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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethan R. Longhenry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethan R. Longhenry

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

Powers | The Voice 12.14: April 03, 2022

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Powers and Principalities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethan R. Longhenry

Powers | The Voice 12.14: April 03, 2022

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

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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