John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that joy is enumerated second in the order of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22, speculates upon the possibility that God intended a pre-determined order for these spiritual gifts, perhaps from the most important to lesser degrees of importance. If this is the case, Joy occupies a lofty position on this descending scale, following love, which the apostle Paul rates as the most important of all virtues. Because we live in a troubling world, our reserves of joy are probably somewhat low, making us feel that we are deficient in our apportioned measure of God's Holy Spirit. Because we are, through the Internet and media, profoundly cognizant of upheaval of the entire world community, our sense of angst is super-amplified. The ubiquitous craving for constant entertainment reflects a desire to anesthetize the nervous system from stark reality, anxiety, and depression. Solomon demonstrated that seeking relief through pleasure leads to a dead-end. Laughter seems to him sheer madness. Laughter and pleasure often hide grief and sorrow. C.S. Lewis distinguishes joy from happiness or pleasure, but suggests it is more synonymous with cheerfulness or calm delight. In Greek both grace and joy have the same etymological root. Consequently, joy is what God gives rather than what men chase after and produce. Biblical joy is a God-given sense of satisfaction and sense of well-being despite the difficulties of life. Joy is a calm cheerfulness, a hopeful, upbeat attitude which does not spring from anything earthly, but instead is inseparable from godly love. Biblical joy can only arise with a relationship with God. The quality of this relationship will determine our ability to withstand the horrible trials and tests ahead.
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.
Mike Ford, acknowledging that many of us are now in a de-leavening mode, suggests that getting rid of accumulated clutter is a positive goal as we simplify our lives in our preparation of extracting ourselves from the world and following God. Spring cleaning is a custom largely connected to Israelitish nations. Everybody has the carnal habit of accumulating stuff, cluttering up both our physical surroundings, as well as the inner chambers of our minds. As we symbolically apply the practice of de-leavening our homes, we should not elevate symbolism over substance, forgetting that the primary focus is to eradicate sin rather than crumbs. The primary leavening should be removed from our minds where we form the attachments to the physical idols which we have a difficult time discarding. As our ancient forbears were called upon to walk away from their stuff twice, we must be just as ready to walk away from any physical object for which we have developed an inordinate attachment.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the term blessed and blessing, rendered into triviality by the prosperity gospel, cautions us not to be glibly equating God with a magic genie or spiritual automatic pill- dispenser. Material blessings do not necessarily equate to prosperity, even though God has commanded us to be productive and work hard. In the Beatitudes, the destitute and disenfranchised were given promissory notes of His Kingdom. Individually, most of the major figures in the Bible did not have abundant physical prosperity , but were immensely blessed spiritually. We should desire the spiritual side of the spectrum, worthy to be well-spoken of at Christ's return. When we ask to be blessed, it should be exclusively on His terms, leading to our eternal good. What God has done in our earthly lives should be the best preparation for our future responsibilities. There can be NO blessing without the indwelling of Christ through God's Holy Spirit, the true source of our joy and happiness. Without the fellowship with Christ, there is no prosperity, either spiritual or physical. The Seven Churches of revelation all received immense spiritual promises, a new name, co-rulership over the nations, being kept from the hour of trial , and being made pillars in the Temple of God. These rewards are contingent upon overcoming a specific deficit through performing a specific developmental task, all involving the keeping of God's Commandments.
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.
A major theme of the book of Ecclesiastes is satisfaction. In his wisdom, Solomon assiduously sought out the answer to the question, "What brings a person true satisfaction?" John Ritenbaugh proposes that God desires far more for us than mere satisfaction: He wants to give us real contentment, a state that comes only through a relationship with Him.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition on Ecclesiastes 6, appraises the book of Ecclesiastes as the most bluntly profound book in the entire Bible, pointing to our urgent need to develop a relationship with God. We did not create ourselves or give ourselves life. The Psalmist David realized we were made by somebody other than ourselves; we were made according to an intricate pattern. As God's called-out ones, we are a new creation. Are we making ourselves spiritually? We can mess this process up if we do not cooperate with the Potter. This relationship with the Potter is everything; without this relationship, there is no salvation. This relationship is often strengthened through hardship. We have to choose to yield ourselves to God, living for a much higher goal than raw materialism. If we have a relationship with God, we are promised gifts of pleasures forevermore. God can accomplish His purpose without our cooperation, but our choices matter; everything matters. We are not free to change what the consequences of our actions will be; consequently, it is foolish to disagree with God. Following God's lead will energize and nourish us. Only God's Word contains the truth to direct and point us in the right direction. Only He knows what is good for us and knows what is coming next. Godly wisdom consists of skill in living.
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.
We live in a world based on the "get" principle; everyone is out to acquire as much as possible for himself. The tenth commandment, however, is intended to govern this proclivity of human nature, striking at man's heart. John Ritenbaugh exposes the essence of covetousness and its marked link to the first commandment.
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.
Members of God's church usually come home from the Feast of Tabernacles with renewed spiritual vigor. Yet, we are painfully aware that some fall away each year. John Ritenbaugh shows that we must actively seek God and His righteousness to ensure that we will be around to enjoy next year's Feast.
The story of Esau and his selling his birthright for a bowl of soup is a cautionary tale for Christians today. What it is we really value? What we treasure will ultimately determine our destiny.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that the best matrix for salvation (or to come out of Babylon) is to diligently seek God, a connection lost in the Garden of Eden. Christians must rigorously practice their faith, having their senses trained, growing from immaturity to maturity. Sanctifying implies growing into perfection. We cannot seek God by standing still, but must continually pray, study, meditate, and fast, growing daily in grace and knowledge. Our biggest danger at this time is to be lured into spiritual drunkenness by the pagan Babylonian system. Our God is not what we say we worship but whom we serve. We dare not be at ease in Zion, settling on our lees- tolerant of sin and blind to our spiritual state- practical atheism or prudent agnosticism. God teaches us that the uncleanness from this world can be transferred from one person to another, but holiness cannot be transferred from one person to another.
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.
Jesus teaches in this parable that we need to guard against every kind of covetousness. Even if we have everything we could ever want or need, when we die, our goods will do nothing for us. It is the height of folly to believe that one has no need of God.
Jesus' Parable of the Treasure in Matthew 6:19-21 is designed to get us to evaluate the relative values of material wealth and "treasures in heaven." Martin Collins expands on the metaphors of moths, rust, and thieves.
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.
Barnabas tends to be one of the forgotten apostles. However, Martin Collins illustrates how this Christian's life can teach us important lessons.
John Ritenbaugh again warns about the debilitating faith destroying consequences of anxious care and foreboding. If we "put on" (assume the disposition and the way of life of) Christ, we will through continuous practice learn the processes which produce spiritual success. Two major antidotes to foreboding and anxiety include (1) the argument from the greater to the lesser. If God has already taken care of the major responsibilities (i.e. giving us life and a calling), He can also be trusted for providing sustenance, and (2) meditating upon God's works around us (Romans 1:20) will provide an insight into the meticulous care He places on the most minute aspects of His creation. Meditating on these things strengthens our faith and trust in the one who supplies all our needs.
John Ritenbaugh warns that having anxiety, foreboding and fretting about physical provisions (food, clothing, and shelter) and to be distracted or distressed about the future (Matthew 6:34) demonstrates a gross lack of faith and is totally unworthy of our relationship with God. If our children showed the same lack of trust in us, we would feel hurt and angry. Using the greater to the lesser argument, we should realize that if God has provided us with a body and has called us, He will sustain us if we, taking normal precautions and foresight, commit our lives to His service (Psalm 37:5-6), involving Him in every aspect of our lives through unceasing prayer and obedience.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) is responsible for influencing the Zeitgeist (dominant spirit or mindset of the time)pulling us away from God and His commandments. Our heart at the time of conversion is incurably sick (Jeremiah 17:9) incapable of being repaired, but only replaced. God deliberately places His called-out ones in a position of choosing the temporal allurement of the world or eternal life (Matthew 6:24) Guarding our heart (Proverbs 4:23) and setting it upon spiritual treasures (Matthew 6:19-23) will enhance our spiritual security.
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).
A biblical survey of coveting: what it is, what it produces and what a Christian should be doing.
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.
Do you sometimes worry about your financial situation? Knowing that just about everyone does, Mike Ford explains Jesus' simple solution to this common problem.
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!
John Ritenbaugh, in this powerful signature sermon, examines the vital missing spiritual component in believing, emphasizing that seeing doesn't necessarily lead to believing unless an active, productive, and trusting faith is added. The contemporaries of Moses and Jesus Christ experienced a plethora of awesome miracles, but did not believe, comprehend or understand. We see what we want, expect, or become educated to see. True wisdom (spiritual vision) comes from coupling human reason with revelation, reinforced by believing and practicing what God says or commands. Unless we acknowledge God's sovereign authority in our lives, following through with the things we learn from scripture, we, like functional atheists, will not see God.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the people to whom Amos addresses have the mistaken assumption that because they have made the covenant with God that they complacently bask in a kind of divine favoritism—God's country, God's people, God's church. God's holy and spiritual law, describing and defining His standard of holiness, His character, nature, or essence, serves as the template into which our character needs to be formed or molded. The combination of the redeeming and the law-giving aspects of God's nature determines the plumb line against which all of us are judged. Jacob's descendents, embracing false religion (after the idolatrous, syncretistic manner of Jeroboam I) have severely placed a strain upon God's patience. As members of the Israel of God, we must assiduously measure up to God's plumb line, insisting upon positive moral purity in all our thoughts and behaviors, avoiding sin by doing good—a course that will put us totally out of sync with the rest of society—a society ripe in sin and immorality, begging for harsh correction.
John Ritenbaugh warns that we dare not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in us as a result of the trials we go through - those burdens intended by God to strengthen us and perfect us. We are warned not to emulate the example of Esau, whose worldly mindset blunted his ability to distinguish the sacred from the profane, leading him to give up his birthright to satisfy a bodily craving. We have superior promises (of future Eternal life and a place in God's very family as well as current access to God's presence through the work of Jesus Christ). The intense admonitory quality in the twelfth chapter stems from the stark, inescapable reality that God will not budge one inch on sin. Far from being an indulgent lenient parent, God is a consuming fire to those who will not obey. We need to develop the same white-hot hatred for sin as does our Heavenly Father. Finally we are admonished to (1) increase our fellowship with our brethren, (2) practice hospitality, (3) sympathize and empathize with those going through trials, (4) strive for pure and chaste marriages, (5) resist covetousness, and (6) ease the ministry's burden
John Ritenbaugh insists that because what we believe automatically determines what we do; it is impossible to separate faith and works. If our source of belief is not grounded in Jesus Christ, we will be held captive to our traditions and our works will be contaminated. If our belief is grounded in Christ (our Spiritual Bread and our High Priest), we will have a relationship with God and access to eternal abundant life, leading to works (fruits of the Holy Spirit) that glorify God. The word "draw" in John 6:44 implies that there is some degree of carnal resistance or reluctance to accept God's calling. If we do not metaphorically eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood, ingesting the Word of God daily, we will die spiritually. The moral and ethical demands of these Words often make them "hard sayings," but yielding to these demands (having an intimate relationship of God- living the way God lives in every aspect of our lives) will incrementally develop the character and the spiritual mind, bringing about eternal abundant life.
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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