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

Dehumanizing Deviance

Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body (1 Corinthians 6:18).

But it doesn’t hurt anyone, or so they say.

Few cultural shifts have proven so stark and happened so quickly as the ethos surrounding sexuality in the Western world. Within a generation ideas and behaviors once generally condemned have been not only tolerated but accepted into the mainstream. Cultural sexual morality has taken its cues from Epicureanism and libertarianism, preferring individual autonomy, privileging consent as the primary basis for justification of conduct, and encouraging whatever one desires to accomplish as long as no harm is done. As a result, among other things, many Westerners have become quite comfortable with frequent sexual behavior outside not only of marriage but even relationships (manifest primarily in “hookup culture”) and the widespread acceptance and even encouragement of the use of pornography.

The Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians about such things. He recognized that porneia (translated “fornication” above, also “sexual immorality”; best as sexually deviant behavior) was a sin different from other sins. Whereas other sins are committed “without” or “outside” the body, the one who commits porneia sins against his or her own body (1 Corinthians 6:18). But how, exactly, can this be?

Does Paul refer to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? It would seem to make some sense: such diseases are the consequence of sexual behavior, and practicing porneia puts one at higher risk of contracting a STD. Nevertheless many people commit porneia and never get a STD; likewise, many are chaste but contract STD from less-than-chaste partners. Perhaps Paul has something else in mind?

Perhaps we get a clue from an earlier detail: Paul says that one who is joined to a prostitute (Greek porne) becomes one flesh with her, as it is written in Genesis 2:28. The reference to Genesis 2:28 is in the context of marriage; Paul indicates beyond a doubt that “two becoming one flesh” refers to the act of sexual intercourse.

Reveller courtesan BM E44

So what is the difference between marital sexual intercourse and this porneia, that which is done with a porne, or prostitute? In marriage a man and a woman “cling to one another”; God has joined them (Genesis 2:28, Matthew 19:4-6). God intended for that union to be an covenant featuring intimacy, in which a man and a woman, both made in God’s image, can become completely intimate and “naked,” physically for certain, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually (Proverbs 5:15-20, Malachi 2:14-16). The importance of the marriage covenant is underscored by its metaphorical use in describing the relationship between YHWH and Israel and Christ and the church (Hosea 2:1-23, Ephesians 5:22-33); as God is one in relational unity, and we are made in God’s image, so we humans are searching for unity in relationship, and the most important such relationship we develop is with our spouse with whom we are joined in a covenant seal by God (Genesis 1:26-27, Matthew 19:4-6, John 17:20-23, Acts 17:26-28, Romans 1:18-20, Ephesians 5:31-32).

Participation in porneia, however, is done outside of the confines of relationship; such is why it is best defined as “sexually deviant behavior,” involving a person becoming one flesh with one with whom God has not joined. The one committing porneia is gratifying desires, impulses, and lusts without reference to relational connection or intimacy. This is especially evident in terms of cavorting with prostitutes, the primary means by which porneia was committed in the ancient world: the behavior features a financial transaction, a bought and paid for experience, without any care at all for the feelings or welfare of the prostitute. The one committing porneia is using the prostitute for his or her gratification.

And so it may well be that such is the means by which the one committing porneia sins against the body: in so doing, he or she has disconnected the satisfaction of physical desires from the emotional/mental/spiritual relational dimensions of sexuality. In gratifying such desires one’s sexuality becomes less recognizably human and more animalistic; sexual behavior is no longer about becoming truly intimate with another person than it is the gratification of physical lust. In most respects, therefore, porneia proves itself a parody of what God intended for human sexuality; it proves to be a dehumanizing form of deviance, separating the physical from the relational, commodifying human connection, and often rendering its adherence incapable of a healthy and intimate sexual relationship within the covenant of marriage. Truly, indeed, a sin against the body!

Prostitution remains a big business in modern Western culture; “hookup culture” is becoming just as prevalent, and we are seeing generation after generation suffering from the disconnect. Many people who have been caught up in “hookup culture” find it difficult to maintain healthy sexuality in a marriage covenant; it proves difficult to bring together what they have separated in their conduct for years. Far too many are settling for a pathetic parody, a counterfeit sexuality, one which hinders them from fully satisfactory sexual relations within the marriage covenant.

These days we see an even more pernicious temptation which is similar to porneia: pornography. Pornography is not strictly porneia since at no time do two become flesh; sadly, the use of pornography is often even worse because of it. The one who searches out pornography is not only divorcing physical gratification from relational connection; they divorce physical gratification from any kind of connection at all! They seek gratification from pixels on a screen and/or vibrations from a speaker; it is all about them and their desires. We are beginning to see a generation of people who have fried out their brains on pornography; many find it almost impossible to even participate in actual sexual intercourse on account of it!

Sadly these sins against the body are not restricted to those in the world; pornography is already an epidemic among the Lord’s people. Statistically speaking it is almost certain that all men middle age and under have seen pornography; by the same standard half of them have seen pornography in the past month. Likewise, statistically speaking, young men are exposed to pornography by age 12. Teenage girls throughout America are frequently pressured to send naked pictures of themselves (called “sexts”) to teenage boys who frequently distribute such pictures to other boys in order to enhance their social standing. A whole generation of young people has learned about sexuality through pornography, and they believe that what they see in pornography is “normal.” Little wonder, then, that their expressions of sexuality tend to degrade and dehumanize women!

We must resist these trends toward dehumanizing deviance. We must treat those damaged and wounded by what they have seen and those whose intimate relationships have been betrayed on account of these things. And we must work diligently to train young men and women to understand the importance of holistic human sexuality incorporating the physical and the relational within the covenant of marriage and warn them that what has been seen cannot be unseen and will profoundly change one’s understanding of sexuality. Porneia and pornography certainly do hurt people: those who participate in them! May we turn away from porneia and pornography and affirm God’s purposes for human sexuality in marriage!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Divorce

“It was said also, ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement’:
but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32).

