Martin Collins, reviewing the episode of Habakkuk's frustration that God would use an evil people to punish Israel, points us to the prophet's resolve to cease being a fretful worrier and to become a responsible watcher, determined to understand the purpose of God's dealing with His people. Only a faithful believer will ever stand acquitted before God's fearful judgment. While the taunt-song, dealing with the five woes, certainly applies to Babylon, it applies doubly to God's people Israel, who should have known better, but chose to become ignorant. The first two woes in Habakkuk 2:6-8 concerns the woe against greed, avarice, covetousness (a virulent form of idolatry), and selfish ambition, leading to the crime of usury, charging excessive interest on loans, making the debtor a virtual slave, totally against God's instructions in Deuteronomy 24:10-13. The earth metaphorically cries out against the oppressor who garners wealth by stealing from others and amassing fortunes by exploiting the poor. The third woe focuses on a nation's tyrannical oppression of captive peoples, building a city with bloodshed and establishing a town by violence, denuding forests, wantonly slaughtering animals in order to subjugate other defenseless peoples. The fourth woe results from a people corrupting others with drunkenness and lust, having both literal and metaphorical implications; today the intoxicating Babylonian system embraced by Jacob's descendants has caused our nation to resemble, both figuratively and literally, a drunk vomiting over itself, exposing its sins and folly to the entire world, after adamantly refusing to be governed by God's laws. The fifth woe leveled against the Chaldeans, and by extension to the modern descendants of Jacob, results from idolatry, the sin of worshiping the creation rather than the Creator, applying to literal idols of stone and wood as well as to pagan new age religious practices and including anything we might exalt over God Almighty, including our physical possessions, talents, abilities,
Martin Collins, focusing on Habakkuk's stance of assuming the position of a watchman, being willing to accept God's ultimate judgment on his people even when the circumstances seem to contradict revelation, emphasizes that all of God's called-out ones are also watchmen, needing to live continually by faith, discerning, listening to, and responding to God's instructions, not only hearing them, but taking them to heart. Without having faith like Abel, Abraham, Noah. and Enoch, judging by faith rather than outward appearances, we cannot please God. Abel, Enoch, and Noah all believed God and were willing to endure temporal loss for a greater reward. Faith constitutes unshakable belief and confidence in God that He will do everything He has promised. Like the apostle Peter, we must learn that human faith, at its best, is not sufficient; Godly faith cannot be worked up, but is a gift from God which we must constantly put to use. This kind of faith comes by hearing God's Word. God holds His called-out ones to a much higher level of accountability, but He has also provided the necessary tools for overcoming and as well as for producing spiritual fruit. In spite of doubts arising from negative appearances, we need to cling to God's promises, even in the worst of times, realizing that all iniquity will be punished eventually. Like the heroes of faith, all of which had to do something to demonstrate their faith, we must be productive in our faith, understanding that faith without works is stone dead. Faith is not a preference, but rather a commitment. Even faith as little as a mustard seed is an open door to God.
Ted Bowling, cuing in on three well-known parables in Luke 15 , all of which emphasize that ever life matters —- every life is worth saving, focuses on the disturbing 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 dishonored his father by berating him for having compassion on what 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.
Mark Schindler, maintaining that it is indeed a privilege to be in the body of Christ, cautions us to be mindful of our calling, and to remember that we are indeed the weak of the world, still seeing through a glass darkly, having incomplete knowledge as to how God is using us. We do know that the most intelligent and wise of all human beings is no match for God. Having God's spiritual gifts should not incline us to exercise any measure of pride because we have nothing that has not been given to us by God. We should not consider ourselves superior to others because we have been gifted. Satan wants us to fail by allowing our spiritual gifts to make us prideful. The only thing we dare boast about is what God has done. How we handle our opportunity of having these priceless gifts of understanding makes a big difference, especially when we realize that judgment is now out on the Household of God. The apostle Peter serves as a type of all those who have been gifted by God, occasionally needing to be redirected to a humble approach after falling. As we yield to God more, and rely on ourselves less, we mature spiritually, achieving wisdom and understanding. We will always have what we need if we submit to God's wisdom. No matter how many spiritual gifts we have been given, all glory belongs to our Great God.
David Grabbe, contending with the popularly held assumption that the days preceding Christ’s return would be characterized by near-apocalyptic, cataclysmic disaster, points to the Scriptures that people will be eating, drinking, and marrying as in the days of Noah and the days of Lot, indicating that there will be enough relative normalcy to allow for commerce and “business as usual” for much of the world. Right up to the day of the flood and the firestorm on Sodom, people were carrying on with mundane everyday activities, with a certain amount of ease in committing sins of self-indulgence and complacency, with people having enough security to kick back and bask in protected mediocrity as their work ethic eroded. Like Sodom and ancient Babylon, modern Babylon’s obsession is with materialism and guaranteed security, as government, union, and many academic positions protect—even encourage—mediocrity, incompetency, and malfeasance. God is not against prosperity unless it leads to materialism and self-indulgence, displacing godliness, righteousness, and contentment. Our current moral and economic state is not terribly unlike the days of Noah and the days of Lot.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the apostle Paul's response to the bitter altercation between Euodia and Syntyche, women church leaders at Philippi, who succeeded in polarizing the congregation by their contentious pride, placing their obsessive desire to be right over unity. Paul urges them to follow the example of Christ, who emptied Himself of His divinity, assuming the role of a bond servant, exalting others over Himself, prompting God the Father to exalt Him above all others. Godly leadership is a function of submitting to the covenants God has made with us, including the marriage covenant, setting the proper pattern of all forms of institutions, including educational, governmental, medical, and religious institutions. Secular, progressive humanists, inspired by Satan, in their hatred toward God's covenants, through their endorsement of moral relativity and the new morality, fostering adultery, fornication, as well as feminism, homosexuality, polygamy, and transgender aberrations, have savagely attacked God's marriage covenant. Progressive humanists over the years have succeeded in making divorce as easy as falling off a log, and murder on demand (abortion) a convenience attended with no longer any trace of resistance. Paradoxically, hedonism, a philosophy which holds that pleasure is the highest aim in life, can never lead to real pleasure, but seeking to please God by serving others brings maximum pleasure. The marriage relationship, becoming totally one with one another as God the Father and Jesus Christ are at one with one another, provides the pattern of the true meaning of love—not feelings, but actions (consisting of serving and caring). Keeping God's Commandments demonstrates the highest form of love. Along with all the other gifts in the universal Edenic Covenant, identifying God as our benevolent Creator, who designed this earth for mankind to tend and keep, providing the marriage covenant as a God-plane relationship, the Sabbath Day educates us for service in God's Kingdom.
"Fairness" is a major buzzword in these times. Special interest groups complain and sometimes agitate because they feel that society is not treating them fairly. Geoff Preston approaches the subject more personally, showing that our discontent over perceived mistreatment pales in comparison to what others have endured.
Austin Del Castillo, recalling an incident earlier in his life when he allowed his pride at being the only college graduate on his crew to lead him to take his job less seriously or diligently than he should have, examines the destructive, corrosive effects of pride, and the positive value for genuine humility in the workplace and in our relationships with one another. Humility is important as we are guided by God's Holy Spirit; we are obligated to do something constructive with it. The former guardian cherub is the architect of pride, his heart lifted up by his beauty, causing him to develop an entitlement mentality, an affliction shared by all who have carnal human nature. Pride hopelessly distorts our view of reality, as well as our relationship with Almighty God and our fellow called-out ones. We have been called out to be separate, holy, and sanctified, submitting ourselves to one another, rather than elevating ourselves over one another. Being humble is not for the faint of heart, but it requires the Spirit of God operating in our lives.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that Ecclesiastes 7 contains some of the most significant concepts applicable to the Christian religion, identifies them as follows: (1) A good name or reputation (based on trust, responsibility, or dependability) is better than gold and silver. (2) We should prepare for our eventual death, faithfully carrying out our God-given responsibilities. (3) Sorrow is better than laughter because we learn more from difficult times than we do from good times. (4) The heart of the wise disciplines itself to make use of difficult times. (5) We should not regret correction from someone who has gone through what we are going through. (6) We should not let impatience get the better of us, realizing that anger rests in the bosom of fools. (7) We should not look back, regretting our commitment, but continue to plow ahead as the best defense. (8) We should not lose sight of God, realizing that even in the bleakest trial, a better day is coming. Some trials are more difficult than others, but we should use them to diligently search for wisdom. Solomon felt he was only partially successful in finding answers to the paradox of life: why life is so difficult and why we have the problems we do. We cannot control life, but we can control our reactions to it. Solomon exercised a lifetime of hard work trying to find answers, but fell short because some things are discoverable only through God's revelation. Some things which were not yet revealed to Solomon are now being revealed to us. God is not responsible for the bad things which happen on earth or in our lives, but as we yield to the siren song of sin emanating from Satan and his demons, promising 'control' over our destiny, we bring destruction on ourselves. We must know that the desire to sin can be resisted as long as we resist evil and evil companions. We must deliberately choose to follow God's purpose for us to eternal life.
Martin Collins, focusing on the danger of pride of intellect and knowledge, affirms that knowledge of the truth is essential, but it must be God's knowledge, and not a syncretistic mixture of worldly philosophy or mystical Gnostic admixtures. Political correctness, a modern application of Gnosticism, can usher in some unacceptable consequences, such as occurred with the prideful 'tolerance' of incest as practiced in the Corinthian congregation. Like leavening, toleration of one offense would lead to toleration of other offenses. Progressives in American politics shamelessly call evil good and good evil, murdering fetuses in the name of 'women's rights and practicing sodomy in the name of marriage 'equality.' All of these progressive insights emanate from Satan, who has 'transformed' himself as an angel of light. Similarly, ditchism in religion (veering from one extreme or the other, such as overly strict or overly lenient ) leads to unpleasant imbalances . Relying "solely" on human intellect is one such ditch when it is isolated from the heart and from practice. Proper knowledge must always be joined to the will of God. A person who is puffed up parades his knowledge either by exhibiting impatience, intolerance, or an obsequious false modesty, marginalizing what they consider to be the weak or uneducated. Some prideful people, caught up in their wealth of knowledge, are rendered totally useless in serving others. Conversely, the love of Christ surpasses all knowledge, putting us into proper humble and lowly perspective; to know and love God is to understand Him. Knowledge of God creates love for God as well as perfecting our relationships with others. The happiest people in the church are those who know His teachings and practice them 24 hours a day, growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord, actively practicing love as motivated by God's Holy Spirit, instilling in us the mind of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, asking the questions "Who are we?" and "Where do we fit in?" examines the process of sanctification, comprising the state we are in because of God's action, a continuous process. The end result is that we will possess absolute holiness in every aspect of our life. Sanctification began beyond our control, and is an honor bestowed on a few out of billions, indicating that we are special to the Giver—an honor so valuable we do not want to lose out, motivating us to keep His laws, statutes, and judgments. Our calling, attended with spiritual gifts, could make us susceptible to the same dangerous pride Satan succumbed to if we do not exercise extreme caution. Satan knew he was gifted, but let his self-centered goals eclipse God's purpose for him. To Satan, God was the bad guy, thwarting his plans. God has placed us all in the body where it has pleased Him. We dare not imitate Satan by not appreciating where God has placed us. In order to benefit from the motivating power of the treasure, we must develop a single-fixed vision or goal, maintaining clear focus as if we were watching the movement of a ball in a team sport. We must exercise care about how we perceive ourselves against the backdrop of the world, constructing a worldview which takes in the preciousness of our calling. Seven truths which should be components of our world view are: (1) The church was planned before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6); (2) The church cannot be randomly joined; one must be called (John 6:44); (3) The Church is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 2:19-21); (4) Through the spirit of adoption, we become members of God's family (Romans 8:14-20); (5) Mankind has an impulse to worship; the correct way must be revealed; (6) The nation of Israel is a worldly institution; the Church is the Israel of God; and (7) God considers the Church as His treasure, giving His personal protection in order not to lose us. Our worldview should be a process of clarifying this treasure.
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.
Joseph Baity, commenting upon Google's nefarious desire to rank websites according to 'truthfulness,' points out that Google, along with any other search engine, government influenced or not, is hopelessly influenced by the Babylonian system, and is consequently out-of- sync with real truth. God alone possesses truth and we must seek this truth as we would seek precious gems. Pride, the kind that undid Satan, could be described as disagreement with the truth. If we have pride, we will not be privy to God's truth, but will be clouded in self-deceptive haze. In order to hear God, we must acknowledge that without Him we can do nothing, realizing that Jesus Christ is the Way and the Truth. Without God's Holy Spirit, our carnality is perpetually at war with the truth. As we face the new Tower of Babel, via the Internet and managed news sources, we must listen carefully and critically, to ensure that we do not heed a lie, and, acting on it, compromise God's truth.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on I Thessalonians 5:16-18, gives all of us an assignment to become more appreciative by actively enumerating and writing down our blessings. Praying without gratitude is like clipping the wings of prayer. We have so much to be thankful for, but do not express our gratitude very well. Thankfulness and winning are not natural to carnal human nature which loves to grovel as timid worrywarts. If we would ponder all of the gifts God has given us, we would have an endless list of things to thank Him for, from the lub-dub of our heart chambers to the endless beauty of creation. Corrosive pride will destroy the spirit of gratitude because it is never satisfied. For that reason, God mercifully gives thorns in the flesh to puncture our pride, reminding us that we do not have anything that we did not receive from God. We need to commence making a list of what we are thankful for; the list will never end.
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.
Bill Onisick, reflecting on grandiose, prideful building projects that have terminated because of cost overruns, cautions us to carefully count the cost of our spiritual building project. We are God's building, God's field, and fellow laborers with God on His project to build us into His image. Have we fully counted the cost to determine what it will take to finish God's building? Our relationship with God is our salvation, and that relationship has to be developed. Have we thought through what will be required of us to become transformed into God's image? Are we regularly feeding on God's word, comparing ourselves to the righteous Plumb line—Jesus Christ? God requires that we fear Him, walk in all His ways, love Him, serve Him with all our hearts, and keep His commandments and statutes, developing humility in our hearts to submit to His will at all times in both the letter and the spirit of the law, performing the weightier matters of the law by doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly in God's ways. We must submit to Almighty God, as well as to one another, surrendering the self. If we are antagonistic toward one another in our fellowship, we will not be completed. We have been called to serve, not to be served, emphasizing the way of give rather than the way of get. This is a way of life contrary to human nature, but must be prompted by God's Holy Spirit, as we esteem others better than ourselves.
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on the medieval classification of the seven deadly sins, observes that all of these sins could be categorized as a facet or aspect of lust. Satan's pride was motivated by lust for power; all sinful things on the earth emerge from lust and pride. Lust could be described as evil or inordinate desire. God designed us to have proper desires, just as His desires are always proper. God has a desire for a family; Jesus Christ experienced the same desires as we do. Evil desires consist of lust for things contrary to God's law, such as fornication, uncleanliness, covetousness, and idolatry. God never tempts anyone, but we are tempted by our own evil desires. Trials are pressures to test us; temptations are pressures to cause us to sin. Our own evil desires hook us and drag us where we really do not want to go; we are seduced into sin. Evil desire led to man's first sin; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was pleasing to the eyes and contained a (false) promise to make wise. Eating of this tree was the first act of lust resulting in sin and ultimate death. If evil desires are allowed to gestate instead of becoming aborted, sin will result. All sinful acts begin in the mind as desire, including the acts of murder, lying, adultery, and idolatry. As evil desire begins in the mind, overcoming also begins in the mind. We are admonished to flee fornication—not to stick around and contemplate it. We may have to physically remove ourselves from locations or certain acquaintances. When we drive out an evil thought, we must replace it with a godly thought; if we put good thoughts in, it will lead to good thoughts out. To guard against evil thoughts, we need to cultivate the habit of praying continually, guarding against or displacing all evil desire, winning the battle between the flesh and spirit.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the fiery, feisty, vindictive temperament of Andrew Jackson, and his response to Presbyterian minister Dr. Edgar's question about willingness to forgive enemies, asserts that forgiving one's enemies is a defining mark of a real Christian. Andrew Jackson, after Dr. Edgar's persistent probing, finally displayed a tiny bit of one of the fruits of God's Spirit, prautes, or gentleness (meekness), possibly the second hardest fruit to develop, beginning with humbleness of mind and ending with longsuffering. In the apostle Paul's enumerations of Christian attributes, meekness always appears at near the end, reflecting the difficulty of attainment. Our modern understanding of meekness seems to be at variance with Paul's understanding of prautes. Sadly, language changes linguistic drift have degraded the original understanding, replacing it with "overly submissive and docile," tantamount to weakness and not having a backbone, a notion reinforced by Charles Wesley's hymn, Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild. The combined force of these connotations makes Jesus look like a doormat. The original denotation of the Greek prautes denoted a quiet confidence, strength, and self-composure, a sign of inner power and self-control, having trust and confidence in God. Meekness is the gentle, quiet spirit of selfless devotion to God, the very antithesis of arrogant pride. It is a quality prompted by God's Holy Spirit on the inside manifesting as graciousness on the outside. The meek person accepts what God is doing as a good thing. Meekness is humble submission to God, allowing us to bear injury without being turned emotionally inside out. Love is a major facet of meekness, a quality exemplified in Moses as he serenely shrugged off the abuses and slander from Miriam, Aaron, and other disgruntled, complaining Israelites. Jesus Christ exercised meekness in response to all the false accusations from the Sanhedrin, scribes, and Pharisees, exercising forbearance without an ounce of vindictiveness, refusing
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.
John Ritenbaugh warns about conforming to the world by realizing that Satan fine tunes and customizes his deception. Like he had done with the apostle Peter, Satan also wants to sift us as wheat Thankfully, God will not let us be tempted above what we are able. The apostle Paul warns us to be vigilant about the world, not loving its attitudes, mindsets, and frame of mind. Loving (or setting our hearts upon) the world (as opposed to loving the LORD our God or our neighbor as ourselves) and being attached to the world (governed by the spirit and power of the air) is bad business. Loving the world and loving God the Father cannot transpire side by side; we cannot serve two masters. John is referring to spiritual things that have powerful influences on the fleshly appetites. Sin usually begins in the eye because it triggers desire. Pride disengages us from realizing that we are created beings and did not give ourselves abilities, gifts, materials, and tools we have nothing we did not receive. Pride leads to idolatry, the horrible sin which separated Israel from God. The called of God do not fit anywhere in the world; the church is unique—separate from anything in the world; we march to the beat of a different drummer. It is human nature (which is anti-God) to absorb the ways of the world. To the world, we are the 'enemy.' Our focus should be on treasuring our calling, preparing to become teachers in God's Kingdom.
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.
"Abomination" is a word that is quickly becoming archaic in modern usage because so few things are considered abominable anymore. Martin Collins provides both secular and religious meanings for the term, as well as a survey of biblical Hebrew and Greek words that convey a similar idea.
Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom. The kind of wisdom that it teaches, however, is not of the purely philosophical variety, but is a spiritual sagacity combined with practical skill in living. John Ritenbaugh explains that this kind of godly wisdom, if applied, will protect a Christian as he experiences the trials and tribulations of life in this world.
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.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that satisfaction in life does not derive from material things or wealth, by instead from an eternal relationship with God who has given us abundant spiritual gifts which we must reciprocate by developing skill in living from using godly wisdom. Wisdom enables us to make the very best practical use of all of the other gifts He has given, to make the best practical use of our calling, mobilizing our knowledge, judgment, discernment, understanding, and skill in living in alignment with God's purpose. Any skill, whether it be welding or playing basketball, comprises multiple and complex aspects. In sports or military contexts, it is important that the participants accept the system, breaking old ingrown habits and changing the way they do things. Wisdom can be defined as doing the right thing at the right time in the right way to the right measure. Godly wisdom is not given as a whole, but incrementally, involving much time and pressure. We must give ourselves willingly and patiently to this process in order that skill in living may be built. God has given the Book of Ecclesiastes to us to nudge us on to what is important and away from what is vanity, steering us to a perpetual mindset of faith and trust in God. Wisdom cannot at this time help us to understand all of life's mysteries. It is possible to act wisely in a given circumstance, but still feel frustrated because we do not see how all the pieces fit together. One should always look for the better choice, realizing the better choice is not necessarily the "best" one. In life's journey, a good reputation (a good name) and a positive relation with another (a wonderful marriage) is better than much material wealth. God admires integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, straightforwardness, and structural soundness of character in a person, the name a person has acquired by living righteously—a name which will last into eternity and an infinitely better life.
Bill Onisick, maintains that in one context, evolution is absolutely real—that is, in the transition of one of God's called-out ones from a state of abject fear to a state of transcendental agape love. Every human being fears that he is going to lose something of value and develops a flight or fight protective mechanism to maintain a stable self-image. In our spiritual development, we shed our spirit of fear and take on a spirit of self-control as we ingest God's Spirit and take on a Spirit of Godly wisdom, displacing the fear of death with a craving for Eternal life. The way of get disappears and the way of give leads to godliness.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the pop song "My Way" composed by Paul Anka, written for and made famous by Frank Sinatra, observes that to the carnal mind, this song represents a triumph of the human will and a declaration of pride, a determination to kneel to no one . Even though we may claim to follow God's way, there is a considerable measure of selfishness in our own pathways, a tendency to be dismissive of other people, and a determination to keep our own counsel. If we do not yield to God, following the narrow way, as exemplified by our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, we have the tendency to develop a hybrid way—following our way with just a few of God's principles attached—as was practiced by Cain (adjusting God's instructions to suit ourselves), Balaam (using the spiritual to satisfy greed), Korah(mixing God's principles with criticizing others), or Jeroboam (counterfeiting God's instructions through false words, creating stumbling blocks before others). By following these hybrid ways, we will put ourselves under a curse. We must instinctively respond, along with Christ, "Not my will, but Your will be done."
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Solomon's ruminations about life being seemingly futile and purposeless, reiterates that a relationship with God is the only factor which prevents life from becoming useless. As many celebrities and public figures withdraw to spend more time with families, so must we withdraw from the rat race of the world to seek a relationship with God. Most people on this earth are not spending quality time at seeking a relationship with Him, but are living "under the sun" lives. God gave us the gift of His Spirit, enabling us to attain a sound mind, empowering us to choose the way that will bring satisfaction in life. At our calling we receive a gift of spiritual life enabling us to make good use of our physical lives. God has never given any physical object to us that can bring a sustained satisfaction in life, but His Holy Spirit can enable us to enhance our life with Him. The fruit of the Spirit (attained by walking in the Spirit) does bring a sustaining satisfaction within us. Humility attracts us to God; conceit and pride repels us from God. When we commit our works to Him, He will enable us to succeed by directing our steps, giving us maximum enjoyment and contentment, as well as softening the effects of any calamity that afflicts us. Conversely, a life without God will never bring us satisfaction spiritually, psychologically, or physically.
God's grace is so wonderful and undeserved that, to many of us, it is almost unfathomable. Perhaps we have such a hard time understanding it because we tend to think of it as a "thing" that God dispenses. John Ritenbaugh shows, however, that "grace" is a term that represents God's awesome generosity toward us, His continuously flowing blessings and saving acts.
People resist God because of their pride, but pride can be neutralized by humility, a character trait that allows a person to submit to God and have a relationship with Him. John Ritenbaugh provides many examples to reveal that God wants us to evaluate ourselves and recognize our dependence on Him, which draws God's attention and favor.
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.
Because we are human—and want to be seen in a good light by others—we try to project an image of ourselves that people will like and respect. John Ritenbaugh explains that, unfortunately, the image we project is often based in pride. The Old Testament story of Job provides us an example of a man whom God forced to see himself as he really was, and his true self-image paved the way to a spectacular leap forward in spiritual growth.
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.
II Corinthians 6:14-16 contains a warning that good and evil do not mix, so as Christians, we must be careful to avoid having anything to do with what is wrong. Highlighting Proverbs 8:13, David Grabbe reveals that the fear of God plays a significant role in ridding evil from our lives.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the tendency of society to prescribe drugs for every social malady, indicates that we often fail to see that the chastening we receive may be what God uses to sanctify us, preparing us as His spiritual children. When God starts a project, He finishes it; we must assiduously emulate that trait. If we are not receiving God's correction or chastisement, we should be alarmed. As Job was chastised by God, he learned submission and acquiescence, humility, silence, repentance, and that he had not seen the omnipotence of God. Chastisement focuses more on discipline and training than punishment. God uses circumstances such as financial loss or illness to steer us toward sanctification. Without godly chastisement, we may succumb to spiritual pride, self-confidence, self-satisfaction or smugness, but with godly chastisement, we attain humility, meekness, strength under control, and patience.
Idolatry is probably the sin that the Bible most often warns us against. John Ritenbaugh explains the first commandment, showing that we worship the source of our values and standards. God, of course, wants our values and standards to come from Him and Him only, for there is no higher Source in all the universe!
Beginning with Acts 3:21, John Ritenbaugh speaks of a future time of refreshing and restitution after things get a whole lot worse, a time when the Beast would attempt to wear out the saints. The Day of Atonement pictures Satan being confined. God has a plan to recreate Himself, bringing mankind into at-one-ness with Him. Peter preached to the called out ones to repent and yield to God through His Holy Spirit. We need to be in awe of the cost of Christ's sacrifice for us, demonstrating reciprocity as we wholeheartedly yield to God. Mankind has separated itself from God, having followed the example of our parents, Adam and Eve. God's solution to mankind's separation was sending a second Adam, Jesus Christ to make reconciliation and justification possible. Believing Christ and His message has the effect of making a repentant person at one with God. Through sanctification, a person in Christ becomes a new creation. Fasting not only emphasizes that we can resist a powerful bodily drive, but shows us plainly our dependence upon God.
The apostle James informs us that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:20). Continuing in his theme of the Christian and works, John Ritenbaugh exposes just how corrupt sin is, and by this we can begin to understand just how holy God is—and just how much we need to change to conform to His glorious image.
The Bible reveals a definite pattern of God's displeasure with acts of presumption. John Ritenbaugh expounds several of these circumstances, showing that God's justice is always consonant with His righteousness—and that we should be grateful for His mercy, as we are all guilty of this sin.
The two men who go to the Temple to pray contrast in character, belief, and self-examination. Martin Collins shows that, although this parable involves prayer, it is not as much about how to pray as it is about how to be justified before God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the Day of Atonement and our responsibility toward God in afflicting our souls. The intent of this process (made clear by the Hebrew verb'awnah'cowing or browbeating our human nature into submission) is to deflate our pride (the major taproot of sin), the biggest deterrent to a positive relationship with God. In humbling us, God causes us to lose our sense of self-sufficiency and pride. As lumps of clay, we cannot be transformed unless we endure the pain of pounding, shaping, and molding. The Day of Atonement adds the dimension of self-inflicted pain, modeled by Christ as He voluntarily endured, submitting himself to His Father's will. Pride caused our separation from God; humility will heal it. Pride generates self-sufficiency, blinding people to their real needs and to others' needs, making a person hard and non-resilient, predisposing him to destruction, shame, and disgrace. Fasting helps to restore at-one-ness with God.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, taking issue with the doctrine of eternal security—the idea that a called individual has absolutely no part in the salvation process—points out that passivity and complacency are deadly to spiritual survival. God does not owe us salvation on the basis of Christ's sacrifice. Like ancient Israel, we are called to walk, actively and forcefully putting to death our carnal natures, resisting the temptation to be complacent or timid. In the end time, the struggle becomes exponentially more difficult. Christ warns us not to be caught up in the cares of this world, burdened or overloaded with busyness and distraction. Preparation for future persecution includes being thoroughly convicted of doctrines, being conditioned to stand firm, and resisting the fear of sacrifice and self-denial while replacing it with unconditional submission to God, as sacrificial love is fear's antidote.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Dr. Hoeh's observation in 1987 that the church generally reflects the problems of society, suggests that while this may be a sad commentary, it nevertheless demonstrates, not surprisingly, that we definitely are products of a powerful addictive, and enticing Babylonian system. We are currently living in an axial period between two ages- the Babylonic system coming violently to an end- making way for God's Millennial government. Until we arrive at the Millennial Kingdom, God has promised to provide the resources to meet the challenges and temptations ' leaving us no excuse for failure. We dare not tempt God by refusing to make an effort to extract ourselves from the powerful temptations and pulls of Babylon, compromising our morality and principles for self-centered comfort, safety, and pleasure (Laodiceanism)- exalting desire for beauty over righteousness, abusing the earth, our relationships, and our own bodies. The love or desire for beauty must absolutely be coupled with love for righteousness and holiness- with our focus, passion, and ardor upon Almighty God and our relationship with Christ taking central place in our lives, displacing everything else.
John Ritenbaugh, taking both a backward and a forward look at the meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles, poses the question, "What is so bad about Babylon?" The Babylonian system (code name for the world's political, religious, economic, and cultural systems the cosmos) poses a menacing danger to God's people, but God wants us to work out His plan within the Babylonian system- obligating us to struggle against its ever-pervasive sensual pulls, a system that had its dim beginnings with the dictatorial, violent, and enslaving rule of Nimrod ' the first celebrity rebel of note- a hunter, enslaver, and destroyer of men. The significance of the tower of Babel (or the gate of God) reflects Satan's overweening pride and hubris (a triumph of human reasoning) to displace God. What man does through his clever inventiveness and creativity will not outlast God's eternal works. If men do not become aligned with God's thoughts, their grandiose plans (including a proud, bold, ambitious attempt at a one world government) will not succeed. Coming out of Babylon will undoubtedly require suffering, pain, and self denial, but the sacrifice will pay immense spiritual dividends.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Wordsworth's lament, "the world is too much with us," comments that the fast pace of the world - the hurry or rush mode - threatens to crowd God out of our thoughts. We cannot allow the cares of the world or the stress of the world's pressures, or the pride of the world (self-sufficiency)to crowd God out of our thoughts or to defile our minds, bringing about abominable works or evil fruits. The spiritual battle we fight is in our minds and in our thoughts. We are what we think - what we put into our minds. We need to actively lay siege to our carnality and hostile thoughts, bringing them into captivity to God's Holy Spirit. Our thoughts (hopefully filled with the knowledge of God) determine the content of our speech and the contents of our actions- i.e. our fruits. What we sow we will reap.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that without the proper emphasis on thanksgiving and praise, our prayers degenerate into the "gimmes" with the emphasis exclusively on self. We need to learn to give God thoughtful thanks in every circumstance, including sickness, health, prosperity, and adversity, all having a useful niche in our spiritual growth if we cultivate the right perspective. While gratitude is a major support of faith, pride is a major exponent of vanity and uselessness. Gratitude is the natural reaction to what God has done. Thanksgiving supports true faith because it helps us to focus on the Creator rather than the created. If we see, hear, taste, and feel God in our lives, we should experience a torrent of praise and thanksgiving in our lives.
Self-exaltation was one of the sins that got Satan in trouble—and we certainly do not want to follow his lead! Conversely, we are to humble ourselves so God can exalt us in due time.
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!
The apostle Andrew is a sterling example of humble service. Martin Collins takes what little we know about this early Christian and shows how Andrew's character should encourage the average Christian.
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).
Richard Ritenbaugh warns that individuals arrogating to themselves the authority to change doctrine are on extremely dangerous ground, presumptuously or boldly setting up idols in place of God. We dare not put words into God's mouth. The work of God in the latter days is to turn the people from their sin and back to God. Any other work is either window dressing or directly contrary to God. The consequences of presumptuous (intentional) sins are far more deadly and permanent than for sins committed in ignorance (unintentional). Presumptuousness equates to competition with God, following in the footsteps of Satan. The antidote to presumption is to 1) submit to God, 2) remain humble, and 3) wait for Him to exalt us.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that because of our collective lack of self-discipine and our lack of willingness to guard the truth, we have allowed our theological, philosophical, and attitudinal base to deteriorate under the persuasion of the the world, hopelessly scattering us into myriad fragments and splinters. Liberty without self discipline has produced this chaos. In order to regain the unity we have lost, Paul lists four elements of character we must all exercise: humility, meekness (or lowliness of spirit) patience, and forbearance, counteracting the pernicious pride, vanity, and competitiveness which have driven us apart.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the mark of the beast, warning that because we have been immersed in Satan's system (Ephesians 2:1-2), we already have the mark branded into our minds and behavior (Romans 8:7). Our concern after our calling is to, with the help of God's Holy Spirit, overcome and get rid of that foul spirit's enslaving hold on us. Anger and hostility, driven by self-centered competitive pride constitute Satan's family characteristics, his spiritual mark on us (John 8:44), dividing nations, ethnic groups, families, as well as the greater church of God. Contrasted to the hostile, cunning, predatory nature of adversarial beasts (leopards, lions, serpents, and fire-breathing dragons), our Elder Brother, serving as our example, adopted a lamb-like meekness, making peace right to the death. (I Peter 2:21-23).
From the Bible's perspective, patience is far more than simple endurance or longsuffering. The patience that God has shown man collectively and individually gives us an example of what true, godly patience is. It is this kind of patience that Paul urges us to put on as part of the new man.
John Ritenbaugh points out the impossibility of serving two masters equally (Matthew 6:24), especially if each master's goals, objectives, or interests are antithetical to one another. If we try to serve both equally, we run the risk of losing both. Eventually one wil love the other and disrespect the other. Trusting mammon (any worldly treasure inspired by Satan) will erode faith, eventually turning us to idolatry and eternal death. We need to emulate the lives of Moses (who gave up power and massive worldly goods) and Paul (who gave up pedigree and prestigious religious credentials) to yield to and follow God's direction. The best way to attain true wealth and the abundant eternal life is to loosen our grip on worldly rewards and single-mindedly follow Christ.
Many fail to perceive the difference between the first and second commandments. John Ritenbaugh explains that the second defines the way we are to worship the true God.
Atonement, when we are commanded to afflict our souls through fasting, is a time of self-evaluation and repentance. This is the only way to have real unity with God.
Footwashing is the initial part of the Passover ceremony. Why did Christ institute it? What is its purpose?
The Bible states that offenses will come. John Ritenbaugh explains how to handle offenses and how to keep minor irritations from growing into bitterness.
John Ritenbaugh describes the process through which God perfects His image in us, linking three sub-themes: 1) God's disciplining, 2) our listening, and 3) God's watchful care. Obedience to God's Word strengthens us, enabling us to receive our spiritual heritage. Remembering the lamentable condition of our slavery to sin and God's deliverance and involvement in our lives helps us to exercise obedience, keeping us growing toward perfection. Paradoxically, humble dependency upon God strengthens us, while prideful self-sufficiency weakens us. No matter what situation, God carefully watches over us like an eagle (Deuteronomy 32:11), ready to come to our aid and supply us with what we need.
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 describes the prevailing mindset in human society as one of contention, division and disagreement. The source of division and separation from the source of life is sin that has become practiced as a way of life. Throughout the course of Biblical history, whenever sin appears, confusion, division and separation are the automatic consequences (James 4:1-2). The Day of Atonement pictures the means to bring back unity with God- the covering of our sins with the blood of Christ. Satan, the author of confusion and misinformation, hates this day above all days because he is fingered as the source of sin. Virtually none of the world's spiritually malnourished churches realizes the significance of the Day of Atonement. We are encouraged to humble ourselves before God, resisting pride, the propelling force of sin.
The sin of pride underlies many of our other sins, and it is often the reason for the contentions we get into as brethren. John Ritenbaugh looks at the origins of pride and shows how it manifests itself in us.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that pride comes about in a person because of a perverted comparison—a comparison that will elevate one above another, make one feel better than another, or more deserving than others. Because of its arrogant self-sufficiency, it stands between our relationship with God, the source of all true spirituality and spiritual gifts. Pride, subtly elevating man to the same level of God (a perverted comparison) results in his rejecting the very gifts God would give him for his salvation. Our dependence upon God for what we are and what we know is essential for the production of humility. The truly humble, realizing their dependence, cry out to God continually for help—all the way through life into the resurrection.
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, using Lot's wife as a sobering example warns us that God does not want us to maintain close associations with the world because it almost inevitably leads to compromise with godly standards, jeopardizing the consistency of the Christian witness to God. Much of ancient Israel's (as well as modern day Israel's) problem stemmed from a false sense of security (pride) apathy (from an abundance of food) and a luxurious life of ease (from spending time in self indulgence). Not many of us will be able to stand before the spiritual onslaughts of the world having the pride-filled, overfed, and unconcerned attitude (Psalm 30:6-7) - an attitude causing Lot's wife to love the world and Lot to linger and procrastinate.
The seventh and last of the attitudes within the church, Laodiceanism is the attitude that dominates the era of the end time. It seems more natural to think that this attitude would be the least likely to dominate in such terrible times—that it ought to be obvious that the return of Christ is near. But Christ prophesies that it will occur. In fact, it indicates the power of Babylon! Why does Babylon dominate the church in the end time? Because it dominates the world, and the Christian permits it to dominate him!
In this sermon on the admonitions of I Corinthians 10, John Ritenbaugh warns that, like our forebears, we can lose our salvation if we live a life of divided loyalty even though we have mechanically and physically gone through the ordinances. Like the Old Testament examples, the Corinthians also developed a careless presumption (having its roots in pride), allowing themselves to be drawn to lust, fornicate, tempt God, and murmur. We need to soberly reflect on these examples, finding parallels in our own lives.
John Ritenbaugh observes that ancient Israel had at the core of its religion (as well as its dominant cultural norm) an obsession to serve or please the self at the expense of justice and truth and the best interests of the socially disadvantaged. Because of Israel's excessive self-seeking and self-serving pride, God threatens to remove His protection, allowing its people to go into captivity. Pride (the catalyst for Laodiceanism) causes people to reject God and to follow idolatrous ways. Israel's leaders should 1) never be content with the way things are, 2) never let care and concern for self take priority over the welfare of others, 3) covet peace with God, but only on His terms, 4) choose things that are more excellent, and 5) embrace morality.
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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