A Time For Everything | The Voice 12.20: May 15, 2022

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A Time For Everything

For everything there is an appointed time, and an appropriate time for every activity on earth: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot what was planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to search, and a time to give something up as lost; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to rip, and a time to sew; a time to keep silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

Some messages remain entirely non-controversial yet controversial all at the same time.

The Preacher in Jerusalem has set forth his thesis: everything is hevel: a vapor, futile, absurd (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2). What has been will be; everything is cyclical; there is nothing new “under the sun”; all work done “under the sun” is a chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 1:3-18). The Preacher knew people would protest such things, and so he explored in greater depth three aspects of life in which people invest great meaning: pleasure, wisdom, and labor, and saw how the end of all remains futile and a chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:1-26).

The Preacher then turned to set forth what might seem to be a relatively straightforward reflection on reality: for everything there is a time and a season on earth (Ecclesiastes 3:1). He then provided a series of contrasts: birth and death, planting and uprooting, killing and healing, breaking down and building up, weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing, tearing down and building up, intimacy and withdrawal, searching and not finding, keeping and throwing away, ripping and sewing, silence and speech, love and hate, war and peace (Ecclesiastes 3:2-8).

How many times have we read this list, affirmed it, and continued our reading without much fanfare? After all, such is life. We were born; we will die. We plant sometimes; sometimes we have to uproot. We live in times of peace; we see times of war. The Preacher spoke accurately.

Yet perhaps we do well to stop for a moment and wonder if the Preacher has something more profound in mind: why did he speak thus, and at this particular moment in his discourse? What purpose might it serve?

While we might confess the reality and truth which the Preacher has spoken in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, we still do not like it. We enjoy birth, planting, healing, building up, laughing, dancing, gathering stones, embracing, discovering, keeping, mending, speaking, loving, and peace. But death, uprooting, killing, breaking down, weeping, mourning, tearing down, withdrawal of intimacy, giving up on a loss, throwing away, tearing apart, silence, hatred, and war? We do not enjoy them as much. We will often go to great lengths to avoid such things!

Such is the controversial nature of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: there is a season for everything on earth and for every purpose under heaven. This is undoubtedly true about the good things; it is equally true about those which we find less than pleasant. We often aspire to a life featuring half of the things the Preacher mentions; nevertheless, life “under the sun” will involve all of them.

We live in a culture which celebrates birth yet fears death: you can announce to the world how a child has been born, and all will rejoice; yet if you speak of how someone has died, others will not know how to handle the situation well, and will seek to avoid you. Who among us would live in active denial regarding the birth of a loved one, and yet how many cannot come to grips with the grief of loss? In terms of the faith, we enjoy planting and building up; yet in order to plant and build up, one must first uproot all which works contrary to the Gospel and tear down every human edifice. Yet how many today prove apprehensive or hostile toward the “deconstruction” many feel compelled to do in order to come to grips with what they have been taught and have experienced in light of what they find revealed in the pages of Scripture? For good reason Jesus considered those who mourned blessed, and pronounced woes on those who laugh (Luke 6:21, 25): He was not attempting to suggest greater virtue in one over the other, but wanted people to think differently about laughter and mourning: those who laugh can only look forward to mourning, but those who mourn can look forward to a time of laughing, since there is a time for everything on earth. For many, the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ring in their ears as the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds from 1965; the song was composed a few years earlier by Pete Seeger, and it was so sung as to be an anti-war protest song (“a time for peace / I swear it’s not too late”). We can understand why many in the middle of the Sixties would wish for peace, and can even appreciate it; yet the time for war would continue.

The Preacher, therefore, did not come out of left field with Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. He had established how life is futile and absurd and a striving after wind; pleasure, wisdom, and labor cannot ultimately satisfy us; and life features a time for everything on earth and for every purpose under heaven. We confess its truth while resisting it, because we want only to enjoy the good things in life and avoid all the pain and difficulty. The Preacher would disabuse us of such a notion: life involves everything, death as well as birth, tearing down as well as building up, weeping as well as laughter, war as well as peace. Such truth need not depress or lead to despair; indeed, when we undergo the days of trial and difficulty, suffering that which we would rather avoid, we can remain confident it will remain for a season. Nevertheless, the Preacher, as well as the Lord Jesus, would remind us while we enjoy the good times, the times and seasons which prove less pleasant will come.

It is not for us to determine which time and season in which we exist at any given moment, nor is it for us to determine how long each season or time will last. We would be abusing the text to use it to rationalize, justify, or commend anything because there is a “time” for it; any such exhortation would say much more about the person who would preach it than it would the Preacher or God’s purposes. Instead we do well to consider the Preacher’s wisdom about life under heaven and understand how a time and a season exists for everything, to find enjoyment in what we can, and to endure what is unpleasant in hope for a better season. In all things we do well to put our confidence in God in Christ to be ready for the time when He will return and we can share in the resurrection of life; may we do so in every season and time in our lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A Time For Everything | The Voice 12.20: May 15, 2022

Children, Fathers, and Young Men | The Voice 12.19: May 08, 2022

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1 John 2:12-14: Children, Fathers, and Young Men

I write unto you, my little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one. I have written unto you, little children, because ye know the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one (1 John 2:12-14).

John’s first letter represents his encouragement of Christians to maintain their association with God and to walk in Christ’s ways so that his joy might be complete (1 John 1:4). He does so through indicating His relationship with Jesus (1 John 1:1-4), the message of God to be the light and not the darkness (1 John 1:5-7), sin and forgiveness (1 John 1:8-10), knowing Christ and following His commandments (1 John 2:1-6), and love for the brethren (1 John 2:7-11).

Then there is 1 John 2:12-14, a passage that has engendered some controversy. Some believe that the text is corrupted at this point on account of its redundancy and style. Concerning whom does John write? What is he trying to say? What are we supposed to gain from this interesting passage?

We have no good evidence to believe that the text is corrupted at this point. We would do well to set aside such speculations and try to make sense of the text as revealed and preserved.

John seems to be writing some form of poetry: a series of statements perhaps more easily memorized or remembered. The statements have parallelism: a, b, c, a, b, c. The purpose is also somewhat ambiguous. On the surface, it would seem to represent John’s statement of purpose for writing, and yet he has already presented one such statement in 1 John 1:4. Furthermore, no actual purpose is presented; John speaks more about the condition of the “children,” “young men,” and “fathers” more than he does about why he writes to them.

The “little children” are those who have their sins forgiven and who know the Father (1 John 2:12-13). While some may believe that John is writing to actual children, such is unlikely: they have no sins to forgive (Matthew 18:1-4), and he uses this phrase often to refer to believers (1 John 2:1, 5:23). In this passage, it would seem that John has believers who are young in the faith in mind– he expands the connection with children, making the connection between what Jesus says about children in the flesh with the state of younger believers (cf. Matthew 18:1-4 et al). Their faith may be young, but it has a strong purity, innocence and devotion.

The “fathers” are those who “know Him who is from the beginning” (1 John 2:13-14). While fathers according to the flesh might be in view, it is again likely that John refers to spiritual “fathers”, like Paul was for Timothy (1 Timothy 1:2), mentors and shepherds and guides in the faith. They help encourage and direct younger believers in their faith, seeking honor not for themselves, but for the One who saved them (cf. Matthew 23:9-10). Their time on God’s path has been longer and fraught with more dangers, and they have gained appreciation for God who has been from the beginning.

The “young men” are “strong,” “the word of God abides” in them, and they have “overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:13-14). Those in this category seem to be in the middle among the “little children” and the “fathers”: believers in full bloom of the faith, striving diligently to serve God, not yet at the point of having the experience and wisdom to be the “father,” yet having grown significantly from being the “little child.”

It would seem, therefore, that John uses these three categories to encourage all believers in Christ. All of us, men and women, married and single, parents and grandparents, are “little children,” “young men,” or “fathers.” It all depends on where we stand in our faith. John provides statements of encouragement for each category, indicating that each has their role: one is not better because he is a “father” and not a “young man,” but at a different place in the faith with different responsibilities. God has composed the church to have many different people to work together (Romans 12:3-8). All must grow and should aspire to being a “father” one day, but all provide value to the Body when they serve God with the faculties they have been given. Whether we are little children, young men, or fathers, let us stand firm for the faith and serve God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Children, Fathers, and Young Men | The Voice 12.19: May 08, 2022

Authoritarian Leadership | The Voice 12.18: May 01, 2022

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Authoritarian Leadership

In our time much has been written about “leadership,” particularly about the different qualities of leadership and various leadership styles. Such interest is a hallmark of our meritocratic and democratic age: former conceptions of hierarchy and nobility carry little weight, and therefore leadership is a trait to be cultivated and leveraged in order to obtain greater influence, power, and thus wealth in our society. A charismatic person who exudes charm and strength will be able to gain many followers and grow in stature and influence, whether for secular or spiritual purposes. We can therefore understand the great anxiety which compels many to pursue a greater understanding of how to be an effective leader; who among us wants to be known or seen as the follower?

Christians do well to enter into such discussions with concern and trepidation; “leadership,” especially as emphasized in modern discourse, is not a major emphasis in the pages of the New Testament. It is not as if Jesus or the Apostles did not prove to be leaders, yet they proved very skeptical about the motivations of those who would become leaders and greatly valued humility and service above self-assertion and aggression (Matthew 20:25-28, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, James 4:7-10, 1 Peter 5:1-5). Conversations about leadership almost invariably prove tainted by the demonic wisdom of this world, seeking self-advancement and the maintenance of self-interest (cf. James 3:1-16). For Christians to be great in Jesus’ Kingdom, they must become servants, even slaves (Matthew 20:25-28): only those who seek to serve others fully are worthy of shepherding others.

And yet even in Christ there are those in whom authority is vested, and who ought to serve as stewards of that authority to glorify God (Romans 13:1-2, 1 Peter 4:10-11). All of us have some level of authority as citizens, Christians, parents, husbands, or if nothing else, over ourselves. Therefore, we do need to consider different qualities of leadership and leadership styles, but must always do so while fully rooted and established in Jesus Christ the Lord (Colossians 2:1-10).

One form of leadership frequently seen in society can be called “authoritarian leadership.” In an authoritarian leadership matrix, there is one who has the authority to make decisions, and it is for those under that authority to comply with those decisions. We can see authoritarian leadership fully embodied in the Roman centurion who asked Jesus to heal his injured slave in Matthew 8:9:

“For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

The Roman centurion can be seen as the “middle manager” of the Roman army: he was in charge of a group of between 80 and 100 soldiers, and himself would take direction from the leader of the cohort who himself would be directed by the head of the legion, all of whom were subject to the general leading the military expedition. The Roman army proved more successful than not in the ancient world precisely because of its discipline: desertion or disobedience would lead to execution of many soldiers. The Philippian jailor was preparing to kill himself in Acts 16:27 because the consequence for losing control of the prisoners under his charge was death, and it was seen as more honorable and noble for him to do the deed himself.

The Roman army is the embodiment of the style of authoritarian leadership. To this day most militaries still operate with an authoritarian style of leadership in which it is expected that the soldiers directly and fully obey whatever commands they are given by their superior officers. Some countries still attempt to operate as authoritarian societies in which the citizens may have relative freedom in a few domains but are expected to fully comply with the particular concerns and dictates imposed by the tyrant, oligarchy, or junta ruling over the nation. Some companies and individuals also operate under a similarly authoritarian style of leadership; to many people, authoritarian leadership is precisely and only what comes to mind when “leadership” is mentioned.

There are certain contexts, times, and places in which an authoritarian style of leadership may be required. In an emergency setting, the most qualified and trained individual should be in charge, and everyone else should listen to that person and follow the instructions they provide so many lives might be preserved. We can understand why the military would operate under a generally authoritarian model: it would be very difficult to accomplish a military objective if everyone’s opinion had to be heard and decisions made more collaboratively. In many situations, the people who live under authority do not have enough knowledge, insight, or wisdom to be able to participate in a fully collaborative environment, and may do well to be expected to obey rather than question.

Jesus commended the Roman centurion for his faith in Matthew 8:10, but we should not assume Jesus was also commending the authoritarian system in which the Roman centurion lived. Jesus would go on to warn His disciples how the Gentiles lorded their power over others, and that it should not be so among them (Matthew 20:25-26)! Instead Jesus offered Himself as the model for leadership: the greatest among them would be their servant, just as Jesus did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:26-28).

The Scriptures do not explicitly speak of “authoritarian leadership” for good or ill; nevertheless, many have gone beyond what is written and justified ungodly attitudes, practices, and wisdom by commending or justifying authoritarian forms of leadership in ways which run contrary to what has been explicitly revealed about various relationships we maintain in Christ. Children should obey their parents in the Lord, as Paul decreed in Ephesians 6:1; yet parents should not exasperate and provoke their children, but should raise them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord, the same Lord who commanded Christians to live humbly as servants (Ephesians 6:2-4; cf. Matthew 20:26-28). Wives should submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22), but husbands must also submit to their wives as to all others in reverence to Christ in Ephesians 5:21, and to love sacrificially, not abusing but cherishing their wives as their own flesh, as the Lord does for His body the church (Ephesians 5:25-30). Workers should follow the guidelines of their employers (Ephesians 6:5-8), but employers should treat their employees well since they all serve the same Lord in heaven (Ephesians 6:9). Elders in the church should be obeyed and their work should be made enjoyable (Hebrews 13:7, 13), yet elders have no right to lord dominion over the flock, but are called to shepherd by example (1 Peter 5:1-4). Older men should be honored like fathers, older women like mothers, younger men as brothers and younger women as sisters in all purity (1 Timothy 5:1-2), yet all should clothe themselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5). There is very little room to commend or justify an authoritarian posture in any of these relationships!

If anyone had the right to expect blind obedience and to establish Himself as an authoritarian despot, it would be Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords (cf. Acts 2:36, Revelation 19:15-16). Certainly Christians should obey Jesus as Lord (Romans 1:5, 6:14-21, 1 Peter 1:22); yet Jesus rules as the Chief Shepherd who gave His life for His sheep, continues to intercede for them, and welcomes them to jointly participate with Him in His Kingdom, and even will ultimately share His reign with them (John 10:1-18, 15:1-9, Romans 8:30-35, 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 6:3, 12:12-28, 1 Peter 5:4, Revelation 2:26-28, 3:21). Yes, Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, and we are to submit to His authority; but He has not used that authority to demand uncritical or unthinking obedience, but welcomes those who would follow Him to participate in His life and work to glorify Him.

In the world we should expect to find many despots and tyrants seeking to impose authoritarian rule on others; among the people of God in Christ this should not be so. Jesus our Lord, who had every right to impose authoritarian rule on the creation, nevertheless loves us and invites our joint participation in His life and work; we love and serve Him because He loved and served us and gave His life to ransom us. None of us has sufficient authority and standing before God to act as authoritarian despots in any domain of our lives; we will all be held accountable for how we have loved and served others, and rare is the occasion in which an authoritarian style of leadership will provide effective love and service. May we all seek to use the authority God has given us in ways that display the love and service of Jesus to His glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Authoritarian Leadership | The Voice 12.18: May 01, 2022

Understanding the Tetragrammaton | The Voice 12.17: April 24, 2022

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Understanding the Tetragrammaton

In the religious world there is much confusion about the Tetragrammaton (a Greek term meaning “the four letters”), referring to the name of God in the Old Testament, designated with the consonants YHWH. There are some religious organizations that place great emphasis on this name, and there is also generally much confusion over how it is to be pronounced.

Understanding the Problem

It would be good to first examine the source of the problem: why is there confusion over how to pronounce YHWH? The Hebrew language in its original form was written without vowel pointings; after all, one wrote down what one heard and he could fill in the vowels when speaking. This is true of all western written languages before the Greeks developed an alphabet that included vowels. The entire Old Testament text, therefore, was originally not vocalized. As time progressed, naturally, there were difficulties maintaining proper pronunciation: to solve the problem at first, three consonants were given a new role as vowel letters to indicate vowel types (called matres lectiones, “mothers of reading”), and in the latter half of the first millennium CE, when Hebrew waned in Jewish culture, the group of Jews responsible for maintaining and handing down the text of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Masoretes, developed a system of vowel pointings used even today. Generally, the Masoretic pointing is accurate; it has been confirmed by transliterated names of people and places and also in other ancient documents. We must remember, however, that at the time of Christ the vowel letters were used haphazardly but otherwise vowels had to be supplied by the reader.

This difficulty is compounded by the Jewish traditions regarding the Tetragrammaton. Early in Israelite history few if any had difficulties in saying the name of God– YHWH– as evidenced in direct speech in narratives (cf. Ruth 2:4). As time wore on, however, traditions developed regarding the third commandment– to not take the name of YHWH in vain (Exodus 20:8)– that meant that no one at any time save the High Priest on the Day of Atonement should utter the Tetragrammaton. As long as the Temple stood there were some who would utter the Tetragrammaton on occasion, and even after its demise there is evidence that some Jews did remember the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton. In all of our Hebrew texts with vowel pointings, however, there are none that in any way retain the true vocalization of the Tetragrammaton; therefore, all evidence regarding how YHWH is to be pronounced must come from other sources. Let us now look at the evidence for its pronunciation.

YHWH as Yahweh: The Evidence

As we shall see, the evidence we have points to the pronunciation of YHWH as “Yahweh.”

Derivation of “YHWH”

It is important to first understand how YHWH is derived. Its first attested use is by God in His speaking with Moses in Exodus 3:14:

And God said unto Moses, “I AM THAT I AM”:
and he said, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, “I AM hath sent me unto you.'”

In Hebrew, God calls Himself ‘ehyeh asher ‘ehyeh, and charges Moses to tell Israel that ‘ehyeh sent him to them. If we analyze ‘ehyeh, we see that it is a first person common singular imperfect form of the verb hayah, to be.

This form was turned from a first person to a third person (from “I am” to “he is”), and we have a change of glides: w/y are often interchanged in Hebrew, and the form we see later is YHWH, which, if translated, would be closest to “He is,” or “He will be.” A non-altered third person masculine singular form of hayah would be yihyeh.

The Divine Particle in Names and Translation

The first half of the Tetragrammaton– YH– was often used in names and even as shorthand for the name of God. Its shorthand form is used in Exodus 15:2 and it is “Yah” there, and this very form was transliterated into the Syriac Peshitta of Exodus 15:2. We also find this same phenomenon in names– Elijah (Eliyahu; the “u” ending provides more credence that the final half is pronounced “weh”), Jeremiah (Yirmeyahu), and Hezekiah (Hizikiyahu or Hizikiyah, and corresponding evidence from Assyrian cuneiform). Since Hebrew tends to accent words on their ultimate or penultimate syllables, these examples with the divine particle at the end of the names gives us the best evidence to show that the first half of the Tetragrammaton was pronounced “Yah.”

Early Christian Witnesses

We have three accounts from the “church fathers” of the first few centuries of Christianity regarding the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton. Clement of Alexandria, around 180 CE, relates the following:

Further, the mystic name of the four letters which was affixed to those alone to whom the adytum was accessible, is called “Iaoue,” which is interpreted, “Who is and shall be.” The name of God, too, among the Greeks contains four letters [Greek theos, where “th” is represented with theta– ed.], (Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, V. 6).

Theodoret and Epiphanius, both later, establish that they heard the name as “Iabe.” From this information we confirm that the Tetragrammaton was pronounced “Yahweh,” since we must recognize the phonological differences between Greek and Hebrew: Greek has no consonantal “y” and recognizes the letter as the vowel “i” (as “Yeshua” becomes “Iesous”); Greek has no “h” save rough breathings at the beginnings of some words and does not account for the letter; Greek has neither “w” nor “v,” and it is very likely that a Greek listener (as were Theodoret and Epiphanius) would hear a “b” when a Jew said “v” (since in Hebrew b and v are separated by spirantization of the former only), and hearing “w” would sound like “ou.”

From this evidence, therefore, we can conclude that the Tetragrammaton was most probably pronounced as “Yahweh.”

What About “Jehovah”?

It will be asked by many, however, regarding the word “Jehovah,” the common translation (and supposed transliteration) of the Tetragrammaton in English Bibles. This form can be traced back to about 1489, and introduced popularly in 1520 by one Galatinus, a “confessor” of Pope Leo X (cf. Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, p. 218). Its derivation is explainable as the mistake of a Christian reader of the Hebrew Bible who did not understand its pointing. Let us explain a bit about the pointing of the Hebrew Bible.

When the Masoretes pointed the Hebrew text of the Old Testament in the latter half of the first millennium, they recognized that there were many probable errors in the text. Since they held the text in high esteem, however, they would never alter any of the text itself, but instead favored a system called the ketib/qere system (ketib, meaning “written,” and qere, meaning “said”). When there was a word of some difficulty in the text, the consonants would remain unaltered, but there would be a note in the margin in Aramaic explaining what word should be read in synagogue. The vowel pointing in the text itself, however, would be the vocalization of what should be read (the qere) and not what was written (the ketib). A knowledgeable Hebrew reader would look at the word and recognize that the vowel pointing was not consistent with the written word and would therefore look for the qere in the margin to read.

This is precisely what happened with the Tetragrammaton, but as opposed to having a marginal note with the proper consonants listed it was considered a “perpetual ketib/qere,” meaning that whenever one saw the consonants YHWH as the Tetragrammaton one would recognize that it was a ketib and that the qere should be one of the various other designations for God– Elohim, Adonai, Ha-Shem (“the name”), etc. Depending on the text, YHWH would appear with the vowel pointings for one of the other designations. Our medieval friends came to one such Hebrew manuscript and simply transliterated what he saw: the consonants YHWH with the vocalization for Adonai: a o a, and we have “Yahoah.” Adapt the term to fit German reckoning, and we have “Jehovah.”

“Jehovah,” then, is a medieval misunderstanding of the Hebrew text and should not be understood as the proper pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton. Its constant use in Bible versions (starting with one use in the KJV and becoming the translation of choice for YHWH in the ASV) secures its place in the English language and it will probably always be used to describe the LORD, the God of Heaven. While it is inaccurate it is not a “sinful” designation, but as those who strive to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), we ought to recognize and understand that YHWH was never pronounced as Jehovah but more likely as Yahweh.

Its Importance: The Unique Name of God

The student of the Bible will understand that YHWH as the name of God is important because it is the unique, personal name of God. The Lord said as much to Moses in Exodus 3:15, and demonstrated to Moses that He did not reveal Himself before as YHWH in Exodus 6:2-3:

And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, YHWH, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.

And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am YHWH: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name YHWH I was not known to them.”

When we read the Scriptures, we see that the name YHWH is the only name that is unique to the true God. The other terms used are also used in other contexts: Elohim is used also to describe any other form of god(s), including the idols of the Canaanites (cf. 2 Kings 17:7); El, the singular form of Elohim sometimes used to refer to God, is also the name of the chief deity of the Canaanite pantheon; Adonai also is used to refer to earthly masters; and while Shaddai is not used of anyone save the Lord, it is most often used in addition with other names for God, and is most properly seen as a description (most often translated “Almighty”). YHWH is important, therefore, in the sense that it is the only name of God not used to describe other gods or persons; Lord and God are terms that may be used to describe others, but YHWH is definitely the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

YHWH, Translation, and Transliteration

Having seen the importance of YHWH as the name of God, let us now examine the claims of many, particularly those of the so-called “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” that “Jehovah,” or “Yahweh,” as the name of God, has singular importance and that Christians must call upon the Lord by the name “YHWH.” Truth or error to such persons is partly determined by how much value is placed upon YHWH as the name of God. Let us examine this claim first by analyzing an important issue: if YHWH as the name of God is important for Christians to express, there would be evidence of this in the Bible in its original and earliest translated languages. Let us examine this evidence.

We must first recognize that the Jews of the time of Jesus’ day– and also a little earlier and down to the present day– consider the name of God as extremely holy and do not consider it proper to express it by voice. We have seen in our last edition that when the Scriptures were read in the synagogues, the Jews would replace the Tetragrammaton with another name of God– Adonai, Elohim, or ha-shem, “the Name.” Persons within the “Jehovah’s Witness” movement would consider this superstitious and false, and while we agree that the Jews did go too far, much farther than had originally been intended, it is evidence that the YHWH as the name of God, while holy and without blemish, need not be expressed by God’s people to make them holy.

Regardless, if early Christians considered YHWH as the name of God as extremely important and necessary for Christians to use, we would expect them to transliterate YHWH in their writings and/or translations, and not translate the name. For those who perhaps do not know, transliteration is the process by which a word in one language is expressed in the characters of another language without translation (i.e. “baptism” in English is a transliteration of the Greek word baptizo), while translation is the expression of an idea conveyed in one language is converted to another language (i.e. Greek baptizo is translated into English as “to immerse”). Therefore, in texts like the Greek New Testament or even the Greek Septuagint, we would expect to see “YHWH” if the authors/translators considered the specific name of God as important to convey. Transliteration does occur from Aramaic into Greek, as even in English at Matthew 27:46:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying,
“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”
that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

We can see that Matthew has considered the exact words of Jesus as expressed in Aramaic to be of such importance that he both transliterates the Aramaic and provides (in the Greek text) a Greek translation. Surely if YHWH as the name of God was deemed important for Christians to say he would have done the same with it.

The evidence, however, demonstrates that the early Christians translated YHWH as the name of God, and did not transliterate it. God is referred to in the Greek Septuagint (LXX; the Greek translation of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha; approx. 3rd-2nd centuries BCE) and the New Testament (1st century CE) with the Greek word Kurios, “Lord,” or the Greek word Theos, “God.”. In fact, the only transliteration of any term referring to God is in Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15, and Galatians 4:6, where Jesus and Paul both refer to God by the Aramaic word Abba, which is the term of most intimate endearment in reference to a father! Similarly in the Latin Vulgate (4th century CE) God is referred to as Dominus, “Lord” or Deus, “God,” and in the Syriac Peshitta (approx. 2nd-5th centuries CE) as marya’, “Lord,” and Alaha, “God.” The only instance of transliteration I have found is in the Syriac Peshitta of Exodus 15:2, where the translator transliterates the divine particle yah but he also translates it with marya’. We can see, therefore, that YHWH as the name of God was not transliterated, as we would expect if it were deemed important for Christians to say, but was always translated with the general terms used for God.

Understanding Authority in a Name

The other difficulty with any idea that YHWH as the name of God is singularly important for Christians to use is a general lack of understanding of authority in a name. It is certainly true that in the ancient Near East many cultures considered the utterance of the name as expressing authority: from Egypt we have a myth regarding their gods that Isis, a fertility mother-goddess, was able to deceive Ra, the great sun god, to tell her his secret personal name; Isis therefore was able to gain power over Ra and be supreme since she knew his secret, personal name. This idea of authority in a name, however, is not expressed in the Bible. The power of a name in the Bible derives from the power inherent in the God behind the name. Let us use a human example to help us understand.

Most of us have checking accounts and write checks all the time, but have you ever stopped to think about the nature of the check and what makes it work? A check is a dated piece of paper authorizing a bank to take money out of one’s account and to give it to the payee. The check has the payee listed with the precise amount to give– and is authorized by a signature. The check is not good and cannot be authorized unless it is authorized with the written, signed name of the account holder. Is there any power inherent in your name? By no means! Your name on the check, however, is the authority that the bank needs to give out the money.

We can see the many truths about the name of God in the Scriptures in the same light. Let us read some of these Scriptures from Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:21, and Colossians 3:17:

And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying,
“All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”

“And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Is God expressing to us that there is inherent authority in the word “Father,” or “Son,” or “Holy Spirit?” Or in “Lord?” By no means! The “name” here is like your name on the check: it is the appeal to the authority. The power in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the name of the Lord, is in the divine authority of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We can call Him Jehovah, Yahweh, Lord, God, Kurios, Theos, Marya’, Alaha, Dominus, Deus, Dieu, Gott, etc., and the authority does not change. We all are still calling upon the name of the Lord!

We have seen, therefore, that the Tetragrammaton YHWH is best pronounced Yahweh, and we recognize that while YHWH is important because it is the unique personal name of God, it is not required for Christians to use in order to be pleasing to Him. We see this from the evidence in the authorship and translations of the Bible, for in Greek, Latin, and Syriac we have no evidence for the transliteration of the Tetragrammaton and in all places it is translated. We have also seen that such an idea– that the name YHWH has inherent authority– is not an idea expressed in the Scriptures, since the idea of “the name of” is an appeal to the authority of the one named, not some inherent power in the name itself. Let us remember these things when we speak with those who have been perhaps confused about the Tetragrammaton.

Ethan R. Longhenry

Understanding the Tetragrammaton | The Voice 12.17: April 24, 2022

Labor Under the Sun | The Voice 12.16: April 17, 2022

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Labor Under the Sun

So I loathed all the fruit of my effort, for which I worked so hard on earth, because I must leave it behind in the hands of my successor. Who knows if he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will be master over all the fruit of my labor for which I worked so wisely on earth! This also is futile! So I began to despair about all the fruit of my labor for which I worked so hard on earth. For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; however, he must hand over the fruit of his labor as an inheritance to someone else who did not work for it. This also is futile, and an awful injustice! What does a man acquire from all his labor and from the anxiety that accompanies his toil on earth? For all day long his work produces pain and frustration, and even at night his mind cannot relax! This also is futile! There is nothing better for people than to eat and drink, and to find enjoyment in their work. I also perceived that this ability to find enjoyment comes from God. For no one can eat and drink or experience joy apart from him. For to the one who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy, but to the sinner, he gives the task of amassing wealth – only to give it to the one who pleases God. This task of the wicked is futile – like chasing the wind! (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26)

As with pleasure and wisdom, so with labor: it cannot provide ultimate meaning.

The Preacher advanced his general thesis: everything is hevel, a vapor, futile, absurd (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2). Everything continues as it has in the past; life is cyclical, and there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:3-11). The Preacher has seen how everything under the sun is a chasing after wind; wisdom leads to frustration (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18).

The Preacher then specifically explored three of the main domains in which people have invested ultimate meaning. The first was pleasure: he satisfied himself with all forms of pleasure, but none of them could truly deliver what was promised (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). Then he explored wisdom: he found it better than folly, but the wise man and the fool both die, so even wisdom was ultimately futile (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17). The Preacher then turned to consider labor (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26).

Work and labor easily defines human life. In our modern society, we often speak and think of ourselves in terms of what we do for work. Institutions of labor encourage workers to thus define themselves and to encourage belief that the labor they provide for that institution has lasting and significant meaning and value. Humans may die, but they nourish the hope that the work they have done will not. Thus humans seek to invest their labor with long lasting value and meaning.

When the Preacher considered labor under the sun, he found two forms of futility. The first involved the ultimate end of the fruit of labor: a person might work hard throughout their lives and amass some resources, but those resources will be enjoyed by descendants, regardless of whether those descendants prove wise or foolish (Ecclesiastes 2:18-21). The second futility centered on what the laborer would acquire for which he or she worked: they suffer pain and frustration during the work, and cannot rest well on account of anxieties about the labor and/or uncertainties in the future (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23).

Few exemplify the futility of the ultimate end of the fruit of their labor than Solomon himself. Throughout his life he worked to amass great wealth, prosperity, and stability for the Kingdom of Israel (cf. 1 Kings 3:1-10:29). His son, Rehoboam, would behave foolishly, overseeing the division of the kingdom, the invasion of Judah by Egypt, and the loss of all the wealth his father had accrued (cf. 1 Kings 12:1-24, 14:21-31). Many times wealth is obtained through deceptive, exploitative, or oppressive means; yet even when wealth is earned through noble and upright effort, what will happen when a person’s descendants inherit it? Perhaps a person’s heir was well raised and trained to appreciate what was given, and uses the wealth wisely. But what will come with the next generation? Eventually a fool will arise and what had been gained well will be lost. So it has gone with every dynasty of power and wealth.

The modern worker likely well understands the bitterness of what they acquire for their work. The majority of people are compelled to “live to work”. They may have to work multiple jobs in order to maintain even the most basic quality of life. Employers often demand many hours or flexibility according to their needs without much regard for the quality of life for their workers. Workers put in a good day’s work and receive their appropriate pay, and yet concerns remain about making sure they can pay the bills and make ends meet. Those who have proven more financially successful in our present meritocracy would maintain the presumption that such laborers are not working well or hard enough; in truth, they are working harder than anyone else, yet not getting anywhere. They suffer the constant anxiety that comes from being poor or living near the poverty line. Lamentably, the Preacher is not wrong: there really is nothing new under the sun.

Yet the Preacher maintains a glimmer of hope: God has given people the ability to find enjoyment in eating, drinking, and in their labor (Ecclesiastes 2:24). Without God there would be no food, drink, labor, or life itself (Ecclesiastes 2:25). God blesses those who seek and please Him with wisdom, knowledge, and joy; yet sinners are given the task of obtaining wealth that will ultimately be enjoyed by those who please God (Ecclesiastes 2:26). The wicked suffer from futility, chasing after the wind.

In this way the Preacher has begun to reveal the ultimate purpose of his discourse: to strip humans of their pretensions to great or ultimate meanings so they can rediscover and dedicate themselves to the simple joys of the lives they are granted to live under the sun. It would be inappropriate to condemn the Preacher as a hedonist; he has already explored the end of pleasure (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). Instead, he essentially reminds his audience to “stop and smell the roses”: humans do not have the control they would like to think they have, their pretensions toward eternity will not be satisfied by anything “under the sun,” tomorrow is not guaranteed, so enjoy what you do have in the moment. Enjoy food, drink, and work. Labor is much easier to endure when one can find enjoyment in what one does. How many things prove more lamentable than a person who expends the short life they have under the sun in labor which they detest and provides them no form of joy or satisfaction? Likewise, how demonic is a system or group of people who develop forms of employment which dehumanize those who participate in it and provide no opportunity for enjoyment?

In light of the Preacher’s message we do well to resist all impulses to make life all about work. Work is an important part of life, but it should only be a part of life. Those who labor should be able to eat and enjoy the fruit of their labor. They must not invest their life’s meaning and purpose in their work, and always remember the importance of the experiences they can enjoy and especially the people with whom they share their lives. Yet those who employ should consider themselves well. Is God glorified when people work but cannot eat and enjoy the fruit of their labor? What does it say about a people and a society when many jobs cannot provide any real benefit to anyone, and cause great suffering to those who are employed within them? What employer has any right to demand for any employee to make work their life’s primary purpose, providing no opportunity for enjoyment and rest?

As Christians we must balance what we hear from the Preacher with what we learn about God in Christ. The Apostle Paul affirmed that our work in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58): what we do here in this life will have implications for life in the resurrection to come. Thus Paul exhorted all who labor to do so as unto the Lord (cf. Ephesians 6:5-9); we cannot imagine that our work is divorced and separated from our life of service to Christ, but must find ways to glorify God and submit our work lives to Jesus. And yet the Preacher’s words endure: under the sun, all our labor is ultimately futile. What will remain is not what we have built with our hands, but the impact we have imprinted on other people. May we all serve the Lord Jesus in all we do, and glorify God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Labor Under the Sun | The Voice 12.16: April 17, 2022

The New Old Commandment | The Voice 12.15: April 10, 2022

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1 John 2:7-11: The New Old Commandment

Beloved, no new commandment write I unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning: the old commandment is the word which ye heard. Again, a new commandment write I unto you, which thing is true in him and in you; because the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shineth. He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because the darkness hath blinded his eyes (1 John 2:7-11).

In his first letter, John works diligently to impress upon his audience their need to walk in the light and follow the ways of Jesus. This is God’s message (1 John 1:5-7) and it is God’s intention for man (1 John 2:1-6). We may know that we belong to Jesus if we follow His commandments and walk as He walked (1 John 2:1-6).

Having established that Christians are to follow Jesus’ commandments, John turns and begins to focus on the “new old” commandment. Surprisingly, John does not here come out and explicitly identify what this commandment is, and yet it is assumed throughout. John does identify this commandment in John 13:34:

“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).

What does Jesus mean that this is a “new” commandment? Furthermore, is John himself confused? He says first that he does not give a new commandment, but an old commandment, but then says that he is giving a new commandment (1 John 2:7-8)!

The idea of loving one another is not a new commandment per se; it was enjoined in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 19:18; cf. Matthew 22:39). Yet there it involved the idea of not harming one’s neighbor. Jesus now provides a new dimension to that old commandment: love as I have loved you. Just as Jesus came and gave Himself to be the ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), we are to give of ourselves and be devoted to the needs of others over our own (Philippians 2:1-4).

Therefore, “love one another” is the “new old commandment.” As John says, this is true in Jesus Christ because of what He has accomplished: the darkness is passing away and the love of Christ shines in the world (1 John 2:8). It is true in us as long as we are “keeping His commandments” and walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:1-6).

John’s main concern here involves brethren who do not share in this love. Some seem to profess to be Christians, and yet in their hearts they hate their brethren (1 John 2:9). This may have specific reference to those Christians influenced by Gnosticism who believed themselves superior on account of their greater “knowledge.” Nevertheless, the concern remains true for anyone who professes to follow Jesus Christ but does not have love for his or her fellow believers in their heart: despite what they say, they still are in darkness, and lost in their sins. As darkness pretending to be light, they “lie” and “do not the truth” (1 John 1:6). It is important for us to love our brethren, regardless of whether they “deserve” it or not!

Those who do love their brethren, however, abide in the light (1 John 2:10). When we have the love we ought to have toward others, we will not despise them or seek to sin against them. We will also seek their welfare and to show them love, mercy, compassion, and the other aspects of righteous behavior. On account of this John says that there is no cause of stumbling in such people: when they are motivated by that which is truly love, they will not sin against others.

But those who maintain hate in their souls toward others are controlled by it, and go wherever they are directed (1 John 2:11). John’s image is quite apt: just as people fumble around in the darkness because they do not perceive properly, so too for those who do not love but have hate in their hearts toward others. If such people thought rationally and sensibly, they would not act as they do; instead, they allow their passions to control them, and they become slaves, however willing or unwilling, to their hostility.

John makes it abundantly clear that we must love one another, for such is the way of Jesus. The way of hate is the way of darkness and sin, and many are those who find it and are lost. Let us show the light of Christ through our love for one another!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The New Old Commandment | The Voice 12.15: April 10, 2022

Powers | The Voice 12.14: April 03, 2022

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Powers and Principalities

In 2 Kings 6:8-17 the prophet Elisha was visited by the entire army of the Aramean king. One of Elisha’s servants was very understandably concerned about this situation; Elisha told him that their side outnumbered the Arameans. The servant was confused. Elisha prayed to God that the servant might see; all of a sudden, the servant could see chariots of fire all around Elisha. It is not as if those chariots of fire did not exist beforehand; the only difference was that the servant now got a glimpse of the spiritual realm which he otherwise could not see.

In a very real way we are all very much like Elisha’s servant. The Scriptures provide some glimpses of the spiritual realm that is always around us and is beyond our perception and understanding. There is much more going on than what we can see. In this life we will never fully understand the spiritual realm, but we do well to consider those glimpses we are given “behind the curtain,” lest we delude ourselves into thinking that we can see or perceive all that transpires.

One persistent theme in many of these glimpses involves spiritual beings to whom God has given authority but who seem to use it often for evil purposes. The Apostle Paul spoke of such beings in Ephesians 6:12 as the “principalities,” the “powers,” the “world-rulers of this darkness,” and the “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” We might be tempted to understand “powers” and “principalities” in terms of humans ruling over peoples and nations (especially in light of Romans 13:1), but Paul contrasted them with “flesh and blood.” Some believe they are not beings but forces, yet God has Being and works through beings and similar glimpses presuppose their existence as sentient beings.

Paul declared that these spiritual beings are the ones with whom we are really wrestling, not our fellow humans (Ephesians 6:12). God has demonstrated His manifold wisdom in Christ in the church, according to His eternal plan in Jesus, before these powers and principalities (Ephesians 3:10-11). Paul also says that these beings have been humiliated and paraded in a triumph in Jesus’ death and resurrection (Colossians 2:15). These powers cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

But what can we know about these powers and principalities? Paul spoke of one who was the “aeon,” or “prince,” of the powers of the air, the spirit at work in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2). He also spoke similarly about the “god of this world” who had blinded unbelievers from perceiving the light of the Gospel of Jesus in 2 Corinthians 4:4. We naturally would associate such a one with Satan, the Adversary or the Devil, and we have good reason to do so. In Revelation 12:1-13:18 John sees Satan as a dragon who empowers the beast, the embodiment of Roman power in the form of its Emperor, and also the false prophet, referring to Roman religion, deceiving many through false signs, and inducing many to serve the beast and not God. When Satan claimed to be able to give Jesus authority over the kingdoms of this world, Jesus did not declare him to be presumptuous; He recognized that the kingdoms of this world were indeed following after the ways of the Evil One (Matthew 4:8-10, Luke 4:5-6). Satan or the Devil, therefore, would be the prince of these powers and principalities, and he thus exercises authority and influence over the kingdoms of this world.

We also may gain some insight regarding these powers from illustrations in the Hebrew Bible. In Daniel 10:1-21 a story is related that sounds strange to modern ears. Daniel had received a message from YHWH and prayed for understanding to properly interpret it. He prayed and fasted for three weeks. He then saw a vision of an angel. The angel assured Daniel that his prayer had been heard immediately and the angel had been sent immediately to him; the angel was opposed for twenty-one days by the “prince of the Kingdom of Persia.” It was only when Michael, “one of the chief princes,” came to assist this angel that he was able to come and interpret the message. We cannot imagine that the “prince of the Kingdom of Persia” was human, for when has a human been able to resist any among the angelic host? Furthermore, Michael, whom we know as an archangel, is also identified as a “prince”; thus, we best understand the “prince of the Kingdom of Persia” as the Power or Principality, the spiritual being who presided over the Kingdom of Persia, and who at that time would have been powerful. He was clearly powerful enough to resist an angel sent by YHWH on a divine mission, but not powerful enough to resist Michael the archangel. Thus these powers are not insignificant, can interfere with YHWH’s divine purposes, but ultimately cannot thwart YHWH’s great power.

The powers and principalities may also be in view in Psalm 82:1-8. Asaph there provided a glimpse of the “assembly of God” in which God rendered judgment on the elohim. God wanted to know how long they would perpetuate injustice and oppression. He wanted them to rescue the poor and oppressed from the hands of the wicked. These elohim were sons of the Most High, but would die like mortal humans. Asaph wanted God to rise up and execute justice on the earth and its nations. Many have considered these elohim to be some kind of human “judges,” but it would be no denunciation to say they would “die like humans” (Psalm 82:7). Instead, it might be best to understand the elohim as “gods”: these powers and principalities: spiritual beings God had made to rule over peoples and nations with free will and who would be judged by God for how they exercised that authority. In this way many early Christians understood the “gods” of the world which many served as these powers and principalities, and considered them demonic.

Not every portrayal of a power or principality is negative, though. In Asaph’s psalm YHWH expected the elohim to do what was right and just (Psalm 82:3-4). An angel spoke of Michael as a “prince” in Daniel 10:13; we know him as the archangel Michael in Jude 1:9. Many understandably speak of how John was instructed to write to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2:1-3:21; yet according to the text, each letter was written to the “angel” of the church, and the use of “you” and “your” in those passages are singular, not plural. We could countenance the possibility that the “angel” of each church as a human messenger if it were not for how the instruction given is written specifically to the angel. Thus Jesus in the Spirit intimated to John, and by extension to us, that each local congregation of the Lord’s people has an angel to which Jesus might give encouragement, exhortation, and/or rebuke.

Thus we can know that there are spiritual beings who have been given authority by God over churches and nations. They seem to have been given free will, just as we have been given. Some powers work to accomplish God’s purposes for His glory. Other powers and principalities have given themselves over to advance their own interests regardless of whether it advances God’s purposes in Christ or not. The powers and principalities over this present darkness have Satan as their prince; through them and his own work Satan has gained great influence over the nations of this world, and likely many other institutions and organizations of humans as well. On our own we stand relatively powerless against them; so many expend so much effort in empowering the powers and principalities, enslaved in their anxieties and fear of death to do their will. They exist and work even though we do not see them; if we would deny their existence, we grant them even more power in our delusion and pretense.

Yet as with Elisha and his servant, so with us: the spiritual forces for us are greater than the spiritual forces against us. The powers and principalities over this present darkness have been fundamentally broken and defeated by Jesus in His life, death, and resurrection; if we pursue the way of Jesus in His life, death, and resurrection, and stand firm in Him, we can overcome the powers and principalities and their worldly agents (Ephesians 6:10-13, Colossians 2:15). We can be set free to love one another and everyone, even our enemies, without fear, because perfect love casts out fear, and fear is the currency of the Evil One and the forces who align with him (1 John 4:17-21). We can participate in God’s Kingdom in Christ and demonstrate His manifold wisdom in the church by eschewing all worldly forms of division and proving diligent to preserve the unity God has given us in the Spirit despite our many differences in worldly terms. May we obtain victory over the powers and principalities over this present darkness through what God has accomplished in Jesus, and share in eternal life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Powers | The Voice 12.14: April 03, 2022

Deconstruction | The Voice 12.13: March 27, 2021

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Deconstruction

As Christians we ought to be all about encouragement: to build up one another in faith and in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:26, Ephesians 4:11-16). Building up is of the greatest good; but sometimes one must tear down before one can build up.

In recent years many have begun to speak of “deconstruction” and its relationship to the Christian faith. A few loudly insist that any such “deconstruction” is demonic or demonic-adjacent, a poison inflicted on the church by the French postmodernist Jacques Derrida leading to a denial of the existence of truth and shipwreck in the faith. It is true that the term “deconstruction” comes from Jacques Derrida; nevertheless, Derrida’s concern was with philosophy and the relationship between texts and their meaning, and he imagined himself to be part of the Enlightenment project. Derrida recognized that all communication is mediated and therefore demands context and thus interpretation and encode many socio-cultural aspects and dimensions. To this end Derrida sought to critically reconsider the Western perspective and value system and recognized that texts outlive their authors and get re-appropriated into later contexts for different purposes. It remains possible for such adventures in deconstruction to lead to nihilism, but such is not automatically or intrinsically the necessary result. Derrida is only one of the more recent in a long line of philosophers and literary critics who sought to fundamentally reassess the Western heritage rooted in Greek philosophy; those who would seek to demonize him would first do well to consider how beholden they might be to modernist philosophy and perspectives before they castigate his premises.

Despite what might be imagined based on present discourse, Jacques Derrida did not establish the work of deconstructing Christianity or particular ideologies believed under that umbrella. At best, one could argue that others have since taken the same kind of premises and critical perspective that Derrida directed toward philosophy and texts and have directed them toward Christianity (as well as other disciplines). Most who experience a season of deconstruction in their faith have barely heard of Jacques Derrida and remain unfamiliar with his work. Yet the experiences and trials they endure remain very real, and while “deconstruction” may not be the most technical or ideal term to use, it remains appropriate. We therefore do best to understand “deconstruction” in Christian terms as a critical reassessment of some or all of the beliefs one has accepted regarding the faith in Christ, usually as a result of some crisis experience.

Many have attempted to associate deconstruction with justifying or rationalizing sin: they imagine that only those who want to do things Jesus has told them not to do would want to go through the experience of deconstruction to excuse their behaviors. No doubt there are some who have participated in deconstruction to this end. Stories are also often told of young people who grew up going to church and participating in a Christian environment, expressing (seemingly) robust Christian faith, and then losing that faith through deconstruction in college. This can, and has, happened. Yet these are not the only reasons people find themselves in a season of deconstruction. Some deconstruct their beliefs because they have moved to a new place and are exposed to a different way of living and doing things. Many have deconstructed their beliefs because they have witnessed Christians and churches not upholding what God has made known in Christ and prove more faithful to worldly commitments than to their professed heavenly citizenship. Many are processing the various forms of trauma and/or oppression they have experienced in Christian contexts. Sadly, a good number of those who deconstruct their beliefs are not doing so because they have found the world more attractive than Jesus; they do so because they have not seen Jesus well manifested or represented in the people and institutions who profess Him.

Very few would consider deconstruction to be a pleasant experience; most who undergo a season of deconstruction have found it to be agonizing and alienating. Yet deconstruction is not intrinsically evil, or even necessarily a bad thing. Deconstruction might be unpleasant; deconstruction can certainly be taken too far; yet deconstruction is a necessary process if we would prove faithful to God in Christ.

We do well to consider “deconstruction” according to the image the word immediately conjures: that of taking down part or all of what has been constructed. The specific nomenclature may date to the past few decades, but the concept has been around for as long as people have professed faith in God. And God expressly expected His people to have to undergo trials and crises in faith that would lead to “deconstruction,” or destruction, of some or most of what His people believed and held dear.

Abram’s family in Ur lived as pagan idolaters according to Joshua 24:2-3. Thus, when God called Abram to believe in Him and follow Him, Abram had to change his views and perspectives: he would have to dispense with service to other gods and serve only the God who called him. Time and time again God would have to command His people to tear down idols and break them down; Gideon and Hezekiah were called upon to literally deconstruct the idolatrous service of Israel, breaking down altars, smashing pillars, etc. (Judges 6:25-27, 2 Kings 18:3-4).

Jesus Himself taught about faith in terms of building on the right foundation in Matthew 7:24-27, and Paul expanded upon the theme, expecting everything built on the foundation to be tested as through fire in1 Corinthians 3:9-15. To this end we do well to think about our faith in terms of a construction project we have built. If the house is built well and firmly on Jesus with a healthy understanding of His truth in love, and we experience the storms of life, that house can endure the trial and be sustained with minimal damage. Thus, well and healthy faith rooted in what God has made known in Christ has little to fear from a season of trial and deconstruction, for it is robustly rooted in Jesus. But what if the house we have built has some unsound aspects; perhaps rooted in some aspects more in cultural mores and expectations or designed to address the challenges of a bygone era? When various trials come about, those unsound aspects will be exposed, and will not be able to sustain the challenges and will collapse. The witness of God in Christ has nothing to fear from deconstruction, but all that is built upon cultural assumptions and expectations, looks to win culture wars, or to protect the institution at the expense of faithful witness in Christ has everything to fear from that exposure. It will not, and cannot, stand unless it is properly built in Christ.

The challenge of deconstruction is less in its process and much more in its end. As with doubt and skepticism, so with deconstruction: they prove necessary to a degree, but can go too far and lead to nihilism and despair. It remains true that some deconstruct themselves out of faith in Christ entirely, which is a bitter and lamentable outcome. Deconstruction therefore should never be pursued for its own end; instead, if we find ourselves in a season of deconstruction, we ought to always aspire toward a time of rebuilding in edification and encouragement. We must absolutely remove all unhealthy parts of the foundation and structure of faith which has been built up and which will not sustain the trials and challenges of life and judgment, but we must then seek to re-establish a firm foundation in Jesus and the witness of the Apostles and prophets, and build up our faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:20-22, 4:11-16). That faith will not, and cannot, look exactly like it did before. It is also no excuse to replace one set of cultural assumptions and ideologies with another set of cultural assumptions and ideologies; if it will endure, it must be built on what God has made known in Christ through the apostolic and prophetic witness (Colossians 2:1-10).

Deconstruction is neither easy nor fun, but ultimately it is the demand of repentance in healthy faith. If we would truly change our hearts and minds for the better, we must first clear out all that which was not fully rooted in Jesus. We have no difficulties expecting those who come to Christ from the world to “deconstruct” everything they have learned in the world to effectively put on Christ; the sad reality is that many Christians need to go through the same experience in order to divest themselves of the worldly accretions that have corrupted many institutions and those who have professed Jesus as the Christ. Likewise, the restoration spirit requires the “deconstruction” of all of the human traditions and institutional loyalties that hinder believers from jointly participating in the faith in Christ in its apostolic simplicity. “Deconstruction,” therefore, is not the enemy of the Christian or the faith; it is a season of trial which we must undergo if our faith would result in praise, honor, and glory for Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-9). May we all seek to root out all forms of worldliness from our lives in faith, and may we provide space, love, and encouragement for all who find themselves in a season of deconstruction, so that we all may ultimately build one another up in love to the glory of God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Deconstruction | The Voice 12.13: March 27, 2021

Wisdom | The Voice 12.12: March 20, 2022

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The Voice

Wisdom

Next, I decided to consider wisdom, as well as foolish behavior and ideas. For what more can the king’s successor do than what the king has already done? I realized that wisdom is preferable to folly, just as light is preferable to darkness: The wise man can see where he is going, but the fool walks in darkness. Yet I also realized that the same fate happens to them both.
So I thought to myself, “The fate of the fool will happen even to me! Then what did I gain by becoming so excessively wise?”
So I lamented to myself, “The benefits of wisdom are ultimately meaningless!”
For the wise man, like the fool, will not be remembered for very long, because in the days to come, both will already have been forgotten. Alas, the wise man dies – just like the fool! So I loathed life because what happens on earth seems awful to me; for all the benefits of wisdom are futile – like chasing the wind (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17).

Wisdom is greatly praised in the witness of the Scriptures. The Preacher was very wise. Yet what is the end of wisdom?

The Preacher has been setting forth his exposition on life in this corrupt creation, “under the sun”: it is all hevel, a vapor, vanity, futile, or absurd (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2). People expend all kinds of effort, yet the creation continues as it has before; there is nothing truly new under the sun, and what has happened will be forgotten by future generations (Ecclesiastes 1:3-11).

The Preacher, king in Jerusalem, then began to consider the results of his inquiries into life under the sun: it is all a chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 1:12-14). Should people just pursue what is pleasurable and enjoyable? The Preacher lived a life of pleasure to the full, giving himself over to the pursuit of every desire and pleasure: he found it all futile, for trying to obtain them was like chasing the wind, and ultimately without profit (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11).

Since pleasure is thus futile, what about wisdom over folly? As with pleasure, so with wisdom: God granted Solomon great wisdom so that there were none wiser in all of Israel or even the ancient Near Eastern world (1 Kings 3:12, 4:31, Ecclesiastes 2:12). If anyone were able to fully explore the depths of wisdom to see if we can place our full confidence in wisdom to provide hope and meaning in life, it would have been Solomon. Furthermore, who would we expect to be a greater advocate or champion for wisdom than the author of Proverbs and much of what we deem the “Wisdom Literature” in the pages of Scripture?

The Preacher already summarized what he had learned regarding wisdom and folly in Ecclesiastes 1:15-18; he set forth his exploration in greater detail in Ecclesiastes 2:12-17. Whereas Solomon could not find much value in pleasure, he did see some benefit in wisdom: wisdom is better than folly just like light is better than darkness, since the wise person can discern the journey and its attendant dangers, but a fool stumbles through and suffers greatly (Ecclesiastes 2:13-14). And yet ultimately the same fate awaits both the wise person and the fool: they will die (Ecclesiastes 2:14).

The Preacher bitterly lamented the common fate of the wise person and the fool, for he who endeavored so diligently to pursue wisdom and the person who put absolutely no effort into obtaining wisdom will equally die (Ecclesiastes 2:15-16). The wise person and the fool will equally be forgotten (Ecclesiastes 2:16)! Thus wisdom is ultimately futile and absurd, a chasing after wind: whatever benefits it may provide for you in life end at death (Ecclesiastes 2:15, 17). The Preacher thus found this aspect of life quite distasteful: wisdom cannot keep a person from dying, and wisdom cannot provide ultimate hope and meaning (Ecclesiastes 2:17).

Many of us find ourselves in a similar predicament as the Preacher, especially if we hold Proverbs and a philosophy of self-realization through moral improvement dear to our hearts. We can see great value in the wisdom of those who have come before us and the stupidity of folly. We anguish over the not well considered decisions of others which have caused them and others great grief. We strive to instruct our children to pursue the ways of wisdom and not folly. We want to keep improving our virtue and abilities so that we can excel and do better at life. We want to believe that the more wisdom we cultivate the better and more meaningful our life will be.

And yet the Preacher said it is ultimately futile and a chasing after wind. Wisdom, like pleasure, cannot entirely satisfy. Wisdom, like pleasure, cannot really deliver on its promises.

We must not overstate the case. Pleasure intrinsically cannot deliver; it promises things it can never truly provide. Wisdom is better than folly, and it is right, well, and good for us to pursue wisdom and to live wisely and not foolishly. We should meditate on the Proverbs and find ways to practice wisdom and eschew folly.

Yet under the sun wisdom cannot save us. Yes, fools will suffer from their folly; many will even die in their folly. Yet even if the wise person avoids all sorts of preventable forms of anxiety, stress, and death, they also will die some day. We would also like to believe that fools will be mocked and maligned in their memory, and the wise will be highly esteemed; yet this also is not the case. In the short term there are plenty of people who deem folly to be wisdom and laud it while persecuting the wise; in the long term both the wise and the fool are forgotten.

We can find no greater testimony to the futility of wisdom than Solomon himself. Solomon had great wisdom and his kingdom enjoyed prosperity beyond anything they had previously enjoyed or would ever enjoy again. We do well to remember that the “father” exhorting his “son” is a standard literary convention in ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature, but we would imagine that Solomon very much tried to exhort his son Rehoboam to live in the ways of wisdom and to rule wisely. And yet as soon as his father died Rehoboam foolishly wanted to assert his own power and privilege, and it led to the division of his kingdom and a wound against the kingdom which would never heal (cf. 1 Kings 12:1-19). Solomon was extremely wise; he died, and his kingdom was given over to folly; truly futility and a chasing after wind!

We may still speak fondly of Solomon’s wisdom and castigate Rehoboam’s folly, yet they have been practically forgotten. Each generation arises and learns lessons from previous generations for better and for worse; they may exhibit some wisdom their fathers neglected, but will likewise surely leap headlong into forms of folly regarding which their ancestors learned from experience or avoided by heeding their elders. No amount of instruction in wisdom will secure future generations from these trials.

Under the sun there is no ultimate meaning or hope in pleasure, wisdom, or in anything else. Yet thanks be to God that He has established eternal wisdom in Christ Jesus who is the treasury of all wisdom and knowledge, and through whom we can obtain confidence in eternal life (Colossians 2:1-3). We ought to be rooted and grounded in Christ Jesus, not in ourselves, and understand that it is only in the Lord Jesus that our efforts and our wisdom is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58, Colossians 2:4-10). The wisdom of the world is ephemeral and will not endure; the wisdom that comes from above, which is pure, peaceable, gentle, and full of mercy, which will produce the good fruit in faithful believers that endures for eternity (James 3:13-18). Let us not seek to pursue wisdom for its own end; let us instead be rooted and grounded in Christ, stand firm all wisdom and knowledge rooted in Him, manifest the wisdom which comes from above, and obtain eternal life in the resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Wisdom | The Voice 12.12: March 20, 2022

Keeping His Commandments | The Voice 12.11: March 13, 2022

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The Voice

1 John 2:3-6: Keeping His Commandments

And hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, “I know him,” and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoso keepeth his word, in him verily hath the love of God been perfected. Hereby we know that we are in him: he that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked (1 John 2:3-6).

In our examination into the first letter of John, we have seen that John’s purpose is to encourage Christians in the face of false teachers and “professors” of Christianity. He has previously established that the message he provides concerns the Word of Life, how He is light, and in Him there is no darkness (1 John 1:1-5). He then establishes that we must walk in the light: we will not do so perfectly, for we all sin, but we must strive to cease from sin (1 John 1:6-2:1). If we do sin, we have an advocate in Jesus Christ, who is the propitiation for the sins of all the world (1 John 2:1-2).

John continues to speak about Jesus, and his specific concern involves how we demonstrate that we “know” Jesus (1 John 2:3-6). In a world of competing claims regarding Jesus, how can we know whether we practice the truth? This question was as concerning in the first century as it is in the twenty-first.

John does not leave the disciples in doubt: to know Jesus is to do His commandments. This message is entirely consistent with the message Jesus provided during His life. The comparison between the man who built on the rock versus the man who built on the sand was the difference between those who keep and do Jesus’ words and those who do not (Matthew 7:24-27). In His farewell address to His disciples, Jesus indicates that if His disciples love Him, they will keep His commandments (John 14:15). Those who have and keep Jesus’ commandments loves Jesus, and such are loved by the Father (John 14:21). We are to keep His commandments just as He kept His Father’s commandments (John 15:10); this is to be done so that the disciples’ joy may be full, which is the very purpose for John’s letter (John 15:11, 1 John 1:4). To keep Jesus’ commands is to be His friend (John 15:14).

John does not shy away from the need to follow Jesus’ commands; in fact, he constantly emphasizes that need. James has similar things to say in James 1:22-25, contrasting those who “hear” the word from those who “hear and do” it.

The only legitimate test as to whether one who professes Jesus is truly His follower is to understand what he does: what is his fruit (cf. Matthew 7:15-20)? Is there evidence of repentance: is there less sin and more righteousness (Galatians 5:17-24)? Do they justify their sin or do they glorify God? Do they represent humble believers in the King, or have they been swept away by some other teacher (Luke 17:7-10, 2 Timothy 4:3-5)? The only way we can demonstrate that we know Jesus is to do what He tells us to do!

Those who profess knowing Jesus and yet do not practice His commands are liars (1 John 2:4). It does not matter how sincere or dishonest they may be: they do not have the truth either way. This is why it is so important to do His commandments!

If we keep His commands, John says that the love of God is perfected in us (1 John 2:5). While some may try to make some kind of absolute out of the statement, such distracts us from John’s true meaning. It is not as if we will ever entirely keep Jesus’ commands (1 John 1:8), but it is the humble obedient servant of Jesus Christ whom God can make complete in the Son. Such people can truly understand the nature of Jesus; they entirely understand, by their practicing of the truth, all the love that God has richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ.

Lest anyone believe that this knowledge is somehow based only in learning, John goes on to demonstrate that “keeping His commandments” is “walking as Jesus walked” (1 John 2:5-6). If we “abide” in Jesus, we ought to walk in His ways. The only way we can ever come to a deeper knowledge and understanding of the ways of Christ are to walk in those ways. We keep His commandments not in some Pharisaical attempt to check off obligations, but in order to be conformed into Jesus’ image: to love as He loved, to show compassion as He showed compassion, to avoid sin as He avoided sin. In short, it is to walk as Jesus walked. The only way to know Jesus is to know His life, His ways, and His suffering in our own lives. Let us strive to know Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Keeping His Commandments | The Voice 12.11: March 13, 2022