Slavery

Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called. Wast thou called being a bondservant? Care not for it: nay, even if thou canst become free, use it rather. For he that was called in the Lord being a bondservant, is the Lord’s freedman: likewise he that was called being free, is Christ’s bondservant. Ye were bought with a price; become not bondservants of men (1 Corinthians 7:20-23).

Slavery– the very word evokes powerful feelings. Some of the darkest chapters of human history involve the enslavement of some people at the hands of others. The concept of slavery is entirely abhorrent to modern eyes, a tragic reminder of human sinfulness and rapacity. We have a great desire to move on and to get away from such a practice.

Our Bible translations seem to reflect this same impulse. Many times we will find the word “bondservant” in our translations. Somehow “bondservant” does not sound as bad– but it should. The Greek word doulos means “slave”– and that is not only what Paul calls himself (Romans 1:1), but in fact all Christians (1 Corinthians 7:22-23)!

When we think of slavery today our minds tend to drift toward the practice of slavery in America from the 1600s through 1865. While the Bible was used in fast and free ways, both to justify and to condemn that practice, slavery in Paul’s world was a bit different from slavery in America. In the ancient Roman world, slavery was sometimes the result of birth, but just as easily could have befallen a prisoner of war or someone who fell into too much debt. While some slaves were sent to mines or to do otherwise unpleasant and difficult work, most were domestic slaves, performing different functions for their masters and mistresses. The life of slaves could run the gamut– some had very cushy and comfortable lives, while others were as miserable as we could imagine and then some.

Yet the one constant with all slaves throughout time has been the desire to be free– or, if nothing else, such would likely be our desire had we ever been enslaved. We find freedom to be so important, and we cannot imagine what it would be like to be a slave.

The Bible’s attitude toward slavery has posed a conundrum for years. God does not wholeheartedly embrace the practice, but He also does not wholeheartedly condemn it, either. This has frustrated many believers for generations. How could God countenance such a terrible institution? Why was it not condemned outright?

As we can see in 1 Corinthians 7:21, 23, it is not God’s will for believers to be slaves of men. If a person is a slave when called, and he can obtain his freedom, he should. Believers should do everything in their power to avoid being enslaved to men, for it often leads to compulsion to do things one ought not do. It is easier to serve the Lord and His purposes unhindered by the expectations of an earthly master.

But the principles of Christianity transcend social structures. The emphasis of Christianity is on God’s Kingdom, not one’s position amongst men. Those who are appointed to eternal life and great things in God’s Kingdom are often those who are debased and despised among men (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26-27). As Paul says– the earthly slave is the Lord’s freedman, while the earthly free man is a slave of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:22).

The Kingdom of God certainly upsets the social structures of the world, but not by direct assault. Government is to be respected and obeyed (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-18); each is to remain in the position he had when called (1 Corinthians 7:24). In fact, one is to be better at whatever one does or is, seeking to reflect Christ as husband or wife, parent or child, slave or master (Ephesians 5:22-6:9). No ruler or authority could come and declare Christianity to be subverting existing social systems through direct, explicit condemnation of the ruler himself or of the prevailing ideas of the time.

Instead, the subversive nature of the Kingdom derives from its egalitarianism. In Christ man and woman, Jew and Greek, slave and free, rich and pauper, are equal (Galatians 3:28). In Christ there is no “other” to dehumanize or degrade, for every person is precious in God’s sight (1 Timothy 2:4). When you assemble with fellow Christians, including your own slaves, and jointly participate in Christ, it will be a lot harder to keep them as your slaves the rest of the time. This is why the dignity of man increased as Christianity was promoted.

Such things, however, cannot be forced. Instead, as Paul explains, it is always best to serve God in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Paul wrote passionately to Philemon to save Onesimus, so we know that he has some level of sympathy for slaves. Ultimately, however, freedom is not the goal– salvation is the goal. Better to be a saved slave than a condemned freedman; therefore, it was best to serve God as a slave, understanding that in the Kingdom even a slave can be adopted as a son of God (Romans 8:15-17)!

In the end, the question is moot, for, as Paul indicates in Romans 6:16-22, we are all slaves to something. We do not particularly appreciate this perspective, yet it is needful for our sake, for, as Paul says, we were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23). We glorify the idea of “redemption” and being “redeemed” from sin, but do we remember that redemption really means purchase, and that if we have been bought, we are no longer our own?

Slavery, in and of itself, is only a problem if we have made an idol out of “freedom,” and if we are deluded about the way things really work. In reality, far too many people have used their “freedom” to enslave themselves to taskmasters far worse than the slave drivers of the past. People all around us are enslaved to various passions and lust, being led astray by their own impulses, and in terrible straits. They are slaves of sin. But thanks be to God that we have been given the opportunity to turn away from such taskmasters and to become slaves of Christ, to live for Him and His purposes according to His dictates. Slavery is not optional; the master we choose to serve is. Let us be slaves of Christ, seeking His will, no matter what circumstance in which we find ourselves!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Rejecting God’s Words

And Samuel said, “Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).

The time was right.

The Amalekites were a foul stench in the nostrils of the LORD. While He was trying to lead His people Israel to His mountain, the Amalekites presumed to attack Israel (Exodus 17:8). While Israel was victorious, God made sure that this indignity would not be forgotten (Exodus 17:9-14). It was decreed that day that Amalek would be utterly destroyed (Exodus 17:14-16).

It would take about four hundred years before the day would come when the LORD would fulfill this promise. After Saul the king had defeated the Philistines and many other enemies of Israel (cf. 1 Samuel 14), God told Samuel His will for Saul.

And Samuel said unto Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I have marked that which Amalek did to Israel, how he set himself against him in the way, when he came up out of Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (1 Samuel 15:1-3).

The command, as disturbing as it may seem to modern ears, is quite clear: utterly destroy Amalek. Men, women, children, and animals. Spare nothing.

So Saul went forth and began to carry out the command. He fought with Amalek and defeated them (1 Samuel 15:4-8). Yet, as it is written,

But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but everything that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly (1 Samuel 15:9).

God was not pleased at all. He was sorry that Saul was made king, and Saul would pay dearly for this offense (1 Samuel 15:10-12). And yet what does Saul continue to say?

And Samuel came to Saul; and Saul said unto him, “Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD” (1 Samuel 15:13).

And Saul said unto Samuel, “Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the devoted things, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal” (1 Samuel 15:20-21).

It sounds so holy and pious, and in the eyes of Saul, it was. Saul had gone out plenty of times to fight battles, and when he returned, he would devote all the best things to the LORD. Apparently, in his mind, however rebelliously intentioned or not, “to devote to destruction” meant “destroy the unworthy people and animals, and devote the rest of the spoil and animals to God at the Tabernacle.” Or, perhaps, Saul understood God’s command, but the people assumed that they were to take the best back to God, and Saul did not bother correcting them. Nevertheless, Saul was still convinced that he had done the will of the LORD.

Samuel devastates this view with 1 Samuel 15:22-23. Sacrifices offered in disobedience to God’s commands are vain. God would much rather have obedience than sacrifice. Rebelliousness is just as bad as witchcraft and idolatry. And, in the end, Saul had rejected God’s word. Therefore, Saul and his line were rejected for the kingship.

Yet this seems overly harsh. Rejecting the word of God? Did Saul not go out and fight the Amalekites because God said to do so? Had he not devoted to destruction all the unworthy things because God said to do so? Yes indeed. But God had commanded Saul to devote everything to destruction. By adapting God’s words Saul had invalidated the whole message. By adapting God’s words Saul had really rejected God’s words.

And this is the powerful lesson that we need to consider. It is very easy, when confronted with a difficult command or example, or when a given command seems like other commands but is not exactly the same, to adapt things a bit. It is easier to do all things consistently. When things get tough, and especially when God’s words are in direct opposition to the highly esteemed values and “virtues” of our society and culture, we find it easier to modify or mollify what God has said.

In doing so we may not think much of it. We may still feel that we are obeying the commandment of God. After all, it may be mostly like what He said. It might just be a “little different.” It is just “updated” to fit “our culture” and “our way of doing things.” No matter; it very likely is, in the eyes of God, a wholesale rejection of His Word.

We do well to remember that if we start adding parenthetical comments or force a passage to say something other than what it says to fit our view of other passages, we might very well be entirely changing God’s words. When God’s words get changed, they are no longer God’s words. The serpent in the Garden added one word to God’s two words, and they were no longer God’s words at all– they were a temptation, a snare, and death (cf. Genesis 3:3-4).

God’s words are powerful– they provide life (cf. Deuteronomy 8:3) and are the basis of the creation (Hebrews 11:3). We do well to respect God’s words and not attempt to modify them explicitly or through interpretation. We just might find ourselves in Saul’s position– rejected by God because we, in truth, rejected His words. Let us understand God’s will and not seek to adapt God’s will!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A Living Sacrifice

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service (Romans 12:1).

One of the hallmarks of ancient religion, both Israelite and pagan, was animal sacrifice. Jerusalem, Corinth, Rome, and every other city that had a temple of any sort within its walls would see hundreds, if not thousands, of animals brought in to be slaughtered before God or an idol to make propitiation for misdeeds or to make requests.

Therefore, everyone in Rome would understand what sacrifices were, whether they came from Jewish or pagan origins. What Paul is saying would have been abundantly clear.

Romans 12:1 represents, in large part, the sweeping conclusion to the body of theology expressed in Romans 1-11. Since all of us have sinned but have received reconciliation with God through obedient faith in Jesus Christ, and since God has brought both Jew and Gentile into one body, we are all now to become living sacrifices for God!

We are able to do this by God’s mercies. Even though we deserved condemnation (Romans 6:23), God sent His Son to die for the ungodly, allowing our reconciliation (Romans 5:5-11). We do not become living sacrifices in order to earn salvation, for we could never do such a thing. Instead, we become living sacrifices as a response to the mercies God has abundantly provided for us.

But this is certainly not a “do-nothing” scenario. God does not take us despite our will and offer us up on an altar like humans would do with a lamb or ewe. We must submit ourselves as the sacrifice!

We must recognize that becoming a “living sacrifice” is complete. The sacrificed animal does not give only part of its life up on the altar; it gives up everything. In order to secure our salvation Jesus Christ gave everything up for that purpose (Matthew 20:25-28). If we are going to be living sacrifices we must submit to God in all things– our will, our thoughts, our hearts, and our actions– and be willing to suffer the loss of anything and everything, even our own lives (Matthew 10:37-39, Galatians 2:20, 1 John 3:16). As sacrifices we must be holy– set apart and consecrated, reflecting the image of God in our lives (1 Peter 1:16; Galatians 5:17-24, Romans 8:1-11).

There is one major distinction between animal sacrifices and our sacrifice. Once one offers an animal as a sacrifice to God, that animal is dead and done. It cannot be again offered to God in a respectable way. We, however, are to be “living” sacrifices. It is not that we are going to be killed, although circumstances may demand it. Instead Paul wants us to understand that when we offer ourselves as a sacrifice to God it is not merely a one-time thing. It must be continual– we must perpetually place ourselves on that altar and offer ourselves up to God. It will only end when we are no longer living in the flesh (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6-8)!

When we present ourselves to God as a living and holy sacrifice, submitting our will to His, seeking to do the good and shun the evil, we are acceptable to God. This is reckoned as our “spiritual service.” As the priests and Levites officiated and ministered before God in the Tabernacle or Temple and thus served Him, so Christians minister before God when they offer themselves as living sacrifices (cf. Romans 9:4, 1 Peter 2:5-9). This service is “spiritual,” which in Greek literally refers to that which is reasonable. Since God has offered up so many sacrifices for us, it is quite reasonable for us to offer ourselves up for Him (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). Since God’s service has been designed to give us spiritual life, so that reasonable service is spiritual (John 3:16, 5:26, 6:27).

Animal sacrifices are not nearly as prevalent today as they were in the past, and much of that has to do with the teachings of Christianity. We no longer offer up sacrifices for sin because Jesus was that sacrifice on our behalf (Hebrews 10:4-14), and we no longer offer up any other form of animal sacrifices because we must offer ourselves up as a living and holy sacrifice before God. We must suffer the loss of our own will, our own desires, how we would like to think and feel and act, and instead submit to God’s will, God’s desires, and how God would have us think and feel and act. In order to have life in Jesus Christ it must no longer be our will, but God’s will be done. Let us be the living sacrifices we ought to be to the praise and glory of God through Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

God in Man’s Image

Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things (Romans 1:22-23).

Human beings have been searching after the divine for as long as they have existed. There is an undeniable impulse in humanity to seek that which is beyond himself (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:11, Acts 17:27).

Yet as long as that impulse has existed it has also been corrupted. As opposed to discerning the true nature of their Creator God, people have gone ahead and divinized various aspects and elements of His creation (cf. Romans 1:20-32). This is idolatry– perhaps one of the first sins, and certainly one of the most pervasive sins of mankind throughout his generations.

While it is true that many people considered the sun or various creatures to be gods or divine in essence, we find constant representations of at least some of the gods of a given nation to be in the form of men. These forms may be extravagant in some ways, and yet there is always something familiar about them. Human representations of Egyptian gods do not look like Hittites, Greeks, or Babylonians, but like Egyptians. The gods of the Greeks, mostly in human representation, were just like Greeks: they lived near Greece on Mount Olympus, fought each other, committed sexually deviant behavior, were capricious, and so on and so forth. What we see is that as opposed to people recognizing that they have been made in God’s image (cf. Genesis 1:26-27), they fashion gods or a God in their own image!

Yet we live in the twenty-first century. At least in America we do not often come upon people bowing down to the image of a human or an animal. But we should not confuse this with real progress, for the same impulse is still at work among us. It is still very easy to make God in our image as opposed to being conformed to God’s image!

The statistics present a rather stunning picture. The vast majority of Americans believe in a Higher Power. Most believe in the Creator God Who revealed Himself through the message in the Bible, and that Jesus of Nazareth is His Son. Most believe in Heaven, and believe that they are going there. Fewer accept the reality of hell, and even fewer think that they will go there.

If these statistics are to be believed we should be looking across this country and seeing a most religious people, thoroughly devoted to serving God and accomplishing His will. But such is not the way things are here. We live in a society plagued with all manner of ills– rampant sexual immorality, divorce, misery, pain, and distress all around. What has happened?

Yes, indeed, people profess to believe in the God revealed in the Bible. Most are quite sincere in that profession. And yet they really do not believe in the God revealed in the Bible, but instead the God they think should exist based on part of what the Bible teaches.

Who is this “God”? It will depend on the person with whom you speak. For many, He is in no way different from divinities of other religions, in person, in nature, or in teaching– to them, one can believe in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and a host of other beliefs, and reach the same destination. Many also believe in the God of “love” who would never condemn anyone whom we would define as a “good person.” Many think that God has no concern with what you believe as long as you conduct yourself in appropriate ways. The list goes on and on.

These statements are at variance with what the Bible teaches, and many people understand this to a degree. It is not as if Jesus’ statement that He is the only way to the Father is confusing or unclear (cf. John 14:6). Galatians 1:6-9 is pretty clear about what happens to those who teach differently than what was originally taught. Matthew 7:21-23 quite clearly indicates that many people might be religious and yet will not make it to Heaven. We might even suggest these passages to people who believe in God in their own image, and hopefully some of them will understand the difference. But many others will attempt to explain them away or will have no explanation period. But that will not stop them from thinking that they believe in the God of the Bible.

We must recognize that the danger is not just from those around us, for it is just as easy for us to make God in our own image as it is for them to do so. What happens when it becomes evident that something we believe about God, about ourselves, or about our world is at variance with what is revealed by God in His Word? If we persist in our belief, our God is an idol– the God we want, at least in one respect or another, and not the One True God. But if we are willing to change our belief to come into greater conformity with the will of God, then we make it evident that we are serving the true God, being fashioned according to the image of the Son (Romans 8:29), and not ourselves.

Idolatry may not be as physical today as it was in times past but it is no less prevalent. Let us make sure that we are serving the One True God and not the God of our own image or liking!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Prophet Over Jerusalem

And when [Jesus] drew nigh, he saw [Jerusalem] and wept over it, saying, “If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, when thine enemies shall cast up a bank about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall dash thee to the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation” (Luke 19:41-44).

This was absolutely not the expected narrative.

There had been rumblings regarding Jesus of Nazareth ever since He was born. Angels had declared that He would be the Son of David. He would redeem Israel. His life seemed to testify to this charge– He healed the sick, raised the dead, and powerfully refuted His opponents. After all of His work in Galilee, Decapolis, and the surrounding regions, He had come to Jerusalem. As He entered town on a colt, fulfilling all that had been spoken, expectations were at a fever pitch. The showdown with the authorities had to be coming. The vindication of Israel was surely around the corner. Pilate and the Romans would not know what hit them!

But while all the Jews fervently desire– and expect– the downfall of the Roman power and the exaltation of Israel, Jerusalem, and the Temple of God, the Messiah Himself weeps and mourns the upcoming devastation of Israel, sack of Jerusalem, and victory of the Romans.

This was not the first time such things had taken place. And the reactions were about the same.

God raised up Jeremiah as a prophet to Judah at the end of the seventh century BCE. Everything seemed great for Judah. God had delivered Jerusalem from the hand of the Assyrians, and as Assyria was declining in power, Judah was re-establishing itself over the lost lands of Israel. Most of the Jews saw a rosy picture ahead of great prosperity and a powerful king in Jerusalem, all thanks to the One True God, the God of Israel.

Yet Jeremiah predicted destruction by the hands of Babylon because of the sin of the people unless they repented (cf. Jeremiah 7). Jeremiah prophesied the unimaginable: YHWH allowing His enemies to triumph over His people and desecrate His Temple. Jeremiah was reviled, and gained no love from his fellow Jews when his message ultimately proved true. The crisis of belief after the destruction of the first Temple was sufficient for the Jews of the day!

Six hundred years later the situation was little different. How could Jesus of Nazareth, claimed to be God’s Messiah and the Redeemer of Israel, predict that the holy city would be destroyed? How could YHWH allow these uncircumcised brutish Romans to triumph over His people and desecrate His Temple?

And yet Jesus proves to be correct. He was not the Messiah the Jews were expecting or, quite frankly, even wanted. He did not come to deliver them from the Romans– He in fact predicts that because of their rejection of Him the Romans will destroy them. He came to deliver them from their sins so that they could overcome in the spiritual battle– the one of much greater importance than the one they wanted to fight (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18).

The Jews were so fervently desiring the end of Roman oppression that they did not perceive the oppression of the Evil One. The Jews were so focused on their hope for a champion that they missed their Messiah. They paid a heavy price when God declared with power the end of the covenant between Him and Israel and the consequences of killing the Son when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and slaughtered the Jews, just as Jesus foretold (cf. Luke 20:9-18). While Jesus was more than a prophet, He still was a prophet, and the only One to speak of the destruction of Jerusalem for a second time in advance. Such is a powerful testimony to who He really was!

It is easy for us today also to focus on our own battles and the world around us and forget about the spiritual battle of great importance. We would like to imagine that God’s Messiah would be the champion of our causes. For too many, Jesus is not the Messiah that they would expect or even want. But that is not for us to decide. God set forth plainly in the Law, Psalms, and Prophets exactly who Jesus would be and what He would accomplish, and He fulfilled them all (cf. Luke 24:44-47). He came to show us how to live, manifesting the true image of God and died so that we could die to sin and live to righteousness, and was raised in power on the third day, and now reigns as Lord (cf. 1 Peter 2:20-25, 1 John 2:1-6). Let us not make the same mistake as those who have gone on before us and seek a Messiah of our own desire. Let us accept Jesus as the Messiah, and do His will, lest He weep and mourn over us also!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Pharisees and Tradition

And he said unto them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honoreth me with their lips, But their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men. Ye leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.'”
And he said unto them, “Full well do ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:6-9).

This is one of Jesus’ well-known interactions with the Pharisees. It seems, in fact, to be one of the most defining moments for each.

The Pharisees do not come because they want to learn from Jesus– they want to trap Him and find something with which to condemn Him before the people. They think that they have found what they need– His disciples, with His approval, do not eat with washed hands (cf. Mark 7:1-5). This violated the traditions of the elders!

The tradition, most likely, began innocently enough. The Jews were familiar with the book of Leviticus and the various regulations regarding cleanliness. Ritual defilement could occur from contact with anyone from a woman in her menstrual cycle to an unclean animal or a dead body. With so many potential contagions around it was best to always thoroughly wash before every meal so that any defilements would be washed away before eating.

But then the good idea became a mandate, and if you did not wash, accusations would fly.

Jesus would have none of this. The issue was not really the washing of hands before eating– that was the surface matter. The real problems involved the attitudes of the Pharisees and the emphasis on the physical in terms of defilement.

Jesus would go on to show that what people really need to worry about are the things that come out of a man– evil and sinful thoughts turned into attitudes and actions (cf. Mark 7:14-23). Foods and their influences are passed out of the system– not so with sin!

But Jesus’ real concern is with the enshrining of tradition. Traditions, however innocently they may begin, take on lives of their own, and begin to re-direct the mind away from what God deems important to what men deem important. How else can the Pharisees be explained? How else can a group of people become so misdirected and misguided as to believe that God would not have children provide for their parents (cf. Mark 7:10-13), or that God would find it sinful to heal on the Sabbath (cf. Mark 3:3-6, John 9:15-16)? That can only be when their minds have been so thoroughly turned away from God because of what they deem important!

It is fashionable to demonize and condemn the Pharisees, and this tendency is understandable. Nevertheless, it is good for us to consider the Pharisee in all of us.

It should be established that Pharisaism is not limited to a particular part of an ideological spectrum. Exclusive focus on smaller commands to the neglect of greater commands is no more or less justified than exclusive focus on greater commands to the neglect of smaller ones (Matthew 23:23). The inner Pharisee may try to bind where God has not bound; he may just as easily loose where God has not loosed. Sadly, those who condemn the Pharisee in others are often blind to the Pharisee in themselves (cf. Matthew 7:1-5).

We would do well to stop for a moment and consider what the Pharisees are thinking. The Pharisees are trying to follow the Law exactly. They come up to times when there may be commandments at variance with each other– to do good for people versus keeping the Sabbath, dedicating things to God versus taking care of parents. God did make the commands regarding cleanliness and avoiding ritual defilement.

But the Pharisees did go terribly wrong. They focused on the externals to the neglect of the internal. They chose easily measurable rules over love and compassion. They missed the fact that God desired them to do all things well with the right attitude in mind, not one to the exclusion of the other, as is manifest in the life of Jesus Christ!

There are times when we come up against some of the same challenges, and we would do well to remember what Jesus told the Pharisees. Binding traditions and rules hinders us from finding God’s guidelines according to God’s attitude. And when we see the Pharisee in others, we should first make sure that we have expelled the Pharisee in ourselves. Let us not bind tradition, whether adding to or taking away from God’s Word, and seek to do God’s will and reflecting His truth!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Do Not Fear; Only Believe

While he yet spake, they come from the ruler of the synagogue’s house saying, “Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Teacher any further?”
But Jesus, not heeding the word spoken, saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, “Fear not, only believe” (Mark 5:35-36).

The dreaded news had arrived.

Jairus knew that the time was short; he hastened to Jesus and implored Him to heal his daughter, sick near death (cf. Mark 5:22-23). Jairus knew that if Jesus got to her before she died she could be delivered from the illness. But the crowd pressed firmly upon Jesus, and He took time out to hear the confession of faith of the woman healed from the issue of blood (cf. Mark 5:24-34).

Too much time had been taken. The girl was dead.

This news is brought to Jairus; according to those who came from his house, there was no more need to bother Jesus the Teacher. And yet, in the midst of this despair and distress, Jesus provides a compelling message for Jairus: do not fear– only believe.

What would Jairus do?

It would be entirely understandable if he went with conventional wisdom and no longer bothered the Teacher. His daughter was dead. One of the few guarantees in life is that once you are dead, you are dead and finished. Sure, Jesus had healed all kinds of sick people and cast out many demons– but He had not yet raised anyone from the dead. It was a great hope while it lasted– but now all hope was gone. The girl was no more.

Yet, on the other hand, why is Jesus so nonchalant about the matter? Did Jesus not know how close she was to death? Why did Jesus delay? Why does He not pay any attention to the terrible news? Jesus is being hailed as the Prophet, the Son of God, with great authority. And now He says to not fear but only believe.

How many times do we find ourselves in a position similar to that of Jairus? There are many times in our lives when our situation seems bleak and hopeless. According to all appearances and conventional wisdom, there is nothing left to do but lose hope and be afraid. Distress encompasses us. Trials beset us. We have all kinds of reasons to no longer trouble the Teacher and to go on our own way.

And yet the voice of Jesus may still call to us to not fear and only believe.

This message should not be distorted or improperly expanded to indicate that all we ever need to do is just believe. Trust and confidence in God and Christ demand that we do what they say to do– if we do not do the Lord’s commandments, we prove that we are not trusting in Him (cf. Romans 6:16-23, James 2:14-26, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 John 2:3-6).

But there are many times in life when, if we were walking by sight/appearance, we would lose hope. It is in those times that we must walk by faith– trusting that the Lord is there, that the Lord is good, and that God is willing to do far more than even what we desire (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7, Ephesians 3:20-21). God can do the mighty actions; it is our place to trust in Him.

But there have always been and always will be reason to laugh at that trust. There are always reasons to lose all hope and to be afraid. There is never a lack of political uncertainty, economic uncertainty, medical uncertainty, and even environmental uncertainty. There are always various reasons to doubt God, to be afraid of what is happening to us or what we fear is about to happen to us, and to decide to no longer bother the Teacher.

We can read about Jairus’ choice: he believed and Jesus raised his daughter from the dead and restored her to full health (Mark 5:37-43). God was able to do more for him than he could have imagined. And so it is with us. Whenever we are assailed by doubt, fear, uncertainty, and hopelessness, let us remember the words of our Lord.

Do not fear. Only believe.

Ethan R. Longhenry

Victory!

But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).

The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. So much of what takes place in life involves “winners” and “losers.” We see it most clearly in sports games or in armed conflicts. It is also present in competitions in business, school, and in life in general. Everyone wants to win and be part of the winning team. No one wants to lose, and few have patience with constant loss.

Winning is sweet. Far too often, winning goes unquestioned. Everyone is happy when there is victory. But when people begin to lose, everything is questioned. Flaws and challenges come to the surface. Discord often rears its ugly head.

Losing, however, is not always such a bad thing. Humans tend to learn only by making mistakes. Losing tests endurance and resolve. Losing forces people to confront the difficult questions, and either continue to lose or to find a way to win.

So much of victory and defeat is mental and emotional– or, as it is said in sports so many times, games are most often won or lost before the players take the field. Some teams win because of talent and skill– others just have a stronger desire to win. Yes, many teams lose because of a lack of skill or poor execution, but far too often, such teams lack the will to win. It is not as if there is ever a perfect team or a perfect situation– challenges, flaws, and discord can always exist. Somehow, in some way, people find ways to be successful and victorious despite those flaws. And yet there are also times when people with so much talent, opportunity, and ability fail to achieve the victory that would seem to come to them, either through indolence or someone else just wanting it more!

These matters are profitable for Christians to consider, for the Christian life is compared to sporting competitions (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 12:1-2), spiritual conflict (Ephesians 6:10-18, 2 Timothy 2:4-5), and even in terms of business success (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27). We run the most important race there is; we fight the most important battle in history; we earn the most valuable profits. If we ever must pursue victory with everything we have, it must be in the spiritual arena!

When things go well in our lives as Christians, we do not question a lot of things. We are happy. It is when our lives begin to fall apart and/or we begin to fail that we begin to question. Our flaws, challenges, and discord are made evident. And yet those flaws and challenges were always there. Discord is always just around the corner. We must endure difficulties and struggles in our faith in order to be refined and to be made ready for the ultimate victory (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-9). These are not pleasant, and we always wonder why we are not always successful in God. Character does not develop and mature through complete success– it is only when we are forced to confront our difficulties that we prove our mettle and whether we will shrink away and fail or endure and overcome (cf. Revelation 2:7, 12:11).

Victory and success is also an important mindset. It is too easy for us to expect failure so as to never be disappointed. This is precisely what losers do, and such losers, while rarely disappointed, do not amount to much. Instead, we must believe that we can and must win, trusting in God’s firm Word to us that we shall have the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord. That victory may not seem very possible at times, and the situations we find ourselves in may be bleak. This is when we must have the most fervent resolve to win no matter the circumstances, and trust in God’s power that we shall win.

A day is coming when the results of the ultimate contest will be made evident. Those who have failed through their ignorance, desire to lose, or failure to serve God will obtain eternal condemnation (Romans 2:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). Those who trusted in Jesus for victory, who wanted that victory more than anything else, and devoted everything in their power to obtain that victory will share in that victory (Matthew 6:33, Romans 8:17-18, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, 15:54-58)– and the taste of victory will never have been sweeter (cf. Revelation 21:1-22:6). How much do we desire to win it all? Let us trust in God through Christ and devote all of our energies to His cause so as to gain the ultimate victory!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Follow Me

And passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishers.
And Jesus said unto them, “Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”
And straightway they left the nets, and followed him. And going on a little further, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending the nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him (Mark 1:16-20).

And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the place of toll, and he saith unto him, “Follow me.”
And he arose and followed him (Mark 2:14).

For Simon, Andrew, James, John, and Levi, it seemed like a usual day. They went to work as they always had. Everything was normal. The fishing for Simon, Andrew, James, and John was probably little different than usual. Levi probably had a usual day at the tax booth.

And then, out of nowhere, everything changed.

They had, no doubt, heard of Jesus of Nazareth, and the mighty works which He had done. They would have heard the whisperings and suggestions: is this the Messiah who is to come? Are God’s promises finally coming true? The prospect was, no doubt, exciting. But these were simple fishermen and a tax collector– what could the Messiah want with them?

And yet, here He is– and He summons them. He tells Simon and Andrew that He will make them fishers of men. He summons James and John and Levi with a clear and simple message– follow Me.

The call was uttered, and it was heard– what would these men do? Simon and Andrew have their own fishing business. James and John work for their father. Levi is the one manning the toll booth. They have responsibilities– Levi to Herod, James and John to their father, and Simon, if to no one else, his wife (cf. Mark 1:30). How would they survive? What about those for whom they are responsible?

These and perhaps other questions might have been on the minds of these five men. Yet notice their decisive actions– they get up and follow Him. Simon and Andrew leave their net as it is. James and John abandon their work to their father and his hired servants. Levi rises and leaves, perhaps leaving the toll booth empty. There is no hesitancy here and no looking back. The Lord has summoned them, and they follow the call, no matter where it may lead them.

Jesus would ultimately die on a cross for the forgiveness of sins, be raised in power on the third day, and ascend to the Father, where He now rules as Lord (cf. Matthew 26:29, Acts 1:1-11, Acts 2:38). His summons now goes out to every person on earth through His Gospel: follow Me (cf. Mark 16:15, Romans 1:16, 1 Timothy 2:4)!

The call has been uttered. Do you now hear it? You may stop and think about all of your obligations, all of the things that you may hold dear on the earth, and consider the many possible difficulties and dangers of the life of a disciple of Christ. You are not alone in those concerns. Nevertheless, we ought to have the same faith as Simon, Andrew, James, John, and Levi. We should rise up immediately and follow Jesus!

Jesus may not be calling you to leave your occupation, family obligations, and other such things as He did to these disciples, but He does call you to set aside the ways of sin and death in order to be conformed to His image, walking the path that He walked (Romans 6:1-10, Romans 8:29, 1 John 2:6). That will require leaving behind our old ways of thinking, our old attitudes, and many of our old habits. That will more likely than not be uncomfortable. It certainly requires faith.

Simon, Andrew, James, John, and Levi took that fateful step of faith on that day so long ago, and in earthly terms, many of them would pay dearly for it. Simon and James would eventually die for the cause of Christ, and John would suffer persecution for Jesus. Their eternal reward, however, far outweighed the difficulties they experienced on earth (Romans 8:18), and that same reward can be ours if we will take a similar step of faith.

Jesus calls you to follow Him. Will you renounce the ways of the world and serve Him today?

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Weightier Matters

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye tithe mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith: but these ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone” (Matthew 23:23).

Human beings have a tendency to maintain a narrow focus on various matters in life. It is easy for people to allow a select few criteria be their guide in the world: they decide to see everything through a certain set of lenses.

The Pharisees and scribes were not much different. The New Testament reveals that they were quite focused on preserving the Law of Moses and the traditions developed around that Law down to the last detail. Their hyper-vigilance about the Law led them to overemphasize the more “minor” actions while neglecting the more “significant” ones. By focusing on the “minor” actions and accomplishing them perfectly, they felt a sense of pride and accomplishment that led to a false sense of security and satisfaction, as if being vigilant in doing nothing on the Sabbath, washing of hands, and tithing down to the level of spices would be sufficient to obtain God’s commendation!

Jesus condemns this myopia. Even if they are more quantifiable and “objective,” performing these minor acts of obedience are not sufficient to obtain God’s commendation. Believers must not neglect the “weightier” matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith.

The scribes and Pharisees were certainly guilty of that. The Pharisees especially considered themselves morally superior to their fellow men, as the Pharisee’s prayer in Luke 18:11-12 and the attitudes of the Pharisees in John 9 make evident. They deemed themselves “righteous” and everyone else to be “sinners,” despite the fact that they had sinned also and were certainly not maintaining God’s sense of faith, justice, or mercy. Their condemnation was just.

Nevertheless, this passage also exposes a major fault line within the thought of many religious people. Many take the idea of the “weightier matters of the law” and run with it, coming to the conclusion that since we are under “grace,” we need to get the “big things” right, and can allow the “little things” to slide. Others protest the very idea of “weightier matters,” stressing the need to do all things as God has charged us.

The truth, as usual, is somewhere more in the middle. Jesus tells us that there are some matters that are “weightier” than others. This means that some attitudes/actions have more significance than others. In the examples given, this is rather evident: justice, faith, and mercy are of greater significance than tithing spices. “Tithing spices” is of benefit to God and His Temple, while accomplishing justice, mercy, and faith is of benefit to God, His Temple, and all men. Furthermore, faith, justice, and mercy deal with every aspect of a person: his mind, his attitude, and his actions. One cannot easily have faith or show justice and mercy while internally despising God or his fellow man. While tithing should flow from a heart full of faith, one could tithe without the proper attitudes.

Therefore, there are some matters of greater significance than others. But that does not mean that we can just let matters of less significance slide and be pleasing to God. Notice that Jesus does not condemn the scribes or Pharisees for tithing the spices– in fact, He says that they should have done so! The problem was not that the scribes and Pharisees were tithing spices– the problem was that they were tithing spices while neglecting faith, justice, and mercy. It would be a gross perversion of this text to insinuate that if they had engaged in the “weightier matters” of the Law but had not tithed the spices that Jesus would have justified them. There is no basis for such a claim!

This should not be an “either/or” proposition, but a “both/and” one. The scribes and Pharisees should have accomplished both the “weightier matters of the law” and the tithing of spices. If we are serving God as we ought to serve Him, the latter flows from the former: because we are dedicated to love, humility, faith, and service, the “weightier matters” of the new covenant (cf. Romans 1:16-17, Romans 6:16-21, Romans 13:8-11, Ephesians 2:1-10, Philippians 2:1-11, Hebrews 11:1, 6, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 Peter 5:6-7), we will make sure to accomplish God’s will both in simple, quantifiable, and objective matters along with more substantive and difficult matters. We will assemble to encourage one another (1 Corinthians 14:23, Hebrews 10:25), give as we have prospered, both to the church and to those in need (1 Corinthians 16:1-3, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15, Galatians 2:10, 6:10), and other such things, while also loving our neighbor as ourselves and seeking his welfare (Romans 13:8-10, Philippians 2:1-4), and offering ourselves to God’s purposes as living and holy sacrifices (Romans 12:1), and the like.

Jesus’ message to the scribes and Pharisees represents a necessary warning against spiritual myopia, focusing on accomplishing certain elements of God’s purpose to the neglect of others. We cannot be justified in taking care of matters of detail and less significance while neglecting the weightier matters of God’s purposes; likewise, we cannot be justified in thinking that if we accomplish the weightier matters of God’s will that we can slide on the matters of less significance. If God has commanded it, there is value in accomplishing it! Let us seek to accomplish the whole will of God, and not neglect any aspect of it!

Ethan R. Longhenry