The Body of Christ

Now ye are the body of Christ, and severally members thereof (1 Corinthians 12:27).

Christians not only represent the Lord Jesus Christ; they are to understand themselves as His body.

The Christians in Corinth were able to exercise spiritual gifts; it was evident they handled these gifts with great immaturity, using them to show off and to presume a greater level of spirituality than that of others. Paul attempted to explain to them another way: the way of love, the exercise of spiritual gifts to encourage and build up the whole as opposed to the elevation of the individual (1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40). As part of that exhortation Paul sought to focus the Corinthians on their participation in and as the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. Paul goes well beyond suggesting the metaphor; he elaborates on the connections and applications at length. A body has many individual parts but remains a coherent whole; so with the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). The individual parts of the body have different, unique, and important functions, and each is necessary to the well-being of the whole; so it is with the body of Christ, in which God has put every part according to His pleasure (1 Corinthians 12:15-18). Different parts of the body need each other to work most effectively; so it is with the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:19-21). In fact, many of the most necessary functions of the body are the most hidden and “modest,” and given greater honor on account of their “humility,” and so the body of Christ is to maintain care and concern for its members, with each suffering and rejoicing along with those who suffer and rejoice, so that no division may exist in the body (1 Corinthians 12:22-25). In short, the human body is sustained because its constituent parts perform their individual roles while supporting the roles of others in an organic unity; it could be said that the parts have care for each other, recognizing the importance of all for proper function, and so it must be in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Paul manifestly used a metaphor to describe the church as a body; we are not physically interconnected with each other. But we should not deprecate what Paul says as “mere metaphor,” as if its metaphorical nature denies its substantive reality: Paul expected the Christians in Corinth to work together as a body, to care for each other as a body, and to give each member the respect and honor in valuation as critical parts functioning to build themselves up as a body. This is not a one-off message, either; Paul elaborated in similar ways in Romans 12:3-8 and Ephesians 4:11-16. In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 Paul spoke of the Lord’s Supper as communion, a joint participation in the body and blood of Christ, because we who consume the one bread and cup are the one body of and in Christ. It is possible to literalize Paul’s metaphor to the extreme in damaging ways, but it is hard to overstate the importance and the power of the image: Christians are the body of Christ. They do well to act like it.

Our age is a hyper-individualist one. Everyone seems to glorify and advance the standing of the individual. Western philosophy has led us to the point in which man is the measure of all things, and his or her individual judgment is elevated above all else. Over the past few hundred years we have seen a consistent pattern of advancing the interests of individuals along with a corresponding denigration and thus weakening of communal bonds and norms. “Middle class values,” especially as expressed in America, exalt the individual’s ability to rise above their station and to carve out a more prosperous life for him or herself and the “nuclear family,” yet without concern for the effects of such elevation on a local community, the larger community, or the environment. Political partisans argue about where individual rights, control, and power are to be exercised, but underneath never truly question the assumption. Likewise, for some reason or another everyone decries and laments the loss of community and shared values, yet none prove willing to question or challenge the cult of the individual to a sufficient extent to stem the tide. Some seek to hold on to both at the same time, and yet time and again we see that such is impossible. One can seek the interests of each individual, or one can seek the best interests of a community as a whole; the two at some juncture will always be at odds.

We are thus stuck in a similar predicament to that of the Corinthian Christians: the glorification and advancement of the individual comes at the cost of the betterment of the whole. The Corinthian Christians could use the spiritual gifts God gave them to exalt themselves and advance their selfish purposes, or they could use them humbly to serve one another and build up the body; they could not do both. This challenge was originally laid at the disciples’ feet by Jesus in Matthew 20:25-28: the world is always about glorification and advancement of one’s individual or small tribal interests to the expense of all others, but in the Kingdom of God in Christ this cannot be so. Those who would be in God’s Kingdom in Jesus must seek to serve and better others, as Christ Himself did. They must put the interest of others before their own (Philippians 2:1-4). One cannot seek the welfare of the body of Christ while seeking to exalt and glorify oneself.

Christians therefore must be careful regarding the elevation and exaltation of the individual. It is true that far too often communities have gone aside to the doctrines and spirits of demons, turning into cults or religious institutions which suppressed and did not advance the truth. As individuals we must come to God in Christ for salvation; we have our individual roles and functions in life that are independent of the work of the corporate collective of the people of God (Acts 2:38-41, 1 Timothy 5:16). But we must not miss the overriding emphasis of the New Testament: salvation is only in the body of Christ; God works through His people, but has always worked through His people for the sake of the whole. We may come to Jesus to be saved as individuals, but we cannot find salvation independent of His body; instead, we are to become one with each other as we become one with God in Christ (John 17:20-23)!

As long as the individual is elevated the community will suffer. As long as the individual insists on his own way, he or she is still of the world, and not acting according to Christ. We are members of the body of Christ; we have our individual efforts, but all our efforts are to be unto the benefit and advancement of the purposes of the whole. We must care for each other and value each other. Such is easier said than done; such is often quite messy and complicated in practice. People are hard to love. But that’s what God in Christ is all about: loving people and bringing relational unity where there has been alienation. May we seek to build up the body of Christ above all else, and sublimate our interests to that of the whole so as to glorify God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Word of Life

That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life (and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us) (1 John 1:1-2).

This is not your average introduction to a letter. John is also not your average writer.

John began his first letter, like he began the Gospel he wrote of Jesus’ life, with emphasis on Jesus as the Word of God (John 1:1-18, 1 John 1:1-4). In his Gospel John correlates the activity of Jesus as the Word with the creation, writing John 1:1-5 in parallel with Genesis 1:1-5. John wrote that Gospel so that people would believe that Jesus is the Christ, and through their faith in Him might have life in His name (John 20:31).

John writes his first letter to Christians, his “little children,” those whom he loves in the Lord Jesus (1 John 2:1, 5:21). They have already come to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Yet many false teachers seek to lead Christians astray (cf. 1 John 2:18-27, 4:1-3); John feels compelled to begin his letter by reminding his readers why they have good reason to have confidence in the truth of what he says. John can be trusted because he, along with the other Apostles, have experienced the Word of life: they heard Him, saw Him, touched Him, participated in His work, and now bear witness that He is the Lord, the Son of God, who died but was raised again in power, exactly as the Lord Jesus commissioned them (1 John 1:1-2; cf. Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 24:44-49). As they read what he has to say, the early Christians who received this letter could have every confidence in the truth of its message, since its author had personally experienced Jesus as the Word of life.

Over nineteen hundred years later we also can maintain confidence in what John is saying since he has experienced the Word of life manifest in the Lord Jesus. We do well to make sure that our faith and practice are consistent with Apostolic faith and practice, since the Twelve are the unique witnesses and emissaries of the Lord Jesus, having seen Him in life, death, and in the resurrection, a privilege none since have enjoyed. We have no right to add to what has already been revealed by the Apostles regarding the faith; it cannot be rooted in the actual, physical experience of the Lord Jesus (Jude 1:3).

There is much we can gain by seeing how John presents this testimony and witness. The tendency has existed, especially in the Western world, to put a lot of emphasis on doctrines, teachings, and instructions. The Greeks were enamored with philosophy; it would not take long for many to attempt to reduce Christianity down to a system of precepts, principles, and to put the priority on doctrine and the formulation of intellectual systems of thought. Religions around the world feature books of wisdom handed down from wise men or influential instructors of the past. Many times the examples of those instructors do not live up to what they taught. For so many, religion is akin to philosophy: a bunch of abstractions that may not have much to do with real life, an ideal attempting to come to grips with the real.

This is why John’s emphasis is so important. John does not begin by saying, “we heard Jesus’ instructions.” Instead, he speaks of how he and the other Apostles experienced the Word of life: sure, they heard Him, but they also saw Him, touched Him, and participated in Him (1 John 1:1-3). John does not yet speak of Him as Jesus or Christ; he speaks of Him as the “Word of life.” All of these other religions, philosophies, etc., have focused on a set of written down doctrines and teachings to consider and follow. Christianity is unique in insisting that the message of God was manifest and embodied in Jesus of Nazareth! He did not just say the Word; He was, and is, the Word (John 1:1-18, 1 John 1:1-3)! In Christianity we do not just have many true statements or accurate teachings; we see the teachings lived and practiced by Jesus of Nazareth. No one else–not Abraham, Moses, David, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius, or anyone else–has claimed to be the way, the life, the truth, and/or the resurrection (John 11:25, 14:6). Therefore, John is right to make it clear that he did not just hear the correct teachings; he experienced the right teachings. He was not just told how he and others should live; he saw that life lived (John 13:34, 1 John 2:6). Christianity, therefore, is not just a set of abstract principles or doctrines; Christianity is the pursuit of the Life that was in Jesus of Nazareth and given to all who would follow after Him.

It is true that we do not encounter the Lord Jesus as John did, but encounter Him through the written down testimony of the Apostles in the New Testament and through the prophecies of His coming in the Old Testament. If Christianity only involved just another written down story with good ethical principles, it would have no more value than Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or philosophical works. Yet Christians make the radical claim that the Jesus of whom we read in the New Testament is still alive and reigns as Lord to this very day (Ephesians 3:10-11, Hebrews 13:8). Jesus remains the Word of life, and through His message as revealed in Scripture we can have joint participation with the Apostles who proclaimed that message and with Him in God the Father (1 John 1:3-4). We can share in the Word of Life today, and walk today as He walked, and do His commandments, all through the cleansing and strength which He provides, a claim which no other religion or philosophy can make (Philippians 4:13, Ephesians 6:10-18, 1 John 2:3, 6). The Word of life was with the Father, manifested to us, and returned to the Father, and all to provide all who would believe life, even to this day!

We may not be able to experience the Word of life as John did almost two thousand years ago, but we can still share in that life forever. Let us put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and take hold of that which is life indeed!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Destroyed for Lack of Knowledge

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I also will forget thy children (Hosea 4:6).

The situation reads like an apocalyptic horror story.

No one trusts anyone else. Everyone is out for their own advantage. Kill or be killed. Rampant theft. Pervasive adultery. Blood in the streets. Even the land itself is in mourning.

While some may think this would refer to parts of America or other parts of the world today, this is the description of Israelite society 750 years before Jesus as provided by the prophet Hosea (Hosea 4:1-3).

Hosea presents a picture of a society unhinged from moral bearings, having cast off all restraint. He presents God’s case against the people, and does so powerfully; God’s impending judgment of the people is just. Nevertheless, we are left to ask: what went so wrong? What led to such disastrous conditions in Israel?

The controversy God has with the people is that there is no truth or goodness in the land (Hosea 4:1); this is directly associated with the real cause of the problem: there is no knowledge of God in the land (Hosea 4:1). As God says through Hosea: my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6)!

How could this be? There were temples to YHWH in Dan and Bethel; if you asked the “Israelite in the street” about religion, he would tell you that YHWH was the God of Israel, and how He delivered His people out of Egypt and gave them the land of Israel. So how could it be that the people did not have sufficient knowledge of God?

The answer would be apparent if you continued to question the average “Israelite on the street.” He would likely tell you that the golden calves in those temples in Dan and Bethel were representations of YHWH, and that Baal, Asherah, and other gods really existed and were the gods of the people around them. The average “Israelite on the street” would prove to be the average person of the ancient Near East with the usual worldview and beliefs of the average person of the ancient Near East; this was not at all what God was looking for in His people (cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-18)!

Israel had some cultural memories of who God is but was not taught directly and/or effectively from the Law about the nature and essence of that God and the conduct He expected from them. The blame for this begins with the priests and Levites who were instructed to teach the people about God and the Law (Deuteronomy 31:9-13). They were perfectly positioned to do so since they were intermediaries, standing between God and the people; nevertheless, from the beginning of the northern Kingdom of Israel, priests came from all sorts of places God had not authorized, and were likely under political pressure to modify what had been declared to suit the purposes of the king (1 Kings 12:31). In a mostly illiterate society, if the Law is not constantly read to the people, they will not be able to know it; thus we have the judgment pronounced by Hosea. The people do not have the true knowledge they should have, and it will lead to their destruction!

But the people themselves are not blameless; even if the priests were not reading the Law, they should have encouraged one another in the knowledge of YHWH as the One True God, the Creator, their Deliverer (cf. Romans 1:18-20); instead, they went out and engaged in the same idolatrous practices as the people around them (cf. Hosea 4:8-14). Ignorance was inexcusable; even if the Levites and the priests were not speaking the true word of YHWH, God provided Israel with prophets like Amos and Hosea who did speak the true word of YHWH. These prophets went unheeded; the people preferred the prophets with nicer messages and who did not condemn them.

The ultimate consequences were severe; within a generation, the northern Kingdom of Israel would fall to Assyria; most of the people would be exiled and absorbed into the population of Mesopotamia. Most of the priests and Levites of the north would not stand before God and minister to Him, and all because they had forgotten about YHWH. Their punishment is just: since they acted and believed little differently from the rest of the peoples of the ancient Near East, they were absorbed into the ancient Near Eastern world and would have little inheritance in the promises of the God of Israel.

We can make many parallels with the modern day. Sure, there are plenty of people who will profess to believe in God and His Son Jesus Christ, and even claim that He was raised from the dead. But if you press the average “man on the street” when it comes to his understanding of God, it becomes clear rather quickly that most are little different from their secular neighbors. Their behaviors and attitudes differ little from everyone else; they look at things in the way most good postmodern 21st century Americans would, not the way Jesus does. And those behavior patterns tell the story: there is little knowledge of God in the land, despite all the bluster and appearance to the contrary. Understanding of who God is and what He expects from mankind is as superficial today as it was 2750 years ago!

Blame can be laid at the feet of many perceived religious authorities; too many proclaim Enlightenment modernism or post-Enlightenment postmodernism, nationalism, or other worldly philosophies in the name of Christ to their own hurt as well as ours (cf. Colossians 2:1-10). Too many preachers proclaim a moralistic therapeutic Deist god, and not the God revealed in the pages of the Bible. We can be assured that God’s judgment upon them will be just and decisive; as many such organizations decline in membership and relevancy, they are experiencing something somewhat similar to Israel, for they are becoming fully what they aspired to in their preaching and ideology. They are being good 21st century Americans, not Christians. How many people have been destroyed because of such things?

But, in the end, ignorance is no excuse, especially today. Most everyone can read; everyone can easily get their hands on God’s message to mankind. Nevertheless, even though people have plenty of reason to believe in God, they go off and engage in the same behavior as the nations around them. They blindly follow after cultural and societal norms to their own destruction.

People whom God wishes were saved are being destroyed for lack of knowledge; there is insufficient knowledge of God in the land. Let us not fall prey to the superficiality of faith in our culture and go down the same dead ends as those who came before us; let us learn of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and follow after Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Weapons of our Warfare

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds), casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

The military metaphor is used occasionally in Scripture to describe the conflict in which we find ourselves. It is dangerous to read too deeply into the military metaphor; notice how often Paul emphasizes that our enemies are not flesh and blood and our weapons are not physical (2 Corinthians 10:3-4, Ephesians 6:12). He is making clear what far too many since have confused: there is a conflict, yes, but swords and guns are not going to solve it. Guns and swords are only going to make things worse!

Nevertheless, we are all engaged in a conflict. In Ephesians 6:10-18 Paul speaks of that conflict in terms of the soldier’s full armament. Here, in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, he briefly describes the weaponry we are to use in this conflict in order to advance the purposes of God in Christ.

There are two aspects to these “weapons”: engagement with the world around us, and engagement within ourselves. They are both used for the “casting down of strongholds” and the weapons are “mighty before God” (2 Corinthians 10:4). We are to imagine the large, walled cities of the ancient world; the weapons we are to use will tear down those walls. Defenses will be compromised!

Paul begins with the engagement with the world around us. Paul says that it is our task to “cast down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God” in the ASV; the ESV renders it, “we destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

This might seem strange to us at first. Some might wonder where there is room for the practice of Christianity. Others may want to know where morality and discussions about moral behavior fit in. But if we stop and think about it for a moment, what Paul says makes perfect sense.

Everyone has a view of the world and how it works. This view is constantly modified by new information; the older we get, the more fossilized it becomes. We have to have some type of worldview/perspective in order to make sense of all the different aspects of existence. It is this worldview that informs our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

As long as a person can remain convinced that the way they see the world is the way it really is, or makes the best sense of the way it really is, it will remain incredibly difficult to change their minds about much of anything. Witness the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Jews in general throughout the New Testament. For that matter, see what it took for Saul of Tarsus to change his mind (cf. Acts 9:1-19)! As long as the person can make sense out of things, they will keep thinking as they always have, and thus keep acting as they always have.

Therefore, as long as the “imaginations” of man stay in place, and as long as people exalt their opinions about the way things work, we cannot get very far with people. People are not blank slates; if they are going to learn of God, they are going to have to “unlearn” some things first. Since everyone already has some type of edifice that they have built in order to understand the world, that edifice will have to first be exposed as faulty before people are going to be willing to concede that they need to change the way they think, feel, and act!

And that is why Paul speaks of casting down imaginations and every opinion exalted over the knowledge of God. Our weapon must be the tool of persuasion, presenting all the evidence that does not fit well into the edifice people have already created yet exhibits the soundness of the revelation of God. These are very deep issues and go to the core of who we think we are as human beings; since they are deep, dealing with the surface issues are not going to get us very far. Unfortunately, most people need to be convinced that the way they see the world is broken before they believe it broken. That is why our “firepower” must be directed to this end– getting people to understand that the way they see things is flawed in order to present to them the better model in Christ.

The other aspect to these “weapons” involves more engagement within ourselves. As Paul says, we must be “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). How can we work to knock down these strongholds of the world if they maintain a foothold within our own minds? How can we refute an argument if we continue to maintain it within ourselves?

The knowledge of God is firmly rooted in Christ; as Paul says in Colossians 2:1-10, it should be our goal and aim to understand all things through Christ. Worldly philosophies deceive; we can discern what is right from wrong in them when they are subjected before Christ. “Common sense” and the groupthink of culture are seductive ideas; we can only discern what is truly sensible when we subject those ideas to Christ. Idolatry is man’s perennial problem, from the beginning until now (cf. Romans 1:18-32); the only way to eliminate idolatry is to make sure all things are subject to Christ.

There is a prevalent myth about that says that we can all be objectively rational at times and seek to understand things in a disinterested way. This is sheer folly; no matter how hard we try, we are products of our culture, society, upbringing, and time. The best that any of us can do is to be sensitive to those ways in which we are predisposed to understand matters because of our culture, society, upbringing, and time. The only way to do so thoroughly is to subject everything to Christ. What would Christ find commendatory about the spirit of the age? Commend it. What would Christ critique regarding the spirit of the age? Critique it.

The stakes are quite high. As long as the bloated and blustering edifices of worldly thought and philosophy are left unchallenged, people will continue to follow after vanity and justify themselves by the lie. We must challenge these edifices with the knowledge of God, understanding that present ideas must be deconstructed before a godly life can be built instead.

In so doing, we must remember that the worst horror of all is when believers become complicit with those bloated and blustering edifices by just going along with what they have been taught by society, culture, upbringing, and the like, not subjecting these thoughts to Christ, understanding what is commendatory from what is to be challenged. We can look into our past and find many instances when believers did not subject certain societal attitudes to Christ; now, as then, it was always about difficult matters, some of which may not have been automatically evident to the people involved. The Evil One is good at seducing believers into following after many forms of conventional wisdom that are contrary to God’s purposes. Let us resist the temptation. Let us subject every thought, every attitude, everything we might assume is accurate or is according to “common sense,” and subject it to Christ. Then let us praise what is to be commended, and work diligently to tear down through critique all that is to be challenged. In so doing, we will be tearing down those worldly strongholds, casting down everything exalted beyond the knowledge of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Christ Crucified

Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumblingblock, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

When people hear about the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire in the first few centuries of this era, it is easy to think that either there was not much competition or people were just more ready to accept belief in Jesus as the Christ. This is the way that many who wish to look down upon the faith want to present the situation too, promoting a move away from “primitive faith” in our more “enlightened age.”

In reality, however, the first century was a time of great philosophical engagement. The Platonic, Peripatetic (Aristotelian), Stoic, Cynic, Epicurean, and other schools of philosophy flourished, promoted their views, and challenged one another. “Mystery religions” involving exclusive groups and secret rites were popular. There was also interest in the Jewish religion, among others, and the Jews of the first century were very fervent about their religion and their identity.

Christianity, therefore, did not grow without any meaningful opposition. In fact, for many, the only thing that would unify them would be their shared opposition to Christianity!

As Paul indicates, much of the opposition to Christianity came as a result of its central tenets– Jesus as the Crucified and Risen Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). This idea was not wholeheartedly embraced uncritically by the majority establishment of its day– far from it! Such ideas were as “preposterous” then as they are often reckoned now!

To the Jews, Christ crucified is a stumbling-block. The image comes from Isaiah 8:14 and applied by Paul to Jesus in Romans 9:32-33, and it is very appropriate. The Jews were looking forward to the future Messiah as the King of physical Israel who would deliver them from oppression, restore the kingdom of David, and thus defeat the Romans and establish a Jewish world power. But the idea of the Christ– the Messiah– as crucified is entirely contrary to those intentions, especially the Christ crucified on a Roman cross! Thus, while looking forward to the coming Messiah and waiting to see His signs, Jesus came and fulfilled all that was written of the Christ, and the Jews did not receive Him (John 1:11, Matthew 5:17-18, Luke 24:44). The Jews tripped over the Christ they were not expecting, and their impending doom as a nation was sealed (Matthew 24:1-36, Romans 11:7-10).

To the Gentiles, particularly those well-versed in Greek philosophy and Greek thinking, Christ crucified and raised from the dead is foolishness. Many Athenians mocked when they heard of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 17:32). It was folly because the idea of God coming in the flesh, let alone to die, let alone to be raised again (cf. Philippians 2:5-11), was utterly contrary to everything they believed. If God or gods existed, they certainly would not demean themselves to the point of becoming human. Even if such a possibility were imaginable, no divine being of any standing would suffer to live as a peasant and die as a common criminal on a Roman cross, for humility was no virtue to the Greek. Beyond all of this, the idea of the resurrection of the dead was preposterous. Not only did the dead remain dead, and not only were there no instances of the dead being raised, but why would anyone want to be raised again in the flesh? The Greeks imagined that the state of bliss would be found in a disembodied spirit form; the body was a hindrance, not a help. According to the Gentile worldview, Christ crucified and raised simply did not make any sense.

Notice that Paul does not deny this. Paul understands that to the Jew who thinks like Jews, Christ crucified is a stumbling-block; to a Greek well-versed in their philosophies, Christ crucified is sheer folly. Paul knows and confesses that the Jews look for signs but not according to the nature of Christ; the Gentiles seek after wisdom, but it is not the wisdom rooted in God. The Jew seeks the worldly Messiah; the Greek seeks the wisdom of the world. To both, nothing can be more ridiculous than Christ crucified.

And that is precisely the point: to the ways of the world Christianity always has been, is today, and will always remain ridiculous. God as a Jewish peasant executed by the Romans as a common criminal only to be raised from the dead? It is not as if this story has only recently become difficult for many to accept!

In fact, Paul embraces the “foolishness” of the message of Christ crucified. He speaks of how it was God’s pleasure to save people through this “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:21).

Unfortunately, this passage is often used to attack Christianity as anti-intellectual: after all, Paul says that Christianity is “foolishness” that militates against those with knowledge and wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-20), and that only those who are poor and of low station believed (1 Corinthians 1:26). But that is not what Paul is saying! It is true that Christianity was more appealing to those of lower class and lower station, and Paul admits as much in 1 Corinthians 1:26, but there were some of the upper classes and the intelligent who believed. It is not that Christianity is anti-intellectual or truly foolish– instead, it is only anti-intellectual according to the worldly version of intellectualism, and only folly according to the world’s definition of wisdom.

This is why Paul says that God’s foolishness is wiser than men, as God’s weakness is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:25)– not that God is really foolish or weak, but that He is so completely superior to mankind that whatever folly and weakness could be perceived in Him is still greater than the wisdom and strength of men!

Intellectualism and worldly wisdom are seductive. Not a few have thought of themselves far more highly than they should have on account of their great learning. Yet, as Paul shows, one can master worldly knowledge and wisdom and yet will still not be able to approach the understanding and strength of God.

We hear the same messages today that Paul no doubt heard in the first century: impressive sounding arguments about the impossibility of Christianity that are, in fact, quite hollow and baseless. Mockery and derision of the faith has been a challenging weapon both then and now. Yet behind all the bluster and the argument remains the fact that the reason Christianity has been vexing to its opponents for all of these years is that it suggests an entirely different way of looking at the world than worldly knowledge or wisdom. Christianity suggests that there is a Creator God to whom we are all subject, and He has established His purposes for mankind in Jesus and the Scriptures (John 1:1-18, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). In Jesus God manifested His qualities– love, humility, compassion, mercy, peace– and they were so disturbing to the establishment of the day that they had Him executed and those who followed Him persecuted. There’s an intractable conflict between the values of God in Christ and the values of the world (James 4:4, 1 John 2:15-17), and one cannot abide in the wisdom of the world and be pleasing to God.

Christ crucified and raised. According to the ways of the world, this is sheer folly. It does not make sense unless one is willing to reject the ways of the world and trust in the ways of God. Those who are willing to have such faith in God understand His power in Christ and will endure the criticisms and the charges of foolishness. Let us not despair because the critics of the faith assail it as folly; they have been doing so for millennia. Let us instead remain humble, recognizing that God is always stronger and wiser than men, and depend on Him and His Son for our deliverance!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Existing in God

“And [God] made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us: ‘for in him we live, and move, and have our being’; as certain even of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring'” (Acts 17:26-28).

Paul has quite the challenge before him: to explain to pagans obsessed with philosophy the nature of the God of Israel, the One True God, and Jesus His Son. In order to have any level of success, Paul must persuade his audience to look at God differently than they had in the past. There were not a multiplicity of gods who were represented by statues, needing the service of men (cf. Acts 17:22-25). In a brilliant and yet ironic move, Paul speaks regarding the nature of the One True God by quoting a Greek, most likely Epimenides of Crete: in God “we live and move and have our being.” As Aratus said in the Phainomena, “we are His offspring.” God, therefore, is not an image in the likeness of man or animal. God is something quite different. God is the Creator of the earth and all that is in it, and, in truth, God is not far from any of us (Acts 17:26-27).

This is a lesson that needs to be proclaimed again today, for even though people may not think of the pagan deities when they think about “God” anymore, people’s view of God and the way God really is remains different.

Think for a moment about how you consider God. The thinking of the past two hundred years have led many people to think of God as distant and remote. In such a view, perhaps God did create everything– but ever since He has stayed away. Many religious people– many who believe in Jesus– will grant that God actively and personally worked throughout the early part of human history, even within the first century of our era. But ever since God has kept His distance, in a sense. The image of God in the parable of the talents has been taken quite literally– God has gone on a far journey, and we are on our own until He decides to return, and then comes the judgment (cf. Matthew 25:14-30).

This image of God reigns supreme in societal thinking. God, especially the God revealed in the Bible, is portrayed as an old man “up there,” distant and remote. If He does have anything to do with His creation, it involves condemnation and chastisement for wickedness. To not a few, Gary Larson’s portrayal of God sitting at His computer, ready to hit the “smite” button and kill a young man with a falling piano, is not too far off the mark.

Paul would not recognize such a God– neither would any Israelite or Christian of the first century. That might be some pagan view of God, but it is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is not the God who sent Jesus His Son into the world.

The One True God is not distant and remote. Yes, we must seek after Him, but, as Paul says, He is not far from us. We exist in Him. We live and move in Him. We cannot understand this in a concretely physical sense, but it also cannot be seen as true in some remote spiritual context. It is true in a very near spiritual context. When Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” in Matthew 18:20, He is talking about a spiritual presence, but a presence that is “present” nonetheless!

The Israelites did not waver in their belief that God was with them; all they had to do was look toward the Tabernacle or the Temple and see the cloud of the Presence and understand that God was there (cf. Exodus 40:34). This same imagery is used to describe the people of God today– Christians (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20). If believers, individually and corporately, are the Temple, then God’s presence must be with them, as the Scriptures indeed attest. The same is established in Romans 8:9-11. The message of the New Testament is unambiguous: if we are God’s people, then God is with us. This does not mean that a remote and distant spiritual figure far away in the heavens has accepted us. It means that the Creator of the universe is actively working with us and seeking to benefit us in ways we cannot imagine (cf. Romans 8:31-33, Ephesians 3:20-21). When the New Testament declares that Jesus is Lord, this is not to mean that we have a distant and remote ruler. It means that no matter how terrible it may seem on the surface, Jesus is really in control, and blessings will come to those who obey Him (cf. Revelation 12-19)!

There is much that is mysterious about the nature of God and His Presence. We know that God does not abrogate man’s will, and we understand that speaking of God’s presence in “literal,” “concrete,” or “physical” ways are misguided. Nevertheless, we should not allow the humanistic thinking over the past few hundred years to re-define the nature of God for us. Instead, we must understand who God is on the basis of what He has revealed. He is not far from us. He is not the distant and remote figure that our society has made Him out to be. Instead, in Him we live and move and have our being. If we are His people, His Presence is with us. Let us be thankful that our God is not remote, but is very much near, and praise His name!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Myth of Progress

That which hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

The past two hundred years have been a blur of technological development. Few are the aspects of life that have not been radically altered by recent innovations. Automobiles and airplanes have entirely changed how we transport ourselves and goods. The telephone, the computer, and the Internet have changed how we communicate with each other and how we are able to work. Heaters, air conditioners, stoves, ovens, microwaves, washers, dryers, and other forms of electronic equipment have made the daily activities of life that much more efficient. Advancements in medicine and science have led to better quality of life and a more enhanced understanding of the world (and the universe) around us.

When seen in terms of the whole of human history, all of these advancements have come in the blink of an eye. Ways of life that existed for hundreds or thousands of years have been irretrievably changed. These changes and advancements have led most in society to take an overly optimistic and rosy view of human potential. This has led to the myth of progress– the idea that our advancements in the arts and sciences are making us into wiser, better people than our ancestors.

In fact, we have become downright snobbish about ourselves. Consciously or unconsciously, we believe that we are superior to our ancestors. We judge all things by the standard of our own belief systems and cultural prejudices. We think and/or speak rather patronizingly about our ancestors: “they did not know any better.” “They did not have x or y technology that we have.” “We have come to a better understanding of these things.” In short, all of these statements betray the idea that we think we have progressed so far in the past few generations and thus we are superior. That which was accepted in earlier times was “primitive” or “old-fashioned,” and those terms are not used affectionately! How many young people out there believe that their parents are ignorant fossils– after all, isn’t 2009 so radically different and more advanced than, say, 1979 or 1989?

But there is an uncomfortable question we must consider: are we really progressing? There is no doubt that we are becoming more technologically sophisticated. No one will argue against the idea that our technology is allowing us to have a better understanding of the world around us. But does that mean that we as a species are really “moving forward”?

Despite all of this advancement over the past two hundred years, people in 2009 are still asking the same questions as their forefathers did in 1999, 1899, 1499, and 99. Who am I? Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with my life? Why do people suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does evil exist? You would think that if we have really advanced so much over the past few hundred years that we would have made some progress on these questions. Yet the range of answers given are little different from those presented by the Greeks 2400 years ago or the Israelites 3000 years ago.

Furthermore, what are the moral challenges of our day? They do not involve people engaging in “ancient superstitions” as much as the same moral hazards that humans have suffered for generations. Drunkenness remains as much a problem today as was in Solomon’s day (cf. Proverbs 20:1). The pain and misery that results from adultery and other forms of sexual immorality is acutely felt today as it was in previous days (cf. Proverbs 5:3-14, 6:23-35). Divorce ruins homes like it did in the past (Malachi 2:16, Matthew 19:9).

We may not want to admit it, but our technological advancements have not led to that many moral advancements. In fact, our technological advancements have highlighted human tendencies toward sin. Computer technology was harnessed early and often to peddle pornography. Advancements in healthcare give excuse for a lack of self-control and self-discipline in dietary habits. Humans still hate each other, desire to hurt each other, and kill each other, and now get to use more sophisticated technology to kill more people more effectively.

As it has been said, “the more things change, the more things stay the same.” The Preacher is right: there is nothing new under the sun. He is not arguing that people cannot discover new technologies or learn new things. He is simply stating a truism: in matters of existence, each generation follows after the past generation, and there is little real advancement. We can see clearly that despite thousands of years of human wisdom accrued by experience, each generation still has to go out and make many of the same mistakes as their fathers. And just as their fathers pleaded with them and warned them, so they will plead with and warn their children, and will likely have the same result!

Ever since the Tower of Babel, humans have wanted to believe that they are going up (cf. Genesis 11:1-4). In reality, humans are the same as they have always been. They are the fallen creation of God who require His love and mercy to be esteemed (cf. Romans 5:1-18). Let us keep a proper view of ourselves, and look to God who knows best!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Philosophy of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

Ethan R. Longhenry