Blessed Are the Meek

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

The meek rarely, if ever, get good press, if they get any press at all. In fact, being meek or part of “the meek” is often like being part of a running joke.

There are reasons for that. The meek are people who are more quiet and gentle. They may have internal (or even external!) strength, but they keep it under control. They are reckoned as “mild” people. As such, they are easily forgotten and passed over. It is always easier to just hear the shouting voices and to deal with the loud mouths, along with those who lash out and act out according to their whims and desires. It is much easier to forget about those people who are more reasonable and who maintain their composure. And, as tyrants know, they are a lot easier to oppress as well!

But Jesus does not make a joke out of the meek– He will, in fact, later identify with them (Matthew 11:29). He declares them blessed– happy and fortunate (Matthew 5:5). He can do so because of their ultimate end– they inherit the earth (or land, Matthew 5:5).

Much ink has been spilled and not a few false doctrines have been advanced on the basis of the meek “inheriting the earth.” Suffice it to say that Jesus is evoking, if not quoting, Psalm 37:11, and much regarding the “beatitudes” is quite practical and earthy. Jesus is as much challenging the standard worldview about our time on the earth as He is pointing to some later spiritual reality; if this is not clear from Matthew 5:3-9, it is much more so in a later retelling in Luke 6:20-26. We are not wise to build our eschatological views primarily on what Jesus says in Matthew 5:5.

Nevertheless, why is inheriting the earth the reason for the blessed state of the meek? It speaks to the ultimate value in meekness– there is strength there, but it does not have to be flexed and used. The meek are more than happy to remain under the radar, so to speak– loud mouths may, for a time, advance in life, but if they run afoul of authority, we all know their end. Meanwhile the meek are able to continue their existence, reproduce, and maintain their existence on earth. Moderation and self-control pay off in the end.

Even though we do well to understand the verse in terms of the physical in its context, we can certainly make spiritual applications. There is great value in sensibility, maintaining strength under control, and not feeling compelled to loudly advance oneself. Jesus Himself is meek in heart, and we are called upon to follow His example (Matthew 11:29, 1 John 2:6).

The world does not lack loud people aggressively trying to advance their own agendas; it never has, it never will. In such an environment, those who have no less conviction but maintain moderation and self-control are easily passed over but are no less valuable or important. Meekness has never been really considered a virtue in the world, let alone a mark of manliness; yet in the Kingdom of God, those who are meek are greatly treasured and honored. Let us work to develop a spirit of meekness, and inherit the Kingdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Mistakes

Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake” (1 Samuel 26:21).

The quality of a person’s character is not nearly as visible in moments of success and exaltation as it is during moments of error, fault, and humiliation. If our efforts succeed, or if we are proven right about our view on some person, event, or other matter, we feel at least somewhat good about ourselves. But what will we do if we fail? What happens if events do not take place as we had thought, or if everything we thought about someone or something proves to be wrong? What then?

King Saul faced such a situation in 1 Samuel 26. He was convinced that David intended to kill him and his children so as to take over the throne over Israel. Therefore, he hotly pursued David in an attempt to kill him. David is given an opportunity to kill Saul, yet does not do so, and publicly demonstrates this fact, showing that he had no intention of killing Saul (1 Samuel 26:4-20). Saul had been proven wrong. Faced with these circumstances, Saul was willing to humble himself publicly and declare his error. He admitted that he had sinned, acted foolishly, and had made a great mistake (1 Samuel 26:21). A good argument could be made that Saul was only putting on a show, and internally still wanted David, his rival, dead. We are not in Saul’s head; we cannot know for certain. Nevertheless, we can see that Saul was willing to at least profess that he had erred and was wrong.

Recently a gentleman made a prediction that the “rapture” would come on a certain day. He declared that the Bible guaranteed his prediction. And yet that day came and went. But did he admit that he was wrong? No; he would go on to declare that the day was “an invisible judgment day” involving a “spiritual judgment,” and expects the end of the world to come in a few months.

The assertion, no doubt, is quite ridiculous. It is quite evident that what was predicted did not happen. As opposed to just coming clean and admitting his error, however, he instead took the easy way out, attempting to dodge the force of the disappointment and the public humiliation and degradation he brought upon himself because of his previous proclamations.

