Walking in Love

The Vine

Paul had related to the Ephesian Christians the great and glorious works of God: every blessing has been given to believers in Jesus, predestination, election, adoption, an inheritance, the Spirit; all were lost in sin, but God showed great love, grace, and mercy in Christ; in Christ God killed the hostility between Jew and Gentile, and reconciled them into one body; the mystery of the Gospel is the inclusion of the Gentiles (Ephesians 1:1-3:12). Paul had prayed for the Ephesian Christians to have their hearts enlightened to perceive the great love God has manifested in Jesus according to the power at work in them (Ephesians 1:15-20, 3:14-21). On account of all this Paul encouraged the Ephesian Christians to walk worthily and consistently with this calling, striving to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, building up the body of Christ, the church, turning aside from the ways of darkness, renewing the spirit of their minds, dedicated to honesty, kindness, patience, and forgiveness toward one another (Ephesians 4:1-32).

Paul continued his exhortation to the Ephesian Christians: imitate God and walk in love as Christ has loved us and gave Himself as a pleasant offering before God (Ephesians 5:1-2). God has given us of His image in Jesus, and the love we are to share is not abstract or disembodied but manifest in what Jesus did for us, understood by Paul according to the sacrifices offered before God according to the Law of Moses (cf. Leviticus, John 14:6-9, Colossians 1:15-21). To this end Christians can no longer participate in sexually deviant behavior, reckless behavior, greed, foolish talk, or any kind of unprofitable talk, since they are now saints; they ought to give thanks to God instead (Ephesians 5:3-4). Indeed, those who participate in such forms of wickedness have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God in Christ; anyone who would suggest otherwise attempts to deceive Christians, for God’s wrath comes upon the disobedient on account of these things (Ephesians 5:5-6). Christians must not share in such ungodliness, for they must walk as children of light, not of darkness; Christians ought to expose such dark and evil deeds to the light of God in Christ in the Gospel (Ephesians 5:7-13). Paul then quoted a declaration known to the Ephesian Christians, perhaps as some part of hymn to Christ, exhorting the sleeper to awake and arise from the dead so Christ can shine on him (Ephesians 5:14). Thus Paul warns the Ephesian Christians against participation in the common transgressions of the Gentile world around them, encouraging them to recognize such behaviors as darkness and to resist them.

In order to imitate God and walk in love Christians must watch how they walk, and walk wisely (Ephesians 5:15). Christians must redeem, or make the best use of the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16); life is short, and we must make the most of what God has given us. Christians must not be foolish, but to understand the will of the Lord: to not be drunk with wine but filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in song, giving thanks to God, submitting to one another in reverence for Jesus (Ephesians 5:17-21). God does not intend for the Christian to be filled with distilled spirits but with His Spirit; Christians manifest the Spirit when they speak to one another in song, communicating the message of God to each other as the people have God have done since time immemorial, thanking God always for what He has done in Jesus, and considering the needs of each other as equal or greater than one’s own needs in mutual submission (cf. Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 3:16-18).

In what follows Paul will speak of husbands and wives in terms of Christ and the church, and Christ and the church in terms of husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:22-33); the beginning of the discussion is dependent on Ephesians 5:21, and we are to understand that Paul continues to speak regarding the will of the Lord and in light of the imperative of mutual submission. The wife is to submit to her husband as to the Lord just as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24). People today bristle at such instruction, imagining its abuse and distortion. These verses have unfortunately been used to justify abuse; we must emphasize that Paul does not command the husband to make his wife submit, but that the wife’s submission is a freewill decision and offering which ought not be coerced. Ephesians 5:21 does not contradict Ephesians 5:22-24, and vice versa: wives are to submit to their husbands while both mutually submit to one another in reverence toward Christ.

