Black Friday

And he said unto them, “Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15).

“Black Friday” has come upon us again– the Friday after Thanksgiving, when many people get up very early and shop. Retailers like “black” Friday– if sales are high, they make good profits and get back in the “black”– hence the name. Many are scouring the advertisements and are trying to get the best deals for gifts for themselves or for others.

Unfortunately, “Black Friday” has recently become synonymous with chaos, disorder, and mayhem. Some people have been injured or even killed in stampedes when stores open their doors. All manner of ungodly, selfish behavior takes place in those stores when a mass of people all go toward the same items. How tragic is it that gift shopping is so often turned into something so ugly and self-serving!

There is certainly nothing wrong with going out and shopping on “Black Friday,” or investigating the various sales and finding the best deals. Nevertheless, we must remember that if we are believers in Jesus Christ, we must serve Him at all times, and reflect His love at every opportunity– including on Black Friday (cf. Romans 8:29, 1 John 2:6, Luke 6:31).

As Jesus says, our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions. We must make sure that we do not get greedy or covetous on Black Friday or at any time, and elevate the desire to obtain products at low prices over our commitment to Christ. If we do not get the best deal, our lives will go on. If that perfect gift cannot be found, we should still be thankful that we have loved ones for whom we can give gifts. If we participate in “Black Friday” or other shopping days and act as ungodly and covetous as those in the world do, we have failed our Lord and have lost much, much more than we could ever gain through those inexpensive gifts!

But if we show love, kindness, compassion, and mercy, even on Black Friday, we might brighten someone else’s day. We can certainly let our light shine brightly during the Christmas shopping season, enjoy a better time ourselves, and be a force for good in the midst of this often selfish and greedy world. Let us serve the Risen Lord at all times!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Giving Thanks

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you-ward (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We are soon approaching the time when our country observes Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was intended to be a time to reflect and give thanks for all the wonderful blessings we share. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many, it has just turned into an opportunity to eat one or more over-sized meals.

Bible believers recognize that God has never set aside one day for us to give thanks– He intends for believers to be people constantly marked by thankfulness. As Paul indicates, God’s will for us in Christ is to give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18)!

Giving thanks is a humbling experience, for it teaches us how indebted we are to God. If it were not for God’s blessings toward us, we would not have the heavens or the earth (Genesis 1:1-2:4), the opportunity to have association with God through Christ (Romans 5:1-11), the love and comfort of our spiritual family (1 Corinthians 12:12-28), or the hope of eternity beyond this life (John 3:16). If it were not for God, we would not exist (Acts 17:28); without Christ, we would be hopeless, lost entirely in sin, and waiting for condemnation (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:11-12)!

Therefore, when we give thanks, it is hard to be proud or to believe that we are “self-made” people. When we give thanks, we learn again how we are weak and God is strong and how we need to trust Him and lean on Him, and not trust in ourselves (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:9, 12:9-10)!

Giving thanks should also be an encouraging and uplifting experience that should assist us in keeping a proper perspective. It is easy to get discouraged and distressed in our lives, and it is easy to fall into the trap of letting our discouragement distort our perspective in life. But when we give thanks, we are forced to no longer focus on what is going wrong and what we do not have but instead to focus on all the things that God has done for us in this creation and through Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:3). When we consider the great cost of our salvation which God freely paid, it is much easier to trust that God will also be faithful and helpful in the comparatively minor challenges we experience in life (cf. Romans 8:32). When we consider all that God has promised and accomplished, and see what God is doing, we can look with hopeful eyes toward that which God has promised for our future (cf. Romans 8:18). When we stop and realize all of these wonderful things that God has done, is doing, and will do, the “light momentary affliction” we are experiencing will be put into its proper perspective (2 Corinthians 4:17)! When we truly recognize how God loves us, how can we but rejoice in the Lord always (cf. Philippians 4:4)?

It is good and right for us to give thanks during this holiday season– and after this holiday season, and at every opportunity. It is good for us to give thanks lest we begin to take God’s current blessings for granted and succumb to the travails and distress of life. Let us always give thanks for the wonderful blessings of God and strive toward the goal of eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Weightier Matters

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye tithe mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith: but these ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone” (Matthew 23:23).

Human beings have a tendency to maintain a narrow focus on various matters in life. It is easy for people to allow a select few criteria be their guide in the world: they decide to see everything through a certain set of lenses.

The Pharisees and scribes were not much different. The New Testament reveals that they were quite focused on preserving the Law of Moses and the traditions developed around that Law down to the last detail. Their hyper-vigilance about the Law led them to overemphasize the more “minor” actions while neglecting the more “significant” ones. By focusing on the “minor” actions and accomplishing them perfectly, they felt a sense of pride and accomplishment that led to a false sense of security and satisfaction, as if being vigilant in doing nothing on the Sabbath, washing of hands, and tithing down to the level of spices would be sufficient to obtain God’s commendation!

Jesus condemns this myopia. Even if they are more quantifiable and “objective,” performing these minor acts of obedience are not sufficient to obtain God’s commendation. Believers must not neglect the “weightier” matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith.

The scribes and Pharisees were certainly guilty of that. The Pharisees especially considered themselves morally superior to their fellow men, as the Pharisee’s prayer in Luke 18:11-12 and the attitudes of the Pharisees in John 9 make evident. They deemed themselves “righteous” and everyone else to be “sinners,” despite the fact that they had sinned also and were certainly not maintaining God’s sense of faith, justice, or mercy. Their condemnation was just.

Nevertheless, this passage also exposes a major fault line within the thought of many religious people. Many take the idea of the “weightier matters of the law” and run with it, coming to the conclusion that since we are under “grace,” we need to get the “big things” right, and can allow the “little things” to slide. Others protest the very idea of “weightier matters,” stressing the need to do all things as God has charged us.

The truth, as usual, is somewhere more in the middle. Jesus tells us that there are some matters that are “weightier” than others. This means that some attitudes/actions have more significance than others. In the examples given, this is rather evident: justice, faith, and mercy are of greater significance than tithing spices. “Tithing spices” is of benefit to God and His Temple, while accomplishing justice, mercy, and faith is of benefit to God, His Temple, and all men. Furthermore, faith, justice, and mercy deal with every aspect of a person: his mind, his attitude, and his actions. One cannot easily have faith or show justice and mercy while internally despising God or his fellow man. While tithing should flow from a heart full of faith, one could tithe without the proper attitudes.

Therefore, there are some matters of greater significance than others. But that does not mean that we can just let matters of less significance slide and be pleasing to God. Notice that Jesus does not condemn the scribes or Pharisees for tithing the spices– in fact, He says that they should have done so! The problem was not that the scribes and Pharisees were tithing spices– the problem was that they were tithing spices while neglecting faith, justice, and mercy. It would be a gross perversion of this text to insinuate that if they had engaged in the “weightier matters” of the Law but had not tithed the spices that Jesus would have justified them. There is no basis for such a claim!

This should not be an “either/or” proposition, but a “both/and” one. The scribes and Pharisees should have accomplished both the “weightier matters of the law” and the tithing of spices. If we are serving God as we ought to serve Him, the latter flows from the former: because we are dedicated to love, humility, faith, and service, the “weightier matters” of the new covenant (cf. Romans 1:16-17, Romans 6:16-21, Romans 13:8-11, Ephesians 2:1-10, Philippians 2:1-11, Hebrews 11:1, 6, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 Peter 5:6-7), we will make sure to accomplish God’s will both in simple, quantifiable, and objective matters along with more substantive and difficult matters. We will assemble to encourage one another (1 Corinthians 14:23, Hebrews 10:25), give as we have prospered, both to the church and to those in need (1 Corinthians 16:1-3, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15, Galatians 2:10, 6:10), and other such things, while also loving our neighbor as ourselves and seeking his welfare (Romans 13:8-10, Philippians 2:1-4), and offering ourselves to God’s purposes as living and holy sacrifices (Romans 12:1), and the like.

Jesus’ message to the scribes and Pharisees represents a necessary warning against spiritual myopia, focusing on accomplishing certain elements of God’s purpose to the neglect of others. We cannot be justified in taking care of matters of detail and less significance while neglecting the weightier matters of God’s purposes; likewise, we cannot be justified in thinking that if we accomplish the weightier matters of God’s will that we can slide on the matters of less significance. If God has commanded it, there is value in accomplishing it! Let us seek to accomplish the whole will of God, and not neglect any aspect of it!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Having Favor With the People

And day by day, continuing stedfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved (Acts 2:46-47).

When Christians consider the relationship that exists between them and the people in the world around them, it is easy to focus on the difficulties they present.  Since people in the world are living according to the flesh and are therefore hostile to God, unable to fulfill His law, and unable to please God (Romans 8:6-8), many such people will persecute and revile Christians (Matthew 10:17-18, 22-23; 1 Peter 3:16), not understanding why Christians set themselves apart and do not engage in licentious debauchery (1 Peter 4:4).

There are times in our lives when we will be compelled to deal with such people, and we must prepare ourselves to reflect the love of Christ even to them (cf. 1 Peter 4:12-16).  But if we were to project these negative reactions upon all people, we would go too far.  Yes, the New Testament reveals that many Christians suffered terribly at the hands of their fellow men.  But there are many other examples of times when people respected Christians!

At the end of Acts 2 we discover that the new Christians were “having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47).  This was possible because they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ doctrines, fellowship, prayer, and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42), were together and had all things in common, selling all that they had and giving to any who had need (Acts 2:44-45), and assembling in the Temple together daily, eating in each others’ houses, receiving their food with glad and generous hearts, and praising God (Acts 2:46-47).  The people around them saw the great transformation in these Christians and were respected and appreciated for it.  Granted, it would not be long before the religious authorities would begin to persecute the Christians (cf. Acts 4-7), yet the Christians here have favor among the people.

Dorcas, or Tabitha, was full of good works and acts of charity, and when she died, all the widows mourned for their loss (cf. Acts 9:36-39).  It is also interesting to note that one of the qualifications for an overseer/elder in 1 Timothy 3:7 is that he must have “good testimony from them that are without.”  This says as much about Paul’s expectations of “outsiders” as it does about his expectation of the overseer.  Even if many people do not believe in God or obey Jesus Christ, they can respect and appreciate a man who lives by a high ethical standard, and what ethical standard is higher than the standard of Christ?  Even if they do not agree with him on religious matters, they recognize the benefit of living by conviction.

People in the world yearn to see the image of Christ reflected in Christians.  Gandhi said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ,” and quite a number of people in the world entirely agree with him.  Those who claim to follow Jesus Christ ought to strive to act like Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 John 2:6).  Those who do no such thing will not obtain the blessing, and represent a hindrance to God’s purposes (Matthew 7:21-23).

Christians can have favor with the people when they reflect Christ and show the love, mercy, and compassion of Christ while remaining His humble servants.  When people are confronted with the message of Jesus Christ spoken to them by one whom they know is living that message, they will surely be impacted by the experience.  Yes, some will turn away, convicted of their sin, and will seek to justify themselves.  But many others may want to learn more because they see that the Christian has something they do not.  But this is only possible when Christians act like Christ– if Christians think and act like the world thinks and acts, there is nothing distinctive there, and therefore the person in the world cannot find the advantage to being a Christian (cf. Matthew 5:13).

The greatest testimony to the message of Jesus is the Christian whose life reflects the love, mercy, compassion, and humility of his Master.  One of the greatest hindrances to the cause of Christ are the many who profess belief in Jesus but do not reflect that love, mercy, compassion, and/or humility.  Notice the conclusion of the matter in Acts 2:47: the early Christians, being active in their association with one another, devotion to the teaching of the Apostles, love for one another, and praise toward God, have favor with all the people, and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  It worked in the first century, and it can work today.  It is true that when Christians are like their Christ, many worldly forces stand up to resist them and persecute them.  Yet, by being like Christ, those Christians will gain favor with other people, many of whom will be receptive to the Gospel of Christ, and God will add to the number of those being saved.  All of this is contingent, however, on Christians acting like Jesus!

Let us, therefore, gain favor with those with whom we are able to gain favor through reflecting the love and humility of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus Wept

Jesus wept (John 11:35).

John 11:35 is famous for being the shortest verse in the Bible, and yet its message is profound in its depth. Jesus’ weeping demonstrates His emotion and relationship with humans.

The issue of God and “impassibility” has been one of the matters of dispute in theology for generations. Does God have emotions, and is He swayed by them? Many throughout time have argued that God is beyond emotion and is not emotionally impacted by other agents or causes in an attempt to raise God above the emotional fray.

Yet we humans are created in the image of God, and we do have emotions (Genesis 1:27). While we cannot imagine that God experiences emotions in the exact same way we do, the Bible is too full of discussions about God’s emotions for God to have none whatsoever. God was sorrowful when He saw the sin of men (Genesis 6:6). God demonstrates His love and mercy toward us through Christ (John 3:16, Ephesians 2:1-10, Titus 3:3-8). These are strong reasons to affirm that God does have emotion.

Jesus’ weeping is a powerful demonstration of the emotions of the God-man. Is Jesus weeping because Lazarus died? Is He weeping because of the grief and pain of Mary and Martha? Or is He weeping because sin and death lead to such results? John 11:33, 36 indicate that the first two are certainly legitimate reasons, and the third may also be true. But does Jesus not know that He is about to raise Lazarus from the dead, and turn grief to joy (cf. John 11:4, 9-10, 24-26, 38-44)? Of course He does. But that moment has not yet come. At this very moment, those whom Jesus love are suffering and grieving, and their suffering and grief are real and based in a real problem. Jesus proves willing to weep with those who weep.

Truly, here, Jesus the God-man sympathizes with human weakness (cf. Hebrews 4:15). His great love and compassion leads Him to share in the sufferings of His fellow man, even though He is able to overcome them. He is not so unreachable or too important or mighty to shed tears with those who are in misery.

As Jesus does consistently, He leaves us an example to follow (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 John 2:6). Many people are afraid to open up and love others because of the risk and exposure. Love, at times, does hurt. If at no other point, love hurts when we lose the one we love in death. We think that if we close ourselves off we “free” ourselves from experiencing pain.

Yet, as we see, Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, and was willing also to suffer pain with them. He was willing to take the risk and to suffer the pain in loving them, just as He suffered the ultimate pain and misery of death on the cross because of His love for all of us (cf. John 3:16). Since God is love (1 John 4:8), and we ought to be like God (Matthew 5:48), we would do well to open ourselves up to the risk of love and its consequences, just as God was willing to do so.

God is not so distant that He cannot sympathize with us throughout our difficulties. We can have confidence that God has feeling, and has demonstrated His goodwill toward us through the offering of His Son. His Son, in life and in dying, loved, and experienced the pain that can come with love. Let us love as Jesus loved, weep with those who weep, and strive to be more like God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Unity

“Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me” (John 17:20-21).

Jesus’ petition for unity among His followers as part of His “High Priestly prayer” has reverberated throughout the generations. Many who confess the name of Christ seek that unity, even though it has proven to be quite the challenge throughout time.

Normally, when people consider what Jesus is saying regarding unity, they immediately think of matters of doctrine. It is true that God desires for believers to be one in doctrine and judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10). This unity must be real and substantive unity, for the standard of the unity is the Father and the Son. As far as we are aware, the Father and Son are not one despite significant disagreements about the means of salvation, the nature of the church and its work, or regarding other such matters of doctrine! Real, significant doctrinal unity must exist for fellow believers to work together and be one as Jesus intends for them.

Yet it is important for us to recognize that the unity under discussion involves far more than doctrine. Jesus, after all, did not say, “that they all may believe the same things, as You, Father, and I believe the same things.” Instead, Jesus said, “that they may be one, even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You” (John 17:21). Doctrinal unity is certainly included in that, but just because you have a group of people who believe the same things does not mean you have a truly unified group. As those who enjoy happy and successful marriages know, unity involves much more than belief (cf. Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-5)!

How, then, are believers to be “one”? We are given the standard: just as the Father and the Son are one (John 17:20-22).

The Father and Son are one in nature and substance, and we must recognize that as fellow human beings, we are all of the same nature and substance (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). The Father and Son are one in purpose and will (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, etc.), and believers ought to have the same purpose and will: to do the will of God and to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29, Galatians 2:20).

This unity was only possible because of the godly characteristics of the Son: He was willing to humble Himself to do the will of the Father, becoming a man and dying on a cross (Philippians 2:5-11). In all things He sought the will of the Father and not His own will (cf. Matthew 26:39). The Son understood His role relative to the Father and did all things for the glory of the Father, because the Son loves the Father (John 14:31). And, lo and behold, the same commandments are given for us so that we may be able to work together. We are to humble ourselves and seek to do good for our fellow man (Philippians 2:1-4). We must be willing to subordinate our own desires and intentions in order to work with others. We must know our role within the group, and be satisfied with it (1 Corinthians 12:12-28). We do all these things because we love God, our fellow man, and especially our fellow believers (Romans 13:8-10, 1 John 4:7-21).

Becoming one as the Father and Son are one, therefore, is a trying task indeed! It does mean that we must all accept God’s truth and be one in our belief. Yet it also requires humility, hard work, seeking the best interest of our fellow Christians, and being content with our place in the whole. If we are able to do those things we will have true unity, and the world will be forced to confess that there is something special and different about those Christians, and realize that there is a greater power at work with them.

Let us work diligently to obtain the unity that God desires– not just in teaching, but also in attitude and conduct– so that the church may be built up, and God be glorified (cf. Ephesians 4:15-16)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The House of Mourning

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

The Bible exposes the vast gulf between the perspectives of human beings and God. Humans tend to focus on the short-term and that which seems beneficial in the short-term: pleasure is always preferable over pain, and that which is easy and comfortable is valued over what may be more difficult and painful. Humans also tend to forget that their perspective and views are limited and, to at least a small extent, self-delusional. God, as author of our present reality, takes the longer view, fully understanding the limitations of mankind. We always do well to learn more from Him.

This gulf is evident in the ways people look at feasting versus mourning. If you asked most people which was better, to go to the house of feasting or the house of mourning, the answer would be the former. Feasting is fun– it provides all kinds of short-term benefits, can allow one to at least temporarily forget the future, and to enjoy the good life for at least a little while.

The house of mourning, however, is much more painful and difficult. In the house of mourning, we must confront our own mortality. In the house of mourning, we come face to face with human limitation and weakness: we are not as strong as we would like to think we are, and there is not one person among us for whom it would be impossible to be dead in a matter of moments (cf. James 4:14). In the house of mourning, we have to come to grips with the pain of separation and losing those whom we know and/or love. In the house of mourning, all of our pretensions are stripped away from us. We can feel like Adam in the Garden, trying to hide his shame/nakedness from God (Genesis 3:8-10).

The house of mourning, therefore, is extremely uncomfortable. It is little wonder why many people avoid the house of mourning at all costs– it can really put a damper on the “good life”!

