The God of the Old and New Testaments

Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass (1 Samuel 15:3).

Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).

How could God command the death of children and animals just because they were not Israelites? How can God be a “God of love” in the New Testament but command so much death and bloodshed in the Old? The Bible seems like it has two different gods– the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament!

These questions and declarations represent a major stumbling-block for many people. They involve very difficult issues. If we are honest with ourselves, we will confess that there have been times when we have been bothered by these matters even if our confidence in God was not terribly shaken by it. There does seem to be quite the disconnect– in the days of Israel, God told Israel to devote many Canaanites and Amalekites, among others, under the ban, meaning that everything– all people and property– was to be devoted to destruction (e.g. 1 Samuel 15). 1000 to 1500 years later, we read that this same God sends His Son to die on a cross for all men to make the greatest display of love (1 John 4:7-21). At one point, He is ordering execution for humanity; the next, His Son is dying for humanity. How can this be?

It does us no good to pretend that we can come up with a completely satisfying answer; there is none. This is a difficulty. While there are things we must keep in mind, and we can find a way through which to look at these events demonstrating how God is at least consistent, many of the Old Testament stories will remain offensive to modern sensibilities. They remain quite uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, we must remember that there is a very big difference between the old and new covenants, and that there are reasons why the first century of this era, and not before, was the “acceptable time” for salvation to come (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:2). The ancient world, especially the ancient Near East, was not a peaceful place. In societal terms, you killed or you were killed; you overran or you were overrun. Today, we read stories of devoting everything and everyone to destruction and we are horrified. Then, they would hear such stories and understand that they simply reflected reality. If you lost the war and the enemy took your land, and you were an adult male, you would likely be executed quickly. If you had a wife, odds are that she would be first raped, then enslaved. If it was your unfortunate lot to have a virgin daughter approaching the age of marriageability, she would become the wife of one of your enemies whether she liked the idea or not. Any young sons you might have would either become slaves or would be executed (cf. Deuteronomy 20:10-14). This was not something unique to Israel; this was consistent throughout the world of the day.

And there was a logic to it. This was a day and time of vengeance and retribution (cf. Judges 13-16). Adult men who had lost the war and had been humiliated might submit outwardly but would remain rebellious inwardly, looking for any opportunity to obtain vengeance for his loss and humiliation. The same is true with young boys. Yes, they are innocent at the moment of death, but what would happen when they grew up? If they maintained a sense of identity based on their ancestry, they would seek vengeance. As for women, Numbers 25:1-6 graphically displays their seductive and idolatrous influence upon men. While this might not have been a concern for other nations in the ancient Near East, it was of preeminent concern in Israel (cf. Exodus 20:1-6). The Canaanites needed to be entirely obliterated because otherwise they would lead Israel into sin through idolatry (cf. Deuteronomy 20:10-18). Notice that Israel ultimately did not devote all of the Canaanites to destruction, and the Israelites ultimately fell prey to the idolatry of Canaan (cf. Judges 1-2; 2 Kings 17:7-23, 2 Chronicles 36:15-21).

The other reason often given is the great sinfulness of the Canaanites: the men and women directly participated in the sin, thus “deserving” the death, and the children were killed to spare their souls from the destruction to which they were headed by following after their parents (cf. Genesis 15:16). Such logic might be appealing as a reason, but there is little consistency in it– by the same logic, God should have devoted everyone on earth under the same ban, even Israel, and all children should be executed to spare them the stain of sin that is inevitably coming (cf. Romans 3:23).

So even if this all represents reality on the ground during the days of Israel, how can we make sense of it in terms of the new covenant? How come God seems to do quite the 180 when it comes to humanity in general?

It depends on the way in which one looks at the situation. If one is looking in terms of those people who died because they were devoted under the ban, sure, it looks pretty bad. But through the lens of Israel– the people of God– how does it look?

God promises to be the God of Israel, and Israel would be His people (Exodus 6:7). Therefore, God has great care and concern for Israel His people and wants to do for them what is in their best interest to keep them secure. The Canaanites represent a significant spiritual threat, tempting the people away from service toward God in order to serve idols. But Amalek was devoted under the ban more because they dared to attack Israel at its weakest, right after they left Egypt, and God promised then to be at war with Amalek for what they had done (cf. Exodus 17:8-16). In short, God commanded Israel to devote some people under the ban in order to protect and cherish Israel His people. That is the logic presented in the Old Testament.

And if we look at the situation through that prism– God commanding a violent and thorough attack on all which is opposed to His people and the destruction of all that is opposed to His people– we find that such remains the case in the New Testament. Under the new covenant, anyone can be part of the Israel of God if they submit to the Lordship of God the Son (cf. Romans 2:25-29, Galatians 6:15-16). What is the enemy that provides a spiritual threat to the people of God today, the enemy tempting people away from serving God and toward serving idols? What is the enemy that threatens the eternal welfare of every person? Satan, sin, and death (Romans 5:12-18, 1 Peter 5:8)! And what has God done regarding Satan, sin, and death? Through Jesus Christ He gained the victory over all of them, and on the last day, Satan, sin, and death will be devoted to destruction (Romans 8:1-8, 1 Corinthians 15:23-28, Revelation 20:10-15)! The conditions and situations are more parallel and consistent than we would perhaps like to admit!

The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. God the Son, in fact, can be seen as acting in both (1 Corinthians 10:1-6, Jude 1:5)! In both the Old and New Testaments, God has loved and displayed great mercy toward His people, desiring that they would follow Him while opposing all enemies that would lead them astray. Under both covenants God devoted under the ban all those enemies who threatened the welfare and prosperity of His people. The way that God worked in the Old Testament may offend modern sensibilities, but modern people desperately need the love of God and salvation in Him, and modern people should be as resolutely opposed to Satan, sin, and death as Israel was to be resolutely opposed to Canaan and Amalek. Even though it remains a difficulty, let us appreciate that the essential nature of God does not change, and be thankful that we all can share in His love and be delivered through Him from our enemies!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Tenth Commandment

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s (Exodus 20:17).

God had now come to the tenth and concluding commandment. Matters regarding man’s relationship with God had been thoroughly covered– Israel was to have no other god before God, they were not to make an image of anything to bow down to it and serve it, they were not to take the name of the LORD their God in vain, and they were to honor the Sabbath and rest upon it (Exodus 20:3-11). The Israelites’ relationship with one another was also established: they were to honor their parents, and they were not to kill, commit adultery, steal, or bear false witness (Exodus 20:12-16). As the list concludes, God comes to a much more fundamental challenge, one that all too often leads to the other problems already addressed: covetousness, the desire of the human heart (Exodus 20:17).

The desire to have something that belongs to another is one of the most primal desires of humanity and one of the hardest to control. We might already have spouses, houses, employees, or other possessions. It is easy, however, to think that the “grass is greener on the other side.” Our neighbor’s spouse may seem more alluring, their house nicer, their stuff of better quality. Whatever the justification or the reason may be, the result is the same– it is easy to want it, and to do things in order to get it.

Covetousness is one of the main impulses that lead to other sins. David had many wives, but coveted Bathsheba– and ultimately committed adultery and murder in the process (2 Samuel 11:1-27). Despite being king of Israel, and having much property, Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard, and his desire led to false witness and murder (1 Kings 21:1-16). By falling prey to covetousness, these men fell prey to violations of two other commandments. They also prove just how irrational covetousness can be– it is not as if David had no other women around, or that Ahab had no other property to enjoy. Even though they already had plenty, they wanted more– things that did not belong to them but still looked nice. And, in the heat of covetousness, acted very poorly.

But if covetousness is what leads to other sin, why does God wait to mention it until the end? Perhaps it is because how private covetousness is. Dishonoring parents tends to be a public matter. Murder, adultery, theft, and false witness leave victims in their wake. These are all sins done “outside the body.” While covetousness often does lead to the committing of other sins (cf. also James 1:13-15), it does not necessarily produce any physical symptoms. One can covet without any other person knowing it.

The tenth commandment, therefore, presents quite a difficult challenge, one that Jesus will discuss in greater length in Matthew 5:17-48. Righteousness cannot merely limit and direct one’s outward conduct, although that is included. It cannot be enough to just not violate one’s neighbor, his property, or his reputation publicly. In order to be truly righteous one must control the very thoughts, impulses, and attitudes that might lead to such conduct. God tells Israel in the Ten Commandments that it is not enough to just not steal or not to commit adultery– one must not even nurse the covetous desire that leads to theft and adultery. Jesus will later expand on that premise– it is not enough to avoid murdering your brother, you must not even hate him or despise him in your heart (Matthew 5:21-26). Looking upon any woman with lustful intent is committing adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-30). Not harming your neighbor is good; loving him as yourself, blessing him and praying for him even if that love is not reciprocated, is better (Matthew 5:43-48)!

Moses will later declare to Israel that they were to “love the LORD [their] God with all [their] heart, and with all [their] soul, and with all [their] might” (Deuteronomy 6:5), a message affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-38 as the “great and first” commandment. Such complete love cannot exist only on the surface– therefore, Israel’s concern could not just involve their surface conduct. Such complete love demands complete reformation of the whole man– not just outward conduct, but also mind, body, and soul. God hints at this for Israel with the tenth commandment, showing that sinful desire is as bad as sinful action, since it is a precursor to sinful action. We should not allow this message to be lost upon us as we seek to serve the Lord Jesus, following in His footsteps, understanding that God is as concerned about how we think and how we control our desires as much as He is concerned about how we conduct ourselves outwardly. Let us not even covet so that we may not break God’s commands!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Ninth Commandment

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor (Exodus 20:16).

It is something we have all done as children– “passing the buck.”

We have done something, and the parental authorities have learned about it. When we are confronted about it, we try to find someone else to blame.

If we have siblings, the brother or sister did it.

If we do not have siblings, but have pets, then the pet did it.

If we do not have siblings or pets, then no one did it. It must have happened on its own!

Thus begins a challenge that humans will face their entire lives– the dilemma regarding whether we will speak the truth when confronted with difficult circumstances. Will we stand up and say what is right, or will we say a lie in order to shift blame or to gain some other advantage? Will we speak what is really truth, or will we seek to distort truth for our own purposes?

