What Has Existed Will Be | The Voice 12.29: July 17, 2022

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The Voice

What Has Existed Will Be

Whatever exists now has already been, and whatever will be has already been; for God will seek to do again what has occurred in the past.
I saw something else on earth: In the place of justice, there was wickedness, and in the place of fairness, there was wickedness.
I thought to myself, “God will judge both the righteous and the wicked; for there is an appropriate time for every activity, and there is a time of judgment for every deed.”
I also thought to myself, “It is for the sake of people, so God can clearly show them that they are like animals.”
For the fate of humans and the fate of animals are the same: As one dies, so dies the other; both have the same breath. There is no advantage for humans over animals, for both are fleeting. Both go to the same place, both come from the dust, and to dust both return. Who really knows if the human spirit ascends upward, and the animal’s spirit descends into the earth?
So I perceived there is nothing better than for people to enjoy their work, because that is their reward; for who can show them what the future holds? (Ecclesiastes 3:15-22)

The Preacher’s meditations become no less unsettling over time. More has been revealed since his time; nevertheless, his core exhortation endures.

The Preacher’s main themes involved everything as hevel: vain, futile, even absurd, and all human pursuits as ultimately chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14). He recognized history as cyclical: things come and go, and there is really nothing new on the earth (Ecclesiastes 1:3-10). Despite our protestations we and all we have done will be forgotten on the earth (Ecclesiastes 1:11). The Preacher considered pleasure, wisdom, and labor, and saw the futile end of all of them; none of them could provide humans with ultimate meaning (Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:26). There is a time and season for everything under heaven: the things we enjoy as well as the things we would assiduously avoid (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

In Ecclesiastes 3:9-22 the Preacher considered God and man. God has made everything beautiful in its time; humanity has the spark of eternity yet cannot and should not know what will be (Ecclesiastes 3:9-11). Humans should truly enjoy the gifts God has given them: to find happiness in relationships and joy in their labor, and to eat and drink well (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13). God’s work endures forever; humanity cannot enhance or diminish it, and thus should revere God (Ecclesiastes 3:14).

The Preacher continued his meditations regarding God and man in Ecclesiastes 3:15-22. In a way he returned to his theme in Ecclesiastes 1:3-10: what exists now also existed in the past, and what will take place also took place in the past, for God will do again what was done in the past (Ecclesiastes 3:15). Thus the Preacher saw the cyclical nature of the creation as a very deliberate and specific plan of God, and such a perspective will usefully guide us in our understanding of Scripture and God’s purposes in time. For example, not for nothing would Jesus show a vision to John regarding the things that would be, yet in terms of what had previously happened in Israel: beasts, whore Babylon, a “new heavens and a new earth” (cf. Revelation 13:1-22:6). God has seen powers rise and then has judged said powers; so it has been, thus it is, and so it will be until the Lord Jesus returns. To this end history can provide an analogue for the future: while specific contexts change, the general tenor and nature of events play out consistently at different points in time.

The Preacher saw something on the earth: wickedness in the place of justice and fairness (Ecclesiastes 3:16). On account of this he concluded God would judge the righteous and the wicked since there was a time and purpose for every effort (Ecclesiastes 3:17). Perhaps this is part of what led the inspired editor of the Preacher’s homily to conclude as he did in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, how humans would do well to fear God and keep His commandments, since He would judge everything. This is one of the rare times in which the Preacher indulged himself with meditations beyond life “under the sun,” and thus worth highlighting all the more. Inversion of justice into injustice represents a profound moral travesty and a constant plague within human societies. Societies seem to cultivate a group of people who leverage authority and law to aggrandize themselves at the harm of others, and manipulate the “halls of justice” in order to justify themselves and to provide cover for their oppression. Such injustice makes our blood boil whenever we see it happen to ourselves, those we love, or in situations in which we can look “objectively”; and yet how often do we tolerate some level of injustice when it works to our benefit and favor? The Preacher did not trust in earthly corrections to such injustice; instead, he entrusted himself to the confidence God would make right all that went wrong, and to make straight all which humans made crooked. Such injustice does not merely affect humanity; it offends the structure of the universe which the Creator has made, and the Creator has ways to bring His creation back into alignment.

Yet even as the Preacher entrusted ultimate judgment to God, he continued to explore what such things might mean “under the sun”: God allows all such things to remind humans how they are animals (Ecclesiastes 3:18). Humans and animals live on account of the breath of life, and they both will expire on account of the corruption of the creation (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20). The Preacher wondered how he could know whether the spirit of man went up to God while the spirit of animals went down into the earth (Ecclesiastes 3:21).

We have a strong impulse to emphasize how God made humans in His image and gave them dominion over the animals (Genesis 1:26-27), and how in Christ our souls go to heaven to be with the Lord until we share in the day of resurrection (Philippians 1:24-25, Revelation 7:9-17). Yes, in Christ we have more coherent revelation regarding the nature of life after death, and some distinctions which should be made between humans and other animal life. Nevertheless, we do well to sit in the Preacher’s discomfort for a moment. While we are made in God’s image, God did make us as part of the creation, in the animal kingdom, among the primates. He breathed the same breath of life into animals and humans (Genesis 1:30, 2:7). Scientific understanding through DNA has confirmed this understanding: we are made of the same “stuff” as the creation, with similar structures to other animals, and are a part of God’s glorious creation. Humans are animals; humans may aspire to be more than animals, and should not justify animalistic impulses because they are animals, but they remain animals nonetheless. Animals live and die; humans live and die. Despite all our grandiose pretensions, we remain the creation, not the Creator.

