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

The Body of Christ

The Treatment of the Son of Man

“Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests and scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him unto the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify: and the third day he shall be raised up” (Matthew 20:18-19).

The time is drawing near. The final journey of Jesus’ earthly ministry has begun.

It would have been fascinating to stand there on that early spring day in 30 CE to see how Jesus made this declaration in Matthew 20:18-19. Where did He pause? What did the disciples think and say among themselves? We could imagine many different scenarios.

The first part of the statement brimmed with promise. Jesus and the Twelve were going up to Jerusalem. It was not the first time they did so, of course, but this time was going to be different. The disciples were no fools; they knew that Jerusalem was the center of Jewish life and that the Messiah’s Kingdom must begin from Jerusalem. All of their hopes and dreams regarding their work in Jesus’ Kingdom were pinned on Jesus’ accession to His throne in Jerusalem. As before, so again– their hopes were focused on an earthly kingdom, made evident by the request of the family of Zebedee soon after (Matthew 20:20-28).

And this is precisely why Jesus does not end His statement with the fact that they are going to Jerusalem– He also describes what is going to happen there.

This is not the first time He has done this; in fact, this is the third warning in Matthew’s telling of the Gospel regarding His imminent suffering, death, and resurrection (cf. Matthew 16:21-23, 17:22-23). There is likely some symbolism in the fact that there are these three warnings between the confession of Jesus as the Messiah and His entry in Jerusalem; there is also a heightening effect. At first the disciples are told that He would suffer, killed, and be raised (Matthew 16:21); again that He would be delivered into the hands of men, killed, and be raised (Matthew 17:22-23); now we are finally introduced to the graphic scene: Jesus will be handed over to the Jewish authorities, who will condemn Him, and will in turn hand Him over to the Gentiles, at whose hands He will be mocked, flogged, and crucified, and then be raised on the third day (Matthew 20:18-19).

Why would Jesus make such a progressive revelation? Some might say that it was progressively revealed to Jesus Himself. Such is possible, but Jesus is God and His part of the plan was understood from eternity (Ephesians 3:11). We must allow for the possibility that the revelation was not progressive at all, and He explained all of this to His disciples in Caesarea Philippi from the outset. Whether He did or not, Matthew, in his telling of the story, is providing progressive revelation of what is going to take place, so the question remains. Why does the description get more detailed and graphic over time?

It is likely that Matthew does so, in part, for our benefit, to remind us that this was the plan all along. The resurrection and promise of Christ’s return was not “plan B” after “plan A” failed and Jesus was crucified. No; Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection have always been part of the plan. Jesus knew it in advance and warned His disciples in advance; it was sufficiently part of His teaching or understood beyond His disciples so that the chief priests and Pharisees knew that He had predicted His resurrection on the third day after His death (Matthew 27:62-66). As hard as it often is to wrap our heads around how Jesus fulfilled God’s plan for our redemption, it was no accident or contingency plan. Everything that happened to Jesus was predicted.

Yet there are also many good contextual reasons– mostly to throw cold water on the disciples’ expectations. Jesus is fulfilling God’s purposes for Him; He is the Messiah, and He will sit upon the throne and rule; yet none of it is happening according to expectation. In fact, the specific description Jesus uses goes a long way to show the contrast between expectation and reality. That contrast is instructive for us.

Notice how Jesus describes Himself in Matthew 20:18-19: the Son of Man. All of these terrible things– condemnation at the hands of the Jewish authorities, mocking, flogging, and death at the hands of the Gentiles– will happen to the Son of man.

The description of “Son of man” has its main force in demonstrating the humanity of the Christ– yes, He is the Son of God, God the Son, but He is also flesh, a human being (John 1:1, 14, Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3). That was the force of “son of man” as a description in the Old Testament– it was just another way of calling someone a human.

Nevertheless, there is one passage that provides a Messianic flavor to the title of “Son of Man”– Daniel 7:13. Daniel sees that one “like a son of man” would stand before the Ancient of Days and receive dominion, glory, and a kingdom, and everyone would serve him, and his kingdom would remain forever (Daniel 7:13-14). It is in this sense that Jesus is the “Son of Man” in ways that no other human being could be. It is in this Messianic sense that the disciples, no doubt, envision Jesus as the Son of Man.

As the Son of Man, Jesus will receive this honor, glory, and dominion when He stands before the Ancient of Days. He will receive that Kingdom that will never end, and all people will be subject to Him. But not before He is humiliated and suffers greatly.

When we combine our understanding of the Son of Man from Daniel 7:13-14 with Jesus’ use of the term in Matthew 20:18-19, we should be even more greatly impacted by Jesus’ great suffering. The Son of Man who will receive all power will be first condemned by the existing earthly authority. The Son of Man who will rule over every nation will first be mocked and flogged by the nations. The Son of Man who will receive glory and honor will first be humiliated and crucified.

These events are not optional: they are required to reach the end goal (Philippians 2:5-11). And this is why Jesus says that believers must serve, since the “Son of Man” did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). There can be no glory, honor, and dominion without first experiencing suffering, degradation, rejection, and humiliation.

If anyone ever deserved the easy road, it would have been Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, in order to accomplish God’s purpose for mankind, He first had to suffer and to be humiliated. In order to obtain the highest glory and honor, He first had to experience the greatest depths of pain and degradation. Before He could rule over all men He had to be condemned by His own people and mocked mercilessly by the heathen Gentiles. We do well to learn the lesson, even if it means that we must swallow hard. The way to glory is paved with suffering, humiliation, and degradation. We very likely will be rejected by our own people and mocked by foreigners. Yet, as Paul says, all of these sufferings cannot compare with the glory waiting for us in the resurrection (Romans 8:17-18). Let us learn from the treatment of the Son of Man, and be willing to suffer and to be humiliated in order to obtain eternal glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Treatment of the Son of Man

The Powerful Temptation

Again, the devil taketh him unto an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and he said unto him, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”
Then saith Jesus unto him, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.'”
Then the devil leaveth him; and behold, angels came and ministered unto him (Matthew 4:8-11).

Satan has tried to get Jesus to satisfy His great physical hunger and to test out God’s promises. Each time Jesus has rebuffed him with Scripture. So now, in the third temptation (the second in Luke’s account; Luke 4:5-8), Satan attempts to seduce Jesus with one of his greatest tools– the desire for power.

No generation has ever lacked people who are willing to go to any length to get even a small portion of what Satan promises Jesus. History books are filled with the names of people who have used brute force in an attempt to conquer the world– Ramses the Great. Nebuchadnezzar. Alexander the Great. Julius Caesar. Genghis Khan. Napoleon. Hitler. For every such character there have been a hundred petty rulers who dreamed of something greater, and vast multitudes of the poor and dispossessed who dream of such power.

And here Jesus is– with one action, He could best them all. One could argue as to whether Satan, the Father of lies (John 8:44), would have really given Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the world or not. One might even dispute whether it is within Satan’s power to give them. Yet to do so would be to blunt the force of the temptation. After all, if Jesus knows that Satan will not give the promised result or cannot do so, it is not much of a temptation. As the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), he is likely well able to deliver on his promise.

Not a few men would have quickly fallen on their knees, including many of the Jews of Jesus’ own day. Ironically, this is His chance to be the “Messiah” of the Jewish imagination. What will He do?

This is a real test for Jesus. It shows everything that He is about. And, as before, He is about confidence in God. He tells the Evil One to be gone, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13. God is the only One worthy of true worship– prostration and service. God’s call for Jesus is the only important call. God’s purposes cannot be accomplished through Satan’s vehicles (Romans 1:16-17)!

Think for a moment about what Jesus is really doing here. With one quick action, all the pain and suffering could be gone. He would receive honor, glory, and power. Millions would be at His disposal for whatever purpose He desires. Rome, Persia, India, China, and all others would bow down before Him. Fantastic wealth and luxury would be His. But when He dies it would all go away, and humanity would never receive reconciliation with God.

Instead, He chooses to follow God’s call. He will soon go back to Galilee. He will live out His days as a peasant. During His life He will be an object of scorn and reproach. Despite doing good He will receive mockery, abuse, and ultimately a humiliating death as a common criminal (Philippians 2:5-8).

But then God raised Him in power and granted Him authority that Satan could never provide– authority over heaven and earth, the Name that is above every name (Matthew 28:1-18, Philippians 2:9-11). Through His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus is able to provide true life and salvation for all who come to God through Him (John 6:53-58, Romans 5:5-11, Hebrews 12:2). Through His blood an eternal Kingdom is established, one that can never fade (Colossians 1:13, 2 Peter 1:11).

Therefore, Satan offered Jesus the imitation, and He preferred to suffer in order to accomplish the reality.

We do well to heed Jesus’ lesson here. Too often we follow after the imitation– the idols of the world, and many times the specific idol of power– and think that we can accomplish God’s work through that imitation. It never has been and never can be. God’s purposes are accomplished through Jesus and the Gospel of the Kingdom; it manifests a specific disinterest in the governments of men (Romans 1:16-17; 13:1-7). Too many reach after power and abuse it on national, corporate, familial, and even individual levels. We must instead focus our efforts and stewardship on the eternal Kingdom and God’s purposes in it (Matthew 6:33). We must be willing, as Jesus was, to forsake the temporary pleasures, satisfaction, and honor of this world and to suffer loss and indignity in order to receive eternal glory and honor (Romans 8:17-18).

The Apostle John lists the three means of temptation that Satan uses: the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and pride in possessions (1 John 2:16). Thus Satan successively tempted Eve into sinning: the appearance of the fruit, its perceived health benefit, and its ability to make wise (Genesis 3:6). We all know what resulted (Romans 5:12-18). Satan attempts to do the same with Jesus: the desires of the flesh (bread), the desires of the eyes (power), and the pride of life (testing God). But this time Satan fails. Jesus stands firm and gains the victory over him, empowered by the revealed Word of God in Scripture.

Jesus, the embodiment of Israel, has endured His “Elijah moment.” He set out in His exodus into the wilderness and experienced the temptations of the wandering and yet proved faithful to God. It is right for the angels to minister to Him, for it is time for Jesus, having overcome the Evil One, to minister to others. The Gospel of the Kingdom can now be proclaimed by the One who overcame the temptation to compromise and to give up what is eternal for what is fleeting. Let us praise God for the victory and the Kingdom we can share in the Son!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Powerful Temptation

Casting Our Anxiety Upon Him

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your anxiety upon him, because he careth for you (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Believers recognize that one of the most critical, albeit challenging, aspects of the faith is humility. Jesus encourages believers to be humble servants constantly– indicating that those who humbly serve are the greatest in the Kingdom (Matthew 20:25-28) and constantly making the following comparison:

“And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

The mandate for humility is strongly emphasized throughout the letters of the Apostles. Paul encourages it in Philippians 2:1-11; James provides a message strikingly similar to Peter’s in James 4:10. And we have Peter’s exhortation to humility in 1 Peter 5:6. The message is plain and evident: if we want to be Christ’s disciples, we must humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God.

Yet notice the comment attached to this principle in 1 Peter 5:7. Peter goes on and indicates how believers are to cast their anxieties upon God since He cares for them.

This message also comes from Jesus. Matthew 6:25-34 is Jesus’ grand display of God’s care and concern for His creation and an imperative to not be anxious but to trust in God. Matthew 10:29-31 indicates God’s specific concern for each creature– the lowly sparrow and therefore humans– and that the hairs of our head are numbered (and yes, that is probably an easier task in regards to some rather than others). All of these Scriptures testify how we would do well to cast our cares and anxieties upon God, for He is concerned for our well-being and is far better able to handle the sources of anxiety and concern than we ever could be (cf. Ephesians 3:20-21)!

This is well and good, but Peter here attaches the idea of casting our anxieties upon God as an element of humbling ourselves under His hand. How can this be?

It seems almost innate and natural for humans to worry and to be anxious over anything and everything. It does not take much suggestion to get people to start worrying about almost anything from things like small creatures to the prospect of utter obliteration.

Natural impulses, however, can be controlled or re-directed if desired. We do not have to worry, especially over matters which we have no control. We can cast our anxieties and cares upon God and re-direct our focus and energies toward our service to God.

But our worry and our anxiety represent our sense of control over a situation. When we otherwise feel powerless, being able to worry about a situation or to be anxious regarding it is something we can have and nurture. We feel that as long as we focus on the circumstance we might be able to do something about it– no matter how futile that endeavor might be. As bad as worry and anxiety might be, and as much as we might know that worry and anxiety does not help us, feeling utterly powerless often feels that much worse.

It takes a lot of confidence in God and a recognition of His great power and concern for us to give up that last vestige of power we may feel we have and cast our anxieties upon Him. And that is precisely why Peter attaches the need to cast our anxieties upon God onto the exhortation to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. When we give up ourselves, our cares, our anxieties– all of us– we find that God takes care of all such things and much, much more, and as opposed to worry and fear we can be filled with grace and peace (cf. Philippians 4:7).

But we must take that leap of faith and place our confidence in God. Let us seek to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand and cast our last vestige of control– our worries and anxieties– upon Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Casting Our Anxiety Upon Him

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