This challenge is not new, and it was one that was going to beset Israel. Therefore, when it came to interpersonal relationships, God dictated the ninth commandment to Israel: you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

God is not really worried about those circumstances under which telling the truth is to your advantage, or in circumstances under which telling the truth is to the advantage of both you and your neighbor. At those times most everyone will tell the truth. But what happens if the truth is to your neighbor’s advantage but not your own?

We can think of a lot of circumstances where that might be the case. Perhaps it is a situation akin to Ahab and Naboth, where Ahab was able to gain Naboth’s vineyard because people were induced to testify falsely against Naboth (cf. 1 Kings 21:1-16). Or perhaps, like Potiphar’s wife with Joseph, you have been caught in a compromising position, and it was easier to blame the other person than confess the truth (cf. Genesis 39:6-20). We could think of many other circumstances.

All such examples and circumstances have a similar theme: it seems more “cost-effective” to lie or stretch the truth than to actually tell the truth, and therefore, even though it may cause great harm to our neighbor, we tell the lie in order to gain or keep our advantage. In such circumstances we are guilty of bearing false witness against our neighbor.

“Bearing false witness” sounds like legal terminology, and the commandment certainly applies to that type of setting. Nevertheless, there is more to the commandment than just what happens in the legal system. We testify about others far more in the “courts” of our family, friend group, work, school, and church than we ever do in a court of law. The commandment continues to apply!

When it comes to our neighbor, Israel was to tell the truth– and so are we (Ephesians 4:25)! In order to do so we must put away slander, malicious talk, lying, distortions, and all such things (cf. Ephesians 4:31-32). We are to tell the truth to our fellow man and about our fellow man, even if it means that we must take the blame for our own failures and even if it works to our disadvantage.

The command to not bear false witness is rightly understood in terms of the command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18, Romans 13:8-9). As Paul says, love does no wrong to a neighbor, and lies and slander certainly accomplish wrong and evil! Furthermore, we can truly understand why it is so important to not bear false witness when we consider that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

When you were a child, were you ever blamed for doing something that you really did not do? Did you have a situation when your brother, sister, friend, or enemy bore false witness against you and you had to suffer the consequences? I am sure that such felt quite wrong, unfair, and inappropriate. And, indeed, it was wrong, unfair, and inappropriate!

If we understood as children that it felt wrong to be blamed for something we did not do, then we can understand as adults that just as we are wronged, hurt, and suffer pain when others bear false witness against us, thus we do to others if we are doing the same. Would we want others bearing false witness against us? Of course not! Therefore, why would we do that to others? Bearing false witness is entirely contrary to God’s purposes by which we are to show love, mercy, and compassion toward one another (Romans 13:8-9, Ephesians 4:31-32)!

A word should be added about distortion of the truth. We live in a time when many people are more than willing to promote a particular way of looking at things in order to gain some advantage, be it political, economic, or otherwise. When this happens, the truth is distorted, altered and adapted in order to fit the narrative that is being peddled.

Distorting truth is no better than lying; to intentionally distort the facts, or to promote material that distorts the truth, is a way of bearing false witness, particularly when it is done in order to lead to disadvantages to a particular person or group of people. While it may be true that we are entitled to our own opinions, we are not entitled to our own version of truth. We are to speak truth even when the truth may not fit the way we want to see things. We are to speak truth even if it is not to the advantage of our particular political or economic philosophies. And, above all, we must always speak truth when we speak about God in Christ, never distorting the pure Gospel message in order to obtain some worldly advantage (Galatians 1:6-9, 1 Timothy 6:3-10)! Woe to us if we are found to have borne false witness against God Most High!

It is a lesson we are taught from a young age, and while it might seem to be optional in many aspects of life, it should not be: we must always tell the truth, even if it gets us into trouble. Lying, shifting blame, or distorting the truth so that we may gain advantage and cause others to be disadvantaged is entirely contrary to the character of God– He, after all, suffered great disadvantage for our benefit by giving of His Son for our reconciliation (Romans 5:6-11). Therefore, let us rather be wronged than to wrong, and to seek to speak truth to one another, about one another, and concerning all men!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Jealous God

Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them, for I, the LORD thy God, am a jealous God…(Exodus 20:5ab).

God is not just providing commands for Israel on Mount Sinai– He also gives reasons as to why the commands exist. But the reason behind the second command may seem rather baffling. The Israelites are not to make an image of any thing in all the creation to bow down and serve it because YHWH is a jealous God. A similar declaration is made in Exodus 34:14 in a similar context– the reason that Israel is to not make a covenant with the inhabitants of Canaan is because they are all to be destroyed, lest they intermarry and begin serving other gods.

This statement, then, is clearly not an aberration. But what does it mean? How should we understand the idea that God is a jealous God?

Many people place the most negative spin imaginable on the idea. They make God out to be a very insecure and domineering deity, unable to stand the idea that Israel would shower another with affection because it would significantly dampen His self-image. In this view, all of the negative aspects of jealousy are highlighted. Such a view is a direct descendant of the Gnostic view of the God of the Old Testament– they imagined that “Yaldabaoth,” the “Creator God” of the Old Testament, was a minor deity, unaware of the existence of greater deities beyond him, who acted like a tyrannical despot, from whom the Logos came to set men free. Little wonder, then, that many who seek to challenge and question the faith turn to a passage like this and demand answers as to how God can be righteous and just while being jealous.