While people bristle at the suggestion of wives submitting to their husbands, few bristle at the prospect of the church submitting to Christ: it is understood to be natural and expected, since Christ deeply loves the church, having given Himself for her, and has rescued her from sin and death (Ephesians 5:22-24); in a similar way husbands are to love their wives, as Christ has loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Any discussion of the wife’s responsibility to the husband without noting the husband’s responsibility to the wife is incomplete and distorted; the husband is called upon to sacrifice himself, to absorb whatever hostility or invective comes his way, and to willingly give himself for the wife of his youth. Paul presumes a level of self-care: no one hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it, and thus the husband should nourish and cherish his wife as his own flesh (Ephesians 5:28-29). Paul summarizes his instruction by exhorting the husband to love his wife and the wife to respect her husband (Ephesians 5:33). In this way Paul identified the woman’s greatest need as love and the man’s greatest need as respect; the husband who loves his wife as himself and gives himself for her does well, and the wife who submits to her husband and respects him does well, and those who resist such things will struggle and fall short.

While Paul speaks regarding responsibilities within the marriage relationship in Ephesians 5:22-33, his primary concern is Christ and the church. The church submits to Christ in all things, for He has proven Himself loving and faithful, the Savior of the body, suffering and dying for her, having cleansed her through the washing of water (baptism) with the Word (Gospel), presenting to Himself the church in splendor, holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:22-27). The purity of the church does not derive from its own effort but the cleansing received from its Lord; nevertheless, the church must preserve that purity, and have excised from itself all those who would remain in sin without repentance (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Christ loves the church as His own body, and thus nourishes and cherishes it; the life of the church is sustained and upheld by Jesus (Ephesians 5:28-30; cf. John 15:1-7). Paul quoted Genesis 2:24, in which Moses establishes God’s purposes for marriage, and called it a profound mystery, referring to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32): as a man and woman join together and become one flesh in marriage and intercourse, no longer two, but one flesh, so Christ and the church are to be “married” and become “one flesh,” to share in full relational unity (cf. Matthew 19:3-6, John 17:20-23). Paul envisions marriage and its intercourse as a dim physical shadow of the relational unity which is manifest in God Himself and which God not only desires to have with the redeemed in Jesus but expects the redeemed to have with Jesus in the church (cf. Revelation 21:1-11).

Paul has much to say about imitating God, walking in love, and understanding the will of the Lord, and we should pay strong attention to it. We must avoid the works of darkness, love one another, be filled with the Spirit, singing the songs of the people of God, thanking God for all He has done for us in Jesus, submitting to one another in reverence for Christ, serving the Lord in the church as His bride and in our marriage relationships accordingly. May we walk in love as Jesus has loved us, suffering with Him so that we may be glorified in Him, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Hell

The Vine

“Hell” is now more of a curse word to most people than a fearful potential future reality. A robust number of people still believe that there is a hell; they seem equally confident that they will not go there. We generally do not like to think or talk about hell; we are quite concerned about and skeptical of those people who do. Hell has become more of a stumbling block to Christians than any point of concern: so many wonder how a loving God could send anyone to hell, and what the Bible says about hell is generally an embarrassment to many. And yet, of all people, Jesus of Nazareth spoke more about hell than anyone else in the pages of Scripture. If Jesus discussed hell, then those of us who would seek to follow after Him do well to explore what He had to say about it.

Most instances of “hell” in the New Testament translate the Greek term Gehenna (so Matthew 5:22, 29, 30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 33, Mark 9:43, 45, 47, Luke 12:5, James 3:5-6). “Gehenna” itself translates Hebrew for the “Valley of the Sons of Hinnom,” a valley outside of Jerusalem (Joshua 15:8). Unfaithful kings of Judah built altars to Molech and offered their children as sacrifices to that god there (2 Chronicles 28:3, 2 Chronicles 33:6, Jeremiah 7:31-32; 19:6; 32:35). Later Jewish people considered the place cursed; they deposited and burned their trash there. The sight and stench must have been particularly awful; the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom therefore provided an extremely powerful and visceral image to describe a place of suffering and torment. Just as one would go to great lengths to avoid falling into the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, so Jesus encouraged those who heard Him to do whatever it took to avoid being cast into Gehenna, or hell.

At other times Jesus spoke of “the outer darkness,” often noting how it is a place of “weeping” and “gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:10-12, 22:1-13, 25:14-30). In each of these passages Jesus indicated that disobedient members among the people of God would be cast there. The imagery fits the audience: “outer darkness” would be a place well beyond any light; God is the light, and in Him is no darkness (John 1:4, 1 John 1:5); therefore, the “outer darkness” involves complete and thorough separation from God. How awful it would be for those who presumed to be near to God to learn they are to be cast as far from Him as possible! This darkness is not a “neutral” place; it is a place of trauma, vividly illustrated by “weeping” and “gnashing of teeth.”

In a similar vein Jesus envisioned a day when those who performed iniquity would be cast into a furnace of fire, in which would be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:36-43). Jesus showed John a vision of the day of judgment in this way: all those whose names were not found in the book of life were cast into the lake of fire along with Satan and his minions (Revelation 20:10-15). The lake of fire also features brimstone, as a place of constant torment; the second death, final separation from God and all that is light and life.

All of these images point to a similar place; it is a place where fire is not quenched, where people suffer and gnash their teeth, a place of darkness, separated from God. Each of these images tells us something about the nature of hell; above all things, it should dissuade us from taking any chances lest we get sent there!

The Scriptures also testify regarding who will be cast into hell: those who do not know God and who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). They are those who have committed sin and iniquity and did not repent (Matthew 13:36-43, Romans 2:8-9, Revelation 21:8). Believers cannot become complacent, confident their belief alone will rescue them; not a few warnings about hell are directed specifically to believers who do not actually do what the Father says (Matthew 7:21-23), and who prove to be unproductive servants (Matthew 25:14-30). God will judge impartially (Romans 2:5-11).

While Jesus spoke many times regarding hell, and has provided richly evocative imagery, much has been left unrevealed. Much of what people today imagine regarding hell derives more from later flights of imagination and Dante’s Inferno than anything recorded in Scripture. Hell is not controlled by Satan and a host of demons; as seen in Revelation 20:10, Satan and his demons themselves are cast into hell in God’s judgment. We are not told exactly how those who are in hell experience their suffering and torment. Dante vividly described how he imagined the tortures of hell were meted out; a contrasting view would be C.S. Lewis’ portrayal of people ever resisting the good inherent in God as seen in The Great Divorce. Therefore, what most people reject about hell are matters of belief not found in Scripture. We do well to remember how we imagine hell is just that, our imagination, and the reality might be quite different from what we might expect. Yet, above all things, we hope and pray that none of us find out what hell is like!

While the concept of hell may seem unpleasant to Westerners, a spiritual world without at least the potential for the existence of hell would be much worse. People might declare how they cannot believe a loving God could send anyone to hell. Would they really want to serve a God who had no hell to which to send people like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, or other heinous sinners? How could God be serious about justice if there is no actual penalty to be paid for transgression? The existence of hell is a reminder of God’s justice, a witness to the importance of doing the right and forsaking the wrong, and confidence for all who suffer oppression and degradation that God will call their oppressors into account and justice will be satisfied. In truth the argument is a matter of degree: most people can not only imagine but even expect God to cast the “truly wicked” into hell; they just imagine that God will not send people like them to hell. Such people too quickly absolve themselves of their evil and iniquity, having been deceived into doing so (Hebrews 3:13); we all deserve condemnation, for we have all transgressed the will of God, but thanks be to God that a way of rescue from condemnation has been offered through Jesus Christ (Romans 3:20-28, 6:15-23).

Furthermore, how can God be “loving” while forcing those who wanted little to nothing to do with Him as manifest in their thoughts, words, and deeds to spend eternity with Him (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Revelation 21:1-22:6)? C.S. Lewis rightly noted that there will be two types of people on the day of Judgment: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “thy will be done.” God will not compel or coerce; if people wish to live in ways contrary to God’s purposes, then they will spend eternity with the consequences.

Hell is a most unpleasant place; we should not wish it upon our worst enemy. God does not want anyone to go to hell but for all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9); those who would follow God do well to maintain the same posture toward their fellow man. Jesus’ warnings about hell were not designed to extend further condemnation for those already aware of their sinfulness; instead, Jesus condemned the very religious people who were the quickest to condemn others (e.g. Matthew 23:33)! Nevertheless, we ought not trifle with the concept of hell. We should want to avoid hell and exhort all with whom we come into contact to avoid it as well. Those who suffer torment would want those whom they love to avoid that torment above all things (cf. Luke 16:27-28)! May we seek to serve God in Christ, see to ourselves, and encourage all to live so as to avoid the hell of fire!

Ethan R. Longhenry