Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his series on Christ's letters to the seven Churches of Revelation, reminds us that we should understand them as vital messages to us rather than regard them as prophetic indictments of congregations outside our own. Christ intended that we personally apply the commendations, warnings, and exhortations in each of these letters. All seven letters share a common template: (1) a salutation to an addressee (which we can apply to ourselves), (2) descriptions of Christ walking among the lampstands, (3) an evaluation of the church's works, (4) a verdict on the church's current condition, (5) a command to do something about remedying any deficit, (6) an exhortation to repent, and (7) a description of the reward one will receive for acting on this exhortation. The congregation at cosmopolitan and prosperous Ephesus was at the epicenter of idolatrous Dianna worship; its members battled various pagan heresies continually. Christ commends them for their warrior-like commitment to battle the Nicolaitans (church tyrants), On the other hand, their "hardened soldier" mentality had taken its toll, as, having left their first love, they were in danger of forfeiting their candlestick. These crusty old spiritual warriors had fulfilled their battle missions but had replaced love with an obsession to fight for doctrinal purity. Christ admonishes the Ephesians and to shake off callousness and return to the innocence of their parents Adam and Eve before they yielded to sin. The reward presented to them was the same offered to Adam and Eve—the fruit of the Tree of Life.
Richard Ritenbaugh provides introductory information to his ensuing series on the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3. Letter-writing, as a means of communication, became highly formalized in the Greco-Roman world. The Scriptures contain a large number of letters, the epistle being the dominant literary form in the New Testament. The "Seven Letters" are an example of letters embedded in a larger book. Christ has written these letters to all the members of His Body, that is, to individuals having the Holy Spirit and therefore capable of understanding their highly symbolic language. God intends the book of Revelation to be a disclosure of vital information, warning us to prepare for those things that will occur with lightning speed. God admonishes the members of Christ's body to read and keep the spiritual lessons, not just to "figure out" prophecies. The seven churches represent the composite church of God in its multiple personalities, as well as each individual God has called-out. The book's dramatic introduction, emphasizing the sovereignty of our High Priest and His Father, projects us into the Day of the Lord and offers vital information as to how to endure that horrendous time. Christ, standing in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (the church of God) rules and teaches the church. The seven angels (Greek: angelos, or "messenger") could apply to spiritual guardians, physical leaders, or even individual church member as we also serve as messengers of the Way.
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us of the "fake news" in the First Century that Christians were cannibals, atheists and unpatriotic. This view was fact-based, but the facts were contextually contorted by detractors. The Romans had their own version of a media which twists facts through rumor and innuendo. Every culture is prone to interpret facts erroneously—indeed, illogically—and to pass those misshapen interpretations along through various sorts of "whisper campaigns." Today, social media provide a technically advanced conduit for character-assassination. The apostle James recognizes how the tongue, driven by carnal nature, can metaphorically start a dangerous fire. James warns everyone that gossip, tale-bearing and being a busy-body is just as damnable in God's eyes as first-degree murder. Listening to gossip is just as serious an offence as being an accessory to murder. Shockingly, we have a big chunk of the hostile world in our mouth, a potentially deadly three-inch appendage capable of slaying a six-foot human being. When we slander another human being in a whisper campaign, we are diligently performing Satan's work. The prohibition against talebearing occupies a prominent location in the Holiness Code. If we have been guilty of talebearing and gossip—as all have been, we must: 1) ask for God to forgive us, and 2) ask Him to help us present our tongues as instruments of righteousness to God, for healing and edifying, rather than destroying, people.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the practice of "defriending" (or "unfriending") on Facebook, contrasts this practice with Christ's love for His called-out ones, a friending with the condition that godly fruit is born. When Paul challenged the Roman congregation to produce godly fruit, he was not looking for new converts, but evidence of the spiritual fruit of God's character. Jesus Christ became like us so that we could become like Him. The fruit Jesus asked His disciples to bear is designed to glorify the Father, to demonstrate love by obedience to His Commandments, and to increase the believer's joy, a by-product of sincere obedience. God admonishes us to not only bear fruit, but to bear more fruit through pruning. God is looking for a great deal of fruit as we yield to Him in order to exceed our self-imposed limitations, as well as for enduring fruit, in contrast to futile worldly projects which are subject to decay. As we bear godly fruit, the quality of our friendship with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and our brethren will increase exponentially as we make activities like intercessory prayer, sacrifice, hospitality, and charity a perpetual part of our spiritual repertoire.
Ryan McClure, referring to the aggressive, offensive, and sometimes violent interaction between internet users called flaming, asks if we are flamers, or if are we pursuing righteousness in our speech and communication. It is important how we interact with our brethren and others. We can look to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who chose His words carefully. We do not want to spark flames with our opinions. When we speak, we should speak truth only, in kindness and gentleness.
Whether we were born yesterday, born with a silver spoon in our mouth, or born and raised a stick in the mud, we hear and most likely use clichés a million times a day. ...
We live in a youth-oriented culture. Once a person grays and wrinkles, he is essentially pushed to the margins of society, but this should not happen in the church of God! The elderly have a great deal to offer—if we will only pay attention.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: A consistent criticism of the Bush administration has been that it is arrogant in its dealings with the media, the Democrat opposition, and even with its own allies in Congress. ...
Human history proves that individuals quickly absorb the course of the world, losing their innocence and becoming self-centered and deceived like everybody else. John Ritenbaugh contends that Christians must continue to fight against these anti-God attitudes long after their calling to deepen and strengthen their relationships with God.
Humanity finds itself inhabiting a world that is the place of restraint for untold numbers of malevolent spirits, all of whom hate God and desire to destroy mankind. John Ritenbaugh reiterates that our human nature reflects these spirits' attitudes, and the only way to overcome it is through God's creating a new heart in us by His Spirit.
Everything we can know is communicated to us in some form. Usually, we are able to identify the sources of these communications through our senses. Yet, as John Ritenbaugh explains, we are also open to invisible communication from the spirit world—communication designed to conform us to "the course of this world."
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that when human beings are born, they are a blank slate with a slight inclination toward self-centeredness. But after living in this world, we become incrementally influenced by both evil spiritual influences and worldly influences. The Apostle Paul describes the gravity of these contrary pulls in Romans 7. Our carnal nature—-the sensual fleshly pulls—unfortunately will pursue us right to our very grave. God commands us to come out of Babylon, giving us spiritual tools and resources to do so, including faith, vision, hope, and love. The media through which these will be supplied are the relationships we have with the Father and the Son. Co-existence with sin is absolutely out of question in the life of a Christian; there is no middle ground. In regard to fornication with the world, God says, "save yourself for our marriage." Sin has an addictive quality incrementally hardening our hearts. Knowing God is the key to eternal life. As communication with God increases, communication with the world must decrease. We, like the Apostle Paul, must follow God's directions and do exactly what we are told, submitting and yielding totally to His will. The only thing that Babylon can communicate to us is sin; we must meticulously extricate ourselves from the world, and continue in the process of communicating with God until we are totally conformed to His image. Everything depends upon who we communicate with through prayer, Bible Study, and meditation.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that we are highly susceptible to negative attitudes from satanic spirit sources. As God and angels are spirit forces, so Satan and his demons are both invisible and immaterial. Words are the medium through which spiritual concepts become lodged in our cerebral cortex. Percepts become concepts through the means of words. Spirit is power and yet there is nothing material there. When spirits (good or bad) communicate with us, thought transfer takes place. Ahab was influenced by a lying spirit and Peter was influenced directly inspired by Satan the Devil. All of us are influenced by the culture of the world, guided and inspired by the prince of the power of the air. Satan has deceived the whole world—including us.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Satan's great rebellion when he rallied one-third of the angels against the government of God. They were cast down to the earth, where they have since held a beachhead of operations, even though the venue has been downgraded from a headquarters to a prison. Though these demons share the habitation with us, they are greatly restrained. Ultimately the demonic powers will be unleashed again. As an indication of potential problems in the future, we have experienced a number of seemingly insoluble relationship problems. Some of the demons ability to communicate with mankind has been opened up to them. The battles are likely to be psychological and spiritual. Cities are places of concentrated evil. Air is that medium through which most media travels, including radio and television—and spirit in general. Experimenter Emoto discovered that negative attitudes can distort the molecular structure of water. The demons who already inhabit the earth look upon us as interlopers. We need to monitor our thought impulses, lest we might be bothered by demons. Trench and Bengel suggest that the cosmos, the spirit of the world or the zeitgeist entraps us into carnal and human nature- moving us along into aberrant behavior.
David C. Grabbe: Is the globalist dream fading? Forces have long been at work to unite the world—economically, militarily, religiously, educationally, technologically, and governmentally. ...
At God's command, the white horse and its rider gallop over the earth 'conquering and to conquer.' Richard Ritenbaugh analyzes the symbolism of this horseman, a precursor of the destruction that is wrought by its fellows.
Remember "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me"? In most cases, this is a lie. The hurtful words that we speak can create scars that last longer than any physical scar that sticks and stones may cause. Christians need to learn to harness the power of the tongue.
We tend to take our friendships for granted, but they are important parts of our Christian lives. David Maas explains how we should cultivate and appreciate our friendships, for they are a necessary tool in growing in godliness.
Much of a Christian's judgment will be based on his interactions with people—many different kinds of people. Enter tact and diplomacy, two necessary tools in the task of getting along. We need to use them like seasoned diplomats.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that Old Testament activities picture New Testament realities, far from done away, but raised or elevated to their spiritual intent. As a parallel to the Aaronic priesthood, the church has been chosen as a royal and holy priesthood (in training) offering up spiritual sacrifices and proclaiming praises of God (I Peter 2:5,9). Paul insists that our sacrifices (reasonable service) should extend to everything we do in life (Romans 12:2), including prayer, study, meditation, as well as sharing goods and experiences (Hebrews 13:15-16).
Using the analogy of Maestro Arturo Toscanini's ability to anticipate mistakes or sense when something was amiss, Martin Collins examines the vital subject of discernment— both physical and spiritual. Human discernment, according to Dr. N. Scott Peck, can be developed and exercised, triggering early warning systems with the reactions of revulsion and confusion when confronted by the presence of evil. Discernment can be developed by paying close attention to a person's vocabulary, his tone of voice, laughter, and body language. True spiritual discernment is a gift from God imparted through His Holy Spirit, enabling us to judge between good and evil, comparing things in life with God's word to see whether it matches God's standard. Like human discernment, spiritual discernment must be exercised by daily use until it becomes a habit. (Hebrews 5:14)
James' exhortation about the use of our tongues seems to stop with James 3:12. However, the rest of the chapter provides additional wisdom on controlling our speech.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the voice, perhaps more than the fingerprints, makes an individual unique, articulating the depths of emotion. The voice of God, whether expressed through thunder, events of His providence, handiwork of creation, or the preaching of His truth by His ministers, has a unique quality about it, a ring of authenticity, making it recognizable to His called out ones as a shepherd's voice is to the flock. The Apostle Paul affirms that faith comes from hearing the voice of God- spoken through a duly ordained messenger of God. God alone designates the messenger who bears His message.
Continuing with the definition of spirit, John Ritenbaugh explains that the preposition 'in'—as in the expressions 'in Christ,' 'in the church,' 'in you," or 'in the spirit'—refer not to literal physical dimensions, but instead our 'concern with' or 'involvement with' something. As being 'in love' or 'in the mood' require no physical location, or having family characteristics requires no family members dwelling literally in us, so Christ in us (Romans 8:10), His Spirit dwelling in us (Romans 8:11), or dwelling in the the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:27) does not require a third person of the trinity but instead refers to absorbing God's characteristics through His Spirit, transmitted chiefly through life-giving words (John 6:63).
Sherly Togans, Jr., a postal worker, encourages everyone not to despair during this time of scattering. We can indeed fellowship—all we need is a pen, paper, envelopes and stamps!
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Abraham's example of going to war. Even though God does not glorify war, there are spiritual parallels we can learn from it, including discipline and self-sacrifice. Abraham was willing to lay down his life to rescue his nephew Lot. His sacrifice shows us what kind of effort and sacrifice is needed to wage spiritual war, getting the Gospel out despite the militant resistance of Satan and his demons. They are masters of keeping us off balance, keeping the pressure on us, dogging our heels, trying to make us miss the mark, and preventing us from rescuing others held captive. Anyone involved in the work of God is in a spiritual war, often experiencing enervation and temptation to compromise. God provides faith and energy in those occasions to overcome and endure.