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.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the emotional state of the American people, especially those who understand the seriousness of the times, averring his conviction that they will never see good times again, but will fall more and more into a permanent condition of hopelessness . God's called-out ones can feel the relentless pressures of the prince of the power of the air as he works to wear out the saints. We cannot afford to lose our focus as the pressures rise, but must be thankful for the heads-up of the Olivet Prophecy, which gives us cautions and signposts on our spiritual journey. We are not guaranteed a pass to a place of safety, but are subject to what God has planned for our life-script and repertoire of experiences. Only one of Christ's disciples escaped martyrdom; we must be willing to do what God has purposed for us, realizing that God will always supply our needs for the situation, even the wherewithal to endure martyrdom. Our Christian journey is not going to be a walk in the park. During these critical times, when judgment is out on God's church, it behooves us to emulate Olympic athletes such as Simone Manuel, who submitted to super-rigorous discipline of muscles and mind in order to qualify to participate in the 2016 Olympic games. Drawing a spiritual analogy, we must decide whether we want to commit to the goal presented by our calling. Our primary goal, as Christ the Revelator presents it to the seven churches of Revelation, is to overcome, to displace our carnality with spiritual behavior. Once we commit. we must be highly disciplined, never losing focus, while at the same time being aware of distractions which could severely retard our overcoming. Faith, hope and love are spiritual gifts which safeguard us from discouragement and depression, giving us a mature perspective which will last eternally.
Levi W. Graham: The primary principle of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares is relatively easy to see. However, an interesting bit of information appears in it that some may have overlooked. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing Francis Shaeffer's observation, that bitterness rather than doctrine divides and estranges one member from of Christ's Body from another, suggests that individuals often look for a 'doctrinal' reason to cover up the real reason for leaving a congregation. Perhaps the principal cause of the estrangement between brethren can be explained by the Parable of the Leaven in Matthew 13:33, an image of a process of exaggerated growth, parallel to the mustard see analogy, in which a garden plant unnaturally grows into an imposing tree. Although many Bible Commentaries have assumed that both of these similes simply mean what started small will grow to something large, they fail to take into account the necessity of symbols remaining consistent beginning with the first mention in scripture. Leaven symbolizes corruption from sin, even as we examine the wave loaves, composed of humans laden from sin (from which they have repented). As ambassadors for Christ, already having our citizenship in Heaven, we still have sin in our nature. Interestingly, the grain offering in Leviticus 3, designated for the peace offering or fellowship offering did not contain leaven. As a biblical symbol, leaven stands for hypocrisy, false teachings, sexual immorality, vile corruption, malice and wickedness, a condition which will not exist in God's Kingdom, but is rampant in the Church of God today as it syncretizes doctrine with 'knowledge' derived from the Babylonic worldly philosophies. The woman sneaking in the leaven with three measures of meal in Matthew 13 evidently represents the Church, who surreptitiously mixed Christ's pure doctrine with a little sourdough of worldly wisdom, puffing up the church with intellectual vanity, but destroying the prospects of unity or reconciliation between the numerous splinter groups. With this leavening, Satan has destroyed the relationship between church members by corrupting the doctrines that had bound us together.
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.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the verdict of the macabre case in North Carolina, in which a couple had been collecting welfare benefits for an adopted daughter who had been mysteriously missing for two years, concludes that Judge Thomas Schroeder acted within the principles of biblical law, even though the majority of the citizenry would have liked to see the parents executed. Physical evidence failed to convict these scoundrels of anything more than welfare fraud. Real justice can only be based on the truth, potentially dangerous to the perpetrator or the victim. Though the Old and New Testament are complementary to one another, with the apostles directly quoting from the prophets, establishing Jesus Christ's Messianic identity, the emphasis of justice in the New Testament switches from national to personal in scope, from the nation of Israel to the Israel of God (the Church). The New Testament builds on and amplifies the Old Testament. Jesus magnifies the Law, fusing external motor behavior (or deeds) with internal psychological motivation. All sin begins as thought. Matthew 5: 17-20 encapsulates Christ's change in approach, taking the elementary literalist approach of the Pharisees into the real heart of the matter, focusing on what could and should be done on the Sabbath as opposed to what cannot be done. From the New Testament applications amplifying Old Testament principles, we find legal tenets practiced consistently in Israelitish countries, such as the need for two or three witnesses, protection against mob rule, penalties for frivolous lawsuits and hasty litigation, the principle of recompense and equity, conflict of interest considerations, separation of church and state, penalties against collusion, legitimate use of civil rights, and judicial clearing. While we are still learning the ropes of godly judging, we are commanded to refrain from presumptuously passing or executing judgment until Christ gives us our credentials.
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.
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
Martin Collins focuses on the second and third epistles of John, letters. Second John warns Christians against false teachers and the necessity not to let down their guard, realizing that deception is possible when they move 'progressively' against doctrines of Christ, as had occurred in the final years of the Worldwide Church of God. Third John was written to Gaius, whom John commended for his hospitality in welcoming genuine servants of God. John warns Gaius of the treachery of Diotrephes, who had arrogantly initiated a mutiny against God's true apostles and ministers, pompously assuming the behavior of putting out of the church those who did not follow his arrogant leadership (a practice sadly practiced in some of the splinter groups of the greater Church of God). Both Gaius and Demetrious are commended for their sterling receptivity of the truth as well as their generous hospitality, serving as lights to the world, while Diotrephes is rebuked for his arrogance and his caustic divisive behavior as is seen in his malicious gossip and hatred for God's true servants. Third John provides some practical counsel on dealing with friction and bitterness, attaining peace in the process.
Joe Baity, reflecting on the seeming Narcissistic Zeitgeist displayed by our generation, promoting self-gratification, self-realization, and self-indulgence, with a plethora of self-help books promoting elevating self interest above others, cautions that this approach damages both our relationship with God and our relationships with our fellowman, threatening to defile our fellowship within the body of Christ. Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul teach us to esteem others over ourselves, focusing on the betterment of others. Any self-improvement we can garner from self-help books composed by secular humanists pales into insignificance alongside the spiritual benefits from exercising outgoing concern for others, a mindset we can only attain by humbly submitting to God.
Martin Collins indicates that, even though II and III John are the shortest books of the Bible, they do contain significant themes, amplifying the contents of I John, emphasizing the fellowship with God. II and III John, addressed to elders in supporting local churches, advocate hospitality to legitimate teachers and forbid supporting false teachers. II John provides tests of life, determining authenticity of genuine believers, as well as advocating faithfulness in large and small responsibilities, including the friends with which one chooses to associate, realizing that true wisdom is the right application of spiritual language. No conflict should ever exist between the spirit and the letter of the Law. The message of II John has special application today, where the church is also besieged by perennial schisms and heresies, not unlike the kind of problems experienced in the Corinthian congregation. Love for the truth automatically leads to love for one another within the congregation. A common commitment to the truth is the foundation of genuine Christian fellowship. In our quest for unity, we can never compromise with the truth. True love between brethren is impossible without an equal love for the truth, leading to a perpetual walking in the light of truth, elevating the Word of God over the traditions of man and every wind of questionable doctrine which inevitably leads to lawlessness. We have the obligation to test everything presented to our minds, examining it against the standard of the Scriptures, holding fast to the truth, filtering out and discarding any toxic prevarications.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Deuteronomy 30:19-20, reminds us that we are called to a lifetime of decisions and judgments. We have problems with judging fellow brethren in different groups of the greater Church of God, of which at least three claim to be the only true church. This intemperate judgment may come back to bite the biter in a painful place. Judgments must always be open to new information; a fellow servant never falls on our judgment or estimation of him. It is terribly difficult at times to recognize the tare or to recognize the true wheat. Christ's judgments are made according to what each person has been given. We need to internalize this practice of judging and evaluating, especially regarding our brother or fellow servant. We cannot possibly know the levels of gifting God has bestowed on the other members of God's family. Just because we understand an aspect of spiritual truth does not mean that God has gifted the other member to comprehend it, or vice versa. God gifts each person as it pleases Him. God provides the hearing ear, understanding, and wisdom, both in the physical and spiritual dimensions. Not everybody has ears to hear in both dimensions. Even the converted do not comprehend the full spectrum of parable-centric teaching, often containing multiple layers of meaning. The secret things belong to God; the revealed things become our property on a need-to-know basis, only when we have developed the ability to use the information responsibly, using the mind of Christ. We have been given spiritual gifts to serve the entire congregation as they are needed.
George Santayana's famous quotation—"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it"—applies equally well to the church of God. Richard Ritenbaugh compares the history of the early church with the events and trends being exhibited in the modern church of God. Will today's church follow the disastrous example of early second-century Christianity?
With many "churches of God" around the world claiming to be part of or even the only church of God, the question "Is There a True Church?" is a pertinent one. John Ritenbaugh examines, not their claims, but what the Bible reveals about the makeup of God's church, especially as time draws near to the return of its Head, Jesus Christ.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Over the past several days, I have been very uncomfortable. Since my adrenal fatigue set in during the summer of 2008, I have had a more-or-less persistent ache in the area of my right hip....
Some of the least-understood diseases within human pathology are autoimmune diseases. ...
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Jesus Christ's prayer for unity in John 17, insists that unity with our brethren is impossible without unity with God first. Adam and Eve severed this unity by yielding to Satan's influence, stimulating their minds with a novel diversion. Sin automatically separates us from God. The key to overcoming rests exclusively in our relationship with God. We are placed in the Body of Christ at His discretion, and are obligated to subject ourselves to His workmanship, keeping Him continually in our thoughts, night and day. We do not produce any fruit unless we are attached to the vine. As members of Christ's body, we must function for the good of the whole body, not competing with other organs or limbs. We must continually see God and function as a son of God. As with our Elder Brother, if we do those things that please our Heavenly Father, He will be there for us. Not responding to God and treating our brethren shabbily, brings harsh judgment upon us. Unity in the Body is brought about by yielding to and using the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, enabling us to love our brother as God has loved us. The more we have in common, the greater will be unity and peace.
Jesus, in His prayer recorded in John 17, fervently asks for unity among His Disciples (and by extension-all of us). Almost 20% of this prayer is devoted to the subject of unity, that His disciples would be unified with God the Father and with each other, as Jesus is unified with the Father. If we aren't unified with our Heavenly Father, we can't possibly be at one with (or a functioning member of) the Body of Christ. Each member of Christ's body must choose to function in the role God has ordained to produce unity, emulating our elder Brother always doing those things that please the Father by keeping His Commandments (statutes, judgments, and ordinances), enabling us to become at one with Him. Unity with our Heavenly Father leads to unity in the church or the Body of Christ. Failing to discern the Lord's Body- the church (by refusing to engage in rigorous self-examination) leads to eating and drinking damnation to ourselves. The disunity which Paul described in 1 Corinthians 12 has an antidote in 1 Corinthians 13, namely love in all of its manifestations, resulting in physical and spiritual healing and peace, the ideal environment for the growth of spiritual fruit. If we are separated from God the Father and Jesus Christ, we cannot be unified with the church, as was demonstrated by the devastating destruction and Diaspora of the Worldwide Church of God. The disintegration will never be repaired except as individuals voluntarily submit themselves to the rule of God the Father.
During His ministry, Jesus Christ was frequently asked to cast demons out of people. Martin Collins dissects the exorcism Jesus performed in the synagogue in Capernaum, revealing both the authority and the mercy of God.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the Father and the Son are two distinct beings, not co-equal as the trinity doctrine proclaims, but having a superior-subordinate relationship, with the Son deferring to the Father in all things. Likewise, we will be in the same God Family, but in subordinate positions to the Father and the Son. The Son provides the blueprint for us, aggressively submitting to the will of the Father, using the Holy Spirit to bring every thought into captivity. Sometimes we may do right and not receive smooth-going, as demonstrated by the harrowing experiences of the apostles. In imitating Christ, we have to learn to endure hardness, battling a life-and-death struggle with our carnal minds, totally submitting to God by walking perpetually in the Spirit, being transformed from carnal nature to the glorious character and image of God. Our submission to the Father and Christ will never end, just as Christ's submission to the Father will never end.
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.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that belief or faith is difficult enough to maintain if the doctrines are put in proper order, but greatly confused when the pastor dilutes correct doctrine with "benign" false doctrine derived from the belief systems of the world's cultures under the sway of Satan's manipulation. Seemingly minor changes affect major trajectories in direction. A person's cosmology (his understanding of the nature of the world) largely determines his belief system and attendant behavior. If evolution determines his cosmology, man becomes his own God. Until our cosmology is synchronized with God's (as we think as God's thinks), our spiritual well-being will be in continuous deadly peril. What a person believes shapes his views and behavior. The Axial Period (deriving from sixth- and seventh-century BC Hellenistic thought) has largely shaped the dominant cosmology of today's world.
John Ritenbaugh highlights a dangerous flaw in our evaluation of religious truth. If the God of the Bible (who cannot lie and is not a God of confusion) were involved in the religions of the world—mainstream Christianity and Islam - there would be no strife between them. The bitter fruits indicate that the god of both of them is not the God of the Bible, but instead the god of this world, Satan the Devil, who inspires warfare and adversarial relationships. The false teachings of this world's belief systems can adversely erode and destroy the faith in members of the greater church of God. "The Way" is distinct from the world's belief systems, polluted by the tolerant and inclusive attitudes of the liberal far left - a position shockingly embraced by a large segment of evangelical, born-again Christians.
John Ritenbaugh, exploring the account of the man infested with a legion of demons, explores the subject of minds divided against themselves, severely hurting and destroying their possessor as well as those around them. In order to one to fulfill his purpose in life, a person needs to be singularly focused on what he wants to accomplish. Divided minds either result in no activity or productivity or, worse yet, devastating and hurtful consequences. Division (especially division within oneself) destroys. In group dynamics (from marriage to larger entities), unity is better than singularity. All of us, to some degree have divided minds- all of us, to some degree, are insane (or un-sane). Israel has a proclivity for fickleness and an insatiable desire for variety, totally at variance with the changelessness and steadfastness of God. God desires that we become at one with Him- conformed to His image- constant in our character- living as God lives- (motivated by thankfulness and desire) rather than being conformed to the world.
In this message focusing on the "tail wagging the dog," Richard Ritenbaugh discusses the motivations for proclaiming the true gospel and the motivation for teaching false gospels or heresies. For a genuine minister the gospel of the Kingdom creates a compulsory inner pressure causing him to virtually "explode" with truth, totally unrelated to the need for numbers or ego-stroking. The motivation for the bogus minister stems from a desire to pander to the "itching ears" of the prospective clientele telling them whatever they want to hear, catering to their desires and lusts (Ezekiel 33:32), mixing truth with error, creating a poisonous fatal mixture. While the true minister affirms God's law, the false minister grants license to do whatever one pleases.
God calls us 'living stones' in I Peter 2. Bill Keesee illustrates why this description is so apt view of God's work making us His jewels.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the real issue in the calendar controversy is not mathematical or astronomical computations, but faith in God's sovereignty, His providence, His right to assign responsibility, and His capability of maintaining an oversight over this responsibility. God has been faithful in providing a reliable calendar for over 1600 years. God remains consistent with His purpose, maintaining oversight and control. Like our ancient forbears, we dare not stray from things given or entrusted to us. We must hold fast, guarding the truth, honoring our father in the faith, refusing to forage after pernicious false doctrine. The preservation of the calendar was entrusted to the Jews, and specifically the Levites. No church group or private individual should presumptuously arrogate this responsibility to himself or herself.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God alone chooses the servants through whom He works His will. Sometimes the rationale God uses for selecting His vessels defies worldly wisdom. The major reason for the horrendous split of the greater church of God was the rejection of the doctrines God's servant and Apostle Herbert Armstrong had restored. Apparently, God has used this confusing state of affairs to weed out those individuals who will not yield or submit to those doctrines. When it comes to submitting to God's government, we dare not vainly compare ourselves one to another (II Corinthians 10:12).
John Ritenbaugh, insisting that God is not the author of confusion, affirms that God, throughout the scriptures, has used a consistent pattern of appointing leaders over His called-out ones. God has invariably chosen one individual, working with him until it becomes obvious through his fruits that God had intended him to lead. After choosing the leader, God brings the people to him, placing within them an inclination to voluntarily submit to him. Rather than a cacophony of discordant voices, God designates one individual (Abraham,Moses, Peter,etc.) to serve as a representative, taking a pre-eminent role as spokesman.
This world lauds warmakers, but God says that peacemakers are blessed. John Ritenbaugh explains the beatitude in Matthew 5:9.
Kindness, the fifth fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, goes hand-in-hand with love. It is an active expression of love toward God and fellow man. As we come out of this calloused world, we must develop kindness through the power of God's Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the pressures and conflicts that the church has undergone is part of a larger Zeitgeist (spirit of the time) that has embroiled institutions religious and political institutions worldwide. The mindset reflects (and is a function of) an unseen spirit world under the sway of the prince and power of the air. This Zeitgeist or wisdom of men (evidenced by carnality) could well dominate our lives. We need to be extremely careful about what we allow into our minds, from academia, psychology, politics, and especially from people supposedly speaking for God (false prophets), but having their taproot in the world and Satan the Devil. Any message, true or false, has the capability of producing a faith. Faith in the wrong thing will bring deadly consequences. To counteract the heresies emanating from the spirit of the world, we must have union with Christ (through His Spirit), giving us direct access to God's wisdom.
In the last few years, turmoil and confusion have run amok in the church of God. Many feel they were misled by individuals who taught them doctrines they later came to understand were untrue. Some have yielded to the tendency to become cynical and suspicious of nearly anyone who claims to be a teacher of God's Word. Why all the distrust? Do Christians need a church?
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.
Goats are intelligent creatures, but they are also loners and devious. Mike Ford illustrates thier characteristics and shows how we can apply this understanding to our spiritual lives. Spiritually, we don't want to be goats!
In this sermon for the Days of Unleavened Bread, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God demands that we have an obligation to dress and keep that which is placed in our care, improving what He has given to us. We dare not stand still, but must make considerable effort to grow (2 Peter 3:17-18). The work of the ministry consists of equipping the body to grow and mature in love and unity (Ephesians 4:16). Christian growth takes work and effort, individually borne by every member of the body, involving rigorous self-examination, drill, self-control, self-discipline, and actively overcoming the things which separate us from God and our brethren. God's grace teaches us to actively displace our worldly desires or cravings with Godly cravings and desires for truth and righteousness (Colossians 3:5; Titus 2:11-14).
After warning against literary junk food, John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the dominant emphasis of Matthew, an ex-government official, who concentrated upon the kingly qualities of Jesus as a descendant of the royal house of David, representing the Lion of Judah. Matthew highlights Jesus' authority over the deposed king (Satan), the Kingdom of Heaven (appearing 33 times) and righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that being persistent in prayer does not mean incessant pestering, whining, or cajoling God into action. Luke 11:1-13 purposefully contrasts the generous nature of God with that of a reluctant stranger or a malicious tyrant. Because His timeframe is different from ours, we sometimes feel that we have totally lost control. God always looks at our petitions from the vantage-point of His purpose, sometimes testing our fervency or sincerity, sometimes flatly refusing our requests because they would harm us. We must persevere in prayer, realizing that faith always works toward what it asks for while it waits. God has promised to give us the desires of our heart (Psalms 37:4), provided we cooperate with Him, letting Him work out His purpose in our lives.
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan's modus operandi has always been to use a lie to promote self-satisfaction over obedience to God. Like the Messiah, we must learn that the way to the kingdom is through self-denial rather than self-satisfaction. We are particularly vulnerable to Satan's disinformation when we feel we are not getting what we deserve or are being treated unfairly. In a world we perceive to be unfair, we need to emulate Christ who endured unfair treatment, suffering for righteousness sake all the way to his death, without complaining (I Peter 2:20-21) The major cause for the confusion and division of the Corinthian church (and the greater church of God) was Satan-inspired self-exaltation, finding excuses other than sin not to fellowship. The opposite of love is not so much hate ? but self-centeredness.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that it is the responsibility of each person to govern himself. Otherwise, even the very best government (the government of our Head, Jesus Christ) won't work. Goethe said "the best of all governments is that which teaches us to govern ourselves" Voluntary consent and mutual consent is the way to unity. Christ expects the leader to give, to give, and to give some more. Consequently, the authority in the ministry is a "staff position" given by God, as a gift to the church, for equipping the saints for service and for edifying the body of Christ so that we can all grow up into Christ.
Of all animals, the sheep is the most dependent on its owner for its well-being. From the viewpoint of the sheep, the extraordinary care of the shepherd comes into sharp focus. If sheep are not provided with fresh, flowing water, they will drink from stagnant puddles, contracting diseases. Likewise, if we attempt to drink from sources other than God's Word, we risk spiritual contamination. Sheep left to self-indulgence become cast down (immobile, unable to get up) and must be turned over—set again on the right paths. Similarly, habit-driven humans, because of our self-indulgent constitutions, can also become immobilized both physically and spiritually. Fortunately, our heavenly Father uses various means to exercise us spiritually to keep us from becoming cast down. To safeguard the health of the sheep, the shepherd must keep the flock moving—in paths of righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh, drawing from his own experiences at taking care of sheep and from Philip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, points out that animal metaphors are better understood if one has had real-life experiences with them. Of all the animals, sheep need the most care and are extremely vulnerable to predators, pests, and fear, leading to an extremely dependent and trustful behavior. From the viewpoint of a sheep, the narrator of Psalm 23 expresses gratitude and contentment for the shepherd's watchful care and continuous providence. Occasionally a sheep may not show contentment, "worrying a fence" to look for greener pastures, leading other sheep astray in the process. Shepherds have to deal decisively with this potential hazard. A shepherd realizes that a flock may be made to lie down only if they are free from fear, friction in the flock, pests and insects, and hunger.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:15-20, observes that false teaching tends to produce four different ways of life: (1) Getting people concentrating on externals (rituals and regulations); (2) Concentrating on negativism (no cards or movies); (3) Concentrating on liberalism (sinning that grace may abound); and (4) Divorcing life from reality (going off to a monastery and practicing a form of asceticism). Over the years, these practices have only produced disunity. In order to build sound doctrine, we are obligated to build on the foundation Christ's teaching (the Rock, the spiritual drink, or living words), taking the straight and narrow course rather than the accumulated wisdom of this world. We need to look by faith ahead into the future, listening very carefully (to the truth of God's Word) discerning the spiritual intent, immediately putting this understanding into practice (assimilating it as a part of ourselves) by our reasonable sacrifice- giving ourselves as living sacrifices- building iron clad faith in the process, insuring our spiritual (as well as physical) success. Whatever we build upon will be tested by intense purifying trials. Everyone has trials and temptations, but God will not test us (those God has called out- those who daily nourish themselves on His word) beyond what we can handle, enabling us (through the power of His Holy Spirit) to overcome them, developing extraordinary spiritual stability- like the stable tree in Psalm 1. Like our Elder Brother, we need to assimilate this nourishing word so much that it would become second nature (actually first nature) to us. Unfortunately, the Pharisees with whom Jesus confronted could not assimilate this precious word because it clashed with their traditions and reasoning. Hopefully our own traditions and preconceptions will not allow us to assimilate His Word. If we reject God's truth, we will fall into deception and our hearts will be hardened like Pharaoh's. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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