Martin Collins, taking the apostle Paul's cue that persecution expresses our relationship to Christ, suggests that persecution involves a wide spectrum, ranging from torture, physical beating, social excommunication, imprisonment and death—fates endured by the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11. Paul did not ask for the harassment and persecution he endured, but maintained that everything which befell him proved to be for the ultimate good of spreading the Gospel. Because of his impeccable witness, the entire Palace Guard at Rome received testimony, some persuaded to the point of conversion. Ironically, jealousy from other 'Christian' factions probably led to Paul's execution rather than persecution from the outside, a harbinger for those living in end-time persecution. The churches in Revelation 2-3 all receive their portion of persecution, but God promises deliverance and reward for those who endure. In the current diaspora of the Greater Church of God, the trials and problems are not much different than those of the first century, and Christ still promises boldness to those who see the big picture. Our boldness and confidence should match that of Paul's trusting in God to give us strength to overcome or endure, following Christ's example of esteeming others above ourselves, even those who maliciously abuse us, realizing that God will open their eyes at the right time. God will never disappoint us, but will give us His Holy Spirit and mind to navigate the spiritual minefield. Like Paul, we need to realize that all things, horrible and pleasant, will work God's ultimate purpose and our good.
Richard Ritenbaugh, comparing the vitriol exhibited between supporters of the current two presidential candidates, makes the case that the acrimony between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1800 was far worse, leading to a bitter estrangement between two of America's Founding Fathers—an estrangement that lasted for ten long, bitter years. After being encouraged by another Founding Father, Benjamin Rush, the two estranged statesmen reluctantly began corresponding with each other, ultimately dying close friends on the same day, July 4, 1826. Jesus Christ placed a high priority on reconciliation, warning us that before we engage God at the altar, we had better make peace with our brother. Jesus also warned us that name-calling, belittling, slander, and undermining reputation is equivalent to murder-a capital offense making one subject to the fires of Gehenna. A dispute over anything should not be allowed to simmer until it leads to a seething grudge or a litigious minefield. In a legal dispute, reconciliation or conciliation may require a great deal of submission and downright groveling, but the outcome is generally better than what a judge would mete out. Likewise, a dispute in the body of Christ is best worked out between the two offended parties, rather than bringing it before the ministry or congregation, a tactic which makes for a great deal of unpleasantness. The Bible gives us three sterling examples of reconciliation among Abraham's offspring, including Isaac's reconciliation with Abimelech, Jacob's reconciliation with Esau, and Joseph's reconciliation with his brothers. The apostle John assures us we cannot claim to love God if we hate our brother, and, if we hate our brother, we are a murderer.
Ted Bowling, cuing in on three well-known parables in Luke 15 , all of which emphasize that every life matters —- every life is worth saving, focuses on the disturbing, resentful reaction of the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The older brother felt that he had remained loyal to the family's honor, while his younger brother disgraced the family and had squandered all his inheritance. After hitting rock bottom, having to eat swine food, the prodigal son came to his senses, and was willing to accept any humiliation if his father would take him back as a menial servant. The older brother, slow to forgive his younger, focused upon himself and dishonored his father by berating him for having compassion on who he considered a "worthless sinner." Instead of pulling rank on the older son, the father also treated him with compassion. Many of us are, or have been, in the same position as the older brother—looking down on those who have stumbled. We are not equipped to judge the sincerity of anybody else's repentance, and consequently should never gainsay the compassion of our Heavenly Father. Instead, we should emulate our Heavenly Father, being willing to extend forgiveness to a repentant brother or sister, responding with love and self- control. We need to pray for the ability or the power to reconcile.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking us whether we trust the current Federal government, points out that, according to recent polls, confidence in government has eroded to an all-time historical low, with only 13% of the citizenry believing government does right most of the time, 10% believing government never does anything right, while the vast majority, 75%, feel the government gets it right only part of the time. The Federal government has become a total disaster, with the rogue, criminal executive orders, systematically removing our freedoms, coming from the executive branch, destroying constitutional checks and balances. When we compare the mercurial instability of man's government to God, we witness a stark contrast. God does not change, His benefits are beyond measure, and compared to the confiscatory tribute demanded by government, God commands only a fractional proportion. God forgives our sins, gives us a Savior, gives us a down-payment on eternal life, provides food, and heals our diseases, all without a price tag. Like David running from Saul in the Judean wilderness, we find it far more profitable to trust in God rather than princes, knowing that God will never allow us to endure more than we can handle, and will provide a way of escape. David reminds us in the acrostic Psalm 37 that we should not be concerned about the wicked, whose destiny is to perish, and that the righteous are infinitely better off. We are warned not to nurse burning, vindictive anger, realizing that the temporary 'success' of the wicked will eventually turn into a bitter harvest. Instead of wasting our energy in resentment, we need to put our emotion into positively doing good, cultivating our faith, and committing our ways to the Lord, putting our loyalty to the covenant in sync with God's. In our commitment to God, we must relinquish control, allowing God to take the lead. God delights when we allow Him to guide us, inscribing His laws on our hearts.
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that the two principle themes of Book One of the Psalms are the Torah, or the instruction of God, and the Messiah, or God's Anointed, set apart for a particular purpose—His Son whom He has sent to rule and judge the world. The Messiah is the perfect model of all that instruction. We need to absorb God's instruction and develop a personal relationship with the Son, understanding His character and personality. We have to know the word of God—His instruction—and the Word of God—Jesus Christ. Part of Psalm 19 is a precursor to Psalm 119, honoring the Law, while the opening portion focuses on the creative power of the Son. The creation, as we witness with the naked eye, shows design, order, and precision, enabling mankind to calculate years, seasons, and times, allowing us an insight into the mind of Almighty God. The Creator is infinitely greater than the whole galaxy and the whole universe. Man foolishly worships things that God created, but ignores the Creator. The Law of the Lord has been given to us personally by Yahweh (Jesus Christ), to guard us against making mistakes and presumptuous sins. The words He gives us in His written Word makes the creation more real. Jesus Christ cleanses us by the washing of water by the Word. The third prominent theme in Book One of the Psalms is trust and faith in God. We must live by faith, especially now when harassment and hatred is leveled at Christianity. David, in the midst of Absalom's rebellion, expressed confidence that God still heard him in the midst of what appears to be temporary disaster. David knew that God was his shield and would ultimately deliver the victory to him. Psalm 37 is an instructive psalm, counseling us not to be agitated or unduly concerned about the wicked, reminding us that God will cut off the wicked and will give us salvation. Nothing good will ever come of envious, burning wrath. If we trust in the Lord, doing something positive, He will give us the desires of our heart.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition of Ecclesiastes as he focuses on a paradox which initially provides a measure of grief and anguish to believers, the paradox which shows an unrighteous man flourishing and a righteous man suffering, points us to the solution of this conundrum in Psalm 73. There is grave, ever-growing danger when one combines envy and discontent, calling God into question for allowing evil circumstances to occur. People react to this 'disappointing' paradox in opposite ways, both leading to eternal death. One may be tempted to give up on God's laws totally, living according to the lusts of the flesh. But the opposite extreme is just as deadly because it arrogantly accuses God of having a deficiency in His regimen for mankind, and attempts to make 'improvements' in God's plan by establishing stringent regulations and strict asceticism, trying to impress God with 'over-righteousness.' When we are vexed with the apparent ease of the unrighteous, we should (1) resolve to continue in faith despite our suffering, (2) pray fervently for God's solution to take effect, (3) firmly reject the idea to solve the problem by self-administered shortcuts, (4) quit misjudging the circumstance any further, and (5) realize that God will guide us through the valley of the shadow of death. We have the responsibility to stir up the gift of God's Holy Spirit, giving us some sound-minded perspective of judging our life circumstances. Veering to either the left or to the right is not a viable solution because both extremes militate against God's grace and any chances of a relationship with God. Super-righteousness arrogantly puffs us up, making us odious to God, but humility and the willingness to serve makes us desirable to God. Super-righteousness divides people because the narcissism that motivates it can never be satisfied. The solution is to fear God, know God, and maintain faith in God.
The paradox that Solomon mentions in Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 is not in itself a difficult concept. The problem is that Solomon provides little in terms of an answer to the spiritual dangers that can arise from it. John Ritenbaugh reveals that a Christian's peril lies in his possible reactions to the paradox—the most serious of which is an impulsive lurch into super-righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Psalm 73:1-9, describing the despair of someone seeing the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer, affirms that it is a delusion that people in the world are leading comfortable lives. Christian living, while not comfortable, has a restorative faith in God. If our focus is on comfort, we cannot glorify God. Ecclesiastes, written for the spiritual well-being of God's children, teaches that the world is living in vanity and uselessness, producing nothing of quality. To this end, God has put a protective hedge about us in order to separate us from what is happening in the world. God knows where He is leading our life; we only vaguely know, unaware of the ultimate purpose of the trials we go through, not as punishment, but in shaping and molding us to be transformed in the image of Jesus Christ. The difficulties we experience after our calling have an educative purpose, leading us to a closer relationship with God, giving us a quality life. A test should be considered a positive learning experience, preparing us for more growth and for more solid, stable, sound-mindedness based in good judgment, controlling and disciplining our thinking though God's Holy Spirit. Since God arranges the trials for us, we should take comfort in His presence. We must, however, assiduously avoid the extreme of straining for perfection or obsessing on righteousness, presumptuously 'improving' on God's plan, blinding us to our own sinfulness and carnality. Self-righteousness leads to a life of desperation. Even righteousness done through obedience to God is still tainted with sin. The righteousness of Christ is given to us when we exercise faith in Him, realizing we are still sinners.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that a conundrum or paradox exists in Ecclesiastes 7:15, admonishes us that we do not leave God out of the picture when we evaluate the twists and turns of our uncertain lives. Because we realize God is involved, we should learn to roll with the punches, refraining from judging God's motives in a negative light. We will never see the entire picture (looking through a glass darkly) until the fullness of time. There is no complacency in God's involvement with His Creation, even though our human nature, prompted by bitterness and despair, might carelessly assume that God is not closely involved with His creation. For God's called-out ones, trials are the tools God uses to test our faith; we must learn to trust God in these situations, neither giving up nor striving to impress God with our super-righteousness, which paradoxically militates against our relationship with God, subjecting us to Satan's wiles. Christians are not immune from disease, injury, or horrendous times; we should not assume it is punishment from God for our sins. God did not allow Job to go through horrendous trials because of his sins, nor did Jesus go through His suffering and crucifixion because of His sins. Each and every one of us has our own trials; we are not being punished. Trials are a means to produce spiritual growth, unless we resort to super-righteousness, straining to please God by exalting our works.
Ronny Graham, reflecting on the frequent assassinations which have occurred in history throughout the world and in the pages of the Bible, focuses on an extremely dangerous kind of assassination— namely character assassination through murmuring and gossip, a kind of assassination of which many of us have been guilty. In Numbers 12:1-9, we learn about God's anger leveled against Miriam and Aaron for gossiping about Moses, complaining of his marriage to an Ethiopian woman. In Proverbs 6:16, of the seven things God loathes and detests, thre pertain to the tongue and spreading discord among the brethren . Every time gossip is repeated, murder and character assassination is endlessly repeated. We dare not sell our birthright for a bowl of gos-soup.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that political conspiracies have always been a part of our culture, citing four successful assassinations of Presidents and one resignation of a President forced out by a sinister political conspiracy, indicates that these conniving plots and schemes will crescendo to the time of the end when they will all be destroyed by Christ's return and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Individuals who involve themselves in political intrigue and revolutionary conspiracies do so for the sake of protecting a power-base, or with the hope of monetary or political gain, as was seen with the religious leaders who furtively and meticulously plotted the death of Jesus Christ, gathering 'data' by trickery and falsehood to justify their hideous deed. Conspiracies are characterized by two or more people who fear loss of status or power, believing that they are justified to use any means whatsoever to remove the perceived threat, anticipating that they will personally gain by the successful execution of the plot.
