Laying Down Our Lives

Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3:16).

“I would die for you.”

Such a line makes for a very touching moment in a romantic movie, or an inspiring one if it involved a political leader fighting a worthy cause. It would seem quite strange if used toward one who was evil or vile, an enemy, or someone we otherwise have reasons to dislike.

And yet Jesus laid down His life for us (1 John 3:16); He gave of Himself for those who did evil, who did not understand His work and purpose, and who acted against God and His purposes (Romans 5:6-11).

John is writing to exhort Christians to love one another (1 John 3:11-4:21). Cain is offered up as an example of one who hated his brother: his brother’s works were righteous, and his were not, and in jealousy Cain killed him (1 John 3:11-12; cf. Genesis 4:1-8). For this reason Christians who do what is right should not be surprised when the world which loves the wrong hates them; Christians can know they have passed out of death to life based on their love for one another (1 John 3:13-14). Those who do not love abide in death; whoever hates his brother is a murderer, not having eternal life in them, because they have no concern for the welfare of their brother (1 John 3:15). And so John points to Jesus as the means by which we know love: He laid down His life for us, and therefore we as Christians should lay down our lives for one another (1 John 3:16). He will go on to critique his fellow Christians: if a Christian has the world’s goods, and sees his or her fellow Christian going without, and yet shuts up his or her heart and compassion from them, how can they say they really love their brother (1 John 3:17)? Christian love should be in deed and truth, not with mere words (1 John 3:18).

No doubt early Christians were as convinced as Christians are today regarding love for one another. We all know we are supposed to love one another, right? But do we really and actually love one another, or do we just profess it? That is why John writes as he does in 1 John 3:11-18. Christians are inspired by the lofty ideals of love; they, no doubt, are willing to lay down their lives for one another as Jesus laid down His life for us. But in the very practical matter of seeing a brother in need, then what? It can be easy to excuse or justify why some have an abundance and others have nothing, and nothing is done to assist. That, John emphasizes, is not love; that’s hatred, of the world and Cain and the Evil One. If you are so willing to lay down your life for one another, why not start by providing something for a fellow Christian in need?

Nevertheless 1 John 3:16 proves almost as famous, and just as easily taken out of its context and proof-texted, as John 3:16. It provides a powerful message and a good reminder: as Jesus laid down His life for us and thus manifested His love toward us, we should prove willing to do the same for one another (cf. Matthew 20:25-28). But what does that mean? What did it look like for Jesus to lay down His life for others?

John makes it clear why Jesus laid down His life for His people: to be the propitiation for their sins (1 John 4:10). He loved them; He did not want them to experience hellfire; He wished to reconcile them with Himself and their God (John 13:1-3, 17:20-23, Romans 5:6-11). He suffered the evil; He suffered violence; and in suffering the evil and violence He overcame sin and death (Romans 8:1-8, Colossians 2:15). Jesus was a pure and holy sacrifice; He opened not his mouth, and proved to be the Suffering Servant in every respect (Isaiah 42:13-53:12, 1 Peter 2:18-25). His death was as much for those who crucified Him as those who were devoted to Him (Luke 23:34).

Christians following the Lord Jesus are not sinless, and yet even their sacrifices, up to and including death, have value and standing before God. Paul considered the suffering he experienced as making up for what was lacking in the afflictions of the church; his tribulations were for the glory of those who believed (Ephesians 3:13, Colossians 1:24). Thus, in some way, Christians can suffer for one another; we can imagine that within the early church some Christians suffered mightily so that others might be spared. Yet even then they did not retaliate in kind; they knew they needed to suffer as Jesus suffered if they would obtain the same victory Jesus did (Romans 8:17-18).

This image of sacrifice is so powerful that it is easily taken up and applied in other contexts never intended by the Lord Jesus. In the United States of America, as in many other nation-states, the willingness of a person to go and fight and give up their lives in conflict for the advancement of the nation-state and its ideals is highly commended. In this way a picture is painted of a person who goes down, guns blazing, to protect or defend an ideal, a nation, or a person. We may appreciate what a given nation-state provides, and even appreciate the willingness to give one’s life for the advancement of that nation-state’s purpose, but that person has not laid down their life as Jesus laid down His. Jesus did not die seeking to harm others; He died for the salvation of all mankind. Anyone who dies in combat or in a context in which violence is returned for violence is seeking the harm of others, however merited that harm may seem. One may think one’s sacrifice in war or in defense valorous; it rarely seems as valorous to those on the other side who would have been the ones killed or injured otherwise.

For Christians the cross of Calvary always stands before them, the way forward to find life indeed. It is a path that will involve personal hardship, suffering, and for some, even death for the cause of Christ. Yet the cross of Christ was not an instrument used to harm others; it was the means by which God worked to reconcile the world to Himself in Jesus, the terrible criminal as well as the “good, upstanding” citizen. If called upon, the Christian ought to willingly lay down his or her life for the brethren, as Jesus did; such a calling does not justify harming others in the process. May we love one another as Jesus has loved us, loving in deed and in truth, and thus obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Relating the Father

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him (John 1:18).

In both the Gospel and the first letter that bear his name, John affirms that no man has ever seen God (John 1:18, 1 John 4:12, 20). This seems to be a most baffling statement considering everything else that John is trying to teach, and, for that matter, what has been revealed in the Old Testament. How can John say that no one has ever seen God after saying that the Word was God and the Word became flesh (John 1:1, 14)? Didn’t Jacob wrestle with God (Genesis 32:28-30)? Didn’t Moses see God’s back (Exodus 33:18-23)? This is a conundrum indeed!

We should not believe that John is terribly inconsistent and ignorant of the Old Testament. He understands what he has written earlier in the Gospel, and he knows what is revealed in Genesis and Exodus.

Instead, John is trying to get us to understand a profound truth. As Jesus says, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). In that form, as He truly is, no man has seen Him nor can see Him. Humans have only seen manifestations of God– His glory, His power, and/or His messengers, the angels. Jacob most likely wrestled with an angel. Moses, no doubt, saw God’s glory. Jesus the Word is truly God in the flesh, but no man can see the spirit in Him.

But if no man has ever seen God, how can we know about God? This is the focus of John’s statement in John 1:18– even though we have not seen God, we can know all about God, because we can know about Jesus the Word.

John says that the Son, Jesus, has “declared” God. The word translated “declared” involves the idea of relating or telling a story (cf. Acts 10:8, 15:14, 21:19). According to John, therefore, the very nature and essence of God is related to us through Jesus.

But how can this be so? Jesus explains it for us in John 14:6-11. He boldly declares that if you have seen Him, you have seen the Father (John 14:9). The Father is “in” Jesus, and the words Jesus speaks and the deeds Jesus does are from the Father (John 14:10-11).

As Paul will say, Jesus is the “image of the invisible God,” in whom “dwelleth all the fulness of Godhead bodily” (Colossians 1:15, 2:9). If we want to understand what God is like, all we need to do is consider Jesus. As God is love, so Jesus loved (1 John 4:8, John 13:1). As God is just, so Jesus will be the judge (Matthew 25:31-46, Romans 2:5-10). As God is the Creator, so through Jesus were all things created (Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-17).

A lot of people have a very negative picture of God the Father. They imagine Him as a cantankerous old man with a long white beard who sits in Heaven all day trying to figure out new and inventive ways of smiting people and condemning them. Yet many of these people have a much more favorable view of Jesus, picturing Him as the loving Savior of the world, the Good Shepherd laying down His life for the sheep.

We haven’t seen God. Nevertheless, it should be clear that God is not a cantankerous old man, but instead a loving Father who wants to bless His children (cf. Romans 8:1-39). We know this because we can see Jesus through what is revealed of Him in the New Testament, and when we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father. We know of God because Jesus has made Him known. Let us praise God for His great love and care, and seek to reflect His attributes in our own lives (cf. 1 John 2:3-6)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Taking Responsibility

And David said unto God, “Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? Even I it is that have sinned and done very wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let thy hand, I pray thee, O the LORD my God, be against me, and against my father’s house; but not against thy people, that they should be plagued” (1 Chronicles 21:17).

David had indeed acted wickedly. He was incited to number the men of Israel and Judah– an act that indicates an expectation of war. Joab protested, but to no avail; David would not be moved. Yet, when confronted with his sin, and when he sees its consequences, David takes responsibility and wishes for the consequences to fall upon him and his house and not the innocent.

This is not the first time David has been confronted with sin and took responsibility. The same was true when Nathan confronted David regarding his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah (2 Samuel 12). He took responsibility for his own sin; Psalm 51 eloquently shows as much.

Such is partly why David is indeed a man after God’s own heart. It is a natural human impulse to shift blame away from oneself. After all, when God confronted Adam about how he knew that he was naked in Genesis 3, Adam immediately shifted the blame to Eve, who in term shifted the blame to the serpent. We have all seen politicians and others impulsively deny claims made against them, only later to see them confess to the deed.

It is always easy to try to find some way to shift blame in regards to sin. One could blame the influence of others, one’s raising, one’s genes, one’s culture, government, society, other such thing, or even the influences of the spiritual powers of darkness. Nevertheless, we do best to take the blame for our own sin, since, in the end, none of us are ever forced to sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). We should be upfront and take responsibility. By doing so, we minimize the damage done, and show that we are indeed different in how we act.

John promises in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous and will forgive us. To confess our sins means, literally, “to speak the same thing as,” or to directly and specifically take responsibility for what we have done. That is at least part of the way that David became a man after God’s own heart. We would do well if we did the same!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Spiritual Reality

And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, a host with horses and chariots was round about the city.
And his servant said unto him, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?”
And he answered, “Fear not; for they that are with us are more than they that are with them.”
And Elisha prayed, and said, “O LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.”
And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha (2 Kings 6:15-17).

By all accounts, the situation looked grim.

The Aramean king learned that Elisha was foiling his plans to raid Israel, and sent his army to end the threat.  The Aramean army comes toward Elisha– a terrible sight indeed.  Who can stand against the foe?  The Israelite army has enough problem, let alone some prophets!

We can understand and sympathize with the great concern of the servant.  According to the physical reality on the ground, there was little reason to hope.

Yet Elisha is unperturbed.  He recognizes the spiritual reality in their midst.  He knows that there are more on his side than there are for the enemy– even if such are invisible to man’s eyes.

We can only imagine what the servant felt when he suddenly sees the angelic host with its fiery chariots.  He, no doubt, felt amazement and wonder.  Stupefied is probably more like it.  None of it was visible a moment earlier.  Yet, in the blinking of the eye, everything was different.

Yet nothing was really different.  The angelic host was always there.  The servant simply did not perceive them!

This passage seems to teach us that there is a spiritual reality in our very midst that we do not perceive.  If our eyes were opened, we might feel amazement and wonder, utterly stunned at all that is around us.  Everything would seem different, but nothing would really be different.  It is always there, just past our physical senses.

Let us remember this when we feel alone or discouraged, believing that our situation is hopeless.  We may be struggling with a temptation to sin; we may feel some persecution for our faith; we might be experiencing some kind of trial, physical, spiritual, or otherwise.  It may seem that the forces of evil and darkness are too numerous, and we despair of victory.

Yet, as it is written,

Ye are of God, my little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).

In Jesus Christ we will have the victory.  There is no force greater than His Lordship.  We just need to have faith that an overwhelming spiritual reality is all around us, and that there are more for us than there are for them!

Ethan R. Longhenry