Ted Bowling, reflecting that God admonishes His People to become peacemakers, marvels that most of the world's leaders are clueless as to what constitutes peacemaking. The prevailing wisdom is that one must impose peace upon others by force—sometimes translated as peace through strength. Six shooters, bombers, and guided missiles have been misnamed "peacemakers." An example of a genuine peacemaker was the Patriarch Isaac, often identified as a type of Christ. When King Abimelech ordered him and his family to move, Isaac trusted God to find his family another home. After painstakingly digging wells at three separate locations, only to find local interlopers forcing them out, Isaac patiently yielded, trusting the Lord to find him better provisions. When King Abimelech had the chutzpah to ask Isaac to sign a non-aggression pact to protect himself from 'Isaac's wrath', the meek patriarch prepared a banquet for these dubious allies. In all his actions, Isaac exemplified going way beyond what is required to be a peacemaker. As God's called-out ones, we are admonished to emulate Jesus Christ and forefather Isaac's example.
Richard Ritenbaugh, comparing the vitriol exhibited between supporters of the current two presidential candidates, makes the case that the acrimony between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1800 was far worse, leading to a bitter estrangement between two of America's Founding Fathers—an estrangement that lasted for ten long, bitter years. After being encouraged by another Founding Father, Benjamin Rush, the two estranged statesmen reluctantly began corresponding with each other, ultimately dying close friends on the same day, July 4, 1826. Jesus Christ placed a high priority on reconciliation, warning us that before we engage God at the altar, we had better make peace with our brother. Jesus also warned us that name-calling, belittling, slander, and undermining reputation is equivalent to murder-a capital offense making one subject to the fires of Gehenna. A dispute over anything should not be allowed to simmer until it leads to a seething grudge or a litigious minefield. In a legal dispute, reconciliation or conciliation may require a great deal of submission and downright groveling, but the outcome is generally better than what a judge would mete out. Likewise, a dispute in the body of Christ is best worked out between the two offended parties, rather than bringing it before the ministry or congregation, a tactic which makes for a great deal of unpleasantness. The Bible gives us three sterling examples of reconciliation among Abraham's offspring, including Isaac's reconciliation with Abimelech, Jacob's reconciliation with Esau, and Joseph's reconciliation with his brothers. The apostle John assures us we cannot claim to love God if we hate our brother, and, if we hate our brother, we are a murderer.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses upon an inspiring incident in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, in which a runner, Derek Redmond, who had previously dropped out of competition because of an injured Achilles tendon, had another setback, a pulled hamstring, causing him to suddenly fall to the ground after having been in a commanding lead. Writhing in pain, with dogged determination, he managed, with some help from his devoted father, to finish the race. His inspiring example provides a spiritual analogy to all of God's called-out ones who must continually battle external obstacles (as well as the inner obstacles of carnal human nature), erecting a formidable barrier of resistance. The elite athlete, not always the one with the superior skills, nevertheless is the one with the gritty persistence to fight on regardless of the obstacles, wanting nothing to do with mediocrity. Persistence is the key attribute, having the attending synonyms endurance, steadfastness, or staying the course. Jesus counseled the value of this trait in the examples of the persistent neighbor asking for a loaf of bread in the middle of the night and the importunate widow who wore out the judge. Isaac provided a wonderful example of this tenacity, as he trusted God, repeatedly moving away from quarrelsome situations, trusting God to provide. Isaac, as a type of Christ, prefigured Jesus' returning to God the Father for sustenance and strength. Similarly, we are to return to the well of God's Spirit if we are to move forward. To develop Godly persistence, we should (1) have a clearly defined goal we desire with all our heart, (2) have a clearly established plan we can work on immediately, (3) make an irrevocable decision to reject all negative suggestions, and (4) accept encouragement and help from those on the same path.
Martin Collins, focusing on the danger of pride of intellect and knowledge, affirms that knowledge of the truth is essential, but it must be God's knowledge, and not a syncretistic mixture of worldly philosophy or mystical Gnostic admixtures. Political correctness, a modern application of Gnosticism, can usher in some unacceptable consequences, such as occurred with the prideful 'tolerance' of incest as practiced in the Corinthian congregation. Like leavening, toleration of one offense would lead to toleration of other offenses. Progressives in American politics shamelessly call evil good and good evil, murdering fetuses in the name of 'women's rights and practicing sodomy in the name of marriage 'equality.' All of these progressive insights emanate from Satan, who has 'transformed' himself as an angel of light. Similarly, ditchism in religion (veering from one extreme or the other, such as overly strict or overly lenient) leads to unpleasant imbalances. Relying "solely" on human intellect is one such ditch when it is isolated from the heart and from practice. Proper knowledge must always be joined to the will of God. A person who is puffed up parades his knowledge either by exhibiting impatience, intolerance, or an obsequious false modesty, marginalizing what they consider to be the weak or uneducated. Some prideful people, caught up in their wealth of knowledge, are rendered totally useless in serving others. Conversely, the love of Christ surpasses all knowledge, putting us into proper humble and lowly perspective; to know and love God is to understand Him. Knowledge of God creates love for God as well as perfecting our relationships with others. The happiest people in the church are those who know His teachings and practice them 24 hours a day, growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord, actively practicing love as motivated by God's Holy Spirit, instilling in us the mind of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh observes that although each of God's festivals depicts increasingly larger numbers of people being drawn to God, the counter pulls emanating from sinful carnal human nature war against the prompts of God's Holy Spirit, producing continual conflict. Choosing between these two opposite poles is something we have to contend with daily. If we choose the spiritual pole, moving toward unity with God, we will become unified with others who similarly strive for these same spiritual goals. Without this spiritual contact, we subject ourselves to the second law of thermodynamics: entropy, chaos, and disorganization, but with God's Holy Spirit, we do not have to succumb. According to Lamentations 2, God scattered Judah for their sins. Likewise, God scattered the Worldwide Church of God (possibly using Satan as His agent) mercifully administering painful chastening for our own safety and protection, putting us in venues where we actively have to love and forbear one another. Pride condemned Satan to a fate of using or manipulating rather than serving. This presumptuous self-centered trait belonging to Hillel (later Satan or adversary) creates disunity and ultimate destruction. Unfortunately, several leaders of church groups have adopted these presumptuous competitive traits, arrogantly and disdainfully looking down on other groups within the greater Church of God, completely antithetical to the behavior of John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ. We must follow the example of Abel, humbly doing things on God's terms, rather than the example of Cain, presumptuously doing things on his own terms. Likewise, when we have nothing acceptable to offer to God (Exodus 23:16, Leviticus 22:25, Joshua 5), we cannot presumptuously make an offering.
Richard Ritenbaugh observes that the self-indulgent, immoral culture of Corinth parallels today's America and the current fractured state of the church. Paul, before he gives the Corinthians a corrective message on factions and party spirit, reminds them that they are sanctified members of Christ's body, which should not be divided by schism. He pleads with them to present a united front, all adhering to the same doctrines. Getting rid of pride and selfish ambition makes attaining unity as genuine Christians very difficult. Ironically, fractures or schisms in the church serve as a litmus test, distinguishing those faithful who really belong to Christ. Our ultimate responsibility is to zig and zag with Christ in faith, and not become deceived or distracted by human reason. A true, godly minister does not draw people to himself, but instead to Jesus Christ and the Father. Not placing Christ at the forefront will lead to carnal-mindedness and retardation of spiritual growth and maturity.
Martin Collins asks what we can do to improve our manners or etiquette. Our manners express our personality, especially as they portray humility, courtesy, or gentleness. The apostle Paul indicts all of us as lacking in courtesy before we were called. Now we must display the work of salvation, involving the etiquette and courtesy shown in the behavior of our Savior. Before our calling we did not possess these traits. Afterward, we go through a process of sanctification to develop the fruit of God's Holy Spirit and go on to perfection. Good manners, etiquette, and character may be improved by 1) trying to understand the other person's point of view, 2) paying attention in the little things, 3) making sure we keep our commitments, 4) clarifying what our expectations are, 5) always showing personal integrity, 6) apologizing for failing to keep our word or letting another person down, 7) and showing unconditional love.
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.
Much has been said and written about leadership in the church in the past several years. David Maas writes that godly leadership is an outworking of the virtue of meekness.
No government—not even God's—can work without self-control. As a fruit of God's Spirit, this virtue may be the single hardest to master over the course of a lifetime, yet we need it to do our parts in God's Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that works are not the cause of salvation, but instead are the effect of God's creative efforts at bringing us into His image—a new creation. We are created in Christ Jesus, given a tiny spark of His nature from which to draw spiritual nourishment and receive our power to act. In this context, works are nothing more than our puny efforts to respond to God's love by voluntarily living like God does. The perfect tense of the verb 'saved' in Ephesians 2:8 (denoting an action started in the past and continuing in the present) does not guarantee that we will always remain in that state, but only if we continue to yield to God's shaping power, mortifying our human nature, and conforming to His image.
Observing that more controversy exists about the counting of Pentecost than for any of the holy days, John Ritenbaugh suggests the confusion may be a function of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19). Confusion, separation, and division have been our legacy since the Garden of Eden. The major reason for Christ's ministry was to put an end to the quarreling and division, enabling us to be one with the Father and with each other. Three of God's festivals (Passover, Atonement, and Pentecost) have a direct bearing on the principle of unity. As we individually strive to become unified with God, believing in His authority and His doctrines, we will ultimately become unified, in one accord, with our brethren. It is our individual responsibility, enabled by God's Holy Spirit, to follow those things that were revealed by God through His apostles, keeping God's Commandments, rather than following our own inclinations or private agenda.
Focusing upon the rising tide of societal incivility, Richard Ritenbaugh warns that discourtesy and ugly in-your-face attitudes (fruits of the flesh) have also manifested themselves in the greater church of God. These disgusting works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) are exactly the opposite of what God expects of us- the opposite of Agape love. Good manners (minor morals or the small change of virtue) are the fundamentals of love for others and love for God. Unfortunately, good manners and courtesy do not come naturally, but have to be learned and continually practiced. The common denominator of etiquette is to esteem others more and making ourselves less. When we show courtesy to others, we imitate God.
Have you ever considered what it will be like right after Christ returns? What will you do, as a king, to help and govern the people placed under you? Believe it or not, you are already developing those skills!
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).
John Ritenbaugh insists that the hallmark of true Christian character is humility, which comes about only when one sees himself in proper comparison to God. Then he can see himself in proper comparison to other men. The opposite of humility—pride, arrogance, and an inordinate self-esteem—leads us to put down, scorn, or make perverted comparisons between others and ourselves. Because a pride-filled person feels overlooked or his accomplishments undervalued, harboring pride leads to depression, frustration, self-centeredness, self-pity, and rebellion, totally eliminating God from the picture. What makes pride so dangerous is that even though we instantaneously see it in others, we seldom detect it in ourselves. God scorns the proud, but accepts the lowly.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that confusion or lack of peace is the clear fruit of Satan's involvement. It is nearly impossible for righteousness to be produced in an environment of instability and disharmony brought about by selfish ambition, competition, and bitter envy. In confronting our wily adversary, we must maintain constant vigilance, resisting unlawful desires, not allowing Satan to have a bridgehead in our emotions. Satan consistently works on our fear of being denied some form of pleasure. If we stay loyal to God, resisting Satan as Job did, Satan's power over us will be broken. Resistance must begin in the mind and thought processes where demonic influences try to persuade us to entertain ideas exalting ourselves over the truth or knowledge of God.