And thus the Preacher recapitulated his argument: people should enjoy the work they do, for such is their reward, for they cannot know what the future will hold (Ecclesiastes 3:22). If God visited us and granted us the ability to see what would happen in humanity in future generations, what benefit would we gain from it? We imagine we would see our future descendants and all the wonderful technologies and things they might enjoy. Yet would we not perceive how we would most likely be forgotten, and all of our works with all the time and energy invested therein demonstrated as fleeting? Would our descendants not exasperate us by repeating many of the same mistakes we did, and following after the patterns of behavior we thought long ago perished?

We can understand how many find the Preacher depressing and distressing. He certainly knew how to take humanity down a notch. Nevertheless, we do well to appreciate his wisdom and learn the appropriate humility which comes from recognizing the value in his meditations. We do well to keep an eternal perspective on our lives and all we do. How much of what we are and do proves fleeting, and yet in the moment how much of ourselves do we invest in such things? How can we live so as to glorify God in Christ and obtain life in Him, so that our labor is not in vain?

Ethan R. Longhenry

What Has Existed Will Be | The Voice 12.29: July 17, 2022

Antichrists | The Voice 12.28: July 10, 2022

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1 John 2:18-29: The Antichrists

Little children, it is the last hour: and as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now have there arisen many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us. And ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all the things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, even he that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning. If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise which he promised us, even the life eternal. These things have I written unto you concerning them that would lead you astray. And as for you, the anointing which ye received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any one teach you; but as his anointing teacheth you; concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, ye abide in him. And now, my little children, abide in him; that, if he shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him (1 John 2:18-29).

After speaking about matters of association, walking in the light, and not loving the world (1 John 1:1-2:17), John now turns to one of his great concerns for the brethren: the emergence of the Gnostic teachers.

To John, these Gnostic teachers represent the reality of the “last hour:” the emergence of the “antichrists.” Many people have many ideas about the “Antichrist” and who he is. He is often described in terms of the beast in Revelation, yet John never uses the term “Antichrist” to describe the beast.

While it is true that the word “antichrist” simply means someone opposed to Christ, and therefore could refer to all sorts of persons, John has a very specific usage in mind here in 1 John 2:18-29. These “antichrists” were believers who used to have association with Christians but have now gone on their own way (1 John 2:19). These “antichrists” are denying that Jesus was truly the Christ, and denying the relationship between the Father and the Son (1 John 2:22, 2 John 1:7-11). The Gnostics were known for their denial that Jesus was the Son in the flesh and that God the Father was in fact a lesser deity than the “Christ” god. Therefore, “antichrists” as described in the New Testament represent those Gnostic teachers and believers who denied the fundamental truths regarding Jesus, His Father, and His work.

John is concerned for the Christians: he does not want them to be disturbed or to be led astray by these antichrists (1 John 2:21, 26). They have learned the truth and have received an anointing from God (1 John 2:20-21). They are to continue to accept and promote what they learned from the beginning, and should not follow after this new doctrine (1 John 2:24). They are to take comfort in the promise of eternal life, and strive to prepared without shame if Jesus were to return soon (1 John 2:25, 28). Since only those who follow Jesus are truly righteous, Christians will know those who are His by their striving toward righteousness and doing it (1 John 2:29).

John, therefore, is warning fellow believers about the false teachers in their midst while attempting to strengthen their faith. The antichrists here have little in common with the presentation of the best in Revelation: while both may be against Christ, Gnostic teachers and the Roman authority are different creatures indeed. There is no justification, therefore, for calling the beast of Revelation the Antichrist, since John has different entities in mind in the two different contexts.

What of the condition of the antichrists as described in 1 John 2:19? John is not trying to say that those who fall away were never saved, as some would argue; 2 Peter 2:20-22 and Hebrews 10:26-31 would militate against such an interpretation. John is speaking specifically about the Gnostics, and they may have never truly obeyed Jesus from the heart, despite going through the motions.

What about the “anointing” of believers as described in 1 John 2:20, 27? This may refer to the presence of the Holy Spirit with these believers: John may have laid hands on them previously so that they would receive the dispensation of the Spirit as is seen in Acts 8 and 19, among other places. Through the Spirit they know the truth; John writes to confirm them in the truth and so they do not doubt the Spirit’s message to them. The Spirit can still work to confirm the believer; we have the Scriptures by which we can understand truth from error (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Nevertheless, we must still strive toward righteousness, avoid false teachings, and hope in the promise of eternal life. Let us represent Christ in our lives today!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Antichrists | The Voice 12.28: July 10, 2022

Cult of Leadership | The Voice 12.27: July 03, 2022

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The Cult of Leadership

It seems to be everywhere you look: “leadership.”

Western society in late capitalism, having mostly shorn itself of the pretenses of inherited nobility, has become obsessed with the cult of leadership. Previous generations were led to believe leaders were bred that way: certain people, on the basis of their ancestry, should be given authority, power, and responsibility. The vast majority of the people, proving more deficient in their pedigree, were only fit to be subjects, to serve, and to support their leaders. Belief in nobility based on pedigree persists in certain parts of the world and in certain archaic institutions; most of us, however, no longer believe a person will be a good leader because of their ancestry.

Most people today believe leaders become such because they have developed abilities and skills in leadership. Such is consistent with our confidence in “meritocracy,” which maintains confidence those who have reached positions of authority, influence, and power have done so on the basis of what they have been able to accomplish and achieve. Therefore, according to this perspective, leaders are made, not born; theoretically anyone could thus become a leader if they sufficiently cultivated leadership skills.

We have good reason to question the legitimacy of the meritocratic premise; many of those who maintain great authority, power, and influence descend from those who had such power in previous times, and no matter how charismatic and skillful a person might be, without sufficient resources, they remain unlikely to become leaders.

But the premise of meritocracy remains potent and salient in society. People want to believe they can advance in life and society by cultivating appropriate abilities and skills. Thus we can understand the appeal of the cult of leadership: anyone and everyone should develop and grow in their leadership skills. There remains no lack of books, podcasts, and videos from those who would consider themselves motivational speakers, thought leaders, and leadership guides and gurus which promise to help you unlock your leadership potential. Everybody wants to be seen as a leader: job titles which reflect executive and management experience abound; you can even find resources about how to lead when you are not in charge, otherwise known as using leadership skills while not actually having authority.

We can understand why Western society today would be so enraptured with the cult of leadership; its enthusiastic embrace by many who would claim to follow Jesus proves more troublesome. Many have made a name for themselves by incorporating American corporate leadership premises into church environments as part of the general trend of treating churches like religious businesses. There is no end of “Christian leadership” books which attempt to provide a religious veneer on these corporate business trends. Biblical characters are mined to provide real life (and presumably divinely approved) examples of various aspects of leadership. Above all, they elevate the concept of “servant leadership” which they claim is embodied by Jesus. To this end many parts of modern day “Christian” belief and practice remain firmly in the grip of the cult of leadership.

Based upon what one might find spoken and written in many conservative Christian/Evangelical spaces, one would expect the New Testament to have much to say about leadership. And yet when we turn to the pages of Scripture we do not find leadership emphasized or spoken about much. We do not see continual exhortation for Christians to cultivate leadership skills. One searches the New Testament in vain for the phrase “servant leadership.”

Instead, Jesus bore witness in Matthew 20:25-28:

But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Through the lens of the cult of leadership Jesus would exhort people to lead by serving, but Jesus did not actually say any such thing. Jesus instead casts aspersion on the entire endeavor of desiring to obtain a position of leadership. If one is a servant, by definition, one is not great; and certainly “the first slave” is a contradiction in terms! Jesus expected the Gentiles to seek power to rule over others and leverage that authority for their own purposes, and then He explicitly told His followers not to do the same (Matthew 20:25).

In Christ we must be skeptical of anyone who would seek positions of authority, influence, and power. As creatures made in God’s image, humans can desire authority, influence, and power in order to serve as good stewards of God’s creation and their fellow man; yet in their corruption, anxieties, and fears, humans leverage authority, influence, and power to benefit themselves and their associates to the harm of the creation and/or of other people. No matter how altruistic and principled a person might sound in their quest for leadership, in practice he or she will invariably fall prey to the powers and principalities over this present darkness and leverage their authority to benefit their own.

And yet is there not authority, influence, and power among the people of God? Certainly; and Jesus remains its ultimate embodiment and expression. He lived as a servant; He did all things by the authority of His Father (Matthew 20:28). God exalted Him after He humbled Himself; He did not exalt Himself (Philippians 2:5-11). His Apostles also reflected His purposes regarding authority, influence, and power. While Jesus lived His disciples viewed authority, influence, and power according to the ways of the world; Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 20:25-28 was precipitated by the disciples jockeying for positions of prominence in Matthew 20:20-24. Yet in the book of Acts and afterward we see how the Apostles received authority, influence, and power by the power of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, and they leveraged that authority, influence, and power according to God’s purposes in the Spirit, not for their own aggrandization or benefit. Throughout his letters Paul testified to his apostleship through God’s calling and his influence based on his sufferings and weakness (e.g. 2 Corinthians 10:1-12:21).

Thus, in Christ, positions of authority, influence, and leadership are not based on birth or ancestry, nor can they be gained through a course or program of developing leadership skills. Instead, Christians should live to glorify and honor God in Christ in all things, and through the trials of discipleship God qualifies them to manage and uphold authority, influence, and leadership to glorify Him and advance His purposes. Faithful Christians model themselves in the various positions and roles in which they find themselves in life according to the ways of the Suffering Servant (e.g. Ephesians 5:21-6:9). They do not strive to be greatest or first; instead, they encourage, model, and serve.

Wherever people seek to gain leadership and prominence we will find the demonic ways of worldly wisdom, striving to obtain benefit for oneself and/or one’s associates. Those seeking righteousness will encourage and serve in humility, love, grace, peace, and patience, thus manifesting the wisdom from above, and demonstrating how God has qualified them for authority, influence, and power. May God’s faithful servants in Christ resist the siren song of the modern American capitalist cult of leadership, and seek to model life in faith according to Jesus and His Apostles in order to obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Cult of Leadership | The Voice 12.27: July 03, 2022

Modesty | The Voice 12.26: June 26, 2022

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Modesty

In like manner, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety; not with braided hair, and gold or pearls or costly raiment; but (which becometh women professing godliness) through good works (1 Timothy 2:9-10).

God highly values the quality of modesty. Women are explicitly commanded to dress and conduct themselves in modest ways (1 Timothy 2:9-10), and this quality should not be lost upon men, either. Unfortunately, the meaning and requirements of modesty have become contentious topics, especially since our society has all but abandoned modesty as a virtue.

It has been fashionable among many religious commentators to speak of modesty in terms of standards of clothing. In this perspective, modesty is defined as “that which is not immodest,” and the focus is on defining immodest clothing.

Yet such a perspective is really putting the cart before the horse. Modesty is not exclusively about clothing; instead, it is an attitude, a frame of mind, and a form of behavior. Modesty involves having a proper understanding of one’s position in life: someone who does not act arrogantly or presumptuously. In this sense humility and modesty are quite similar and intertwined. Modesty also involves a strong sense of propriety and restraint. Modesty demands moderation in thought and behavior. For all intents and purposes, modesty can be understood as the quality of not attempting to stand out: someone who is not obtrusive, not demanding attention by their conduct or comportment.

When we consider what Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 (and Peter in 1 Peter 3:3-6), we can see that it is this more comprehensive understanding of modesty that is advocated. The focus of a woman’s presentation, according to these Apostles, is not to be in how they adorn themselves physically. Instead, the focus is to be on their service to God: their good works and humble demeanor.

None of this is to say that modesty has nothing to do with clothing; far from it! But modesty is not equated with a certain level of clothing, for people can be modestly clothed while conducting themselves very immodestly. As with many elements of Christianity, modesty must be an internal quality that is manifested externally (cf. Mark 7:14-23, etc.). The woman (or man) who seeks to be truly modest will consider the clothing they wear and will make sure that it does not draw attention to themselves, either by exposing too much skin or by being overly ornate. The godly man or woman is not attempting to draw the attention of other people for immoral purposes; instead, they are trying to humbly serve their God in attitude and action!

Modesty, therefore, is quite the challenge for humans. It would be far easier if modesty only involved wearing a certain type of clothing! Instead, if we would be modest, we must not attempt to stand out in any circumstance. We do not go out with the attempt to be noticed for whatever reason, “godly” or otherwise, and we must not think too highly of ourselves (cf. Matthew 6:1-5, Mark 12:38-40, Galatians 6:1-4). Instead, we go out with the humble attitudes of servants (Luke 17:7-10). We still strive to be godly and to be the lights of the world, but it is not our goal to do so to be noticed (cf. Matthew 5:13-16). We seek the commendation of God, and God only exalts those who humble themselves and serve (Matthew 20:25-28, 23:12).

To limit discussions of modesty to how much a particular garment covers the human body is to really miss God’s purposes in advocating modesty for Christians. Modesty is about mindset, attitude, and behavior. When we have developed modesty in our estimation of ourselves and how we conduct ourselves among other people, we will make sure that our clothing appropriately covers our body without excess in ornamentation so as to not draw attention to ourselves (1 Timothy 2:9-10). We will also strive to be modest in how we conduct ourselves among other people, not attempting to draw attention by sanctimonious behavior or in any way putting on a show of righteousness to be seen as righteous (cf. Matthew 6:1-5). We will go about serving God according to the gifts He has given us, seeking God’s glory and not our own (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Peter 4:7-11). We will strive to be meek and gentle as our Lord and Savior (Matthew 11:28-30). In so doing, we will be better known for our character than our appearance, and we will have the prized internal beauty of the humble, modest servants of God. Let us not only dress modestly but conduct ourselves with modesty!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Modesty | The Voice 12.26: June 26, 2022

God’s Work, Man’s Work | The Voice 12.25: June 19, 2022

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God’s Work, Man’s Work

What benefit can a worker gain from his toil? I have observed the burden that God has given to people to keep them occupied. God has made everything fit beautifully in its appropriate time, but he has also placed ignorance in the human heart so that people cannot discover what God has ordained, from the beginning to the end of their lives. I have concluded that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to enjoy themselves as long as they live, and also that everyone should eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all his toil, for these things are a gift from God. I also know that whatever God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken away from it. God has made it this way, so that men will fear him (Ecclesiastes 3:9-14).

If life under the sun is futile, absurd, and a chasing after wind, what benefit or value can remain?

The Preacher has set forth many challenging truths in his discourse so far: all of life is futile and absurd (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2). Time is more cyclical than linear; what has been done will soon be forgotten (Ecclesiastes 1:3-11). All pursuits under the sun are like chasing after wind: a never-ending and ultimately futile task (Ecclesiastes 1:12-13). The three main pursuits of mankind cannot deliver on their promises: pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11), wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:14-18, 2:12-17), and labor (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26) all ultimately prove futile and a chasing after wind. A time and a season exist for all things under the sun: yes, those things we enjoy, but also those things we work diligently to avoid (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

The Preacher established such things in order to compel the hearer to consider many of the vain pretenses under which he or she pursues existence. The hearer will naturally find what the Preacher establishes abhorrent; yet such contempt, disgust, and/or hostility stems from the exposure of such pretenses. Humans want their lives to matter and to be full of meaning. In their corruption, and in the face of death, humans are easily tempted to invest in various earthly projects in order to find that meaning and to make their mark on the creation. Who among us wants to believe we will be forgotten within a century, most likely left as an entry with a birth and death date on some future descendant’s family tree?

While the natural human within us wants to resist the Preacher’s message, we do better to heed his wisdom. Yet we can understand why many would find him nihilistic to this point: if life is so meaningless, then why bother? Thus the Preacher would go on to provide exhortation about what can be enjoyed about life and work in Ecclesiastes 3:9-22; and he began by speaking of God’s work and man’s work in this creation.

The pericope (or section) began asking again what benefit a worker can gain from his effort (Ecclesiastes 3:9). To answer it the Preacher made appeal to God and His work: God has given labor to humans to keep them busy (Ecclesiastes 3:10). The Preacher confessed how God made everything beautiful in its own time and way (Ecclesiastes 3:11). God has made the creation so that mankind cannot ascertain how God has begun it or how it continues, or even how long they will live (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The text maintains vagary about what God has placed in the human heart: we can read the text, along with the ASV, as saying God has placed eternity in man’s heart, or, along with the NET, as saying God has placed ignorance in man’s heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

We may have a preference regarding which way we want to read the text in Ecclesiastes 3:11, yet either would make for robust theology and reflection. God has made mankind in His own image, and God is eternal (Genesis 1:27, Revelation 1:4). Humans indeed have eternity in their hearts: we have strong intuitions that there is more to living than this life. Cultures throughout time have expected some kind of afterlife for a part of themselves which was not consigned to physical death. Yet even though we might have intuition of eternity, we remain woefully ignorant regarding the spiritual realm and its operations. We do not know how long we will live, let alone how things will turn out for us.