Such disappointing behavior is not new or specific to that gentleman. If we are honest with ourselves, we can reflect upon many times in our own lives when we have been proven wrong but refused to admit it, or things have happened that do not fit into the way we see people or events and therefore have tried to dismiss it. The temptation is very strong to indulge in our own private fantasy land in which we are pretty much always right and very rarely wrong.

Yes, there are times when things may not be exactly as they seem– we might actually have a point, or our views, on the whole, are accurate. Yet the majority of the time we are being tempted to let our pride get in the way, since we always want to be right, and we never want to swallow the bitter pill of our own errors, insufficiencies, and weaknesses.

This is when we ought to remember the example of Saul: when confronted with evidence that shows us that we are wrong, it is always better to admit the error, confess the mistake, apologize, and move on. The bitterness of the humiliation during that painful moment is real, but to pile on error after error in order to justify the original error only extends that humiliation and directs us away from reality toward our idolatrous fantasy land. We must remember that the Lord resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6-10, 1 Peter 5:5b-6).

It is always easier to duck and run from responsibility. Anyone can make a denial. It demands integrity in character to be willing to take up the courage to admit when we are wrong, to apologize, and to be willing to correct our views and actions accordingly. Yes, it hurts. Yes, it seems scary. Yes, it might mean that we have to entirely change the way we look at people and/or things. But is it not ultimately better to come to grips with reality than to believe the delusion and be condemned for it (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, 2 Timothy 4:3-4)? Let us be willing to to admit our mistakes and our error when it is exposed, as Saul did, and remain humble, so that the Lord may exalt us in due time!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

And seeing the multitudes, [Jesus] went up into the mountain: and when he had sat down, his disciples came unto him: and he opened his mouth and taught them, saying,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1-3).

Jesus’ ministry had begun, and His renown had spread far and wide. Matthew had been speaking in generalities about Jesus’ preaching the “Gospel of the Kingdom” and how He healed the sick and cast out demons (Matthew 4:23-24). Multitudes began to follow Him (Matthew 4:25), and Jesus felt it was time to systematically proclaim His message to them. He climbs up a mountain, most likely to provide for better acoustics, and begins teaching His disciples and the multitudes as well (Matthew 5:1-2). So begins what we popularly call the “Sermon on the Mount.”

The “Sermon on the Mount” begin with what are popularly called the “Beatitudes,” or blessings, since verses 3 through 11 begin with the Greek word makarios, meaning “blessed” or “happy.”

Yet this is not your average list of blessings. This is how Jesus begins this particular example of preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and that good news was quite different than anything the Jews had heard before.

The first group of people who are “blessed,” or happy or fortunate, are the “poor in spirit.” Jesus says that they are fortunate because the Kingdom of Heaven is “theirs” (Matthew 5:3).

There is some disagreement about Jesus’ emphasis in Matthew 5:3, whether poor in spirit is a categorical way of speaking about the poor in general or whether the emphasis is on the poverty in spirit and not poverty in general.

If the emphasis is on the poor in spirit, Jesus is addressing the value of humility and the realization that, on their own, people do not have a lot of spiritual strength on which to draw. Jesus will frequently paint a dire picture of man’s natural condition: full of daily anxieties (Matthew 6:25-34), without proper spiritual direction (Matthew 9:36), heavily burdened (Matthew 11:28-30), and in great debt (Matthew 18:23-35). While that is distressing enough, the difficulties are compounded when people deceive themselves into thinking that despite such challenges they are really spiritually healthy and strong, like the Pharisees and other religious authorities (cf. Matthew 9:10-13). They will not be blessed, but those who understand their true sinful condition– that they are sick– are more likely to turn to the Physician and be made well (Matthew 9:10-13). Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who understand that they are poor in spirit and are in need of healing and strength from God in Christ, and until people come to that realization, there is not much that Jesus can do for them (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:5, Philippians 4:15)!

While all of that is true, Jesus may use the phrase poor in spirit to refer to the “pious poor,” those who remain devoted to God despite not having many material blessings. In what is called the “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke 6:20-49, a message very similar to the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus there says that “the poor” are blessed without adding “in spirit” (Luke 6:20). We can find many examples in both testaments of such people– the widow of Mark 12:41-44, and the Psalms are often written with the poor in mind (cf. Psalm 34:6, 40:17, 69:29).

In the first century, this would be a startling statement indeed! For generations, conventional wisdom associated blessedness with wealth and prosperity. This was a message reinforced in the Proverbs– wealth came to those who worked hard and lived righteously, while poverty was an indication of idleness or wickedness or both (e.g. Proverbs 10:4, 15). Granted, the author of Proverbs says that the rich should not despise the poor but should take care of them (e.g. Proverb 14:21, 31), but the prophets indicate that oppression of the poor was commonplace in Israel (Isaiah 3:14, 10:1-2, Jeremiah 2:34, Ezekiel 22:29, etc.).

Conventional wisdom reduced everything into a deceptively simple paradigm: if you were rich and prosperous, you were blessed, and since God is the Giver of all good things, you are blessed before God. If you are poor, you are clearly deficient in blessings, and since God is not providing those blessings to you, it must be on account of your sin. It might be that some people are poor by no fault of their own, but even then, they are to be objects of pity; no one would ever consider people in such a condition fortunate or blessed. Jesus turns this conventional wisdom upside down.

According to the Gospel of the Kingdom, the poor are the ones who are blessed, while the rich are the ones who ought to mourn (Luke 6:24, James 5:1-6). While this reversal seems bizarre to people in the world, now as then, it makes perfect sense in terms of the Gospel of the Kingdom, where what is humble is exalted, and what has been exalted is humbled (cf. Matthew 23:12, etc.).

But how can poverty really be a fortunate state? Most of the time, those who are poor would desperately love to escape from poverty! What could be so romantic about poverty?

It is not as if Jesus is glorifying poverty in and of itself; after all, one can be poor, embittered against God and man, and be exceedingly sinful. The poor do not get an automatic pass into the resurrection of the just.

Yet poverty is a great teacher– it strips man of many of his delusions. When one is poor and dependent on the goodwill of others for continued existence, one cannot be deceived into thinking oneself truly independent, truly without any kind of accountability, or self-sufficient in any way. It is very hard to maintain pride in the face of poverty; it is a very humiliating experience to have to beg or to constantly be reminded of how one is deprived of the world’s goods (cf. James 1:9). Poverty easily strips man of his pretension and pride– and that is the first step toward realizing how one is really dependent on God His Creator and why he must serve Him!

Such is why Jesus can say that the poor in spirit are blessed, for the Kingdom belongs to them– they are of the right disposition to hear, accept, and obey the Gospel of the Kingdom. They will comprise the bulk of the first century church (cf. James 2:1-9)!

We do well to remember this lesson. Most of us enjoy relative prosperity. Many of us are not rich according to American standards, but according to the standard of the entire world, and especially according to the standard of the first century, we are all quite wealthy!

We must not allow our relative wealth, prosperity, and ease keep us from the Kingdom of God. We must not, as so many do, believe that we are fine and spiritually healthy because things are going well for us. We must understand that we are pathetically weak on our own and utterly dependent on the mercy of God not only for our survival but also for our prosperity. We must humble ourselves before God so that He will exalt us at the proper time, lest we exalt ourselves now and be humbled by Him (cf. 1 Peter 5:5-6)!

Fortunate are those who learn humility and who remain dependent on God. Let us pursue such blessedness and serve the Risen Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Sinners and Hypocrites

But when [Jesus] saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).

“Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall [the Pharisees and scribes] escape the judgment of hell?” (Matthew 23:33)

Much is made of how Jesus responds and reacts to people. It is interesting to see how people will go out and treat people in entirely different ways and base it all upon Jesus!

We have all seen the stereotypical “street preacher.” He has taken it upon himself to let everyone in his community know that they are sinning and sinful people. He is often found on street corners or in public places on university campuses and in similar places, and he does well at yelling at people about fornication, drunkenness, worldliness, perhaps consumerism and materialism, and so on and so forth. No one really listens, of course, but the street preacher goes home, justified in his own mind. He told those nasty sinners about their sin, just as Jesus condemned sin– or so he thinks.

There is also the universalist or the politically correct “tolerant” person of our day. If there is condemnation for anyone, it is because they are intolerant. Most everything and anything is acceptable, unless it harms another person, but then again, those who harm others were probably harmed somehow themselves, and so even then God will understand. This person also feels justified, for after all, Jesus Himself had compassion on people– or so he thinks.

These are both extreme positions– and they are extremely misguided. Nevertheless, we can discern from Jesus’ ministry a way forward when it comes to working with different people in our midst.

The first thing we should notice is that sinners sin. This statement should not be too terribly surprising or earth-shattering, since everyone is sinful (Romans 3:23), and sinners are known to sin, but it has been forgotten by many who profess Jesus. Too many have bought into the idea that America is somehow like a “new Israel,” and therefore we need to have “prophets” running around condemning the people for their sins. The New Testament teaches that the church is the new Israel (Galatians 6:16, Philippians 3:3, 1 Peter 2:4-9). There are times when someone does need to take up a “prophetic” style role and warn Christians about complacency and sin (2 Timothy 4:2), but we do not see Jesus or the Apostles out castigating worldly people for their sin in their faces. Quite the contrary– Jesus has compassion toward the multitude of people, those worldly, nasty sinners, even those among God’s chosen people, Israel (Matthew 9:36)! He was lectured by the religious authorities because of His association with the “sinful” of society (Matthew 9:9-13). Jesus our High Priest associated with the sinful!

While this might seem scandalous, we must understand what Jesus is attempting to do. He does not associate with the sinful to promote or justify sin. Even though He does not condemn the woman caught in adultery, He does send her off with the warning to “sin no more” (John 8:11). We never see Him participating in sin or approving of sin (Hebrews 4:15, 5:7-9). Instead, Jesus knows that the sinners know that they have sinned and are sinning, and they know that they need redemption (Matthew 21:28-32). They follow Jesus en masse because He is willing to sympathize with them and point the way out of their sinful misery. This is the message of the gospel that leads to the redemption of sinners to this very day (Romans 1:16)!

Therefore, we should not be surprised when sinners sin. While Christians are to abhor sin (Romans 12:9), they are not to abhor sinners, for they themselves have sinned but have been redeemed (cf. Titus 3:3-8, etc.). Pointing fingers at sinners and declaring to them what they already know is counterproductive: it pushes the sinner away and leaves a very bad taste in his mouth. It makes it that much more difficult to show such a one the way of Christ.

The real challenge came less from those who knew that they were sinful and more from those who thought that they were not. The religious authorities of Jesus’ day thought that they were holy and blameless, and sought to be separate from the “sinners” of the land (cf. John 9:34). They would bring down pronouncements to the dirty masses, but refused to get dirty themselves (Matthew 23:1-4). For such people, Jesus’ message was completely offensive: all of their great pretenses of holiness and sanctity were in vain, their great knowledge and study was being debased, and their authority was being completely undermined. They already had everything figured out; since Jesus’ message did not fit what they already knew, He was the blasphemer (cf. John 7:45-52, 9:24-29). Jesus spoke of them rightly: they were already “healthy.” They had no need of a physician in their haughtiness (cf. Matthew 9:12-13). They were righteous– just ask them (Luke 18:9-14)!

Such people received little compassion from Jesus’ words. His strongest denunciations– even a declaration of condemnation– were poured out against these religious authorities (cf. Matthew 23:1-36). Jesus treated them this way not out of hate or envy but out of love and a desire for them to wake up regarding their true spiritual condition. Jesus did make prophetic denunciations, but it was not to the worldly sinners of His day, but to the religious professionals who had compromised God’s purposes in order to advance themselves and their own agendas!

While many such people exist in churches today, there are some in the world who justify themselves and their conduct. Notice how Jesus did not comfort such people in such delusions. Such attitudes must be rebuked out of loving concern for the soul of someone who thinks they are healthy when they are not, righteous when they are sinful, sanctimonious as opposed to humble (cf. Galatians 6:1-2, 1 Peter 3:15-16).

Jesus’ interaction with people in His own day should be our model for how we work with people today (cf. 1 John 2:6). Yet let us notice how Jesus treated sinners one way and hypocrites in quite a different way. Woe to us if we treat the “sinners” like the “hypocrites,” and the “hypocrites” like the “sinners”! Instead, let us recognize that sinners sin, and we need to help show them that the way of Christ is life and the way of sin is death with all compassion and mercy (Romans 6:23, Titus 3:3-8). Nevertheless, we must oppose those who would justify themselves in their sins or sanctimoniously declare their righteousness apart from the truth of the gospel of Christ. Let us strive to conform to the image of Jesus the Son and point people to Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Reproof

Whoso loveth correction loveth knowledge; but he that hateth reproof is brutish (Proverbs 12:1).

A wise son heareth his father’s instruction; but a scoffer heareth not rebuke (Proverbs 13:1).

A fool despiseth his father’s correction; but he that regardeth reproof getteth prudence (Proverbs 15:5).

One of the things that unites all mankind is our distaste at being wrong and our extreme discomfort when our words or behavior are challenged or rebuked. We do not like such circumstances. We do not look forward to them. We do not feel good after they happen, generally.

Much of this is due to our internal pride and self-image. If we are proven to be wrong, or if our conduct is unseemly, then we feel lowered in the eyes of others. If nothing else, we feel internally humiliated. Humiliation is hard enough when we try to be humble ourselves (cf. 1 Peter 5:6)– it is that much more difficult when it is being imposed on us. Our pride is wounded, and our fight or flight impulse is often aroused. For some reason the idea that we are debased in the eyes of others because of our words or our conduct do not seem to bother us as much as the feelings that come when we are called out regarding them. Yet the sting remains.

The type of person we are, however, is proven not by whether or not we will be rebuked or chastened, but in how we respond to such rebuke and chastisement. None of us are perfect; there are all times when we find ourselves in the wrong (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8). All of us deserve rebuke and reproof at times.

The easy thing to do is to get defensive and refuse to listen to the criticism. Some may get violent; others might unleash a torrent of criticism themselves. We can all easily try to find reasons why we should not listen to the rebuke so that we may find a way to preserve our pride. We may attempt to make the one rebuking look like a hypocrite, or we might wrap our words in sanctimony and denounce them for “judging” us or for imposing their standards upon us. We might construct elaborate arguments to justify a losing cause, no matter how weak or easily dismissed those arguments might be. What is important in the end is to remain justified and right.

It is also easy to just ignore the criticism and pretend it does not mean anything. Some people create very elaborate worldviews that seek to invalidate various forms of criticism. After all, if you can figure out a way to render the basis for the rebuke irrelevant, then the rebuke itself will be irrelevant, right?

Yet, as Solomon (among others) has made clear, this response is not the response of wisdom. It is the way of folly– the way of the fool, the scoffer, and the brute. In fact, such a person is double the fool– he has been carried away in some wrong thinking or action, and when others make effort to correct him, he rejects that correction and continues in the error. In such circumstances it is easy for people to begin writing off the fool– why bother rebuking someone who will not hear and will not change? It is tragic to think about how many people have fallen into such misery and distress, presently and for the future, because they rejected reproof and would rather be wrong and proud than to live according to wisdom and to live.

The wise person who loves knowledge and is prudent will accept criticism. No one ever promises that accepting criticism will be easy– it is not. Yet we must appreciate it when people care enough, for whatever reason, to show us the proper way.

Some may fear that they will look weak or pathetic if they accept criticism. While that may be the response of some, such a response is itself a form of folly. Instead, most people have a higher respect for those who are willing to be chastened and who will accept reproof and rebuke. It is the way of humility and the way of wisdom, and it deserves to be honored. Better to swallow pride, accept that we are wrong, and perhaps look like a fool for a moment than to stubbornly insist on our own way and be the fool perpetually!

As in all things, chastisement requires discretion. Not all reproof and rebuke will necessarily be legitimate, but it is better to be open to possibilities of error than to delude oneself into thinking that he or she is always right. Those who would rebuke others must also make sure that their motivations are pure and that they are conducting themselves in the best way so as to obtain the desired repentance, always watching for themselves (cf. Matthew 7:1-5, 18:15-18, Galatians 6:1).

Being wrong is never fun, and correcting error should not be relished. Yet it is necessary for our physical and spiritual health to be rebuked and reproved when we are wrong. Let us be wise and accept reproof and live!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Servant Power

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, “Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

It was the same old argument with a new and bold twist.

Jesus’ disciples had been jockeying amongst themselves for a long time for power and prestige. They had argued about it before (Mark 9:34/Luke 9:46) and would argue about it again (Luke 22:24). But none of them had ever been so bold as to actually bring the matter up before Jesus Himself.

Yet this time James and John get Salome their mother to ask Jesus for the left and right hand positions in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 20:20-21, Mark 10:35-37). Jesus wonders whether they would be able to drink His cup of bitterness or to experience His baptism of suffering, and on the basis of their confident faith (in what they likely do not understand), declares that they will do so (Matthew 20:22-23, Mark 10:38-39). Yet, in the end, it is not for Jesus to give; it is for those to whom it has been prepared (Matthew 20:23, Mark 10:40).

The other ten are indignant with James and John (cf. Matthew 20:24, Mark 10:41). We should not imagine that their indignation was for spiritual or pious reasons. It perhaps was motivated by envy– they had asked for what they had all wanted, and the others did not have the confidence to do so! Or, perhaps, their indignation was based in feelings of shame– something that had been discussed in “secret” for so long the brothers had now made wide open. Ultimately, however, James and John actually asked for the thing they all really wanted– prominence in the Kingdom.

This is one of those moments where it is evident that the disciples and Jesus have entirely different understandings about the nature of the Kingdom Jesus has been proclaiming. Since the matter had clearly come to a head, and was now causing friction among the disciples, Jesus is compelled to address this misunderstanding in some small way.

The disciples seem to be imagining a Kingdom of the Jewish expectation– the Branch of David back on the throne in Jerusalem, triumphantly defeating Israel’s foes. Since the disciples believed in Jesus more steadfastly it was natural to expect that they would have the positions of prominence normally far beyond the reach of Galilean fishermen. Jesus, they imagined, was their ticket to greatness– the opportunity to get on the “ground floor” of the greatest Kingdom the world would ever know. In short, they expected Jesus to use the standard way the world works in order to surpass all who came before Him.

Yet Jesus’ response devastates such a view. Granted, many of the disciples’ expectations will come true, but not through the means they imagined. Jesus did not come to earth to just surpass the world at its own game. He came to earth to overthrow the world and its standards, and this is prominently featured in His response to His disciples (Matthew 20:25-28).

The disciples were all too familiar with Gentile power. They saw how the Roman Empire flexed its might. They saw the system of patronage and client that re-inforced class divisions. It was a system where might was right and humility was worthless. Courage, strength, and the ability to display power were what really mattered. The more masterful of a game player you were, the higher you could advance.

Jesus makes it abundantly clear that such is not the way the Kingdom of God works. Instead, He says, to be great in the Kingdom you must be a servant to others. If you want to be first in the Kingdom, you must be a slave to the rest. And Jesus sets Himself forth as the example: the One who deserved service did not receive it but instead served others (cf. Romans 15:3, Philippians 2:5-11).

It has been almost two thousand years since Jesus uttered these words, but they are no less earth-shaking. The “Gentile world” still operates pretty much like it did in the Roman world. There is a mad dash to power and those who play the game the best win. It is quite tempting for people to do the same thing in Jesus’ Kingdom, but it is good to remember what Jesus says. No matter how much the world values such attributes, they have no place in the Kingdom. Advancement in the Kingdom can only happen through weakness, suffering, humility, and service. Ironically, advancement can only take place when one has renounced such a view of existence– humility can only develop when pride is removed, and where there is no pride, there is no self-seeking, no impulse to self-advancement in a worldly sense. If one sets off on the road to greater humility and service, one can only find the destination through renouncing self and clinging to Jesus (Galatians 2:20).

The day would come when the disciples understood what Jesus meant. They had to go through the trials of experience and suffering. James would lose his life for Jesus’ cause (Acts 12:1-2); John would suffer with the other Apostles at times and would eventually find himself exiled for the Name in Patmos (cf. Acts 5:40-41, Revelation 1:9). Peter and the others would endure similar trials, and they all did so willingly, calling themselves the slaves of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1, etc.). They knew that the Kingdom, while in the world, was not of the world, but of Jesus Christ their Lord (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). Thus their place of authority was reserved for them because they went through the trials, experiences, and travails that taught them the way of Jesus: the way of service (cf. Revelation 4:4).

There remains the way of the world and the way of Jesus. We all, at some point in our lives, look at things as the disciples did, and seek out that glory, fame, and power in some form or another. But are we willing to follow the way of Jesus, the way of humility and service, bitterness and suffering, in order to receive the true commendation and exaltation (cf. Philippians 2:5-11)? We cannot imagine that we will receive it through worldly means and by looking at power as the world understands it. Instead, we must develop servant power, and give up everything for Jesus so that He can be manifest in us (Romans 8:29, Galatians 2:20). Let us be humble so that we may be exalted on that great and glorious day!

Ethan R. Longhenry

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

The Pharisee and the Publican

And he spake also this parable unto certain who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and set all others at nought:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, ‘God, be thou merciful to me a sinner.’
I say unto you, This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).

There is a lot of danger in believing that one is “righteous.” Jesus spent much of His time in His ministry exhorting people to repent and to serve God but yet never to trust in their own righteousness (cf. Matthew 4:23). Jesus provides such a contrast with the Pharisee and the publican, or tax collector, in Luke 18:9-14.

The Pharisee, in this parable, stands and “prays with himself.” There is no real petition to God in his comments– instead, it is a self-congratulatory note devoid of any compassion or mercy. It exudes arrogance and judgmentalism. All he can do is boast in the little he does accomplish and that he is not like others. The Pharisee represents the extreme example of the self-righteous, sanctimonious, self-assured, superficial religious person. Unfortunately, both the church and society have never lacked such persons.

While the example is extreme it is not without merit. The Pharisees to whom the man born blind testifies dare to declare to him that he was “born in sins,” and then ask if he teaches them (John 9:34). Such a question is only asked of people who believe, in some way or another, that they are above sin, or that their “righteousness” is unquestionable. Tragically, they are self-deceived, and will receive the due reward for their deception (cf. Galatians 6:1-4, Matthew 7:21-23).

Then we have the publican, or tax-collector, in the eyes of society the “chiefest of sinners.” They are Jews collaborating with the pagan oppressing power, quite often extorting the people and committing injustice upon injustice. Yet, in this instance, such a man is aware of his utter sinfulness. He is too ashamed to even raise his eyes to God, imploring God to have mercy upon him. He confesses that he is a sinner. And so we have the ultimate contrast with the self-righteous Pharisee: the thoroughly repentant tax collector, chiefest of sinners.

The conclusion to the matter, evident perhaps to us, is astounding in its scope. The “good person,” the “righteous” Pharisee goes home without justification. Instead, the publican, chiefest of sinners, despised by all, goes home justified. This is because God is not swayed by appearances. The exterior of righteousness and sanctimony is never sufficient. Even in the old covenant it was necessary to walk humbly before God, utterly dependent on Him, having nothing in which to glory according to the flesh (cf. Micah 6:8)!

It is easy for us to read this story and believe ourselves to be the “publican,” willing to admit our sin and to change our ways, and thus we should be (James 4:10, 1 John 1:9). We must examine ourselves, however, because there are times in which we play the role of the Pharisee– we get puffed up by our knowledge, our attempt to live the Christian life, or our supposed maturity beyond our brethren and others (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:1, Hebrews 5:14, 1 Peter 1:15-16). We get into the mode where we feel superior to others and almost smug in our relationship with God. We must banish these impulses and attitudes from within us!

We have all come across street “preachers” proudly berating audiences and making a mockery of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, and they may remind us of this passage. It is lamentable that the message of our most merciful and compassionate Lord gets thrown around so casually by the arrogant and sanctimonious. But let us keep in mind that it is easy for ourselves to fall into the same trap, in thought if not in word and deed (Galatians 6:2-4). We must always remember that at one point we all resembled the publican, and we must make it our goal to repent and to serve God in His Kingdom while keeping in mind the way we were, what God needed to do in order to secure our redemption, and therefore our need to relate to our fellow man and point him also to the salvation that comes in Jesus Christ (Titus 3:3-8). This is a tall order indeed, but let us remember that those who humble themselves are the ones who will receive the final exaltation, and seek holiness while maintaining the heart of the publican in Luke 18!

Ethan R. Longhenry

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

Washing Feet

“If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15).

Few events in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth had been more astounding.

The disciples and many others were amazed to see Jesus displaying power against demons, sickness, and even the natural world (Mark 1:27, 4:41). But it was expected that the Messiah would have power and authority (cf. Isaiah 11:1-10, etc.). His teachings were profound and also came with authority (Matthew 7:28-29), yet, after all, Jesus did come from God (cf. John 13:3).

And then the disciples saw Jesus carrying the basin of water with a towel around His waist.

The humiliation and degradation involved in foot washing has largely been lost on us. Nevertheless, it was acutely felt in the ancient world. People walked around barefoot or in sandals. If they lived in a city they would be walking in mostly unpaved streets with refuse and human waste everywhere. If they lived in rural areas they would be walking in the mire of the fields and the animal pens. Ladies who enjoy wearing flip-flops today can perhaps begin to sympathize with their ancient counterparts– nevertheless, at the end of the day, ancient feet were beyond disgusting. To enjoy a proper meal, they would need to be washed.

Generally it was a slave who was designated to wash the feet of the family members and their visitors. The lot would always fall to the slave with the least standing– the low man on the proverbial totem pole. It was not a job that anyone would enjoy– and it would certainly not be a task that anyone would consciously, willfully choose to do.

And yet the Lord of all, God made flesh, Him through whom all things were created (cf. John 1:1-3, 14) now stands before the disciples and proceeds to wash their feet (John 13:3-5).

Impetuous Peter cannot stand the thought of the Lord and Christ washing his feet (John 13:6-8). He keenly perceives Jesus’ humiliation to stoop to such a task and he cannot bear the idea of this role reversal. Peter knows that he should be washing Jesus’ feet, not the other way around! In order to alleviate the shame, Peter requests for Jesus to also wash his hands and head (John 13:9)– anything to make this humiliation of Jesus less humiliating.

Yet, as usual, Peter does not really understand what Jesus is doing. Jesus, of all people, is very aware of how humiliating and degrading it is to wash feet. Jesus perceives the astonishment, confusion, and perhaps even horror of His disciples. He then fully explains why He washed their feet, and in so doing, He provides one of the greatest challenges to any who would call themselves His disciples.

Jesus does not deny that He is Lord and Teacher– that He is. It is as their Lord and Teacher that He washed their feet– the most humiliating and degrading task– to teach them that if Jesus the Lord and Savior washes feet, so too ought those who follow Him. As Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, so the disciples should “wash the feet” of fellow disciples!

This is exceedingly important, and we should not get so wrapped up in arguments about whether we are to “literally” wash feet or not to cause us to miss the force and power of Jesus’ action and example. How many times in the Gospels does Jesus come out and say explicitly that He is providing an example? Not too many! Therefore, it is evident that Jesus is emphasizing this action and its meaning, and wants all of us to take notice.

Service is rarely glorious. Service is often demeaning. It can be repetitive and annoying. It may seem futile. It may offend our sensibilities. Jesus knows all of this, and that is why He washed the disciples’ feet.

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, humiliating and degrading Himself to the utmost (cf. Philippians 2:5-10), doing the most unimaginably disgusting job in the ancient world, then for those who call themselves His disciples, there is no job too humiliating or degrading to do in His name (cf. Colossians 3:17).

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, who are we to say that a given task is too beneath us for us to accomplish?

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, who are we to say that a given task is too repetitive or futile to accomplish?

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, who are we to say that expectations for us by others are too degrading and beneath our abilities?

Jesus shows us through His example that we must serve (1 John 2:6). We must do this in every aspect of our lives. Husbands and wives must “wash one another’s feet,” and should not complain that tasks are too degrading or repetitive or stupid (Ephesians 5:21). Parents and children ought to “wash one another’s feet” (Ephesians 6:1-4). Employees are to “wash feet” by working as to the Lord, no matter how obnoxious their earthly boss may be (Ephesians 6:4-9). We can find plenty of other ways in which we can serve in other capacities in our lives (Romans 6:15-23, 12:1).

Service is not always pleasant, enjoyable, novel, or exciting. It can be downright frustrating, humiliating, and obnoxious at times. But let us remember that Jesus our Lord washed feet, and we are to do likewise. Let us serve in all capacities as Jesus served so that He may obtain the honor and praise (cf. 1 Peter 1:7)!

Ethan R. Longhenry