But there is no real need for us to imagine God as jealous in such a negative way. After all, in the very next verse, YHWH declares how He will show lovingkindness to those who love Him (Exodus 20:6). God loves Israel– that is why He led them out with a mighty hand from the bondage of Egypt (cf. Exodus 20:2). And, as Paul will later declare, love does not seek its own and is not provoked (1 Corinthians 13:5). Thus, perhaps God’s jealousy has less to do with God Himself and more to do with His desires for His people Israel.

Illustrations can be instructive. One of the prevailing images used in the Old Testament to describe the relationship between God and Israel is that of marriage (e.g. Hosea 1-3). Correspondingly, bowing down to other “gods” and serving them is described with the image of adultery (Jeremiah 3:1-3).

Therefore, an element of God’s jealousy for Israel does likely involve a desire on the part of the Husband to be the sole Beloved in the sight of the wife. But this jealousy is based more in a desire for the benefit of Israel than for the benefit of God.

Paul will later describe in Romans 1:18-32 the descent of man that begins with making gods out of the creation as opposed to serving the Creator. It is not a pretty picture, and it was graphically illustrated in the case of Israel in Ezekiel 16. Idolatry leads to sexual perversion, perversion among other human relationships, and the general degradation of society. Hosea 4:1-3 paints a dismal picture of Israel’s condition. And it all started because Israel did not respect the first and second commandments. It all went downhill from there.

In the New Testament, the prevailing image describing the relationship between God and Christians is that of Father and child (cf. Luke 15:11-32, Romans 8:14-17, etc.). There is also an natural jealousy in that relationship, and everyone who has ever been a parent can understand it. Good parents always want what is truly best for their child, and they earnestly desire that their children follow in that path. If that is the case with earthly parents, how much more so is that the case with our heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:5-11)? Is this desire not a form of jealousy? As it is written,

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:5 ESV)

To what end is this jealousy? Our betterment. God is jealous for us not because He is some insecure, megalomaniacal God, but because He wants what is truly best for us. Just as earthly parents beam with joy when their children follow in the good paths in which they directed them, so God rejoices when His children follow in the good path in which He has directed them (cf. 1 John 2:3-6). Likewise, just as earthly parents mourn when their children prove rebellious to their own hurt, God mourns when people rebel against Him to their own hurt and disadvantage, both in this life and in the next (Romans 1:18-32, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

The same temptations exist then as now to divinize that which is less than God and to descend from there. Evidence of this is pervasive in our society, and tragically, even in our own lives. This is why God is a jealous God– He is jealous for us and for our betterment, so that we can have that which is truly life, both in this life and in the life to come. We must humbly understand that God loves us and seeks our own good even when we do not understand or prove to be rebellious. We should be thankful that God is jealous, earnestly desiring us to lead us in the good path that leads to life. Let us follow that path, serve God, and experience true life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Healed by His Wounds

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

Ever since Isaiah 53 was composed it has been a compelling passage. It had special meaning for its author and then for his original audience. It would be the passage which the eunuch was reading and considering in Acts 8:31-34. All sorts of interpretations have been made ever since.

It is likely that, at least in part, Isaiah has a suffering figure in mind in the latter days of the Babylonian exile. God is redeeming Israel again and will again bring her back to the land He promised them– but a particular suffering one will not make it.

Nevertheless, it is a stretch to argue that Isaiah really and completely has himself or some individual of the 6th century BCE in mind. Atonement requires an unblemished offering (e.g. Leviticus 1:3), and neither Isaiah nor someone two hundred years later were unblemished. Sure, they may have suffered because of sin, but they had their own sins against them, too. They could not really accomplish atonement by themselves.

Yet there was a Man concerning whom it was attested that He was tempted but did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). A Man who learned obedience through suffering, who was able to accomplish the atonement of which the Temple system and the previous servant were but a type (cf. Hebrews 7:23-28, 9:1-15, 10:1-14). This Man was Jesus of Nazareth, of whom Peter testifies:

Who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree, that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed (1 Peter 2:24).

Peter explicitly identifies Jesus of Nazareth with the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53. It was by the stripes upon Jesus– His scourging– that we are healed (Isaiah 53:5, 1 Peter 2:24; cf. Matthew 27:26).

When we think about it for a moment, we can perceive that Isaiah 53:5 really sets up a series of absurd statements. He was wounded for our transgressions? The chastisement of our peace was upon Him? We receive healing through His wounding? This does not really make any human sense whatsoever. Wounds injure and cause pain– they do not heal. Peace and chastisement are poles apart. If someone else gets abused because of our misdeeds, we otherwise would call that injustice and oppression, since if anyone deserves abuse for misdeeds, it is those who commit those misdeeds!

Yet this absurdity is precisely the point, for it gets us to the ultimate absurdity: in order to demonstrate God’s love, Jesus had to suffer great pain (Romans 5:6-11).

This concept poses a challenge to some people. What kind of God is this who shows His love by causing someone to suffer? It sounds disconcerting, to say the least!

In other contexts, however, this same impulse is extremely praiseworthy. How many stories have we read, or movies have we seen, that feature some character willing to suffer in order to protect or defend a loved one? Do we not consider it praiseworthy when someone is willing to give up a kidney or bone marrow or some other part of their body to another so that the latter can continue to live? Another compelling story in the Scriptures is found in Genesis 44: Judah, who had previously proved willing to sell Joseph into slavery, is now willing to stand as surety for Benjamin his brother, to suffer the penalty of the latter for the sake of their father.

If we can appreciate all of these examples as expressions of human love for one another, how much more should we appreciate God’s ultimate demonstration of love as expressed through Jesus of Nazareth? God did not want us to have to pay the true penalty for sin– eternal separation from Him and torment (cf. Romans 6:23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). There is nothing that we humans could ever do in order to redeem ourselves or pay for our sins since we have all sinned, and no law could ever make us righteous once we have broken it (cf. Romans 3:9-20). If redemption were to be accomplished, it would have to be done by God Himself.

Therefore, the Word, the Son of God and God the Son, was willing to humble Himself, taking on the form of Jesus of Nazareth, to learn obedience through His suffering, to pay the penalty for us. He endured the beatings and crucifixion so that we did not have to endure eternal torture for our sin. He suffered chastisement in order to fulfill the demands of the law to set it aside, to kill hostility between people, and make peace between God and man and man with one another (cf. Ephesians 2:11-18). His wounds allow us to be cleansed from sin and to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-7).

The powerful and compelling message of Isaiah 53:5 is only matched by its fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth. We can only imagine the terrible suffering that He endured on that final day so long ago. Yet we can– and must– at times bring it to mind. We must consider how the whip abused His back, how the thorns pressed deeply into His scalp, and how the nails tore through His wrists and ankles. And, all the while, we must remember that it was accomplished for us. It was by every one of those wounds that we are healed.

A humbling expression of love– and such is its intent. Let us reflect on Christ’s suffering and live for Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Profit of the Many

Give no occasions of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God: even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:32-33).

To say that we live in a self-aggrandizing world would be an understatement. It certainly seems as if most people are out for “#1,” and “#1” is not God or family. According to worldly standards, we must work toward our own best interest, advancing our own agenda, because if we do not stick up for ourselves or try to get a bigger piece of the pie, then others will come in and take what could be ours. Television is now dominated by oversized personalities, and while they may have certain ideologies or causes, much of what they are attempting to do boils down to self-promotion. The more coverage– positive or negative– the greater the “media personality,” and the greater the benefit.

The world of first century Corinth was probably not much less based upon self-aggrandizement, and therefore Paul’s message to the Corinthians must have sounded as shocking and radical then as it does now. Paul does not call believers to self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, or even concern for one’s own agenda. Instead, Paul calls believers to not cause offense or stumbling to others. They are to be like he is, not seeking his own profit, but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. Our goal should not be to please ourselves, but to please others.

In context, Paul addresses how the believers in Corinth should handle a situation in which they have been informed by a well-meaning pagan that the food they are eating together was sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 10:14-33). Had the pagan said nothing, there would have been no difficulty– everything belongs to God, idols have no real substantive existence, and food is food (1 Corinthians 10:27). But if he does inform the believer that it is meat sacrificed to an idol, then the believer ought to abstain from eating, not because he would violate his own conscience, but on account of the conscience of the pagan (1 Corinthians 10:28-29). The believer should not be giving the impression that he is honoring any form of pagan idolatry!

But Paul knows that he is walking on a razor thin wire. Jews consider meat sacrificed to an idol abhorrent, no matter the circumstance; Greeks eat it without any concern whatsoever. The church of God at that time is made up of both groups, and 1 Corinthians 8 has already established how the matter of eating meat sacrificed to idols has been contentious there! Therefore, Paul feels compelled to lay down these principles. Yes, his liberty should not be determined by another’s conscience (1 Corinthians 10:29). Since God has not condemned, in truth, Paul should not be denounced for eating meat sacrificed to an idol if he partook with thankfulness (1 Corinthians 10:30). Nevertheless, in all that believers do– eating and drinking, or whatever– all should be done for God’s glory and honor (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is why believers are to act without offense to any, seeking to please everyone in what is done, seeking the profit of many (1 Corinthians 10:32-33).

A word must be given about the idea of “pleasing everyone.” Paul is not saying that we should sin against our own consciences or against God in an attempt to please others; this is not a call for compromising God’s standards at all (cf. Romans 14:23, Galatians 5:17-24, etc.). Instead, Paul is advocating a conciliatory approach toward other people, seeking, whenever possible, the path of least resistance and greatest acceptance, while remaining within the law of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:21).

In short, we should not be seeking to be ornery or difficult. We must not be obnoxiously asserting our liberties and “rights.” Instead, we must give thought to do whatever we can do seek the spiritual welfare of the many, and not ourselves. As Paul told the Philippians in Philippians 2:3-4, believers should count others more significant than themselves in humility, seeking not only his own good but also that of his neighbor. As Christians, our goal should be the same goal as God’s– that all men may come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). As Christ’s representatives, we reflect upon Him, for good or ill (Matthew 5:13-16). Therefore, we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that all we need to worry about is ourselves and our own salvation. We are expressly charged to seek the profit of as many others as we possibly can.

This seems like a pretty restrictive fence– we must not provide occasions of stumbling for the Jews, the Greeks, or the church. We can understand this today in terms of those who tend to at least look like they are self-righteous and sanctimonious in their knowledge of right and wrong, those who are of the world and who think as the world, and those who are of God. It is very easy to start pointing fingers at any of these groups: the sanctimonious are easy targets because of their hypocrisy, the unbelievers are easy to frown upon because of their ungodliness and immorality, and it is easy to bear down upon God’s people because of our love and our desire for us all to better reflect Christ. Yet, in the end, we must not do so. We must seek the profit of the sanctimonious, the unbeliever, and the fellow believer, and to do so at the same time!

This is quite counter-intuitive and counter-cultural; it always has been, and as long as the earth continues to exist it most likely will be. America’s myths of self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and the icon of the “self made man” do not make this any easier. Ultimately, however, our goals must not be the same as those of the world around us. Many will not understand why we would live thus, but we do it to please the God who redeemed us. We must remember, at all times, that Jesus came not to please Himself but to please others, that He did not seek His own profit, but the profit of us all, and that while His cross is reckoned as a stumbling-block, it is only thus for those who refuse to believe– in truth, the cross kills the hostility and allows the Jew and the Greek to be one in the church of God (cf. Matthew 20:28, Romans 15:2-3, 1 Peter 2:1-8, Ephesians 2:11-18).

It is hard work to please others and not ourselves. It is challenging to not provide occasions of stumbling. But let us remember that as God loved us and gave His Son for us when we were alienated and unlovable, so we must love our fellow man, even if he seems unlovable (Romans 5:6-11). Let us not seek our own interest, but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Helping the Defiled

And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, who had spent all her living upon physicians, and could not be healed of any, came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately the issue of her blood stanched.
And Jesus said, “Who is it that touched me?”
And when all denied, Peter said, and they that were with him, “Master, the multitudes press thee and crush thee.”
But Jesus said, “Some one did touch me; for I perceived that power had gone forth from me.”
And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people for what cause she touched him, and how she was healed immediately.
And he said unto her, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace” (Luke 8:43-48).

Here we have a unique example of a story in a story– a healing taking place as Jesus is going forth to heal another (the daughter of Jairus; Luke 8:41-42, 49-56). It is a story of a woman desperate for healing– a circumstance that is no less touching today. It also strongly features the power of God that proceeds for those who have faith– even without a direct verbal appeal the woman was healed on account of the power in the Son of God and her faith in Him. Surely the power of God is to be praised from this story.

And yet there is another theme that is within this story, even if it is not explicitly addressed. Consider what the Law has to say about a woman in this condition:

And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days not in the time of her impurity, or if she have an issue beyond the time of her impurity; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness she shall be as in the days of her impurity: she is unclean. Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her impurity: and everything whereon she sitteth shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her impurity. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even (Leviticus 15:25-27).

This woman is ritually unclean and has been ritually unclean for twelve years. Anyone who comes into contact with her or with anything that she has touched contracts the ritual defilement. By necessity, when she touches Jesus, she passes on the ritual defilement.

We must remember that it is not inherently sinful to become ritually defiled– after all, ritual defilement also comes on account of the natural menstrual cycle (Leviticus 15:19-24), touching the dead (Numbers 19:11-16), and for many other reasons. Nevertheless, ritual defilement was a big deal to many people, especially those involved with the Temple service. This woman would have experienced tragic discrimination because of her illness since many would be afraid of contracting ritual defilement.

It may be for this reason that the woman is reluctant to come forward and speak clearly regarding what she has done. She is certainly afraid of receiving a rebuke or chastisement for her conduct. But Jesus is not like the religious leaders of His day. He recognizes that defilement is a matter of the heart and conduct, not a matter of foods and illness (cf. Mark 7:14-23). He is willing to bear the ritual defilement so that the woman can be cleansed. He just wanted her to declare to all around what God had done for her so that He would receive the praise and glory.

The lesson of Jesus here is critical even to this day. While people today do not put stock into ritual cleanliness or uncleanliness there still remains the feeling that certain people in our society, for various reasons, might as well be “unclean.” There are people with whom the “good, moral, upright citizens” are not expected to come into contact, and many people who are reckoned as “defiled.” It is tempting to avoid such people so that we are not “tainted” with their “defilements.”

Yet consider what Jesus did. He healed those who were ritually defiled. He was willing to eat with tax collectors and sinners (cf. Matthew 9:10-11). He did not shun those whom His society branded as “defiled” and “unclean” either for ritual or moral reasons; instead, He preached the good news to them. They, after all, knew they were sick, and needed help.

It is true that Christians must be conscious of many concerns. They must watch themselves lest they get tempted to sin and to fall (cf. Galatians 6:1-4). They must give due consideration to their example and influence and not cause others to sin by the exercise of liberty (1 Corinthians 8). But none of this gives an excuse for not loving and not showing compassion on those whom society considers “defiled” and “unclean.” Yes, people are sinners, but Christ came to save sinners and to die for the ungodly (Romans 5:5-11). Even if “we” were never “as” dirty as others, we all were defiled and ungodly before we were redeemed, and our redemption is not based in our own righteousness (Titus 3:3-8).

It is always easier to shun the “defiled” and “unclean.” Yet just as Jesus showed mercy, we should show mercy. Let us strive to love the “defiled” and the “unclean” as Jesus did, and reflect His image to the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Killing the Hostility

And might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby (Ephesians 2:16).

If there is one thing we can trust about human beings, it is that they can always find a reason to build a barrier between themselves and their fellow men. There is never a lack of potential reasons why “we” will not like “them.”

Think about it for a moment. How many times have we– and/or people we may know– have used some issue or matter as a justification for a snap judgment to keep another person at arm’s length? It might have involved features that are not anyone’s choice– race, ethnicity, culture of origin, class, or place of birth. Or maybe it was about a matter of choice– political preference, language, present geographical location, sports team affiliation, religion, and so on and so forth. In the world, if a reason can be found to dislike someone, odds are it will be found and exploited. It may very well be that the person who is so quickly judged might be a wonderful person and someone worth knowing and befriending, but alas– the wall has been built.

Jesus of Nazareth has the reputation for being a pacifist. In reality, He was more concerned with the spiritual conflict for souls than He was with the vicissitudes of political power (cf. Luke 19:10, John 18:36-37). But it is true that Jesus preached and lived the message of loving enemies and praying for persecutors (cf. Matthew 5:43-44, Luke 6:27-28, 23:34).

There are excellent reasons for this, and they are summed up in the work that Jesus accomplished on the cross. Normally, when the work of Jesus on the cross is considered, we speak of it in terms of atonement for sin, and such is true (cf. Romans 5:5-11). Yet more is going on when Jesus is on the cross than just the shedding of blood that will lead to the forgiveness of the believer.

In the first century one of the great divisions involved the distinction between Jew and Gentile. The Jews believed that they were God’s uniquely chosen people, and therefore despised all others who did not share in that benefit (cf. Acts 10-11). Most of the Gentiles considered the Jews to be rather odd and eccentric with all of their idiosyncrasies. Jews, therefore, did not like Gentiles, and Gentiles really did not like Jews, either.

When Jesus is on the cross, He breaks down that barrier between Jew and Gentile by fulfilling and setting aside the Law of Moses (Ephesians 2:14-16). By fulfilling and setting aside that which led to the barrier, He was able to reconcile both groups to God and to make peace. Jesus was able, through the cross, to kill the most insipid problem among men.

Jesus, the meek and gentle, the Author of Life, killed? Paul reveals that He did kill something– the enmity, or hostility, that exists among different people.

It is a startling execution, and it is ironically accomplished as He is Himself being killed. His killing allows Him to kill the one impulse that leads to that wall building.

This is very significant. The reason behind all that wall building is that we– and/or others– are trying to find ways to keep others out, however consciously or unconsciously we do so. But Jesus is trying to find ways to bring people together. He was able, through the cross, to annihilate one of the strongest prejudices that existed in the first century. And even to this day the cross has the power to annihilate all sorts of divisions that exist among mankind.

Race? Class? Ethnicity? Language? We are to all be one in Jesus Christ, no matter how different we are in these regards (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). Politics? Sports team affiliation? Geography? All mere trifles in eternity’s view, and it is to our eternal shame if we allow any of these things to meaningfully divide us from our fellow man!

The cross is not to be a symbol of division or wall-building, but a symbol of reconciliation. It is the means by which a man is reconciled to his God (Romans 5:5-11). It is also the means by which men are reconciled to one another (Ephesians 2:14-19). It is where hostility and enmity are killed– enmity between God and man and enmity between man and man. When enmity and hostility are killed, peace can prevail.

There will always be justifications for division, but such things are not from the Father, but are of the world (cf. Galatians 5:19-21, 1 John 2:15-17). It is the way of Jesus to be reconciled to God and to one another through the cross and humble obedience to God. Let us tear down the walls we build against other people, seek ways of loving them and showing them compassion, reflect Christ, and serve Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Beam and the Mote

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how canst thou say to thy brother, ‘Brother, let me cast out the mote that is in thine eye,’ when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye” (Luke 6:41-42).

For those who do not think that Jesus has a sense of humor, we provide exhibit A: beams and motes, or, as in other versions, logs and specks. A man with a log/beam in his eye, trying to take a speck/mote out of the eye of his brother. That is a very funny picture indeed!

But why does Jesus present this image? It is not just to get a quick laugh– it is a very pointed example. We all can see how ridiculous it is for a man with a big stick of wood in his eye to try to take a small speck out of his brother’s eye– but are we willing to see how ridiculous we often look on the basis of the meaning of this picture?

The context is a guide to meaning. The declaration to “judge not” is made in Luke 6:37-38, and the image of the blind leading the blind and how they will fall into a pit follows (Luke 6:39). After the image, Jesus speaks of how trees are known for their fruit, the good and the bad, and how good people bring forth good and evil people bring forth evil (Luke 6:43-45).

Beams and motes, therefore, have to do with judgment and goodness or evil. We are all a lot better at discovering the sins and deficiencies of others than we are of our own. That does not mean that we do not have deficiencies– far from it (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8)! It is just a lot more difficult to come to grips with that uncomfortable truth. It is always easier to see ourselves as better than we really are– either by conveniently “forgetting” how they look, like the “natural man” of James 1:22-25, or focusing on their intentions and aspirations and not their actual conduct. That is why people walk around with beams in their eyes– and they are generally blissfully attempting to forget about it.

The mote in our brother’s eye represents his sin or deficiency in a given situation. There is a difficulty there– Jesus does not deny this. The mote needs to be removed (Galatians 6:1)!

This can be done in one of two ways. Most people keep the beam in their own eye and attempt to remove the mote in their brother’s eye. You can imagine how well that goes! The brother tends to be offended and the one with the beam does not understand why they are so unwilling to come to grips with their sin! The whole time the brother just sees the big old beam in the eye– the unrepentant hypocrisy– and they are easily turned off or turned away.

But Jesus intends for people to follow a different path. We all have those beams, and we all, when appropriate, need to help our brethren with their motes. But we need to first take the beam out of our own eye– recognize our deficiencies, prove our own work, remain humble servants of the Lord– and then we can look more carefully to help our brother with his difficulties. When he realizes that we do not feel that we are better than him, that we are fellow servants of God trying to obtain the Kingdom, and are willing to admit when we are wrong, our attempt to assist him will go much better.

The action itself– removing the mote– is not different. The difference is within us– we either are willing to recognize our failings or we are not. When we refuse to recognize our failures, we deceive ourselves, and it is easier for us to treat other people contemptuously. That is precisely why we must recognize our failures, even though it is very uncomfortable– it forces us into humility, perceiving that we are really no better than anyone else, and that will allow us to show compassion and mercy to others– which is exactly the point!

It is a silly picture– someone with a log in their eye trying to take the speck out of his brother’s eye. And yet how many of us try to do the same by pointing out the failures of others while attempting to cover up or hide our own? Let us not look foolish– instead, let us recognize our failings, maintain humility, and help others in love and with compassion– and show good fruit!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Golden Rule

“And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31).

Pretty much everyone is able to identify the “Golden Rule,” either positively understood (do to others as you would like them to do for you) or negatively so (don’t do to others whatever things you wouldn’t like done to you). It is taught to children in school and few are the people who would disagree with the concept. Nevertheless, even though it is perhaps one of the best known teachings of Jesus, it is one of the least followed guidelines.

Jesus framed the rule in a most easily understood way. We all know how we would like to be treated; after all, as Paul says, no one ever hated his own body (cf. Ephesians 5:29). No one wants to feel the pain and sorrow that comes from the suffering of sin. Everyone wants to feel loved. We all appreciate it when others are nice to us and show us mercy, compassion, peace, patience, kindness, and the like (cf. Galatians 5:22-24). Jesus’ exhortation, at least on that level, is simple: treat others like you want to be treated.

Yet, on the other hand, the principle is very counter-intuitive. As humans, We tend to think about ourselves and what benefits us. We look at the world through our perspective according to our wants and desires. It is natural for us to seek first our own advantage and then, if possible, the advantage of others. To consider the perspective or advantage of others before our own is most challenging, for we fear that we may be defrauded or lose advantage gained for ourselves. We worry that if we are too busy satisfying everyone else’s needs, we will be in want. We fear that considering the perspectives of others may make us wrong or less valuable or important.

Therefore, we have two options. One option, popular in the world, is to have everyone fend for him or herself. Everyone looks out for “#1.” In this option, we do not concern ourselves with the perspectives or desires of others so that we can satisfy our own desires and believe ourselves right. Many people follow this option, but there’s a big gaping hole involved. If we follow this option to the utmost, we recognize that we have completely isolated ourselves from other people. We cannot honor our fellow human beings as such because we are only interested in using them for our advantage. Meanwhile, we feel devalued and cheapened as others do the same to us. If we all just look out for our own interests we find that none of us are really satisfied.

And thus we ought to take the second option– to swallow our fears, trust in the Lord, and seek the best interest of others (Philippians 2:1-4). That’s what the “Golden Rule” is about. It is about thinking not just about oneself but also about others. That means that we consider what is best for the fellow drivers on the road, or our classmates or work associates, or our fellow Christians, or our spouses, parents, and children. It means that we consider their perspective as well as ours, to the best of our ability, and try to understand their point of view. It means not being entirely subsumed in oneself that one becomes unfeeling or unconcerned about the plight of others.

Consider our fate had God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated as much concern for us as we tend to show toward our fellow man. If They were only worried about Themselves and Their needs, would Jesus have lived and died to teach us God’s ways and to reconcile us to Him (John 1:1-14, Romans 5:5-11)? Or would They have just decided that we would be left on our own to live miserable lives only to die and be consigned to permanent hellfire (Ecclesiastes 1:1, Romans 3:23)? What a tragedy that would be!

Thanks be to God– this is not the case! Instead, Jesus was willing to love those who hated Him and to die for them, and instructed us to do the same (Luke 6:27-28). He sacrificed all things for others, seeking always their best interest and not His own– and thus He has commanded us (Matthew 20:25-28, 1 Peter 1:19-25). That’s what is required to treat others as we want to be treated!

In a world full of selfishness, glorifying the self and each person’s individual belief, it is hard to constantly remember to treat others as we want to be treated– to be loved, to be understood, to be given the benefit of the doubt, to be forgiven. Yet our salvation is entirely dependent on the fact that Jesus what was necessary for us to obtain all of those things. Let us then follow after our Lord and put the Golden Rule to practice in our own lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry