The Body of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethan R. Longhenry

Motherly Affection

But we were gentle in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherisheth her own children: even so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were become very dear to us (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8).

No one could ever accuse Paul of working in the Lord’s vineyard only for the money or just as a job or a way of passing time. He poured his heart and soul into the people who had heeded the Gospel he preached.

The Gospel was received by some in Thessalonica under a cloud of persecution and difficulties as seen in Acts 17:1-9. Within a few weeks Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica after he had heard the report regarding them by Timothy (1 Thessalonians 3:6-10). Paul has been explaining the circumstances under which he arrived in Thessalonica after leaving Philippi and how he preached to them the Gospel not for covetousness nor for seeking men’s glory but for the welfare of their souls (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6).

Mother and childHe appeals to how he treated them and compares his love for them to that of a nursing woman for the child she nurses, explaining that he became affectionately desirous of them, willing not only to proclaim to them the Gospel but to even give of his own life if need be (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). Paul loved the Christians in Thessalonica, and he expected them to understand as much.

Paul’s love and concern went well beyond the Christians of Thessalonica (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:28), yet the way he expresses his affection for the Thessalonians is extraordinary. The maternal image of the nursing woman expresses great care and concern and is probably not a little influenced by the relative youth of the Thessalonian Christians in the faith. Paul recognized the imperative given to him to preach the Gospel to everyone (1 Corinthians 9:22-23), but that never meant that he had to feel warmly toward any given group like he expressed to the Thessalonians. He developed genuine care and affection for the Christians in Thessalonica; he actually liked them and enjoyed being around them even though it was only for a short time.

We do well to note this love and concern and seek to find ways to feel similarly toward our fellow Christians. We are to be known for our love for one another (John 13:35); while it is true that such does not demand that we feel the “warm fuzzies” about every Christian we know we do well to be kindly disposed to one another and to have Christians in our lives regarding whom we could say that we felt tender affection. “Brother” and “sister” should not be mere titles or pretense but should express genuine brotherly and sisterly love for one another. Christians do well when they actually like one another and enjoy being in one another’s company!

We also should consider the nature of the relationship between Paul and the Thessalonian Christians: not only did they not know each other a few weeks or months before the writing of this letter, but also their relationship was forged in the preaching of and obedience to the Gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:2). We can therefore see how Paul treated those to whom he preached the Gospel: he did not keep them at a distance, as “prospects” or “clients,” but felt warmly toward them as a mother would her child, thus, as fellow family members (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). While parallels exist between marketing/sales and evangelism we ought not over-emphasize them; the church is not a business but the family of God (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15). Neither Jesus nor the Gospel are “products” to “sell” but the plea for the prodigal and the alienated to come home (cf. Luke 15:11-32). The goal of all evangelism is to lead those outside of Christ to Him so as to become His disciple (Matthew 28:18-19); if they heed the message and obey it our relationship has not ended but has in fact just begun (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28).

Paul loved the Thessalonian Christians tenderly. We ought to have a similar love for our fellow Christians and to seek to share in such relationships with even more people. Let us proclaim the Gospel in our lives so as to lead people to faith in Christ and to share in the household of God and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Structure in the Creation

For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.
The heavens declare the glory of God / and the firmament showeth his handiwork.
Day unto day uttereth speech / and night unto night showeth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language / their voice is not heard.
Their line is gone out through all the earth / and their words to the end of the world.
In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun / which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber / and rejoiceth as a strong man to run his course.
His going forth is from the end of the heavens / and his circuit unto the ends of it / and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
The law of YHWH is perfect, restoring the soul / the testimony of YHWH is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of YHWH are right, rejoicing the heart / the commandment of YHWH is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of YHWH is clean, enduring for ever / the ordinances of YHWH are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold / sweeter also than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is thy servant warned / in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors? / Clear thou me from hidden faults.
Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins / let them not have dominion over me: Then shall I be upright, And I shall be clear from great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart / be acceptable in thy sight, O YHWH, my rock, and my redeemer (Psalm 19:1-14).

“I take [Psalm 19] to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world ” (C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 63).

Psalm 19 is justly famous as an ode to YHWH the Creator and how He has made the universe. Psalm 19:1 is famous in its own right as is Psalm 19:7-10, the latter of which is frequently sung as a hymn. It has thus been fashionable to consider Psalm 19 in its various parts; many in fact suggest Psalm 19 is a compilation of two or three separate psalms all put together. Is it really just two or three Psalms put together? What is David attempting to communicate in Psalm 19 as presently arranged?

The three main sections of Psalm 19 are Psalm 19:1-6, Psalm 19:7-11, and Psalm 19:12-14. Psalm 19:1-6 describes how, as Psalm 19:1 says, the heavens declare God’s glory and handiwork. The whole system betrays an intelligent Artificer behind the scenes (Psalm 19:2). God has set all things in their place and has made the course for the sun; the sun is spoken of in terms of a bridegroom leaving the chamber, or rejoicing as a man finishing his task, shining over all the earth with nothing hidden from it (Psalm 19:3-6).

Psalm 19:7-11 commend YHWH’s instruction. David speaks of YHWH’s law, testimonies, precepts, commandments, fear, and ordinances, terms reminiscent of the Torah (Psalm 19:7-9; cf. Deuteronomy 4:45, Psalm 119:4). YHWH’s instruction is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, and true; they restore the soul, make wise the simple, rejoice the heart, enlighten the eyes, endure forever, and are altogether righteous. The poetry is succinct; the lines are sharp. YHWH’s instruction is more desirable than gold or honey, warning the servant, providing great reward (Psalm 19:10-11).

Psalm 19:12-14 feature David’s response. He rhetorically asks who could discern God’s errors? No mortal can, of course; he therefore wishes to be cleansed of hidden faults and to be kept back from presumptuous sins (Psalm 19:12-13a). He will then be able to stand upright and be clear of transgression, and he prays that his words and meditation are acceptable in the sight of YHWH his Rock and Redeemer, the source of his strength, refuge, and vindication (Psalm 19:13b-14).

It is easy to see why people might think that two or three psalms have been put together here: what does the sun have to do with the Law? What do they have to do with hidden faults? Yet we do well to consider why David and/or the Psalter has prepared Psalm 19 as a whole. Is there anything that might bind Psalm 19 together?

The theme of all of Psalm 19 is found in Psalm 19:1: God’s glory is seen in His handiwork. Of all the things David could have featured when speaking of the heavens he focuses on the sun and how things are in their proper courses (Psalm 19:1-6). The sun, and particularly the way in which the sun is described, expresses not only God’s majestic structure in the heavens but their benevolent function as well. The sun gives light and life, joyful as the man who has just experienced his first copulation or who is about to finish a race (Psalm 19:5). As the heavens and the sun do not speak themselves but show the speech of YHWH and His benevolent structure in the heavens, so the words of YHWH in the Law, in His Torah, provide benevolent structure for the conduct and behavior of His people (Psalm 19:7-11). Keeping YHWH’s Torah provides great reward (Psalm 19:11); what if David actually meant what he said and believed that just as the sun allows for life to exist and flourish so YHWH’s Torah restores the soul, rejoices the heart, and enlightens the eyes? And what would be the appropriate response to seeing YHWH’s benevolent structure in His creation, both in the heavens and in the Torah? Humility and faithfulness: asking for forgiveness from hidden faults and presumptuous sins, trusting in YHWH’s benevolence and beneficence, maintaining YHWH as refuge, strength, and source of deliverance (Psalm 19:12-14).

Thus Psalm 19 can be well understood in its unity: all we are and have are thanks to YHWH’s benevolent structure He established in the creation. He made the heavens so that the earth could be inhabited; He established His Torah, His Law, so that people could live and thrive; in response we do well to give thanks, ask to be kept from thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought, and to trust in YHWH as our Rock and Redeemer. May we allow Psalm 19 to give voice to us to proclaim the greatness of God’s handiwork in the heavens and in His instruction, to ask to be kept from presumption, and trust in our redemption secured by His Son the Lord Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Honor Father and Mother

Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee (Exodus 20:12).

The fifth commandment brings about a shift in focus. Whereas the first four commandments involved an Israelite’s relationship with his God, the last six involve his relationship with his fellow man. One could say that the first four commandments are the means by which the Israelites would “love the Lord [their] God with all [their] heart, and with all [their] soul, and with all [their] mind” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Matthew 22:37), and the last six commandments are the means by which they would “love [their] neighbor[s] as [themselves]” (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39).

Therefore, as we turn from man’s relationship with his God toward his relationship with his fellow man, what would we emphasize? What would be the first command that we would establish for how people ought to work with one another? In the Ten Commandments, the first command dictating the relationship of man with his fellow man is to honor his father and his mother (Exodus 20:12).

This might seem strange to us– we would more likely than not emphasize the later commandments to not murder, to not commit adultery, to not bear false witness, and to not covet your neighbor’s goods over the need to honor father and mother. Why, then, is the command to honor father and mother at the head of the list?

We can discern part of the reason in the “promise” noted by Paul as he provides the same command to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:2-3): “that thy days may be long in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12). How is it that one’s days are longer if they honor their parents?

In a few circumstances there is a very good reason for it: the person who curses his parents or strikes his parents is to be put to death (Exodus 21:15, 17). If parents have a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey, they are to bring him before the elders, and if the charge is true, the son is to be stoned with stones (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). It is hard to “live long” in a land when you have been executed for rebellion against your parents!

Yet this is not really what God is envisioning when He makes this promise. While it is entirely possible that God provides a supernatural blessing or benefit on children who honor their parents, we can also understand this promise in completely natural ways. A child who listens to his or her parents has some level of respect for them as authorities. When the child becomes an adult, he or she is more likely to respect other authorities, including God and the government, and are more likely to be law-abiding citizens. If, on the other hand, a child does not honor his parents, it most often is due to stubbornness and rebelliousness. As that child grows up and becomes an adult, that stubbornness and rebelliousness continues against authorities. They are more likely to engage in illegal behaviors and have no respect for divine or human authority. Such people are more likely to die on account of their bad habits or at the hand of the law or men. Therefore, those who honor father and mother will have it go better for them and they will have a better opportunity to live long in the land God gave them. There are other factors in play that might hinder that– war, famine, pestilence, accidents, and the like– and there are also times when people live long lives despite being rebellious and stubborn. Nevertheless, the general premise holds weight, even to this day.

Hopefully we can better understand why God places the command to honor father and mother in the forefront of man’s relationship with other people. All of us first learn about life and how we should live from the home. Sadly there are many times when the home is not a good place in which to learn about life– some parents neglect and/or abuse their children, and this is not at all God’s intentions for the conduct of parents (Ephesians 6:4). Thankfully, a good part of the time, parents want the best for their children– to raise them to be good, productive, law-abiding citizens, if nothing else (cf. Hebrews 12:9-11). While some parents may not always have the best understanding of what God expects out of people, and not all parental advice and direction is good, most parents most of the time attempt to direct their children toward what is good and to help them avoid what is evil.

It is in the home where children first learn about authority. They are to understand that their parents have the authority over them to raise them as they see fit, ideally to raise them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). If a child respects his parents’ authority, he or she will be more likely to respect the authority of God and to be law-abiding citizens. If a man or woman honors father and mother, it will be easier for them to avoid committing murder, committing adultery, bearing false witness, and coveting. If a child does not learn about authority, or disrespects the authority of parents, then the temptation to commit those sins will be greater.

We must note, however, that while this command has applicability to children, God is speaking to the adult Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai and throughout their generations (cf. Exodus 19:1-20:2). Respect toward parents is not to end the minute a child is no longer under their authority. The wise man quickly discerns just how important and valuable his parents’ advice and counsel about life can be. Challenges and issues in the world, in the workforce, in marriage, with children– one’s parents have already endured all of these things and have gained experiential knowledge about them. In many instances children end up respecting and appreciating their parents far more as adults than they ever could have when they were younger!

How, then, do we honor father and mother? Honor certainly involves respecting them, appreciating the sacrifices they made for us, and being a source of strength and encouragement for them. But “honoring” father and mother goes much further than this– children are expected to take care of their parents and provide care for them in their older age, as Jesus makes clear regarding this commandment in Mark 7:10-13.

This value is not well understood in our society. Sure, people still understand that parents and grandparents should be honored; if there are reports of parents abusing children or children abusing parents, we understand that such are terrible things and should not be done. Sadly, however, in our push toward individualism and individual fulfillment, far too many children cannot be bothered with the expectation to provide and care for their parents or grandparents. Therefore, far too many parents and grandparents languish in nursing homes and other assisted care facilities, often all but forgotten, seemingly unloved, without comfort or encouragement.

Yes, there are times when the medical needs of a parent or grandparent are too great for their children to provide, and we must be sensitive toward these situations. Nevertheless, we must remember that God has charged children and even more extended family members with the obligation to care for the elderly and widowed within their family (Ephesians 6:1-3, 1 Timothy 5:16). Even if the parents’ medical needs are great, children can still remain involved in their parents’ lives. There is no excuse or justification for parents and grandparents to be physically and emotionally cast off in old age– such is extremely dishonorable!

There may be times when it seems burdensome to care for parents or grandparents; there were times, no doubt, when it was burdensome for them to care for us. God expects His children to honor their earthly father and mother, not just to show them respect, but to take care of them just as their parents had taken care of them. Let us honor God by honoring our parents!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus and the Little Children

And they were bringing unto him little children, that he should touch them: and the disciples rebuked them.
But when Jesus saw it, he was moved with indignation, and said unto them, “Suffer the little children to come unto me; forbid them not: for to such belongeth the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein.”
And he took them in his arms, and blessed them, laying his hands upon them (Mark 10:13-16).

One of the aspects of Jesus that is most commonly known involves His concern for children. For generations people have drawn or painted various representations of Jesus with little children. For us today it only seems natural that Jesus would show such concern for little children.

Yet, as the response of the disciples indicates, His concern was not considered natural automatically in the first century. It is easy for us today to look back on the disciples and think them to be hard-hearted or perhaps even inconsiderate or uncaring for children. But that is unfair. It is not as if the disciples do not like little children– the disciples want to make sure that the Lord is not inconvenienced or bothered so that, at least in their estimation, He can continue to focus on the adults who really need Him, His power, and His message. The children, after all, will probably not remember Jesus too well, and certainly not as well as the adults would and should. Jesus and the disciples were at work in “grownup” matters, and therefore why should the Lord be hindered by a bunch of little children?

Jesus responds to them sharply. Yes, He has great concern for the “lost sheep” of Israel (cf. Matthew 10:6), and focuses much of His energy on pointing them toward God’s Kingdom. Nevertheless, the little children are very important!

Our society has become very child-focused and child-oriented in the past century; it is easy for us to work diligently to make sure that we do not overlook children. Jesus’ care for the children should surely demonstrate to us that care for children is extremely important in the sight of God. Jesus’ care for the children underscores a more fundamental point: God cares for all the “little people” of the world, both in terms of age and social standing. Whereas many may overlook small children, the dispossessed, the widow, and the like, God cares for all of them and desires for us to care for them also (cf. James 1:27). Everyone is important to God!

Jesus’ concern is not just for the little children; He also takes advantage of the opportunity to teach the adults a very important lesson. Jesus was well aware that the disciples had been disputing among themselves who would be the greatest in the Kingdom (cf. Mark 9:33-37), and even in that instance pointed out how God receives children and those who receive children. In Mark 10, a more fundamental point is made: those who enter God’s Kingdom enter it like a child. The Kingdom belongs to children!

One can only imagine the response of the disciples. They had good reason to be ashamed– the very ones whom they were willing to overlook were the ones most precious before God. They were trying to forbid those to whom the Kingdom belonged so that Jesus could more freely proclaim that Kingdom among others!

Jesus’ point is quite humbling, and such is the intent. The illustration puts to lie the belief that children are born inherently sinful– how can the Kingdom of God belong to unregenerate brats? If the way we enter the Kingdom is by becoming as children, and if children are inherently sinful, did Jesus bear the cross in vain? By no means; children are pure and innocent before their Maker, and only as they grow up do they learn to sin (cf. Romans 5:5-18).

So what is it about little children that makes them ideal citizens of God’s Kingdom? It is their unfailing trust in their parents. They look up to their parents and think the world of their parents, no matter how worthy or unworthy that belief may be. They naturally depend on their parents to take care of their needs in life and trust that their parents have their best interest at heart and seek the best for them.

And so it ought to be with believers and their heavenly Father. Those who are part of God’s Kingdom have unfailing trust in God the Father (cf. Hebrews 11:6). They look up to and think the world of their heavenly Father, and He is worthy of that honor (cf. Psalm 150). They learn to depend on their heavenly Father to take care of their needs in life and know that He has their best interest at heart, seeking what is good for them, since He was willing to give up His Son for their salvation (cf. Matthew 6:21-34, Romans 8:31-39).

It is easy for little children to have that trust in their earthly parents and their heavenly Father; they do not really know any better. Such trust is a profound challenge for “grownups,” however, because they have lost that innocence and are always tempted to trust in themselves and what they can perceive. It is always easier to walk by sight than by faith, but citizens of the Kingdom are willing to trust in God no matter how terrible things may seem (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7)!

Jesus loves the little children. Let us praise God that He is concerned for the lowly and easily overlooked, and let us develop that childlike trust in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry