Maturity

But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).

Physical development, for the vast majority of people, is a given. Most children, as long as they are continually nourished, will experience physical maturation. Those are trying times for themselves, their parents, and everyone else who has contact with them! Nevertheless, the maturation process is essential if life will continue. Ideally, the child will be mentally and emotionally maturing while he or she is physically maturing. This is the process by which small children become responsible adults.

Spiritual maturity has the same imperative but is not a “given.” In fact, the Hebrew author is chastising the Hebrew Christians for not maturing spiritually as they should have– even though they should be teachers by now, they still need someone to teach them the basic truths of the faith (Hebrews 5:12-6:4)! It is entirely possible for a believer to live 20, 30, 50, or even 60 years without spiritually maturing.

But this is not what the Lord wants! We are commanded in 2 Peter 3:18 to grow in our knowledge of Jesus Christ. The servant who did nothing to advance his Master’s purposes in Matthew 25:14-30 was cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth– who wants to experience that fate?

Therefore, it is important for us to grow and mature spiritually. Unlike physical maturity, we must make the determination to mature and to grow in our faith. On the other hand, this means that a believer can mature more rapidly, and reflect a spiritual maturity “greater” than his spiritual “age” as reckoned by human time!

Spiritual maturity is a challenge. It requires us to know God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15, 3:16-17). How can we grow if we do not know how to grow? How can we learn to do the will of our Lord if we remain ignorant of His will? The growing and maturing believer in Christ will truly be His disciple, sitting at his Master’s feet, learning what he or she should do (cf. Luke 10:38-42).

Maturity requires much more than just “book learning.” Christianity is not a mere intellectual exercise– it is designed to be a lived belief. We demonstrate that we are of Jesus Christ by walking as He walked (1 John 2:6). As the Hebrew author demonstrates, we train our senses to discern good and evil “by reason of use.” It is one thing to know that Jesus teaches us to love our enemy, to turn the other cheek, to do good to all men, and so on (cf. Matthew 5, Luke 6); it is quite another to practice such things and to be enriched through our experience. Just as “hands on” work experience has practical value and provides lessons unable to be fully gleaned through “book learning,” so practicing Christianity has value and provides deeper understanding of what can be gained from studying the Scriptures.

Let none be deceived, however: spiritual maturity has its cost, just as physical maturity does. We grow in faith when our faith is tested– when we are called upon to defend our beliefs in front of a hostile audience (1 Peter 3:15), when we must decide whether we will succumb to temptation or escape (1 Corinthians 10:13), when we experience persecution or suffering (James 1:2-3, 1 Peter 1:6-8), and other such challenges. Sadly, many times we will fail (1 John 1:8); we must then get up, confess our wrongs, learn from them, and allow those experiences to help us grow (1 John 1:9). Furthermore, just as we obtain greater responsibilities as we mature physically, so more is expected of us as we grow spiritually (cf. Matthew 25:14-30, Romans 15:1). As we grow, we can see just how much more growth and maturity is required– there is never a point in this life when we can feel as if we have matured enough or grown up enough, for we can always abound more and more in the work of the Lord (cf. Philippians 3:13-14, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-9).

Growing and maturing in the faith is a challenge, indeed, but failure to grow and mature might very well lead to eternal torment. Growth and maturity come at great cost, but so did our salvation (Philippians 2:5-11)! Let us seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, constantly striving to be more conformed to His image!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Maturity

Purpose

And it came to pass, when the days were well-nigh come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).

The time had come.

For over two years Jesus taught His disciples and provided many demonstrations of His power. They now recognized that He was the promised Messiah, the Christ of God (Luke 9:20). He made known to them what was about to take place: He would go to Jerusalem, suffer many things, be rejected, be killed, and on the third day be raised up (Luke 9:22).

It was time to accomplish God’s ultimate purpose, and Jesus did not shrink from it. He set His face to go to Jerusalem, knowing precisely what would take place.

It is evident that Jesus led a life of purpose. How else could He have accomplished as much as He did during His short time on the earth (cf. John 21:25)? He knew the Father’s will (John 6:44-48), and He made it His purpose to accomplish it (John 4:54, John 5:30). He did not shrink from fulfilling that will, even when it was quite difficult and led to extreme suffering (Matthew 26:38-39). He fulfilled His purposes, and was exalted, and given the name that is above every name (Matthew 5:17-18, John 19:30, Philippians 2:5-11).

As Jesus led a life of purpose, He calls those who would follow Him to also lead lives of purpose. While we formerly might have lived according to our own desires, with our own purposes (or a lack thereof) in mind, now we are to live according to His purpose, which is for us to die to self and live to Him (Romans 6:15-22, Galatians 2:20). When Jesus says to go and show mercy, love, and compassion, we find opportunities to show love, mercy, and compassion (Luke 6:36, Ephesians 4:32). When Jesus tells us to no longer sin, and to avoid and abhor sin, we do so (Romans 12:9, Galatians 5:19-21). When Jesus directs us to take up our crosses, denying ourselves, and to follow Him, we must do so (Luke 9:23-26)! If we desire to share in His glory, we must first share in His purposes and sufferings (Romans 8:17-18).

Jesus’ purpose for our lives is not easy. It is difficult, challenging, and calls for much suffering. It would be easier to live an aimless life, as so many others do. The cost would be a lot less in this life if we rejected Jesus and lived according to our own passions and desires. The end of the purposeless or selfish live is death, condemnation, and torment (Romans 6:23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)!

Therefore, just as Jesus set His face toward the earthly Jerusalem, so we must set our face toward the spiritual Jerusalem. Just as Jesus experienced great suffering and trial in order to enter glory, so we will experience suffering and trial to enter glory. It will all be more than worth it in the end, but it will only come for those who have given themselves over to Christ and live for His purposes. Follow Christ’s purpose for you today, set your face toward the heavenly Jerusalem, and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Purpose

Giving Ourselves

For according to their power, I bear witness, yea and beyond their power, they gave of their own accord, beseeching us with much entreaty in regard of this grace and the fellowship in the ministering to the saints: and this, not as we had hoped, but first they gave their own selves to the Lord, and to us through the will of God (2 Corinthians 8:3-5).

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges in life is learning how to do what we ought to do with the spirit in which we ought to do it along with the proper motivation for doing so. This is especially true in the “religious” sphere of existence. It is quite easy to fall into the trap of empty ritualism, or for people to work with the intent to earn merit. Too many are only willing to do the commands of God that are comfortable for them; many treat religion as they perhaps treated high school, trying to figure out how to do just enough to “get by.”

While all of these forms of religious service are popular, they are not what God intends, and they cannot lead to a saving faith. If we really desire to be saved, we will have to do as the Macedonians did so many years ago: we must first give ourselves to the Lord. If we are able to accomplish that, then everything else can fall into its proper place.

Yet, as with many things in life, such is easier said than done. Giving ourselves entirely over to Jesus is a challenging proposition. It requires us to be crucified with Him, making the decision to no longer live in sin (Romans 6:1-7, Galatians 2:20). We must then live as His servants, seeking His will in every facet of our existence (Ephesians 5-6). The cost is high– the path of Christ involves sacrifice, suffering, and persecution (Romans 12:1, Acts 14:21, Romans 8:17-18). The reward of eternal life, however, will make up for it and beyond (cf. Revelation 21-22)!

It is easy to understand why the temptation is always there to promote or to live a half-hearted religion, a belief system in which you go along with God as long as it is comfortable and does not infringe too terribly strongly in one’s life. Yet we must understand that a religion without cost tends to be a religion without benefit. Jesus came to the earth not to be served but to serve, and He gave fully of Himself for us (Philippians 2:5-11). If He gave Himself fully for us, how can we expect to get away with only giving a little bit for Him?

Jesus Himself makes it quite clear in Matthew 10:35-39 that becoming His disciple is an all-or-nothing proposition. You either put God in Christ first in your life or you do not. You are willing to allow the Lord to dictate for you through His Word how you will conduct yourselves toward your parents, spouse, children, employer, friends, and others, or you are not (cf. Ephesians 5-6). You either allow God in Christ to dictate how you will use the blessings of material abundance, time and talents for His purposes, or you do not (Romans 12). Half-hearted service, empty ritualism, or reward-based work is not true service to God, no matter how much it may feel as it is (cf. Matthew 7:21-23). It is only when we first and foremost decide that we are going to give ourselves over to the Lord that we can finally begin serving Him.

Thankfully, no matter how we have lived in the past, as long as we live, we have the opportunity to give ourselves to the Lord. Let us do so and become full servants of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, knowing that if we glorify His name, we will share in His eternal glory!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Giving Ourselves

The Imperative of Doing Good

To him therefore that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin (James 4:17).

It is very easy to measure ourselves by the standard of that which we are not doing. If we are not murderers, rapists, adulterers, liars, covetous, drunkards, and so on, we feel like we are doing well. After all, how do most people define a “good, moral person?” If somebody seems nice, is not a bother to anyone, and not living in some obvious sin, they’re “good, moral people.”

We do well if we are able to avoid committing various acts of sin. We should not be murderers, rapists, adulterers, liars, and the like (Galatians 5:19-21). But it is not sufficient for us to simply avoid doing evil– we must also practice what is good and right!

James makes a declaration that is very uncomfortable. To not do the good when we have opportunity is sin, just like committing various unrighteous acts involves sin!

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we see the terrible sins of the robbers, beating up the poor man and taking all of his things (Luke 10:30). If the priest and the Levite had seen the events take place, they would no doubt have decried the action as terrible. Perhaps they might even complain about the depravity of their generation. Yet they are as guilty of sin as the robbers– they had the opportunity to do good and did not do it (Luke 10:31-32). Even though they themselves did not beat him or take his stuff, they stand equally condemned before God because they simply walked on by and did nothing good for the man!

James’ statement shatters the pretensions of many. To turn aside from helping the needy is no different from plundering them (James 1:27). To refuse to show compassion to the disconsolate is no different from hurting them in the first place (1 John 3:17). Not showing love to others is no different from actually hating them (cf. 1 John 4). While we humans may find an act of omission to be of less concern than an act of commission, sin is sin before God, and it separates us from Him (Isaiah 59:1-2)!

Society may declare that people who do not commit a lot of “major” sins as “good, moral people,” but God is concerned with not only what people do not do, but also with what people are doing. Serving Jesus means both avoiding sin and practicing righteousness– showing love, mercy, compassion, kindness, goodness, patience, and the like. Let us be known as Jesus’ disciples by who we are and what we do, and not by who we are not and what we do not do!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Imperative of Doing Good

Strength in Weakness

And [Jesus] hath said unto me, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

It is a general axiom that strength is good and weakness is bad. “Only the strong survive.” Humans idolize strength and figures of strength. Weakness is universally maligned. No one wants to be seen as puny, sissy, cowardly, or anything else that normally is associated with weakness.

Yet Jesus and His Kingdom turn many aspects of “conventional wisdom” on their head. In the Kingdom, if we want to be strong, we must be weak!

Strength, after all, has its down side: it often leads to arrogance and self-reliance. Weakness also has its value: those who are weaker are generally more humble and more dependent on others.

Paul himself needed to understand this reality, as is made evident in 2 Corinthians 12. So that he would not get puffed up on account of the revelations given to him, a “thorn in the flesh” beset him, even though he appealed to God for its removal. Whatever this “thorn in the flesh” was, it significantly weakened Paul.

And yet that is how Paul– along with every disciple of Jesus– learns the source of true strength. It is not within our own endeavors or capabilities. We only find strength through difficulty, duress, and weakness. When we have to face our own inadequacies and realize that we by our own efforts can do very little, that is when we humble ourselves and submit to God’s strength and God’s ability.

And that is when wonderful things happen. That is when we find the ability to persevere and grow (cf. James 1:2-5). When we give up our pride, our pretension of self-reliance, and ourselves, God can then use us for His purposes and His glory and imbue us with His strength (cf. Ephesians 6:10).

If we cannot imagine ourselves as weak, humble, lowly, and reliant on others, how can we picture Jesus, who was God in the flesh, and yet humble, lowly, and reliant on the Father (John 1:1; 14, John 6:38, Philippians 2:5-11)? By His weaknesses we are saved. We do not have the time or opportunity to pretend that we are strong and in need of nothing. Let us be weak so that we may overcome through God’s strength!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Strength in Weakness

Moving Forward

Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Moving forward.  It is something we know we ought to do in our lives, and yet it is often quite difficult to do so.

We have so much that can weigh us down.  Sin besets us.  We can become discouraged and despair of our ability to do anything.  Fear can paralyze us.  Even simple inertia can keep us from going forward and making changes.

Yet God calls us to continually and irrepressibly go forward.  We have the great cloud of witnesses of the saints of years gone by: their examples of faith in the face of difficulty can encourage us, and we can view them as cheering us on our own journeys.

This is why we must lay aside the weights that keep us down.  While sin may beset us, we must believe in God, humbly confess our faults before Him, and break through (1 John 1:9).  While discouragement and despair may bring us downward, faith and hope can encourage us (Romans 8:23-25, 1 Corinthians 13:10).  While fear may paralyze, God tells us to no longer fear, but trust in Him and His victory (Revelation 1:17-19).  Even inertia can be overcome in zeal for God and His ways (2 Corinthians 9:2).

Yet the only way we can move forward is to keep our eyes focused on Jesus.  He is the way, the truth, the life, and the resurrection (John 11:25, John 14:6).  He suffered temptation and yet did not sin (Hebrews 4:15).  Our faith is based in who He is and what He accomplished, and He is the one who makes up for our deficiencies through His own atonement.

The Hebrew author does not deny that suffering will come to believers, but shows us that through suffering we can gain exaltation.  He suffered the humiliation and suffering of the cross because of the joy set before Him; thanks to Him, we can persevere through our own suffering, since eternity with God is set before us if we endure (1 Peter 1:3-9, 1 Peter 2:21-24, Matthew 10:22).

The forces of darkness provide every reason to become discouraged, to fall into despair, to suffer in sin, and to go nowhere.  Yet God beckons through the example of Jesus Christ to go forward.  The saints of God can encourage you by their example.  Fellow Christians can encourage you on the journey.  But you can only persevere and move forward by looking to Jesus and following His ways in His might and strength.

If we do not move forward, we fall behind.  Let us constantly press onward and upward toward eternity with God (Philippians 3:13-14)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Moving Forward

Counting the Cost

Now there went with him great multitudes: and he turned, and said unto them,
“If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete it? Lest haply, when he hath laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, as he goeth to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and asketh conditions of peace. So therefore whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-33).

As we begin a new year, many people consider resolutions regarding new behaviors that they would like to begin.  Great resolutions are often made– and then just as easily broken.  Some persevere with their resolutions.  Many more start out well and fade quickly.  Far more are never realized in any way.  Such is the nature of people: the spirit is always more willing than the flesh (cf. Mark 14:38).

Jesus knows this, and that is why He intends for everyone to “count the cost” of serving Him.  It is a decision that is not to be taken lightly: Jesus is demanding all of those who come to Him.  They are to suffer the shame and humiliation of the cross.  They are to forsake every other connection and tie if need be to serve Jesus.  To become a disciple of Christ is to be entirely changed; life will never be the same (Galatians 2:20).

Yes, the cost is great, but the reward is even greater (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).  Furthermore, while the cost of not serving Jesus is milder in life, its consequences in death are quite severe (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

All of these factors must be considered and a firm decision is called for.  There can be no “fence-sitting” on this question: you either decide to become a disciple of Christ or you decide to go your own way.  A lack of a decision is a decision against Him.

It is a decision that each must make for him or herself.  What will you choose– a hard life and a great eternity, or an easy life and a heinous eternity?  You must count the cost.

Even those who decide for Jesus must continually consider themselves and their faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).  Do you still have your first love (cf. Revelation 2:1-7)?  Are you growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)?  Are you pressing upward toward the goal (Philippians 3:14-17)?

As we reflect upon the past year and make decisions for the new one, let us consider the state of our soul.  Let us count the cost and be firm in our decision.  Let us strive to grow in Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Counting the Cost

Divine Kindness

“But love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil” (Luke 6:35).

Love and kindness come easily for those who are loving and kind to us.  We enjoy time we spend with those who love us and who are kind to us.  We get together with them and eat and give presents and receive presents.  We recognize that such people in our lives help make life worth living.

Can you imagine attempting to share such gifts with those who hate you?  What happened if you gave gifts to ungrateful people?  What if you did good to others and were repaid with evil?  What happens if you lend someone money and they never repay?

According to human logic, we would at best have nothing to do with such persons, and at worst do them harm (cf. Matthew 5:43).  It is expected that lovable people are loved and unlovable people are shunned.  It is expected that those who are ungrateful get little and those who do not repay have no credit.

Yet, in the Kingdom of God, all of these things are turned on their head.  Jesus turns the world upside down!  He prayed for those who reviled Him and crucified Him (Luke 23:34).  He prayed for His disciple whom He knew would deny Him (Luke 22:31-32).

As it is written,

For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life; and not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation (Romans 5:6-11).

While it is always easier to point fingers at everyone else, we must recognize that we, too, have spent our time in unkindness and ungratefulness (Titus 3:3-8).  God has showed kindness to us when we were unthankful and evil.  He showed us mercy despite our unmerciful attitudes.  He was not yet willing to condemn us even though we were willing to condemn others.  He provided wonderful gifts even though we forsook Him.

Therefore, it ought to be but a little thing for us to show divine kindness: love and help not just those who love us and help us, but also to those who make us uncomfortable, those who might use and abuse us, and those who may hate us.  After all, without God showing us such divine kindness, where would be be?

Ethan R. Longhenry

Divine Kindness

Taking the Cross

“And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).

After two millennia of veneration of the cross, it is easy for us to forget what the cross meant in first century Judea.  It was a symbol of Roman power, the fate for any who dared to stand against Rome.  It represented a horrifying way to die, perhaps the most cruel form of punishment and death ever invented by mankind.

For Jews crucifixion was even worse.  Death on a tree meant being accursed (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).  There was no glory in a cross, at least in the way that men consider glory.

These realities, therefore, were what came to mind to the disciples listening to Jesus.  A cross meant humiliation, shame, being despised, reckoned as accursed and defiled.  This was no “easy street.”

We also have to remember that at this point, Jesus has not yet been crucified.  While Jesus no doubt knew what would eventually befall Him, we should not interpret this verse as meaning that Christians must be physically crucified.  Such is not Jesus’ point.

Jesus is telling all those who would be His disciples that if they really want to be worthy of Jesus and eternal life, they must live a “crucified life.”  They must bear the shame and humiliation that comes from serving Jesus.  If they are considered cursed by man, so be it, if they may only win Christ.

Jesus’ disciples must renounce all that they have and, in a type, die in Him.  It is no longer to be about oneself.  It is now all about Christ.

“Taking the cross” is not a statement about wearing jewelry; it is a statement of the humiliation and sacrifice necessary to follow Jesus.  Many are called to do so, yet precious few answer.  What will it be?

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

Ethan R. Longhenry

Taking the Cross