Christ Jesus Our Mediator

For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all; the testimony to be borne in its own times (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

When two sides cannot come to an agreement face to face, it is time for the mediator to be brought in. The mediator will act as a bridge, perhaps as a go-between the two parties, or perhaps as a third-party perspective so as to find some means by which both sides can come to an agreement. The goal of the mediator is some sort of agreement, be it reconciliation, restoration, or restitution, leaving both parties satisfied with the result.

Thus Paul, having spoken of God’s desire for all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, describes the man Christ Jesus as the mediator between the One True God and mankind (1 Timothy 2:5). Paul exhorts Timothy regarding the importance of prayer for all men, especially those in authority, so that Christians might live a tranquil and quiet life in godliness (1 Timothy 2:1-2, 8). Petitions are to be made to God, and we can have sufficient standing before God so as to pray to Him on account of our Mediator, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:3-7).

Jesus Christ is the mesites, literally the “go-between,” the Mediator between God and man. Paul speaks explicitly regarding how it came to pass that Jesus is our Mediator: He gave Himself as a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:6). As Paul has made very clear in other letters, we humans find ourselves separated from God on account of our sin, and no matter how diligently we try, we cannot bridge that gap, because we all have transgressed the law and therefore cannot be justified by it (Romans 2:1-3:22, James 2:9-10). Jesus lived a perfect life and was therefore able to offer Himself as the ransom so as to pay the price of redemption for all of us so that we could be reconciled back to God (Matthew 20:25-28, Romans 5:6-11, 1 Peter 2:18-25). Therefore Jesus is the unique go-between from God to man, since through His sacrifice we can be reconciled back to God and no longer at enmity toward Him (Romans 8:1-10).

Yet Paul also notes another means by which Jesus is the Mediator between God and man: He is the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). By saying Christ Jesus is an anthropos, a human, Paul is not attempting to deny His divinity; in Colossians 2:9 he proclaims that in Jesus the fulness of divinity dwells in bodily form. He is not contradicting the witness of John who speaks of Jesus as the Word made flesh, fully human, fully God (John 1:1-18, 1 John 4:3-4). Indeed, if anything, Paul affirms Jesus’ divinity and humanity in 1 Timothy 2:5: He can be Mediator between God and man because He partakes of the nature of each.

It is also important for us to note the tense Paul uses. He does not speak of Jesus as “having been” man; he tells Timothy that Christ Jesus presently “is” man, ca. 63-64 CE, no less than thirty years after His resurrection and ascension. For that matter, in Colossians 2:9, written only a few years earlier, Paul affirmed that the fulness of deity presently dwells in Jesus in bodily form. It is clear from the Gospel accounts and from Paul’s description of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:20-58 that Jesus’ body was transformed for immortality in the resurrection, yet Paul makes it equally clear that He is still recognizably human in the resurrection body. He remains the Mediator, sharing in the nature of both God and man; He can continue to identify with us in our weaknesses since He experienced temptation but overcame and learned obedience through what He suffered (Hebrews 4:15, 5:8-9). Yet, as God, He was active in the creation and continues to uphold the universe by the word of His power (John 1:1-4, Colossians 1:14-18).

After all, Jesus became our Mediator since He ransomed us through His death and resurrection (1 Timothy 2:6); since God is eternal and immortal and cannot die, it is not as if Jesus’ divine nature perished on the cross, and since His divine nature did not perish, it likewise could not be raised from the dead. As the Son of Man, fully human, Jesus endured suffering and death and obtained victory in the resurrection; therefore, to serve as Mediator on that basis, He would have to remain human, albeit transformed for immortality (1 Corinthians 15:50-57). He reigns as Lord as the “Son of Man,” the Human One, given a kingdom by the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:13-14, Luke 22:67-69, Acts 7:56, Revelation 1:12-18).

There is indeed one God, and one Mediator between God and humans, Jesus Christ the human. It is difficult for us to make sense of how this is possible; then again, it is hard for us to make sense of how God is One in Three, and there are plenty of other divine mysteries, and attempts to smooth out difficulties and make rational sense of them has often led people into all sorts of heresy. We should be thankful that Jesus took on flesh and dwelt among us, giving His life as a ransom for many, overcoming sin and death through His sacrifice and in His resurrection, giving us hope for our own victory over sin and death in the resurrection, and confident that our Lord can always sympathize with us since He has shared in the trials and difficulties of humanity. Let us praise God the Father for His Son and our Mediator the Lord Jesus Christ, and serve Him unto His glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Christ Jesus Our Mediator

Better to Be Single

So that he that gives in marriage does well, and he that does not give in marriage does better (1 Corinthians 7:38 LITV).

This is not the expected narrative, either in the world or in the church.

The church in Corinth was experiencing a whole host of difficulties, mostly self-inflicted, and had sought the wisdom and encouragement of the Apostle Paul. One subject regarding which they sought further understanding involved whether to marry or not, if it were good for a man not to touch a woman (1 Corinthians 7:1). In 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 6-9, 17-40, Paul provides his counsel on this subject, and his message is consistent throughout: marriage is not sinful, it is better to marry than to burn with desire, but if one can exhibit self-control and not marry, they do better. Those who are married have divided interests, seeking to please both the Lord and their spouse, whereas those who are single can fully devote themselves to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Paul wishes that all could be as he is, single, but recognizes that different people have different gifts (1 Corinthians 7:7-8). On account of the “present distress”, Paul counsels the betrothed and widows to remain as they were called; to remain single if they can, but if they have to marry, they have not sinned, or, as he says so efficiently in 1 Corinthians 7:38: those who marry do well, but those who do not marry do better (1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 6-9, 17-40).

The interpretation and application of Paul’s counsel has been complicated by disputes regarding the “present distress” of 1 Corinthians 7:26 and who is giving whom in 1 Corinthians 7:36-38. Many have interpreted the “present distress” of 1 Corinthians 7:26 in narrow contextual terms and thus consider all of Paul’s counsel in 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 6-9, 17-40 as limited to its context and not as applicable to people afterward. Yet the text provides no indication of any major persecution event being experienced by the Christians of Corinth at this time; granted, with all of the worldliness in the Corinthian church, there would not be much worth persecuting. More importantly, in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Paul describes this “distress” more fully, and he is not speaking of a contextually limited persecution that would pass away so that conditions could return to “normal”; instead, he counsels the Corinthians in very apocalyptic terms since the “fashion of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). At the time it would not be surprising for people to interpret Paul as meaning that Jesus would return quite soon, the present age would end, and therefore marriage and childbearing would prove irrelevant; after more than 1,950 years, it is evident that such immediacy did not come to pass, but the conditions remain the same as when Paul wrote this: the fashion of this world is passing away, and we must not be of this world while we live in it. Therefore, the “present distress” is as applicable and relevant to the twenty-first century as it was to the first century; Paul’s counsel remains valid.

Another complication involves 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 and the “man and his virgin”. In the ancient Roman world, a father would be the one deciding whom his daughter would marry; therefore, the RV, ASV, NASB, and a few other versions interpret and translate 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 as if it speaks of a father deciding what to do with his virgin daughter. While such an interpretation might make some sense of the use of ekgamizo, “to give in marriage,” in this passage, it does not sit well with “if any man thinketh that he behaveth himself unseemly toward his virgin” in 1 Corinthians 7:36, since it would demand that the father is not behaving appropriately toward his daughter, which would be a problem demanding far more censure than is expressed in the text. Therefore, it is better to understand the text in terms of a man and his betrothed. In the first century, parents would make the connection between a man and woman and they would be betrothed, like Joseph and Mary in Matthew 1:18-25. Betrothal had the commitment level of marriage yet without the behavior of marriage; to dissolve it would require divorce, but the betrothed were expected to not consummate the relationship until the official wedding ceremony. Therefore, whereas two young Christians would have had little choice in a betrothal, they did have control over whether they would either actually get married, or, once married, whether they would consummate the relationship. In 1 Corinthians 7:36-38, Paul advises young betrothed Christians that if they can exercise self-control and devote themselves fully to the Lord, they do better to remain betrothed but not married. If they cannot exercise that self-control, they can marry, and have not sinned. But it is better to stay unmarried than it is to marry.

There are vast differences between conditions in the first century Mediterranean world and the twenty first Western world, and singleness and marriage are high among them. In the first century, young people would have been married off quite young, the decision would have been made by their parents, and if they remained continent for the Lord’s sake, it was by mutual decision of a man and his betrothed virgin. Only widows were in a position to choose a mate; that is why Paul counsels them to marry “in the Lord” if they have to marry, but they also would do well to remain unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:39-40). In the twenty-first century Western world, marriages are not arranged, and they are taking place in the late twenties; culture and society expect sexual experimentation to have taken place beforehand, yet in Christ young people are expected to remain sexually chaste and pure before marriage, often between 10 to 20 years after sexual maturity (1 Corinthians 7:2). Many single Christians would like to be married but have yet to find a spouse. A situation akin to what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 7:36-38, a “betrothed” Christian man and woman who have mutually agreed to remain unmarried so as to serve the Lord fully, would be unthinkable.

Yet perhaps the greatest shift in the past two thousand years involves the treatment of singleness and marriage. Paul honors singleness and full devotion to the Lord and makes concession for marriage; too many in Christianity today honor marriage and make concession for singleness. Too many single Christians are marginalized and made to feel incomplete and insufficient because they are not married; as opposed to being honored as full inheritors of the grace of life and for making, at least for the time being, the better choice, they feel constantly pressured to find someone to marry and thus conform to the norm of marriage. We are not used to hearing that marriage is less than ideal, a concession, and a choice demonstrating a lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:6-9).

We should not be too terribly surprised to see that honoring singleness goes against the grain, because it always has. In Israel the worst possible curse was childlessness, for if your genealogical line ended, your property would go to another and you would be extinguished within Israel. To this day people seek some level of immortality through the passing along of their DNA in their offspring. Our hyper-sexualized culture these days cannot truly fathom a person voluntarily renouncing all the pleasures of sexual behavior in order to more fully dedicate themselves to the Lord Jesus. The choice to be a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven is always counter-cultural and often controversial, yet it truly expresses a very deep faith in the God of resurrection. As usual, Jesus is the model: He did not marry while on earth and therefore had no offspring. He was cursed for our sakes, indeed, but by taking on that curse, He freed us from the curse of sin and death (Galatians 3:10-14). Jesus did not need offspring in order to continue to inherit the promises of God; through His life and death He obtained the resurrection of life, and lives forever (Romans 6:5-11).

For generations the single, the childless, and the widow were considered unfortunate or even cursed. Yet such is not the case in the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom those who are single, childless, or widowed are family in the household of God (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, 1 Timothy 3:15); they have no need of offspring to continue their lineage, for they will endure forever in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-58). Those who are single can fully devote themselves to the purposes of Jesus, the Risen Lord, and set their hope fully on Him and His Kingdom; they are blessed, and all believers ought to honor them as blessed. Let us affirm the apostolic Gospel no matter how counter-cultural, even when it goes against settled norms among Christians and churches; let us affirm that while marrying is good, staying single to fully serve the Risen Lord is better, and honor and dignify those who remain single in the Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Better to Be Single

Conformed to the Body of His Glory

[The Lord Jesus Christ] who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself (Philippians 3:21).

The centerpiece of Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of the resurrection of all on the final day, has always been a stumbling block in culture. Among the Jews of the first century, some sects like the Sadducees denied the resurrection entirely, while those who did believe in the resurrection envisioned it only in terms of the last day (John 11:24, Acts 23:8). To the Greeks the resurrection was sheer folly (Acts 17:32): while the different philosophical schools among the Greeks had their many differences, all were agreed about the betterment of the soul than the flesh. Philosophers like Plato wished to leave the physical world behind; to them, to be raised from the dead would be more akin to “hell” than “heaven.” One thing was certain to them: the dead stay dead.

Ever since there have been many who have questioned and challenged the resurrection on various grounds, but one of the most pernicious challenges to the resurrection of Jesus involves its over-spiritualization. Many share many of the same doubts as the Greeks regarding the profit in the creation and yearn to live in a purely spiritual state. So it was among the Gnostics in the first and second centuries, suggesting the resurrection was already past, understood only in terms of spiritual enlightenment or regeneration (2 Timothy 2:16-18).

It is true that Paul does speak of baptism as a resurrection in Romans 6:3-7; the soul is dead in sin and is brought back to life in Christ through faith in conversion and discipleship. Yet Paul is quite clear that, for believers, the “spiritual resurrection” has already occurred (note the past tense in Romans 6:3-7), yet there remains a resurrection that has yet to take place (1 Corinthians 15:1-58).

We get some understanding about this resurrection from Paul’s exhortations to the Philippians. Paul has spoken about how he proved willing to consider all the credentials he obtained under the old covenant as garbage to know Christ and the power of His resurrection in order to obtain his own resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11). He insists that he has not yet obtained that resurrection (Philippians 3:12). At the end of this section he declares that our citizenship is in heaven, from which we await the Savior, the Lord Jesus, who will “fashion anew” (Greek metaschematisei, “change the figure of, transform”) the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of His glory (Philippians 3:20-21). This “fashion[ing] anew” and “conform[ity]” to the body of His glory is the bodily resurrection of the believer and his or her transformation for immortality!

We are not told much about Jesus and His resurrected body, but we do know that after He arose from the dead, death had no more power over Him, and he would die no more (Romans 6:8-9). He was recognizably Jesus, able to eat and no phantasm, yet different, able to walk through walls and be in different places at inhuman speeds, indicating transcendence of the space-time continuum (Luke 24:31-43, John 20:19-20). Paul speaks of the transformation in the resurrection of the corruptible and mortal body into an incorruptible and immortal body, the transformation of the body empowered by the breath of life to the body empowered by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:35-53). John assures us that even though we do not fully understand what we will be, we know we will be like Jesus on that day (1 John 3:1-3).

Paul, therefore, provides a message of hope for the Christian: Jesus will return one day, and through the power of God, He will raise our bodies from the dead and transform them so as to be just like His glorified, resurrected body. This is part of the ultimate redemption of the creation envisioned by Paul in Romans 8:17-25 and seen in a figure in Revelation 21:1-22:5: a place where futility, decay, corruption, death, violence, suffering, sin, and all evil are no more, where God dwells with man and provides him with eternal comfort and glory. This takes place when the new Jerusalem, the holy city, the Bride, the church, comes down from heaven (Revelation 21:1-4); this redemption is not the rejection and denial of the creation of God, but its restoration to the condition in which God intended it from the beginning, accomplished perhaps through fire (if 2 Peter 3:1-13 maintains primacy) but most assuredly through the power of God. God did not give up on His good creation when it suffered decay and corruption when sin and death entered it; He did not give up on humanity once they sinned against Him. Instead, in Christ, He makes all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17, Revelation 21:5). The old world of sin and death meets its end and the new world of righteousness and glory takes its place (Romans 8:18, 2 Peter 3:13); the old humble body is raised, transformed, and obtains the glory of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:35-53, Philippians 3:21). That will be the final victory over sin and death!

It would have been very easy for early Christians to minimize or spiritualize the resurrection; their message would have been much easier for the nations to accept that way. Yet even though the bodily resurrection was an embarrassment to the Greeks, the early Christians continued to insist on it, rather bearing the insult and shame of such a view rather than to conform to the popular opinion of the day. They knew that the ultimate hope of the Christian is not in the spiritual resurrection which can be obtained now by finding eternal life through trusting in and serving the Lord Jesus Christ; their ultimate hope was the resurrection and transformation of the body and the final victory over sin and death on the last day. Early Christians knew they already had the redemption of the soul, and adopted as children into the family of God (Romans 8:1-16), yet they hoped for the full adoption as children of God in the redemption of the body in the resurrection (Romans 8:17-25). The resurrection of the body was non-negotiable in their eyes, and for good reason: their hope was in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:23); if we do not share in a resurrection like His, we will not be like Him! On the first day of the week after the Passover in 30 CE, the tomb was empty, and the disciples of Jesus saw Him in His resurrected body. They then proclaimed that the day would come when the tomb of believers will also be empty and they will be forever with the Lord in their resurrected, glorified bodies (John 5:28-29, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, Philippians 3:21)! Yes, we must experience spiritual resurrection, and must do so quickly before the Lord returns. Yet we ought to look forward to the day of the resurrection of the body, as the early Christians did, looking forward to the transformation of the body toward conformity to the glorified body of Christ, when death will be finally vanquished once and for all! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Conformed to the Body of His Glory

Beyond All We Can Ask or Think

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Whereas the reality of human existence is quite firmly fixed in our world and its restrictions, the imagination of mankind has often soared to incredible heights. It often seems that there is no limit to the human imagination, for better or worse. We imagine stories in which we are the heroes and overcome all sorts of trials; we can imagine worlds in which people live in harmony and peace; we imagine all sorts of kinds of technologies and ways of living quite different from our own. We also can imagine in darker and more sinister ways, as modern movies can attest. Yet no matter how much we imagine we remain limited to our current existence. Since reality seems to never match up to our imagination, we cope in one of two ways. We either attempt to make the world fit our imagination, only to discover all sorts of complications and challenges we did not anticipate and only to find that the endeavor leads to the exact opposite result of our intentions, or we give up on the world, living in our imagination, so to speak. No matter which way we might choose to cope the end remains the same: our dreams and imagination are brought low by the cold, icy hand of reality. Therefore so many give up any hope of the greatest goods and content themselves with lesser goods.

Yet Paul, through his prayer for the Ephesians, invites us to question the strength of the grip of the cold, icy hand of reality, on account of the greatness of the God who made us and sustains us, praying for God, who “is able to do far more abundantly than we can ask or think, according to the power at work within us,” may receive the glory in the church and in Christ forevermore (Ephesians 3:20-21).

That seems like a startling declaration, something easily debunked or disproven. It does not require much to ask for or think about all people hearing the Gospel and coming to the knowledge of the truth (Romans 10:17, 1 Timothy 2:4), being healed of all disease and suffering, and all sorts of other audacious possibilities. We have likely asked for such things in the past in prayer, and it is evident that we have not seen them fulfilled. So how can Paul make such a declaration? Is he manifesting a foolish faith?

We do well to consider a very important word in the prayer: “able.” God is able to do well beyond anything and everything that we ask of Him. Not only is He able to do so, it can be done through the power at work within us, the Spirit according to the message of God in Christ (Romans 1:16, 1 Corinthians 3:14-16, 6:19-20, Ephesians 3:16). Through the power at work in us God can accomplish anything He might purpose. Through us the world could hear the Gospel and come to the knowledge of the truth; through us God can advance any of His prerogatives powerfully. As the Creator, He can do all that can be done, what we can imagine and well beyond that (Deuteronomy 29:29, Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 11:33-36). Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, we must never doubt God’s ability (cf. Daniel 3:17).

Yet just because God can does not automatically mean God will; ability is not automatically actualization. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego knew that even though God was able to deliver them, it may not come to pass, but that did not change their faith (Daniel 3:18). We can think of all sorts of reasons why God, despite His ability, does not act in certain ways: allowance of the consequences of free will decisions to come to pass for both the one acting and those impacted by the action, refusal to overwhelm the choice and will of an individual, and there are more than likely a host of other reasons, far better than we could ever imagine, that explain why God acts as He does. We do not have control over a lot of these reasons. But there is one possible reason over which we do have some control, and that involves our level of faith.

We must be clear that faith, in and of itself, is no guarantee of obtaining the desired result from prayer. We can pray fervently in all faith and still not obtain what we seek; there likely is far more going on in the situation than we can recognize. Too many people use a “lack of faith” as a blunt object to shift “blame” for unfulfilled promises upon those who have the least reason for “blame” in order to continue to justify their theological edifice. Furthermore, God can still find ways to accomplish His purposes in all power through us, despite us, even if we do not maintain the strongest faith, as can be seen in Gideon in Judges 6:1-8:28. Yet, especially when we consider the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11:1-40, we do well to ask ourselves: is part of the problem our lack of real, substantive confidence in the power of God to accomplish His purposes, and especially that through us?

There is little doubt that we pray good prayers and say many things which are good, right, and expected. We pray for the evangelization of the world; we pray for people to come to repentance and salvation; we pray for healing; we pray for the betterment of the welfare of those in distress. But when we pray these things do we actually expect them to happen? How often do we pray these things, even honestly and sincerely meaning what we say, yet always with a mental asterisk of doubt? “God, please heal this sick person (although I have little expectation for this person to continue to live, since the prognosis is grim).” “Father, we pray that the people of our community learn about You and be saved (yet we know they won’t, because they’re terrible sinners and they like being in sin, or they’ve been seduced by the false teachings of others, and won’t listen to us).” “Father, we pray that all may have food and shelter (but there is so much poverty, a lack of resources, and rampant corruption and war and all sorts of evil in too many parts of the world).”

Those parenthetical asterisks, things we would never imagine saying but are most assuredly thought of, are completely understandable: they derive from our experiences with the cold, icy hand of reality. They represent the despair that gets mixed into our hope and our confidence in God. Theologically we all recognize and agree that God is able to accomplish everything we have mentioned. Yet on a practical level we often maintain skepticism, doubt, and suspicion. Most of the time these prayers get answered according to our doubts; it seems that the grip of the cold, icy hand of reality remains.

It is not for nothing that James warns us against being double-minded in our petitions (James 1:6-8): if we pray but maintain doubt in prayer we have no right to ever expect those prayers to be fulfilled. They do not truly reflect the boldness of faith which we ought to maintain toward God; we have already cut off the hope of fulfillment by having no expectation of fulfillment. This is not the kind of prayer Paul prayed, and it is not the kind of prayer Paul would expect followers of God in Christ to pray. According to the Gospel, God has already accomplished the most difficult task of liberation from sin and death through the death and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 8:1-4) and wishes to freely give us all things (Romans 8:32). He is prepared to provide us a place of glory beyond compare and which make our imaginations seem tame by comparison (Romans 8:18, 2 Corinthians 4:17). Yet the fantastical is not all about the future; Paul’s prayer is a bold declaration of what is possible right here and right now. God is able to strengthen us with power, root and ground us in love, give us the strength to understand the dimensions of the love of Christ which is beyond knowledge, to fill us with the fulness of God, but only if we ask Him to do so fervently and expect it to actually happen (Ephesians 3:16-19). Does God want people to be condemned? Has He proven powerless in the face of ungodliness, secularism, indifference, etc., so that modern man has no hope in the face of the menaces of our society? The first century was just as daunting if not more so and yet the Gospel thrived! Has the Gospel lost its luster? No, no, a thousand times, no! God remains as able to accomplish powerful things through His message today as He was in the first century; perhaps what is lacking is our confidence in God, that He is not only able but willing to accomplish these great things, and if we would only prove willing to stand before Him in prayer, pray the bold prayer for the powerful advancements of His purposes, and to do so without regard to the cold, icy hand of reality, without that mental parenthesis doubting and denying the efficacy of the prayer, and to actually pray and mean to pray for people to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved, to be healed through the power of God from afflictions, to be strengthened through trials, or for a thousand other things for which we might pray.

God is able to do well beyond anything we can ask or think, and there are many things for which we can ask or about which we can think! We have to maintain greater confidence in God than we do the cold, icy grip of reality, and believe that God can transform reality, else why do we bother with Christianity? Yet we do well to keep in mind the actual prayer Paul makes, for God to receive the glory in the church and in Christ for all generations (Ephesians 3:21). We cannot imagine God as our hitman or our genie; if we put our confidence in Him and He begins to do powerful things to advance His purposes through us, it will not be on account of our own strength, abilities, or any excellence in our own character, but because of His great power and strength, and inevitably despite our person and character. God will not give His glory to us or to anyone else; He will not stand idly by and allow us to be conceited into thinking that somehow “we” have accomplished what was really the work of God all along. He deserves the glory and the praise. He deserves to receive all glory in Christ, His life, death, resurrection, lordship, and return. In all things the church should give glory to God since without Him there is no life, and without His sustaining power the church will prove powerless in the face of its foes. When we recognize that it is not about “us,” but about God and His glory, we can understand that Paul does not have a foolish faith, and does not promise what cannot be delivered, because the parenthetical asterisks of our experiences with the cold, icy grip of reality do not restrict God and His mighty power! God is able to do more than we can ask or think unto His glory; can we maintain that trust in Him and make petitions accordingly?

Ethan R. Longhenry

Beyond All We Can Ask or Think

Shutdown

For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).

Early in the morning on 01 October 2013, all non-essential functions of the United States government shut down after no agreement could be made in Congress to continue to fund the government’s operations. Yet another showdown regarding the “debt ceiling” loomed large at the time as well, possibly putting the “full faith and credit” of the United States government at risk. Many people will lose income; many tasks will be left undone. Politicians, pundits, and American citizens argue and debate regarding the process, nature, and wisdom of these events and are concerned about the future.

This particular episode highlights the challenges that come with earthly government. All of us find ourselves as citizens of some earthly government or another; Paul used his privileges as a Roman citizen to his advantage in proclaiming the Gospel (Acts 21:39-40, 22:23-30). Christians have an obligation to honor and respect earthly governments and their officers, obeying all regulations consistent with the purposes of God, and paying appropriate taxes (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17). Therefore, worldly government has its God-given purpose on earth, and we do well to respect that. Nevertheless, for generations, people have put too much confidence and emphasis on government, for good and for ill. The Israelites during the Second Temple period experienced persecution and oppression by pagan governments, but their solution always seemed to involve a Jewish government that would prove equally ruthless against the pagans. In various ways some have looked to earthly rulers to promote and maintain Christianity, from Constantine to almost the present day, leading to the Crusades and the Inquisition. Others are convinced that the Gospel should be advanced through government legislation, as if people will follow after God if the state requires it. Far too many expend a lot of time and energy into politics and political causes, imagining that they will find fulfillment in life by advancing some cause, however truly noble or ignoble, through political channels. For many the ultimate goal is the imposition of their particular views on politics and government to prevail at the expense of others; if they accomplish that, they will be satisfied.

Yet there is one trend that always proves true about any sort of human organization, be it government, corporations, non-profit organizations, and so on: they never can fully deliver on what is promised. They are filled with fallible people who often make mistakes; many are corrupted by the lust for power and money and serve themselves and their associates rather than seeking the welfare of all of their people. Even if one can find good rulers making good laws and seeking the welfare of their people, there is no guarantee that it will last: the next generation of leadership might prove corrupt. One legislator’s life work could be undone quickly by others in the future! Furthermore, in order to make everyone happy, decisions are made that most often make no one happy. Politics demands compromise; no one ever gets all of what they want; it gets messy and complicated, just as the shutdown illustrates. As human endeavors they can lead to some good but never can achieve the ultimate good. We were never supposed to put our faith in them as our saviors and redeemers (Psalms 20:7, 146:3).

In Jesus of Nazareth God invites us to find a higher calling and better citizenship, as Paul indicates in Philippians 3:20. Early Christians suffered all sorts of indignities, even unto death, because they declared that Jesus was truly the Lord, the Savior, the Son of God, and not Caesar (Revelation 13:1-10). On account of His death, resurrection, and ascension, God gave Jesus a Kingdom that would never end, and He would rule in righteousness, mercy, and justice (Daniel 2:44, 7:13-14, Revelation 19:11). Through the proclamation of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and ultimate return, the good news of the Gospel, all men and women are invited to submit to the lordship of Jesus the Christ, the King, and serve Him in His Kingdom, manifest on earth as His church, the congregation of the people of God, and obtain rescue and redemption from sin, death, and all evil (Acts 2:14-41, Romans 1:16, 8:1-15, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Colossians 1:13, 18). We have every reason for confidence in the Lord Jesus and in our service to Him; He has not failed in His promises and will not fail us. If we put His Kingdom and righteousness first, and serve Him, we build up treasure in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-34). It will not fade away or decay. It will not be corrupted by a later generation. It will not suffer a shutdown. It will continue to exist and accomplish the purposes of God who established it. And Jesus will gain the ultimate victory over sin, death, and evil, and all who are His will share in glory forevermore (Revelation 19:1-22:6)!

The United States government might experience a shutdown, but the Kingdom of God in Christ will never shut down. Jesus has shut down the powers of sin and death through His death and resurrection, and on the final day, all of the evil powers will find themselves shut down and condemned (Romans 8:1-23, Revelation 19:1-20:15). On that day Christians will experience glory beyond comprehension, and all their confidence in the Lord Jesus will be more than justified (Romans 8:17-18, Revelation 21:1-22:6). God’s power to save comes through the good news of the life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and return of the Lord Jesus Christ, not by the sword or by gun or by legislation or a non-profit organization or any other such thing. Let us put our trust in God in Christ, become citizens of the heavenly Kingdom, and in all service await the return of our Savior on the final day!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Shutdown

Christus Victor

Having despoiled the principalities and the powers, [Christ] made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it (Colossians 2:15).

Why did Jesus have to die such a horrendous death?

This question goes beyond a simple matter of, “for the forgiveness of sin” (Matthew 26:28); one can imagine many scenarios in which Jesus still dies for the remission of sin but not in such a terribly grotesque and gruesome way. Why humiliation before the Jewish religious authorities and the Roman governor? Why scourging? Why crucifixion?

The primary way that early Christians made sense of the grotesque and horrendous nature of Jesus’ death was through the concept of Christus Victor, Christ the Victor. This view focuses on the idea that Jesus gains the victory over sin, death, and any and all other principalities through His death and resurrection. This is first seen in Acts 4:24-31 in which the Apostles understand the persecution they receive from the Sanhedrin in terms of Psalm 2:1-2, the opposition of the kings of the nations to God and His Anointed, and making direct application of this as prophecy of Jesus before Herod and Pilate. Paul will go on to explain how Jesus conquered sin and death through His death and resurrection (Romans 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58). John frequently associates “victory,” “overcoming,” and “conquering” with suffering from evils steadfastly and without sin (John 16:33, 1 John 5:4, Revelation 5:5, 12:11). Yet perhaps the clearest statement of Christ the Victor is found in Colossians 2:15 in which Paul declares that Jesus triumphed over the principalities and powers, having despoiled or conquered them.

Who are these principalities and powers? To some extent one can see the existing power structures on earth in them, as Jesus stands before the Jewish religious authorities, then Pilate and Herod, during His trial and period of suffering (Luke 22:47-23:25). Yet Paul will declare that our wrestling is not with flesh and blood in Ephesians 6:12, and in Revelation John “pulls the curtain back,” so to speak, and shows us the real power source for world empires and false religion: Satan the dragon (Revelation 13:1-4, 11-14). While the Jewish religious authorities, Herod, and Pilate act as free moral agents as they indict and execute Jesus of Nazareth, they are influenced and partly motivated by these evil, dark, satanic and demonic powers behind the scenes.

Throughout His ministry Jesus made clear that His opponent was not really Rome nor was His goal the liberation of Israel from Roman oppression: He always understood the Adversary, Satan, as His true opponent, and He did as He did in order to liberate people from the power of darkness and lead them into the Kingdom and rule of God (Matthew 4:1-10, 17, 23, 26:28, Acts 10:38, Colossians 1:13). Early Christians understood that Jesus obtained this victory not with a large army or with great force but by suffering humiliation, degradation, and violence, dying on the cross, and being raised by God in the resurrection with power (Romans 5:6-11, 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:20-57, Revelation 5:1-10). To us this is a strange way of gaining a victory, but the challenge of evil and the forces behind evil are not your average challenge. Evil and the forces of darkness thrive through the forms of violence, devastation, and death that are normally wrought in order to defeat a foe. In this contest, in order to win the victory, Jesus had to endure all that the evil forces could throw at Him. He did: He stood firm and remained steadfast despite unimaginable pain, misery, and suffering of emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual natures. The Evil One and his horde did all they could to Jesus: their human agents conspired against Him, humiliated Him, had Him mistreated and ultimately killed. But He did not give into evil; He did not turn to the forces of darkness; He endured the suffering (Hebrews 5:7-8). That is how He overcame sin, and God granted Him victory over death by raising Him on the third day, never to die again (Romans 6:8-11).

The way Jesus died remains shocking, horrifying, and gruesome to this day. Yet it had to happen as it did, not because Jesus deserved it, but because through His death Jesus was overcoming and triumphing over the powers and principalities of darkness. They did all they could to Him, but He endured. When God raised Him from the dead, Jesus thus entirely despoiled the forces of evil. They could harm Him no more, and He now had full reign over them, and to this day they shudder at the name of Jesus (James 2:19).

Through His victory we can gain victory over sin and death and all the forces of evil arrayed against us (Ephesians 6:10-18, Revelation 12:11). We can endure suffering and thus obtain the crown of victory (Romans 8:17-18, 1 Peter 1:3-9, Revelation 7:9-17). The forces of evil are strong but not as strong as Jesus (1 John 4:4)! Through His gruesome death and powerful resurrection Jesus has gained the victory and now rules as Lord. Let us serve Him always and glorify and honor God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Christus Victor

Abide as Called

Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called…Brethren, let each man, wherein he was called, therein abide with God (1 Corinthians 7:20, 24).

If you have much experience in a church, you have seen this situation play out and have likely experienced it yourself. When young men and women reach a marriageable age, they start being asked how the search for that “special someone” is going. If a particular young man takes an interest in a young woman, and vice versa, they will be asked when they will get married. Not long after marriage they will be asked when they will have a child. Soon after having the first child they will be asked if and when there will be a second. Soon afer the second they will be asked whether they will have any more. If they go to three and especially to four they will be asked whether they have figured out how that works and/or if they are possibly done yet. Their children are then put through the same sequence, and so on and so forth.

We can certainly understand why this trend takes place: there is an inherent expectation that young men and women will get married and raise children. The future leadership of the church depends on at least some of them doing this (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-12)! Yet, while people who engage in this practice likely have good intentions, we must be careful about the implicit message it brings: your value in the church is based on whether you are married and/or the production of children. A man or woman who does not end up marrying, for whatever reason, is made to feel less valuable and important as those who did marry. Couples who are childless for whatever reason feel ostracized or perhaps even judged and condemned for their lack of children.

This is not the attitude of Paul in the New Testament. In the midst of a discussion regarding celibacy, marriage, and slavery in 1 Corinthians 7:1-39, he twice exhorts people to remain in the same calling as when they were called (1 Corinthians 7:20, 24). If one was called in Christ as a slave, he can continue to serve God while a slave, but if he can be freed, he should take that opportunity (1 Corinthians 7:20-23). Was one circumcised when called? He should remain circumcised. Was one uncircumcised when called? He should remain uncircumcised (1 Corinthians 7:18-19). Is one married when called? Stay married. Is one not yet married when called? Do not feel as if you have to get married (1 Corinthians 7:27).

We do need to be careful with Paul’s exhortation here in 1 Corinthians 7:1-39. These exhortations should never be taken absolutely: Paul provides plenty of caveats throughout. As noted, if a Christian slave can obtain his freedom, he should. Timothy was uncircumcised when called but Paul circumcised him on account of their mission among the Jews (cf. Acts 16:3). Paul also makes it clear that there is no sin if a man and woman get married (1 Corinthians 7:9, 28). Furthermore, he writes that they are presently in some time of distress, a tumultuous time where all that seems stable is uprooted (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:26, 29-30). We must keep these matters in mind when we consider what Paul has to say.

These concerns do not negate Paul’s main point: God can use us as we are and where we are. Those who are married with children can glorify God in their relationships. Yet so too can those who are single or married without children. The widows can as well. Those who are free and those who are less than free can also find ways of serving and glorifying God in their condition.

It is easy to develop a mentality in which we are always looking elsewhere to find satisfaction. We may constantly worry whether we are fulfilling God’s will for us in our lives. Those who are single and/or without children are often made to feel as if they are not fulfilling God’s purposes in their lives. And yet here Paul says that we are to abide in the calling in which we were called. We can find ways of doing God’s will wherever we find ourselves and in whatever situation we are placed.

Paul does not condemn traveling to find a better job or to find a better spiritual situation, nor is he condemning looking for a spouse and having children. He is making it very clear, though, that our primary focus in whatever situation we find ourselves is to glorify God. Many may be single and never marry, instead focusing their efforts on the Lord; they should be praised and not criticized. Many may serve the Lord through marriage and children; they also are to be praised and lifted up. Some will never move far from where they were born; others may travel far away. In all things we must seek to glorify and honor the Lord and encourage their fellow Christians not necessarily to seek to change their condition in life as much as encouraging them to serve God in the calling in which they have been called.

Too often we seem to focus on the future of young people in terms of marriage and children when we would do better to focus on how they can presently serve and glorify the Lord in their current condition and calling. Many will, no doubt, marry and have children, but they have not fallen short of God’s purposes if they do not. We do well to remember Paul’s exhortation to abide in our calling and always look to serve God in the present in our circumstances, and let the future take care of itself!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Abide as Called

The Rock of Living Water

And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them: and the rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4).

The situation in Corinth was dire. Paul knew that the brethren needed to understand the consequences of disobeying God, and he turned to the story of Israel’s exodus and wanderings in the desert to illustrate God’s reactions to sin. To make his point clear, Paul wrote of the exodus and the wanderings of Israel in Christian terms through allegory. In so doing, Paul presented a wonderful way to understand Israel’s exodus and wanderings in Christian terms, and also to understand our own walk with Christ in terms of Israel’s exodus and wanderings.

One such aspect of Israel’s wanderings is illustrated in 1 Corinthians 10:4: Israel drinking from the “spiritual rock.” This rock “followed” them, and the “Rock was Christ!” Paul provides much that requires spiritual insight and understanding!

Paul refers to the story found in Exodus 17:1-7 when Israel is in the wilderness. They have no water and demand drink from Moses. Moses asks why they quarrel with him and test God, and they continue to grumble, asking why they were brought out of Egypt to die of thirst in the wilderness. God tells Moses to strike the rock, and water came forth from it to drink. The place would be known as Massah and Meribah, the place where Israel tested God. Moses will later strike another rock to provide water for Israel, although he was commanded merely to speak to it (Numbers 20:2-12).

When we read of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness, we must not think of wildernesses with which we are familiar, with trees and birds and the like. The wildernesses in which Israel wandered were deserts, quite inhospitable, and on their own insufficient to sustain Israel’s numbers. While Israel wandered in the wilderness, they were entirely dependent on God for food and water; He always provided for them.

We may understand from Exodus 16:2-5 that manna, the food with which God sustained Israel, fell like dew from the heavens. The water in Exodus 17:1-7, however, comes from striking a rock, an object not normally known for retaining water. Why did God intend for Moses to provide water for Israel through a rock? And how does Moses’ striking the rock that provides water correlate with Christ’s being a rock? We must understand that the rock of water of Exodus 17:1-7 represents a type of which Jesus is the substance.

John recorded for us an interaction between Jesus and a woman of Samaria in John 4:4-26 that introduces us to the concept of “living water.” Jesus sits at a well and requests water from this woman of Samaria, and when she asks Him why He would make such a request from a Samaritan, He responds by indicating that if she knew who He really was, she would ask for and receive “living water” (John 4:4-10). In the following exchanges it becomes clear that Jesus speaks spiritually while the Samaritan woman thinks physically. She would love to no longer need to drink water and carry it home from the well: but Jesus is not speaking of physical water! He indicates that the water He offers becomes a spring that wells up within a man to eternal life (John 4:14). While the Samaritan woman ends up believing in Jesus as the Messiah, it is not clear whether she ever understands His meaning.

Jesus later proclaims a similar message in the Temple, crying out that those who thirst should come to Him for drink, and from him should flow rivers of living water in John 7:37-38. From this proclamation we may better understand what Jesus meant by “living water”. Jesus is the source of eternal life for all who believe in Him, and the “living water” represents the Word, the way of salvation, which Jesus manifested in the world (John 1:1, 14). God’s message of salvation and eternal life in the Son refreshes the believer who then has no need for refreshment from another.

The idea of Christ as a rock is presented in other Scriptures. Jesus represents the “chief cornerstone” that is rejected by builders but accepted by God, as prophesied in Psalm 118:22-23. Jesus also represents the foundation of the faith, as Paul establishes in 1 Corinthians 3:11; likewise, the confession that He is the Christ represents the rock upon which Christ builds His church (Matthew 16:18). We may see that the New Testament presents Jesus both as the source of “living water” and also as a Rock, the foundation of our faith.

We may gain understanding of Paul’s meaning in 1 Corinthians 10:4 through conflating all the imagery described above. The New Testament speaks of Jesus as a Rock and as a source of living water, and the Old Testament speaks of Israel being sustained by water provided by God through the striking of a rock. Thanks to Paul’s blending of the two, we may understand Jesus as the Rock, struck to provide living water leading to eternal life for those who believe. Let us ever seek to drink living water from Christ the Lord, observing His commandments to the glory and honor of God the Father!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Rock of Living Water

Jannes and Jambres

And even as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also withstand the truth. Men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith (2 Timothy 3:8).

As we investigate the Scriptures, there are times when we pass over certain details without much notice. There are times when we see certain details, find them interesting or perplexing, and move on anyway. There are times when we note certain details and are spurred on to learn more about them. And there are details for which we go through all three processes at different times.

The mention of Jannes and Jambres in 2 Timothy 3:8 could be one such detail. Paul talks about them in terms of Moses, so we know that they refer in some way to some story somewhere in Exodus through Deuteronomy. They are in opposition to Moses; Moses had a lot of people opposed to him, so that is not too surprising. We broadly understand the basis of the reference: just as they opposed Moses, so there will be some in the “last days” who will oppose the truth, ungodly people, corrupted in mind, reckoned as reprobate in the faith (2 Timothy 3:1-8). Ultimately, these sinful people will be exposed for who they are, just as Jannes and Jambres were (2 Timothy 3:9).

But if we perhaps dwell a moment on the detail, we might get perplexed a bit. Those names do not sound familiar. If we do some research and investigation, we discover that the only references to Jannes and Jambres is right here in 2 Timothy 3:8! Who are Jannes and Jambres, anyway? Where can we learn about them? Or is Paul just making stuff up?

Among the “pseudepigraphal” texts, religious yet uninspired books generally written just before, during, and after the life of Christ, there are references and stories regarding Jannes and Jambres. We learn about them from references in texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls along with “Jannes and Jambres,” a text of which a few fragments have been preserved. All of these texts and traditions consider Jannes and Jambres to be the two Egyptian magicians who stand in opposition to Moses in Exodus 7:1-8:19.

In Exodus they are considered as unnamed “magicians,” able to turn their staffs into serpents, turn the Nile to blood and to bring frogs upon the land. Nevertheless, they were not able to match the plague of the gnats, nor of any of the later plagues which God brought upon the Egyptians through Moses. They confessed that the plague of the gnats demonstrated “the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19). The magicians would later no longer be able to stand before Pharaoh when the plague of boils came upon them (Exodus 9:11).

These other texts, particularly “Jannes and Jambres,” suggest that the magicians were two brothers, and they stood up in opposition to Moses even though they knew that through Moses came the power of God. The story suggests that Jannes dies soon after because of his opposition, and after their mother died, Jambres, through necromancy, conjured the spirit of his brother who confessed the just nature of his death as a penalty for opposing the power of God and warned his brother to turn from his behavior. The fragmentary nature of the texts we possess means it is difficult to say much more about the story.

What we see in these texts and traditions does seem to reconcile well with Paul’s statements in 2 Timothy 3:8-9. Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses; their folly was made evident to all men.

Does this mean that “Jannes and Jambres” is inspired? No; we have no reason to think that. What we do see is that there is this tradition regarding the names of at least two of the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses as Jannes and Jambres. As with all sorts of Biblical characters, additional stories were told about them, and more than likely those stories do not bear much relation with anything that really happened to the actual Biblical characters. But they do exist; Paul is not making up stuff.

Jannes and Jambres, therefore, provide an illustration and a warning. There always will be people who oppose the truth, thinking they act in the service of a cause they do not know is lost. They may be able to “work their magic” and deceive for a time, but a moment will come when their foolishness will be evident to all. God will obtain the victory; truth will be victorious, and error will be exposed for what it is. Opposition to God can only go so far.

Jannes and Jambres is a small detail easily overlooked when studying in 2 Timothy. It requires some investigation to understand Paul’s referent and why he makes it, but the effort is worthwhile in the end. As in the days of Moses, so it is in our own day: God’s truth stands firm, opposed to error, and will have the victory. That which is false cannot hide in the shadows forever, and it will be exposed for the fraud it is. Let us be wise and not foolish; let us stand firm in the truth of God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jannes and Jambres

Commands and Appeals

Wherefore, though I have all boldness in Christ to enjoin thee that which is befitting, yet for love’s sake I rather beseech, being such a one as Paul the aged, and now a prisoner also of Christ Jesus (Philemon 1:8-9).

“Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”

Theodore Roosevelt made this “proverb” famous as a way of describing his governing policy. He preferred diplomacy so as to resolve differences but made it clear how he could use force to accomplish his purposes.

In the short letter Paul wrote to Philemon, a letter which raises more questions than it answers, Paul wishes to use the spiritual equivalent of speaking softly while carrying a big stick in order to persuade Philemon regarding the condition of Onesimus. Paul is an Apostle of Jesus Christ, one granted power and authority (cf. Colossians 1:1). All of the province of Asia would have heard of the mighty acts which Paul had accomplished in the name of Jesus in Ephesus (cf. Acts 19:1-20). The authority granted him by the Lord Jesus and his personal commitment to the Lord’s purposes were unquestioned in Colossae (the likely home of Philemon; cf. Colossians 4:12-16, Philemon 1:1-2). Paul would have been entirely in the right to issue a command to Philemon to act as Paul believed he should (Philemon 1:8).

Yet Paul has great respect for Philemon. Paul thanks God for him in his prayers, having heard of his love and faith for Jesus and the Christians (Philemon 1:3-5). Many Christians have been refreshed by him, and he is likely hosting the assemblies of the church in Colossae in his house (Philemon 1:2, 7). By all accounts, Philemon is seeking to please the Lord Jesus and to do His will in all respects.

Therefore, Paul does not think it best to enjoin, or command, what Philemon should do; instead, for love’s sake, he will beseech, or appeal to, Philemon to act as he should (Philemon 1:9). Paul will go on to make his request: to not penalize Onesimus the slave of Philemon in any way on account of his departure and time spent with Paul, but instead to receive his slave as a fellow brother in Christ (Philemon 1:10-17). Paul wishes for whatever would be charged against Onesimus to be charged against him instead (Philemon 1:17-19).

We have so many questions to ask regarding this situation and especially about the aftermath of the letter and what happened among Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus. Even though we will not come to a complete answer to these questions in this life, we can share in the same trust which Paul maintained: since Philemon seeks to live for Christ and glorify Him, and Philemon seems to be aware of the “debt” which he owes Paul (cf. Philemon 1:19), we can have confidence that Philemon did the right thing on the basis of Paul’s appeal. Yet we must ask: if Paul had instead decided to maintain his boldness in Christ and command what was necessary, would we feel as confident that Philemon would have done the right thing? If Paul had not first so commended Philemon for his faith and manner of life, thereby giving us confidence in his faith, would we have any basis upon which to believe that Philemon would be well-disposed to do the right thing?

As Christians, when we consider what is written in the New Testament for our instruction, it is easy to conflate commands and appeals and consider the two as completely synonymous. This is understandable: as servants of God in Christ, we should seek to follow after both what has been commanded in the name of the Lord as well as the appeals made toward thinking, feeling, and acting in holiness and righteousness (Colossians 3:17, 2 Peter 3:11-12, 1 John 2:3-6). If anyone comes away from Scripture thinking that what is commanded is all that is required and therefore anything regarding which an appeal is made is less than required and thus optional is still thinking in worldly, carnal ways, and has not fully imbibed the mind of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16). Appeals can be made because there are commands and the Lord Jesus behind them!

While we ought to follow after both those things which are commanded and concerning which appeals are made (and, to be fair, many things regarding which appeals are made are also commanded in other places, and vice versa), in terms of communication, there can be a big difference between a command and an appeal. A command is more forceful, and might rub someone the wrong way. To have to make something a command, at times, could imply a lack of trust and confidence in the one being commanded. An appeal, especially when made in a way that appreciates the faith of the one to whom the appeal is made, can often lead to the same desired end more effectively. If the appeal does fail, then the “big stick” can be used.

Another “proverb” of our time which speaks to the same reality is that one can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. We should not compromise the Gospel message or God’s standard in order to make the message more palatable to people. There will be times when people are going to be offended and rubbed the wrong way no matter what we say or do. Yet everyone appreciates being appreciated. Every Christian is sustained in their faith by encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25). People often do not mind being encouraged toward a higher goal or better service toward God but do not respond as well when they are berated, denounced, or denigrated because they have not done as well as they could. None of us are perfect; all of us fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Sometimes people do need a wake-up call, but how many times are commands dictated and rebukes blasted when a loving appeal would be more accurate and effective?

There is a time for commands, but there are also times for appeals. We might carry the “big stick” of the Word of God, but that does not mean that we do well to use it constantly to beat up on other people. Instead, let us seek to persuade men through appealing to them by the message of God. Let our presentations of the Gospel really be good news, not bad news. Let us make sure that we are truly encouraging one another, exhorting each other toward greater faithfulness to God in Christ, growing together in the Way!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Commands and Appeals