Richard Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Americans, whose country was founded on the principle of freedom, are fiercely protective of their rights, narcissistically claiming freedom means to do, go, say, or think whatever they want, often selfishly insisting on material acquisitions (fulfilling freedom from want) which are not rights at all. The common denominator in western culture seems to be self-determination and the freedom to determine one's destiny. God grants His called-out ones self-determination, free moral agency and true freedom under the protective blessing of His Law. Any freedom to choose must be accompanied by a set of standards against which choices are made. The people of the world do not have this freedom because they are held captive by their own lusts, the lures of this world, and the current ruler of this world, Satan. Goethe lamented that none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free. If freedom is not anchored in God's Law, it is not freedom at all, but abject bondage to sin. True freedom only occurs when one has a relationship with God, the One who did all the heavy lifting in our liberation from sin. Truly converted people incrementally act more like God and less like men. If we sow spiritually, we will reap spiritually; if we sow carnally, we will reap carnally. License is not a synonym for liberty or freedom, but instead equates to bondage to lusts and the captivity to sin. The dark underbelly of freedom alerts us that freedom apart from God's Law and a relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ is bondage to sin and death.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the emotional state of the American people, especially those who understand the seriousness of the times, averring his conviction that they will never see good times again, but will fall more and more into a permanent condition of hopelessness . God's called-out ones can feel the relentless pressures of the prince of the power of the air as he works to wear out the saints. We cannot afford to lose our focus as the pressures rise, but must be thankful for the heads-up of the Olivet Prophecy, which gives us cautions and signposts on our spiritual journey. We are not guaranteed a pass to a place of safety, but are subject to what God has planned for our life-script and repertoire of experiences. Only one of Christ's disciples escaped martyrdom; we must be willing to do what God has purposed for us, realizing that God will always supply our needs for the situation, even the wherewithal to endure martyrdom. Our Christian journey is not going to be a walk in the park. During these critical times, when judgment is out on God's church, it behooves us to emulate Olympic athletes such as Simone Manuel, who submitted to super-rigorous discipline of muscles and mind in order to qualify to participate in the 2016 Olympic games. Drawing a spiritual analogy, we must decide whether we want to commit to the goal presented by our calling. Our primary goal, as Christ the Revelator presents it to the seven churches of Revelation, is to overcome, to displace our carnality with spiritual behavior. Once we commit. we must be highly disciplined, never losing focus, while at the same time being aware of distractions which could severely retard our overcoming. Faith, hope and love are spiritual gifts which safeguard us from discouragement and depression, giving us a mature perspective which will last eternally.
Ryan McClure, drawing a spiritual analogy from the fascinating metamorphosis of a monarch butterfly, from a lowly larva to an aviation marvel, able to journey thousands of miles, displaying magnificent regal colors, makes a comparison to our own metamorphosis from a carnal, fleshly (relatively worm-like) existence to a glorious, dazzling offspring of Almighty God. Like the multi-staged metamorphosis that a monarch butterfly undergoes, we go through several phases before we are ready to become spirit beings. In the larvae stage of the monarch butterfly, the caterpillar forages on the undersides of milkweed leaves, protected by the leaves' poisonous substances from predators. Caterpillars voraciously consume 20 large weeds before their transformation; in our maggot stage, we hungrily consume God's Word. Once the larvae hatches, it must advance through five stages, called instars, during which it sheds its former body and changes into a magnificent, multicolored insect, capable of flying thousands of miles. We also shed the old man and assume our new godly character, nourished by God's Holy Spirit, a replica of Jesus Christ. As we progress through the stages, we must remain steadfast until our ultimate transformation. The Kingdom is just ahead.