If we stop and think about it, however, we can see the wisdom in the words of the Preacher. Even though man has attempted to fend off his weakness and mortality for generations, man remains weak and mortal. And this creation, which God declared to be “very good,” (Genesis 1:31), has been corrupted by man’s sin (Romans 8:20-22). Therefore, this world is fundamentally in “dis-ease,” for things are not exactly right with the world. This world is not an easy and comfortable place.

Therefore, it is good for us to become uncomfortable with our present existence. It is not a bad thing for us when we are confronted with our own weakness and mortality. It is good to be reminded that we are as a vapor and will not last. The pain of separation, while difficult. reminds us that this world should not be our home (cf. Philippians 3:20-21, Hebrews 11:14-16).

Man in his arrogance and self-delusion attempted to build the Tower of Babel (cf. Genesis 11:1-4); Jesus, the God-man, in His humility and love died on a cross so that man could be reconciled with his God (Romans 5:1-11). Man, in his arrogance and self-delusion, thinks he is the greatest power in the universe and serves the works of his hands. God, in His love and mercy, created all things and has allowed us to participate with Him in His eternal plan in Jesus Christ (cf. Ephesians 3:11). But we cannot participate in that plan while constantly living in the house of feasting– we must come to grips with the house of mourning and our own weaknesses and limitations. When we can learn the humility that comes from the awareness of our fragility and complete dependence on God, then we can become most effective servants of God for His Kingdom.

There is a time for the house of feasting and a time for the house of mourning, but indeed, it is better to go to the house of mourning. Let us come to terms with our own weakness and mortality, serve the Living God, and obtain eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Compassion

But when he 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).

If there was anyone who ever lived who was above “feeling” for other people, it could have been Jesus. After all, He is the Word, God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14). He could have just stayed above the fray of the challenges of sinful humanity.

Yet He chose otherwise! He experienced the challenges that humans face, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He learned obedience through His suffering, having been willing to humble Himself greatly in order to experience such things (Hebrews 5:7-9, Philippians 2:5-11). Therefore, He can relate to the challenges humans face, and, in fact, seeks to do so!

One constant feeling Jesus has toward people during His life is compassion. The word in English captures the essence of the idea: “feeling with” or “suffering with.” The word in Greek is even more explicit: it is the word splagchnizomai, which literally means “to be moved as to one’s bowels” (Thayer’s). Such a definition may sound bizarre: what does compassion have to do with the bowels?

Have you ever had a moment of great empathy or sympathy for another person? Perhaps you saw someone just like you in a terrible circumstance. Maybe you were watching television and they showed pictures of people starving or dying in a foreign land. It could have been one of many other situations. Regardless, when you had that feeling, where did you feel it? Likely it was a “gut feeling.” And since that’s where people tend to feel such things, ancient people thought that love and feeling originated in the bowels. Therefore, one feels compassion when one has a “gut connection” to another in his or her circumstance.

That is the feeling that Jesus had toward the multitudes and toward those in need of healing. Even though He was God, He felt the pain and suffering of the people in His gut. That feeling motivated Him to heal the sick and preach the good news to the poor. The feeling helped Him relate to others.

We, as disciples of Christ, should feel compassion toward our fellow man in his distress (Luke 10:33, Ephesians 4:32). If Jesus could humble Himself to the point of being able to feel the pain and suffering of others in Himself, we should certainly be able to have the same feeling toward our fellow sinners! Compassion transcends all the various attitudes and judgments that divide men from one another, for when we can feel in our gut for our fellow man, we have developed a strong connection with him. If we have allowed the pain and misery of this world to deaden our feelings toward our fellow man, we cannot truly imitate Christ!

If we can relate to our fellow man in his experience, we will have good motivation to take the next step and to work to strengthen, encourage, and support him (cf. Galatians 2:10, 6:10). Notice that the Good Samaritan was motivated to “love his neighbor as himself” on the basis of his compassion toward him (Luke 10:33). It is very hard to do good for those to whom we feel little to nothing. Yet, for those with whom we can relate on a personal and emotional level, it becomes much, much easier! This is why God has charged individuals to help one another, to reflect Christ’s love toward their fellow men (Galatians 6:10, James 1:27, Matthew 5:13-16). Without the personal contact, there can be little to no feeling!

If we are going to serve others as Christ has served us (Matthew 20:25-28), we must have compassion on our fellow man. We must be willing to feel what he feels, even when it is uncomfortable. When we have compassion on another, we are able to better relate to others and get beyond all the factors that seek to divide us from them. It will be much easier to do good and to love our neighbor as ourselves when we relate to our neighbor and are willing to show him compassion. As Jesus showed compassion to us, let us show compassion to others!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Tender Heart

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

As human beings, we tend to allow our feelings and emotions to color the way we view people. If we are favorably disposed toward someone, we are more likely to be kind to them, trust them, and always give them the benefit of the doubt. If we are unfavorably disposed toward someone, we are not as likely to be as kind to them. We will not trust them, we will look upon them with suspicion and maybe fear, and we certainly will not give them the benefit of the doubt!

This seems rather natural, as Jesus makes clear in Matthew 5:43-48 and Luke 6:31-36. Most people love those who love them, and most people do good for those who do good to them. Most people also hate their enemies. Jesus indicates that there is no substantive virtue in these things, because people do them naturally. In short, it does not take a lot of effort to be kind to those to whom we are favorably disposed.

God calls us to a higher path. Christians are to be kind and tenderhearted toward everyone, even to those to whom they are not favorably disposed. Personal, political, religious, and any other type of enemies or “opponents” should be treated as kindly and as lovingly as relatives and close friends. We must be willing to think the best of everyone and give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

This is extremely challenging and counter-intuitive, and it is clearly part of God’s purposes in the Kingdom. When we no longer act like the world and nurse suspicions and hostilities, we demonstrate that we are no longer of the world (John 15:19). When we demonstrate that we are willing to be favorably disposed toward everyone, others will be more likely to be favorably disposed toward us!

The world thrives on conflict, opposition, hostilities, suspicions, fears, and judgmentalism. The forces active in this world love nothing more than to promote conflict, opposition, hostilities, suspicions, fears, and judgmentalism among those who would profess Jesus Christ, toward those within and without (cf. Ephesians 6:12). When that takes place, Christians lose their savor, and people see the hypocrisy and judgmentalism (Matthew 5:13-16). Since they can get that in the world, why not stay in the world?

The path of kindness, the tender heart, and forgiveness is very difficult. Nevertheless, it is not really an option, for Christians are called to be like their Lord (1 John 2:6). We should show mercy because God has showed us mercy (Luke 6:36). Where would we be if God were unfavorably disposed toward us? If God were suspicious of us, and never gave us the benefit of the doubt, where would we be? God has demonstrated immeasurable kindness and His tender heart by giving us of His Son so that we may have eternal life, and that kindness is shown to all men (John 3:16, Romans 5:5-11). If we want to be as God and Christ, we must show that same kindness to our fellow man. We must allow our heart to be open to them and attempt to get beyond whatever would divide and separate us from them. The love of God must compel us in these matters.

Let us no longer be of the world, but let us show the kindness and tender heart of God to all men!

Ethan R. Longhenry

What Jesus Saw in Zacchaeus

And he entered and was passing through Jericho. And behold, a man called by name Zacchaeus; and he was a chief publican, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the crowd, because he was little of stature. And he ran on before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.
And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and said unto him, “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house.”
And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.
And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, “He is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner.”
And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold.”
And Jesus said unto him, “To-day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:1-10).

Zacchaeus is famous for being a “wee little man,” a character that small children learn about in Bible classes. Yet there is much that grownups can learn from Zacchaeus and his interaction with Jesus.

When the Jews saw Zacchaeus, they saw a little weasel who sided with the oppressor against them. As a publican, or tax-collector, he was equivalent to a Gentile, and probably seen as much worse (cf. Matthew 18:17). If you were trying to find the ultimate example of a sinful person in first century Judea, you would speak about the publican (cf. Luke 18:9-14)!

The publicans were seen as evil because the job attracted some of the least reputable and most corrupt persons in society. They were told to go and collect a given amount from the people, and their salary was whatever they could obtain beyond that amount. Not a few tax collectors would extort double, triple, or even quadruple the necessary funds from the people in order to line their own pockets. You can certainly understand why they were universally disliked!

Therefore, we can understand that when the people of Jericho saw Zacchaeus, they saw one of the most insufferable sinners in their midst– he is not just a tax collector, but is the chief tax collector! The people of Jericho likely could barely stomach the idea that he was a child of Abraham like they were. They would, no doubt, be assured that he would suffer greatly in the pit of Sheol because of his profession and extortion. To them, he was a good-for-nothing tax collector!

But what did Jesus see in Zacchaeus?

Did He see a sinful man, one who was quite guilty of sin? Undoubtedly. Did Jesus understand how Zacchaeus would be perceived by his fellow man? Absolutely.

But Jesus saw a side of Zacchaeus that the rest of the people refused to see. He saw the possibility of repentance in such a man despite his great sin. He perceived how Zacchaeus was extremely interested in seeing Him. Jesus, therefore, did the most unbelievable and amazing thing, at least in the eyes of the inhabitants of Jericho: He decided to lodge with Zacchaeus, of all people!

Were there not many more righteous men in Jericho? In the eyes of the people, certainly. There were probably a few Pharisees in town, maybe a priest or Levite or two. But Jesus stays with the ultimate sinner! Tongues began to wag. People begin to question. If Jesus really was the Son of God, why would He stay with such a man?

Jesus is vindicated by Zacchaeus’ response. Since Jesus was willing to show Zacchaeus love, compassion, and mercy, and to give him a chance, even if entirely undeserved, Zacchaeus responded with repentance. Jesus gently rebukes the crowd by demonstrating how salvation has come and that Zacchaeus is a child of Abraham, even if the people saw him as “too sinful” to “deserve” that status. And we see how Jesus’ ultimate purpose was fulfilled: He came to seek and save the lost.

There is a lot that we can learn from this story. For those who are in sin and separated from their Creator (Isaiah 59:1-2), you can take courage by the example of Zacchaeus, and know that Jesus has provided you love, compassion, and mercy, even though you do not deserve it (Romans 5:5-11, Ephesians 2:1-10). You also can change your ways and begin serving the Lord and be saved, no matter what you have done (1 Timothy 1:12-16).

All of us, however, can learn from Jesus and what He saw in Zacchaeus. If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize that we have played the part of the people of Jericho far too often. We have seen terribly sinful people and believe that there was almost no chance for them to be saved. We have despised such people in our heart, especially if those people have oppressed us or harmed us in some way. We certainly could not see how any truly righteous person would have anything to do with such people!

The witness of Scripture is clear: all have sinned, all have fallen short of the glory of the Father (Romans 3:9-23), and that means that none of us have the right to so judge and condemn anyone (Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 14:11-12, James 4:12). The only reason that any of us have a prayer is because God showed us love, compassion, and mercy, and that despite ourselves (Romans 5:5-11, Titus 3:3-8). Those “terrible sinners” have just as much right to obtain God’s grace, repent of their sins, and be obedient as any of the rest of us do. God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11)!

Therefore, when we encounter “terrible sinners,” let us remember that just as Jesus would show them love, mercy, and compassion, even though they do not deserve it, so we should also show them love, mercy, and compassion. It may very well be that we have little influence on their actions or their lives. But you never know when the person that you have written off as a “terrible sinner” may turn out to be a Zacchaeus, one who will hear and change his ways. Let us all strive to maintain humility and reflect the love of Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry