Imitation

Beloved, imitate not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: he that doeth evil hath not seen God (3 John 1:11).

Much has been said in a such a short letter: John has spoken to Gaius regarding the support of those who proclaim the Gospel (3 John 1:5-8), warning him about Diotrephes (3 John 1:9-10), and will commend Demetrius as well (3 John 1:12). The core moral instruction and encouragement John has for Gaius is clearly and concisely presented in 3 John 1:11: do not imitate evil, but imitate good; those doing good are of God, while those who do evil have not seen God.

The exhortation is to not imitate evil, but imitate good. Such a declaration assumes there already exists a standard defining good and evil, and the only question left to decide is whether our thoughts, feelings, and actions will be done in imitation of that which is good or if it will imitate evil. We might like to think that there is some form of “originality” in the thoughts and feelings we have or in the actions we do, but we are all just imitators in the end. We go along whatever path we feel like going along; we find it well-worn at every point. Perhaps this is why God thought it best to send Jesus His Son in the flesh to embody that which is good in thought, feeling, and action (John 1:18, Acts 10:38, Hebrews 1:3, 1 John 2:6). We now know whom we are to imitate; we are to conform to the image of the Son (Romans 8:29).

Meanwhile the world does well at promoting evil through imitations of what seems to be good. Very few people are so bold as to imitate evil for evil’s sake; most people imitate evil by imitating things they think will lead to the good or happiness but are, in reality, fraudulent. We are constantly tempted to take God’s good things and make gods of them, to give the honor due the Creator to the creation (cf. Romans 1:18-32). People pursue imitation love, imitation peace, imitation joy, and all sorts of other imitations, all of which do not lead to righteousness and holiness but more often immorality and evil.

We do well to note how little vagary exists in this exhortation. One either imitates good or imitates evil; one manifests whether they know God or whether they have not seen Him. A similar delineation, spelled out in greater detail, is found with the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:19-24. Sometimes we would like to think that there might be some “gray areas” when it comes to good or evil, and yet the Scriptures remain stubbornly black and white about the matter. There is what is good, right, and holy, marked by humility, love, and compassion, full of grace and mercy, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit: this is the good which we are to imitate, and in so doing recognize that we are of the God who is all of these attributes. There is also that which is evil, sinful, and base, marked by fraudulence, deceit, lust, and worldliness: this is the evil we are to avoid, for no one who has seen God or truly knows of God would continue in such things which are entirely contrary to His nature and purpose. And never shall the twain meet!

There is good, therefore, and there is evil; the two are opposed to each other like the poles of a magnet. If we are to imitate the good, every process of life should be good: our thoughts should be good (2 Corinthians 10:5, Philippians 4:8), our feelings, attitudes, and disposition should be good (Galatians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:12-15), so that our deeds can be good as well (Matthew 7:15-20). This demands that we pay as much attention to the process as we do to the final product. It might be tempting to seek to promote or defend God’s purposes using the Devil’s tactics or playbook, but it cannot work that way; it is impossible to promote good with evil. We must defend and promote God’s purposes in God’s way, with love, humility, grace, and mercy (1 Peter 3:15). Contentiousness, sectarianism, anger, and all such things cannot produce the righteousness of God (cf. Galatians 5:19-21, James 1:20)!

This sharp contrast should remain with us as a good reminder and form of encouragement. It is not always easy to imitate good; there are a lot of forces marshaled against us (cf. Ephesians 6:12, 1 Peter 5:8), everything from lust to temptation to fear to pain to inertia. But if we have encountered the living God through Jesus His Son, how can we do anything else? He thought that which is good, maintained a good attitude and disposition, felt compassion on others, and went about doing good, and we ought to imitate Him. Let us imitate what is good, demonstrating that we know God, in the process as much as in the final product, in our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes as much as in our deeds, and so glorify and honor God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Contend for the Faith

Beloved, while I was giving all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation, I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints (Jude 1:3).

Jude would have much rather written a different letter than the one he wrote. Perhaps he wanted to speak about the hope and joy he shared with his fellow believers; maybe he wanted to remind them of the story of what Jesus had done for them and the promises of what He would do in the future. Regardless, more pressing issues were at hand.

Teachers promoting false doctrines and practices were afoot. They sought to turn God’s grace into sensuality, denying the truth regarding Jesus (Jude 1:5). They defiled the flesh on account of their vain imaginings and rejected proper authority (Jude 1:8). They reviled that which they did not understand and lived according to their “instincts” (Jude 1:10). They grumbled, were never satisfied, boasted, and sought their own advantage (Jude 1:16). And they were not afar off, leaving Christians alone; they remained in the midst of the Christians and sought to advance their ideas among them (Jude 1:12).

Many such teachers were likely advancing Gnostic ideas, professing to have “greater” and more esoteric “knowledge” of spiritual truth than can be found in the pages of Scripture. These teachings did not respect the unity of the body, soul, and spirit; they were especially dismissive of the body. Some later Gnostic groups would insist on strict discipline upon the body; other groups, however, taught that whatever one did in the body would not touch or tarnish the soul, and it became powerful justification for committing all sorts of immorality and doing whatever felt right.

This was not the same message which Jesus and the Apostles promoted. Jude felt compelled to remind the Christians of that important difference.

He encouraged the Christians to “contend” for the faith (Jude 1:3). To believe, maintain, promote, and teach the faith is not automatic; it takes effort. In the face of false doctrines and idols it will be quite the struggle to stand firm in the message of Jesus. Christians must resist the temptation to compromise the message, to distort the message through emphasizing some aspects over others, and to water it down to seem more palatable. Christians must also stand firm against the attempts by others to adapt and manipulate the faith, whether people claim to have received superior insights or deny some of the claims made regarding Jesus and the faith in Scripture.

While maintaining and promoting the faith will demand struggle, it need not demand contentiousness or ungodliness in argument. There are good reasons why Paul lists contentiousness and outbursts of anger as works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). We are to make a defense for our hope, but it must be done with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). One cannot promote the Gospel with one’s words if one’s demeanor, attitude, and perhaps even conduct are more consistent with worldliness, ungodliness, and the Evil One!

Jude has good reason to exhort the Christians to contend for the faith, because it is “the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). The novel interpretations and “insights” of the Gnostics were not part of that which was delivered “once for all.” We can see the core message of the Gospel declared from the very beginning of the church on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:14-38; the next twenty years would show the advancement of that message first just among Jews but then also among the Gentiles. Thus the implications of the Gospel and to whom it should be promoted were clarified in those first few years, but the message remained the same (cf. Galatians 1:6-9). God did not intend to make continuous revelation regarding the Gospel and how we are to follow after Jesus; the very fact that Jesus lived for a particular period of time, died, was raised from the dead, but then ascended to the Father exemplifies this. What more can be known about the nature and character of Jesus that is not somehow already revealed by Jesus and the Apostles? What more is necessary to promote the Gospel than was necessary when Peter, Paul, and the others promoted it in the first century? If it is all about following after Jesus and to walk as He walked (1 John 2:6), what can be added to what has already been established?

The message was delivered to the saints, and these are Jude’s concern. He wants to make sure that they remain in God’s love, seeking Jesus’ mercy, and seeking to show mercy and to save others in return (Jude 1:20-23). They are to stand firm against the false teachings promoted in their midst, but they must always remember how God is the Judge, and we all remain in need of grace and mercy (cf. Romans 14:1-13, James 4:12, Jude 1:20-21).

There have always been people who have sought to distort the message of the Gospel for their own ends; there always will be. Therefore, believers must engage in the struggle to maintain, preserve, and promote the faith delivered once for all to the saints. We must not compromise it, distort it, or water it down, but we must also never betray it by using ungodly methods while struggling to defend it and advance it. Let us contend for the faith, honoring and glorifying God through our thoughts, attitudes, words, and deeds!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Our Defense

But sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15).

You have probably heard it asked at some point or another: if you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

The question is designed to be a pointed reminder that we must not just profess Jesus Christ but actually demonstrate our faith in word and deed (cf. James 1:22-25). As such, it is important for us to consider: is our faith at work in our life?

Yet there is another question that could be asked that is just as important: if you were charged with being a Christian, could you make a defense for the hope that is in you? Peter is encouraging us to be able to do this very thing.

Before any defense for the faith can be made we must make sure that we have purified our hearts and fully submit ourselves to Jesus’ Lordship (cf. 1 Peter 1:22, 3:22). An oral defense that is not consistent with the way we live our lives will be next to meaningless. If we are going to believe that our hope is in Jesus and the resurrection, we must pattern our lives after Jesus (cf. 1 John 2:6). Christianity has never been and never will be just a set of dogmas for intellectual consideration, for Christ demands the transformation of mind, body, and soul.

We must then obtain understanding and know the substance of the faith– to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). The defense is for the “hope that is in us,” the sustaining confidence that Jesus is Lord and that as He obtained the resurrection, we also can obtain the resurrection (1 Peter 1:3-7, Philippians 3:11-14). Are we able, as Paul was, to persuade men on the basis of our proclamation of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 5:11)? Or do we find ourselves speechless when we are asked about our beliefs, not knowing what to say or to where we should appeal in Scripture? We ought to strive to have the knowledge and ability to make that defense!

But we must make that defense in a way consistent with our Lord. It must be done in “meekness and fear,” or, as in other versions, “with gentleness and respect.” Far too many attempt to defend God’s truth with the Devil’s tactics, and when that takes place, only the Devil wins. We must always remember that we stand up for the faith and defend it to persuade others to accept it and not to prove ourselves correct. If we make a masterful defense that clinches the argument but pushes a soul away from Jesus, we have utterly failed! No religious argument is ever worth “winning” if it exhibits the qualities of the works of the flesh and not the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-24)!

Our defense must not involve ridicule of others and their belief systems, for if we refuse to respect the sincerity of the beliefs of others, we do not deserve to have our beliefs heard or respected (cf. Luke 6:31). This is not to say that we believe that others are correct simply because they are sincere– people can be very sincere and very wrong at the same time (Acts 23:1, 1 Timothy 1:12-14). But people perceive when respect is not being accorded to them, and they are much less willing to hear us if we speak in condescending, arrogant, or sanctimonious ways. A defense of the faith made without gentleness and/or respect is actually counterproductive!

There are many souls who are thirsty for the knowledge that leads to life but do not know where to turn. In these times we must all take on the responsibility of not just believing in Jesus but also knowing what precisely it is that we believe, why we believe it, and why others should believe it as well, and then work diligently to persuade others regarding the truth that is in Jesus Christ. If we do not make a defense for our faith, who can be encouraged to believe? If we will not stand up for the truth of the Gospel and gently and respectfully correct misunderstandings and misapprehensions, why should we be surprised when others reject the faith? Let us make our defense for the hope that is in us with gentleness and respect, and may God receive the glory!

Ethan R. Longhenry