When Jesus declared His purpose to the Jews in Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19), the theme of His comments focused on liberty so that humanity can be reconciled and at-one with God. Austin Del Castillo posits that we human beings tend to work at cross-purposes to God, imprisoning ourselves and others in our adversarial relationships. The key to our cell is true forgiveness, for it is only through this means that we will be reconciled to God and to each other.
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 reflects on two recent news items in which individuals foolishly initiated altercations with police and lost their lives in the process. As a matter of common sense, it seems the height of idiocy to challenge constituted authority. Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 8:17 that we are not privy to God's operations under the sun, but we must nevertheless leave room for God's operations, realizing that He has the prerogative to impose both blessings and calamity, the latter as a response to man's disobedience. God wants us to witness difficulties and the natural consequences of sin. In these difficult times, we need to be mindful that God is carefully watching us. As we yield to God, and apply godly wisdom, analyzing, calculating, observing, etc., our knowledge increases and we add an extra dimension of character as we morph into God's offspring. One of the difficult lessons we must process is that God backs up constituted authority, regardless of the governmental structures that placed it into office. We must realize that whether we are dealing with federal representatives, city council members, the policeman on the beat, our employer, our teachers, or our parents, we owe them the same deference and respect we would give to God. The human family was given by God as the building blocks of all governmental structures. As the beginning of wisdom is fear of Almighty God, we humans learn to fear, giving deference and respect to our parents, and then transfer this deference to civil government and other governmental structures of society. We must continually remember that we are strangers, pilgrims, and sojourners in an alien land. Even if we consider ourselves ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom, our latitude to participate in the governmental structures in this world has been greatly restricted. Nevertheless, we are obligated to render respect, deference, and honor to constituted authority as though we rendered it to God.
Austin Del Castillo maintains that the reason we are here is to learn our part in God's plan to reconcile the whole of mankind to Himself. We need to get to know God in order that we feel like Him, think like Him, and act like Him. Without Jesus Christ's atonement, we would be part of the walking dead. God forgives us more than once a day, renouncing His anger and absolving us from a payment of debt. In the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, we must compare ourselves to the servant who was forgiven 10,000 talents (approximately 200 million dollars), a debt far higher than anyone will ever owe to us. We are fellow incarcerated prisoners, both beholden to God through the very expensive sacrifice of Christ's blood. We are expected to forgive others as God has forgiven us. In Jesus' prayer the night of the Passover, He wasn't just acknowledging that He and the Father are one; He is also expressing the desire that we, His church (and eventually, all of mankind) also be one with them. Forgiveness is something we, like our Heavenly Father and Elder Brother, dispense daily. Lewis B. Smedes, Professor of theology at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA states, "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." Forgiving and being forgiven are part of being a family, something that is not forced or coerced, but given freely from the heart. We cannot badger someone into forgiving us, otherwise it is not felt. If we set our minds to never forgive someone even if he is impossibly obnoxious, it erodes our compassion and tenderness, possibly keeping us from entering God's Kingdom. If someone asks us to forgive him, we have the power to dramatically change the world for good.
David Grabbe, focusing on the behavior censured by the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 11, admonishes that we must properly discern the Lord's Body, not taking the Passover in an unworthy manner. The Body, in this context, refers not only to the literal body of Christ, which was tortured and beaten for sins we have committed, but also to the body of believers of which we are a part, consisting of our Heavenly Father, our Elder Brother, and our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. The bread and wine symbolically binds us together in one fellowship; what we partake of is what we become: the Body of Christ. We are to remember that Jesus Christ saw value in us, in our brethren, and even in the people that we do not yet like, to pay the price for all of our sins.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that the world's food supply has been increasingly contaminated by genetic modification, maintains that any attempt to seek a physical solution is impossible. Consequently, no one should ever permit himself to be in the position of condescending to others who are unable to purchase safe, organic foods. The Biblical proscriptions on food only apply to unclean 'foods' or clean foods offered to idols. The concern on the food issues should always be about protecting the conscience of the other person, especially the one with a weak conscience. The doubtful things do not concern unclean 'foods,' but clean foods offered to idols. What men are doing to our foods (i.e. GMO processed) does not cause a quick death. God provides protection if we trust Him to cleanse our foods.
Jesus' miracle involving Peter finding a coin in a fish's mouth, enough to pay the Temple tax for both men, is often overlooked. Martin Collins explains the biblical background of the Temple tax, as well as Christ's awesome display of prescience, power, and control in performing this miracle.
Through His sinless life and vicarious death, Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled all of the instructions in the Old Covenant regarding sacrifices and offerings. ...
As much as we wish our church congregations could get along peacefully, Jesus tells us that, sadly, offenses must come (Luke 17:1). Comparing our congregations to islands, this article explains our Savior's instructions about dealing with offenses, enabling church members to feel united and secure on their "islands" amidst a sometimes tumultuous world.
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount contains a concise explanation of what it takes to be a Christian. John Reid puts the spotlight on Matthew 5:38-42, explaining the spiritual principles behind the 'above and beyond' attitude.
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 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.
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.
Offenses and sins against us are unfortunately common. Jesus teaches us how to deal with them in this parable, focusing on our attitude of forgiveness because of being forgiven ourselves.
These two parables are linked because they are the answers to the disciples' question, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Jesus' answer explains the value He places on those who follow Him.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the mark of the beast, warning that because we have been immersed in Satan's system (Ephesians 2:1-2), we already have the mark branded into our minds and behavior (Romans 8:7). Our concern after our calling is to, with the help of God's Holy Spirit, overcome and get rid of that foul spirit's enslaving hold on us. Anger and hostility, driven by self-centered competitive pride constitute Satan's family characteristics, his spiritual mark on us (John 8:44), dividing nations, ethnic groups, families, as well as the greater church of God. Contrasted to the hostile, cunning, predatory nature of adversarial beasts (leopards, lions, serpents, and fire-breathing dragons), our Elder Brother, serving as our example, adopted a lamb-like meekness, making peace right to the death. (I Peter 2:21-23).
Humans, by nature, are very adept at causing offense. As Christians, we must be learning the fine art of tact and diplomacy that works toward reconciliation and unity among the brethren. David Maas gives key points on how to take on these godly traits.
The Bible states that offenses will come. John Ritenbaugh explains how to handle offenses and how to keep minor irritations from growing into bitterness.
Through Acts 1-15, God (primarily through the work of Peter, Paul and James) has removed His work out of the Judaistic mold, creating the Israel of God (the church) designed to spread to the Gentiles. Though certain ceremonial and civil aspects of the law were (for a time) suspended, the Law of God was never suspended, especially as it relates to defilement of conscience or disregarding of scruples that could cause permanent spiritual damage or unwittingly place one in communion with demons. We must always conduct ourselves with the long —term spiritual interests of others paramount on our minds, being sensitive to conscience and scruples of others as we exercise our 'rights.'
After explaining the context in which Paul advocated going from house to house, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Paul, who understands clearly that God alone calls (John 6:44), makes his initial contact with non-believers in public places (synagogue and forum), going later to private dwellings by invitation only. Chapter 15 focuses upon the Council of Jerusalem, discussing the controversial subject of circumcision and its relationship to salvation. Peter, speaking from his experience working among the Gentiles, realized that some aspects of the ceremonial laws (including circumcision) were not obligatory to Gentiles for salvation, but that the entire Law of God (given by Jesus Christ), far from done away, is to be kept in a more responsible spiritual sense (respecting the boundaries or constraints of conscience) by both Jews and Gentiles. It had become apparent to the apostles gathered at Jerusalem that God had made a parallel visitation and calling to the Gentiles as He had originally concluded with Israel. The new spiritual tabernacle (the Israel of God) would be composed of Gentiles as well as people of Israel.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Gentile nations without God's revelation were held accountable for basic principles of humanity. Amon's barbarity, Tyre's faithlessness, and Moab's propensity for sustained anger (exemplified by burning the bones of Edom to lime) and the desire to take revenge - God punishes with severity. God warns us that vengeance is His exclusively and will not tolerate our taking the law into our own hands. God reserves the severest penalty for Judah and Israel because they had spurned the covenant God had made with them. To whom much is given, much is required. God is no respecter of persons. As the Israel of God, we need to take these admonitory words personally- making sure that we do not syncretistically mix pagan and Christian elements (lies and truth) together. If we cultivate a love for the truth and guard the truth, the truth will guard us.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Matthew 18 describes the essence of personal relationships within the church. Seven basic characteristics are emphasized, including having a childlike humble attitude, setting a proper example, exercising self-denial, individual care, using tact in correcting a person, practicing fellowship and extending forgiveness. What we aim for in life has a profound effect on our attitudes and behavior. Unless we have sharply-etched goals, we are not going to succeed. If the goals are materialistic, we will be caught up in the attitudes of this world inculcating arrogant competition, totally at odds with attaining the Kingdom of God. If the Kingdom of God is not our goal, we won't use spiritual knowledge correctly. We have to learn to implicitly trust God as a child trusts his parents. Growing spiritually is tantamount to growing out of the habit of being offended. Those who are mature should be able to endure the slights and offenses of the spiritually immature, being circumspect not to lead anyone into sin through our careless example. We need to be willing to be willing to exercise self-sacrifice or self-discipline in order to set a proper example to preserve unity. It should be our objective to strengthen the weak as we have the resources to do so, realizing, of course, that there is a limit to what we can do. A root of bitterness should be assiduously avoided. A set of common sense instructions is given to resolve conflict and promote reconciliation, beginning with the offended going to the offender, and as a rare last resort brought to the ministry for judgment or solution. As we pray to God for a solution, we should pray to become victorious in our overcoming, being subject to His purpose and will, willing to forgive those who have offended us, always leaving the door to repentance open to the one who has sinned, forgiving him 70 x7 if necessary.
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