Lasciviousness | The Voice 9.37: September 15, 2019

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Works of the Flesh: Lasciviousness

Paul manifested great concern for the Galatian Christians who were in danger of seeking to be perfected by the flesh after having begun in the Spirit (Galatians 3:3). For most of the letter that concern centers on following after the Law of Moses and falling from the grace of Christ in the process (Galatians 1:6-5:15). Yet Paul maintains the same concern in terms of behavior, warning the Galatian Christians against pursuing the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

The temptation to practice sexually deviant behavior was strong among the pagan Gentiles; even though uncleanness can refer to any sin which would render a person impure, Paul applied the concern specifically in areas of sexual uncleanness. Paul then completed his triad of sexual concerns with lasciviousness.

Jesus spoke of lasciviousness as one of the evil thoughts within a man which defile him in Mark 7:21-23. Paul considered lasciviousness as inconsistent with walking in the light of day in Romans 13:13. Paul yearned for many among the Corinthians to repent of their participation in sexually deviant behavior, uncleanness, and lasciviousness in 2 Corinthians 12:21. Paul would further condemn lasciviousness as the behavior to which the Gentiles gave themselves up in their alienation from God and the depravity of their minds in Ephesians 4:17-19; Peter pronounced a similar condemnation in 1 Peter 4:3-5. Peter expressed how Lot was sorely distressed by the lasciviousness of his neighbors in 2 Peter 2:7. Jude warned Christians about those false teachers, likely of a Gnostic variety, who would turn the grace of God into lasciviousness, and deny Jesus our only Master and Lord in the process (Jude 1:4); Peter explained how similar false teachers would seek to persuade recent pagan converts to participate in lascivious conduct in 2 Peter 2:18.

The New Testament supplies many witnesses who strongly condemn lasciviousness; the Apostles associated the practice with pagan Gentiles or false teachers living in debased and depraved ways. Yet what is involved in lasciviousness?

“Lasciviousness” is not a term you normally encounter. Sensuality, lustfulness, wantonness, filthiness, depravity, licentiousness, promiscuity, debauchery, lewdness, even luxury represent other terms used to translate the term used by Paul in Greek, aselgeia, defined by Thayer as the following:

Unbridled lust, excess, licentiousness, lasciviousness, wantonness, outrageousness, shamelessness, insolence.

Whenever we come upon a Greek term which may be expressed in such a wide range of translations, we must recognize that the core concept cannot be fully expressed in any English idea. Aselgeia, like akatharsia (uncleanness), features an alpha privative, expressing a negation of a term, most likely “not seemingly” or “not becomingly”: the core idea, therefore, involves a loss of shame in an individual, who has no problems freely engaging in sexual activity, excessive consumption of food and drink, and fully committing his or her life to the pursuit of pleasures. The Gentiles of the Roman world were known for these things, frequently engaging in drinking parties and orgies and many other shameful deeds. These were done without even a hint of a conscience; in fact, it could be said for the men in the Roman world that you were strange if you did not engage in adulterous relationships. The prevalence of erotic imagery painted on the walls of many houses at Pompeii and in the drinking vessels of the Greeks and Romans attests to the widespread nature of such lustful, wanton behavior.

Paul most likely did not intend to provide a strict, specific delineation among all the various sins which he condemned as “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21; we can find many points of redundancy and overlap among them, and participation in many of them took place together in concert. For our purposes we can highlight three specific domains of concern manifested in the triad of sexual works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19: porneia (sexually deviant behavior) focused on the sexually transgressive behaviors prevalent in the Gentile world; akatharsia (uncleanness) focused on the spiritually (and sometimes even physically) defiling consequences of sexual transgression; and aselgeia, lasciviousness, focuses on the mentality and desire which fueled the sexually transgressive behavior and its consequences.

In Christ it is not enough to repent of sinful sexual behaviors; giving space to sinful sexual desires, whether acted upon physically or not, is considered committing adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-30). Such is why we maintain the use of the otherwise antiquated term “lasciviousness” for aselgeia: lasciviousness involves being inclined to lustful desire and sexual arousal for anyone to whom God has not joined a person in marriage (cf. Hebrews 13:4).

The modern Western world proves as saturated with lasciviousness and sensuality as did ancient Rome. We live in an age with easy access to all sorts of pornographic imagery. Sensual, lascivious dancing and cavorting is prominently featured in music videos, teenage dances, and collegiate parties. Clothing is tailored to cheekily reveal parts of the body so as to stimulate the sensual imagination of others. While some shame comes upon those who participate in pornography, those who participate in sensual dancing or who wear revealing clothing feel little to no shame anymore, and in society no shame comes upon those who consume pornographic or sensual forms of entertainment. People in society do not think these things to be a big deal and consider it part of the natural order of things. Our society has truly been given over to a debased mind in these matters!

What Paul says about sexually deviant behavior in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 has application to lasciviousness. While some aspects of lascivious behavior may lead others to sin, the person who wantonly indulges in lascivious and sensual entertainment or behavior is primarily sinning against himself or herself. Truly, indeed, what has been seen cannot be unseen: pornography especially has become the predominant means by which most young people in the Western world learn about sex and sexuality, and their desires and expectations are shaped by what they see in porn. The core concept of porneia, that which one does with a porne or prostitute, is morally abominable, but it at least involves becoming one flesh with another person (1 Corinthians 6:16): with exposure to pornography, the mind and body experience all the arousal of sexuality without any contact with any person. All the person consuming pornography has are pixels on a screen; their sexuality is being literally dehumanized and depersonalized. Those who consume pornography must forget how the pixels on the screen most often represent a living human being who has hopes, dreams, her or his own thoughts and feelings, family members, etc.

Not every person is tempted to commit every sin; few are those among us, however, who can honestly and sincerely say they have not been tempted to participate in lasciviousness, or who have not been overcome by lasciviousness. Statistically almost every man under the age of 50 has viewed pornography. Most men with heterosexual inclinations would confess the strong temptation to lust for women, and in many cases no matter how much the woman’s clothing would reveal. Many women have also viewed pornography and participated in various forms of sensual behavior; many women wear specific forms of clothing in specific circumstances to attract sexual attention from men. Sexual desire between a husband and wife whom God has joined in marriage is a good thing, and the reason why God made us with sexual desires (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6, Hebrews 13:4). And yet maintaining purity in sexual desire can prove challenging for those who would serve God in Christ, and especially in the midst of such a decadent, depraved culture as our own. May we seek to find contentment in God in Christ, maintain the proper use of sexuality in the context of marriage, and avoid all forms of sexual temptation and transgression to obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Paul in Antioch of Pisidia | The Voice 9.36: September 08, 2019

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Preaching in Acts: Paul in Antioch of Pisidia

As the Apostle Paul traveled throughout the Mediterranean world, he would begin proclaiming the Gospel in any city by visiting the local synagogue (e.g. Acts 17:1-2). How would he have proclaimed Jesus in such an environment? Luke has recorded for us an exemplar of Paul’s preaching in the synagogues: his exhortation to the Jewish people of Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:14-43).

Paul’s visit to Antioch of Pisidia took place not long after the Holy Spirit had called him and Barnabas to go out to do the work God had called them to do (Acts 13:1-3). Antioch of Pisidia was part of the Roman province of Galatia, but owed its name and standing to its development as a border town of the Seleucid Empire against the Galatians. The town had a significant enough Jewish population to warrant a synagogue, and Paul and Barnabas visited it on one Sabbath (Acts 13:14). It was apparently a custom for Jewish men from other places to be able to speak a word of encouragement to the people, and Paul took up this offer and opportunity to teach them about the fulfillment of God’s purposes for Israel in Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 13:15-16).

After summoning his audience of Israelites and God-fearers to listen, Paul began by rehearsing aspects of Israel’s history which emphasized God’s provision: God chose Israel, lifted them out of Egyptian exile, bore them as a nursing father in the wilderness, gave them the land of Canaan as an inheritance, gave them judges, and then Israel asked for a king, and received Saul and then David (Acts 13:16-22; cf. Exodus-2 Samuel). David is honored as an exemplary king, who would do the will of God (Acts 13:22; cf. 1 Samuel 13:14, 16:13, Psalm 89:19-37). Paul then spoke of the promise God had made to bring a Savior from the descendants of David, and declared Jesus to be its fulfillment: Paul appealed to the witness of John the Baptist who proclaimed a baptism of repentance but did not claim to be the Christ (Acts 13:23-25; cf. 2 Samuel 7:12, Isaiah 11:1-10, Matthew 3:11).

Paul rhetorically appeals for his audience of the children of Abraham and those who fear God to hear him, for he now would set forth the core of the Gospel, for to Israel the word of salvation has come (Acts 13:26). The rulers of the Jews and those in Jerusalem did not recognize Jesus as the Christ, even though they read the prophets every Sabbath, but fulfilled their words by killing Him even though He had done nothing wrong (Acts 13:27-28; cf. Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Luke 22:47-23:49). They took Him “down from the tree,” and laid Him in a tomb (Acts 13:29; cf. Deuteronomy 21:22-23, Luke 23:50-56). Paul then announced how Jesus was raised from the dead and seen for many days by those who had come up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and who bear witness to the resurrection to that day (Acts 13:30-31; cf. Luke 24:1-53). This is the good news of the promise which had been made to their fathers, and fulfilled recently in the days of their children, that God raised Jesus up, thus declaring Him the Son of God, and Paul quoted Psalm 2:7 to this end (Acts 13:32-33; cf. Romans 1:4). Paul also appealed to Isaiah 55:3 and Psalm 16:10 regarding Jesus’ resurrection, testifying how David died, laid with his fathers, and saw corruption, but Jesus of whom He spoke did not see corruption (Acts 13:34-37). Through Jesus, therefore, a forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to Israel, for the one who believes in Him is justified from all things by which they could not find justification under the Law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39; cf. Romans 3:1-31). Paul concluded with a warning from Habakkuk 1:5: God has done a work in their days which they would not find credible, but if they do not accept it, they will perish (Acts 13:40-41).

Those in attendance received the Word warmly: they wished to hear more such words spoken the next Sabbath (Acts 13:42). Many of the Jews and devout proselytes believed in Christ; Paul urged them to continue in God’s grace (Acts 13:43). The next week saw a great number from the city come to hear what Paul had to say, even among the Gentiles: the Jewish people became jealous and started to contradict what Paul said (Acts 13:44-45). Paul boldly declared how this was God’s purpose: the Word of God would come first to the Israelites, and since they thrust it aside, it would now go to the Gentiles, as prophesied in Isaiah 42:6, 49:6; many Gentiles were glad, glorified the Word of God, and came to faith in Christ Jesus (Acts 13:47-48).

We can find many points of continuity among Paul’s preaching in Antioch of Pisidia, Peter’s preaching in Acts 2:14-36, 3:11-26, 10:34-43, and Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7:2-53. Paul rehearsed aspects of Israel’s history, selecting elements of the story to establish God’s provision for leadership for His people, just as Stephen rehearsed Israel’s story in such a way to emphasize Israel’s rebelliousness despite God’s faithfulness. Paul appealed to the testimony of David in Psalms 2 and 16 just as Peter did, confirming Jesus’ resurrection by prophetic witness. As Peter spoke as a witness of what God did through Jesus of Nazareth, so Paul appealed to that witness. Paul also made much of the witness of John the Baptist, extraordinary on two fronts: we do not otherwise hear much about John from Paul’s writings, and Paul is not speaking in Judea to some who might have heard John themselves but in Antioch of Pisidia among Jews of the Diaspora. Paul’s preaching is saturated in Biblical references and allusions, as with the witness of Peter and Stephen. All such continuity points to similar evangelistic and rhetorical strategy, and to the end of encouraging the Israelites to see in Jesus of Nazareth not some new superstition but the fulfillment of all which God had promised for Israel: God’s rule is now manifest in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the embodiment of Israel’s story.

Yet we can also hear Paul’s distinctive voice and characteristics prevalent in his writings. God had provided in Jesus a way forward for Israel to which they did not previously have access; in Jesus was a form of justification which could not be obtained under the Law. Paul preached salvation and justification to the Jewish people of Antioch of Pisidia, just as justification and salvation would become prevalent themes in his letters to the Roman and Galatian Christians a decade or so later. Paul expected these themes to resonate with his audience to some degree, and by the results we can be assured it did. Some in Israel were looking for the Christ and the promised new covenant in which they would obtain the forgiveness of sins, the end of the baffling time of distance between God and themselves, suffering under the oppression sin and death.

We think of Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles, and rightly so (Acts 22:21); nevertheless, it was Paul’s great desire for his fellow Israelites to hear the Word and be saved, and Paul diligently preached Christ among the Jewish people he could find wherever he went (Acts 17:2, Romans 9:1-5). He likely would have entered each synagogue with a similar message to that which he proclaimed among the Israelites of Antioch of Pisidia. God has fulfilled the promises He made to Israel: the Christ has come, and He was killed by His people, yet raised from the dead and made Lord of all, and now all mankind can find justification and salvation through faith in Him. May we come to faith in Christ Jesus and obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Christianity and the “Christian Nation” | The Voice 9.35: September 01, 2019

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Christianity and the “Christian Nation”

Many nation-states in the world profess to be “Christian nations” or have members within them who would make a similar profession. They believe their nation should represent Jesus’ purposes on earth to some degree: perhaps it is a belief that their nation is founded on Christian principles, or that somehow their nation has been appointed by Jesus to accomplish His purposes on the earth. This ideology is particularly striking among many in the United States: many are convinced that the United States was founded as a uniquely Christian nation, founded by pious Christians who sought freedom from the tyranny of Britain, and wished to establish the United States as a haven for Christianity and the advancement of its principles through its policies and politics.

From a perspective purely founded in the New Testament, such an endeavor seems entirely misbegotten. Jesus did not come to establish an earthly Kingdom: His Kingdom is not of this world, and He refused to bow down before Satan to receive the glory of the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8-10, John 18:36). Jesus was the stone that would smash the power of the kingdoms of the world (cf. Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45): the Gospel would be preached to people in every nation, and Christians would seek to glorify God and accomplish His purposes as members of various nation-states (Matthew 28:18-20, Colossians 1:6). Christians submit to the earthly authorities, but their primary loyalty is to God in Christ, and they must always obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29, Romans 13:1-7, Philippians 3:20-21, 1 Peter 2:11-18). Christians in New Testament times and soon after experienced great suffering and persecution at the hands of earthly authorities; they made no claims or pretense of attempting to make Rome a “Christian nation” (cf. Revelation 13:1-18, 15:1-2). Early Christians perceived that the nation-states of the world were enslaved to Satan, the god of this world: they would give Caesar what was Caesar’s, but their full devotion and hope they gave to God (Matthew 4:8-10, 22:15-22, Revelation 13:1-18).

Despite imperial resistance and persecution, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, and gained many adherents throughout its first three centuries. The relationship between Christianity and the nation-state, particularly in the Western world, was profoundly changed in the fourth century after the Emperor Constantine embraced the Christian faith, and his later descendants imposed Christianity as the approved religion of the Empire. “Christendom” would never be the same: churches would use nation-states to impose their form of Christianity on the land, and the nation-states used the churches to advance their interests among the people. To this end “Christendom” featured a host of civic religions which would uphold certain principles of Christianity while justifying the nation-state in its ideology. They might pretend to honor the Lamb, but once their interests were threatened, the beast behind the scenes would be unleashed (Revelation 13:1-18).

We have witnessed a particularly American form of civil religion develop over the past century which married a fundamentalist Christianity with a small government, free market, corporate friendly, patriotic conservatism. In this view, the United States is a “Christian nation.” God has uniquely blessed and chosen America in Christ as a beacon of freedom and opportunity, advancing free enterprise and restraint from governmental interference. America is thus seen as a force for good in the world, with even its military endeavors blessed by God. In this view, being a good American is to be Christian, and a good Christian is a good American.

In truth, the United States of America was not founded as a “Christian nation”; most of its founders were Deists and did not subscribe to Christian “orthodoxy.” Yes, Christianity maintained a profound influence in early America, and many of the principles enshrined in America’s founding documents are influenced by the Christian tradition; but this does not make the United States somehow a “Christian nation” in a way God would recognize in Christ. From the perspective of what God has made known in Jesus, there is much to lament over what has been done in the name of the faith since the days of Constantine; we have no expectation, based in Scripture, that Christians are to expect the nation in which they live to honor their principles, to advance their faith, or to bring God’s Kingdom through its coercive power. The Gospel of Jesus, not the nation-state, is God’s power to salvation (Romans 1:16).

Those who would wish to serve Jesus must be leery of the premise of the “Christian nation.” No nation-state honors Christ for the sake of glorifying God; nation-states wish for Christianity to help it advance its own purposes, and in the process, the faith in Christ will be invariably compromised. When Christianity is used to advance any kind of political agenda, the faith in Christ will be invariably compromised. Jesus and the Apostles bore witness before rulers (Luke 23:1-25, Acts 26:1-32); the rulers condemned Jesus, and the Apostles sought for them to become followers of Jesus in their own right.

Those who would serve Jesus will make excellent citizens of an earthly nation in many respects: they will honor authorities, they will pay taxes, they will give consideration to the poor and marginalized in their midst (Romans 13:1-8, Galatians 6:10, 1 Peter 2:11-18). Yet those who serve Jesus must put His Kingdom first, and nation-states generally demand complete and total loyalty from their subjects. If Christians prove willing to take up arms for the sake of a cause or a nation-state, and would even fight fellow Christians doing the same for a different cause or nation-state, how is the Kingdom of God thus honored? If Christians would think less of fellow Christians because of the nation-state in which they happen to live, how is the Kingdom of God honored? Christians can certainly appreciate the benefits of the particular nation-state in which they live; we are not called to renounce our ethnic or national identity. But we must never allow our national identity to supersede our commitment to Jesus’ trans-national Kingdom, or become so enraptured in cultural chauvinism as to alienate ourselves from others for whom Christ died.

Christians must be on guard against the deceptive nature of the civic religion of the “Christian nation.” It allows people to presume that being a good citizen of the state means they can be considered in good standing with God, even though God is not a respecter of persons, and seeks for faithful, sacrificial service for the Kingdom of Jesus (Romans 2:5-11). Christians are easily tempted to emphasize what civic religion would have them emphasize, and minimize what civic religion would have them minimize, and to neglect the weightier matters of the Kingdom of God. The enemies of the civic religion are whatever threats the nation-state perceives against itself, and their humiliation or elimination is sought; the enemies of Christ are the spiritual forces of darkness and all who are influenced by them, and resisting the forces of evil and redeeming those who are influenced by them should be sought (Ephesians 6:12, 1 Timothy 2:4). Ultimately, if the nation-state turns to a different ideology for a civic religion, what becomes of all of those whose allegiance to Christ was dependent on the affirmation of the nation-state? As we are seeing today in America, many such people have fallen away, and now prove at best indifferent, and at worse hostile, toward the faith in Christ.

Those who serve Jesus must recognize how the civic religion promoted by the government has never been, nor can ever be expected to be, their loyal friend. They might be tolerated at times, but they may suffer persecution if any of the presumptions of the nation-state are challenged. We can faithfully serve Christ among those who profess a “Christian nation,” but we can only do so if we maintain vigilance in our loyalty to the trans-national Kingdom of God and His purposes made known in Jesus. May we prioritize the Kingdom of God and share in the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Photo Credit: unsplash-logoBrad Dodson

Babel and Knowledge | The Voice 9.34: August 25, 2019

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Babel and Knowledge

The quest for knowledge has defined the Western world for the past 250 years. Ignorance, the philosophers of the day said, was the great evil of the world; if only we could purge the world of ignorance, we could be able to finally advance as a civilization. Knowledge, in such a view, is power; what we know allows us to master, and if we can master, we can overcome obstacles and compel the creation to submit to our dictates.

How successful this quest has been is most astonishing. In almost every pursuit of study human knowledge has greatly been increased since the 1700s, a time of “renaissance men” who could have a working understanding regarding most fields of study. And yet the early twenty-first century is the age of the “expert,” a person part of a small tribe who has spent their lives dedicated to one ever narrowing field of study. Such an “expert” can barely keep up with the advancements in knowledge in his own field, let alone be knowledgeable in the fields of others. Anyone who wishes to know anything about that particular field must consult the “experts” involved. We have come to trust these “experts,” for we have all specialized in our knowledge.

Humans like to believe their use of knowledge is toward the ultimate good. But humans are easily deceived; they have been thinking this way for millennia, and to what end? No doubt those people who worked together on the plain of Shinar thought they were working together and using their knowledge to some good when in reality their tower was being built as a monument to their own greatness (Genesis 11:4). Humans, made in the image of God the Creator, have great potential with their abilities to learn and form and mould (Genesis 1:26-27, 11:6); nevertheless, they end up using that knowledge, more often than not, to advance their own purposes, not the glory of the God who made them.

The modern pursuit of knowledge is primarily designed, like the Tower of Babel, to build monuments to man’s “greatness.” We vainly seek knowledge where knowledge cannot satisfy, for we are mortals and there is much we cannot and will not understand (Ecclesiastes 8:14, Isaiah 55:8-9). We presume our knowledge is used for good, yet that same knowledge is often used for evil: we harnessed the power of the atom, and can provide power and medical technology, but instantaneously used it to create a weapon that could destroy humanity itself, and we continue to live under its dangerous cloud. We like to imagine that our knowledge permanently advances humanity; far too often our insights are like we are, as a vapor and the grass of the field, and future generations end up learning from mistakes just as we did (James 4:14, 1 Peter 1:24-25).

All too often knowledge has puffed people up, just as Paul warned in 1 Corinthians 8:1. People gained a bit of knowledge about the workings of the universe, and now many presume that they have no need for God. Many an “expert” thinks he or she has solved great mysteries and can provide the final answer to difficult philosophical problems because their faith is in what they know; in reality, there is far more they have missed and neglected than they would like to admit. Those with knowledge feel smugly superior to those whom they believe have no knowledge.

Knowledge is neutral; it can be used to beneficial or detrimental ends. Above all, we must remember that all pursuits of knowledge are only possible because God has so made the universe to be somewhat understandable (Romans 1:18-20); anything that is true is only true because it accurately reflects the universe which God has made and continues to sustain (Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:1-3). As Christians, all we think, say, or do must be done by Christ’s authority and to God’s glory, not our own (Colossians 3:17); thus, our pursuit of knowledge must always be directed so as to better love God and man made in His image (1 Corinthians 8:1). May we seek knowledge in the right way for the right reasons, not to add to a monument to our greatness which will perish, but to God’s glory which endures forever!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Uncleanness | The Voice 9.33: August 18, 2019

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Works of the Flesh: Uncleanness

Paul had great concerns regarding the Galatian Christians departing from the faith by submitting to the Law of Moses (Galatians 1:1-5:15). Yet Paul also wished to exhort them regarding dispositions and behaviors which Christians were to embody (the fruit of the Spirit), and dispositions and behaviors which they must avoid (the works of the flesh). These works of the flesh are listed in Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

“Fornication,” perhaps better understood as sexually deviant behavior, represented a pervasive temptation and form of transgression in the ancient world. Paul continued with “uncleanness,” translated in other versions as “impurity”; in Greek, akatharsia, defined by Thayer as:

1) uncleanness
1a) physical
1b) in a moral sense: the impurity of lustful, luxurious, profligate living
1b1) of impure motives

While most humans generally appreciate it when their fellow humans keep their bodies free of dirt, Paul is not attempting to condemn those who have not taken a bath in awhile. For an Israelite like Paul, being “unclean,” first and foremost, relates to matters of ritual purity and impurity. The Law of Moses made provisions regarding clean and unclean animals and the types of conditions and situations in which a person would be deemed ritually unclean, and the means by which, if any, they could become ritually clean again (Leviticus 11:1-15:33). Concern regarding ritual impurity undergirds Jesus’ denunciation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:27: He compared their inner spirituality to the inside of a tomb, full of dead men’s bones and thus unclean things, a stinging rebuke to a group of people who sought to abide by ritual purity guidelines fastidiously.

Is Paul therefore imposing all sorts of ritual purity requirements on Christians? Jesus declared the end of ritual purity guidelines in Mark 7:18-23, focusing instead on people’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions as the source of defilement, not foods or unwashed hands. Jesus would go on to demonstrate the cleansing of both foods and people in His vision to Peter in Acts 10:9-16, 28; Paul himself declared nothing is unclean of itself in Romans 14:14, no doubt based on these messages from the Lord.

So if no thing is unclean of itself, why does Paul consider “uncleanness” a work of the flesh in Galatians 5:19? Paul’s concerns in Romans 14:1-23 focused primarily on concerns that certain kinds of foods were unclean, and there he was not discussing dispositions or behaviors. Paul’s use of “uncleanness” in Galatians 5:19 is akin to Jesus’ exhortation in Mark 7:18-23: people are defiled by their evil thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, not by the things they eat or drink.

To this end any thoughts, feelings, or behaviors contrary to God’s purposes are “unclean”: as Paul would declare in 1 Thessalonians 4:7, God did not call us to be unclean, but to be made holy, or sanctified, in Him. From these verses we understand the powerful imagery of sin as defiling, making unclean or impure, since we gave ourselves over to uncleanness (Romans 6:19); thus, to be saved, we required cleansing from God through Jesus, and to this end we are immersed in water in baptism for the remission of our sins (Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-7, Titus 3:3-8, 1 Peter 3:21). Part of repentance is turning away from what caused us distress and grief; therefore, to wallow in defilement by persisting in sin remains contrary to the spirit of repentance and God’s purposes for us in Jesus (Hebrews 10:26-31, 2 Peter 2:20-22). Those who persist in sin without repentance will not inherit the Kingdom of God in Christ!

While “uncleanness” can theoretically refer to any kind of impure thought, feeling, or behavior, Paul here sandwiches akatharsia, “uncleanness,” between porneia, “sexually deviant behavior,” and aselgeia, “lasciviousness” or “sensuality,” strongly suggesting a concern about sexual uncleanness. Most of the time Paul speaks of “uncleanness” it is in such a sexual context (Romans 1:24, 2 Corinthians 12:21, Ephesians 4:19, 5:3, Colossians 3:5). The pagans gave themselves over to uncleanness in their lusts and sexually deviant behavior; some Christians in Corinth were still participating in such things!

Sexual transgression is frequently discussed in terms of causing defilement: the conclusion to the list of all the forms of inappropriate sexual contact in Leviticus 18:1-23 is a warning for Israel to not defile themselves in such things as the nations of the land had done (Leviticus 18:24-25). To this day coarse sexual terminology or behavior is deemed “dirty,” that is, things which would cause uncleanness. Thus, while any sin can defile, we understand how sexual sins are especially associated with defilement and uncleanness. In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 Paul directly contrasts sanctification with sexually deviant behavior, leading to the declaration we have previously seen in 1 Thessalonians 4:7. What the pagans thought of as natural and normal was in fact contrary to God’s purposes and impure, and Paul did not hesitate to use the language of purity and impurity to warn pagan converts to Christianity away from sexual transgressions.

Thus, while any sin can render a person “unclean,” Paul emphasizes how inappropriate sexual thoughts and behaviors are “unclean.” We also do well to warn people regarding the uncleanness of sexual transgression. Nevertheless, we must be careful in going beyond what is written and causing grief not imposed by the Lord in regards to these matters. Sexual transgressions may render a person “unclean,” but all can find cleansing, wholeness, and integrity through faith in Christ Jesus (Titus 3:3-8). Christians have no right or justification to brand a person as “tainted goods” or “defiled” because of sexual transgression if they have come to the Lord Jesus in contrition, repentance, and faith. In truth we have all been defiled by corruption in the world; we all have been unclean because of our sins; we have all required cleansing from Jesus for redemption (Titus 3:3-8). Purity is not something we have obtained through our own efforts; the Scriptures continually insist that we have been cleansed by the blood of Christ (Revelation 7:14).

God has called us to sanctification in Jesus, not to uncleanness in the ways of the world and its sexual desires. Purity and impurity remains a potent metaphor even in the Western world in the twenty-first century, yet we must exercise it with caution. We must insist to the world how sexually deviant behavior and misdirected lustful desire is dirty, unclean, and impure. And yet proper sexual desire and sexuality in the context of two people whom God has joined together in marriage is right, holy, and pure (Matthew 19:4-6, Hebrews 13:4). We cannot escape defilement on our own; we all can find cleansing of our moral filth in the blood of Christ through baptism. Impurity need not be a life sentence, and we should not impose it as such on those who have found cleansing in Jesus. May we seek sanctification in Christ, avoid the defilements of the world, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Peter Before Cornelius | The Voice 9.32: August 11, 2019

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Preaching in Acts: Peter Before Cornelius

It was something everyone in the first century took for granted: the Israelites were the chosen people of their God. If one wanted to follow their God, one would have to become an Israelite. When some began proclaiming that God had fulfilled all of His promises to His people through Jesus of Nazareth, the message was proclaimed among Israelites alone. And then a Roman centurion saw an angel; Simon Peter received a vision from Jesus. Momentous acts took place which meant that nothing would ever be the same again. God was truly doing something new in Jesus; the world would never be the same.

At some point within the first decade after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, an angel visited Cornelius, an Italian God-fearing centurion residing in Caesarea: his prayers had been heard by God, and he was to call for Simon Peter in Joppa to hear all the Lord had commanded (Acts 10:1-8, 30-33). As Cornelius’ emissaries traveled, Simon Peter prayed his noontime prayer and entered a trance: he saw a sheet of ritually unclean animals descend from heaven, and heard the voice of the Lord telling him to kill and eat. Peter replied that he had never eaten anything unclean; the Lord Jesus told him he should not call common (or unclean) that which God had cleansed. This happened three times, and almost immediately afterward, the emissaries from Cornelius arrived where Simon Peter was staying (Acts 10:9-18). The Spirit prompted Peter to go with them, and he did; Peter was recognizing that God’s concern was less about the cleansing of food and more about the cleansing of people (Acts 10:19-23). Peter and a delegation of Jewish Christians from Joppa came to Cornelius and found him and many of his family members and friends (Acts 10:24-27). Peter established how this meeting and association went against the custom of the Jewish people; Cornelius recounted how had seen the angel and had called Peter to hear what the Lord had commanded him, and wished to hear what Peter had to say (Acts 10:28-33).

Peter began preaching by setting forth what he had learned by these recent revelations from Jesus: God does not respect persons, but those in any nation who fear Him and work righteousness may be found acceptable to Him (Acts 10:34-35). Peter then declared the word God sent to the children of Israel, considered tidings of peace by Jesus the Christ, the Lord of all: Cornelius et al had heard what had been made known throughout Judea regarding what God had accomplished through Jesus of Nazareth, how after John’s baptism Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and power and went about doing good, healing those oppressed of the devil (Acts 10:36-38). Peter affirmed his witness of what Jesus did among the Jewish people and in Jerusalem, that He hung upon a tree, and that God raised Him from the dead on the third day (Acts 10:39-40). In His resurrection Jesus did not appear to everyone, but to His chosen witnesses, the Apostles, with whom He ate and drank after His resurrection (Acts 10:41). In the resurrection Jesus charged the Apostles to preach to the people how He was appointed by God to judge the living and the dead; the prophets bore witness how through His name all who believe would receive remission of sins (Acts 10:42-43).

While Peter was speaking these final things the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and all of his associates (Acts 10:44-46). Peter recognized what this meant: God was certifying that these Gentiles were to be accepted into the faith as Gentiles, and ought to receive baptism in water, since they had received the Holy Spirit just as the Apostles had on the day of Pentecost (Acts 10:47-48).

Peter’s proclamation to Cornelius and his associates reflects the “hybrid” nature of his audience: as a God-fearer, Cornelius would have some familiarity with the Hebrew Bible and Jewish customs, yet he remains a Gentile, and one representing the pagan oppressive power from the heart of the pagan oppressive power at that. Peter could take for granted that Cornelius has already heard about Jesus of Nazareth and what God accomplished through Him. Peter expected Cornelius to already grasp the expectation of the Messiah as the Anointed One, spoke of crucifixion as “hanging from a tree,” in terms of Deuteronomy 21:22-23, and identified the forgiveness of sins in Jesus as the fulfillment of what the prophets spoke, affirming the prophets as a witness of Jesus alongside the Apostles. And yet Peter felt compelled to explain in greater detail the nature of Jesus’ resurrection: how it could be that only some saw Him, and not everyone; the demonstration of His physicality in eating and drinking after the resurrection; the charge Peter had to proclaim this message as given by Jesus in the resurrection; and the imminent judgment, a theme which would be proclaimed to Gentiles frequently (cf. Acts 17:30-31).

Peter would never be the same after his interaction with Cornelius: he now understood how God worked to save not only physical Israel, but all the nations, in Jesus, and would constantly refer back to these events to justify the inclusion of Gentiles who had come to faith in Christ (Acts 11:1-18, 15:7-11). The proclamation of the Gospel to the Gentiles changed everything for early Christianity: the Gospel was more acceptable to many Gentiles than to Israelites, and much of the New Testament is written to explain how God was in the right to welcome in Gentiles into the fold, and how it had always been His purpose to do so (e.g. Romans 1:16-11:36, Galatians 1:6-5:16, Ephesians 2:1-3:12). The world would never be the same: the message of Jesus the Christ would not be restricted to a small group of people, but could be spread to anyone of any nation, and so it has for almost two thousand years. Christians today find salvation when they believe in Jesus, confess His name, repent of their sins, and are immersed in water in Jesus’ name just as Jewish Christians and Cornelius were saved so long ago.

In Peter and Cornelius we see the hand of God at work, but also the importance God places upon His followers proclaiming the Gospel to others. It would have been far more efficient for the angel to have proclaimed the Gospel to Cornelius and his associates, but it was not God’s purpose for him to do so. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all worked diligently to arrange for the meeting of Peter and Cornelius, and demonstrated God’s purposes in Christ when the Spirit was poured out on Cornelius and his associates. In this way the Jewish Christians would be hard pressed to deny that God had accepted the Gentiles as Gentiles; yet in this way we also see how faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ, and such hearing requires one to go and preach (Romans 10:12-17). The Apostles have passed on and do not go about preaching the Word; all in Christ are now charged to go and bear witness to the Apostles’ witness to every creature (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15). May we give thanks for God’s merciful provision of access to the promise of faith in Christ, follow Jesus as Lord, and proclaim His salvation to all!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Epicureanism and the Modern World | The Voice 9.31: August 04, 2019

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Epicureanism and the Modern World

Philosophy is one of those things, like theology, which a lot of people consider arcane and mostly irrelevant to life. And yet, as creatures who seek meaning and purpose in life, every human has a philosophy, as well as a theology: everyone has some view about the way life ought to be lived, just like everyone has some opinion about the nature of God, or the lack thereof. We thus do well to consider: what are the principles of the operating philosophy of a good number of people in the Western world?

