?

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Love of the Brethren

Let love of the brethren continue (Hebrews 13:1).

It is always easy to pick on “the brethren” and their problems. For as long as there have been Christians, there have been ways in which Christians have fallen short (Romans 3:23). The letters of the New Testament from Romans through Jude are all written, to some extent or another, on account of the problems of Christians, either rebuking Christians for failures or warning Christians about the dangers that come from false teaching and sin. To this day it does not take long to make a long list of problems we have experienced with “the brethren,” on an individual or “institutional” level. We Christians can always find all sorts of reasons why what “we” think, say, and do sometimes causes problems; “we” can always find difficulties with how “we” operate.

Such critiques clearly have their time and place, as can be seen in the New Testament. Yet we do well to recognize that “the brethren” were never meant to just be a punching bag. Just as the letters of the New Testament from Romans through Jude were written to some extent to deal with the problems of Christians, those same letters were also written to some extent to praise and build up those Christians in what they were doing correctly. While there will always be problems and things “we” are not doing right, we do well to recognize that there is plenty that “we” are doing that is right, and, in fact, reflects the joy, peace, and love which can be found in God in Christ.

The Hebrew author has been quite critical of the Jewish Christians to whom he writes. He is concerned about their spiritual maturity (Hebrews 5:12-6:4); the main argument of the letter presupposes a concern that some would seek to return to the old covenant and no longer persevere in Christ (Hebrews 4:1-9:27). He rebukes them for their inability to recognize God’s discipline and its benefit (Hebrews 12:3-11) as well as their frailness (Hebrews 12:12-16). Yet even here the Hebrew author does not deny the love the Christians have for one another, only insisting that it continue (Hebrews 13:1). He also commends them for their steadfastness in the former days (Hebrews 10:32-36).

The love of the brethren does continue. When Christians find themselves in great need, other Christians are there to assist financially, emotionally, and spiritually. Christians are active in serving other Christians and those in the world around them, be it through volunteering, adoption, hospitality, mentoring, or in other similar ways (Galatians 6:10). Christians remain generous in giving to those in need as well as for the support of those who preach the Gospel in the United States and around the world (1 Corinthians 9:14). Christians young and old yearn to see the Gospel message taken to more people in more places and are willing to support that endeavor any way they can. And Christians still do show hospitality to one another, sharing meals together, opening their homes to each other, and enjoying the conversations and time spent together (1 Peter 4:9).

Are there exceptions to these? Of course. Is everything well? No. But we must remember that we are not alone, that there are other Christians around the world who seek to proclaim the Lord Jesus in their lives (1 Peter 5:9). Christians do seek to apply the life of Jesus to their own lives and appreciate all encouragement, exhortation, and even rebukes given toward that end (2 Timothy 4:1-4). Christians still prove interested in spiritual matters, even among the younger generations. It is imperative that we continue to cultivate these good trends.

There are problems and will always be problems. We cannot avoid those problems nor should we pretend they do not exist. We must call out sin and false teaching (1 Timothy 4:1-4, 2 Timothy 4:1-6); we must warn against conformity to the world (1 John 2:15-17). But it is not all bad and all bleak, and if we maintain such a perspective, we might just make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, we must exhort and rebuke regarding failures, sin, and error, but we must also encourage and appreciate the good, the love, and the faithfulness, and seek to nurture it further. When we do exhort and rebuke, let us do so in love because we want to see our fellow Christians reflecting Christ more accurately so that we no longer have to make such exhortations and rebukes. In all things, let us all continue to love one another and appreciate all endeavors which lead to the glorification of God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry