John Reiss: The author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 13:1, "Let brotherly love continue." Brotherly love should be a significant part of a Christian's life, and the Bible instructs us how we can show this love for one another.
Martin Collins, examining the life of Gideon in Judges 7 and 8, highlights three principles regarding faith: (1) God tests our faith, (2) God encourages our faith, and (3) God honors our faith. To be sure, faith that is untested is not faith at all. God wants to see whether our faith is real or counterfeit. As we exercise our faith, God strengthens it, making it reflex-like. In the endeavor of conquering the Midianites, God clearly demonstrated to Gideon, through His systematically whittling his army from 30,000 to 10,000 to 300, that His providence, and not Gideon's might, would bring the victory. The greater church of God could profit from the knowledge that size, budget, or charismatic leadership has little to do with the impact of the Gospel. Like many of us, Gideon required many assurances from God to realize that He would accompany him in battle. Once Gideon became convinced that God would do what He said He would, his faith and boldness increased exponentially. The stratagem with the pitchers, torches, and the shout, "the sword of the Lord," upended the vastly larger enemy forces which Gideon routed with ease. As God gave Gideon the victory, He also gave Gideon some new tests to his newly acquired leadership, some of which Gideon passed with flying colors, such as his diplomacy with the Ephraimites. He also rightly refused the title of king, reminding Israel that the Lord was their real king. Gideon faltered somewhat in his final years, assuming the lifestyle of royalty, presumptuously fashioning the spoils of victory into an ephod, thereby unwittingly encouraging Israel to return to her idolatrous ways. What the Midianites could not accomplish by swords, Satan accomplished by earrings.
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?
Kim Myers, reflecting on Amos’s prophecy to ancient Israel in Amos 5:11, castigating the leaders for their shabby treatment to the poor and destitute in society, draws a parallel to America’s leaders today, allowing or creating situations in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, leading to record numbers of our citizenry succumbing to homelessness, poverty, and drug addiction. Like ancient Israel, modern Israel (including America) takes advantage of the poor, using the illegal immigration tidal wave for profit and political power. When a nation loses its morals, people feel free to take advantage of one another, especially the poor. God hates governments which take advantage of the poor, a segment of the population people find easy to take advantage of because they are trusting, helpless, and dependent. In God’s Church, we also have poor, meek, and handicapped individuals. We are mandated to love the brethren, treating them as we would a blood relative. All of us could improve our sensitivity to people’s needs, especially when we have the financial means at the Feast of Tabernacles, sharing our time, treasure, and compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. We do not have to be wealthy to be hospitable, but we should not be stingy or cheap when we have the means to serve one another. We have a mandate from Almighty God to let brotherly love continue through our hospitality and generosity.
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.
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 examines the life and accomplishments of perhaps the most under-appreciated patriarch in scripture. Having lived longer than any of the other noted patriarchs, Isaac's longevity provides a clue about God's favor toward him. The etymology of his given name ("laughter") suggests his optimistic happy disposition, someone not afflicted by fear and doubt. As Abraham serves as a type of God the Father, Isaac serves as a type of Christ. In contrast to sons of great, overshadowing men (who often turn out to be disappointments) Isaac did not bring disgrace to his father's name, but actually brought honor and respect to his father. In the middle of a famine, Isaac also trusted and feared God in the face of apparent dwindling prosperity, in the face of intense peer pressure, refusing to go to the world for his needs. Isaac's source of strength was his fear, respect, and submission to both his physical and Spiritual Father. Isaac was gentle and peace-seeking, avoiding conflict and quarrel (even when his own power and strength exceeded that of his adversaries), resembling the temperament of Jesus Christ.
Do we have what it takes to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ? Do any of us know how an ambassador should behave? David Maas uses his experiences with ambassadors to provide some insight.
The Parable of the Great Supper is Jesus' response to a fellow dinner guest exclaiming, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" In the parable, Jesus exposes and corrects the ignorance of those who, in their pride, misjudge their true moral condition.
The peace offering teaches many things, but one of its main symbols is fellowship. John Ritenbaugh explains that our communion with the Father and the Son obligates us to pursue peace, follow the example of Christ, and be pure.
Within this parable Christ shows the principle of reciprocity. Just as we have been forgiven a huge, unpayable debt, so must we extend forgiveness to those who owe us, showing that we appreciate what has been done for us.
The Bible frequently uses analogies from physical life to explain spiritual principles. Food and eating are no exceptions. In fact, there are over 700 references to eating in Scripture. The lessons we can learn from them must be important!
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon several abuses of one of God's gifts to mankind — eating and drinking. While drunkenness and gluttony indicate self-centeredness, lack of discipline, often leading to poverty and ill health, moderation in all things is the way to glorify God in our bodies. God's called out ones must exercise moderation in their approach to eating of food, imbibing of alcohol, and excesses of anything in which there might be a possibility of borderline conduct. God has provided the blessing of (1) family union, (2) food and drink, (3) clothing, and (4) work with the condition that we exercise responsible stewardship over these gifts practicing moderation in all things.
John Ritenbaugh points out 700 references to the act of eating, all providing contexts or vehicles of serious spiritual instruction. Banquets invariably provide springboards for instruction, from Abraham's entertaining of angels, to Joseph's banquet for his brothers, to Esther's banquet for Haman to Belshazzar's feast featuring the handwriting on the wall to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Banquets- eating or refraining from eating- not only display God's faithful provisions and human righteousness, but eating (or refraining from eating) displays tests of a person's morality such as Adam and Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit, the sign of keeping the covenant (Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14) and Christ's refusal to be tempted by food (Matthew 4). Eating reminds us that God's provision and human need also apply on a spiritual level.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
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.
Abraham's example has taught us that in our attempt at living by faith, we do not have a smooth transition from begettal to maturity, but the annoying or pesky problems we deal with are gradually removed (gradually disconnected) or conquered by faith and our relationship with God. God removes us from our problems in an unraveling process, sometimes taking us backwards through the consequences of the bad habits we have accumulated, educating us to examine and analyze the process that produced the sin in the first place. Character cannot be created by fiat, but must be created in a climate of free moral agency, learning the consequences of our mistakes (as had Abraham, Sarah, and Lot) as well as the consequences of our right behavior. From Lot's example, we learn not to blend or syncretize God's ways with the world's ways.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that since a nation is, for the most part, a family grown large, respect for the fifth commandment constitutes the basis for all good government. The family provides the venue for someone to learn to be hospitable and to make sacrifices for one another, learning the rudiments of community relations. For the child, parents stand in the place of God in the family structure, as the child's creator, provider, and teacher. Successful parenting involves sacrifice and intense work. The quality of a child's relationship with his parent (as well as the quality of parenting) determines his relationship to the community as well as to God. Compliance to the fifth commandment brings about the built-in, promised blessing of a long quality life. Our obligation to honor and to take responsibility for the care for our parents (as well as those more elderly than we are) never ends.
John Ritenbaugh explores the connection between feelings or emotions (specifically controlling temper) and health, suggesting that the scriptures are seemingly light years ahead of scientific inquiry. Also the inextricable connection between ceremonial sacrifices and new moons preclude any current obligations to religiously observe new moons. At the beginning of Acts 16, we notice that Paul, by circumcising Timothy, demonstrates a reluctance to flaunt his religious liberty, preferring instead to exercise cautious conservative expediency. The first European convert to Christianity was Lydia, a generous, hospitable woman. The beating and false imprisonment of Paul and Silas (for casting out a demon- upsetting local customs) followed by their miraculous release (when an earthquake shook the prison to its foundations) brought about several positive outcomes: (1) The conversion of the bewildered jailer and his family, (2) Protection for local converts to Christianity,(3) Protection for future evangelists coming through the region, and (4)Correction of local authorities for rushing to judgment, having imprisoned a Roman citizen (a punishable offense in the Roman colony of Philippi). This dramatic episode underscores God's proclivity for turning something initially evil into something good in the long run.
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
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