We have heard much about postmodernism and relativism, and many people do approach the world, their opinions, and other people in postmodern and relativist ways. Nevertheless, neither postmodernism nor relativism provides a framework for how one ought to live; they question our certainties and our approach. To understand how many in the Western world live, we will have to look elsewhere.

Materialism defines the basis of belief for a good number of people, however consciously accepted: all that exists, or at least all that matters, is that which exists in this material universe (or in additional universes beyond our perception). Many do still believe in a non-material, “spiritual” realm; functionally, however, a good number of such people carry on as if the “spiritual” realm had little to say or do about their lives. A lot of people look to science, or scientific-sounding endeavors, for guidance about what to believe about themselves, their origins, and their destiny. It proves challenging to find meaning and purpose in a scientific, materialist worldview: meaning and purpose become defined by attempting to live the best possible life in ways that cause the least harm to others and proves to be as enjoyable as possible.

In short, many modern Westerners have become Epicureans, whether they know it or not.

Epicureanism is a Greek school of philosophy begun by Epicurus around 300 BCE. Epicurus was a materialist and believed the universe to be composed of “atoms” which collided with one another randomly. Epicurus did not necessarily deny the existence of the gods, yet believed they were as subject to chance and fortune as anyone else, and thus were not involved in this world. Epicurus was very much against all forms of superstition and belief in divine intervention; life is what you make of it, and is not based in fate or the capriciousness of divine impulses. Epicurus thus believed that pleasure was the greatest good: not the pursuit of hedonistic desire but a modest, sober, disciplined life pursuing knowledge. Such a life, Epicurus believed, would limit fear and pain, and achieve ataraxia, a position of peace and calm. Epicurus developed his philosophy to stand against the Platonists; future generations would stand more in contrast with the Stoics, and it is not for nothing that the Apostle Paul would dispute with both Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens in Acts 17:18. Epicureanism was one philosophical school among many in the Greco-Roman world; it gained some adherents, but the Epicureans would eventually fall short in the philosophical battle with the Neo-Platonists, and Epicureanism did not survive the collapse of the Roman world.

Ever since the Enlightenment the Western world has prepared fertile ground for the development of modern Epicureanism. A good number of people accept the premise that “science” has defeated “faith” in the contest for the “hearts and minds” of people today. Modern Epicureanism thus follows its ancient ancestor in accepting only the legitimacy of the material world and a conviction that any attempt to find meaning or purpose in the universe is a futile endeavor. The goal remains to avoid pain at all costs and to find some kind of inner peace through exploration of self and the world. Yet modern Epicureans, on the whole, reject Epicurus’ views on what makes for pleasure, and have substituted hedonism, the pursuit of the satisfaction of our basic impulses.

Very few people today will admit that they are modern Epicureans, and yet a good number of their ideas about what life should be about align with Epicureanism. People today will tell you that their goal is to be happy. Happiness, to them, will involve great food and drink with great people, a satisfying sexual life, and a comfortable life with modern amenities. In all things they try to avoid pain and discomfort: they say they are against causing pain and discomfort to others, and that is true as long as it does not lead to much discomfort for them. In truth, anything and everything which might begin to cause any pain, discomfort, or duress is dispensed with very easily, and that is as true for relationships with people as it is with things.

As Christians we must recognize the Epicureanism around us for what it is. We do well to see how its conclusions make sense to those who have accepted its primary premises. We must resist the modern delusion that the Epicurean viewpoint of the day is the only one that makes sense or can “work” in modernity; it is not true, and it really does not even work for most people.

In truth life is full of disappointment, pain, and difficulty. A life which exists only to pursue pleasure and avoid pain proves shallow and futile, and ultimately does not satisfy. The days will come when life will no longer be as pleasurable, and pain will not be easily avoided (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:1-7). We should value other people for more than just the benefits they provide us, for do we not want people to value us above and beyond what benefits we may provide for them (cf. Matthew 7:12)? Has anything of value or benefit to humanity ever come without some discomfort, distress, or pain?

Yet the fundamental difficulty with Epicureanism is in the limitations of materialism: the universe displays the handiwork of an Intelligence beyond itself (Romans 1:18ff). Humanity is more than happenstance from all sorts of atomic collisions; furthermore, that which makes life worth living, beauty, truth, and meaning, are things which cannot be synthesized or analyzed according to the scientific method. As Christians we must insist on the faith based on the life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return of Jesus of Nazareth as providing the best explanation for the beauty and ugliness of creation, that which is true hope, joy, and contentment, and the foundation of the best philosophy of life for mankind (Colossians 2:1-11).

Almost no one enjoys pain, distress, or difficulty; nevertheless, life is experienced and growth takes place through trials, difficulties, and tribulations. Epicureanism cannot truly explain life as it is lived in this creation; modern man, in his Epicureanism, is attempting to escape the limitations and challenges which bedevil him. We do better to understand how, in Christ, the way of the cross leads to resurrection and new life and hope. Let us resist all forms of Epicureanism in life, and proclaim the Gospel of the Crucified and Risen Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Babel and Civilization | The Voice 9.30: July 28, 2019

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Babel and Civilization

Few things prove as dangerous as “givens,” those things which we just automatically assume are the way things should be and which are good. Yet everything in this creation has a dark side because of the corruption of sin. Civilization is one such “given.” In the modern world we certainly enjoy our “creature comforts,” advances in health, science, and technology which allow for us to live comfortably and thrive. Many among us enjoy urban or suburban life. When humans build on a piece of land they call it “development”; land left as God made it is called “undeveloped.” We might enjoy the outdoors and living “in the wild,” but only recreationally. In history, moments of cultural production are “golden ages of civilization”; periods of difficulty and the breakdown of civilization are seen as “dark ages.”

We might assume that civilization is seen in Scripture as fondly as it is among people today. If so we are in for quite the surprise! The first man to build a city is not Adam, nor Abel, nor Seth, but Cain (Genesis 4:17). Those who developed the tools of technology, instruments of metal and mirth, were Cain’s descendant Lamech’s sons (Genesis 4:21-22). Nimrod, called a “mighty one” on the earth, was associated with the many cities of Mesopotamia, and he built what would become Assyria (Genesis 10:8-12). Throughout the rest of Biblical history those associated with the “great civilizations” of the ancient Near Eastern and Classical worlds, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans, would each in turn oppress the people of God.

God, meanwhile, made man and put him in a garden (Genesis 2:3-28). Abel was a shepherd; many of the mighty people of God would either be shepherds or own many animals (Genesis 4:2). God called Abram out of “civilization,” from Ur of the Chaldees, the greatest city of its time, to live in the relative backwater of Canaan (Genesis 12:1-3). Abram chose well to remain in Canaan, while Lot suffered greatly for choosing the plain around Sodom, a city full of wickedness (Genesis 13:9-13). Throughout the Bible value is placed on living off the land; the only city which receives great commendation is Jerusalem, the City of David, the place where YHWH made His name to dwell, and which would represent the location of the people of God (Psalm 135:21, Isaiah 62:1, Zechariah 2:12, Hebrews 12:22, Revelation 21:2).

What would be so wrong with civilization? Its difficulties are encapsulated in one city: Babel, also known as Babylon. Babel is the place where all mankind gathered to build a tower to make a name for himself and to avoid being scattered on the earth (Genesis 11:4). While man’s intentions at Babel were frustrated by God, he never forgot that tendency; ever since, when humans come together, they tend to work to build monuments to their own greatness. This same Babel would become the city and empire that would lay siege to Jerusalem and destroy it and the Temple within its gates (2 Kings 25:1-21). The prophets roundly denounced Babylon for her arrogance and presumptuousness (Jeremiah 50:1-51:64); not for nothing does John see Rome as Babylon the Great, a harlot, drunk on the blood of the prophets and saints (Revelation 17:1-18:24). Babylon thus represents the human power arrogating itself against God and His purposes, drawing resources from the earth and from other people to its own aggrandizement no matter what the cost. It was true of Babylon; it was true of Rome; it has proven true of every civilization.

We are beginning again to see what happens when people everywhere “speak the same language”: the language of fossil fuels combined with the language of money and greed. All around the world resources are extracted and exploited without ceasing. “Development” overtakes more and more land which had been left in a more “natural” state. Our air and water is polluted with the effects of our industrial production; the world is warming and the effects are beginning to be felt acutely in the oceans, on the poles, and in the severity of our weather.

Many mock and dismiss such talk as hysteria, and yet Isaiah speaks of the land and the trees rejoicing at the downfall of Babylon, for the land was now at rest and could rejuvenate from the destructive tendencies of civilization (Isaiah 14:7-8). It was famously said of the Romans how they would make a wasteland and call it peace (Tacitus, Agricola 30). And so the original “Babel” caused great difficulty to the earth in the extraction of resources; Rome, the “Babylon” of the first century, did the same, and now all of us may well prove guilty of the same thing. It is now believed that in one lifetime over half of the animal life in the world has died. Everywhere we look we now see evidence of “Babel”: God’s creation paved over, built up, and called paradise, and yet it is sterile, without life. We now have to leave our cities to “find” nature and draw strength and life from the creation God made, and in which God infused life!

It is not wrong to live in civilization or to enjoy its benefits; early Christians lived in the Roman Empire and took advantage of its opportunities. But we do well to recognize how civilization is used to continually represent Babel. “Civilized” nations think nothing of storming across the land in the ravages of war. “Civilized” nations continually work against God’s purposes and oppress and persecute those who seek His will. “Civilized” nations continually set themselves against nature as if in a war, the ultimate demonstration of man arrogating against God in attempting to “develop” God’s creation, and not just take care of God’s creation. Thus, civilization is all about man’s attempt to make a name for himself. Civilization produces some benefits, but “development” is not always the best or greatest. We do well to honor what God has made, and seek to glorify God in the midst of “civilized” nations. May we seek to live as humble servants of God, seeking the heavenly Jerusalem!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Sexually Deviant Behavior | The Voice 9.29: June 21, 2019

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Works of the Flesh: Sexually Deviant Behavior

The Christian, in his or her walk with God, is called upon to embrace certain character traits and practices and reject others. A compact yet significant list of many of these traits and practices are included in Galatians 5:16-24:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would. But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law. And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof.

Christians are to embody the fruit of the Spirit while avoiding the works of the flesh. We do well to explore the nature of the works of the flesh so as to avoid them and the fruit of the Spirit so as to manifest it.

The list of the “works of the flesh” begins with “fornication” in the American Standard Version; the term is also variously translated as “sexual immorality” (ESV) and “immorality” (NASB; the King James Version and its offshoots begin the list with “adultery,” yet such is not found in the best manuscripts, and would be covered under “sexual immorality” anyway). The Greek word is porneia, defined by Thayer as:

1) illicit sexual intercourse
1a) adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc.
1b) sexual intercourse with close relatives;
1c) sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman;
2) metaphorically the worship of idols
2a) of the defilement of idolatry, as incurred by eating the sacrifices offered to idols

“Illicit sex” is perhaps the most pithy yet accurate translation of porneia; I prefer “sexually deviant behavior”: while clunky, it does well at delineating exactly what is under the purview of porneia without casting a wider net.

Porneia, in a “literal” sense, is that which one would do with a porne, or prostitute (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:13-20): sexual activity disconnected from covenant relationship between a man and a woman whom God has joined. The range of activities which came under the purview of porneia include adultery, bestiality, same sex sexual relations, pederasty, sexual acts with children, and thus any kind of sexual behavior which is outside of the bounds of marriage (Hebrews 13:4; cf. Jude 1:7).

We also can see how porneia is the opposite of what is approved in marriage through Jesus’ use of porneia as the “exception” of the general condemnation of divorce in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. No other action or behavior could justify separating what God has joined; in porneia, the offender is becoming “one flesh” with one to whom God has not joined him or her, and this terribly violates the sanctity of the marriage bed.

To this end we can understand how porneia is translated as “illicit sex” or even “sexual immorality,” although we must keep “sexually deviant behavior” in mind, since one can imagine sexually immoral thoughts or feelings that are sinful yet do not rise to the level of porneia (cf. lasciviousness, Matthew 5:28, Galatians 5:19). “Immorality” is too broad of a translation. In modern parlance “fornication” is defined as “sexual activity before marriage”; since people in the ancient world tended to marry at a very young age, strict fornication was not as significant of a concern as was adultery. By extension, fornication would fall under the aegis of porneia; attempts to suggest that pre-marital fornication would justify a later divorce, or is the only justification for a divorce, prove misguided.

The Apostles manifest great concern regarding sexually deviant behavior in their exhortations, and for good reason: sexual immorality was so prevalent in the ancient pagan world as to be considered the norm. Fraternization with prostitutes and female companions was part of feasts and banquets; Christians would be seen as odd and strange for not participating in such behaviors. To this end the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem exhorted Gentile Christians specifically to avoid sexually deviant behavior (Acts 15:20, Acts 15:29, Acts 21:25). Paul would often mention sexually deviant behavior first when going through a list of sinful behaviors (1 Corinthians 5:9, 11, 6:9, Ephesians 5:3, Colossians 3:5), demonstrating his strong concern regarding the matter. Even though the Christians in Thessalonica were walking so as to please God, Paul felt compelled to exhort them unto sanctification, which he associated strongly with avoiding sexually deviant behavior (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).

In 1 Corinthians 6:13-20 Paul set forth his most systematic denunciation of sexually deviant behavior. Corinth was (in)famous for its heritage of sexually deviant behavior surrounding the Aphrodite cult in the city. Paul exhorted Christians to avoid sexually deviant behavior: it is the sin one commits against oneself. Those who are joined to Christ should not become one flesh with a prostitute. Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit, and are no longer their own, but have been bought with a price. Christians thus ought to glorify God in their bodies.

God made human sexuality as a good thing to be enjoyed in its proper covenant relationship. Outside of marriage sexual behavior de-humanizes. Many voices in the world exalt and glorify sexual behavior outside of marriage; a world which has rejected the existence of God will almost invariably make a god out of sexuality, the transcendent experience which they most associate with the divine (Romans 1:18-32). The number of souls who will be eternally lost on account of their lust for sexually deviant behavior will most likely be terribly high. Sexuality is good in its proper context, but it makes for a terribly disappointing goddess.

As Christians we do well to remember that there is much more to life than sexuality, and to seek to glorify God in our bodies. There will be no need for sexuality in the resurrection; the relational intimacy we will enjoy with God in Christ will be far greater than anything found in sexuality (Matthew 22:30, Ephesians 5:31-32, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Sexually deviant behavior may be tempting for a season, but it cannot deliver on its promises, and leads to pain, misery, regret, and ultimately death (cf. Proverbs 5:3-23). May we trust in God in Christ, flee from and avoid sexually deviant behavior, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Peter in the Temple | The Voice 9.28: July 14, 2019

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Preaching in Acts: Peter in the Temple

What had started as a normal day and a normal hour of prayer at the Temple became extraordinary very quickly. A man was healed; thousands more obtained a better hope and promise of healing and restoration. All this happened because Peter and John had gone up to the Temple to pray.

At some point after the day of Pentecost, after the Gospel began to be proclaimed in Jerusalem and the church had been established, Peter and John went up to the Temple to pray at the ninth hour, or around 3 o’clock in the afternoon (Acts 3:1). A man was at the Beautiful Gate, lame from birth, and one who had been seen frequently by those entering the Temple, seeking alms, and sought alms from Peter and John (Acts 3:2-3). Peter confessed he could not give gold or silver, but gave what he could: the ability to rise and walk in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (Acts 3:4-6). The man arose and entered the Temple with them, walking and leaping, and praising God (Acts 3:7-8). The Israelites noticed the man and recognized him as the one who frequently sought alms at the Beautiful Gate; they were filled with amazement and wonder regarding what had happened (Acts 3:9-10).

Peter then took the initiative and from Solomon’s Porch explained to the Israelites what they were seeing: this was not the work of Peter or John (Acts 3:11-12). Instead, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of their fathers, had glorified His Servant Jesus: this Jesus was the one whom they themselves had delivered up to Pilate to be killed, even though Pilate would have released Him, seeking a murderer to be given to them while they put to death the Author of life, and yet God had raised Him from the dead, and through faith in Jesus’ name the man born lame had been made whole (Acts 3:13-16; cf. Luke 23:16-23).

Peter then worked to assure his audience: he knew they acted against Jesus in ignorance, as had their rulers (Acts 3:17). Nevertheless, all the things God had foreshadowed in the prophets regarding the suffering of the Christ had been fulfilled (Acts 3:18). Peter then invited his audience to repent, turning again to God in Christ, so that their sins might be blotted out and they would receive times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and He would again send the Christ, Jesus, whom heaven has received until the times of restoration of which the prophets spoke came to pass (Acts 3:19-21).

Peter confirmed his message by appealing to what had been said of old: he quoted Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18 and referred to his whole message in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 about the one like Moses who would come and to whom Israel should listen (Acts 3:22-23). He summarized all the other prophets from Samuel onward as promising similar things (Acts 3:24). Peter spoke of his audience as the sons of those who heard these promises, and thus the recipients of the promise, and also as the sons of the covenant God made with Abraham, through whose Seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Acts 3:25; cf. Genesis 22:18). God had sent His Servant, the Christ, first to them to bless them, turning them away from their iniquities (Acts 3:26).

At this point the record of Peter’s preaching is interrupted: the priests and Sadducees had heard of Peter’s proclamation of Jesus and the resurrection, and it disturbed them greatly, and so they arrested Peter and John (Acts 4:1-3). Nevertheless, many of those who had heard Peter’s word believed: at least five thousand men, not counting women or children (Acts 4:4). The Sanhedrin would be confounded, since the miraculous work was evident to all and impossible to deny (Acts 4:5-22).

A great miracle had taken place, and many Israelites proved receptive to Peter’s message on account of having seen the miracle. Nevertheless, without Peter’s proclamation of the Gospel, what would the Israelites have gained by the experience? Signs and wonders may have prepared an audience to hear what the Apostles had to say, but the Apostles still had to tell the message and exhort people to repentance.

Peter’s message in Acts 3:12-26 emphasized the continuity between what had been made known about YHWH the God of Israel and what God was accomplishing in Jesus. Peter identified the God who had made the lame man whole as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the fathers of Israel (Acts 3:13); twice Peter spoke of Jesus as God’s “Servant,” evoking Isaiah’s “Servant Songs” in Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-7, 52:13-53:12. Peter associated Jesus with the “prophet like Moses” whom Moses and all the prophets had promised (Acts 3:22-24); he also emphasized the continuity of the Israelites, identifying his audience as the sons of the prophets and the covenant God made with Abraham (Acts 3:25). Peter even maintained continuity in the hope of Israel, speaking of what God would accomplish in Jesus according to times of refreshing and restoration, highly resonant with the encouragement given in the prophets (Acts 3:19-21).

At the same time, Peter did not shy away from making explicit exactly what the Israelites in his audience had done: they were the ones who wanted Jesus to be killed, even though Pilate would have let Him go; they were the ones who wanted Barabbas and not Jesus (Acts 3:13-15). Few statements are as poignant as Acts 3:14: you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you! Peter associates Jesus with God strongly, for God is known as the Holy One of Israel (cf. Isaiah 1:4, etc.); nevertheless, the force of his imagery is the two paths available to Israel. There was the path of Barabbas, the insurrectionist, which would only lead to alienation from God and death for all; and then there was the path of Jesus, the Christ, who would provide refreshment and restoration for all who put their trust in Him.

On that day over five thousand Israelites would choose the path of Jesus. Far more, unfortunately, continued to follow the ways of Barabbas. Nevertheless, the Gospel had done its work. Peter demonstrated how what God accomplished in Jesus is not foreign or alien to the faith of Israel, but is in fact the fulfillment of all God had promised to their fathers, and a demonstration of God’s covenant loyalty to Israel. We do well to heed what Peter said, repent of our ways, and become the children of Abraham by faith, so that we may obtain refreshing from the presence of God as we await the return of Jesus and the restoration of all things as foretold by the prophets on the day of resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry