Worldly Wisdom

This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where jealousy and faction are, there is confusion and every vile deed (James 3:15-16).

James, the Lord’s brother, wrote to exhort his fellow Jewish Christians in the Diaspora regarding their conduct in Christ. Having encouraged them to avoid showing partiality (James 2:1-13), to manifest their faith in their works (James 2:14-26), and to give heed to how they speak and avoid hypocrisy in so doing (James 3:1-12), he then challenged the “wise” among them to demonstrate their wisdom through their lives full of good deeds (James 3:13). Wisdom “from above,” from God, is pure, peaceable, open to reason, full of mercy and good works, and is without partiality and hypocrisy; those who are wise make peace and in so doing sow unto a harvest of righteousness (James 3:17-18). But those who have zelos (jealousy or envy) and eritheia (strife, selfish ambition) in their hearts are not truly wise, and they should not glory and lie against the truth (James 3:14). Such people are motivated by a different kind of “wisdom,” that which is of the earth, of this life, and demonic; such wisdom leads to confusion and wickedness (James 3:15-16).

How can there be two different types of wisdom? Is not wisdom automatically good? By no means; wisdom is simply knowledge that “works.” Wisdom can be good; it can be evil. We may want to believe whatever wisdom that “work” must come from God, but it does not take much investigation to recognize just how terribly correct James is about the different sources of wisdom. In the experience of mankind, “might makes right” or “the ends justify the means” certainly seems to “work”: those with power tend to make the rules to benefit them and marginalize others, and not a few terrible deeds have been justified because of the perceived benefits of the outcome. In fact, most of what passes as wisdom about “getting ahead” in life all derives from the two base impulses identified by James: jealousy/envy and selfish ambition. While we may be able to find some morally exemplary persons among the wealthy and the elite, most of them have obtained their wealth because they were driven by jealousy and selfish ambition. It seems almost axiomatic that every ruler, those who actually rule and those who strongly desire to do so, are almost nakedly ambitious in life. Most give lip service to the moral superiority of love and humility, but when it starts hitting the power base or the pocketbook, it is all about fear and winning.

It is crucial for Christians to recognize the contrast between the wisdom from above and “worldly” wisdom, to not confuse the two, and in every respect to purge ourselves of “worldly” wisdom and pattern our lives on the wisdom from above. Christians are easily tempted to use a bit of the Devil’s ways against him; after all, they “work,” and if they “work,” then what would be the problem? James never denied the efficacy of “worldly wisdom”; instead, he pointed to its ultimate fruit. Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and vile practices (James 3:16). If there is jealousy and selfish ambition in the home, there will be fights, distress, stress, and the children will not be able to be fully raised in the Lord’s discipline and admonition and will have much to overcome as adults. If there is jealousy and selfish ambition in the church, there will be strife, divisions, and all kinds of ungodliness, hurting Christians and giving the Gentiles reason to blaspheme (e.g. 3 John 1:9-10). Our culture, society, and nation are under the control of the god of this world; we should not be surprised to see such terrible partisan bickering and division since there is so much jealousy and selfish ambition (2 Corinthians 4:4). We can understand how all of these situations come about, yet we recognize that none of them are really good or truly healthy.

For good reason did our Lord and Master draw a very strong and solid line between the “ways of the Gentiles” and the way it should be among His people in Matthew 20:25-28: the Gentiles live by the earthly, this life, demonic wisdom of this world. It should not be so among us. Christians must live by the pure, peaceable, reasonable wisdom from above, from God, full of good works and mercy, without partiality and hypocrisy. We will be tempted to use the world’s ways of doing things; after all, they “work,” and we do not want to be fully left behind. We will be tempted to use Satan’s tactics to tell people about Jesus, using manipulation, coercion, judgmentalism, or bait-and-switch tactics; such is not pure and peaceable, but derives from jealousy and selfish ambition, and is condemned. Many wish to judge the effectiveness of the Lord’s people in their efforts based on the metrics of the business world; we do well to remember that the business world is motivated entirely by jealousy and selfish ambition, and be very wary of whatever “wisdom” someone wants to derive from it. Whenever God’s people get involved in the economic and political world, they enter a realm dominated by jealousy and selfish ambition; if they are not careful, God’s people may end up finding themselves commending the unjustifiable and approving the unconscionable so as to obtain power or standing, compromising all that is good and lovely on account of fear and/or a will to power.

We do well to remember that God did not save us through economic prosperity or through the power games of the political realm; God has saved us through His Son Jesus who lived, suffered, died, and whom God raised from the dead because He proved willing to bear the shame and the scorn and proved obedient to the point of death (Philippians 2:5-11). We must have the mind of Christ, the wisdom from above; we must love where there is fear, we must remain humble where there is arrogance, we must show mercy where there is judgmentalism, we must remain content where there is jealousy, and we must seek the best interest of the other where there is selfish ambition. This world’s wisdom has not brought lasting peace; it is incapable of doing so. Christians, however, have access to peace toward God through Jesus who Himself killed the hostility by suffering on the cross (Ephesians 2:11-18). Peace does not come through any form of the wisdom of this world; it does not come through fear or projections of strength; it comes from humility, purity, a willingness to show no partiality, and righteous living under the Messiah. If we really believe Jesus is who He says He is, then we shall willingly give up our jealousy and envy, finding contentment in Him, and renounce all selfish ambition, and live for Him (Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 2:20, Philippians 4:10-13, 1 Timothy 6:5-10).

We live in a world saturated with demonic earthly wisdom. We must recognize it for what it is, but as Christians we must not capitulate before it. We cannot advance the Lord’s purposes with the Devil’s wisdom; we cannot will ourselves to power through the wisdom of demons, but must in every respect become the slave of Jesus so His reign can be seen through us. May we seek to purge ourselves of all jealousy and selfish ambition, the wisdom of this world, and find contentment and true life and identity in Jesus the Christ, and obtain the resurrection in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Singing in a Strange Land

For there they that led us captive required of us songs / and they that wasted us required of us mirth / “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How shall we sing YHWH’s song in a strange land? (Psalm 137:3-4)

The agony is palpable.

The historical books of the Bible tell us the story of the people of God, and generally do so in a rather straightforward fashion. So it is in 2 Kings 25:21, tersely declaring that Judah was exiled out of its land. The shock, the agony, the horror, and the astonishment of the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple and the exile of its people would find its voice elsewhere in Scripture. Few places prove as compelling as Psalm 137:1-6.

The Psalter communicated much simply by placing Psalm 137 in its current location. Psalms 120-134 are the “songs of ascent,” which we believe were sung as pilgrims would ascend the hill country of Judah to approach Jerusalem and Zion, where YHWH made His name to dwell. Psalm 135 praises YHWH as Creator, the God of Israel who destroyed their enemies, and the One True God, no dumb and mute idol. Psalm 136 is the grand call and response powerfully affirming YHWH as the Creator God of Israel, who has done great things, who delivered Israel from his adversaries, and who continues to provide, for His covenant loyalty/lovingkindness (Hebrew hesed) endures forever.

But then Israel sat by the waters of Babylon, and cried when they remembered Zion (Psalm 137:1). They hung up their musical instruments upon the willows (Psalm 137:2). The victorious Babylonians, pagans vaunting over their defeat of the people of YHWH, demand to hear the songs of Zion (Psalm 137:3). The Psalmist’s question rang out: how could they sing YHWH’s song in a strange, alien, foreign, and pagan land (Psalm 137:4)? The Psalmist would go on to resolve to never forget Jerusalem; he would rather forget his skill and never speak a word again before he would forget Jerusalem or enjoy anything above it (Psalm 137:5-6).

Ferdinand Olivier 001

We can barely begin to imagine the trauma of exile for those in Israel. Everything they knew and believed about themselves had literally been dashed to pieces in front of their eyes. They watched as thousands of their fellow Israelites, fellow people of God, died from famine, plague, and sword. They watched as the pagans ransacked the holy places of YHWH, whom they had believed to have been the God of Israel, who maintained covenant loyalty, and who overcame Israel’s adversaries. They were led to a distant land as the spoils of war, a land of strange tongues and stranger customs. Nothing could ever be the same again. Who would they become? What happened to YHWH’s promise? How had He let this happen to His people? How could they sing the songs of ascent to Zion when no such ascent proved possible? How could they sing YHWH’s song in a foreign land?

Without a doubt exile began as an extremely disorienting experience for Israel. Many would apostatize, believing the lie that might makes right, buying into the Babylonian propaganda. Yet for many the exile would prove the catalyst unto greater faithfulness; YHWH really was not only the God of Israel but the One True God, the God of heaven. He judged His people on account of their continual rejection of His purposes; Israel deserved far worse than it actually received. YHWH would again visit His people and bring them out of exile; He would again choose Jerusalem and Zion; Israel would again sing YHWH’s song in His land (Isaiah 40:1-5, Zechariah 2:10-12).

When Cyrus overthrew the Babylonian monarchy and took over the empire, Israel was allowed to return to its land (Ezra 1:1-4). And yet the exile was not fully over; Israel was still captive to foreign powers. Their long exile would only find its satisfaction in Jesus of Nazareth, YHWH in the flesh, having returned to His people, defeating sin and death through His death and resurrection, in His ascension establishing a dominion which would have no end (Daniel 7:13-14, John 2:14-22, Acts 2:36). Israel, and all mankind, received access to God through Jesus, and could become a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, with all the rights and privileges thereof (Ephesians 2:1-18, Philippians 3:20).

Yet before the people of God can inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, they must also experience exile. As Christians we live as exiles and sojourners in this world (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11); we live in its midst, ought to pray for peace and the salvation of all men, and do what is honorable among all, but we cannot love this world, cannot be friends with it, and cannot live according to its customs (Romans 12:1-2, 17, 1 Timothy 2:1-4, James 4:3-5, 1 John 2:15-17). We will be thought strange and consider the ideas and customs around us as strange (1 Peter 4:3-4); no matter how much we may look for a home and security, we will not find it here.

As with Israel, so with us: exile begins as a very disorienting experience. We also are tempted to apostatize, to believe the lie that might makes right, to buy into the propaganda of our nation and our cultural ideology (Romans 12:2). But our exile is designed to prove the catalyst for greater faithfulness, to prove the genuineness of our faith (1 Peter 1:1, 6-7). It is through the crucible of exile that we learn that God is the One True God, who has made Himself known through His Son, and that the only hope of the world is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is through the crucible of exile that we come to understand that the world is out for its own, does not glorify what God would have glorified, and that whatever we have experienced is far less worse than what we have deserved. It is through the crucible of exile that we learn to anchor ourselves in our great confidence and hope that Jesus will return again to gather His people to Him, that we will rise and forever be with the Lord, and dwell in His presence in the resurrection forever (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

It does seem difficult to sing YHWH’s song in a foreign land. Yet we must remember that God has already obtained the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, and we will prove more than conquerors if we remain faithful to Him (Romans 8:37, 1 Corinthians 15:54-58). The day is coming on which we will sing a new song and the song of Moses and the Lamb before the throne (Revelation 5:9-10, 15:3-4); until then, we do well to sing the songs of Zion even in a strange land, glorifying God for what He has accomplished for us through Jesus Christ the Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Surrender

Know ye not, that to whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But thanks be to God, that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered; and being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness (Romans 6:16-18).

“Slave” is not exactly the type of job to which many people would aspire.

The ancient world was supported and made possible by slaves. Slaves worked fields, quarried mines, educated children, cleaned clothes and dishes, prepared food, and an innumerable host of other tasks. Their hard work allowed their masters to enjoy the leisure time they expended in noble and less than noble pursuits: philosophy, politics, scientific exploration, symposia, debauchery, etc. While the Roman system of slavery was not nearly as brutal as that of the American South from the 1600s until the 1800s, the life of the slave was still not very pleasant. They were property, supposed to be invisible, always serving at the behest of their master. Some would gain their freedom; many others would not.

Slaves had no social clout and little standing; people did not voluntarily sign up to become slaves. We can only imagine how astonishing and controversial the message of Jesus of Nazareth and His Kingdom would have sounded to ancient ears when He affirmed the value of serving others and being as a slave (Matthew 20:25-28). It would have seemed quite strange to many to hear many of the great Apostles call themselves the slaves of Jesus (e.g. Paul in Romans 1:1, Peter in 2 Peter 1:1). Who would voluntarily decide to consider themselves a slave to anyone?

As Paul is attempting to explain how Christians are not under law but under grace he speaks of how Christians are “servants” (Greek douloi, properly “slaves”) to whomever they obey (Romans 6:16-18). In such a view everyone is a slave; true freedom is illusory. The only question involves precisely whom one will serve. Paul frames the experience of coming to the understanding of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, repentance, and the conversion process in general as making the choice to no longer serve sin unto death and condemnation but to serve righteousness in obedience according to the standard of teaching to which Christians have been committed, that is, the Gospel of Christ. Paul does not deny that a free will choice was involved; believers choose to serve righteousness and not sin. Nevertheless the choice was rather circumscribed: continue to serve sin in whatever guise you want to call it, be it idols, self, lusts, etc., or serve God in Christ. With such a perspective we better understand why it would be that early Christians called themselves slaves of Jesus; far better to be a slave of Jesus than to be a slave to the ways of the world!

It is also interesting to note how the Romans obtained their slaves. Some slaves were born into slavery. Others entered slavery on account of debt. Yet the Romans obtained a large number of their slaves from their conquests in war. The people who did not die but who surrendered to the Roman forces would become the next generation of Roman slaves.

“Surrender” is a term we do not find explicitly in Scripture; nevertheless, the concept is of great importance. To surrender is to give up; it is generally understood either to give up oneself in war when one can no longer stand their ground and fight or in terms of having to give up possessions to another for some reason. In terms of the Christian faith surrender is the necessary means by which one puts oneself in subjection to or to submit to the proper authorities; one must “give up” one’s right of self-determination in some way so as to follow the orders of the one in authority. In Scripture everyone is to be subject to God and the government which is given its authority by God (Romans 13:1). Christians are to be subject to one another (Ephesians 5:21). Wives are to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24). Children ought to submit to their parents in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-3). Members of the local church ought to submit to the eldership when present (Hebrews 13:17). In all of these situations and relationships real submission or subjection cannot take place until the person proves willing to surrender to the will of the proper authority.

Surrendering is one of the most difficult things any of us can do; whether we want to admit it or not, we like to maintain the (often little) power we think we have. Throughout time people have not thought highly of those who surrender; in some cultures it was considered so shameful that soldiers would rather commit suicide rather than to return to their people after having surrendered. We like thinking of ourselves as being in control and doing well; especially in America “giving up” seems to be the worst possible thing one could do.

Yet let us consider surrender in light of Romans 6:16-18. Just as we are all slaves to something, whether we admit it or not, we also surrender to something. We always “give up” or “give into” something. It may be the ways of the world as communicated in society, culture, family, education, etc. It may be one’s overvalued view of self. It may just be a constant giving into one’s desires. Yet in all those ways a person is surrendering, giving into the forces at work around them. The only other way is to surrender one’s will to God so as to serve Him in Christ!

We are to consider ourselves as slaves of God in Christ, seeking to be obedient from the heart to the Gospel (Romans 6:16-18). In order to be those slaves of God we must surrender our will to Him. It may seem scary and an admission of weakness; such is why we must always remember that God is faithful and worthy of our trust and that His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 5:7, 12:9). We should also recognize that not surrendering is not an option: if we do not surrender to God and His ways in Christ, then we are surrendering to the forces of darkness in whatever guise they have taken, be it ourselves, our culture, our education, our lusts, etc. Let us therefore prove willing to surrender our minds, hearts, bodies, souls, and will to God in Christ, trust in Him, obey Him, and advance His purposes to His honor and glory!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Light of the World

“Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Light and darkness represent a familiar contrast in Scripture. God is the light, representing all which is good, holy, true, and righteous (John 1:1-5, 1 John 1:5). Darkness, as the absence of light, is the absence of what is good, holy, true, and righteous, and therefore represents evil, sin, unholiness, ungodliness, and unrighteousness (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10, 1 John 1:5-10). This imagery is often extended to people on the basis of their identification and conduct: those who seek after God and His righteousness and holiness are considered part of the light, while those who do not seek God but seek their own interests are considered in darkness (Ephesians 5:7-14, 1 John 1:5-10). Light and darkness also have their representative works (cf. Ephesians 5:9, 11). The early Christians exhort one another to walk in the light, participate in the light, and turn away from the darkness and avoid it (Ephesians 5:3-11, 1 John 1:5-10). Jesus understands this imagery and uses it for full effect in Matthew 5:14-16, but toward a slightly different end.

As with salt in Matthew 5:13, so with light in Matthew 5:14: Jesus declares, without a hint of doubt or qualification, that the disciples are the light of the world. Jesus is not providing blanket approval for anything and everything the disciples will think, feel, or act; He is not attempting to deny the temptation for the disciples to act in darkness, and in a parallel declaration in Luke 11:33-36, will warn about the dangers of the eye and the body being full of darkness. Jesus is in no way seeking to contradict the way the imagery of light and darkness has been used throughout the Scriptures. In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus takes for granted how His disciples will seek to walk in the light and pursue God and His righteousness. Therefore, they are the light of the world.

But what does that mean? Jesus follows up with another declaration: a city set on a hill cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14). Most cities in the ancient world were built on a hill or accessible mountain for defensive purposes: if an enemy attacked, the defenders of the city would maintain the higher ground and maintain a slight advantage. A city set in the heights has the advantage of seeing the surrounding territory for some distance, but this also means that people in the surrounding territory can always see the city as well. One cannot camouflage a city on a hill!

Jesus then returns to the imagery of light with an example in the negative: no one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel (Matthew 5:15). “Bushel” is the Greek modios, a dry unit of measure of grain, often translated as “basket” under the assumption that Jesus uses the term to describe that into which a bushel of grain is placed. The point, made in Mark 4:21-23 as well, is clear enough: if it is sufficiently dark to need to light a lamp, it makes no sense to put the lamp under a bushel and hide or cover the light. Instead, the lamp is placed on a stand to illuminate the whole house (Matthew 5:15).

This entire series of illustrations leads up to Jesus’ explanatory conclusion in Matthew 5:16: as the light of the world, the disciples should let their light shine before others so they can see the good works done and thus give glory to God the Father.

Jesus therefore uses the images of light and a city on a hill to describe the “public” nature inherent in following Jesus. If we are in the light as Jesus is the light, our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and actions will be conformed to Jesus and reflect righteousness and holiness. As light shines in darkness, so our faith must be evident to all men.

Holiness and righteousness cannot be hidden, covered up, or kept private: a holy and righteous life, by its very nature, will be clear and evident to everyone who interacts with it. Followers of Jesus who reflect His light are the light of the world, a city set on a hill: they cannot be hidden or camouflaged. And that is the point: just like a lamp lit and hidden is next to useless, so is a Christian who seeks to hide his Christianity.

Jesus’ exhortations are quite appropriate for us today. While superficial profession of Christianity remains popular in our culture, firm adherence in following Jesus and His truth are not. We are often tempted to downplay our faith and the role it plays in our lives. Religion makes a lot of people very uncomfortable; our secular society puts a lot of pressure on Christians to “play nice” and not seek to offend or trouble anyone by proclaiming the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in word and deed. Nevertheless, we must obey God, not men (cf. Acts 5:29), and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus ought to so completely transform us that we cannot help but talk about it and live transformed lives because of it. That faith cannot be hidden any more than a city on a hill or light in the darkness.

It has always been a challenge to be the light in a world full of darkness (cf. John 1:5); this is not just a modern phenomenon. Christians are always under immense pressure to compromise their faith and “turn on the dimmer switch,” so to speak, regarding their light. Nevertheless, when we truly shine as the light of God in Christ, people will see our good works, and they will have reason to give glory to God the Father. Even in these dark days many people appreciate the blessings which come from Christians reflecting Jesus. People still appreciate knowing that others love them and care for them. People still appreciate it when others do good things for them. Even if people disagree with Christianity, there remains respect for people who maintain convictions, as long as they live by them.

And such is the warning within Jesus’ exhortation. Yes, His disciples are to be the light of the world, a city set on a hill. But that means there can be no hiding. Just as the people around us are given reason to give God glory when we reflect Christ toward them, they are also given reason to blaspheme when we fail to reflect Christ and act little differently from anyone else despite professing to follow Jesus. If the light of the world acts like the darkness, what hope remains for the world?

Christianity has never been nor can it become merely a private affair. Christianity cannot hide in the shadows; such places are for all those forces opposed to Christianity! Our faith, if it is truly alive and reflecting Jesus, will not just change our lives, but has the capacity to draw all around us toward Jesus as well. Neither Christians nor the church were ever called to “circle the wagons” and retreat into some private, “safe” Christian sphere, withdrawn from the world. You might be able to hide in a desert cave or a rural commune, but Jesus never described believers like that. His people are the light of the world, a city set on a hill. Christianity is supposed to be practiced in the sight of others, for the benefit of others even if it sometimes poses challenges or causes difficulties in our lives.

The Christian life is like living in a glass house, open to the eyes of everyone. There is a lot of pressure in that to conform to the world and to compromise the standards of Jesus; there is also a lot of pressure to try to cover up the windows and retreat into private spirituality. Yet, to this day, people put lamps on stands to give light throughout a room or a house, and so it must be with us and our faith. It will be uncomfortable at times, and it will involve a lot of pressure, but we are called to practice our Christianity everywhere and before everyone. We are called to reflect Jesus in the public sphere. Let us so live to give reason for others to glorify God in Christ, and shine as lights in the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Source of Our Hope

If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable (1 Corinthians 15:19).

The Greeks told the story of Pandora, the first woman on earth. She was given a box (really, a jar) and told not to open it. But she became curious, and opened the box. Immediately came forth all sorts of evil that quickly spread all over the world. She quickly closed the box, leaving only one thing left in it: hope.

While the story of Pandora and her box is mythical, there are good reasons why it is told: there are plenty of evils in this life, and they provide all sorts of misery. People get sick. People get hurt. Things fall apart or decay. People die. These things are all distressing and sad, and to what do we look to ease the pain? Hope.

But is that hope a good thing? In the myth of Pandora’s box, it may or may not be. Maybe hope is seen as something that helps people; but one could also interpret hope in that story as another evil imposed upon men by the gods. If there is nothing better than this life, with a dreadful underworld awaiting us, hope is cruel. It gives the pretense of better days without ever being able to truly deliver.

So it is with all hope in this life. If this life is all there is, there is no good reason for hope: evil persists in the world and will continue to persist no matter what. People do bad things to one another. We can try to improve our lot, but we are still all going to die. There are good reasons why Ecclesiastes seems depressing: it looks at things only in terms of life “under the sun.” And if it is true that there is nothing beyond this life, then the most pitiable people are Christians, because they expended their entire lives in this most foolish hope that something better awaited them. They experienced all sorts of deprivations and sufferings, and all for nothing!

The sad reality is that any and all hope based in this world will fail. If there is nothing beyond this life, there really is no good reason for hope at all. How depressing! How intolerable!

Yet, as Paul goes on to declare, Christ has been raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). We have reason to hope, but this is not a hope based in the way this world currently works. Our hope must be rooted in Jesus Christ and His Kingdom which represents the expectation of a new and better world, one in which righteousness dwells (cf. 2 Peter 3:11-13). We might presently be subject to death and decay, but the day is coming when we will overcome such in the resurrection (Romans 8:18-25). That is hope indeed!

Many view this hope in escapist terms, assuming that the hope of the resurrection does not really change anything about life now. Such could not be further from the truth; our lives in Christ and the lives we are to live as conformed in His image are grounded in the hope of the resurrection (Romans 8:28, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21). We can live our lives in this world the way God would have us live them precisely because we have hope for better days; if we somehow think we are just sitting around and waiting to get our ticket punched, we will find ourselves terribly disappointed on that final day (Matthew 7:21-23)!

This is why Jesus’ resurrection is so utterly critical: without it, there is no reason for hope. Without the resurrection, life is that meaningless trudge through pain and misery envisioned by the Greeks. Without the resurrection, we are lost in our sin without hope.

Little wonder, then, that Paul constantly emphasizes how we must be rooted in Christ and live for Christ (Romans 8:29, Colossians 2:6-7). He is the source of hope; through His resurrection, we have confidence that life is not meaningless and life is worth living. The reality of pain and misery is still there, but it need not define us or lead us to despair. We can overcome through Jesus in the resurrection. The resurrection changes everything. Let us praise God for Jesus and the resurrection and be sustained by our hope for the better world to come!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Conformity

For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29).

And be not fashioned [conformed] according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2).

Conformity involves taking the shape of one’s surroundings. A simple way to see conformity in action is to consider a glass of water: if the glass is tall and thin, the water is tall and thin. If you pour the water into a short and wide glass, the water will take on that shape. If the glass spills, the water spreads over the surface of the ground. It would be an odd day indeed if water no longer took the shape of its environment!

Many people have a very uneasy feeling about conformity. For the most part, being called a “conformist” is not a compliment. Nevertheless, everyone, to some degree, is a “conformist.” Everyone follows some type of pattern! Many young people seek to free themselves from the “conformity” of their parents and/or the “system,” but in the process conform themselves to the “groupthink,” habits, and styles of their peers. Even “nonconformists” conform to something, even if it is not the “standard” mold!

The Bible makes it clear that everyone conforms to something. In fact, there are only two forms to which we can conform: to the world (Romans 12:2) or to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

Conformity to the world is easy: it does not take much effort. You can just “go along” with the flow. Conformity to the world may take on many forms. It may mean that you blindly follow the customs and traditions of your family. It may involve the repudiation of those traditions for other views. It could be just based on cultural conditioning and accepting the prejudices and norms of early twenty-first century America. It might involve following after popular religious trends or forms of “spirituality” that are not consistent with the revelation of God in the Scriptures (cf. Galatians 1:6-9). Or it may be blazing your own path and doing what you think is right. All of these, and many more, are simply different ways to conform to the world and its thoughts and lusts (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). They may be easier to handle in life, but they come with a heavy consequence in death (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)!

The more challenging path is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. His way is truly counter-cultural and against “conventional wisdom.” Jesus came to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:25-28). He was humble, and declared that the humble would be exalted while the exalted would be humbled (Matthew 23:12). He loved everyone, including those who hated Him (Matthew 5:38-48). He ultimately expended His life for God’s purposes, and challenged His followers to do the same (Matthew 16:21-25).

Conformity to the image of Christ is difficult indeed. It requires constant growth and work and all of our resources (2 Peter 3:18, Galatians 2:20). We must constantly and honestly compare ourselves to Jesus our Standard and work to better reflect Him (2 Corinthians 13:5). It may lead to persecution, temptation, hardship, and perhaps even death. Yet, while it may be difficult for the time being, it cannot be compared to the eternal weight of glory that await those who are conformed to the image of Jesus the Son (cf. Romans 8:18, 2 Corinthians 4:17-18)!

That’s the choice with which we are all faced. Shall we just go along with the crowd and conform to the world? Or shall we stand against the corruption of the world and be conformed to Christ? Eternity hangs in the balance. The path may be difficult, but let us be conformed to the image of Jesus the Christ, and obtain eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Soils

“Hear then ye the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the evil one, and snatcheth away that which hath been sown in his heart. This is he that was sown by the way side. And he that was sown upon the rocky places, this is he that heareth the word, and straightway with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straightway he stumbleth. And he that was sown among the thorns, this is he that heareth the word; and the care of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. And he that was sown upon the good ground, this is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; who verily beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23).

The Parable of the Sower is one of Jesus’ most famous parables. Its meaning resonates for us today.

The sower is the preacher of the Gospel of Christ– the message of His life, death, resurrection, and Kingdom (cf. Romans 1:16, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5). The seed is that message. The focus of the parable, however, is on the different types of soils.

The “road soil” is quite hard, and the Word finds no room to take ground within it. Such are the unbelievers who choose to stay that way. They do not understand– or do not want to understand– Jesus’ message of humility, service, and turning from sin. The Evil One keeps them in his grip (cf. John 8:44-47).

So go the unbelievers. The next three types of soil feature believers and their fruit.

The “rocky soil” are those who hear the Word, believe and obey it, and start well. The Word is not deeply founded, however, and whenever difficulty arises– persecution for the Name, economic distress, physical suffering, or some other calamity– they turn away from their faith. It may take days, months, or even years for this difficulty to come, but when it does, the shallowness of that believer’s faith is made evident. Their faith is tested– and it fails.

The “thorny soil” also hear the Word and believe it and obey it. They recognize that Jesus is the Christ and know that they should devote themselves to spiritual things. But they have busy lives. They may be devoting themselves to some idol– money, fame, recreation, or some other pleasure. They may be so devoted to the needs of their physical family, friends, and the like that they do not make the time for spiritual matters. Since the Kingdom is not made a priority, their faith weakens and dies. Misplaced and misguided priorities lead to the end of their faith.

The “good soil” are those who hear the Word, believe it, obey it, and make spiritual things their first priority. Difficulties and temptations come, and their faith is tried, but they persevere and grow (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:3-9). They have plenty of obligations in the world, but they realize that their obedience to Christ is first and foremost and can be accomplished within their other obligations (cf. Ephesians 5:22-6:9). According to their gifts and service, they produce fruit: some thirtyfold, others sixtyfold, some one hundredfold. As humble servants, they praise God for all that He accomplishes, and participate joyfully in their specific role (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-28). Those producing a hundredfold do not look down upon the those with sixtyfold or thirtyfold, and the latter are not jealous of the former.

Let the one who has ears hear. We can see these responses to the Word in action in our own lives and the lives of those around us. We may seem to be “good” soil but turn out to be “rocky” soil. The thorns of the world are always around us. On the other hand, possibly “rocky” soil may turn and become “good” soil. In the end, let us be the good soil, producing for the Lord, with God giving the increase (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5-7)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Tribulation and Peace

“These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Peace is a state of being that is greatly sought after. Few are the people who want to live in a constant state of war or trouble. But where are we to find peace? It seems so elusive in life.

As Jesus indicates, we have tribulation in the world. In context, Jesus speaks of the trials and difficulties believers will encounter because of their stand for the Gospel (cf. 1 Peter 2:19-24). If we believe in Christ and therefore get resistance from the world, we can take comfort in Jesus’ victory over the world through His death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). Even if it leads to the loss of our livelihoods or lives, we will obtain a great inheritance (Luke 18:29-30, Romans 8:17-18).

While believers may be called upon to suffer tribulation in the world on account of the Gospel, it is certainly not the only reason for trial. Tribulation exists in the world on account of all sorts of reasons: wars, illnesses, economic challenges, consequences of the sins of others or perhaps even our own sins, and so on. Even if we obtain a level of stability in our lives, there is no guarantee that we can maintain that level of stability.

In reality, tribulation exists everywhere in the world, and true peace cannot be found in it. If we truly want peace, we must look to God in Christ.

We can have peace in Jesus Christ because He became our peace (cf. Ephesians 2:11-18). Peace can only exist when hostility is taken out of the way, and Jesus removed the source of hostility by bearing the law of sin and death on the cross (Ephesians 2:11-18, Romans 8:1-3). Through Jesus Christ we can have peace with God, peace with ourselves, and peace with our fellow man. Indeed, we can obtain the peace that surpasses all understanding in Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:7)!

This peace does not mean that we will not suffer trial; instead, this peace can sustain us through any difficulty we may experience. It is an inner peace that ought to flow outward in every aspect of our lives.

This peace comes at a great price: we must give up all of ourselves and serve Jesus (cf. Galatians 2:20). We must weigh the cost and see if it is worth it. When we finally get tired of the tribulation of the world, let us seek out and enjoy the peace that can only come through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Give Us a King!

But the people refused to hearken unto the voice of Samuel; and they said, “Nay: but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

Everyone would admit that the period of the Judges was difficult.  For three hundred years or so Israel participated in a vicious cycle of idolatry, oppression, deliverance, and a fall back into idolatry.

But things were not getting better.  The Philistines were stronger oppressors than previous adversaries.  While Eli and Samuel were competent judges, their sons did not follow in their footsteps.

What Israel sought seemed logical.  The judge system was not getting them anywhere fast.  Perhaps if they had a centralized authority and administration, they could finally defeat their enemies and have peace.

Yet Israel was distinctive because of all the nations in the world, they had the LORD of Hosts as their King.  By repudiating the system of government which He set up, Israel was really repudiating Him.

Israel would not be persuaded otherwise.  They were not thinking in the long-term, how that centralized authority would virtually enslave them with taxes and levies, and how that centralized authority would end up leading all Israel into some type of captivity.  They wanted a king– and they wanted him now.  Just like all the nations.

As Christians, we are to be a “different” type of people.  We are not to conform to the world, but to be conformed into the image of Jesus the Son (Romans 12:1; 8:29).  We stand as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven (Philippians 3:20), serving Christ the Lord and King.

There is always the temptation, however, to want to be like the nations around us and lose our distinctive nature in order to do what seems to us to be better.  In such a condition, as opposed to obtaining our “inspiration” from God, we get our “inspiration” from those around us in the world.  It may seem logical, and we can come up with all the reasons we want to justify it, but it is the same in the end.

When we seek a “king” so that we can be like “all the nations,” we repudiate the rule of Christ the Lord.  Let us always look to Him for our direction!

If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth (Colossians 3:1-2).

Ethan R. Longhenry