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.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that because we still have human nature, selfishness dominates our prayer, in contrast to Christ, who devoted 5 petitions on His own behalf and 21 petitions on behalf of His disciples entrusted to Him by the Father to help Him bring glory to God. Jesus revealed the Father to the disciples, including the instructions to regard the Father as a loving parent. The disciples preserved this relationship in their prayers and in their relationship with one another as siblings with Christ. God has planned our way, doing the lion's share of the work, continually keeping us on track if we maintain a teachable attitude. If we observe Christ's words, there must be a demonstrable difference in our behavior and a commitment to obey His teachings in order to bear good spiritual fruit, adopting a lifestyle which the people of this world hate. Christ prays for us as He did for His original disciples because we too have been called by the Father and entrusted to Him. Christ values us because the Father values us.We glorify Christ when we obey Him, carrying His example of holiness to the world through our behavior and actions. As Christ intercedes in prayer for us, we must intercede in prayer for our brethren, realizing we are all in this together.
Ronny Graham, drawing some comparisons from the example of the town crier who provided the sole means of news and communication for the relatively illiterate society of Medieval Britain, reminds us that hearing is also a large part of our Christian lives. The Old and New Testaments are replete with admonitions to hear, such as “if anyone has ears to hear, let him hear,” and “faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of Christ.” In the Parable of the Sower, a major contributory factor in producing good seed is hearing the Word of God. As we hear instructions from sermons, we ought to be applying those principles to our lives immediately. We are responsible for what we choose to hear; consequently, we must take heed what we hear.
When Solomon visits the Temple, he comes away from his observations of the worshippers with a sense that too many treat religion far too casually and carelessly, forgetting that they are coming before the great God. As John Ritenbaugh explains, Solomon admonishes his readers to listen to God's Word when they approach Him and to be careful to follow through with what they promised when they made the covenant with Him.
When Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, he faced a tragic situation in the demon possession of a young boy. Martin Collins discusses the boy's affliction in terms of its medical description, intensity, defilement, and deadliness.
In the unsettling letter to the church of Laodicea, Jesus Christ paints a picture of Himself in relation to the end-time church. Notice the figure He uses in Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon elements of what repentance is and what it produces, warns us that we are continually in need of repentance. The churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were warned to repent, prefiguring the identical conditions which would be extant in the current greater Church of God. Like faith, repentance must exist in the end times. We are admonished to change our mind and attitude, bringing about a total about-face in behavior, in which we abhor our human nature and diligently seek God's nature. Repentance must be motivated by a Godly sorrow which leads to a dramatic change of behavior. The Corinthian congregation was beset with myriad sins, including party-spirit and porneia, even though they were puffed up with pride because of their spiritual 'gifts.' Paul addressed the Corinthian congregation as carnal, even though its members were converted. The congregation in Paul's letters to the Hebrews had become dull of hearing, losing their spiritual maturity. Faith and repentance are inextricably linked as we move on to perfection. Godly sorrow leads to perfection, while worldly sorrow leads to death. Repentance has seven distinct fruits: 1) diligence (the motivation to accomplish), 2) clearing of self (washing away), 3) indignation (anger at injustice and sin, especially at ourselves), 4) fear, 5) vehement desire (a strong and persistent craving for righteousness and a burning desire to change), 6) zeal (wholehearted ardor for accomplishing a task), and 7) vindication (setting things right). We must, in repentance, voluntarily surrender the self, striving to imitate our Heavenly Father and our Elder Brother.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Deuteronomy 30:19-20, reminds us that we are called to a lifetime of decisions and judgments. We have problems with judging fellow brethren in different groups of the greater Church of God, of which at least three claim to be the only true church. This intemperate judgment may come back to bite the biter in a painful place. Judgments must always be open to new information; a fellow servant never falls on our judgment or estimation of him. It is terribly difficult at times to recognize the tare or to recognize the true wheat. Christ's judgments are made according to what each person has been given. We need to internalize this practice of judging and evaluating, especially regarding our brother or fellow servant. We cannot possibly know the levels of gifting God has bestowed on the other members of God's family. Just because we understand an aspect of spiritual truth does not mean that God has gifted the other member to comprehend it, or vice versa. God gifts each person as it pleases Him. God provides the hearing ear, understanding, and wisdom, both in the physical and spiritual dimensions. Not everybody has ears to hear in both dimensions. Even the converted do not comprehend the full spectrum of parable-centric teaching, often containing multiple layers of meaning. The secret things belong to God; the revealed things become our property on a need-to-know basis, only when we have developed the ability to use the information responsibly, using the mind of Christ. We have been given spiritual gifts to serve the entire congregation as they are needed.
Living by faith is not easy in this world—not by any stretch of the imagination. Among the spiritual realities that a faithful Christian must understand is God's sense of justice. John Ritenbaugh uses the instantaneous deaths of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, to illustrate the differences between His sometimes swift and terrifying—but perfect—justice and our own imperfect judgments.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: I Samuel 12 is instructive on the subject of finding a still, quiet place in a hectic world. ...
We are what we eat. The same can apply spiritually to what we put into our minds. John Ritenbaugh shows that God wants us to desire His Word with the eagerness of a baby craving milk.
John Ritenbaugh analyzes the five-point warning message given to the scattered Hebrews by Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews does not identify a single flagrant violation of law, but instead delivers a general castigation for incremental, continuous, disrespectful, and forgetful neglect—a failure to esteem what should have been thought precious, their calling and salvation, while esteeming inferior things like wealth or status. Hebrews expounds four other warnings, all designed to wake the church member up and motivate him toward greater devotion to God. Similarly, the modern church of God stands in danger of allowing salvation to slip away from pure neglect. By these warnings, we should know how to turn our lives around so we do not fall short and lose salvation.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the voice, perhaps more than the fingerprints, makes an individual unique, articulating the depths of emotion. The voice of God, whether expressed through thunder, events of His providence, handiwork of creation, or the preaching of His truth by His ministers, has a unique quality about it, a ring of authenticity, making it recognizable to His called out ones as a shepherd's voice is to the flock. The Apostle Paul affirms that faith comes from hearing the voice of God- spoken through a duly ordained messenger of God. God alone designates the messenger who bears His message.
Comparing God's true ministers to false ministers—and seeing their fruit—reveals how the church must be revived spiritually. And "sneezing" plays a major role!
Just what are the oracles of God mentioned in Romans 3:2? Charles Whitaker delves into both Testaments to show that they are the revelation of God to mankind. These oracles are the message that gives us instruction for salvation.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the New Covenant of Hebrews 8:8 was given to Israel and Judah, not to the Gentiles. God does not deviate from this pattern; Israel is still involved with the New Covenant. It is not the physical nation, but the spiritual remnant (partly composed of grafted-in Gentiles- Romans 11:17-25 and the church or Israel of God- Galatians 6:16) with whom God is working, circumcising their hearts and writing His laws in the recesses of their hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10; 10:16)
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Jesus Christ's sinlessness was not the result of being a programmed automaton, but instead as a result of volition or choice—actively struggling against carnal pulls and temptations, enabling Him to fully empathize and have compassion on those tempted in like manner. He experienced exactly the same kind of temptations and suffering we experience, qualifying Him for the role of High Priest, bridge-builder between man and God, the same role for which members of God's called-out Family are also qualifying. Like our Elder Brother, we must learn righteous judgment by continually exercising our spiritual muscle, practicing making choices, distinguishing right from wrong, but building godly character and spiritual maturity through the enabling power of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh observes that Hebrews is addressed to a people living at the end of an era, who were drifting away, had lost their first love or devotion, and were no longer motivated by zeal. Through lack of prayer, Bible study, and meditation, they had incrementally lost their portion of God's Holy Spirit, which now resembled a tiny, sporadic drip from a water skin. Through careless neglect, they were allowing something precious to slip out of their fingers, squandering a far greater treasure—their potential to become members of the God Family—than the people under the Old Covenant had neglected. Christ, our Trailblazer or Forerunner, was perfected through suffering, and we are to be perfected in the same way. We also need to be made perfect (adequate for our ultimate purpose) through suffering.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the spiritual bondage (slavery to sin) Jesus referred to in John 8:34, warns against habitual sin- or sinning as a "way of life"- under the power, control, or influence of sin (graphically described by Paul in Romans 7:7-24.) As long as we are slaves of sin (following the dictates of our own lustful desires), we have no free moral agency. God liberates us from sin in order that we might be free to obey Him. Jesus warns the Pharisees that because righteousness and character cannot be transferred from one person to another, they cannot trust in their pedigree (as physical descendants of Abraham). Without the implanted Spirit of God, we have absolutely no capacity to receive or appreciate spiritual truth or to hear God's Word, allowing it to convict us, making an impact on our lives. The study concludes in John 9 with an examination into the healing of the man blind from birth, occurring near the Pool of Siloam.
John Ritenbaugh explains the context in which a tenant farmer would find a buried treasure after the original inhabitant had meticulously hid it fleeing from an invading army. Our calling resembles this parable and the Parable of the Pearl of great price; we seemingly stumble upon it accidentally and intuitively realize its priceless value. The parable of the Dragnet again describes the culling process God uses to separate the truly committed from those mildly interested. God brings forth people from every walk of life with a whole array of skills and talents- gifts that God intends His called-out ones to use for the good of the whole congregation. We need to make sure that a prejudice, 'experience', weakness, or blind-spot on our part does not become a barrier to God's truth. Regarding Jesus siblings, He had at least three sisters and four brothers. Chapter 14 begins with the lurid and grizzly details of the beheading of John the Baptist, caused in part by the blind ambition of Salome's mother as well as Herod's guilty conscience after John the Baptist exposed his blatant adultery and lust. The next part of the study delves into the incredible miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, an example of Christ multiplying the meager talents and capabilities of His disciples. If we yield our gifts and talents to God's work or service, He will multiply them, accomplishing more than we could possibly do by ourselves. The miracle demonstrates both God's principle of generosity as well as the responsible stewardship of physical resources. The last part of chapter 14 delves into Jesus walking on the water and Peter's well-meaning, but abortive exercise in faith. Like Peter, we must keep our focus upon Christ rather than the surrounding physical circumstances. Faith operates when we cannot see what we hope for. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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