Joe Baity continues his exposition of the epidemic of loneliness and the addictive behavior (drug abuse and other compulsive activities) to which individuals turn to for relief. Addictive behavior provides a short-term reward of pleasure while systematically destroying the nervous system and body. Recently, research has posited the possibility that recovery is the rule rather than the exception if the subject benefits from a wide variety of alternatives instead of merely "to consume or not to consume." Whether measured in laboratory experiments on animals of by clinical psychologists, addiction becomes more difficult where the subjects enjoy healthy relationships, good nutrition and exercise. Individuals from stable families or those having a network of healthy relationships are less vulnerable to addiction than those who suffer isolation. Consequently, we must take seriously our commission to be our brother's 'keeper' (companion). Sadly, some the addict-prone individuals feel cut off even when surrounded by loving people. Our faith is bound up with the well-being of one another. Because of the horrible addictive nature of sin, we need healthy relationships with stable individuals within our fellowship, remembering that to love one another, we must become lovable.
Bill Onisick, recollecting a terrifying youthful experience when he was carried away by a riptide, draws a spiritual analogy from the warning given in Hebrews 2:1-3 that we resist the pernicious and insidious pulls of the world and the flesh. Our pride and double-mindedness are the root causes of this drift away from God. As the life-saving message drifts by us, we begin succumbing to the riptide of worldliness, estranging ourselves from fellowship with our brethren and God. If we turn back, God takes no pleasure in us. It takes faith to go to services (with imperfect people like us) and to sacrifice for one another. We must pay attention to the Greatest Messenger, humbling ourselves and overcoming pride lest we drift away.
Austin Del Castillo expresses alarm that the moral fabric of our society is rapidly unravelling, with all institutions yielding to corruption and immorality. Like society, the Church of God has splintered into a diverse assortment of groups, some blinded by their pompous self-righteousness, others absorbing the values of the world—all forgetting the profound purpose of their calling. The Parable of the Ten Virgins must become a wake-up call to the Church of God that we are "running on empty," as stated in the words of a Jackson Brown song. If we demonstrate mindfulness of God only on the Sabbath, if we think that a sermon's message is more applicable to another than to us, if we increasingly find studying God's Word unexciting, then we have obviously lost our first love and are courting a fate in the lake of fire rather than at the Marriage Supper. Developing a relationship with our Savior and God the Father is serious business. When King David realized that he had run out of God's Spirit after the Bathsheba-Uriah business, he returned to the filling station, begging God not to take away His Holy Spirit. God will be as patient with the five foolish virgins among us today as He was with David millennia ago. We in God's Church do not know how much time we have left. Let us immediately replenish our reserves of God's Holy Spirit before we travel any further.
Martin Collins, concluding his series "God's Perseverance with the Saints," focuses on Christ's desire that all His disciples have unity and love. The unity He appeals for is not organizational unity, but unity within the divine nature, exampled in the unity between the Father and the Son. This unity operationally defines a family rather than a corporate unity, with a common Christian experience binding those He has called into an interdependent relationship where everyone serves each other with God-provided spiritual gifts. Christ, through His life-sacrifice while we were yet enslaved to sin, provides the model of love for us. We need to bring our highly flawed love to the infinitely-perfected level of agape love demonstrated by our Elder Brother. We must love our brethren even in their flawed state because God requires them to love us in our flawed state. We demonstrate this agape love when we 1) listen to one another, 2) share with one another, and 3) serve one another. Jesus set the standard for this kind of service as He washed the feet of His disciples the night Judas betrayed Him. If the world cannot see this perfected love demonstrated in us, we are seriously missing the mark.
[Editor's note - Audio Quality improves at 5m30s] Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the spring cleaning associated with deleavening, reminds us that God is a God of order, sustaining and upholding all things, and encourages us to clean, maintain, dress and keep, improving what He has given us. As God's creation, He works to make improvements in each of us. Though we are sometimes neglectful, Jesus, as the Author and Finisher of our faith, is never neglectful, but is, with Our Heavenly Father, bringing all His called-out ones to spiritual maturity. The Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread rehearse the plan of God, beginning with our justification through Christ's blood, followed by a life-long sanctification process in which we discard sin, at the same time building Godly character by consuming the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. In western culture, we have applied the command to deleaven (put out sin) and put on righteousness as an individual responsibility. In the Middle Eastern culture, people put the command in a communal light, with the patriarchs of each tribe showing a personal responsibility for their family. In the New Testament, Paul also puts the responsibility on the community, with husbands, wives, children, employers, and employees learning their responsibilities toward one another, indicating that our communal behavior can corrupt (symbolized by the fermentation of leaven) one another or provide a good example for one another. Our sphere of influence radiates far beyond ourselves to the entire community. If each of us individually puts out the leaven of malice and consume the Unleavened Bread of sincerity (free from hypocrisy), we would fulfill our community responsibility to our sphere of influence, cementing our relationships with one another, with Jesus Christ, and God the Father.
Charles Whitaker, referencing game theory, reminds us that the failure to make a decision in fact represents a decision. Consequences—even of inaction—are inevitable; everything matters. The act of "passing" in a poker game effects all the players' chances to win. Among God's people, the consequences of indifference to service become particularly burdensome in the current context of geographic scattering and corporate fragmentation. Additionally, Christians who "sit out" opportunities to serve, becoming in effect couch potatoes, commit sins of omission which, if not repented of, lead to the Lake of Fire. Hence, service is a salvational issue; engagement with God's people is not an option, but a mandate; the Christian failing to gather with Christ becoming one who by default scatters with Satan. Hence, indifference is destructive; inaction is tantamount to active scattering. As the Parable of the Good Samaritan indicates, failure to act can endanger even the lives of others, a fact which illustrates why passive indifference and active hatred are not opposites. Rather, indifference is in fact a species of hatred. Old and New Testaments teach that God's people are to "open their hands" to others, as opportunity affords, playing the cards (talents) God has dealt us, not "passing," knowing that everything we do—or don't do—matters.
Ted Bowling focuses on the foot-washing aspect of the Passover service, which is an annual renewal and re-dedication of our baptismal cleansing. Foot-washing was a common practice in antiquity, where the lowest servant was assigned to wash the soiled feet of a weary traveler. A disciple was similarly expected to be willing to perform the same tasks for his rabbi as a servant was for his master—except for untying his sandals, which was considered to be the very lowest of degradations. Jesus Christ, reversing the cultural expectation, took the role of a Gentile slave, and to the shock of his disciples stooped below what a disciple could be expected to do and washed their feet. He modeled the practice of foot-washing to dramatize the need to be submissive to one another, to serve one another—including those who betray—and to be one's brother's keeper, safeguarding our relationships with our brethren.
Joseph Baity, stressing the need to strengthen the bonds of our fellowship with each other, suggests that in the past, the Church of God may have focused too intensely on elusive esoteric principles and neglected the basics, such as developing solid relationships within the body of Christ, forgetting the principle that iron sharpens iron. From creation, we realize that man is not independent from woman, and woman is not independent from man. Remarkably, the natural birth ratio of men to women is 50/50. Likewise, God does not want brethren to be cliquish and stand-offish, preferring to be 'independent' Christians; rather, He wants them to be complementary servants of one another. Sadly, because of transgression of God's law, the hearts of the people have grown dull, callous, and resentful toward one another. When we become isolated from one another, we grow dull and unproductive. Unity within the body of Christ inevitably is accompanied by discomfort from the sparks of iron sharpening iron, but discomfort is a small price for ultimate unity. If Satan can weaken the bonds of our fellowship, he will render us vulnerable. God's called-out ones must not let that kind of deterioration happen.
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?
Mark Schindler, reflecting on the 30th anniversary of his baptism, recalls how he joyfully, but perhaps myopically, assumed that he would automatically walk harmoniously and peacefully with the other members of the body of Christ into the Kingdom and eternity of God, without experiencing any impediments or sibling rivalry among our brethren in God’s family. As we are called into God’s Church, we come from divergent backgrounds, cultures, and philosophical viewpoints, potentially divisive and explosive, providing Satan a beachhead to divide and conquer brethren. Many of the things which have happened in our lives have molded and shaped our opinions, opinions that frequently place us at loggerheads with well-meaning people. If we allow the old man to dictate how we make decisions, we will trouble the Household of God and inherit nothing but the wind. Hanging onto the things of this world can do nothing but divide us. Are we willing to give up our intangible assets, such as our opinions, in order to allow Christ to fit us together in His Body? No matter how closely our experiences have meshed, no two people will ever see things 100% alike. All of us have come into God’s church from vastly different backgrounds, but with one major mandate—to love one another as Christ has loved us. Are we willing to jeopardize our spiritual inheritance by hanging onto opinions shaped by this world’s systems? Only by conforming to the example of Christ, fervently loving God the Father and loving our brethren as ourselves, can we edify instead of troubling God’s House. The meek, those who have power, but hold it wisely back, will inherit the Earth. Evildoers will be cut down like weeds, but the righteous will have an eternal inheritance. If our citizenship has been registered in Heaven, we are no longer residents of a fractured and divided nation
Kim Myers, tracing ancient Israel's abject bondage to the Egyptians and their subsequent redemption and journey to their great gift (that is, the Promised Land), draws a parallel to the Israel of God. We have been in bondage to sin, enslaved to alcoholism, adultery, lying, and other carnal pulls. Like the ancient Israelites, we have a tendency to gripe and complain, wrongly thinking that the days before conversion were enjoyable, forgetting we were wallowing in slop and eating garbage. Like the ancient Israelites, we sometimes come to yearn for our previous bondage. Because God loved ancient Israel, He spoke to Moses 72 times, giving specific guidance; He has given us His Holy Spirit for the same purpose. The ancient Israelites grumbled when God gave them the land of the Amalekites, fearing God would not back them, even after the backdrop of witnessing many incontrovertible miracles. After the deaths of the recalcitrant first generation (a collection of rebels who preferred bondage to godly freedom), an emergent second generation entered the land of milk and honey, with God winning all their military victories for them. No other people in the world have been given a gift like that. If we understood God's divine purpose for us, we would live our lives entirely differently. God's ways from the world's point of view are strange; the world thinks we are nerds. But living God's ways will enrich us with the fruits of the Spirit. Most of us do not comprehend the magnitude of the gift God has given us, a trillion times better than the gift He gave to the ancient Israelites. Obedience to God's law is the key factor in growing toward God's Holiness.
Martin Collins, warning that all prophetic speculations have been accompanied with a high degree of error and subsequent embarrassment to the speculator and his adherents, admonishes us that any prophetic speculation, accurate or not, is useless unless it is promotes diligence in living Godly lives, eagerly and expectantly preparing for the return of our Savior, living our lives to the glory of God. If we begin to doubt the veracity of Christ's return, our hearts will turn cold, causing us to imitate the evil servant who begins to mistreat his fellow servants. We have to exercise the same kind of watchful care as a night watchman on guard against thieves and robbers. It is natural for all of us to desire to protect our physical property; protecting our spiritual property should warrant a much higher priority. We must assiduously emulate the faithful servant rather than the evil servant, caught up in cruelty, carousing, and shirking responsibility. Faithless Christians will be judged with greater strictness and severity than non-believers who do not know any better; knowledge always creates a greater level of responsibility. The anticipation of seeing Christ return should be the greatest motivator, bringing about a dramatic change of behavior, living sanctified, set-apart, holy lives that please God, the kind of behavior which could actually bring about an acceleration of God's plans. We should be emulating Christ's model prayer, diligently beseeching the establishment of the Kingdom of God. We need to avoid two dangerous extremes, believing that nothing we can do will make a difference, and the notion that God cannot do anything unless we personally do it. As God's called-out ones, we avoid becoming unstable by growing spiritually, realizing that being saved by grace is only the beginning of the process; we must be constantly strengthened by grace, prompting us to keep God's Commandments as a testimony of our love for Him, maturing to the full stature of Christ.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the verdict of the macabre case in North Carolina, in which a couple had been collecting welfare benefits for an adopted daughter who had been mysteriously missing for two years, concludes that Judge Thomas Schroeder acted within the principles of biblical law, even though the majority of the citizenry would have liked to see the parents executed. Physical evidence failed to convict these scoundrels of anything more than welfare fraud. Real justice can only be based on the truth, potentially dangerous to the perpetrator or the victim. Though the Old and New Testament are complementary to one another, with the apostles directly quoting from the prophets, establishing Jesus Christ's Messianic identity, the emphasis of justice in the New Testament switches from national to personal in scope, from the nation of Israel to the Israel of God (the Church). The New Testament builds on and amplifies the Old Testament. Jesus magnifies the Law, fusing external motor behavior (or deeds) with internal psychological motivation. All sin begins as thought. Matthew 5: 17-20 encapsulates Christ's change in approach, taking the elementary literalist approach of the Pharisees into the real heart of the matter, focusing on what could and should be done on the Sabbath as opposed to what cannot be done. From the New Testament applications amplifying Old Testament principles, we find legal tenets practiced consistently in Israelitish countries, such as the need for two or three witnesses, protection against mob rule, penalties for frivolous lawsuits and hasty litigation, the principle of recompense and equity, conflict of interest considerations, separation of church and state, penalties against collusion, legitimate use of civil rights, and judicial clearing. While we are still learning the ropes of godly judging, we are commanded to refrain from presumptuously passing or executing judgment until Christ gives us our credentials.
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.
Ryan McClure, reflecting on the oft-repeated Rodney King quotation, "Can we all get along?" asks us how we are doing with our relationships, dealing with people with whom we find it difficult to get along. The Scriptures provide many examples of how difficult relationships were dealt with by humility, deference, and longsuffering, including Abram to Lot, David to Saul, and Jacob to Esau. Our relationship challenges can be vastly improved if we increase our regimen of prayer and putting the fruits of God's Holy Spirit into action.
Martin Collins, reiterating that Joseph is a type of Jesus Christ, moves to the climactic point of the narrative in Genesis 45, in which Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. Joseph knew and recognized his brothers before they knew him. God knows our guiltiest secret sins which we think we have effectively hid. All things are open before God the Father and Jesus Christ. Joseph loved his brothers before they loved him, using tough love to bring them to repentance. Like Jesus, Joseph saved his brothers before they realized they were being saved. Actually the brothers thought they were lost. Sin cannot be hidden; we cannot escape its consequences. Like Jesus, Joseph called his brothers when they would have preferred to run from those. Joseph treated them with compassion as a loving brother; Christ calls us in the same manner. As a type of Christ, Joseph was more concerned about God's will than anything else, giving him a stable perspective, seeing God's providence. God prospered Joseph, making him governor of all Egypt. God saved the lives of Joseph's brothers, indicating that He plans well in advance. God saved other lives in the process of saving Joseph's household. God can use our errors to further His ultimate good; God's purpose will be done, and He is sovereign. Joseph, as a type of Christ, had the ability to forgive, in contrast to the anger and vindictiveness of Simeon and Levi, assuring them that he held no bitterness. Forgiveness is love fused to grace.
These days, it seems, everyone demands respect but few are willing to grant it to others. It is a rare event and often worthy of note when someone gives up his seat to a woman or elderly person or when a child responds with proper deference. Mike Ford analyzes this international problem, zeroing in on the Bible's injunctions on the subject.
Martin Collins explores the response of Joseph's brothers to his benevolence to show how we also should respond to God's benevolence and grace. Human nature is inherently selfish, suspicious, and ungrateful. God demonstrates His love to us long before we are properly equipped to reciprocate. Every physical and spiritual gift comes from God. At times, God has to ignite our conscience and disable or de-stabilize our self-confidence in order to get our attention in a similar fashion as he did to Joseph's brothers. If we have residual guilt, we cannot possibly grow spiritually. Like Joseph's brothers, we all have concealed lies, but want others to think we have sterling integrity. If we want forgiveness for our sins, we must jettison our self-righteousness and forsake our buried and secret sins, enabling a transformation with God. Like Joseph's brothers, we must abandon our own efforts to guide the outcome of matters to suit our liking, and turn control over to God, allowing His spiritual radar to penetrate the depths of our hearts. God will always uncover our sins; it is to our advantage to repent early. We should not want to talk about our accomplishments, but what God has chosen to accomplish in our lives. God will deal with us until we relate to Him sincerely and forthrightly, just as Judah learned to do as God soundly destroyed all his props of self-confidence. As Judah, Moses, and Paul emerged to a willingness to give up their lives for their brethren, we too must be willing to sacrifice the ultimate for our fellow man, motivated by the power of God's Holy Spirit. Through His Spirit, we love one another by listening to one another, sharing our experiences with one another, and serving one another.
David C. Grabbe: Jesus Christ has astounding power and creative ability; He is "upholding all things by the word of His power". He was not only intimately involved in the creation of all things, but He now also sustains all the natural laws and functions of His marvelous creation. This is in addition to the fact that "He is the head of the body, the church", in charge of all the activities of those whom God has called. ...
Part One ended with considering Proverbs 18:24—“A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother”—in relation to the meaning of Passover and Christ’s giving of His life for His friends ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon II John 5, an epistle which cautions about deceivers who would denigrate the value of work, considers the straining on the point "we cannot earn salvation" a red herring, diverting our attention from the true value of Christian work. God indeed judges the quality and quantity of what we do in our Christian responsibilities. Our calling is a vocation; work or labor is vitally important in our calling. God is our model regarding work, mandating that we produce fruits of righteousness. Christ admonishes that our highest regard should be seeking the Kingdom of God and righteousness. We work for Christ as His slaves. Profit from life is produced by work, requiring sacrifices of time and energy. Christians have been created for the very purpose of doing good works which God has prepared for us. We will be continuing in this work for all eternity. Christian works were never intended to save us; Jesus' works as our Savior and high Priest is what saves us. Doing the works provides practice in God's way of life, engraving in us His character, providing a witness to the world, glorifying God. It takes work to put things in order and prepare for the return of Christ. Three parables in the Olivet prophecy (The Two Servants, Wise and Foolish Virgins, and the Talents) emphasize the necessity of work in the preparation for Christ's return. One's faithfulness in productivity does not transfer to one who has been a slacker. We are all being scrutinized and judged by Almighty God as to what we do, especially as it related to our service to our fellow servants. Whatever we sow, regarding our relationships with one another, we will reap. Sin (of commission or omission) describes the failure to maintain God's standards. The failure to work is sin. Works do not save us, but everyone who is saved works. We will be judged and rewarded according to our works, both the quantity and the quality.
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.
We do not often think of fellowship as a means of devotion, but when we look into the book of Acts at the unity of the early church, fellowship was a priority of those first members of God's church. Clyde Finklea reveals that Christian fellowship is more than just getting together on a regular basis; it is sharing with each other on a higher, spiritual level.
Through His sinless life and vicarious death, Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled all of the instructions in the Old Covenant regarding sacrifices and offerings. ...
David C. Grabbe: In earlier times, food and other goods were measured out by weight using a balance. A standard weight (typically made of stone) was placed on one side, and the material being measured was put on the other. When the balance was level, both buyer and seller knew that the amount had been measured correctly. ...
At times the paradox is painful, but it is nevertheless true. True Christians "receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon [us]" (Acts 1:8), yet even with that divine power there is much that we would like to do but cannot. ...
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the parable of the faithful and wise servant and the evil servant as well as the wise and foolish virgins, suggests that the Day of Trumpets emphasizes the state of caution and faithfulness required at the turbulent end times. The parables focus upon the relationship which we must have toward our fellow workers, warning us not to fall into a state of spiritual malaise in the midst of increasing stress. As a metaphor, sleep often has negative connotations of insensitivity, lack of alertness or awareness. Because the exact time of Christ's return is not known, we must be continually motivated as though His return were imminent. Those not prepared for the Day of the Lord will be blindsided by its unexpectedness. Christ and Paul realized that God only knows the time of Christ's return and have subsequently warned that we cannot rest on our laurels or fall asleep as in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. We must be making our preparations individually, not cuing in on our brethren, our family, or the world around us. As children of light we must conduct ourselves soberly, making positive use of our time, not allowing it to drift away. Being spiritually asleep or drunk will lead to poverty. We must wake up spiritually, taking off our carnal pajamas (the old carnal man) and clothing ourselves with the armor of God (Christ), redeeming the time and urgently pressing toward sanctification, holiness, and the Kingdom of God. The apostle Paul, afflicted with multiple health problems and considering his past life as worthless refuse, nevertheless, with sterling self-discipline, single-mindedly pressed on toward his spiritual goal, providing us an example for conduct under affliction and pressure. If we follow Paul's advice, we will not be emulating the wicked servant or the foolish virgins; we will be prepared.
Last time, we saw that the lessons of Abel, Enoch, and Noah are sequential—they must be learned and applied in order if a person or organization is to make a faithful witness of God. ...
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Jesus Christ's prayer for unity in John 17, insists that unity with our brethren is impossible without unity with God first. Adam and Eve severed this unity by yielding to Satan's influence, stimulating their minds with a novel diversion. Sin automatically separates us from God. The key to overcoming rests exclusively in our relationship with God. We are placed in the Body of Christ at His discretion, and are obligated to subject ourselves to His workmanship, keeping Him continually in our thoughts, night and day. We do not produce any fruit unless we are attached to the vine. As members of Christ's body, we must function for the good of the whole body, not competing with other organs or limbs. We must continually see God and function as a son of God. As with our Elder Brother, if we do those things that please our Heavenly Father, He will be there for us. Not responding to God and treating our brethren shabbily, brings harsh judgment upon us. Unity in the Body is brought about by yielding to and using the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, enabling us to love our brother as God has loved us. The more we have in common, the greater will be unity and peace.
Jesus, in His prayer recorded in John 17, fervently asks for unity among His Disciples (and by extension-all of us). Almost 20% of this prayer is devoted to the subject of unity, that His disciples would be unified with God the Father and with each other, as Jesus is unified with the Father. If we aren't unified with our Heavenly Father, we can't possibly be at one with (or a functioning member of) the Body of Christ. Each member of Christ's body must choose to function in the role God has ordained to produce unity, emulating our elder Brother always doing those things that please the Father by keeping His Commandments (statutes, judgments, and ordinances), enabling us to become at one with Him. Unity with our Heavenly Father leads to unity in the church or the Body of Christ. Failing to discern the Lord's Body- the church (by refusing to engage in rigorous self-examination) leads to eating and drinking damnation to ourselves. The disunity which Paul described in 1 Corinthians 12 has an antidote in 1 Corinthians 13, namely love in all of its manifestations, resulting in physical and spiritual healing and peace, the ideal environment for the growth of spiritual fruit. If we are separated from God the Father and Jesus Christ, we cannot be unified with the church, as was demonstrated by the devastating destruction and Diaspora of the Worldwide Church of God. The disintegration will never be repaired except as individuals voluntarily submit themselves to the rule of God the Father.
It is a given that works cannot earn us salvation. However, they play many vital roles in our Christian walk toward the Kingdom of God. In this concluding article, John Ritenbaugh gives specific reasons for doing good works, showing their close relationship with holiness.
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.
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.
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.
We in the church have often considered footwashing merely as a ritual to remind us of the need to serve one another. Bill Keesee, however, explains how footwashing teaches another godly attribute: forgiveness.
Our physical bodies, like the walled cities of ancient times, has a defense system to keep out invaders. Spiritually, how well do we maintain our defenses against error and contamination? John Ritenbaugh urges us to listen diligently to God's Word for true nourishment.
God has often used micro metaphors to illustrate macro events. For example, in Isaiah 1:4-6, God compares the whole nation of Israel to a sick patient with an incurable disease, signalling impending captivity. The church has been alternately compared to a bride, vine, virgin, woman, mother, and body. Extrapolating from these metaphors, the condition of the greater church of God resembles a patient languishing from a deadly disease like cancer. This condition has resulted from a diet of spiritual junk food (the philosophies and traditions of the world) and abstinence from the life-sustaining bread of life (John 6:63). The words we "eat" create a faith that forms the walls of our belief system?a kind of spiritual immune system, protecting it from disease. Good health, then, is not merely a matter of diet, but an entire interactive process of prayer, study, obedience, and conformity to God's purpose for our lives.
John Ritenbaugh insists that true riches consist of what we are (or what we become) rather than what we have. True riches consist of those things that can be carried through the grave and into the Kingdom of God. The circumstances of our lives (totally determined by God)- health, sickness, wealth, poverty, etc. we could consider as the scaffolding for the building of character fit for the Kingdom of God. What God really wants is for us to see things from His point of view, making the right choices, consciously striving to build character, developing into His image.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that because of our collective lack of self-discipine and our lack of willingness to guard the truth, we have allowed our theological, philosophical, and attitudinal base to deteriorate under the persuasion of the the world, hopelessly scattering us into myriad fragments and splinters. Liberty without self discipline has produced this chaos. In order to regain the unity we have lost, Paul lists four elements of character we must all exercise: humility, meekness (or lowliness of spirit) patience, and forbearance, counteracting the pernicious pride, vanity, and competitiveness which have driven us apart.
This world lauds warmakers, but God says that peacemakers are blessed. John Ritenbaugh explains the beatitude in Matthew 5:9.
Mercy is a virtue that has gone out of vogue lately, though it is much admired. Jesus, however, places it among the most vital His followers should possess. John Ritenbaugh explains this often misunderstood beatitude.
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing the African Proverb, 'It takes a village' asserts that this principle more aptly applies to the church, specifically designed to serve as a support for those in need. In this era of 'going it alone' or 'cocooning,' we as a people like to be self-sufficient without any support from others. Consequently we become self-centered, self-absorbed, showing little concern for others. As Christians, especially in our current scattered condition, we need to fight this pervasive trend, forming warm, productive, quality relationships with our brethren, actively ministering to the needs of one another. The ministry functions to equip members to become other centered (or family centered), serving one another and applying righteousness for the good of others. If we refuse to apply this practical knowledge, actively serving one another as interdependent joints, we miss the mark of coming to the unity of Christ.
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.
A biblical survey of coveting: what it is, what it produces and what a Christian should be doing.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Kingdom of God or of Heaven has past (Hebrews 11:13), present (Hebrews 12:22), and future (Hebrews 12:28) aspects. The Kingdom parables primarily provide instruction for the present aspect, a time when struggle and suffering are part of the mix (Matthew 11:12). The first parables of Matthew 13 reveal Satan's battle plan to: (1) attack in the early stages of development, (2) infiltrate with secret agents, (3) cause the church to grow large and worldly, exceeding God's prescribed limits, and (4) corrupt by false doctrine, destroying the relationships between the brethren. These parables describe the last quarter century in the church of God.
The fifth commandment begins the section of six commands regarding our relationships with other people. God begins with the family, the foundation of society, where children should learn proper honor and respect.
In the last few years, turmoil and confusion have run amok in the church of God. Many feel they were misled by individuals who taught them doctrines they later came to understand were untrue. Some have yielded to the tendency to become cynical and suspicious of nearly anyone who claims to be a teacher of God's Word. Why all the distrust? Do Christians need a church?
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!
Taking issue with those who have embraced the widely held notion that God does not have body parts, John Ritenbaugh asserts that just because spirit is invisible to the present physical receptors, much the same as wind or electromagnetic waves (John 3:8), it is nevertheless real - able to be comprehended by spiritual receptors (II Kings 6:17, I John 3:2). The numerous figures of speech describing God's body parts substantiate that God has shape and form and occupies a specific location. Figures of speech always have legitimate grounds of comparison. The term omnipresent, rather than suggesting some ethereal grotesque omnibody, can be explained by being "in union with His spirit" as in John 14:19-20 in which God the Father, Christ, and the Called out ones are depicted to be "in" one another- one unit as analogous to a marriage union when two become one flesh through sharing combined goals, aspirations and a kindred spiritual presence.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that a recurring pattern God uses is to set apart one group of people to become a blessing to the rest of the world by keeping His covenant, providing a good example. Ancient Israel was asked to purge the land of Gentile customs and practices. In the New Testament, the church (the Israel of God) was asked to come out of the world, having as little contact as possible with its political, educational, and social institutions (with its unseen spiritual influences). Like Nehemiah, our worldview has to stem from a fear of God. Adopting the world's standards automatically makes one an enemy of God. Our enemy is not the people of the world, but the subtle satanic spiritual influences that determine their attitudes and values. Our intimate fellowship should not be with the world, but be concentrated upon God and those who have made the Covenant with God, loving them as we would ourselves.
John Ritenbaugh declares that the holy days are reliable, effective, multifaceted teaching tools, emphasizing spaced repetition to reinforce our faulty memories and drive the lesson deep into our thinking. The most effective learning involves drills or exercises, inscribing the lessons on our mind (Deuteronomy 16:3). Memory is enhanced as we continually rehearse a concept until it becomes deeply burned into our character, giving us self-mastery, integrity, and godliness. Like physical leavening, sin has the tendency to puff up and spread, taking effect immediately and irreversibly. We can only be free if we put out sin - false doctrine (I Corinthians 5:6-8) - and eat unleavened bread - or ingest wholesome undefiled teaching and practice righteousness (Titus 2:14).
John Ritenbaugh shows that the Days of Unleavened Bread have both a negative and positive aspect. It is not enough to get rid of something negative (get rid of the leavening of sin); if we don't do something positive (eat unleavened bread or do righteousness), we leave ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position (Luke 11:24-28). Nature absolutely abhors a vacuum. We cannot make Christianity work by emphasizing what we can't do. We can't stand still. The best way to avoid or conquer evil is to do righteousness or bear fruit (John 15:16; James 4:17), serving God and mankind. Sins of omission are every bit as devastating as sins of commission. God's emphasis is always on action. The accent is on doing rather than not doing, taking our ordinary day-to-day responsibilities and making them a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1).
In this sermon, John Ritenbaugh expounds the symbolism of the blood as a witness in I John 5:6. Blood atonement, referenced 427 times in the Bible, dramatically magnifies the seriousness God places on the consequences of sin. Only blood can atone for sin (Leviticus 17:11, Hebrews 9:22). No forgiveness of sin is possible without death. We dare not minimize or trivialize the impact or consequences of our sins. Forgiveness is not a casual matter with God. The pain of seeing the mangling of His Son's body makes forgiveness a most anguishing and sobering matter. The blood of Christ, a propitiation or appeasing force, the only means to satisfy God's pure sense of justice, is a testimony of God's intense love for us. This willingness to sacrifice needs to be incorporated in our relationship with our brethren (I John 4:10-11).
One of our primary duties as Christians is to build strong, loving relationships with our brethren. These relationships are the "joints" between the members of Christ's body, the church. What are you supplying to the growth of the body?
Conversion is a growing relationship with God, and thus it is a process that, if not worked on, will deteriorate. Like a dating couple, if the partners in this relationship do not spend time with each other and become closer, they will drift apart. Conviction is paramount to this process: We must be absolutely loyal and faithful to God. Our conviction reveals itself in living by faith. The life of Moses is a stunning example of how a "convicted" Christian should live.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that in matters of submission, God wants us to think things through rather than merely comply through blind obedience. The bitter fruit of multiculturalism (without God's guidance) has demonstrated that unless someone is willing to submit, we have the makings of conflict and chaos. In order to have peace, order, and unity, both Israelite and Gentile have to subordinate their traditions, submitting to the traditions of Christ (Ephesians 2:19). Conflict between all cultural traditions will never end until they are all brought into submission to the traditions of Christ. We have to overcome our cultural mis-education and our desires to gratify the self. Liberty without guidelines will turn into chaos. We will be free only if we submit to the truth (John 8:32). All authority, even incompetent and stupid authority, ultimately derives from God's sanction (John 19:11).
Laziness and fear are the greatest challenges to love. When Protestant theologians disparage "works," connecting them to salvation rather than sanctification and growth, they encourage spiritual laziness. If we are lazy, we might still be saved, but we will have built nothing to fulfill God's purpose in us. If we refuse to work hard at character building, the principle of entropy will turn our efforts into a state of disorganization. If we make no effort to overcome, the principle of inertia will keep us going in the same way we have allowed ourselves to drift. An irrational fear of loss prevents the development of agape love within us—we fear that keeping God's commandments will cause us to lose something valuable. Like a musician who practices everyday, by continual effort at commandment keeping, we will soon develop feelings of confidence by knowing what we are doing is right (I John 3:17-19; John 15:9-10).
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.
John Ritenbaugh insists that if mankind is separated from one another, it is also separated from God. Moreover, atonement with God will occur when mankind loves one another, loving as an action rather than simply a feeling. Contrary to the antinomian position taken by many Protestants, repentance—something that Christ does not do for us alone—is something we must do with the precious free moral agency God has given us. As sin brought a change in perspective and separation to our parents Adam and Eve, repentance, in one sense, brings us back to Eden—to the tree of life (via God's Holy Spirit). Reconciliation is an ongoing process enabling us to draw closer to what God is, having His mind installed 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
John Ritenbaugh, after delving into questions of how people living during the Millennium will develop faith, as well as the reason for re-establishing a sacrificial system, focuses on the significance of Christ's sacrifice and His glorification. Christ's perfect life and His sacrificial death was a prerequisite for our reconciliation with God, demonstrating how far God will go to save us. Only living our lives as God the Father and Jesus Christ live their lives will bring about abundant life. Eternal life is to know God, seeking Him to imitate Him, living as He does, and developing an intimate relationship with Him. Christ manifested the Father's attributes as He lived, setting us an example to live our lives the same way, becoming similar imitations of the Father. Christ's extensive prayer for His disciples is for our guarding, preservation, protection, and unity with our brethren as we bear the name of God. As God gives us challenges and responsibilities, He also gives the necessary tools to fulfill them.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that chapter 18 provides instructions to how to get along in the church. Jesus teaches a parable contrasting the enormity of what we are forgiven to what we forgive others. Our forgiveness by God is directly connected with our forgiveness of our brother; blessed is the merciful for they will obtain mercy. The Creator's life is worth more than the entire creation; offenses against us are a mere drop in the bucket compared to our sins against God. Gentile women became proselytes to Judaism because of the better treatment of women in the Bible as opposed to their treatment in Gentile religion. Sadly there was a wide variance between the ideal and the practice since the Jewish culture of that time also considered the woman a possession of her husband or father with no legal rights except those granted to her by her husband. Religious leaders, influenced by Hillel's liberal approach to divorce could grant divorces for trivial reasons. Jesus explained the original intent of marriage with Adam and Eve, who were explicitly designed for one another with no competition. Moses, because of the hardness of peoples' hearts allowed for a bill of divorcement as a temporary concession to their unconverted heart and mind, in order to prevent wholesale adultery. Uncleanness of heart is really the only real grounds for divorce, usually preceded by the unconverted mate leaving. In the case of desertion by the other mate, the converted person is free to marry. The ideal God intended in marriage can only be attained by those with God's spirit, with Christ living in them. Jesus admonishes us that we should emulate certain qualities of innocence and trust displayed by children as we become mature adults.
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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