David Maas, cuing in on Paul's declaration of a debt he owed to Greek and Barbarian, to both the Hebraistic Jewish world view and the Hellenistic world view, observing that God has chosen to canonize the Scripture in both Hebrew and Greek, contends that these major two dominant forces in western culture were meant to be symbiotic partners, like husband and wife, each representing only a partial, incomplete aspect of God's character. As maturing Christians, called to judge in God's coming Kingdom, we are called to lay aside the childlike tendency to over-correct, violently and impulsively moving from one ditch to the other. As the mirisms in Ecclesiastes 3 and the comparison examples in Ecclesiastes 7 were meant to be contraries rather than contradictories, we must metaphorically go beyond the simple on-off switch and canoe paddle, devices that served us well when we were first called. But as we mature, we must adopt the steering wheel and the rheostat mechanism, allowing degrees of brightness and intensity, allowing for variables of time, place, and circumstance, which are different for each of us. The only time a jagged spike is desirable is when the line on the electrocardiogram goes flat and we are compelled to use a defibrillator to shock it into activity. In our trials and our spiritual gifts, one size does not fit all, and our overcoming skills, our ability to judge, and especially our ability to grow spiritually and bear fruit should reflect these variables. Whether we are talking about diabetic blood sugar spikes or the spike of malfunctioning heartbeat on an electro-cardiogram, or most importantly, the metaphorical spikes in our spiritual journey, we must seek God's spiritual pace maker (Hebrews 8:10) a balance mechanism for regulating these dangerous fluctuations.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Proverbs 4:7, maintains that our supreme objective in godly living is attainment and cultivation of wisdom, which consists of attributes giving us skill in living. We learn that the Book of Ecclesiastes has no meaning for someone not called of God, relegating it as an epistle of despair from one of life's losers. But to those called of God, the treatise provides practical advice on weathering the trials of life under the sun, preparing us for a highly successful future spiritual life. With an over-the-sun orientation, we realize that the series of comparisons in Ecclesiastes 7 are not to be regarded as absolutes, but only as guideposts dependent upon prior experiences, and definitely require the proper follow-through on our part. The Bible is replete with examples of how things having had a successful launch eventually aborted, and vice versa, things having an insignificant and ostensibly hopeless beginning flourished and prospered. Consequently, we must evaluate the contexts in which the end of something is better. The long way, attended with humility, patience, and dependence on God, is preferable to any shortcut concocted by our willful, carnal nature. God wants us to use our trials to germinate the fruits of patience, peace, and self-control, bequeathing our offspring a legacy of wisdom, following the mindset of our father Abraham, who although an immensely wealthy man, lived in tents as a pilgrim, waiting for the ultimate spiritual prize of living as God does.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that Christ died to free us from fear of eternal death, reminds us that we nevertheless have the obligation to prepare for our physical death. When Jesus Christ holds the power over fear of death, we are delivered from the bondage of the terror of eternal death. In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon gives a series of "this is better than that" observations, with the common denominator that wisdom seems to carry more sadness and sorrow than mirth or foolishness, placing a higher value on rebuke than on praise. Even a rebuke from an enemy, which may rouse our anger or resentment, may be valuable for our character development. Both David and our Savior Jesus Christ endured rebuke without retaliating. Retaliation as a response to rebuke is a sure sign of character deficit. Some counsel resembles the useless fuel function of thorns—a quick burst of light, but very little heat. Accepting rebuke often takes more humility than we may have. Rebuke from a wise or righteous person, though painful, is motivated by love and caring concern. The Book of Ecclesiastes was written for converted people, not for the world. Only through a proper perspective of the reality of physical (and eternal) death can a person actually prepare for his ultimate fate. The apostle Paul could not have grown spiritually if he had not received a series of painful rebukes, accompanied by a low quality of life. Paul was able to see the big picture, realizing the end was better than the beginning as long as he was faithful. Because of his faithful endurance of godly rebuke, Paul's reputation following his death transcended anything he experienced in his lifetime.
Ephesians 4:11-14 gives instruction on how God gifts some more than others in the church: "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints ..."
David C. Grabbe: Although Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd and the Chief Shepherd, He is not the church's only shepherd. From the days of ancient Israel up through the New Covenant church era, He has also appointed under-shepherds to watch over His physical or spiritual flock.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Like its physical counterpart, spiritual growth happens slowly and incrementally. We should not expect a newly baptized Christian to be able to produce self-control as easily and to the same degree as one who has been in the church of God for several decades. ...
Unless we are employed in a maritime occupation or have a particular interest in sailboats, we probably do not know a great deal about sailing. Using Paul's analogy in Ephesians 4:14, Gary Montgomery teaches a handy nautical maneuver, discussing how the steady, contrary winds of this world's way of life can be overcome by adjusting our sails to make spiritual headway.
Jesus' Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13 warns us that there will be false brethren within the church. Using the example of Christ Himself, Ted Bowling shows that the Bible also tells us how to interact with them in a godly manner.
David C. Grabbe: As shown previously, the problem of Nannyism arises when the governments of men take on increasing responsibility and control, and the people relinquish their responsibilities to allow someone else to take care of them. ...
Paul's admonition to the Corinthians to desire to prophesy has confused some due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what prophesying really is. Bill Cherry examines this command in its context, showing that it has everything to do with Christian fellowship, particularly on the Sabbath.
John Ritenbaugh contrasts the genuine miracle of tongues or language at the first Pentecost with the current practice in Pentecostal groups. In Acts 2, the crowd actually heard the disciples speaking in their own languages - dialects already in existence - not gibberish. The apostle Paul, chastising the spiritually immature Corinthians for the abuse of this spiritual gift, affirms that there is no reason for people to use language except to communicate intelligently. Tongues originally served as a sign for unbelievers, not as a secret "rite of passage" for the initiated. It is a mistake to equate speaking in tongues with 1) the baptism of the Holy Spirit, 2) being filled by the Spirit, 3) evidence of the fruits of the spirit, 4) evidence of faith, or 5) evidence that God is working through the speaker.
One of the most widely occurring metaphors in the Bible involves eating. David Maas contends that it is not just what we ingest spiritually that is important, but that we also develop the ability to feed ourselves properly.
Life sometimes seems to be one trial after another. However, Pat Higgins asserts that God has revealed an astounding facets of our relationship with Him that should give us the faith to soldier on despite our many trials.
In these days of psychology and feeling, doctrine is not very popular. But it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of true Christians! This study briefly explores the basic doctrines of God.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Deuteronomy 30:15-20, stresses that the choices we make on the day-to-day basis have long-term spiritual consequences. Only the immature think their behaviors will not catch up with them (Numbers 32:23). If we learn to fear and love God, loyalty, faithfulness and commandment keeping will naturally follow. If we love and fear God, taking God into our consciousness with every behavior, we will instinctively haste and depart from evil. Like a physical marriage, our covenant with God is based upon the driving force of love and respect.
We sometimes mistake faith for certainty about God's will. However, faith is not knowing what God will do in a situation but trusting Him to do what is best for us.
Martin Collins warns that none of us can achieve spiritual growth without controlling the emotions. Though God has created humans with a mind to work in tandem with the emotional impulses (prompts to action), too many of us have, according to Daniel Goleman in his book "Emotional Intelligence," allowed the amygdala (emotions) to run roughshod over the cerebral cortex (mind), allowing anger (and other negative emotions) to get out of control. God displays anger (as well as other emotions), but always in controlled measured response, unlike the out-of-control childish rage of humans. Using God's Spirit (2 Timothy 1:7) the spirit of a sound mind, we can grow into emotional (not emotionless) spiritual maturity, exercising our senses through God's Law, searching the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:10), controlling feelings and passions with the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)
We are what we eat. The same can apply spiritually to what we put into our minds. John Ritenbaugh shows that God wants us to desire His Word with the eagerness of a baby craving milk.
John Ritenbaugh analyzes the five-point warning message given to the scattered Hebrews by Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews does not identify a single flagrant violation of law, but instead delivers a general castigation for incremental, continuous, disrespectful, and forgetful neglect—a failure to esteem what should have been thought precious, their calling and salvation, while esteeming inferior things like wealth or status. Hebrews expounds four other warnings, all designed to wake the church member up and motivate him toward greater devotion to God. Similarly, the modern church of God stands in danger of allowing salvation to slip away from pure neglect. By these warnings, we should know how to turn our lives around so we do not fall short and lose salvation.
We can easily slide quickly down the path of spiritual self-destruction when self-will becomes dominent in our lives. Our goal is to live by God's will, not our own!
In this follow-up sermon on the antidote to presumptuousness, Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that a person who is truly content is never presumptuous. Korah and Abiram were not contented with where God had placed them in the body, but, in a spirit of pride-filled competition, wanted to arrogate to themselves the office of Moses, as Heylel wanted to arrogate to himself God's office. God is very quick to punish presumptuous sins. Self-exaltation leads to debasement. Following the cue of our Elder Brother, we ought to humble ourselves, content to be nothing, allowing God to do the exalting. We need to be content in whatever position God has called us (Philippians 4:11-13).
John Ritenbaugh admonishes the greater church of God that we make a conscious effort to feed the flock (devoting more effort, time, energy, and money than for preaching the Gospel as a witness for the world) until we get ourselves straightened out first. To preach to the world and ignore a disintegrating flock is like a husband and wife paying attention to people and things outside the home while the family is falling apart. We need to examine the causes for our split and our gravely deteriorating faith. Our emphasis must be on feeding the flock, restoring the faith once delivered, rebuilding the broken walls and repairing the breaches.
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing the African Proverb, 'It takes a village' asserts that this principle more aptly applies to the church, specifically designed to serve as a support for those in need. In this era of 'going it alone' or 'cocooning,' we as a people like to be self-sufficient without any support from others. Consequently we become self-centered, self-absorbed, showing little concern for others. As Christians, especially in our current scattered condition, we need to fight this pervasive trend, forming warm, productive, quality relationships with our brethren, actively ministering to the needs of one another. The ministry functions to equip members to become other centered (or family centered), serving one another and applying righteousness for the good of others. If we refuse to apply this practical knowledge, actively serving one another as interdependent joints, we miss the mark of coming to the unity of Christ.
Just what are the oracles of God mentioned in Romans 3:2? Charles Whitaker delves into both Testaments to show that they are the revelation of God to mankind. These oracles are the message that gives us instruction for salvation.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the pressures and conflicts that the church has undergone is part of a larger Zeitgeist (spirit of the time) that has embroiled institutions religious and political institutions worldwide. The mindset reflects (and is a function of) an unseen spirit world under the sway of the prince and power of the air. This Zeitgeist or wisdom of men (evidenced by carnality) could well dominate our lives. We need to be extremely careful about what we allow into our minds, from academia, psychology, politics, and especially from people supposedly speaking for God (false prophets), but having their taproot in the world and Satan the Devil. Any message, true or false, has the capability of producing a faith. Faith in the wrong thing will bring deadly consequences. To counteract the heresies emanating from the spirit of the world, we must have union with Christ (through His Spirit), giving us direct access to God's wisdom.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon vision - an especially vivid picture in the mind's eye (undergirded by faith, scriptural revelation, and prompted by God's Holy Spirit) to anticipate and plan for events and results which have not yet occurred. This foresight or revelation, strengthened by analyzing, comparing, and applying scriptural principles, produces a common (or uncommon) sensical prudence of conduct, insuring that a person's life (temporal or eternal) is preserved and plans fulfilled.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that things written in the Old Testament were written entirely for Christians. The operations of both the Old and New Covenants overlap. The differences focus on justification, access to God, and eternal life, but not doing away with the law (especially the Sabbath) which Protestant theologians would have us believe. Modern Christianity, like the mongrelized Samaritan religion, is a syncretized mixture of some biblical truth with unadulterated paganism. To worship God in spirit means to put heart and mind into applying God's law, with a circumcised heart (Philippians 3:3) realizing that the motivating principle behind every one of God's laws is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts through the power of God's Spirit. (Romans 5:1-5)
John Ritenbaugh poses the question of whether technology really improves our character or quality of life. Are we really better people because we ride around in cars rather than walk? Technology, because of the spin it puts on expectations, can be a great source of discouragement and disillusionment when applying this heightened sense of expectation to God's seemingly slow and deliberate performance. Technology makes us susceptible to the 'quick fix' mentality, expecting dramatic miraculous solutions to all problems, making us susceptible to frauds and even deceptive demonic influence (Matthew 24:24; II Thessalonians 2:9-10; Revelation 13:13). When it comes to developing character, a quick fix miracle will not substitute for patient overcoming. God only works miracles consistent with His purpose (bearing witness to truth), not for any selfish desires on our part.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes, that like Moses, Paul, James, and Joshua, all of us have been called to be faithful stewards of God, endowed with gifts to serve the congregation. Like Moses, we have to develop conviction, a product of a relationship of God, established by being faithful day by day in the little things of life. Never in the history of the Bible has anyone given up more material possessions and power as Moses had to serve God. Nevertheless, it took God 40 years (a time when his preferences gradually became transformed into rock-solid convictions) to bring Moses to the humble position where He could profitably use Moses to be His servant. Like Moses, Abraham and Sarah, we have to learn to synchronize our timetables with God's (Genesis 18:14, Daniel 8:17-19) God sets the schedule.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the hallmark of true Christian character is humility, which comes about only when one sees himself in proper comparison to God. Then he can see himself in proper comparison to other men. The opposite of humility—pride, arrogance, and an inordinate self-esteem—leads us to put down, scorn, or make perverted comparisons between others and ourselves. Because a pride-filled person feels overlooked or his accomplishments undervalued, harboring pride leads to depression, frustration, self-centeredness, self-pity, and rebellion, totally eliminating God from the picture. What makes pride so dangerous is that even though we instantaneously see it in others, we seldom detect it in ourselves. God scorns the proud, but accepts the lowly.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the spirit in man God has given us is initially good, but capable of being molded, influenced by the spirit of this world, and surcharged with Satan's negative attitudes. Consequently, God makes available His Holy Spirit to discern those things we cannot detect by our five senses. Angels are continually working within our environment, stirring up the human spirit, and making sure God's purposes are being established. By God's Spirit, we can detect the subtle influences of Satan, the god of this world (Ephesians 2:2-3), who concentrates on the lusts of our flesh, broadcasting self-indulgent impulses to those who are tuned in. The only way to block this signal is to tune him out (Galatians 5:19-21), discerning the bitter, sullen fruits of his thinking.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Jesus Christ's sinlessness was not the result of being a programmed automaton, but instead as a result of volition or choice—actively struggling against carnal pulls and temptations, enabling Him to fully empathize and have compassion on those tempted in like manner. He experienced exactly the same kind of temptations and suffering we experience, qualifying Him for the role of High Priest, bridge-builder between man and God, the same role for which members of God's called-out Family are also qualifying. Like our Elder Brother, we must learn righteous judgment by continually exercising our spiritual muscle, practicing making choices, distinguishing right from wrong, but building godly character and spiritual maturity through the enabling power of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Matthew 18 describes the essence of personal relationships within the church. Seven basic characteristics are emphasized, including having a childlike humble attitude, setting a proper example, exercising self-denial, individual care, using tact in correcting a person, practicing fellowship and extending forgiveness. What we aim for in life has a profound effect on our attitudes and behavior. Unless we have sharply-etched goals, we are not going to succeed. If the goals are materialistic, we will be caught up in the attitudes of this world inculcating arrogant competition, totally at odds with attaining the Kingdom of God. If the Kingdom of God is not our goal, we won't use spiritual knowledge correctly. We have to learn to implicitly trust God as a child trusts his parents. Growing spiritually is tantamount to growing out of the habit of being offended. Those who are mature should be able to endure the slights and offenses of the spiritually immature, being circumspect not to lead anyone into sin through our careless example. We need to be willing to be willing to exercise self-sacrifice or self-discipline in order to set a proper example to preserve unity. It should be our objective to strengthen the weak as we have the resources to do so, realizing, of course, that there is a limit to what we can do. A root of bitterness should be assiduously avoided. A set of common sense instructions is given to resolve conflict and promote reconciliation, beginning with the offended going to the offender, and as a rare last resort brought to the ministry for judgment or solution. As we pray to God for a solution, we should pray to become victorious in our overcoming, being subject to His purpose and will, willing to forgive those who have offended us, always leaving the door to repentance open to the one who has sinned, forgiving him 70 x7 if necessary.
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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