Ecclesiastes 7:15 contains a saying that does not ring quite true in the Christian ear. In this way, it is a paradox, an inconsistency, something contrary to what is considered normal. John Ritenbaugh establishes the foundation for a comprehensive understanding of Solomon's intent, showing that he is cautioning us to consider carefully how we react to such paradoxes in life.
David Grabbe, citing a commentary referring to envy as the most precious daughter, makes a distinction between covetousness (desire for things) and envy ( emanating from a hatred for another person's success). Envy led Cain to kill Abel, and the Jewish leaders to crucify Jesus Christ. Satan was envious of a Superior Being. James links human wisdom with envy and self-seeking, attended with confusion and unease. Envy will separate the body of Christ if she (Satan's most precious daughter) can get her hooks into us. Envy led Joseph's brothers to plot to kill him for what they perceived as favoritism. Joseph, on the other hand, worked for the betterment of those above him. Retaining God in our knowledge is the key to keeping envy at bay. Any success or prosperity is because of what God has done; who are we to disagree with Him. Envy is the result of pushing God from our knowledge. It is easy to follow in Satan's footsteps, courting his daughter Envy, reaping the disquiet which accompanies envy.
Ryan McClure, reflecting on the oft-repeated Rodney King quotation, "Can we all get along?" asks us how we are doing with our relationships, dealing with people with whom we find it difficult to get along. The Scriptures provide many examples of how difficult relationships were dealt with by humility, deference, and longsuffering, including Abram to Lot, David to Saul, and Jacob to Esau. Our relationship challenges can be vastly improved if we increase our regimen of prayer and putting the fruits of God's Holy Spirit into action.
The content of Ecclesiastes 4 is a series of comparisons based in the everyday life of a society—from the gulf between the powerful and those they oppress to the various attitudes that people bring to their daily work. John Ritenbaugh explains that Solomon provides these comparisons to indicate the choices we should make to live better lives in alignment with God, even in an "under the sun" world.
II Corinthians 5:7 is clear that God wants us to walk—live our lives—by faith, but our pride and vanity, mirroring the attitude of Satan the Devil, frequently get in the way. John Ritenbaugh delves into the depths of pride and its tragic results for the individual and for all mankind, most of all because it causes us to reject God and His Word.
Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For by the standard you judge you will be judged, ...
John Ritenbaugh suggests that competition is the root cause of all war, business takeovers, and marital discord. Carl Von Clausewitz observed that war is nothing more than politics brought to the battlefield. Evolution has glorified competition, enshrining the survival of the fittest. Historically, the competitive nature has its roots in the mind of Satan, who had the audacity to take on the leadership of Almighty God. Man's rivalry with one another has been described by Solomon as a striving after wind. Abraham literally "took the high ground," separating himself from strife with his ambitious nephew who wanted to seek gain on the plains of Sodom. The apostle Paul showed willingness to forgo his well-deserved wages, willing to work privately, avoiding conflict and strife. Christianity should be service- oriented rather than profit- oriented, should reward the worker for his labor, and should replace competition with cooperation. Biblical history records the tortured chronicle of people striving against God. The Gentiles cut themselves off from God by rejecting God's teachings through the patriarchs. We must replace the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, willing to yield and submit rather than to strive, quarrel, and compete. Satan has successfully deceived the entire world by mixing a little truth with much error, appealing to our pride and tissue needs. On the Day of Atonement, we (as God's called-out remnant) are commanded to afflict our souls, putting down the striving competitive, pride-filled drives of human nature, with its intense appetites, mortifying our flesh, controlling ourselves by submitting to God in humility, taking the cue from our Elder Brother.
David C. Grabbe: In his bestselling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey observes that most people are entrenched in what he calls a "scarcity mentality": They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. ...
Deuteronomy 4:24 may strike an astute reader as somewhat controversial, if not contradictory. How can our holy and perfect God be jealous? Knowing that the Bible is consistent in its revelation of God, Ronny Graham reasons that since God's Word is not at fault, it is our limited understanding of godly jealousy that must be expanded.
Martin Collins concludes his series on the three illustrations that comprise one long parable in Luke 15. In this part, he explains what is known as the Parable of the Prodigal (or Lost) Son.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that several parallels exist in the account of Balaam and one's approach to God. As God's children, we have to be on guard against people who are intimidated by righteousness and will seek to destroy its practice. Balaam, motivated by self-interest, believing that the ends justify the means, willing to do anything to get his way, shows himself spiritually inferior to a donkey when it comes to yielding to God's correction. The Laodicean, motivated by blind self-interest and the wages of unrighteousness, totally oblivious to the consequences, imitates Balaam's approach to God. In evaluating the Balaam episode in Numbers 22, we would do better to imitate the donkey than her master.
James' exhortation about the use of our tongues seems to stop with James 3:12. However, the rest of the chapter provides additional wisdom on controlling our speech.
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 points out that when people do not have the fear of God, they drift away from Him. At the first Pentecost, only a fraction of Christ's total audience (about 120) were left, those who feared God, trembled at His word, and were really committed. After the Spirit of God is imparted, removing the pernicious fear of men and installing the life-sustaining fear of God, the real dramatic growth takes place- the sanctification process- a time we (with a poor and contrite spirit) use the fear of God as the prime motivator (coupled with the love of God) to move us from carnal to spiritual-from profane to holy. The fear of God keeps us from doing stupid things like sinning, enabling God's love to do its work. Knowing the terror of the Lord (as a consuming fire) should always be a part of our thinking. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil. The fear of God draws us toward Him.
Righteous men have complained about the seeming good fortune of evil people for ages, but what is the answer? Mike Ford gives the biblical answer—in the end, a very simple and practical one.
The Tenth Commandment: You Shall Not Covet
John Ritenbaugh defines the world as the aggregate (total, mass) of things seen and temporal, having a powerful magnetic appeal to the carnal mind (or the spirit in man), including entertainment, fame, academic knowledge, material possessions, etc. Because we find ourselves immersed in this world's system (constituting a virtual Trojan Horse within our minds), we must realize we are walking on a razor's edge with the Kingdom of God on one side, and the world with all its sensual magnetic charms on the other side. Our marching orders are to seek the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) and to walk by faith rather than by sight (II Corinthians 4:18).
John Ritenbaugh explores the various uses of the term "world," ultimately focusing on the negative connotation describing the cultures of this world since Adam and Eve, directly under the influence of the prince and power of the air (Ephesians 2:2, 6:12). The entire world and its cultures are in disobedience to God because Satan is running the show. The world is in deadly antagonism against God, against the way of God, and the people of God because the spirit generated by the unseen prince of this world. It is essential that we stay awake and keep our guard up.
Our society is becoming increasingly violent. John Ritenbaugh shows how the sixth commandment covers crime, capital punishment, murder, hatred, revenge and war.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the ordinary cares of life- making a living and being concerned with our security- have the tendency to deflect us from our real purpose- seeking God's Kingdom (Matthew 6:33) Becoming overburdened with devotion to wealth or surfeiting will cause us to lose our mobility or ability to stand, limiting and robbing us from precious time we could spend developing a relationship with God. We need to fight against the world's pulls (including the incessant messages from advertising to be discontent) simplifying our cluttered lives, seeking solitude and quiet to meditate and establish a relationship with Him.
Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the epistle of James stresses both faith and works, emphasizing those factors necessary for growth, enabling us to produce a bountiful harvest of fruit. We are to exercise humility and impartiality, taking particular effort to bring our tongues under control, being cautiously slow to speak, acknowledging God in all our thoughts. We are obligated to do practical works of goodness and kindness to our brethren, being solicitous of their needs, and making intercessory prayer for them. To him who knows to do good but doesn't, it is sin. Eating unleavened bread is equivalent to practicing good works.
Even though Joseph was born into a highly dysfunctional family, he nevertheless had a "high batting average" when it came to making the right moral choices, even when the consequences appeared initially to his own detriment. Joseph stayed the course, doing good even when it became a stumbling block with his associates, trusting in the fairness and righteousness of God. His experiences and their impact on his family reveal that God can use people and bring about their repentance without taking away their free moral agency. As a type of Christ, Joseph serves as a model of making right moral choices despite intense opposition.
John Ritenbaugh concludes that of all the biblical patriarchs, Joseph receives the least criticism and the most approbation, a sterling record of character and human accomplishment surpassed only by Jesus Christ. Considering the the competitive, polygamous family structure into which he was born, it was truly a miracle he turned out so well. A major factor in Joseph's integrity was the receiving of Jacob's distilled wisdom after the death of Rachel, a time when Jacob, in his grief and reflection, transferred his affection to Joseph, spending quality time with him, teaching about his experiences (both disappointments and successes) at overcoming and growing.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that God emphasizes the rather pessimistic theme of Ecclesiastes during the Feast of Tabernacles to show the consequences of doing whatever our human heart has led us to do. Without incorporating God's purpose (Ecclesiastes 12:14), our lives, even with all the creature comforts satisfied to the maximum, are absolutely meaningless. Solomon, by continuously evaluating the causes and effects of his calculated pleasure- or meaning-seeking experiment, records many shrewd, commonsense observations about the meaning of life. Even with vast materialistic, artistic, or academic accomplishments, life without the purpose of God is depressingly hollow, disappointing, meaningless, and vain. These disillusionments force God's called-out ones to live by faith. Consequently, God can turn something formerly disappointing and meaningless into something meaningful, purposeful, and profitable for those who fear and trust Him (Roman 8:28).
In this sermon on overcoming Satan, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that confusion or lack of peace is the clear fruit of Satan's involvement. It is nearly impossible for righteousness to be produced in an environment of instability and disharmony brought about by selfish ambition, competition, and bitter envy (James 3:16) In confronting our wily adversary (the source of all this confusion), we must maintain constant vigilance (James 4:7, I Peter 3:5-8), resisting unlawful desires, not allowing Satan to have a bridgehead in our emotions. Satan consistently works on our fear of being denied some form of pleasure.If we stay loyal to God, resisting Satan as Job did, Satan's power over us will be broken (I John 3:8, 5:18). Resistance must begin in the mind and thought processes (II Corinthians 10:3-5) where demonic influences try to persuade us to entertain ideas exalting ourselves over the truth or knowledge of God.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the shepherd and door analogies occurring in John 10, depicting the close relationship of Jesus with His flock as the security and stability provided by His protection, as opposed to the approach of the hireling. Christ not only promises us life without end, but He also promises abundant life (eternal life; living life as God lives it) as well as protection from Satan. As Christ is one (in mind and purpose) with God the Father, we must be at one with God and other fellow believers through the medium of godly love, as opposed to the anarchy resulting from seeking our own way. Peace is produced by love; Christians are at unity with God and with each other when love is the driving force in our lives, prompting us to keep His commandments. An individual commissioned by God is God to Whom he is sent. With God's Holy Spirit, God sets His called ones apart, enabling them to live righteously and in unity with one another.
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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