Richard Ritenbaugh, while acknowledging that America's relationship with slavery has indeed been checkered, with chattel slaves and indentured servants contributing to the prosperity of earlier times, counters the 'Progressivist' claim that America invented slavery and historically practiced the most tyrannical abuses in the world. In point of fact, every ethnic group has both practiced slavery and has been victims of slavery. Israelites have been slaves multiple times, to the Egyptians, Canaanites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans. A culture of slavery pervaded life in the early Christian church , forcing Paul to pen instructions accommodating this practice in the context of love. As well, slavery was a part of the culture of ancient Israel, where God codified as part of His Law humane regulations, guaranteeing liberation of Israelite slaves after six years of service and the Jubilee. These regulations obligated masters to make provisions ensuring their slaves' successful transition to freedom. Contrasting the harsh treatment of slaves by some American slaveowners, God's treatment of us as slaves of righteousness is mild, with Christ's promise that His yoke is easy. Christ, having purchased us from a prior slave owner who was cruel, demands only a lifetime of reasonable service to our brethren with the same rigor as Christ has served us. God has given us a variety of talents and responsibilities to facilitate our serving one another in a spirit of humility, with none exalting himself above another. When we fulfill all the conditions for Christian behavior outlined in I Corinthians 12 and 13, we are still unprofitable servants unless we learn to forgive and meld in love (that is, in sincerity), compassion, and humility with our siblings in the God family.
Bill Onisick, focusing on the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, which describes two highly productive servants and one wicked, unproductive servant, observes that the term talent has generalized (metaphorically) from a weight of precious metal to the abilities, gifts, and skills a person possesses. God, through His generous granting of spiritual gifts, has entrusted a great deal of treasure to us. God expects a return on the investment He has placed in us. Doing nothing with our abilities is a grievous abuse of this trust. What God has given us, we must use for His glory and the edification of our brethren. Building the church of God takes collective work; everybody has a part to play. Neglect is tantamount to blatant destruction. Our bodies, which belong to God, can heal themselves if we take care of them, giving them enough exercise, food, and rest. If we bury the even the smallest of our talents, God will take it away. When Jesus comes, will He see a profit from the ultimate investment He made for us?
Martin Collins, reminding us that the Days of Unleavened Bread dramatize the difficulty of our perpetual lifelong struggle to extricate ourselves from the bondage of sin, points out that the despicable institution of human slavery has been perpetually with us, and is still practiced today around the world, whether we speak of sex slaves, sweat shops, or cultural caste systems. Consequently, there are 30 million people living in slavery around the world, with 14 million slaves living in India, and an estimated 60,000 slaves in the United States today. In theApostle Paul's time, 60 million slaves lived in the Roman Empire, with strict laws enforced in order to discourage revolt. Runaway slaves were branded with an "F-U-G" on their forehead, becoming the etymology of the word "fugitive." Although Paul was powerless to attack the system of slavery, he tried to neutralize its evil within the church, advocating that slave owners relinquish the owner-property relationship to a brother-brother relationship. Paul appealed to Philemon to develop this kind of relationship after his slave Onesimus ran away, stealing his money, running to Rome to assist Paul during his imprisonment. Paul wrote a humble, brotherly, diplomatic letter to his old friend Philemon, offering to pay a substitutionary debt for Onesimus if he would treat him as if he were Paul himself. Apparently, Philemon obliged, and the once lowly slave Onesimus evidently became a profitable bishop in his later life, paying back Paul's and Philemon's trust, demonstrating generosity and Christian hospitality. We learn from Onesimus that the Christian is not to run away from his past, but instead to rise above it, making overcoming more of a conquest than an escape. Like Paul's assumption of Onesimus' debt, Christ took our sins on His account and put His righteousness on our account. As an heir with Christ, our bondage is only temporary until we are resurrected as family members of the God Family.
James Beaubelle, insisting that there is nothing passive in the way God deals with His people and His creation, asserts that the God of the Bible was and is actively involved in the lives of His people with the expectation that they become active also. The command to love our God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves cannot be carried out passively. It requires an active response on our part in living a life that strives towards righteousness within a relationship with God to build up a holy character that resembles our Elder Brother Jesus Christ—a character that must be developed over a lifetime preparing for service in God's Kingdom. Our entire history we can consider as the extension of God's compassion and mercy for our father Abraham, freed us from bondage of service to sin (symbolized by Egypt) into a covenant of voluntary service to God. The Egypt we encounter today is manifest in the form of bondage to our own human nature and bondage to the lures of the world. We are liberated from this bondage to participate in voluntary servitude to our God, becoming sons that serve God and do His will. We are given the motivation to serve God by the gift of the Holy Spirit and the attractiveness of the Father and Son, who are hard to resist; we do not want to disappoint them but want to please them. By imitating our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, though we cannot forgive other peoples'sins, but we can have compassion on them, rendering concrete acts of service to them like the Good Samaritan, who in contrast to the cruelty of the robbers and the cold indifference of the religious leaders, ministered to the poor victim's needs and extended his service to him by unselfishly hiring the innkeeper to care for him. As we, motivated by compassion, render service to the hurting and needy, we also serve Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. Our compassion for the hurts of others must be turned into concrete deeds of service to God and our fellow man.
In this Parable, Jesus emphasizes the kind of faith His disciples need to endure trials and obey His commands. Martin Collins explains that the only way for a Christian to obtain increased faith is to manifest steadfast, persevering obedience grounded in humility with the help of God's Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh focusing upon the topic of camouflage, concealment, or deception, warns that Satan, the grand master of deception, has provided what appear to be plausible alternatives to Christ's sacrifice for salvation. We are saved through a combination of the sinless life of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, and His intercessory work as our High Priest. Some believable counterfeits, which (in many people's minds) compete for Christ's sacrifice and His intercessory priestly work are: (1) service in behalf of the brethren, (2) making a positive change or "turning over a new leaf," (3) right thinking, (4) denying ourselves (asceticism), and (5) sacrifice (even the supreme sacrifice). Though they are required of us, they do not save us. Salvation is the work of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that humility is not an obsequious demonstration of low self esteem, but instead it is a proper estimate of our relationship to God, which is a choice to act and behave as a servant or slave. If we would follow Christ's example of humility, we would have automatic unity. We need to have both the inclination and the follow-through act of humility and lowliness of mind. We have to cultivate the same attitude as our Elder Brother as He esteemed others above Himself. Faith, praise, gratitude, thanksgiving, and humility all work together at building character. Perseverance in prayer and faithfulness causes our faith to increase and rescues us from pernicious worldliness.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that being poor in spirit (a precursor to humility) is a necessary, foundational spiritual state one must have to qualify for God's Kingdom. As the polar opposite of pride, poor in spirit describes a condition of being acutely aware of ones dependency and unworthiness. Because of this deep inner felt need and want, those who are poor in spirit are primed to receive and apply the Gospel's instruction to their lives. Poor in spirit (not a product of human nature) does not equate with physical poverty (there is often much pride in indigence), but instead a spiritual state of felt need in which one renounces his smug self-sufficiency, recognizing his intense dependency upon God for all things.
The faith of God's people has been severely tested in recent years. We need to be working on increasing our faith and ridding our lives of attitudes that block faith. Then we can begin to be profitable servants.
In this message, John Ritenbaugh, using the parable of Luke 11:24-28, admonishes that being cleaned up (or purged of leaven) is only the beginning of the growth process. To be made clean only prepares us for producing fruit. God's concern is for us to mature spiritually. If we stand still (resting on the laurels of our justification), the dark forces are going to pull us backwards. Uselessness invites disaster. We have to get away from the negative fixation of not doing and begin concentrating on doing. The consequences of not bearing fruit are graphically described in John 15:6. God's purpose, once we are cleaned, is to produce growth in us.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that if one does not give up control to God (does not submit to Him), then one is never going to live the Government of God; and one will never be able to understand it. The church is neither an institution nor a corporation, but a living organism- a body connected to the Head (Jesus Christ). The body exists and functions by reason of its vital union to the living Jesus Christ. Church government is family government, with each member submitting to one another (Ephesians 5:21). The ministry's authority consists of teaching, edifying, and equipping the members for sainthood, but not to wield dictatorial power over their lives
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