Love Grown Cold

“Then many will be led into sin, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many, and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:10-12).

It was a difficult and dark time. The rulers wallowed in their decadence while many of the common people suffered. People did not trust their government and looked for some kind of champion. Plenty rushed in with all sorts of delusions and plots. People did not know who to believe or trust. Everyone seemed to be in it for themselves and their ideas and would do, and did, almost anything to obtain and maintain power. In this way the people were led down the path which led to devastation and death.

Such was the plight of Judea in the 60s, just as Jesus had predicted.

While in Jerusalem, Jesus’ disciples showed Jesus the various and magnificent buildings which comprised the Herodian Temple (Matthew 24:1); Jesus told them that it would be completely devastated and torn down (Matthew 24:2). When the disciples asked how such things could take place, Jesus began to warn them about what they would see: many would claim to be the Messiah; there would be wars and rumors of wars; disasters would take place; yet all such things were not the end, and they should not be misled (Matthew 24:3-8). The disciples would be handed over to persecution and death and would be hated among all the nations because of Jesus (Matthew 24:9).

The disciples would then see signs of distress within their communities. They would see people led into sin, betraying and hating one another; false prophets would tell them what they would want to hear and thus deceive many; lawlessness would increase, and love would grow cold (Matthew 24:10-12).

The devastation of the Herodian Temple complex in Jerusalem, which is the primary subject of Matthew 24:1-36, took place during the First Jewish War of 68-70. We can consider Josephus’ The Jewish War and see how everything Jesus warned about played out during that time. Josephus would have us understand how the Jewish people suffered far more from one another than anything the Romans did to them: even as they resisted the Roman siege the people of Jerusalem were divided into warring factions; some destroyed the food stock; every group would use violence against the others. Extremists were normalized overnight and given control over the fate of the nation. The people starved; stories of people eating their own children are recorded. All the Romans had to do was to wait for the Jewish people to exhaust themselves before providing the final stroke.

Jesus could predict such things not only because He was God and a prophet, but also because Israel in His own day was already primed for such distress (cf. Luke 23:28-31). They had not wanted to consider how they were as delusional as their fathers were in the days of Babylon; they remained convinced that armed uprising would liberate them from the Romans, and chose an insurrectionist over the Author of Life (Acts 3:13-14). When times got tougher, the situation spiraled out of control, and God’s judgment against Israel was completed.

While the Jewish people were God’s elect, they were still humans, and the tendencies they expressed in their collapse can be seen in other societies. There are disturbing and unfortunate trends we can perceive while times are good, and we may raise an eyebrow, but then move on to focus on what we think are greater things. Yet when times become difficult those trends get magnified. All of a sudden people who seemed righteous and holy, and many who perhaps truly were righteous and holy, are led into sin. We are shocked to find out that someone we thought highly of and trusted in his or her judgment has turned into someone we can barely recognize. People of goodwill, friends, and even families are torn apart in hostility.

How could all of this have happened? Events, trials, and difficulty expose people and their deep-seated ideas and fears. There are times when people no longer know who they should trust, and so they simultaneously trust no one and yet everyone. They presume to be in the know and well-informed, yet in truth have been deceived and deluded according to their own desires and lusts. We kid ourselves if we imagine the days of false prophets is past and gone; they proliferate now more than ever, given ever greater platforms to reach larger audiences through the media and the Internet.

This process does not take place overnight; upon reflection we can see how people could have possibly gone down these dark roads to lead to such a distressing conclusion. And what is found on that road but coldness of heart as lawlessness increases? The sinful are emboldened; the righteous in their discretion become quiet (cf. Amos 5:13). Profligacy and flagrant perversion multiplies. You cannot trust anyone anymore. So you either join in or stay quiet.

Watching this play out is like watching a train wreck: it is awful, it causes a lot of damage and death, and there is not a whole lot we as individuals can do about it. Watching the judgment on a group of people play itself out is never a fun or pleasant thing (cf. Amos 5:18-20). It may not be the end of the world, but it certainly involves the end of a world. Yes, according to God’s will, that world did need to come to an end, however things work out for those involved later. A generation will arise and will wonder how it could ever be that people could have possibly believed such delusions, or acted in such immoral ways while thinking God would somehow justify them. And yet within such a generation there is at least the seed of the next catalyst for delusion and immorality.

What, then, ought the faithful people of God do when they endure such disaster in their lives? After explaining what the disciples would see, Jesus reminded them that those who endure to the end will be the ones who are saved (Matthew 24:13). The Gospel of the Kingdom would be preached throughout the world as a testimony to the nations (Matthew 24:14; cf. Colossians 1:6).

The end came for Second Temple Judaism; the end has also come for many nations and civilizations ever since. We can look back and see how foolish it would have been for the disciples, or other Jewish Christians of the time, to have cast away their confidence in Jesus and their eternal salvation to follow a delusional crackpot in their midst who promised them victory over the Romans or over another sect of their fellow Jewish people. We can look back and wonder why Christians of the early fifth century felt compelled to uphold the vestiges of the broken remnants of the Roman Empire, the very Empire that had worked so diligently in times past to persecute them. We do not even need to look back: we can ask today why a Christian as part of another nation-state would even think to follow the twists and turns of untrustworthy and immoral people and to fall prey to ungodliness in a desperate attempt to uphold their cultural status quo.

Yet as we can see the speck in the eyes of these prospective/real Christians of the past and present, can we see the log in our own eyes? Can we see how we may be too invested in our own society, whether in its present reality or in what we imagine it used to be, and give our power over to people participating in flagrant immorality and pushing delusional theories and ideologies, all in the quest to maintain or obtain power against the perceived malignant Other? Are we willing to consider how those to whom we listen might be, in truth, false prophets, leading us astray from what is good and right and holy in the Kingdom of God in Christ? Has the love of Christians gone cold because they have become more identified with their political tribe or ideology than their commitment to God in Christ? Have we chosen the ways of the world in its corruption and decay and given ourselves over to our fears of what our perceived enemies might do to us, or will we continue to surrender ourselves to the love of God in Christ which would cast out all such fears? What will our children, or an even later generation, have to say regarding what was exposed about is in our distress?

In all of this we must remember that Jesus was speaking to His disciples about Israel, the people of God, and to allow ourselves to fully absorb the scandal that was how the people of God in His generation went so terribly wrong. That we can see this very thing play out among the people of God in our own generation is distressing and lamentable, but should not surprise us. We must endure to the end to be saved: to continue to hold firm to the Lord Jesus Christ, to not heed the siren song of the partisans and tribalists who would lead us astray so they can obtain power, wealth, and standing, and to refuse to grow cold in our love because of lawlessness, pursuing holiness and righteousness in a love that fears no thing in this creation. It is hard to watch as those whom we loved and trusted fall away in their delusions; in all things we must remain firm in our faith in Jesus and His Kingdom, and never stop embodying His Gospel in word and deed before our fellow people of God and those out in the world. May we glorify God in Christ and obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Love Grown Cold

Morality Turned Upside Down

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)

Does it ever seem like the idea of morality has become a joke? It seems like one’s social and economic stature determines what is moral. With enough clout and money, it seems, one could get away with anything– even murder at times! The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and no one seems to care. As the wealthy consolidate power thanks to their resources, the situation seems all but hopeless. Either you are rich, and the land is your oyster, or you are poor, and you serve the rich in many ways. If you are poor, the slightest infraction might be your doom; if you have enough resources, you can get your way out of anything.

Does that sound familiar? Many might think that such is true today. It was also quite true of the days of Isaiah. Those with wealth could live with impunity. They could squeeze out the small farmer, bribe any judicial figures, and feast away with the king and others (cf. Isaiah 5:18-24). The poor man was forced to bear all of this. If he had to be sold into debt slavery, so be it; such meant little to the wealthy landowner. They had the luxury of choosing which laws to favor and which laws to neglect. They could call light darkness and darkness light, and mock the expectations of God for equity in dealing with all people.

Isaiah would not stand for this. He proclaimed the message of God’s disfavor with the actions of the rich and influential. He predicted their doom at the hands of first Assyria and then Babylon. They would receive their comeuppance– eventually. Woe, indeed, to them.

While the challenges of today are not as based on income as they were in days past, there is still the sense that the rich and powerful can get away with pretty much everything. If a “regular Joe” steals something, he has a quick trial and goes to prison in a pretty bad environment. If the wealthy extort or embezzle, which is theft, and happen to get caught, and happen to go to trial, and happen to get sentenced, and actually have to serve time, it tends to be in a far more cushy environment– if it ever ended in imprisonment. Different standards abound to this day!

Challenges with morality are not limited to the upper class; everyone has their sins (Romans 3:23). These days, however, the idea of “sin” is on the out. Many believe that “sin” is an artificial construct, an invention of authorities attempting to keep the people down. Things that God has declared to be sinful are re-named to seem less harmful. Arguments are made to appeal to the heart-strings in a misguided attempt to show compassion to that which is, in reality, sinful. And those who dare declare what God has said are labeled “intolerant,” “bigoted,” “narrow-minded,” or “old-fashioned.”

There is little doubt that the Israelites of Isaiah’s day could have done similar things. Idolatry was just “a different theological choice.” Bribes were just “ways to get things done.” Isaiah, no doubt, was considered intolerant, narrow-minded, perhaps even fundamentalistic, a dangerous religious zealot, for declaring the will of the Lord.

Our time is not as “enlightened” as its participants would imagine. As long as there have been people in sin there have been people who have been trying to find ways to justify their sins and demonize anyone who would challenge their justifications. There have always been people who want to bend the rules to their own favor and find any way possible in which to do so. Many will do what they want to do no matter what anyone tells them. The human capacity for self-justification is almost unimaginable in its depth.

Yet, as in Isaiah’s proclamation, so with today. Comeuppance will come, eventually, to such people. Justice may be served in their own lifetimes; it will surely be served on the final day (Acts 17:30-31). God’s patience and longsuffering toward people, hoping for their repentance (2 Peter 3:9), will not last forever, and many will learn the true cost of calling evil good and good evil; of declaring bitter sweet and sweet bitter; of loving the darkness and hating the light.

Believers in God often feel distressed by all of this, and it is understandable. It is much harder to strive to live as God would have us live when it is reviled as being the opposite of what it truly is– the way of life, light, and peace (John 8:12, Romans 8:6). Yet believers should take comfort in knowing that this has been the way people have been acting for centuries; it is not a purely modern phenomenon. It will continue until the Lord returns. It is not fair, it is difficult, and sometimes we get penalized for it. But we know who will ultimately reward the righteous and condemn the wicked (1 Peter 4:12-19). Let us stand for what is just, right, true, and holy, no matter what it is called or how others may abuse us, and receive the ultimate reward in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Morality Turned Upside Down

Wisdom in Avoiding Immorality

My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with thee. Keep my commandments and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye. Bind them upon thy fingers; write them upon the tablet of thy heart. Say unto wisdom, “Thou art my sister”; and call understanding thy kinswoman: that they may keep thee from the strange woman, from the foreigner that flattereth with her words (Proverbs 7:1-5).

We understand that Scripture provides great direct instruction and commandment, and for that we should be thankful. We can also learn much from Scripture not just from the words themselves but how the authors have expressed themselves.

A great example of this is the connection in Proverbs between heeding the instructions, commandments, and laws of the parents and avoiding sexual immorality. We see this connection in Proverbs 2:1-19, 5:1-23, 6:20-35, and 7:1-27; Proverbs 9:13-18 provides a complementary image, the way of Woman Folly. This connection and emphasis happens far too often to be merely coincidental. What is God communicating to us through these proverbs?

Perhaps the challenge is in the sin itself– sexual immorality. There are constant warnings in Scripture against participating in it, and it seems to be at the head of every list of sins (cf. Matthew 5:28, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:3-6, etc.). It is a source of constant danger– it is easy for desire to be directed wrongly, and Satan and the world always provide plenty of temptations to do so.

Consider what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:18:

Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.

This is the same apostle who tells us otherwise to “stand firm” against the fiery darts of the Evil One (Ephesians 6:10-18), but here he tells us to run away. It seems so cowardly to run away, does it not? Why would he provide such instruction?

Perhaps he had in mind the story of Joseph in Genesis 39:7-20. Potiphar’s wife tempted him to commit sexual immorality, and Joseph resisted day after day. But then the day came when she grabbed him by his clothing, and he would either fall into sin or run. He did the righteous thing and ran away, and received the consequence of being cast into prison on the basis of false allegations.

It does believers no good to attempt to minimize the danger and challenge posed by temptations to sexual immorality. It is a sin that people easily justify and rationalize. “Good” people who would never think of sinning against their neighbor may have no problems with many forms of sexual immorality because it “does not hurt anyone.” How many have been guilty of sinning against themselves! How many have fallen for various temptations to sexual immorality, and have reaped nothing but misery and pain! How many wish that they would have known better!

Thus we can see why God wants to emphasize the value of wisdom– the fear of God, the knowledge of His commandment, following His instruction. It is only through clinging to God’s truth and wisdom that we will be able to overcome temptations to sexual immorality. It is only when we have decided to love wisdom and not the “foreign woman” that we will be willing to run away from temptation and not be seduced into it. It is only when we fully understand the consequences of sexual immorality that we understand that it is never worth it and thus should be avoided at any cost.

It is no wonder, then, why the father wants to instruct his son to temper passion and cling to wisdom, and it should be the same instruction we give to our children. We must make it clear that the path of sexual immorality leads only to pain, misery, and perdition. Temptation will be strong, but we must resist and, when necessary, run away.

If we cling to wisdom we will avoid every kind of immorality– sexual immorality and “general” immorality, holding firm to the teachings of the One True God while resisting all the temptations of the world (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). Let us learn from the exhortations of God: let us love wisdom and repudiate all immorality!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Wisdom in Avoiding Immorality