The Blessing of Children

Lo, children are a heritage of YHWH / and the fruit of the womb is his reward (Psalm 127:3).

Children are a blessing. We may need a constant reminder of that, especially when they are young, but it remains true.

Psalm 127:1-5 stands among the “psalms of ascent” (Psalms 121:1-134:3); they were sung as Israelites would ascend to Jerusalem and the Temple to present themselves before YHWH during the festivals and feast days as commanded (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). Psalm 127 is the only psalm of ascent attributed to Solomon; he meditated upon YHWH’s provisions for His people. If YHWH has not built a house or kept a city, its builders and watchmen labor in vain (Psalm 127:1); it proved vain to get up early, stay up late, and overwork in worry, for YHWH gives sleep to those whom He loves (Psalm 127:2). Solomon then turned to speak of children: they are a heritage and a reward from YHWH (Psalm 127:3). Children are compared to arrows in the hand of a mighty man (Psalm 127:4); the man who has a quiver full of them is blessed, and will not be put to shame when he or they speak with his/their enemies in the gate (Psalm 127:5).

In context children are reckoned as part of YHWH’s provision of security for His people. Who would want to resist a mighty man with many arrows? A man with few allies may be easily manipulated or bullied by his enemies in the handling of civic affairs in the gate of the town (cf. Job 5:4); if the man has many children who stand up for him, his enemies will find it harder to challenge him. Whole families would have ascended to Jerusalem for the feasts and festivals; such a psalm would reinforce confidence in YHWH for security and protection, and commendation of the value of children in growing a prosperous household.

The covenant between YHWH and Israel was very much a this-worldly covenant: it does speak to certain spiritual things and realities, but the conception of its obligations, blessings, and curses is very much of the physical realm (cf. Leviticus 26:1-46). An Israelite would therefore recognize himself as blessed by YHWH if he maintained his ancestral property and lived to see his grandchildren or even great-grandchildren (e.g. Genesis 50:22-23). An Israelite would reckon himself as cursed by YHWH if his ancestral property was overrun by others, especially non-Israelites, and if he died either childless or if his children died in his lifetime (e.g. Ruth 1:1-5). Hope for the future, therefore, was invested in children: children who would grow up, inherit the land, and provide for his parents in their old age (the meaning of “honor your father and mother”; cf. Matthew 15:4-6). Children, therefore, proved quite important as a hope for a continued share in Israel and as some security against future distress.

Today we live in a very different world than ancient Israel. The individual and his or her fulfillment is exalted above almost every other conception of what is good. People have children if and when they want to have children; if they do not want children, they have many means by which to hinder procreation. Parents are expected to sacrifice for their children, but children are not expected to provide for their parents; that is the job of investment accounts, Social Security, and nursing homes. For these reasons, and others, many in culture have concluded that having children is a lot of work and not a lot of return on investment; therefore, many are not having children at all.

It is nearly impossible to explain the value and benefits of having children to anyone who has made individual, personal fulfillment the highest goal in life: by their very nature children demand a lot of resources and personal sacrifice. Children teach us a lot about ourselves and our role in the world, but at a high cost to ourselves. Not a few in the past have felt the obligation to “pay forward” the energy and investment their parents poured into them; such an “obligation” is not felt as acutely anymore. Perhaps only biological impulse is left to persuade many people to have children, and even then, not for all.

Children, therefore, are no longer considered blessings in society; they are envisioned primarily as dependents, ravenous consumers of time and energy. Our culture thus indicts itself as a culture of death, one doomed to obsolescence; a culture without children is a culture without much of a future.

Christians must affirm the value of children. Yes, it is true that our hope is in the resurrection, and not in propagation of children (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1-40); yet, in Christ, we recognize that we are all children of our heavenly Father, whom He created as His offspring to enjoy in relationship (John 17:20-23, Acts 17:28, Romans 5:6-11, Ephesians 2:19). God shared love within Himself, and He was therefore moved to create the universe, placing within it man made in His image; God has worked to reconcile mankind to itself, suffering greatly in the process, in love, grace, and mercy extended to His children (Ephesians 2:1-18, 1 John 4:7-11). If God were first and foremost all about His “personal fulfillment,” then we would be condemned, lost in our sins.

Children are to honor their parents (Ephesians 6:1-2); a Christian who does not provide for his or her parents if they need it in their old age has abandoned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8, 16). Yet parents have children to share in life with them, to build and grow relationships with them, and to enjoy the fruit of a good life: grandchildren. Yes, children will be the source of pain and suffering as well as joy; such is the way life goes under the sun.

Ultimately nothing proves as humbling as having children, but few things prove as astonishing and powerful. In parenthood we get to experience life differently; we learn responsibility, love, care, humility, and glad suffering on behalf of another, and in a small way embody the love of God toward mankind. The problem is not with children; the problem is in how we ascertain blessings, our attachment to the fleeting idol of personal fulfillment, and the ultimate futility of the narcissistic, self-absorbed life.

God did not make us to be islands unto ourselves. God did not make us as radical individuals. God did not make us to strive for personal fulfillment above all. God made us to seek relationship with Him and one another. God made us to learn what it means to live by experiencing life as a child, as a young adult, and then as parents. May we affirm children as blessings, both in what we enjoy about them as well as in the humility and perspective we gain through them, and trust in God for protection and salvation!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Swift to Hear

Ye know this, my beloved brethren. But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath (James 1:19).

When God made mankind He formed two ears and one mouth. Few are those who use them in such proportion.

James, the brother of the Lord, sought to exhort Christians to faithful and proper conduct in Christ in his letter. As part of these exhortations he encouraged them to be quick to hear but slow to speak and slow to anger (James 1:19); he continued by reminding Christians that the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20).

There is no real mystery in James’ exhortation. Most people know they should listen more and talk less. A good number of those who do not understand this prove difficult to tolerate and are most likely masking some kind of insecurity or another. We do not want to be “that guy.” Yet it proves all too easy to become “that guy.”

We do well to return to James’ exhortation over and over again in every aspect of our lives, for his message is true wisdom. Too many of us have a strong tendency to speak first and think and ask questions later. How many times have we put our feet in our mouths because we spoke rashly and did not really listen to what others had to say? How many embarrassing or sinful situations could we have avoided if we had stopped long enough to listen so as to be able to speak more effectively and properly regarding the situation?

Why do we do such things? Whether we want to admit it or not, we prove swift to speak and slow to hear because we think quite highly of ourselves, our understanding, and our perspective. We believe we already have enough information to make a judgment. We believe that we already have the standing to say what we are saying. We are sure that we are right and the other person, to some degree or another, is deluded or misinformed.

We therefore must manifest humility if we would be swift to hear. To listen is to recognize the need to give a hearing to the other person; in so doing we might find out that we were not as right or as accurate as we first imagined. For good reason God expects everything to be demonstrated by the mouth of two or three witnesses, not merely one (Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15, 2 Corinthians 13:1); one who pleads his case seems right until his neighbor comes and searches him out (Proverbs 18:17). In reality we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23); not one of us can presume the privilege of being absolutely right and having the exactly right view on things. We all labor under various pretensions, delusions, and misapprehensions. Humility demands that we recognize those limitations and therefore to give others the right to be heard.

Love demands that we be swift to hear. Love does not vaunt itself; it is not puffed up; it does not behave unseemly; it does not seek its own; it does all these things as much as it does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:4-6). Truth has no need to fear investigation, probing, and exploration; if we truly are in the right, listening should not cause us angst or apprehension. To be swift to hear demonstrates a level of care, concern, and consideration not often seen in the world anymore. People appreciate when they feel as if they have been heard, even if that hearing does not lead to complete agreement. Rarely do people feel loved after they have been railroaded and told things without any chance to speak themselves, no matter how accurate the spoken information might be.

When we are swift to hear we are in a better position to understand, and thus be able to speak to, the issue behind the issue. Very few issues in life are clear-cut and entirely above board; most disagreements and difficulties involve unspoken fears and apprehensions as well as different implicit biases and assumptions about the way things are. If we truly seek to communicate so as to be understood and to guide people toward transformation in Jesus, we need to speak to the real issue and not merely the surface issues, as Jesus manifested well in His conversations and discussions during His time on earth.

These principles prove true in all sorts of conversations and relationships. Woe to the husband who so focuses on the substance of his wife’s complaints that he does not hear the anxiety and concerns of her heart. Children are often poorly equipped to express their deepest feelings, fears, and needs, and often act out to make their cry of help; are we quick to hear the difficulty or do we just get angry at the misbehavior? American culture and society seems hopelessly divided because each side wants to speak more than to hear, to condemn the other more than to understand the fears and apprehensions motivating the behaviors. And how can we preach the Gospel to someone whom we refuse to hear? We may have the right message, and they may be operating under all sorts of delusions, but how can we know exactly what they need to hear and how to encourage them until we first hear them and thus perceive their challenges? On what basis have we earned any standing in their lives so as to speak the Gospel message if we have not first proven swift to hear them and show them that love, respect, and humility which interpersonal communication demands?

Swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger is a very hard road for most people; it proves all too easy to “forget” in the heat of the moment and act in the opposite way. We do well to gather ourselves, take a deep breath, make a quick prayer, and deliberately attempt to listen and hear as we have opportunity. We will discover that we are better heard when we first prove willing to hear; our words prove more effective when we give ourselves the opportunity to choose them well by first hearing what the situation demands. May we be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, using our ears and mouths in the proper proportion, and all to the glory of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Discipline

It is for chastening that ye endure; God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father chasteneth not? (Hebrews 12:7).

Discipline; chastisement: we do not like the sound of these words. They may bring back unpleasant memories from childhood. Even the Bible makes it clear that no one really enjoys discipline when it happens (cf. Hebrews 12:11). How many times have we schemed in life in attempts to avoid discipline and/or chastisement? And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we understand the need for and value of discipline.

The word translated as chastening (or, in other versions, discipline) is the Greek paideia, which can refer to the whole training and education of children, and for adults, that which leads to correcting errors, limiting the exercise of passions, and actual chastisement for bad behavior. In 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul describes Scripture as providing “instruction” (paideia) in righteousness; in Ephesians 6:4, he encourages parents to raise their children in the “nurture” (or “discipline”; paideia) and admonition of the Lord.

We do well to keep the breadth of meaning of paideia in mind when we consider discipline, since it is very easy for us to focus on the negative. “Discipline” or “chastisement” tends to be associated only with some kind of penalty or punishment for misbehavior; that automatic association is unfortunate and a distortion. Just providing (or suffering) a penalty or punishment is not discipline: punitive acts alone do not change or alter behaviors. Instead, the aim of any kind of discipline ought to be corrective; any punishment or penalty should be designed with correction of improper behavior in mind.

We normally associate discipline and chastisement, as seen above, with raising children. This remains a most critical aspect to discipline, for children will grow up and have to learn about the boundaries of proper behavior somehow or another. The only question involves the quality of that instruction and from whom it is received: will instruction and discipline be based in the message of the Lord Jesus or not? Will the child ever learn truly proper behavior, or will they just learn to go along with the boundaries society or the law imposes upon them? How much will they be taught by their parents, and how many lessons will they have to learn through their own mistakes?

It is easy to imagine discipline only in terms of growing up from childhood into adulthood, but discipline does not end because we have left home and are now “grown up.” We must maintain discipline within our own lives, whether through learned behavior or by external restraints. We have to live within our means; we have to conduct ourselves within the boundary of certain standards. We will be punished in various ways by not abiding within these boundaries.

If we believe in God, trust in Him, and seek to do His will, we will receive discipline and chastisement from His hand (Hebrews 12:3-11). Such a view seems sharp and harsh; too many already have a view of God as an authoritarian disciplinarian, and passages like this do not seem to help that perspective. People want to envision that God provides all the good things in their lives, but then will blame God for abandoning them when bad things happen. But let us hear out what the Hebrew author is telling us.

The Hebrew author makes it clear that the problem is with our views and expectations, not God Himself. After all, we have all seen overly permissive parents and the royal terrors and spoiled brats coming out of that relationship. Most of us can look back in our own lives and understand the value and benefit received from proper discipline and chastisement that we received from a figure of some authority. We all need to learn boundaries and understand that there are negative consequences for transgressing boundaries; there is not one of us who can live among other people and not learn this lesson. And since, as human beings, we are all fairly hard-headed, we must pay a penalty or suffer a consequence if we will ever really learn to respect certain boundaries. We did not like discipline at the time: we did not enjoy punishments, we did not enjoy homework, we did not enjoy having to put in a lot of work in order to gain some reward or benefit, but through it all we were supposed to learn to respect boundaries, that we are not entitled to receive anything without working for it, that in order to accomplish anything of value we must devote our time and energy to them, and so on and so forth.

This is exactly what the Hebrew author is saying about discipline (Hebrews 12:3-11); he shows how the example of earthly fathers and the discipline they impose upon their children is a (albeit imperfect) type of the reality of our relationship with God. Just because we have reached the age of 18 (or 28, 38, 58, 78…) does not mean that we no longer need discipline; if anything, as we reach mature adulthood, the necessity of discipline is more evident. God provides discipline and chastisement to His children precisely because He loves them and wants them to live well! Without that discipline, God would be a permissive parent– in the words of the Hebrew author, if God did not discipline us, He would be treating us like illegitimate children! If we are illegitimate, we have no share in Him! How tragic that would be!

As in childhood, so in life: we have lessons to learn in every situation. There are wholesome lessons to be learned through hard effort and success; there are wholesome lessons to be learned when things go wrong and/or when we suffer. Sometimes we might experience pain, misery, suffering, or other such difficulties so that we might learn to stay within the proper boundaries of God’s will and to develop peace and righteousness. It is rarely enough to just intellectually grasp such things; we need to experience them if we will learn from them.

Therefore, in times of difficulty, let us not assume that God has abandoned us. We might be experiencing a moment of chastisement. Even if it is not some kind of punishment or penalty for our excess or transgression, we can still learn discipline through the experience, having our faith refined and developing the characteristics of self-control, peace, patience, and faithfulness, which seem to only develop through suffering. Even if it is unpleasant, let us be willing to endure discipline; without it, we cannot be children of God!

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

Jesus and the Little Children

And they were bringing unto him little children, that he should touch them: and the disciples rebuked them.
But when Jesus saw it, he was moved with indignation, and said unto them, “Suffer the little children to come unto me; forbid them not: for to such belongeth the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein.”
And he took them in his arms, and blessed them, laying his hands upon them (Mark 10:13-16).

One of the aspects of Jesus that is most commonly known involves His concern for children. For generations people have drawn or painted various representations of Jesus with little children. For us today it only seems natural that Jesus would show such concern for little children.

Yet, as the response of the disciples indicates, His concern was not considered natural automatically in the first century. It is easy for us today to look back on the disciples and think them to be hard-hearted or perhaps even inconsiderate or uncaring for children. But that is unfair. It is not as if the disciples do not like little children– the disciples want to make sure that the Lord is not inconvenienced or bothered so that, at least in their estimation, He can continue to focus on the adults who really need Him, His power, and His message. The children, after all, will probably not remember Jesus too well, and certainly not as well as the adults would and should. Jesus and the disciples were at work in “grownup” matters, and therefore why should the Lord be hindered by a bunch of little children?

Jesus responds to them sharply. Yes, He has great concern for the “lost sheep” of Israel (cf. Matthew 10:6), and focuses much of His energy on pointing them toward God’s Kingdom. Nevertheless, the little children are very important!

Our society has become very child-focused and child-oriented in the past century; it is easy for us to work diligently to make sure that we do not overlook children. Jesus’ care for the children should surely demonstrate to us that care for children is extremely important in the sight of God. Jesus’ care for the children underscores a more fundamental point: God cares for all the “little people” of the world, both in terms of age and social standing. Whereas many may overlook small children, the dispossessed, the widow, and the like, God cares for all of them and desires for us to care for them also (cf. James 1:27). Everyone is important to God!

Jesus’ concern is not just for the little children; He also takes advantage of the opportunity to teach the adults a very important lesson. Jesus was well aware that the disciples had been disputing among themselves who would be the greatest in the Kingdom (cf. Mark 9:33-37), and even in that instance pointed out how God receives children and those who receive children. In Mark 10, a more fundamental point is made: those who enter God’s Kingdom enter it like a child. The Kingdom belongs to children!

One can only imagine the response of the disciples. They had good reason to be ashamed– the very ones whom they were willing to overlook were the ones most precious before God. They were trying to forbid those to whom the Kingdom belonged so that Jesus could more freely proclaim that Kingdom among others!

Jesus’ point is quite humbling, and such is the intent. The illustration puts to lie the belief that children are born inherently sinful– how can the Kingdom of God belong to unregenerate brats? If the way we enter the Kingdom is by becoming as children, and if children are inherently sinful, did Jesus bear the cross in vain? By no means; children are pure and innocent before their Maker, and only as they grow up do they learn to sin (cf. Romans 5:5-18).

So what is it about little children that makes them ideal citizens of God’s Kingdom? It is their unfailing trust in their parents. They look up to their parents and think the world of their parents, no matter how worthy or unworthy that belief may be. They naturally depend on their parents to take care of their needs in life and trust that their parents have their best interest at heart and seek the best for them.

And so it ought to be with believers and their heavenly Father. Those who are part of God’s Kingdom have unfailing trust in God the Father (cf. Hebrews 11:6). They look up to and think the world of their heavenly Father, and He is worthy of that honor (cf. Psalm 150). They learn to depend on their heavenly Father to take care of their needs in life and know that He has their best interest at heart, seeking what is good for them, since He was willing to give up His Son for their salvation (cf. Matthew 6:21-34, Romans 8:31-39).

It is easy for little children to have that trust in their earthly parents and their heavenly Father; they do not really know any better. Such trust is a profound challenge for “grownups,” however, because they have lost that innocence and are always tempted to trust in themselves and what they can perceive. It is always easier to walk by sight than by faith, but citizens of the Kingdom are willing to trust in God no matter how terrible things may seem (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7)!

Jesus loves the little children. Let us praise God that He is concerned for the lowly and easily overlooked, and let us develop that childlike trust in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Adoption

For ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).

Having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will (Ephesians 1:5).

There is a saying that goes, “you can pick your spouse, you can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you cannot pick your relatives.” This statement is designed to be humorous and to reflect a reality that exists for most people in regards to their blood relatives: there was no choice in the matter. Parents cannot choose their biological children; children cannot choose their biological parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives. Most of the time, there is a sense of “blood obligation” that exists among family members. Most cultures have respected this sense of obligation– when family needs assistance, you provide that assistance.

There are many in the world, however, who do not have the luxury of family. Perhaps their relatives have died or become incapacitated because of some tragedy. Other times the parent or parents do not feel able to provide for the child. Some, tragically, do not care for their children at all.

And yet, for such children, there is hope in adoption– a family that, despite the fact that there is no blood connection, chooses to bring the child into their family and to consider him or her as one of their own. It is a very special relationship– parents by choice, not by any feeling of compulsion or obligation. A child who did not know love can now experience love.

In spiritual terms, the image of believers as “biological” children of God is present in passages like the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. We also find, however, the image of believers as adopted children of God in Romans 8:15 and Ephesians 1:5. We should not believe that these images are opposed to one another; each image, in fact, highlights a different aspect of our relationship with God.

There is great power in the image of believers as adopted children of God. Adoption is always a choice on the part of the parent, and it is a choice entirely motivated by love. Likewise, God chose to provide the means by which we could be adopted as sons and daughters– He was not forced or compelled to do so– and His motivations were entirely based in love (1 John 4:7-11). It cannot be said that an adopted child “deserved” to be adopted or any such thing; furthermore, we certainly did not “deserve” to be adopted as the children of God (cf. Romans 5:5-11). Likewise, just as adoption can take place across racial, ethnic, linguistic, and any other boundary, so God has adopted into His family people of every race, ethnicity, language, etc. (Galatians 3:28). Finally, just as the adopted child is considered as legitimate as a biological child, so we also stand able to receive the inheritance of sons and daughters on account of our adoption (cf. Romans 8:15-18).

As believers who have been adopted spiritually as sons and daughters of God, we do well, if we have opportunity, to adopt children in their distress (cf. James 1:27), reflecting in our own families what God has done for us. We should not consider adoption to be something strange or something to malign, some type of a “consolation prize” for those who cannot have biological children, or believe that adopted children are any less legitimate than biological children. Instead, we should all be thankful that God has decided to adopt us as His children, despite our various differences and past sinfulness!

Ethan R. Longhenry
written on the occasion of the adoption of his daughter Ella

Washing Feet

“If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15).

Few events in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth had been more astounding.

The disciples and many others were amazed to see Jesus displaying power against demons, sickness, and even the natural world (Mark 1:27, 4:41). But it was expected that the Messiah would have power and authority (cf. Isaiah 11:1-10, etc.). His teachings were profound and also came with authority (Matthew 7:28-29), yet, after all, Jesus did come from God (cf. John 13:3).

And then the disciples saw Jesus carrying the basin of water with a towel around His waist.

The humiliation and degradation involved in foot washing has largely been lost on us. Nevertheless, it was acutely felt in the ancient world. People walked around barefoot or in sandals. If they lived in a city they would be walking in mostly unpaved streets with refuse and human waste everywhere. If they lived in rural areas they would be walking in the mire of the fields and the animal pens. Ladies who enjoy wearing flip-flops today can perhaps begin to sympathize with their ancient counterparts– nevertheless, at the end of the day, ancient feet were beyond disgusting. To enjoy a proper meal, they would need to be washed.

Generally it was a slave who was designated to wash the feet of the family members and their visitors. The lot would always fall to the slave with the least standing– the low man on the proverbial totem pole. It was not a job that anyone would enjoy– and it would certainly not be a task that anyone would consciously, willfully choose to do.

And yet the Lord of all, God made flesh, Him through whom all things were created (cf. John 1:1-3, 14) now stands before the disciples and proceeds to wash their feet (John 13:3-5).

Impetuous Peter cannot stand the thought of the Lord and Christ washing his feet (John 13:6-8). He keenly perceives Jesus’ humiliation to stoop to such a task and he cannot bear the idea of this role reversal. Peter knows that he should be washing Jesus’ feet, not the other way around! In order to alleviate the shame, Peter requests for Jesus to also wash his hands and head (John 13:9)– anything to make this humiliation of Jesus less humiliating.

Yet, as usual, Peter does not really understand what Jesus is doing. Jesus, of all people, is very aware of how humiliating and degrading it is to wash feet. Jesus perceives the astonishment, confusion, and perhaps even horror of His disciples. He then fully explains why He washed their feet, and in so doing, He provides one of the greatest challenges to any who would call themselves His disciples.

Jesus does not deny that He is Lord and Teacher– that He is. It is as their Lord and Teacher that He washed their feet– the most humiliating and degrading task– to teach them that if Jesus the Lord and Savior washes feet, so too ought those who follow Him. As Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, so the disciples should “wash the feet” of fellow disciples!

This is exceedingly important, and we should not get so wrapped up in arguments about whether we are to “literally” wash feet or not to cause us to miss the force and power of Jesus’ action and example. How many times in the Gospels does Jesus come out and say explicitly that He is providing an example? Not too many! Therefore, it is evident that Jesus is emphasizing this action and its meaning, and wants all of us to take notice.

Service is rarely glorious. Service is often demeaning. It can be repetitive and annoying. It may seem futile. It may offend our sensibilities. Jesus knows all of this, and that is why He washed the disciples’ feet.

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, humiliating and degrading Himself to the utmost (cf. Philippians 2:5-10), doing the most unimaginably disgusting job in the ancient world, then for those who call themselves His disciples, there is no job too humiliating or degrading to do in His name (cf. Colossians 3:17).

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, who are we to say that a given task is too beneath us for us to accomplish?

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, who are we to say that a given task is too repetitive or futile to accomplish?

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, who are we to say that expectations for us by others are too degrading and beneath our abilities?

Jesus shows us through His example that we must serve (1 John 2:6). We must do this in every aspect of our lives. Husbands and wives must “wash one another’s feet,” and should not complain that tasks are too degrading or repetitive or stupid (Ephesians 5:21). Parents and children ought to “wash one another’s feet” (Ephesians 6:1-4). Employees are to “wash feet” by working as to the Lord, no matter how obnoxious their earthly boss may be (Ephesians 6:4-9). We can find plenty of other ways in which we can serve in other capacities in our lives (Romans 6:15-23, 12:1).

Service is not always pleasant, enjoyable, novel, or exciting. It can be downright frustrating, humiliating, and obnoxious at times. But let us remember that Jesus our Lord washed feet, and we are to do likewise. Let us serve in all capacities as Jesus served so that He may obtain the honor and praise (cf. 1 Peter 1:7)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

God’s Ways

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’
Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.
Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’
O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” declares the Lord GOD.
Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin” (Ezekiel 18:25-30 ESV).

There had been a proverb in Israel for many generations: the fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge (cf. Ezekiel 18:2). The idea was that children bear the iniquities of their fathers. The idea made sense to them. Apples don’t far too fall from the tree, in general, and children act in similar ways to their parents. God Himself warned the people that He would visit the iniquity of fathers upon children for multiple generations (cf. Exodus 20:5).

Nevertheless, the concept was faulty. While it was true that children often had to suffer directly and indirectly for the sins of their fathers, and that God would punish one generation and perhaps not the ones before it, it was not true that children bore the iniquities of their fathers. God explains quite clearly in Ezekiel 18 that the soul that sins will die for his sin, and the soul that does what is right will be saved, regardless of how their father or son might act. Furthermore, if the sinful repent, they can be saved; likewise, if the righteous plunge into sin, they will be condemned.

But Israel does not like this message. It is not consistent with the way they look at it. So what do they do? They declare that the way of God is not just!

It is not my intent to get into the complexities of the nature of the discussion here; instead, it is quite interesting to note how Israel is quite willing to declare the Author of justice to be unjust when it does not suit their perspective. Their definition of what is “just” or “fair” is different from God’s definition, and they have figured that their definition is the right one.

We can see the arrogance of their position! How dare they declare God unjust! If God is the Author of Life and all that is good and holy (Genesis 1), and if He loves justice (Psalm 33:5), how can He be declared unjust by mere humans? As it is written:

Thou wilt say then unto me, “Why doth he still find fault? For who withstandeth his will?”
Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?
Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, “Why didst thou make me thus?” (Romans 9:19-20).

The Israelites were quite in the wrong, as the creation, to declare the Creator to be unjust. If they did not repent of such folly, they would stand to be condemned!

While we can step back and see how arrogant the Israelites were, have we stopped to consider if we have done the same?

Some may be so bold as to declare the way of the God as not being just or fair. Others may not declare it by word but do so by deed. Too many will attempt to subtly change God’s message, or interpret the message in a way that is more consistent with their worldview.

But the end is all the same: if we do any such thing, we are declaring that we know better than God, and our ways are more just than His ways.

In the new covenant, God has provided salvation for all who are willing to hear and obey (1 Timothy 2:4, Romans 6). That may very well mean that people who sin terribly and yet repent may be saved while some who did not live so sinfully may be condemned (1 Timothy 1:12-16, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). It very well may mean that sincere people who thought that they knew about God find out that they really did not know Him and will pay the penalty (Matthew 7:21-23). It may mean that things we think are right or fair or just are not right, fair, or just according to God’s standard (Matthew 19:3-9, Galatians 5:19-21). It may even mean that people who worked all their lives for God’s purposes will receive the same reward as the prodigal son who returns to God later in life (cf. Matthew 20:1-16).

Many people hear such things and declare God to not be just. And who are any of us to declare His ways unjust? In so doing, we are no better than Israel, and should expect the same fate. Let us not presume to judge the qualities of God, but instead praise and thank Him for the opportunity to be redeemed from sin and death and to obtain eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry