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

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

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

Collaborative Leadership | The Voice 12.23: June 05, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

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

Fanatics | The Voice 12.21: May 22, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

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

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

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

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

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

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

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

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

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

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

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

It Shall Not Be So Among You | The Voice 12.10: March 06, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

It Shall Not Be So Among You

There were many things Jesus taught that the disciples did not fully understand until all things had been accomplished. Most of the time Jesus humored them; He understood from whence they had come, what they were expecting, and how things were not going to work out as they were expecting, and knew they would come to a better understanding when they would see everything play out and the Spirit came upon them. But when it came to their jockeying for position in His Kingdom, He refused to humor them.

The Evangelists narrate the event in Matthew 20:20-28 and Mark 10:35-45; Luke records a similar conversation in Luke 22:24-30. In Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts, James and John–or their mother on their behalf–asked Jesus to stand at His left and right hand when He entered into His Kingdom; the other ten were indignant at them for making such a request (Matthew 20:20-24, Mark 10:35-41). According to Luke, at Jesus’ final supper before He was betrayed, the disciples again disputed among themselves regarding who was the greatest (Luke 22:24).

Jesus rebuked them very sharply: they knew that the rulers of the Gentiles lorded their power over others. He definitively affirmed that it shall not be so among them (Matthew 20:25-26, Mark 10:42-43, Luke 22:25-26). Instead, the one who would be great among them must be their servant; the one who would be first among them must become their slave (Matthew 20:26-27, Mark 10:43-44, Luke 22:26). He appealed to His own example: He, the Son of Man, came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, Luke 22:27).

Jesus presented us with a paradox, not a quest. He powerfully rebuked the very impulse which drove the disciples, and by extension, all sorts of people in their lives and efforts: the desire to be first and greatest, or at least among the great. In the Western world we delude ourselves into thinking that we do not make as much about social hierarchies and standing, and pretend we believe that everyone is equal; to this end, some might want to suggest something less: did not Jesus say that we must serve or become a slave to become great or the first? All of those who have ever lived under clear social hierarchies know better. What does it mean to serve? What does it demand to become a slave? Slaves cannot be the “greatest” by definition; to serve is to take on what is generally deemed a socially inferior position for the benefit of one who generally has a socially superior position. Such is why the disciples found Jesus washing their feet so scandalous: they confessed Him as Lord and Christ, and yet He was “denigrating” Himself by providing the service which should be done by the most socially inferior person present (John 13:1-15). Sociologically, to become as a servant or slave is to abandon all pretense of social uplift and increase; it represents a voluntary humiliation and debasement in terms of social standing and structure.

Therefore Christians do well to sit in the paradox of “servant leadership,” which has become the great fad in the cult of leadership which pervades the Western world but rarely produces the fruit Jesus would have it bear. Jesus is Lord, Christ, and Master, and yet He lived as a Servant to all. The New Testament does not make much of “leadership,” and for good reason: not that there should not be forms of leadership maintained among the people of God, but because any focus on leadership will invariably lead to the kind of power games and manipulation which abounds in the world. Elders are exhorted to live as shepherds, always remembering how they serve the Good Shepherd, not lording their power over others, and demonstrating the life in faith by example (1 Peter 5:1-5). Consider how Paul, in his work of ministry, would exhort and declare all forms of persuasive rhetoric in attempts to encourage Christians to live faithfully according to the Gospel; and yet when he would speak of himself he would boast in his weakness and in the power of Christ (e.g. 2 Corinthians 12:1-11). Those who would be considered “great” among God’s people, Paul, Peter, and James, wrote letters in which they identified themselves as slaves of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1): in a world saturated with slavery, in which no one wanted to become a slave and all who were slaves greatly desired to be free, who would say such a thing?

We do well to return to Jesus’ temptation of the devil in the wilderness. The devil offered Him dominion over all the nations of the earth if He would bow down and worship him (Luke 4:5-7). Jesus never suggested he did not have the power to do so; instead He declared that only God should be worshipped (Luke 4:8). John vividly described the power of the Roman emperors and Roman religion as coming from Satan (Revelation 13:1-15); thus it was then, so it is to this day. We do not glorify God in Christ if we slide into Satan’s direct messages and ask if his offer is still on the table; we cannot imagine that we can serve Jesus according to the power dynamics which advance Satan’s purposes.

Jesus did not deny the existence of power dynamics among people; in truth, wherever there are people, there are power dynamics, however consciously or unconsciously maintained. All authority comes from God, and God gives authority to the powers and principalities, the rulers of this world, elders over churches, husbands and fathers in the home, parents over children, and each individual person in terms of their autonomy and individual choices (cf. Romans 13:1).

The question, in the end, is whether we will exercise the authority God has given us according to the ways of the world by lording it over people, manipulating them into doing what we desire, rooted in our anxieties and fears, in ways that lead to the self-aggrandizement of some and the suffering and deprivation of many; or whether we in humility will seek to serve others as Jesus has served us, and leverage our power to the advantage of others. Will the rulers of the world use their power to benefit themselves or to establish justice and righteousness in the land? Will elders lord their power over the flock in order to protect the institution and their power base, or will they uphold what is right and good, serving others, and seeking to protect the weak and afflicted? Will husbands and fathers love as Jesus loves the church, proving willing to humble themselves and subject themselves to the needs of their families, sacrificing as Jesus sacrificed, or will they seek to dominate their families and coerce and compel obedience in their anxieties and fear? Will parents seek to raise their children in Jesus’ love and discipline and prove willing to cultivate the people their children are, or will they demand compliance to the form of child the parent expects to have? Will we choose to use whatever authority, influence, and power we have to benefit ourselves at the expense of others, to maintain or obtain lest we find ourselves diminished, or will we use the authority, influence, and power we have to benefit others and to share in the blessings of life God has given to all of us?

Do we, as Christians, truly recognize how radical, countercultural, and definitive Jesus’ instruction regarding power dynamics among His people proves to be? Or would we rather maintain the warped, perverted power dynamics of the world in a futile attempt to wield power and control in ways which do not honor and glorify God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ? The way power is used in the world must not be so among the people of God. Let us confess and lament where we have fallen short, and may we exercise the authority given us in humble service as the Lord has commanded us to His honor and glory!

Ethan R. Longhenry

It Shall Not Be So Among You | The Voice 12.10: March 06, 2022

Jubilee | The Voice 12.09: February 27, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

The Jubilee

Perhaps one of the more startling and profound charges that God gave to Israel involved the idea of the Jubilee. The Jubilee year represents an idea that seems rather foreign to us in our materialistic society, and yet indicates God’s great concern for the welfare of all of His people.

The Jubilee concept is described in Leviticus 25. God first lays down the legislation regarding the regular Sabbath years: the Israelites will let the land lay fallow every seven years so that the land may receive a rest (Leviticus 25:1-7).

The Israelites are charged to number “seven sevens” of the Sabbath years, which makes up 49 years. On the Day of Atonement (the tenth day of the seventh month) of the 50th year, the Israelites were to sound the ram’s horn (shofar)), and thus proclaim the Jubilee (the word “jubilee” comes from the Hebrew yobel, the proclamation of the ram’s horn; Leviticus 25:8-11).

The Jubilee year was to be reckoned like a Sabbath year, and the land was to again lie fallow (Leviticus 25:12). The significance of the Jubilee is not found in this; it is found in the “release” that is to be proclaimed (Leviticus 25:10).

It is in the Jubilee year that any ancestral land sold to pay a debt was to be returned to its original tenants (v. 13). This is quite a remarkable concept with very radical purposes.

God, quite rightly, is concerned that some among His people will accrue prestige and resources and then use them in ways that oppress their fellow men. God does not intend for the land of Israel to only be controlled by the wealthy; all of His children are to receive their proper share. If times are difficult, and land needs to be sold, that land must be returned, for God delivered all the Israelites from bondage, not just some of them (Leviticus 25:38).

Nevertheless, God does not want people to be cheated, either (Leviticus 25:14). Israelites were not to sell their land at full price just before a Jubilee year and then receive it back again; if they must sell the land, the value of the harvests between that point and the next Jubilee must be ascertained, and thus a priced will be fixed for it (Leviticus 25:15-17).

What is quite profound about this entire discussion is the perspective that Israel is to have regarding their land. As it is written:

And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is mine: for ye are strangers and sojourners with me. And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land (Leviticus 25:23-24).

Israel is not to see the land as something they own; they are sojourners on the land. Others lived on the land before them and others would live on it after them. We, in our Western customs, think highly of land possession and generally accept the premise that we can own property. Yet, in truth, we as Christians should see ourselves as sojourners in this world (Philippians 3:20-21). This principle of sojourning is used to demonstrate the need of the Jubilee: redemption should exist for the land because no one really has any better a claim on it than anyone else.

God required Israel to trust in Him during the Jubilee year. He imagines how the people will ask how they will survive since their fields would be unworked for two years (Leviticus 25:20). God promises that He will provide for them in the sixth year for three years, and that through faith they would succeed and be secure (Leviticus 25:21-22). This is comparable to the faith that the Christian should have toward God in terms of all necessities: if we seek Him first, He will provide our needs (Matthew 6:21-34).

God also has much to say about redemption of land and people in Leviticus 25. As long as proper payment can be made by the person or his family, the land ought to be redeemed from the one who bought it, or it will be redeemed in the Jubilee year (Leviticus 25:25-28). The only exception is for houses in walled cities: if it is not redeemed within a year, it becomes a permanent possession of the buyer, and does not go out in the Jubilee (except for the Levitical cities and the Levites; Leviticus 25:29-34).

The Jubilee was not only about property; it was also about people. In ancient times many succumbed to debt slavery: a man would sell his children, his wife, or even himself to another to serve as a slave to pay off a debt. This is allowed in Israel, but only until the time of the Jubilee or until redemption is paid by the debt slave or his family, and the debt slave is to be treated like a hired servant, since all of the Israelites are really slaves of YHWH. Under no circumstances will an Israelite be sold to a foreigner by a fellow Israelite. Slaves can be bought and/or taken from the nations around them, and an Israelite can even become a debt slave of a foreigner. Nevertheless, in Israel, even the foreigners must respect the Jubilee, and release the debt slave in that year (Leviticus 25:35-55). It is also within Leviticus 25 that we find the legislation indicating that Israelites were not to charge their fellow man with interest; they could only exact interest from foreigners (Leviticus 25:36-37).

This legislation is quite startling; we have no indications as to whether it was ever carried out during Biblical times in Israel. Jeremiah records in Jeremiah 34:8-11 that Zedekiah proclaimed a year of Jubilee only to immediately re-enslave all the debt slaves, incurring the anger of YHWH.

Nevertheless, we can learn much regarding how God expected Israelites to treat one another from the idea of the Jubilee. God indicates that He has no desire for anyone to be wronged: debts need to be paid, yes, and buyers should not lose money on account of the Jubilee years. On the other hand, God’s people should not be consigned to life as debt slaves without any land holdings on account of dire circumstances. God indicates how there should be a balance between the interests of the poor and those with greater means.

The Jubilee concept shows just how separate the interests of God and the interests of worlds happen to be. Can any imagine a proclamation by the US government establishing the release of all citizens from their debts after a given amount of time? What would happen if the government declared that no one ever really owns land, and if anyone sells his land to pay off debt, that the land must be returned to that person after a given amount of time? What would happen if the government forbade Americans from charging fellow Americans interest on loans?

The Jubilee concept is one from the Old Testament, and is not explicitly bound upon anyone today. The principles behind the Jubilee year, care for all members of society, ending of oppression, opportunities for redemption from difficult circumstances, equality of all persons under God, and the lack of true claims of ownership over land, resonate with ideas of a just society and proper conduct toward one’s fellow man (Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 2:10; 3:28; 6:10, Philippians 3:20-21, Romans 14:9-12, James 5:1-8). After all, why was it that Jesus came?

And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And he opened the book, and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovering of sight to the blind, To set at liberty them that are bruised, To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down: and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened on him.
And he began to say unto them, “To-day hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:17-21).

We now have the Jubilee: the acceptable year of the Lord, the proclamation of liberty to those captive under sin (Romans 6, 2 Corinthians 6:1-2). Let us consider the idea of the Jubilee year, and do what we can to love our neighbors as ourselves!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jubilee | The Voice 12.09: February 27, 2022

Jesus Our Advocate | The Voice 12.07: February 13, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

1 John 2:1-2: Jesus Our Advocate

My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world (1 John 2:1-2).

In 1 John 1, John identifies the source of his message and the message which he brings– God is light, and in Him there is no darkness. He then establishes the need for all of us to walk in the light if we would follow Jesus. He demonstrates that we all have sin, both past and present, and if we deny such, we deceive ourselves. Nevertheless, if we confess our sins before God, He is faithful to forgive us.

John begins chapter 2 by addressing his “little children.” We ought not take this statement too literally here; he uses this same term of endearment another eight times in his short letter. John has great love for his fellow believers, like the love of a father for his children, and therefore we have his tender term of address for them.

John continues by making clear that he writes to the Christians so that they would not sin. Yet, in 1 John 1:8, John says that if Christians say presently that they do not sin, they deceive themselves. Is John contradicting himself?

By no means! We must remember that chapter divisions came much later than the original writing; there is no fixed division between 1 John 1:10 and 1 John 2:1. John is making clear that although the reality is that we all stumble, we are not justified in our stumbling. We have no right to infer from 1 John 1:8 that we have license or excuse to go and sin, and that somehow we cannot “help ourselves.” John here is providing the same type of clarification that Paul does in Romans 6:1-10: just because God’s grace abounds does not give us license to sin.

Christians must strive to avoid sin and to do that which is good (Romans 12:9). We never “have” to sin; there is always a way of escaping temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). Christians should never be satisfied with removing only a few sins from their lives– they must keep striving to reflect Jesus in their lives, since they were crucified in Him (Galatians 2:20).

Yet, even though John writes so that Christians will not sin, he knows that Christians do stumble. Lest the believers lose hope, John reminds them that if Christians do sin, they have an Advocate– Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1). The word “advocate” here is the Greek parakletos, which refers to a legal advocate, a helper, assistant, or comforter (cf. Thayer’s). If we were to imagine a heavenly courtroom, with the Father as Judge, Satan as the prosecutor, and the believer as a defendant, Jesus would be the advocate on behalf of the defendant, interceding on the defendant’s behalf before the judge. Paul indicates that Jesus is the Mediator between God and man, since He is both (1 Timothy 2:5), and the Hebrew author demonstrates that Jesus can sympathize with us on account of His sufferings (Hebrews 4:14-16). These are very comforting thoughts indeed!
Yet how is it that Jesus can be our Advocate? It is because He is the Righteous One, the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:1-2). As Peter indicated, Jesus committed no sin, and thus was entirely righteous (1 Peter 2:21-24). His death was not for Himself, but for us, that we could be cleansed from sin (Romans 5:6-11, Hebrews 9:11-15).

Jesus, as the Lamb of God, brought cleansing from sin for not just “us,” but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2, cf. John 1:29). While many throughout time have taught that Jesus’ blood only cleanses the sins of believers, and are horrified at the thought that Jesus’ blood would be “wasted” on unbelievers, John is pretty clear about the universal efficacy of Jesus’ blood. John is not saying that everyone will have the cleansing through Jesus’ blood, but is teaching the same thing as the Hebrew author in Hebrews 9:12: Jesus made His sacrifice once, and it is able to atone for anyone. No one is hindered from receiving the redemption of their sin through the blood of Christ (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4).

Yet the blood of Jesus can only atone for those who will confess that Jesus is their Advocate (cf. 1 John 1:9). Those who reject Him or deny Him, either by word or deed, refuse their own atonement (cf. Matthew 10:32-33). Jesus’ blood is wasted on those who have heard the word of salvation and refuse it to continue in the darkness of sin (1 John 1:6, Hebrews 10:26-31, 2 Peter 2:20-22). It is indeed a horrifying thought that Jesus’ precious and righteous blood would be wasted. Claim Him as your Advocate today!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus Our Advocate | The Voice 12.07: February 13, 2022