Many decry and lament such ignorance; they believe they would like to know how their lives will turn out. We might understand such a desire for a moment, but upon reflection we can hopefully understand how terrible it would be. Generally we humans want to know things in order to master them; we might imagine we can find out how things will happen so we can make corrections or whatnot. But if we changed some matters of our existence which we would not have otherwise changed, would it not change our trajectory, thus invalidating whatever we were shown would take place? Such is the time traveler’s dilemma: if we could travel back in time in order to change a circumstance or event, then the reality in which we would exist would reflect the changed circumstance; how could we then know the circumstance or event needed changing? We thus cannot master what would happen. To know our end could easily paralyze us into fatalism. We understand and sympathize with the anxiety regarding the unknown regarding the future; yet such an unknown also allows life to have its vitality. Despite what we may think, ignorance regarding our end under the sun remains bliss.

The Preacher confessed how God’s works will endure forever, without addition or elimination; God has made the creation thus to give mankind reason to fear and revere Him (Ecclesiastes 3:14). And God’s gift to mankind is life (Ecclesiastes 3:13). God has not given us the pretensions of the institutions, powers, and principalities over this present darkness; God has not given us the delusions of eternal satisfaction of pleasure, wisdom, or labor. But God has given us the ability to enjoy the creation He has made, to eat and drink, and to find some enjoyment in the work we do (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).

The Preacher again devastates human pretension. No matter how much effort we put into this creation, we cannot add to or take away from it. There is as much created stuff at the end as there was in the beginning; we may have changed its form, eliminated life, built up the things we call “development,” but it is all still made of the basic elements of the creation which God has made. When it is all said and done, God will purge it by fire and reconstitute it all according to His good plan and purpose (Romans 8:18-25, 2 Peter 3:1-13). We remain part of the life cycle of this planet; we have not withdrawn ourselves from it, and we never will. Here the Preacher affirmed, in his own way, what Paul would set forth in Romans 1:18-20: the creation testifies to its Creator. We should fear and revere God because He made it all, we are merely part of the system He created, and we cannot find any lasting form of meaning or purpose outside of Him. If we try to find meaning or purpose in His creation, we give the glory due the Creator to His creation, and He will give us over to such debased thinking, and we will prove miserable (cf. Romans 1:25).

Thus we can strive for what endures forever through what God has done in Christ. But when it comes to life under the sun, we do best to “stop and smell the roses.” The “little things” we can enjoy in life remain the only joys we can fully expect to enjoy. We should enjoy the warmth of the sun and the majesty of what God has made. We should enjoy the taste of the food and drink with which God has blessed us. We should rejoice, cherish, and laugh with our family, friends, and associates with whom we share life. We need to find what we can enjoy in our labor and effort so as to make it worthwhile. The “little things” are ephemeral indeed. Yet so are we! Let us enjoy what God has given us to enjoy in His creation, and may we invest our hopes of eternity in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

God’s Work, Man’s Work | The Voice 12.25: June 19, 2022

Do Not Love the World | The Voice 12:24: June 12, 2022

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1 John 2:15-17: Do Not Love the World

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vain glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever (1 John 2:15-17).

John has spent much time in 1 John exhorting Christians to walk in the light, avoid the darkness, and follow God’s commands (1 John 1-2). After specifically exhorting Christians at different levels of development, John turns to the matter of “the world.”

We must be careful when discussing “the world” in 1 John 2:15-17. “The world” here is not a description of the physical planet, that is, birds and rocks and trees and the like. Instead, John uses “the world” in contrast to Heaven or the ways of God. He defines that which is in “the world” in verse 16: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vain glory of life. These are the corrupted impulses of fallen man, the distortion of the creation of God that was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). While the creation has been subjected to decay and futility (Romans 8:20-23), the creation itself is not sinful or depraved. Christians can and should appreciate God’s creation (cf. Romans 1:20).

Yet it is quite important for us to not love the world of which John speaks. This world, put simply, is the world of sin. All sin is somehow described in the three elements of 1 John 2:16: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. It is interesting to note that John’s concern is in the mind; “the world” is discussed in terms of desires of the heart. John is not somehow denying that physical actions are sin– he makes it clear, as Jesus did previously, that actions simply represent the accomplishment of the intent of the heart/mind (cf. Matthew 15:16-20). No adultery is committed, drugs used, violence perpetrated, or anything else, without the idea first coming into the mind and then the desire to do so (cf. James 1:14-15).

All three elements are also manifest in Eve’s first sin: she saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh), that it was a delight to the eyes (lust of the eyes), and it was desired to make one wise (pride of life; Genesis 3:6). This is hardly unintentional. Eve’s choice, and the choice made by all conscious humans at some point, is to choose the lusts of life over the way of God.

John also makes it quite clear that there can be no compromise between the world and God. If one loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them (1 John 2:15). Jesus indicated that a man could not serve both God and Mammon (Matthew 6:24), and James makes it clear that friendship with the world is enmity toward God (James 4:4). We must choose which we will serve (cf. Romans 6:17-19)!

That choice must be informed by eternal considerations. As John makes clear, the world and its lusts are passing away (1 John 2:17). Peter vividly describes the ultimate fate of the world by fire in 2 Peter 3:9-10. How tragic it is to consider how much effort is currently being expended for things that are destined for purging! If people really understood how all physical things require purgation by fire, would they really keep striving after wind? Even though it may not always be easy, and the temptation to follow after the world is strong, let us love God and seek after that which leads to eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Do Not Love the World | The Voice 12:24: June 12, 2022

Collaborative Leadership | The Voice 12.23: June 05, 2022

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The Voice

Collaborative 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).

Sometimes one will hear about a leadership style known as “collaborative leadership.” As the word itself suggests, “collaboration” focuses on laboring together to accomplish a common goal of some form or another. The nature of the “collaboration” will likely depend on its particular context; in general, however, “collaborative” leadership strives to be less hierarchical and more egalitarian, seeking to find ways to jointly participate and accomplish tasks and responsibilities as equals or at least without a heavy-handed, top-down approach.

Many Christians prove immediately skeptical of any concept or strategy which might work toward “egalitarian” and away from “hierarchy”; nevertheless, when the evidence from the New Testament is properly considered, we discover Jesus and the Apostles themselves practiced a type of collaborative leadership, and expected Christians to practice something similar as well.

Throughout His life and ministry Jesus did not deny or doubt His Lordship or authority (John 13:13); at no point were the disciples or anyone on earth His equal in power or standing before the Father. If anyone would have been able to exercise dominion and power in a “top heavy” way, it would be Jesus of Nazareth. And yet He invited the disciples to jointly work in and with Him to accomplish God’s purposes. He promised they would sit on thrones and rule over the Israel of God (Matthew 19:28). He went out of His way to encourage them to go out on their own and proclaim the coming Kingdom of God so they would be able to accomplish the purposes for which God had called them in Christ (e.g. Matthew 10:1-42). Not for nothing did Luke declare the Gospel he wrote as the “beginning” of all Jesus accomplished (Acts 1:1): if one has ears to hear, one can perceive how Jesus continued to work through His Apostles to proclaim the Gospel and advance His Kingdom in the book of Acts and through His people until this day (cf. Ephesians 3:10-11). Jesus is Lord, and the Apostles and all Christians are not; He is the Vine, we are the branches, and apart from Him they or we can do nothing (John 15:1-10, Acts 2:36). But Christians are the branches, and are empowered by Jesus to bear fruit in joint participation in and as His body to accomplish His purposes (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 4:11-16).

The image of the church as the body of Christ underscores the importance of collaboration in Jesus: no believer, be they apostles, prophets, evangelists, elders, or “just members,” are Jesus individually. Christians can only truly embody Jesus collectively. Christians have their individual work they should accomplish in the Lord Jesus, but also work together in interdependent ways to build one another up and thus strengthen the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). Peter expected Christians to use whatever gifts God gave them to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10-11), and we do well to emphasize his choice of verb: to serve. Service, as Jesus made clear in Matthew 20:25-28, is humble work.

This expectation of collaboration can also be found in every context in which we find some placed in authority over others. Governments have power, but are to be ministers, or servants, for good (Romans 13:1-7). Peter wrote to elders as fellow elders and exhorted them to shepherd the flock by example and not domination (1 Peter 5:1-4); he did expect the younger to be subject to them, but also exhorted all to demonstrate humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5). Wives may be called upon to submit to their husbands as to the Lord, but Paul expected husbands to sacrificially love their wives and treat them as their own flesh (Ephesians 5:21-33). Ephesians 5:21 is not entirely divorced from that context: the Christian conception of the marriage relationship can only work when both husband and wife prove willing to submit to one another for Jesus’ sake. Thus it also goes with parents and children, employers and employees (Ephesians 6:1-9): all Christians must prove subject to the Lord Jesus, and each will stand or fall before Him, and thus there remains a radical equality of each and every person before God (cf. Romans 14:10-12, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).

Consider how the Apostles worked with fellow Christians. At times they might bring up the authority they received from God in Christ; at other times they would consider themselves as the servants of their fellow Christians for the Lord’s sake. Consider how Paul would speak to fellow Christians in his greetings at the conclusion of his letters; he valued them as collaborators in the work of God in Christ, effulgently praising them and their efforts. He prayed for all the Christians with whom he had worked, and many with whom he had yet to work, so that God might work through them and be glorified, and they built up and strengthened in Him.

Positions of authority do not inherently demand an authoritarian posture; collaboration does not inherently demand complete equality among fellow laborers. Throughout the New Testament we continually see examples of those whom God has placed in positions of authority relating to those under their authority in ways which emphasize joint participation, value, and growth. Jesus does not need to continually remind us how much greater He is than we are; His goal for all of us is for us to become more like Him, and to share in life with Him (Romans 8:29). The Apostles did not pull rank as an immediate impulse but as a final desperate measure; in general they wished to work together with fellow Christians based on trust, and above all, on the basis of their examples of the suffering Christ (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:1, 2 Thessalonians 3:1-15). If those in authority in Christ must continually refer to said authority, it is already a defeat for them; not one Christian can presume to be greater or more valuable in the sight of God than any other, and all must in humility seek to serve one another and build one another up in their joint participation, or collaboration, in Christ. Christ our Sovereign humbly served us and invites us to jointly participate in the life and work of God and His people (cf. John 17:20-23); thus, we do well to strive toward a more collaborative and a less authoritarian style of leadership in all of our relationships as we live and work. May we humbly serve others as Jesus has served us, and may we all share in the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Collaborative Leadership | The Voice 12.23: June 05, 2022

Edom | The Voice 12.22: May 29, 2022

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Edom

Esau’s loss of the birthright and blessing would significantly affect his descendants; they made space for themselves between the nomads and the settled areas of the Shephelah. The Edomites would make good on what they were given, and would endure in surprising ways.

Edom was the land inhabited by the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, son of Isaac (Genesis 36:8). According to the Genesis author, Esau departed from Canaan and took up residence around Mount Seir, approximately halfway between the southern end of the Dead Sea and the northernmost point of the Gulf of Aqaba in modern-day Jordan (Genesis 36:8). In Deuteronomy, it is revealed the Edomites dispossessed the Horites of this land (which would have been ca. 1900 BCE), and inhabited all of the territory between the southern end of the Dead Sea and the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba by the time the Israelites passed around them around 1450 BCE (Deuteronomy 2:8, 12). The Egyptians testify to the presence of the Edomites in this territory during the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1200-1000 BCE), and the Assyrians of the Iron Age also recognize Edom’s existence, even providing the names of some of the Edomite kings of the 8th and 7th centuries BCE. Thus, from around 1900-600 BCE, Edom, the land of the Edomites, was centered on Mount Seir and extended from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba to the south and east of the Shephelah of Judah.

While this land was likely more fertile then than it is now, it would still be marginal for agricultural purposes, providing very little in the way of food. The Edomites would be sustained by the two major benefits they obtained from their land: trade and copper. Both the Incense Route and the King’s Highway passed through Edomite territory; the port at Ezion-geber would have at least theoretically allowed for ships to arrive with trade with Africa, Arabia, and even India. The Edomites would have been able to obtain food traveling on these routes, received customs taxes, and would have been able to sell their three main exports: copper, salt, and balsam. Evidence has been found from the Early Iron Age period for significant copper mining at Khirbat en-Nahas which would have required significant administration, strongly suggesting greater political coordination than would be possible with a tribal coalition. The primary god of the Edomites was Qos, primarily known from some theophoric elements in Edomite names in Assyrian and Biblical texts (cf. Ezra 2:53, Nehemiah 7:55). Moses sang of YHWH revealing Himself to Israel at Seir in Deuteronomy 33:2, and Deborah sang of YHWH coming down from Seir for battle in Judges 5:4; thus very ancient traditions associate YHWH with Seir, and some suggest significant associations between YHWH and Qos to explain why we read and hear no discussion or condemnation of Qos in the Hebrew Bible beyond the generalities of 2 Chronicles 25:14-15.

Our understanding of Edomite history from the pages of Scripture is fragmentary. The Genesis author preserved a list of leaders of Edom who reigned before any king ruled over Israel (thus, from ca. 1900-1050 BCE; Genesis 36:19-43). The word used for these leaders is aluph in Hebrew, which is variously translated as “duke,” “king,” or “chief.” In its earliest days Edom might have featured a tribal confederation not unlike Israel would experience in the days of the Judges. Moses asked permission from the king of Edom to pass through his land on the King’s Highway; the king of Edom refused, thus suggesting Edom had coalesced and centralized by this time (Numbers 20:14-21). Edom did not seem sufficiently strong to oppress any part of the Israelite tribal confederation during the days of the Judges; Saul defeated them during his reign, and David subjugated the Edomites and reduced their king to vassalage, a condition which would remain until the days of Jehoram (ca. 1000-850 BCE; 1 Samuel 14:47, 2 Samuel 8:11-14, 2 Kings 8:20-22). Around 795 BCE Amaziah king of Judah would defeat the Edomites at Sela and renamed it Jokhteel (2 Kings 14:7, 2 Chronicles 25:11-13), but was not able to consolidate his victory into subjugation. Edomite liberation probably had more to do with Judahite weakness than Edomite strength; nevertheless, Edom would remain an independent nation until the days of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (604-539 BCE).

In the days of the Neo-Babylonian Empire the Edomites would commit hostile acts toward the Judahites, which led to significant prophetic denunciation and condemnation. Obadiah’s entire message was YHWH’s word against Edom for what they did; similar denunciations can be found in Psalm 137:7, Isaiah 34:5-8, Jeremiah 49:7-22, Ezekiel 35:1-15, and pre-eminently Malachi 1:2-5. The Biblical evidence would suggest if the Edomites were not actually allied with the Babylonians, they at least felt no compunction in taking advantage of what the Babylonians were doing: they participated in the destruction and devastation of Judah. Yet at the same time it seems the Babylonians oversaw or allowed the destruction and devastation of the historic land of Edom; no mention of the kingdom of Edom has been found in non-Biblical texts after 667 BCE. Perhaps the Edomites had agreed with the Judahites to rebel against the Babylonians, but when the army of Nebuchadnezzar II arrived, the Edomites betrayed the Judahites and did not come to their aid.

We may not know exactly what happened during the sixth century BCE, but during most of the Second Temple Period, “Edom” as such no longer existed. By the fourth century BCE what had been “Edom” was now firmly in the hands of the Nabataeans. The people formerly known as the Edomites moved west into Hebron and parts of what had been the Judean Shephelah, south and southwest of Jerusalem, and this land would be known as Idumaea, and its people Idumaeans. The Idumaeans would be conquered by the Jewish Hasmonean John Hyrcanus in 163 BCE, and he forcibly converted them all to Judaism (cf. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 13.8.1-6).

For the next 250 years, the Idumaeans would be looked upon with suspicion by Jewish people as “half-breeds”: they may practice Judaism, but they were the descendants of Esau, and the prophetic witness remained very hostile towards Esau. This condition was not improved by the most famous Idumaeans: Antipater, an official under the last Hasmonean kings and made chief minister of Judea by the Roman general Pompey, and his son Herod the Great of Matthew 2:1-18. Herod’s son Herod Antipas would be responsible for killing John the Baptist and assenting to Jesus’ execution (Luke 9:9, 23:7-12), his grandson Herod Agrippa I would execute James and imprison Peter (Acts 12:1-4), and Paul would make his defense and preach the Gospel of Jesus before his great-grandson Herod Agrippa II (Acts 26:1-32). It would not be inappropriate to read the hostility between Esau and Jacob into most of these narratives involving the behavior of the Herod dynasty toward Jesus and His people.

During the First Jewish War, Simon bar Giora devastated the land of the Idumaeans and slaughtered many of them (Josephus, Wars of the Jews 4.9.3-7); Idumaeans were also called in by the Zealots to help them maintain the Temple against the forces of Ananus, and they slaughtered many in Jerusalem, and held firm in the Temple until the Romans broke through (ibid., 4). The Idumaeans as a distinct people no longer existed after the conclusion of the First Jewish War in 70; some of their descendants may have remained as part of the Jewish Diaspora. Some later Jewish traditions would associate the Edomites with the Romans and Europeans, but there is no Biblical or historical basis for such claims.

The Book of Genesis may chronicle the story of individual people but always did so with a view toward the nations which would grow out of those people. Esau lost his standing but would survive on the margins; thus Edom was not a great player in the Levant, but survived on the margins for a considerable period of time. Judah could not forgive Edomite encroachment on their territory. It may have seemed that Judah won the day once they forcibly converted the Idumaeans to Judaism, but then they suffered under the rule of the Idumaean Herods. Yet in the end the fate of Esau was intertwined with Jacob; after the Romans devastated the land, the integrity of Idumaea was undone. They all suffered under the condemnation to which Jesus testified; thus all do well to find salvation in Him and His Kingdom alone!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Edom | The Voice 12.22: May 29, 2022

Fanatics | The Voice 12.21: May 22, 2022

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The Voice

Fanatics

I’m sure you have seen them around. They come around and yell at people about their sins.

They are the “fanatics.”

They do not know you or many other people on campus. They might think they are doing something good, but they are really pushing people away. They stir up controversy and then walk away.

Maybe you’re not very religious, and you see such people, and therefore do not want anything to do with religion. That is an understandable reaction.

Maybe you are religious, and their conduct makes you feel ashamed. That is also an understandable reaction.

It does not have to be this way.

When Jesus of Nazareth walked on the earth, He went about doing good for people (cf. Acts 10:38). Many of the common people listened to Him gladly (Luke 5:1).

But it is not as if Jesus had a watered-down message. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is exacting in its demands. Jesus strongly exhorts against sin and encourages people to live righteously. He encouraged people to stop being angry with each other, stop lusting after others, and instead to love each other–even one’s enemies!–and to forgive other people when they sin against us.

So why would the people listen to Jesus if His message was so strong?

The people listened to Him because they could tell that He cared. He healed all kinds of people (Matthew 4:23-25). He ate dinner with people known for their sinful behavior, including tax-collectors, who were universally hated (Matthew 9:10).

And Jesus was also known for His condemnation of the religious authorities of the day. They liked to be seen as righteous and treated with reverence by the people, but they did not really care for the people (cf. Matthew 23:1-36). They looked down at everyone else as “sinners” and thought they were morally superior to them (cf. John 9:1-41). Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy and declared that they were no better than anyone else.

We can learn a lot from Jesus’ conversation with the religious authorities and a woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11. According to the Law of Moses, she was supposed to be executed for her sin (Deuteronomy 22:22). Jesus does not deny this, but instead says, “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). No one does; everyone leaves except Jesus and the woman. He tells her that He does not condemn her either; she should go, and sin no more (John 8:11).

Jesus did not come to condemn people; instead, He came to rescue people from sin and death (Romans 8:1-3, 31-38). Yes, the day is coming when He will return in judgment, and people will receive the proper result for what they have done in life (Romans 2:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). But that day has not yet come. Right now Jesus wants all people to be reconciled back to Him so they can enjoy the blessings of eternal life (Romans 5:6-11, 1 Timothy 2:4).

Many of these “fanatics” will point out that Jesus did have strong words for people, as did the prophets in the Old Testament. Yet Jesus’ strong words were for the people most like the “fanatics” of His own day: those religious authorities who thought they were morally superior to others! The message of the prophets was primarily directed to God’s people to warn them about the consequences of their lack of true faith toward God.

The “fanatics” have a lot to learn from Jesus. He spoke strongly and perhaps harshly to people like them since they were convinced of their own righteousness when they should have remained humble because of their sinfulness. He continued to stand firm for what is right but displayed mercy and compassion on the people despite their sin. People listened to Jesus because they could tell that He lived the message He preached and He cared for them.

We seek to follow Jesus. We do not pretend to be better than anyone else. We want everyone to come to know who Jesus is and to follow Him as well. We are here to take His message out to you and to your friends in a loving and respectful way. We want you to know that those “fanatics” whom you have seen and heard are not reflecting the spirit and attitude of Jesus.

Instead, let’s sit down, open up the Bible, and learn more about Jesus and His way. Please begin by reading John 7:53-8:11 and John 9:1-41. In each story, who provides a message of healing and compassion? Who provides a message of condemnation? Who is blind? Who sees? Why do the Pharisees go wrong? How can we be more like Jesus and less like the Pharisees?

We’d like to talk more with you about God and Jesus and how we may be of service in your life. Please contact us here. Thanks again for your interest, and have a great day!

Fanatics | The Voice 12.21: May 22, 2022

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

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The Voice

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