Imitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethan R. Longhenry

Our Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethan R. Longhenry

Having Favor With the People

And day by day, continuing stedfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved (Acts 2:46-47).

When Christians consider the relationship that exists between them and the people in the world around them, it is easy to focus on the difficulties they present.  Since people in the world are living according to the flesh and are therefore hostile to God, unable to fulfill His law, and unable to please God (Romans 8:6-8), many such people will persecute and revile Christians (Matthew 10:17-18, 22-23; 1 Peter 3:16), not understanding why Christians set themselves apart and do not engage in licentious debauchery (1 Peter 4:4).

There are times in our lives when we will be compelled to deal with such people, and we must prepare ourselves to reflect the love of Christ even to them (cf. 1 Peter 4:12-16).  But if we were to project these negative reactions upon all people, we would go too far.  Yes, the New Testament reveals that many Christians suffered terribly at the hands of their fellow men.  But there are many other examples of times when people respected Christians!

At the end of Acts 2 we discover that the new Christians were “having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47).  This was possible because they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ doctrines, fellowship, prayer, and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42), were together and had all things in common, selling all that they had and giving to any who had need (Acts 2:44-45), and assembling in the Temple together daily, eating in each others’ houses, receiving their food with glad and generous hearts, and praising God (Acts 2:46-47).  The people around them saw the great transformation in these Christians and were respected and appreciated for it.  Granted, it would not be long before the religious authorities would begin to persecute the Christians (cf. Acts 4-7), yet the Christians here have favor among the people.

Dorcas, or Tabitha, was full of good works and acts of charity, and when she died, all the widows mourned for their loss (cf. Acts 9:36-39).  It is also interesting to note that one of the qualifications for an overseer/elder in 1 Timothy 3:7 is that he must have “good testimony from them that are without.”  This says as much about Paul’s expectations of “outsiders” as it does about his expectation of the overseer.  Even if many people do not believe in God or obey Jesus Christ, they can respect and appreciate a man who lives by a high ethical standard, and what ethical standard is higher than the standard of Christ?  Even if they do not agree with him on religious matters, they recognize the benefit of living by conviction.

People in the world yearn to see the image of Christ reflected in Christians.  Gandhi said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ,” and quite a number of people in the world entirely agree with him.  Those who claim to follow Jesus Christ ought to strive to act like Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 John 2:6).  Those who do no such thing will not obtain the blessing, and represent a hindrance to God’s purposes (Matthew 7:21-23).

Christians can have favor with the people when they reflect Christ and show the love, mercy, and compassion of Christ while remaining His humble servants.  When people are confronted with the message of Jesus Christ spoken to them by one whom they know is living that message, they will surely be impacted by the experience.  Yes, some will turn away, convicted of their sin, and will seek to justify themselves.  But many others may want to learn more because they see that the Christian has something they do not.  But this is only possible when Christians act like Christ– if Christians think and act like the world thinks and acts, there is nothing distinctive there, and therefore the person in the world cannot find the advantage to being a Christian (cf. Matthew 5:13).

The greatest testimony to the message of Jesus is the Christian whose life reflects the love, mercy, compassion, and humility of his Master.  One of the greatest hindrances to the cause of Christ are the many who profess belief in Jesus but do not reflect that love, mercy, compassion, and/or humility.  Notice the conclusion of the matter in Acts 2:47: the early Christians, being active in their association with one another, devotion to the teaching of the Apostles, love for one another, and praise toward God, have favor with all the people, and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  It worked in the first century, and it can work today.  It is true that when Christians are like their Christ, many worldly forces stand up to resist them and persecute them.  Yet, by being like Christ, those Christians will gain favor with other people, many of whom will be receptive to the Gospel of Christ, and God will add to the number of those being saved.  All of this is contingent, however, on Christians acting like Jesus!

Let us, therefore, gain favor with those with whom we are able to gain favor through reflecting the love and humility of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry