Fertilizer

And he spake this parable; “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit thereon, and found none.
And he said unto the vinedresser, ‘Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why doth it also cumber the ground?’
And he answering saith unto him, ‘Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit thenceforth, well; but if not, thou shalt cut it down'” (Luke 13:6-9).

Agriculture provided plenty of fodder for Jesus when it came to His parables.  Jesus perceived that there were many parallels between how plants develop and grow and how His Kingdom would develop and grow, and people readily understood matters of agriculture.  Here we have one such parable– one that you may not hear about as often as the others.

We expect fruit trees to produce fruit.  Yet we ought not expect excellent fruit to come immediately after such a tree is planted; according to the Law, the Israelites were to consider the fruit of a tree during its first three years as “uncircumcised,” the fourth year devoted to the LORD, and afterward the fruit could be eaten (Leviticus 19:23-25).

The master, therefore, comes to see the fig tree after its three years, and it has not produced any fruit.  Without fruit, the tree has no value, and ought to be cut down in his eyes.

Yet notice what the vinedresser tells him.  He confesses that the tree has not been productive, yet before any permanent decision is made, he makes a request to have one more year to “dung” it– provide fertilizer– and then see if the plant will produce its fruit.  If so, well and good.  If not, it can be cut down.

Parables generally have application to Christ’s Kingdom, and this one is no exception.  There is much to be gained here!

When people come to belief in Christ, it takes time for the proper fruit to be manifest (Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:14).  It takes time to grow in the faith.  Therefore, we should not expect mature “fruit” from immature “trees.”

Yet fruit is still expected.  What happens when there is no “fruit”– no indication that there is any growth in a young believer?  Should they be immediately cast out?

Absolutely not– we must apply the “spiritual dung,” that is, proper encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25).  Sometimes growth does not take place because the proper nutrients are not present, and when nutrients are provided, the growth will come.

This is why it is so important for believers to encourage one another, building up the Body (1 Corinthians 12:12-28).  Yet it is not limited to believers.  Do we know people who are struggling to get through life, and who do not seem to be getting very far?  Consider how to encourage them.  Are there people in despair?  Seek to encourage them.

Encouragement is the fertilizer of life.  Use it bountifully among others, and see how much fruit can be borne!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Moving Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Greatness of Jesus’ Accomplishments

For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).

Part of the greatness of what Jesus has accomplished involves the profound contrasts between who He is and what we are. He humbled Himself mightily by becoming a man, let alone a carpenter’s son in the backwoods of Galilee (Philippians 2:5-11). While we humans prize strength, power, glory, learning, and might, Jesus came in weakness, humility, and relative insignificance (Isaiah 53, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Matthew 11:28-29). When humans would expect the Son of God to conquer with the sword, Jesus conquered through dying and being raised again (1 Corinthians 15:57-58).

And even though we are sinners, and deserve nothing but death and condemnation for what we have done, Jesus died for us.

He by whom all things were created died so that we could live (John 1:1-3).

The Author of Life laid His down so that we could live in Him (Acts 3:15, John 10:17, 2 Corinthians 13:4).

He who has all strength took on weakness to deliver us from our own weaknesses (2 Corinthians 13:4).

He who loves beyond measure experienced mockery and derision so that we could be reconciled to God (Matthew 27, Romans 5:11).

The High Priest became the sacrifice so that we could minister to God (Hebrews 7).

And this was all accomplished not because we were holy, not because we were righteous, and not because we deserved it.

It was accomplished despite our sinfulness, despite our unrighteousness, and despite our own lack of love and mercy.

It was finished so that we could learn to love through Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered, and we are to suffer (Romans 8:17). The Word became flesh so that flesh could obey the Word (John 1:14).

Jesus died for sinful man so that man could be restored to His image (Romans 8:29).

When we ponder on these things, it is hard not to be humbled, astonished, and greatly thankful for all that was accomplished despite ourselves.

And it should provide sufficient motivation to go and reflect that love to all men (Matthew 5:13-16)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Give Us a King!

But the people refused to hearken unto the voice of Samuel; and they said, “Nay: but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

Everyone would admit that the period of the Judges was difficult.  For three hundred years or so Israel participated in a vicious cycle of idolatry, oppression, deliverance, and a fall back into idolatry.

But things were not getting better.  The Philistines were stronger oppressors than previous adversaries.  While Eli and Samuel were competent judges, their sons did not follow in their footsteps.

What Israel sought seemed logical.  The judge system was not getting them anywhere fast.  Perhaps if they had a centralized authority and administration, they could finally defeat their enemies and have peace.

Yet Israel was distinctive because of all the nations in the world, they had the LORD of Hosts as their King.  By repudiating the system of government which He set up, Israel was really repudiating Him.

Israel would not be persuaded otherwise.  They were not thinking in the long-term, how that centralized authority would virtually enslave them with taxes and levies, and how that centralized authority would end up leading all Israel into some type of captivity.  They wanted a king– and they wanted him now.  Just like all the nations.

As Christians, we are to be a “different” type of people.  We are not to conform to the world, but to be conformed into the image of Jesus the Son (Romans 12:1; 8:29).  We stand as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven (Philippians 3:20), serving Christ the Lord and King.

There is always the temptation, however, to want to be like the nations around us and lose our distinctive nature in order to do what seems to us to be better.  In such a condition, as opposed to obtaining our “inspiration” from God, we get our “inspiration” from those around us in the world.  It may seem logical, and we can come up with all the reasons we want to justify it, but it is the same in the end.

When we seek a “king” so that we can be like “all the nations,” we repudiate the rule of Christ the Lord.  Let us always look to Him for our direction!

If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth (Colossians 3:1-2).

Ethan R. Longhenry

No Greater Faith

And the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having under myself soldiers: and I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goeth; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he cometh; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he doeth it.”
And when Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:8-10).

“Faith” is a word casually thrown around in our world. Most people recognize that religion has a lot to do with faith. Many in America believe that all one needs is faith. Yet, despite all this talk of “faith,” precious little energy is devoted to what this faith looks like.

Since Jesus provides such a great commendation for the “faith” of this centurion, we would do well to consider his example.

As a centurion in the Roman army, he understood authority. The Roman military expected complete obedience to every command; they conquered the known world because of their famous discipline. When the centurion received orders, he strove to fulfill them. When he gave orders, he expected them to be fulfilled. Everyone knew their place and their function, and it was assumed that they would do what they were told. Consequences for disobedience were sufficient to keep such a system in place.

The centurion hears of Jesus and believes the claims made about Him– he beseeches Jesus by calling Him “Lord” (Matthew 8:6). Based on that conviction, he makes his request, and he knows that if the Lord grants the request, the thing will be accomplished. He has no need to have Jesus come to his house and to see Jesus perform the act in front of him– he understands that if Jesus is Lord, and He says something will take place, it will be accomplished.

He also knows his place. He declares himself “unworthy” of having Jesus come to his house. He recognizes authority when he sees it and defers properly to that authority.

This is the type of faith that causes Jesus to marvel. What of us?

Do we have the conviction that Jesus is Lord? Well and good– what do we do with that conviction? Do we have the confidence in Jesus to accept that if He says that something will come to pass, that it will happen? Do we have the confidence in Jesus to believe that if we lose our lives, we will find them (Matthew 16:25)? Do we have the confidence that if we put the Kingdom first, God will provide (Matthew 6:33)? Do we have the confidence in Jesus to forsake all in order to serve Him (Matthew 10:37-39)?

Do we really understand authority? Americans live in a country high on freedom and quite skeptical of authority figures. Do we really accept Jesus’ Lordship? Can we see ourselves as His servants (Romans 6:16-18)? Are we willing to entirely subject our own wills to His (Galatians 2:20)?

Furthermore, can we muster the humility to recognize our place before Jesus the Lord? Do we recognize our own unworthiness of having the Lord in our presence (cf. Titus 3:3-8)?

The centurion shows how we can have a “marvelous” faith. That faith is the strong conviction of Jesus’ Lordship leading to great humility and subjection before Him. Let us have this faith so that we can recline at table with the Patriarchs and the Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Spiritual Reality

And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, a host with horses and chariots was round about the city.
And his servant said unto him, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?”
And he answered, “Fear not; for they that are with us are more than they that are with them.”
And Elisha prayed, and said, “O LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.”
And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha (2 Kings 6:15-17).

By all accounts, the situation looked grim.

The Aramean king learned that Elisha was foiling his plans to raid Israel, and sent his army to end the threat.  The Aramean army comes toward Elisha– a terrible sight indeed.  Who can stand against the foe?  The Israelite army has enough problem, let alone some prophets!

We can understand and sympathize with the great concern of the servant.  According to the physical reality on the ground, there was little reason to hope.

Yet Elisha is unperturbed.  He recognizes the spiritual reality in their midst.  He knows that there are more on his side than there are for the enemy– even if such are invisible to man’s eyes.

We can only imagine what the servant felt when he suddenly sees the angelic host with its fiery chariots.  He, no doubt, felt amazement and wonder.  Stupefied is probably more like it.  None of it was visible a moment earlier.  Yet, in the blinking of the eye, everything was different.

Yet nothing was really different.  The angelic host was always there.  The servant simply did not perceive them!

This passage seems to teach us that there is a spiritual reality in our very midst that we do not perceive.  If our eyes were opened, we might feel amazement and wonder, utterly stunned at all that is around us.  Everything would seem different, but nothing would really be different.  It is always there, just past our physical senses.

Let us remember this when we feel alone or discouraged, believing that our situation is hopeless.  We may be struggling with a temptation to sin; we may feel some persecution for our faith; we might be experiencing some kind of trial, physical, spiritual, or otherwise.  It may seem that the forces of evil and darkness are too numerous, and we despair of victory.

Yet, as it is written,

Ye are of God, my little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).

In Jesus Christ we will have the victory.  There is no force greater than His Lordship.  We just need to have faith that an overwhelming spiritual reality is all around us, and that there are more for us than there are for them!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Judgment

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, ‘Let me cast out the mote out of thine eye;’
and lo, the beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).

Judgment: it seems to be the default pattern for human beings.  In a very real and legitimate sense, this is natural: in order for us to understand our environment, we must process that which our eyes see, ears hear, nose smells, and so on and so forth.  We file our impressions and understandings away in our brain, and these help us make continual sense of the world.

But we have a problem when it comes to our fellow human beings: it is very easy and very natural for us to base our impressions and views about them from our experiences and standards.  We may look at our fellow man in competitive ways, and judge their relative value to us or their relative “standing” in the “social order.”

Lamentably, we often judge others at a harsher standard than we do ourselves.  We have built-in excuses for justification when we do not live up to our own ideals, but we do not give our fellow man or woman a similar benefit of the doubt.  We judge ourselves by our ideals; we judge others by what they do.

Jesus’ concern is entirely appropriate.  Too often this passage starts arguments over what Jesus is or is not saying, and that is itself tragic.  Jesus is not telling us that we are not to mentally process information we gain from others.  He is not telling us that we cannot discern the fruit of people (cf. Matthew 7:16-20).  He is not saying that “all judging is wrong.”

But all of these things cannot hinder us from understanding what Jesus is saying: in the end, we are not the judges; God is (cf. James 4:12).  If we justify ourselves while condemning others, we should not be surprised to see others condemning us while they justify themselves.  The picture of a man with his brother seems humorous, but when we make personal application, it just does not seem funny anymore.

It is not funny because we all have those beams in our eyes.  We all have our sins, our faults, our idiosyncrasies.  We are all sinners, and there is not one person among us who is better than another.  We have no right to presume to judge others by our own standards, for in so doing we become “hypocrites.”  Let us remember that the Pharisees considered it their function to judge their holiness and the holiness of others, while Jesus came in humility and compassion to seek and save the lost.  Whom should we be imitating?

We are best served to focus on the “beam in [our] own eye,” and in humility encourage everyone to recognize that judgment will be made by God’s standards (Matthew 25:31-46, Acts 17:30-31, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, James 4:12).  We would do well to give others the benefit of the doubt, remember our own place, and show compassion on others.  Discernment, encouragement, and exhortation are our responsibilities; let us leave the judgment to God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Hope

For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it (Romans 8:24-25).

Hope, in the world, is the antidote to despair.  The word only begins to surface when things no longer go well.  When economic times get rough, people hope that conditions will improve.  When someone becomes ill, people hope that they recover.  Yet, in “normal,” positive day-to-day life, hope does not seem as necessary.

The Christian, however, is to live in hope (Romans 15;13, 1 Corinthians 13:13).  There is not a time in which we are not to await the return of our Lord, the redemption of our bodies, and the opportunity to spend eternity with the Lord (Ephesians 1:18, Colossians 1:5).  It is at that point, as Paul says, that we shall no longer hope, for our hope will have been realized.

But that day has not yet come.  We must never be so comfortable in our lives here that we lose sight of our greater hope.  We cannot allow confidence in the riches of this world to lead us to neglect our hope for riches in Heaven.  We cannot be so satisfied with life here that we no longer hope for a better life in eternity.  If earthly blessings sap our hope for heavenly ones, we of all people are most impoverished.

Many people live almost entirely in hope because they do not have the multitude of blessings that we have.  While we may feel sorry for them now, in the long run perhaps we are to be more pitied, if we lose our heavenly hope in the satisfaction of the present.

As long as we live in a sin-sick and tragic world, let us cling to our hope in Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

He Has Done It

All the fat ones of the earth shall eat and worship: All they that go down to the dust shall bow before him, Even he that cannot keep his soul alive. A seed shall serve him; It shall be told of the Lord unto the next generation. They shall come and shall declare his righteousness Unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done it (Psalm 22:29-31).

While Jesus hung upon the cross, according to Matthew, He cried out with the introductory verse of Psalm 22– “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani”, or, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Psalm 22:1). While it is disputed whether this represents an actual separation between the Father and Jesus, or whether He is simply evoking the Psalm, the strong parallels between Jesus’ crucifixion and Psalm 22 cannot be denied.

David well expresses the agony and anguish that Jesus would suffer. He would be mocked and derided for His faith in God (Psalm 22:7-8). His hands and feet were pierced (Psalm 22:16). His enemies surrounded Him (Psalm 22:12, 16). His clothes are taken by others (Psalm 22:18).

Despite the suffering, however, neither David nor Jesus lose their faith in God. Their confidence is wholly upon the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel, and they will be vindicated.

Jesus was not delivered from His enemies that day in any way that humans would recognize. Three days later He was alive again. The power, the glory, and the might were all now His.

And indeed, it was told to the next generation. And the generation after that. And in every generation until now.

And we continue to declare His righteousness, that He has done it.

He has done what was necessary for us to be saved (Romans 5:6-11).

He has done what the Law could never do– conquer sin and death (Romans 8:1-3).

He has done the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile, bringing people from every nation, tongue, and race to Him (Ephesians 2:11-18).

He has fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 5:17-18).

He has accomplished the victory for all who would come to Him (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Let us never cease to praise Jesus who accomplished so much through His suffering. Let us continue to proclaim His righteousness to everyone.

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Philosophy of Christ

As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and builded up in him, and established in your faith, even as ye were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ (Colossians 2:6-8).

The first century world of the Colossians was steeped in philosophical positions. Platonists, Peripatetics, Stoics, Epicureans, and all kinds of permutations of these and other philosophies taught their various doctrines.

The seductions of philosophy have enticed believers in Jesus Christ since the beginning of the religion. Yet, as Paul warns, our faith cannot be rooted in the presuppositions of worldly philosophies that may include some truth, yet also be founded on some errant views.

Instead, we must maintain the “philosophy of Christ”: believe in Him, be rooted in Him as the Lord, as a servant in His Kingdom, walking in His paths. As Christians, we may jointly affirm some truths with various philosophical systems, but we must always remember that our foundation is Jesus Christ, not Plato or Aristotle or Descartes or Derrida.

Let us make sure that our Christianity informs our view of worldly beliefs and philosophies, and not allow our faith in Christ to be compromised by greater faith in philosophical principles than God’s revealed truths!

Ethan R. Longhenry