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

Rejecting God’s Words

Helping the Defiled

And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, who had spent all her living upon physicians, and could not be healed of any, came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately the issue of her blood stanched.
And Jesus said, “Who is it that touched me?”
And when all denied, Peter said, and they that were with him, “Master, the multitudes press thee and crush thee.”
But Jesus said, “Some one did touch me; for I perceived that power had gone forth from me.”
And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people for what cause she touched him, and how she was healed immediately.
And he said unto her, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace” (Luke 8:43-48).

Here we have a unique example of a story in a story– a healing taking place as Jesus is going forth to heal another (the daughter of Jairus; Luke 8:41-42, 49-56). It is a story of a woman desperate for healing– a circumstance that is no less touching today. It also strongly features the power of God that proceeds for those who have faith– even without a direct verbal appeal the woman was healed on account of the power in the Son of God and her faith in Him. Surely the power of God is to be praised from this story.

And yet there is another theme that is within this story, even if it is not explicitly addressed. Consider what the Law has to say about a woman in this condition:

And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days not in the time of her impurity, or if she have an issue beyond the time of her impurity; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness she shall be as in the days of her impurity: she is unclean. Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her impurity: and everything whereon she sitteth shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her impurity. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even (Leviticus 15:25-27).

This woman is ritually unclean and has been ritually unclean for twelve years. Anyone who comes into contact with her or with anything that she has touched contracts the ritual defilement. By necessity, when she touches Jesus, she passes on the ritual defilement.

We must remember that it is not inherently sinful to become ritually defiled– after all, ritual defilement also comes on account of the natural menstrual cycle (Leviticus 15:19-24), touching the dead (Numbers 19:11-16), and for many other reasons. Nevertheless, ritual defilement was a big deal to many people, especially those involved with the Temple service. This woman would have experienced tragic discrimination because of her illness since many would be afraid of contracting ritual defilement.

It may be for this reason that the woman is reluctant to come forward and speak clearly regarding what she has done. She is certainly afraid of receiving a rebuke or chastisement for her conduct. But Jesus is not like the religious leaders of His day. He recognizes that defilement is a matter of the heart and conduct, not a matter of foods and illness (cf. Mark 7:14-23). He is willing to bear the ritual defilement so that the woman can be cleansed. He just wanted her to declare to all around what God had done for her so that He would receive the praise and glory.

The lesson of Jesus here is critical even to this day. While people today do not put stock into ritual cleanliness or uncleanliness there still remains the feeling that certain people in our society, for various reasons, might as well be “unclean.” There are people with whom the “good, moral, upright citizens” are not expected to come into contact, and many people who are reckoned as “defiled.” It is tempting to avoid such people so that we are not “tainted” with their “defilements.”

Yet consider what Jesus did. He healed those who were ritually defiled. He was willing to eat with tax collectors and sinners (cf. Matthew 9:10-11). He did not shun those whom His society branded as “defiled” and “unclean” either for ritual or moral reasons; instead, He preached the good news to them. They, after all, knew they were sick, and needed help.

It is true that Christians must be conscious of many concerns. They must watch themselves lest they get tempted to sin and to fall (cf. Galatians 6:1-4). They must give due consideration to their example and influence and not cause others to sin by the exercise of liberty (1 Corinthians 8). But none of this gives an excuse for not loving and not showing compassion on those whom society considers “defiled” and “unclean.” Yes, people are sinners, but Christ came to save sinners and to die for the ungodly (Romans 5:5-11). Even if “we” were never “as” dirty as others, we all were defiled and ungodly before we were redeemed, and our redemption is not based in our own righteousness (Titus 3:3-8).

It is always easier to shun the “defiled” and “unclean.” Yet just as Jesus showed mercy, we should show mercy. Let us strive to love the “defiled” and the “unclean” as Jesus did, and reflect His image to the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Helping the Defiled

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

God in Man’s Image

Hearing the Voice of God

And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no frequent vision. And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place (now his eyes had begun to wax dim, so that he could not see), and the lamp of God was not yet gone out, and Samuel was laid down to sleep, in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was; that the LORD called Samuel;
and he said, “Here am I.”
And he ran unto Eli, and said, “Here am I; for thou calledst me.”
And he said, “I called not; lie down again.”
And he went and lay down.
And the LORD called yet again, “Samuel.”
And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here am I; for thou calledst me.”
And he answered, “I called not, my son; lie down again.”
Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him. And the LORD called Samuel again the third time.
And he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here am I; for thou calledst me.”
And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child.
Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, “Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, ‘Speak, O LORD; for thy servant heareth.'”
So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, “Samuel, Samuel.”
Then Samuel said, “Speak; for thy servant heareth” (1 Samuel 3:1-10).

The days of Eli and Samuel were difficult days for Israel. Whereas in times past there were some prophets or prophetesses who heard the voice of the LORD and provided Israel with His guidance, such was now rare. That changes here in 1 Samuel 3 when God begins to speak with Samuel, the prophet who will now guide Israel for many years.

The example here of Samuel’s call is very instructive for us in the early twenty-first century. We live in a world where many people deny that there even is a God who would speak to humans, let alone to believe that He has definitively spoken in ways that we should all be able to “hear.” It is common for us to hear today that people who lived so long ago were in the “darkness” of “ignorance” and “superstition,” with the implicit belief that we are so much more superior today because of all of our discoveries and insights. Indeed– the word of the LORD seems quite rare these days.

Yet is Samuel so completely superstitious and ignorant as a young boy? Consider what happens– he hears his name called three times, and three times he goes and asks Eli what he wants. He assumes what we would all likely assume if we heard someone call our name– some other human near us is trying to get our attention. Samuel does not seem to even begin to connect the voice he is hearing with God.

For that matter, Eli, who is in God’s service as priest (cf. 1 Samuel 1:9), does not automatically connect the voice with God, either. It takes Eli being awoken three times by Samuel for him to even begin to wonder if perhaps it was the voice of God calling Samuel.

Yet, when Eli has that recognition– when he perceives that God is calling the child– everything seems to change. Yet, in reality, nothing has changed but Eli’s and Samuel’s perceptions.

God is a consistent God. Just as He does not compel or coerce anyone into believing in Him or serving Him, so He does not compel or coerce anyone into hearing Him. If we want to hear God’s voice, we must be open to the possibility of hearing His voice, else we will just interpret the voice of God according to our existing presuppositions and worldview, just as Eli and Samuel did.

This is true in terms of the creation. We can see the hand of God in the creation and hear His voice speaking through it, but only if we seek to understand in that way. If we are not open to seeing God’s hand or hearing His voice in the creation, we will just interpret the creation in terms of our own darkened presuppositions and worldview (cf. Romans 1:18-25).

This is quite powerfully true in terms of the Scriptures themselves, the revealed Word of God, and the message they contain about Jesus of Nazareth, the Incarnate Word of God. Consider Samuel again– God calls him, and he thinks he hears the voice of Eli. God’s message often comes through a human vehicle– His voice sounds like that of a human, and He has used His chosen people to communicate His message throughout time (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2). It is easy for people to act as Samuel did at the beginning– believing the voice of God in Scripture to just be the voice of some human beings, perhaps interesting, but not convicting. But if we are open to hearing God’s voice through Scripture, the message becomes quite powerful, very convicting, and life-changing. When we are willing to hear the voice of God in Scripture, we have found all we need in order to live the lives God intends for us to lead (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). We learn about Jesus the Incarnate Word after whom we are to pattern our own lives (John 1:1-18, 1 John 2:6).

At that moment, everything seems to change. And yet, in reality, nothing has changed but our perspectives.

The word of the LORD is precious in these days. Far too many seem deaf to His call. And yet He continues to call out through the message of Scripture for all men to repent and to follow His Son (Matthew 28:18-20, 1 Timothy 2:4). Let us perceive the voice of God and follow after Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Hearing the Voice of God

Killing the Hostility

And might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby (Ephesians 2:16).

If there is one thing we can trust about human beings, it is that they can always find a reason to build a barrier between themselves and their fellow men. There is never a lack of potential reasons why “we” will not like “them.”

Think about it for a moment. How many times have we– and/or people we may know– have used some issue or matter as a justification for a snap judgment to keep another person at arm’s length? It might have involved features that are not anyone’s choice– race, ethnicity, culture of origin, class, or place of birth. Or maybe it was about a matter of choice– political preference, language, present geographical location, sports team affiliation, religion, and so on and so forth. In the world, if a reason can be found to dislike someone, odds are it will be found and exploited. It may very well be that the person who is so quickly judged might be a wonderful person and someone worth knowing and befriending, but alas– the wall has been built.

Jesus of Nazareth has the reputation for being a pacifist. In reality, He was more concerned with the spiritual conflict for souls than He was with the vicissitudes of political power (cf. Luke 19:10, John 18:36-37). But it is true that Jesus preached and lived the message of loving enemies and praying for persecutors (cf. Matthew 5:43-44, Luke 6:27-28, 23:34).

There are excellent reasons for this, and they are summed up in the work that Jesus accomplished on the cross. Normally, when the work of Jesus on the cross is considered, we speak of it in terms of atonement for sin, and such is true (cf. Romans 5:5-11). Yet more is going on when Jesus is on the cross than just the shedding of blood that will lead to the forgiveness of the believer.

In the first century one of the great divisions involved the distinction between Jew and Gentile. The Jews believed that they were God’s uniquely chosen people, and therefore despised all others who did not share in that benefit (cf. Acts 10-11). Most of the Gentiles considered the Jews to be rather odd and eccentric with all of their idiosyncrasies. Jews, therefore, did not like Gentiles, and Gentiles really did not like Jews, either.

When Jesus is on the cross, He breaks down that barrier between Jew and Gentile by fulfilling and setting aside the Law of Moses (Ephesians 2:14-16). By fulfilling and setting aside that which led to the barrier, He was able to reconcile both groups to God and to make peace. Jesus was able, through the cross, to kill the most insipid problem among men.

Jesus, the meek and gentle, the Author of Life, killed? Paul reveals that He did kill something– the enmity, or hostility, that exists among different people.

It is a startling execution, and it is ironically accomplished as He is Himself being killed. His killing allows Him to kill the one impulse that leads to that wall building.

This is very significant. The reason behind all that wall building is that we– and/or others– are trying to find ways to keep others out, however consciously or unconsciously we do so. But Jesus is trying to find ways to bring people together. He was able, through the cross, to annihilate one of the strongest prejudices that existed in the first century. And even to this day the cross has the power to annihilate all sorts of divisions that exist among mankind.

Race? Class? Ethnicity? Language? We are to all be one in Jesus Christ, no matter how different we are in these regards (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). Politics? Sports team affiliation? Geography? All mere trifles in eternity’s view, and it is to our eternal shame if we allow any of these things to meaningfully divide us from our fellow man!

The cross is not to be a symbol of division or wall-building, but a symbol of reconciliation. It is the means by which a man is reconciled to his God (Romans 5:5-11). It is also the means by which men are reconciled to one another (Ephesians 2:14-19). It is where hostility and enmity are killed– enmity between God and man and enmity between man and man. When enmity and hostility are killed, peace can prevail.

There will always be justifications for division, but such things are not from the Father, but are of the world (cf. Galatians 5:19-21, 1 John 2:15-17). It is the way of Jesus to be reconciled to God and to one another through the cross and humble obedience to God. Let us tear down the walls we build against other people, seek ways of loving them and showing them compassion, reflect Christ, and serve Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Killing the Hostility

The Good Old Days

Say not thou, “What is the cause that the former days were better than these?”
For thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this (Ecclesiastes 7:10).

Who has not heard of– or wished for– the “good old days”?

In the eyes of a lot of people, things were better in those “good old days.” A lot of people are confident that there was less sin and more righteousness in those good old days. People were more friendly, or more respectful, in the good old days. Life was easier and things were simpler in those good old days. There are a lot of people who think that it would be best to return to the “good old days”!

While some of these matters may have some validity– it may be that people were more respectful, or that life was easier in some ways– it misses the overall point. There is a major problem with the “good old days.” The “good old days” do not exist!

Humans have an ingrained tendency to remember the best parts of things and to forget the less pleasant elements of life. The Israelites, for instance, vividly remembered the food and drink they had in Egypt, but not so much the slavery, oppression, and hard bondage (cf. Exodus 16:3, 17:3). When faced with the challenges of the present it is easier to romanticize the past and pine for it, but the past was not nearly as rosy when it took place as it is glorified after the fact.

After all, were there not people in the 1950s who probably thought that things were better in the “good old days”? Would it not be the same in 1920? 1880? 1840? It would never end– things were always, apparently, better in the “good old days.”

All of this shows the wisdom of the Preacher. It is not wise to wonder why things were better in the past than they are in the present. The reason is that things are not inherently better or worse– just different.

Was sin less public in the past? It would seem so. But does that mean that there was really less sin, or that sin was just kept covered up and behind closed doors?

Was life easier in the past? Perhaps in some ways. Yet, then again, there were many diseases that caused great pain and distress that have since been cured, and tasks that used to take people days can now be done more simply.

Do there seem to be serious threats to our welfare today? Certainly; but there were serious threats in the past also. Fear of terrorism has replaced fear of Communism which itself replaced fear of totalitarianism and so on and so forth.

Are there major moral issues in the forefront of our culture? Most certainly. But there always have been. They may change based upon the season, but there is always something that needs to be addressed. Today’s disputes regarding abortion and homosexuality were similarly engaged in the past regarding racism, prohibition, and a host of other moral ills.

Since the Garden people have been sinning. There have been threats to life and happiness. There have always been reasons to believe that society/culture is going to the dogs. And yet there have always been people who have been willing to stand for what is right and good and holy (cf. Romans 11:5). Societies uphold and enforce some of God’s purposes while leaving others to the wayside.

People often take comfort by looking to the past and wishing for the “good old days.” The savage irony is that people in those “good old days” likely looked back to the “good old days” to them, and future generations will look back on these days perhaps as the “good old days.” It is not wise to dwell on what probably never really existed and which, regardless, cannot be resurrected. Instead, we must focus on the here and now. How can we promote the Gospel of Christ and make disciples among those who live in the early twenty-first century (Matthew 28:18-20, Romans 1:16)? How can we be best conformed to the image of the Son in our own time (Romans 8:29)? How can we stand firm for the truth of God in our culture today, not in a culture that may be quite distant in the past (1 Peter 5:7-9)?

Yesterday, for better and for worse, is gone. Tomorrow will come, and it will have its sufficient troubles (cf. Matthew 6:34). Our responsibility is to live today and to serve Jesus today (Romans 6:16-23, Galatians 2:20). Let us do so!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Good Old Days

A New Thing

Now all the Athenians and the strangers sojourning there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing (Acts 17:21).

New! Improved! Updated! Revised!

It is no secret that our society praises that which is new. It is exciting and different. Companies devote a good part of their resources to research and development to come up with new or improved products. Marketers are always trying to find ways to make things seem new or fresh.

But why are so many resources devoted to making things seem new? If we twenty-first century Americans prized the old and reliable and put emphasis on those qualities, then there is little doubt that the companies and marketers would follow suit. Yet society at large does not value “old and reliable.” The belief exists that there is constant progress, and to look to the past or to keep something the same for a long period of time, it is believed, leads to stagnation and obsolescence. And no one– young or old– wants to be considered obsolete!

Have we ever stopped to think why that is? In reality, it is a major change in comparison to what was believed in the past, as Luke obliquely indicates in Acts 17:21.

It is very easy to pass over Luke’s commentary in Acts 17:21. He is telling the story of how Paul goes to Athens and begins promoting the Gospel in the marketplace there and how many of the philosophers and townspeople were interested in hearing more about this Jesus. Luke is explaining for us why the Athenians seem to be so eager to learn. It is not because of some noble impulse, as if they knew they were ignorant of the One True God and wanted to learn of Him to serve Him. No– they wanted to learn more because it was something new and different. Paul’s message was the “flavor of the week.” Therefore, it should not surprise us that many mocked, some wanted more information, and only a very few believed (cf. Acts 17:32-34). They only wanted to hear something new.

While it may not be immediately apparent to the modern reader, Luke is in fact censuring the Athenians. Today many would find this life of ease and luxury, discussing the newest theories in science or philosophy, appealing. Yet, in the Greek language, the word for “new,” when used in a context like this, often refers to something dangerous or suspicious. In earlier Greek literature, when people begged their gods to not bring disaster or calamity upon them, they asked that the gods would not bring down to them “anything new.”

The Greeks– along with many other ancient cultures, and most people until rather recently– looked at the world in an entirely different way from ourselves. In their estimation, the best time for humanity– the “golden age”– was in the distant past, and as time wore on, people became less strong and less noble. Their own day was dim in comparison. That which was old was proven, tested, and reliable. That which was new was looked upon suspiciously, for it was unproven, untested, and perhaps unreliable. Thus the early Christians felt that they needed to show the age of their belief system by appealing to the long history of Israel– the Greeks and Romans were naturally suspicious of a religion that was claimed to have begun in the days of Tiberius Caesar!

The Athenians, therefore, are considered strange. They just sit around and talk about the “new things,” that which is suspicious, untested, and unproven.

How attitudes have changed! Today the Athenian attitude is in the majority, and those who go back to what is old, tested, proven, and reliable are considered antiquated and quaint!

In reality, age, on its own, is not necessarily a good standard. There are plenty of newly developed technologies and ideas that are good. There are plenty of old attitudes and functions that are best relegated to the dustbin of history. Nevertheless, we must remember in our youth- and new-loving society that many ideas and functions of the past can still have value today, and just because something can be believed or done does not mean that it should be believed or done. That which is new may have unforeseen consequences and may prove quite unreliable!

The “new” message that Paul had for the Athenians is now considered “old.” In the eyes of many, it is antiquated and obsolete. Nevertheless, the Gospel has held firm for two thousand years and has been tested, proven, and remains reliable (Hebrews 11:6, 13:8). Let us promote the “old” Gospel of Christ in a “new” world, and put it into practice in our lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A New Thing

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

Do Not Fear; Only Believe

Jesus, Meek and Lowly

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

Humility is a virtue to which society pays lip service but does not really value. People who exalt themselves get exalted. Aggressiveness and assertiveness, with some discretion, are better rewarded than humility. Humility is very often viewed as weakness.

This is not different from the first century (cf. Matthew 20:25), and this is precisely what makes Jesus’ humility all the more astounding. After all, if there ever were a man who could be justifiably arrogant, exalted, pompous, and the like, it would be Jesus of Nazareth, God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14)! He had great power and spoke with authority (Mark 4:41, Matthew 7:28-29). He had twelve legions of angels at His disposal, if need be (cf. Matthew 26:53). Who else could boast of such things?

And yet Jesus does not boast. Instead, Jesus is meek and lowly. As if humbling Himself by taking on the form of a man was not enough, He also lives a humble life, proclaims humility, and dies a most humiliating death (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus provides the ultimate example of humility.

Jesus’ message was similarly unambiguous: those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:12, Luke 14:11, Luke 18:14, James 4:10, 1 Peter 5:6). Those who would follow Jesus must humble themselves if they desire to be saved (Matthew 18:4, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).

What does this humility require? We must recognize, as uncomfortable as it may be, that we are no better or worse in the sight of God than anyone else (Romans 3:23, Galatians 3:28). We are not superior to anyone for any reason. We all have different talents and different levels of ability, but that is not reason for boasting or deprecation– instead, we are to work together to serve God with all our might, with each of us standing or falling before Jesus (Romans 12:3-8, 14:9-12, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

It is easy for us as believers in Christ to treat humility the same way the people of the world do: pay it lip service and go on as before. It is easier to maintain our old prejudices and to think rather highly of ourselves (cf. Galatians 6:3-5, James 1:22-25). It is easier to maintain the walls that we build around ourselves and justify our prejudices against those who are different from us for whatever reason, be it race, class, education level, form of employment, or even level of spiritual maturity.

Yet, when the disciple looks toward his Master, how can any such prejudice or arrogance be justified? If Jesus of Nazareth humiliated Himself by becoming a man and dying on a cross, how can any form of arrogance or high-mindedness be excused by a disciple of Christ? Who among us has ever been humbled, or ever could be humbled, as much as Jesus of Nazareth was humbled in His life and death?

Humility is a most challenging virtue– there are always temptations to exalt oneself or to denigrate others, and if one begins to think highly of one’s own humility, it is immediately lost! It is extremely uncomfortable to recognize that we are not better than anyone else. Even when we consider our own righteousness, we must remember that but by the grace of God we would be no better off than all of those “nasty sinners” out there, and God desires their salvation as much as our own (1 Timothy 2:4).

In the end, all we need to do is look toward Jesus, our example and model of humility, and realize that if He was able to humble Himself by becoming a man and dying for our sins, we also can humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. Let us humble ourselves so that we too may be exalted!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus, Meek and Lowly

The Incorruptible Seed

Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth. For,
“All flesh is as grass, And all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth: But the word of the Lord abideth for ever.”
And this is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you (1 Peter 1:23-25).

God has always found the imagery of plant life fruitful for comparison with spiritual things. Many of Jesus’ parables feature agricultural images. Since most people are at least somewhat familiar with plants, the value of this imagery is quite understandable.

When Isaiah wanted to encourage the Jewish exiles of the sixth century he turned to the frailty of grass and flowering plants (cf. Isaiah 40:6-8). They grow for a season and look beautiful and impressive for that season– but it does not take long for them to die when exposed to hot winds or freezing cold.

Isaiah compares people and their ideology to those plants. Sure, for the time being, the Babylonians who had conquered the Jews seemed impressive. Babylon was a large city with a great empire. The people boasted of their gods. The Jews were an oddity, believing firmly in their one God even though He had not saved them from Babylon’s hand. It would be very easy for the Jews to “fall in line” and believe just as the rest of the people believed.

But Isaiah knew that the day of the Babylonians would be short. The time of all flesh is short– humans live for a short period of time, in the grand scheme of things, and pass away. Another generation then arises, and it too shall soon pass. The ideologies of men tend to live a bit longer than an individual generation, but they also pass. The one constant, Isaiah notes, is the word of the LORD.

Peter writes to encourage his fellow Christians six hundred years after the height of Babylonian power. Rome is the new Babylon. Their empire was even more impressive than the Babylonian empire. Their military might was unequaled. The Emperor was hailed as a god, and even if the traditional gods of the Greeks and Romans were doubted, pretty much everyone else fell down before the Power of Rome. The Christians were very much the odd ones since they claimed that it was really Jesus who was Lord, not Caesar, even though Jesus was crucified in the days of Tiberius. As before, it would be very easy to “fall in line” and accede to Roman power.

Yet Peter wants to remind the Christians of the same lesson that Isaiah did: the word of the LORD, now enshrined in the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom, endures forever.

We now live almost two thousand years after Peter wrote those words. Even in the days of Peter, Babylon was a ruin. Its glories would only be re-discovered in the nineteenth century by archaeologists looking to better understand the “word of the LORD” found in the Old Testament of those very Jews whom the Babylonians mocked. Within three hundred years of Peter’s letter, Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the Emperors who used to claim divinity for themselves now called Jesus of Nazareth Lord, at least in name. Today the Roman Empire is as distant of a memory as the Babylonian Empire, and their ideologies have been relegated to the interest of historians. And yet the word of the LORD, the Gospel of the Kingdom, is still preached throughout the world.

As assuredly as Babylon and the Babylonians rose and fell, and Rome and the Romans rose and fell, so too will America and Americans. The ideologies of modern society will have their day in the sun and then they too will pass away!

We would do well to heed the warning of Isaiah, Peter, and also John (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). It is very easy to trust in what contemporary society calls “common sense” and “the way things are,” just as it was easy to trust in those things 2600 and 2000 years ago. But, as John says, the world and its lusts are passing away. Only the word of the LORD will remain.

If we believe in Jesus Christ and seek to imitate Him and keep His commandments (1 John 2:3-6), we will demonstrate that we have been born again of that incorruptible or imperishable seed. Our minds, hearts, and actions will be conformed to how God would have us think, feel, and act, as was manifest in His Son (John 1:18, Romans 8:29). That way of living will not change with the winds of culture. If it is truly based in the imperishable seed, it will always endure.

But we must watch out for the corruptible or perishable seed of the world. It is easy for the “weeds” to take root and dominate in life (cf. Matthew 13:24-30). It is easy to allow worldly mindsets, attitudes, and actions to take over, either boldly in denying that which is divine, or more subtly by attempting to appear pious and holy. But its end will not be the fruit of the Spirit or anything conforming to Christ, but instead will at some point show its true worldliness (cf. 1 John 4:5-6). It will have to be cast away, either by this generation or a future one, for it cannot last!

Jesus says that we will be known by our fruits (Matthew 7:16-20). You do not get the imperishable plant from the perishable seed, nor do you get the perishable plant from the imperishable seed. If we think, feel, and act according to the ways of the world, we will pass away along with the world. But if we think, feel, and act according to the enduring, living, and abiding word of God, manifesting the Gospel of Christ in word and deed, we will obtain eternity (John 3:16). Let us cling to the incorruptible seed and reflect Christ to the perishing world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Incorruptible Seed