Jesus addresses a matter controversial in almost every age.

It is no secret that marriage, divorce, and remarriage (MDR) issues are tearing the church and the Lord’s people apart. People prove too eager or not eager at all to discuss divorce and remarriage. Nevertheless, we do well to consider what Jesus is saying in context and to what end He says what He says.

In Matthew 5:31-32 Jesus speaks about divorce and remarriage as the third of six contrasts between “what was said” and what “I say unto you” in Matthew 5:21-48; these six statements are framed by Matthew 5:17-20 with the expectation that one’s righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees to enter the Kingdom. The previous two contrasts both emphasized not only the avoidance of the physical behavior of sin but also the thoughts and feelings that lead to such behaviors: not just to not kill or commit adultery, but not to hate in one’s heart or look upon a woman with lustful intent (Matthew 5:21-30). In all these things the Pharisees would stress the letter of the Law and the physical behavior only; Jesus shows how those who would serve Him in His Kingdom must be as concerned about the heart and mind as the behaviors of the body. Yet this section of the “Sermon on the Mount” is not just about thoughts and feelings vs. behavior; Jesus will go on to exhort believers to not swear at all (Matthew 5:34) and to not resist the evil person (Matthew 5:39), behavior matters indeed. The consistent contrast is between what Jesus’ audience understood as not only the Law but the acceptable and approved interpretation thereof by the scribes and the Pharisees versus the greater standard of righteousness necessary to enter God’s Kingdom (Matthew 5:19-20, 23:1-2).

It is worth noting that Jesus only speaks of marriage, divorce, and remarriage when involved in conversations with or about Pharisees (Matthew 5:31-32, 19:3-9, Mark 10:1-12, Luke 16:18). The reason for this becomes clear in Matthew 19:3-9 and Mark 10:1-12: the Pharisees attempt to test Jesus in terms of how to understand Moses’ legislation in Deuteronomy 24:1-2 and whether a man has the right to divorce his wife for almost any reason or only for sexually deviant behavior. Pharisaic understanding of the matter was no certain thing as is evident in Jewish sources:

The school of Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he finds in her a matter of lewdness, as it says, “If he finds in her an unseemly thing” [Deuteronomy 24:1], but the school of Hillel say: Even if she burnt his food, as it says, “If he finds in her an unseemly thing”. Rabbi Akiva says: Even if he found one more beautiful than she, as it says, “If she should not find favour in his eyes” (Mishnah, Gittin 9:10).

A wide dispute within not just Second Temple Judaism but even among the Pharisees thus stand as a backdrop behind Jesus’ teachings about divorce and remarriage. In Matthew 5:31 He paraphrases Deuteronomy 24:1-2, having the entire scenario in view. He then declares that anyone who would thus put away his wife makes her to commit adultery, and that whoever would marry a woman thus having been put away commits adultery (Matthew 5:32). For many the way Jesus phrases His declaration seems curious: how can it be that a man divorcing his wife causes her to commit adultery? We do well to remember that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is case law based on a particular scenario in which a man might attempt to remarry a wife he had put away who in the meantime had been married to another man. Deuteronomy 24:4 declares such would be an abomination; he cannot have her back since she had been the wife of another. Thus in the legislation as written the assumption exists that the woman will take the certificate of divorce and become the wife of another man (Deuteronomy 24:2). Jesus is saying that in the Kingdom if a woman thus divorced went and became the wife of another, her (ex-)husband has proven guilty of the divorce and has put her in the position whereby she is committing adultery, and the new husband is committing adultery by being married to her as well (Matthew 5:32).

How can it be that marrying another means a person is committing adultery? Many suggest that Jesus is adding a new definition of adultery when in fact He is returning to the simplest definition of adultery: having sex with someone other than your spouse. On the surface Jesus’ statement does seem paradoxical yet is rooted in what He will declare in greater detail in Matthew 19:6: what God has joined man is not to separate. Man can commit the sin of separating what God joined, and God recognizes that he has done so; God does not legitimate that separation unless done because the spouse has committed sexually deviant behavior. Thus, according to the rule, if either spouse has sex with another person, they are having sex with someone other than the one to whom God joined them. This is the case when either the (active) divorcing spouse or the (passive) divorced spouse marry and have sex with another. Jesus’ statements are pretty clear and comprehensive. It is only because of sin that His truths regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage seem so difficult to understand.

Jesus’ contrast is blunt, shocking to His audience, but entirely consistent with what He has been saying. The Law and the Pharisees may justify divorce in many circumstances, but from the beginning it has not been so. God does not want separated what He has joined, either by sexually deviant behavior (which involves one spouse joining themselves to another, cf. 1 Corinthians 6:13-20) or by divorce. It may be a more difficult standard, but it is the standard of righteousness in the Kingdom of God in Christ. What God has joined let not man separate: may this be true of us in terms of both our spouse as well as with God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Will of God: Our Sanctification

For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye abstain from fornication (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

“What is God’s will for me in my life?”

Such a question, or a permutation thereof, is on the minds, hearts, and tongues of many sincere Christians. They, as we all, live in a world full of choices. When confronted with all sorts of options, especially about major life decisions like where to pursue education and of what type, where to live, whom to marry and when, when and of what kind of family they should have, and so on, many become afraid that the decision made is not God’s will and that God actually had a better alternative in mind.

It is good to want to seek the Lord’s will in all that is done (Colossians 3:17). We can find examples in the Old Testament of people who sought YHWH’s counsel about specific situations and received specific answers (e.g. 1 Samuel 9:1-21, 23:1-13). It would be easy to see such examples and therefore feel that God has a specific plan for each one of us in terms of our specific decisions and we therefore must pray very hard and often so as to ascertain that specific will.

Yet we do well to notice a distinct difference in communication between then and now: men like David and the prophets received direct and specific answers. God has specifically communicated to us in His Son through the Word found in Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-17, Hebrews 1:1-3, Jude 1:3); His communication today is manifest in more subtle ways. If a particular path is absolutely not the Lord’s will, a person will be forbidden it, like Paul going into the hinterland of Anatolia (Acts 16:6-7), or warned off of it, or hindered from it in some way. If a particular life choice is a transgression of God’s will, we can know that in advance because it will be in violation of a command of God as revealed in Scripture (1 John 3:4).

In truth God is not playing games with His people in terms of understanding His will; He is not watching from heaven expecting people to guess which path He has in mind for them and laugh when they choose wrongly. The will of God for us is the same will He had for the Thessalonians: our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3)!

In context Paul is reminding and exhorting the Christians of Thessalonica to continue to pursue the way of Christ and to do so more and more (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 9). He warns them specifically about the danger of porneia, translated as “fornication” in the ASV, “sexual immorality” or just “immorality” in other translations, and best understood as “sexually deviant behavior.” Porneia literally means “that which involves a porne,” and a porne is a prostitute; in the ancient Greek and Roman world it was commonplace for men to cavort with prostitutes and female companions. Such behavior is entirely contrary to the practice of holiness; in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Paul explains why theologically, and here in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 he does so in terms of using the body in holy, clean, and honorable ways, and to not wrong a fellow Christian in these ways by committing adultery with them or with their spouses.

This specific exhortation is no less relevant to life in 21st century America: we live in a land saturated with sexual sin and we all do well to give attention to our sanctification, possessing our own vessel in sanctification and honor, and not in lustful passions (1 Thessalonians 4:4-5). Yet the general principle of God’s will as our sanctification also has much to commend it in terms of the life decisions we make.

God has given everyone gifts or talents; some have more than others, some are quite general and some quite specific, yet all have value (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28). God expects believers to use those gifts and talents to advance His purposes to His glory and honor, illustrated in Matthew 25:14-30; Peter exhorts Christians to use their gifts to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Peter 4:10-11). Therefore, God wills for us to live holy lives, which is the definition of sanctification, and He expects us to use all He gives us to His glory and honor, serving one another.

So will God speak to us in a dream and tell us exactly where we should go, whom we should marry, what we should do in our lives, and so on? By no means; God did not provide that specific level of counsel for most everyone even in Biblical times. Instead, God expects for us to make those decisions unto our sanctification and so as to glorify His name. Should a person live in place X or place Y? It is better to consider where sanctification and God’s glory can best be pursued, and ascertain how to live a sanctified life and glorify God while living in place X or Y. Should a person pick career path X or Y? It is better to ascertain where the person’s skills reside so as to best honor and glorify God in their career, how they can pursue sanctification while working in that career, and how they can reflect God in that career. Should a man marry woman X or woman Y, or should a woman marry man X or man Y? It is better to ascertain which person will pursue sanctification themselves and help their spouse pursue sanctification and whether the person wants to glorify and honor God in their life, marriage, and family. In every such circumstance the questions we should ask are not about whether x or y is God’s will, but how we could best pursue sanctification and glorify God in x or y situation. If we can perceive one situation to allow us to pursue sanctification and God’s glory more effectively than another, our decision has been made easier. If we can perceive that we can pursue sanctification and God’s glory in multiple situations, then we should pray for God’s wisdom and make a decision (James 1:5), always knowing that it is better to focus on how to pursue sanctification and God’s glory in our situation than it is to wonder if our situation is the best decision we could make. In the end, pursuing sanctification and God’s glory is always the best decision.

God’s will is for our sanctification. He wants us to live holy lives glorifying Him in all we do. We are called upon to make decisions in light of those imperatives. We will stand before God on the judgment day for those decisions, but God’s concern will be much more about whether and how we pursued sanctification and His glory in our circumstances than the process by which we found ourselves in those circumstances (Romans 14:12). Let us pursue holiness and God’s glory in all of our decisions, and trust that our decisions go well when sanctification and God’s glory are at their center!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Better to Be Single

So that he that gives in marriage does well, and he that does not give in marriage does better (1 Corinthians 7:38 LITV).

This is not the expected narrative, either in the world or in the church.

The church in Corinth was experiencing a whole host of difficulties, mostly self-inflicted, and had sought the wisdom and encouragement of the Apostle Paul. One subject regarding which they sought further understanding involved whether to marry or not, if it were good for a man not to touch a woman (1 Corinthians 7:1). In 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 6-9, 17-40, Paul provides his counsel on this subject, and his message is consistent throughout: marriage is not sinful, it is better to marry than to burn with desire, but if one can exhibit self-control and not marry, they do better. Those who are married have divided interests, seeking to please both the Lord and their spouse, whereas those who are single can fully devote themselves to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Paul wishes that all could be as he is, single, but recognizes that different people have different gifts (1 Corinthians 7:7-8). On account of the “present distress”, Paul counsels the betrothed and widows to remain as they were called; to remain single if they can, but if they have to marry, they have not sinned, or, as he says so efficiently in 1 Corinthians 7:38: those who marry do well, but those who do not marry do better (1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 6-9, 17-40).

The interpretation and application of Paul’s counsel has been complicated by disputes regarding the “present distress” of 1 Corinthians 7:26 and who is giving whom in 1 Corinthians 7:36-38. Many have interpreted the “present distress” of 1 Corinthians 7:26 in narrow contextual terms and thus consider all of Paul’s counsel in 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 6-9, 17-40 as limited to its context and not as applicable to people afterward. Yet the text provides no indication of any major persecution event being experienced by the Christians of Corinth at this time; granted, with all of the worldliness in the Corinthian church, there would not be much worth persecuting. More importantly, in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Paul describes this “distress” more fully, and he is not speaking of a contextually limited persecution that would pass away so that conditions could return to “normal”; instead, he counsels the Corinthians in very apocalyptic terms since the “fashion of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). At the time it would not be surprising for people to interpret Paul as meaning that Jesus would return quite soon, the present age would end, and therefore marriage and childbearing would prove irrelevant; after more than 1,950 years, it is evident that such immediacy did not come to pass, but the conditions remain the same as when Paul wrote this: the fashion of this world is passing away, and we must not be of this world while we live in it. Therefore, the “present distress” is as applicable and relevant to the twenty-first century as it was to the first century; Paul’s counsel remains valid.

Another complication involves 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 and the “man and his virgin”. In the ancient Roman world, a father would be the one deciding whom his daughter would marry; therefore, the RV, ASV, NASB, and a few other versions interpret and translate 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 as if it speaks of a father deciding what to do with his virgin daughter. While such an interpretation might make some sense of the use of ekgamizo, “to give in marriage,” in this passage, it does not sit well with “if any man thinketh that he behaveth himself unseemly toward his virgin” in 1 Corinthians 7:36, since it would demand that the father is not behaving appropriately toward his daughter, which would be a problem demanding far more censure than is expressed in the text. Therefore, it is better to understand the text in terms of a man and his betrothed. In the first century, parents would make the connection between a man and woman and they would be betrothed, like Joseph and Mary in Matthew 1:18-25. Betrothal had the commitment level of marriage yet without the behavior of marriage; to dissolve it would require divorce, but the betrothed were expected to not consummate the relationship until the official wedding ceremony. Therefore, whereas two young Christians would have had little choice in a betrothal, they did have control over whether they would either actually get married, or, once married, whether they would consummate the relationship. In 1 Corinthians 7:36-38, Paul advises young betrothed Christians that if they can exercise self-control and devote themselves fully to the Lord, they do better to remain betrothed but not married. If they cannot exercise that self-control, they can marry, and have not sinned. But it is better to stay unmarried than it is to marry.

There are vast differences between conditions in the first century Mediterranean world and the twenty first Western world, and singleness and marriage are high among them. In the first century, young people would have been married off quite young, the decision would have been made by their parents, and if they remained continent for the Lord’s sake, it was by mutual decision of a man and his betrothed virgin. Only widows were in a position to choose a mate; that is why Paul counsels them to marry “in the Lord” if they have to marry, but they also would do well to remain unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:39-40). In the twenty-first century Western world, marriages are not arranged, and they are taking place in the late twenties; culture and society expect sexual experimentation to have taken place beforehand, yet in Christ young people are expected to remain sexually chaste and pure before marriage, often between 10 to 20 years after sexual maturity (1 Corinthians 7:2). Many single Christians would like to be married but have yet to find a spouse. A situation akin to what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 7:36-38, a “betrothed” Christian man and woman who have mutually agreed to remain unmarried so as to serve the Lord fully, would be unthinkable.

Yet perhaps the greatest shift in the past two thousand years involves the treatment of singleness and marriage. Paul honors singleness and full devotion to the Lord and makes concession for marriage; too many in Christianity today honor marriage and make concession for singleness. Too many single Christians are marginalized and made to feel incomplete and insufficient because they are not married; as opposed to being honored as full inheritors of the grace of life and for making, at least for the time being, the better choice, they feel constantly pressured to find someone to marry and thus conform to the norm of marriage. We are not used to hearing that marriage is less than ideal, a concession, and a choice demonstrating a lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:6-9).

We should not be too terribly surprised to see that honoring singleness goes against the grain, because it always has. In Israel the worst possible curse was childlessness, for if your genealogical line ended, your property would go to another and you would be extinguished within Israel. To this day people seek some level of immortality through the passing along of their DNA in their offspring. Our hyper-sexualized culture these days cannot truly fathom a person voluntarily renouncing all the pleasures of sexual behavior in order to more fully dedicate themselves to the Lord Jesus. The choice to be a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven is always counter-cultural and often controversial, yet it truly expresses a very deep faith in the God of resurrection. As usual, Jesus is the model: He did not marry while on earth and therefore had no offspring. He was cursed for our sakes, indeed, but by taking on that curse, He freed us from the curse of sin and death (Galatians 3:10-14). Jesus did not need offspring in order to continue to inherit the promises of God; through His life and death He obtained the resurrection of life, and lives forever (Romans 6:5-11).

For generations the single, the childless, and the widow were considered unfortunate or even cursed. Yet such is not the case in the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom those who are single, childless, or widowed are family in the household of God (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, 1 Timothy 3:15); they have no need of offspring to continue their lineage, for they will endure forever in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-58). Those who are single can fully devote themselves to the purposes of Jesus, the Risen Lord, and set their hope fully on Him and His Kingdom; they are blessed, and all believers ought to honor them as blessed. Let us affirm the apostolic Gospel no matter how counter-cultural, even when it goes against settled norms among Christians and churches; let us affirm that while marrying is good, staying single to fully serve the Risen Lord is better, and honor and dignify those who remain single in the Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Abide as Called

Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called…Brethren, let each man, wherein he was called, therein abide with God (1 Corinthians 7:20, 24).

If you have much experience in a church, you have seen this situation play out and have likely experienced it yourself. When young men and women reach a marriageable age, they start being asked how the search for that “special someone” is going. If a particular young man takes an interest in a young woman, and vice versa, they will be asked when they will get married. Not long after marriage they will be asked when they will have a child. Soon after having the first child they will be asked if and when there will be a second. Soon afer the second they will be asked whether they will have any more. If they go to three and especially to four they will be asked whether they have figured out how that works and/or if they are possibly done yet. Their children are then put through the same sequence, and so on and so forth.

We can certainly understand why this trend takes place: there is an inherent expectation that young men and women will get married and raise children. The future leadership of the church depends on at least some of them doing this (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-12)! Yet, while people who engage in this practice likely have good intentions, we must be careful about the implicit message it brings: your value in the church is based on whether you are married and/or the production of children. A man or woman who does not end up marrying, for whatever reason, is made to feel less valuable and important as those who did marry. Couples who are childless for whatever reason feel ostracized or perhaps even judged and condemned for their lack of children.

This is not the attitude of Paul in the New Testament. In the midst of a discussion regarding celibacy, marriage, and slavery in 1 Corinthians 7:1-39, he twice exhorts people to remain in the same calling as when they were called (1 Corinthians 7:20, 24). If one was called in Christ as a slave, he can continue to serve God while a slave, but if he can be freed, he should take that opportunity (1 Corinthians 7:20-23). Was one circumcised when called? He should remain circumcised. Was one uncircumcised when called? He should remain uncircumcised (1 Corinthians 7:18-19). Is one married when called? Stay married. Is one not yet married when called? Do not feel as if you have to get married (1 Corinthians 7:27).

We do need to be careful with Paul’s exhortation here in 1 Corinthians 7:1-39. These exhortations should never be taken absolutely: Paul provides plenty of caveats throughout. As noted, if a Christian slave can obtain his freedom, he should. Timothy was uncircumcised when called but Paul circumcised him on account of their mission among the Jews (cf. Acts 16:3). Paul also makes it clear that there is no sin if a man and woman get married (1 Corinthians 7:9, 28). Furthermore, he writes that they are presently in some time of distress, a tumultuous time where all that seems stable is uprooted (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:26, 29-30). We must keep these matters in mind when we consider what Paul has to say.

These concerns do not negate Paul’s main point: God can use us as we are and where we are. Those who are married with children can glorify God in their relationships. Yet so too can those who are single or married without children. The widows can as well. Those who are free and those who are less than free can also find ways of serving and glorifying God in their condition.

It is easy to develop a mentality in which we are always looking elsewhere to find satisfaction. We may constantly worry whether we are fulfilling God’s will for us in our lives. Those who are single and/or without children are often made to feel as if they are not fulfilling God’s purposes in their lives. And yet here Paul says that we are to abide in the calling in which we were called. We can find ways of doing God’s will wherever we find ourselves and in whatever situation we are placed.

Paul does not condemn traveling to find a better job or to find a better spiritual situation, nor is he condemning looking for a spouse and having children. He is making it very clear, though, that our primary focus in whatever situation we find ourselves is to glorify God. Many may be single and never marry, instead focusing their efforts on the Lord; they should be praised and not criticized. Many may serve the Lord through marriage and children; they also are to be praised and lifted up. Some will never move far from where they were born; others may travel far away. In all things we must seek to glorify and honor the Lord and encourage their fellow Christians not necessarily to seek to change their condition in life as much as encouraging them to serve God in the calling in which they have been called.

Too often we seem to focus on the future of young people in terms of marriage and children when we would do better to focus on how they can presently serve and glorify the Lord in their current condition and calling. Many will, no doubt, marry and have children, but they have not fallen short of God’s purposes if they do not. We do well to remember Paul’s exhortation to abide in our calling and always look to serve God in the present in our circumstances, and let the future take care of itself!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Honoring Love

I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine (Song of Solomon 6:3a).

I am my beloved’s; And his desire is toward me (Song of Solomon 7:10).

What are we to make of the Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s (cf. Song of Solomon 1:1)?

All of the New Testament books are about Jesus and how to live in His Kingdom. The “history” books of the Old Testament tell us about the Israelites and God’s work among them, the books of prophecy present the messages of God to His people, the Psalms give voice to the one who would honor, praise, and glorify God, and Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes grapple with the realities of life, how to live wisely, and why people should serve the LORD no matter what their circumstances. Well and good; we understand why these books are in the Bible. Yet the Song of Solomon is unlike all of these.

For years many justified the Song of Solomon as Scripture, not on the basis of its literal meaning, but as an allegory: among Jews, as a love song between God and His people Israel, and among Christians, as a love song between Christ and the church. Yet such an interpretation seems quite forced: the lovers are clearly a young man and a young woman, and their descriptions of each other and their desires is the language of youthful, desirous love. While it is true that Israel is often portrayed as God’s wife (cf. Ezekiel 16:1-63, Hosea 1:1-3:5), and the church is portrayed as the Bride of Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:22-33), the metaphorical images describing those relationships are not taken as far as we see portrayed in the Song of Solomon.

The best understanding of the Song of Solomon is to understand it at its surface level: it is a song expressing the love and desire of a young man and a young woman toward each other, giving voice to lovers for each other. Love songs were common in the ancient Near Eastern world: we have many similar songs preserved from Egypt as well. For that matter, love songs have been popular throughout time: expressing love and desire for one of the opposite sex has been a primary theme for musicians and songwriters to this very day.

The presence of the Song of Solomon in Scripture demonstrates that the “secular” and “spiritual” divide which marks much of modern thought does not reflect reality. The God of the Bible remains God in terms of secular interests and matters as much as in spiritual interests and matters.

In the Song of Solomon, God honors the love and desire between the young man and the young woman. When love, desire, and sexuality are discussed in Scripture and among Christians, it is very often in negative terms, prohibiting all sorts of sexual behavior. Many people focus on the negative and have come away with the impression that romantic love and sexuality are intrinsically impure and “dirty,” and cannot imagine that such things can honor or glorify God. Such negativity is a distressing distortion of what God is trying to communicate in the Bible, for all of the sexual prohibitions and guidelines are actually meant to honor and sanctify the proper exercise of romantic love and sexuality in marriage.

So the refrain goes in the Song of Solomon: the woman declares that she belongs to her beloved, and her beloved is hers, and his desire is for her (Song of Solomon 6:3, 7:10). This is the relationship which can honor God: marriage is honorable, and its bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4). God, in fact, made man so that he would cling to his wife and the two would become one flesh (Genesis 2:24; cf. Matthew 19:4-6). For generations, the Song of Solomon has given a voice for young men and women to express their love for one another, finding an opportunity to see their own love story in terms of the young man and young woman of the Song.

What makes the Song of Solomon more “interesting” or scandalous for people today is different from what made it distinctive in the past. In modern American culture we tend to take marrying for love for granted; in the ancient world, the decision of who would marry whom was most often left to parents trying to make family mergers that made good social and economic sense (as is done in many parts of the world to this day). Marrying for love did not happen as often; most couples would have to learn to love each other after their commitment and consummation.

The Song of Solomon has always been somewhat scandalous and a stumbling-block for some, but it need not be. God is able to glory in pure love and romance between a young man and a young woman. In fact, it is when “my beloved is mine” and “I am his/hers” that this love and romance can truly blossom. All married couples are called to find enjoyment in each other, for a man to “rejoice in the wife of his youth,” and his wife likewise rejoice in her husband, no matter what the circumstances (cf. Proverbs 5:18-19). Such lasting love honors and glorifies God who is love and who is one in relationship within Himself. Let us then understand the value of the Song of Solomon, and for those of us who are married, share in love and romance with our spouse!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus and Women

And it came to pass soon afterwards, that he went about through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good tidings of the kingdom of God, and with him the twelve, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary that was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuzas Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who ministered unto them of their substance (Luke 8:1-3).

There is another report out alleging Jesus was married. This time it comes from a small papyrus fragment written in a Coptic (Egyptian) dialect around 400 CE, saying, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …'”. No doubt many will try to make much of this evidence, perhaps trotting out Dan Brown’s The da Vinci Code and its speculations about Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene, having children, and ending up in France, and such things, and create quite a stir.

There could have been people who lived centuries after Jesus who believed He was married. There may be some hints of such beliefs in Gnostic literature written by people who infused beliefs about Jesus into Hellenistic (Greek) philosophy. Then again, many Gnostics were ascetic, rejected marriage, and, for that matter, did not believe Jesus was truly human but only seemingly so (cf. 2 John 1:7-10). Interestingly, until this particular fragment, there was no explicit, concrete ancient evidence confirming that anyone believed that Jesus was married.

There would be no real scandal if Jesus were married; He could easily have still kept the Law and fulfilled all the prophecies made regarding Him if He were married (cf. Matthew 5:17-18). Marriage was expected among the Pharisees and Sadducees; it was more optional among the Essenes. Yet it is good to remember that the ancient evidence is profoundly one-sided on the question: no New Testament author suggests Jesus was married, no early Christians suggest He was married, and even if this papyrus scrap is legitimate and means what it says, it was written over three hundred years after Jesus’ death and no one will suggest that the original composition was anywhere near the first century. The historical evidence is firm: Jesus was unmarried.

But it is good to consider why there is so much fascination with this subject. Why do so many speculate about whether Jesus was married or not? What is it about Jesus and His relationship with women that draws such interest?

We learn from Luke 8:1-3 that many women followed Jesus. In a time and day when most women stayed in the home and would rarely, if ever, go far from the house without their husbands, it was the privilege of only a few to be able to go and travel with one like Jesus. At least some of these women were of some means since they provided financial support for Jesus and His ministry. Perhaps some of the women were widows; some seem to be married and their husbands still alive. Perhaps there was understanding between those husbands and their wives; perhaps the fact they followed Jesus seemed scandalous.

This asexual magnetism between Jesus and the women who followed Him is likely the main source of fascination. Throughout the generations there have been stories about charismatic, persuasive men who, in the name of philosophy, power, or religion obtained a large following, perhaps of both men and women, and took advantage of the situation toward lascivious ends. But Jesus is not about this at all. Jesus loves women, not in order to use them, exploit them, take advantage of them, or even just to enjoy them, but to save and redeem them (Matthew 20:28, 1 John 3:16).

Humans, in their carnal mindset and sin, find this difficult to understand. Such demonstrates the marked difference between Jesus and most people: it was not about Him at all. He loved people no matter their condition, no matter how previously sinful, no matter how attractive, no matter how prosperous, capable, or intelligent. Therefore, many women believed in Him and followed Him to the end: some of the women watch while He is crucified, and some of the women come upon the empty tomb first on the day of His resurrection (e.g. John 19:25, 20:1-18). In society they might not have much standing (cf. Luke 18:1-8); in Jesus they have equal inheritance in eternal life (Galatians 3:28).

The New Testament makes it clear that marriage is not sinful but honorable among all (Hebrews 13:4), yet if Christians can remain single and focus on glorifying God, they should do so (1 Corinthians 7:6-9). All evidence points to Jesus our Lord as remaining single and celibate. Many reasons can be offered, and many likely have some legitimacy, yet in the end, Jesus serves all women and provides the opportunity for all women (and men) to be saved through His life and death, and to have hope for eternity through His resurrection (Matthew 20:28, Romans 5:6-11, 1 Corinthians 15:1-58). Many women loved Jesus, not for carnal reasons, but because they found in Him a loving Teacher and Savior in whose eyes they were more than just a body or something to be used. In Jesus all men and women have equal dignity and opportunity to share in His Kingdom and eternal life!

We should not be surprised when our sex-obsessed society turns their gaze to Jesus and wonders why He lived as He did. Men and women followed after Him because of His great power and instruction, recognizing that He is the Holy One of God and has the words of eternal life. He truly loved both men and women, not in any carnal way, but fully, seeking no benefit for Himself but always devoted to the needs of others, dying to ransom and redeem sinful people. Let us praise God for Jesus, and seek to love everyone, both men and women, as He has loved us!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Justified in the Sight of Men

And the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things; and they scoffed at [Jesus].
And he said unto them, “Ye are they that justify yourselves in the sight of men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:14-15).

Luke, of all the Gospel writers, spends a decent amount of time chronicling Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees as He is about to head to Jerusalem. We find within this context some of Jesus’ most famous parables and stories: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son, the shrewd steward, the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 15:1-16:31). These specific narratives are unique to Luke’s narrative, even if their themes are consistent with the rest of the Gospel authors. Why, as the story of Jesus’ life is reaching its most climactic point, does Luke record all of these discussions?

There is much to be gained from each story on its own merits. Nevertheless, they are told and placed as they are as part of an overall critique, primarily of the Pharisees, exposing the wide gulf between their true condition before God and the righteous appearance they offered to others.

Jesus makes the critique explicit in Luke 16:15. He charges the Pharisees with justifying themselves in the sight of men, honoring what is exalted in the sight of men, as opposed to that which is exalted in the sight of God.

It is easy to hear this critique and consider it in terms of 21st century America, concluding how the Pharisees’ religiosity was not really significant, their worldliness was apparent, and they honored the “secular” over the “spiritual.” In so doing we would be imposing our categories and concepts upon a time and place where they are quite foreign. The Pharisees are not being condemned as secularists; they are being condemned because they continue to justify the type of religiosity that marked Second Temple Judaism in a Gentile world.

All of the parables and stories of this section underscore this critique. The Pharisees murmur about Jesus receiving sinners and eating with them (Luke 15:2); Jesus responds with the parables of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7), lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), and the prodigal son/older brother (Luke 15:11-32). It is hard to escape the understanding that Jesus speaks of the Pharisees in terms of the “older brother,” showing the distance between their “entitled” attitude and the merciful love of the Father. In showing distance and alienation from “sinners,” the Pharisees are maintaining a “righteous” attitude that looked down upon all defilement and transgression; they were trying, at some level, to remain unstained from defilement, and to maintain holiness. Yet this was a socially acceptable type of exclusion; that is how they could get away with it and still be honored as the “righteous” in society.

The Pharisees’ scoffing in Luke 16:14 is related to the parable of the shrewd steward (Luke 16:1-12) and the declaration that a man cannot serve two masters, both God and money (Luke 16:13). Luke condemns the Pharisees as “lovers of money” (Luke 16:13), and his condemnation is just. Nevertheless, this idea was pervasive throughout society at that time. After all, God blesses those whom He loves and causes affliction for those who disobey Him; how many proverbs were written indicating the honor of wealth and the shame of poverty? Even the disciples go along with this “conventional wisdom,” expressing complete astonishment at Jesus’ declaration of the difficulty for the wealthy to be saved, wondering how anyone could thus be saved if the rich were not (Luke 18:23-26)! Therefore, the Pharisees’ love of money was entirely in line with conventional thinking of the day, no doubt married with a sense of upright piety.

Jesus will continue on with declarations about the Law and Prophets being until John, how people seeking to enter the Kingdom, and yet how nothing would be modified in the Law until all was fulfilled (Luke 16:16-17), a declaration regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage (Luke 16:18), and then the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The Pharisees presume to understand the Law and the Prophets and thus the will of God, and yet in their declarations they add to and subtract from the Law, focus more on the technical legality of the Law than the intentions of its Author, and otherwise find ways to justify their desires with a distorted understanding of the Law as opposed to serving God through the Law according to God’s intentions.

In the end, the Pharisees were externally everything every first century Israelite would expect from a holy person. And yet they remained separated from God, exalting what was abominable in His sight.

We do well to consider Luke’s focus on these conversations and what it shows about the Pharisees, lest we walk in the same path toward destruction. As we seek holiness and righteousness in conduct (cf. 1 Peter 1:14-16), it becomes easy to feel superior to those who are “sinners” and who are “defiled by the world,” and seek to fully separate from them and condemn them. That may be what men expect, and one can certainly seek to justify such behavior in the sight of men with constant appeals to “holiness” and “withdrawal from evil,” but since it entirely neglects humility, love, kindness, compassion, and mercy, such is abominable in the sight of God. It also proves quite easy to honor wealth and the love of money and even do so with religious motivations and with a pious veneer; there will always be many who will have no qualms with the pretense of religion cloaking a covetous and greedy spirit. Yet the love of money remains the root of all sorts of evil (1 Timothy 6:10), and we do not do well if we seek to minimize the impact of Jesus’ lamentation of how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven in Luke 18:24-25.

It is also easy to view Scripture like the Pharisees did: a source of justification for whatever thoughts, desires, or actions we seek to justify. In such situations the conclusion is never in doubt. The justification may persuade men, but it dishonors God and shows who really is in control. If God is the center of our existence and we seek to please Him, then we will allow His message in Scripture to change us into conformity with Jesus (Romans 8:29). This is not a matter of the spirit of the message or the letter of the message, but the proper marriage of both the spirit and the letter of what God has revealed in Scripture. There is a reason why Jesus first declared that it was easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for a tittle of the Law to fall and then to speak about marriage and divorce (Luke 16:17-18): the Pharisees might have been technically accurate with some of their interpretations, but by missing the entire intention of God as revealed in other Scriptures, they were justifying things which were contrary to God’s intentions (cf. Matthew 19:1-9).

Many falsely reason that if we focus on the “spirit” of the message, we will be led to compromise or minimize the importance of the “letter” of the message. In reality, as the examples of Jesus and the Pharisees show, by understanding the “spirit” of the message, we will honor it to the “letter”; it is by focusing on the “letter” to the exclusion of the “spirit” which will more often lead us astray, just as it did the Pharisees. And yet it all goes back to our intentions. Do we seek to honor self in the pretense of honoring God or to honor God as God and follow after Him? Are we seeking to look righteous in our current predicament, using elaborate justifications to persuade men of our religiosity, while God remains remote and unimpressed?

We can know the answer by how we react to the message of Jesus’ parables and stories. Do we feel the joy of the people who lost their sheep or coin? Can we feel thankful for the merciful love of the Father for both the prodigal son and the older brother? Do we understand how love of God and love of money are mutually exclusive? Do we sympathize with Lazarus? Or do we feel as if the people who found the sheep and coin are irrationally exuberant? Do we feel the Father is acting shamefully in how He welcomes the prodigal son? Do we chafe at the idea that the love of money and love of God are mutually exclusive? Is our sympathy more directed toward the rich man?

Do we want the justification of men that passes away or the justification that comes from God as His humble servant, trusting in Christ the Lord? Let us seek the latter and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

God in His Creation

Because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse (Romans 1:19-20).

Paul is declaring here in the “negative” what David proclaims in the “positive” in Psalm 19:1: the glory of God and His work is manifest in the heavens and earth which He created. The theological significance of this can hardly be overstated.

In context, Paul is making a very important point. He compares the Gospel and its power for salvation, the faith in God that comes on the basis of its message that leads to righteousness and life, with the wrath of God that will be poured out on the unrighteous and ungodly who attempt to suppress that truth (Romans 1:16-18). As if anticipating a counter-argument– how could the pagans know about God since they were not given the law of God given to Israel or any such thing?– Paul begins to show that there really is no excuse for them, and that they should have known that there is One True Creator God. How? His invisible attributes– specifically, His eternal power and divine nature– can be perceived in that which God has made (Romans 1:19-20). In short, the whole creation testifies to God’s glory and work. The only reason one does not see it is if one does not want to see it, focusing instead on the creation and not the Creator (cf. Romans 1:21-32).

This immediately reveals two important truths. This passage first provides the answer regarding all the people who have ever lived but who did not hear the Gospel message– they still should have known about God through His handiwork, the creation. Paul strongly suggests that ignorance is not going to be acceptable as an excuse on the final day. Furthermore, the reason why this is a sufficient reason is because it shows that God has continually revealed Himself through the creation as well as through the revealed Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and in the Incarnate Word of God (John 1:1, 14, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3). Even if we never read a Bible or heard about Jesus, we should see that there is a singular Higher Power responsible for everything we can perceive (and even that which we cannot!).

The more we learn about the universe from science, the greater and more profound our wonder should be. On the macro level, scientists have discovered at least six values in physics that allow the universe to be conducive to life– if any of those six values were changed by a very small amount, the universe could not sustain life. On the micro level scientists keep discovering just how wonderful DNA and the other building blocks of life are and how fine-tuned life really is. Perhaps many such scientists do not believe in God or that He is working; nevertheless, the evidence they uncover reinforce what David and Paul said so long ago, and do not undermine it. When we look around, and see farther out and deeper in, we can also declare as they did– the heavens proclaim the glory and handiwork of God; the hand of God is evident in all that has been made.

Yet, as we dig deeper, we find that Paul’s declaration here is hard to exhaust. God’s divine nature is even revealed within the creation (Romans 1:20). While we are often content to leave such discussions on the level of the physics of the universe, is it not true that God’s divine nature is revealed in other aspects of the creation?

How many metaphors are vehicles for us to understand our relationship with God? God is called our Father, and we are reckoned as His children (Romans 8:12-17, Hebrews 12:4-11). There is an intimate bond that is to be shared between husband and wife according to Genesis 2:24, and Paul will later apply it in a figure to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32). Humans are born seekers; we always seem to be looking for something or other, constantly investigating and pursuing various matters in our lives. Then there is the whole set of Kingdom metaphors, as evidenced in Jesus’ parables– the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Dragnet, and so forth (Matthew 13). We could go on and on.

Is it merely coincidental that all of those physical matters– parent/child relationship, marital relationship, even the relationships among friends, man as seeker, the mechanics of the physical creation– can be used to explain our relationship with God, our fundamental spiritual discontent, and the nature of the Kingdom of God? We should not be so foolish as to presume that these things just happen to coincide– it is more likely that they were designed, in part, for precisely that reason!

In truth, God has left us hints of His divine nature and eternal power throughout the creation. Yes, this is evident in the macro and micro physical aspects of that creation, but it is also evident in the way that creation operates. The bond between parent and child was no doubt designed, at least in part, to provide a hint and a glimpse of the nature of how the relationship between God and man is to be. Should we think that the feeling of wholeness and oneness sought in the sexual relationship between humans “just happens” to exist, or do we do better to understand it as a hint and a shadow of the wholeness and oneness that can only be obtained through spiritual union with God (cf. John 17:20-23, 1 Corinthians 13:12)? The same goes for our desire for relational closeness with friends. We humans seek because we have been made to seek (Acts 17:26-27). Perhaps God always intended there to be something a bit more profound with wheat and soils than just physical sustenance. It all works for a reason!

Sadly, as with the creation itself, so with many of these hints and glimpses– humans have a tendency to enshrine the lesser as their gods and entirely neglect the greater. How many have made the pursuit of sex their god as opposed to understanding how that union is the shadow of which union with God is the reality? How many have made a god out of the search, seeking but never coming to the knowledge of the truth? For too many others, the corruption of the creation on account of sin has blurred the image of God to them. For those whose earthly fathers were not present or present but abusive, the image of God as Father can be quite hard with which to come to terms. The same goes for those whose marital/sexual relationships or relationships with friends is far from even the shadow of the reality God intends for us to see in them.

Nevertheless, God is not at fault for the corruption imposed upon His creation. Even in this corrupted world we should still be able to perceive God through His creation. This is true not just in the realms of physics and the like but also in our relationships and such things. Let us praise God for His creation, never confusing the creation with the Creator, testify of His presence within His creation, and seek after communion with Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry