Clyde Finklea, reminding us that the entirety of scripture has as a major theme, the sincerity of love - to friend and enemy alike, focuses on the enigmatic metaphor in Romans 12: 20 (derived from Proverbs 25:22) "heaping burning coals of fire on his head," an image which seems to connote revenge or malicious getting even. The difficulty seems to reside in a Hebrew idiom which is not clear without a cultural context. The context is hospitality to a stranger- including an enemy, to which we offer food, clothing, and a means to keep warm. If a stranger's fireplace went out in the cold of winter, the noble sacrificial thing to do would be to take embers from our own fire, placing it in a container enabling the stranger to re-ignite his fire, keeping warm. Consequently, heaping coals of fire on his head was not done with a vengeful motive, but for his comfort. Knowing the idiom ensures proper understanding of the meaning. We should not be overcome by evil, but must overcome evil with good.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the horrendous prospect of surrendering our control to a driverless vehicle, maintains that Americans treasure their freedom of movement despite the "Nanny State's" insincere protestations about safety as it attempts to camouflage seizing power. The number of actual "on-the-road" situations which can occur is so high that no amount of programming can enable the driverless vehicle to be safe, even when it utilizes artificial intelligence, the fastest computers and the highest level of sensor sophistication and redundancy. The highly resilient and flexible human brain—under the control of a responsible person—remains the best facilitator of safe driving. While politicians desire to control everything, Christianity wants to instill self-control. Paradoxically, when we yield to God's sovereignty, He wants to cede control over to us, teaching us to develop self-control as a habit, enabling us to have dominion over the earth , handling it responsibly. On the night of Passover, Jesus taught the disciples to avoid imitating the narcissistic Gentile leaders who love to lord it over other people, demanding their obedience and service. Our Savior's leadership style emulated the servant, esteeming all others over self. Agape love dispenses with the way of control and selfish ambition. God's way consists of self-discipline and rigorous self-mastery, as exemplified by Jesus Christ, who never relaxed His self-control—even in the prospect of His impending crucifixion. Those who aspire to follow Jesus Christ must emulate His example of rigorous restraint.
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.
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.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the fiery, feisty, vindictive temperament of Andrew Jackson, and his response to Presbyterian minister Dr. Edgar's question about willingness to forgive enemies, asserts that forgiving one's enemies is a defining mark of a real Christian. Andrew Jackson, after Dr. Edgar's persistent probing, finally displayed a tiny bit of one of the fruits of God's Spirit, prautes, or gentleness (meekness), possibly the second hardest fruit to develop, beginning with humbleness of mind and ending with longsuffering. In the apostle Paul's enumerations of Christian attributes, meekness always appears at near the end, reflecting the difficulty of attainment. Our modern understanding of meekness seems to be at variance with Paul's understanding of prautes. Sadly, language changes linguistic drift have degraded the original understanding, replacing it with "overly submissive and docile," tantamount to weakness and not having a backbone, a notion reinforced by Charles Wesley's hymn, Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild. The combined force of these connotations makes Jesus look like a doormat. The original denotation of the Greek prautes denoted a quiet confidence, strength, and self-composure, a sign of inner power and self-control, having trust and confidence in God. Meekness is the gentle, quiet spirit of selfless devotion to God, the very antithesis of arrogant pride. It is a quality prompted by God's Holy Spirit on the inside manifesting as graciousness on the outside. The meek person accepts what God is doing as a good thing. Meekness is humble submission to God, allowing us to bear injury without being turned emotionally inside out. Love is a major facet of meekness, a quality exemplified in Moses as he serenely shrugged off the abuses and slander from Miriam, Aaron, and other disgruntled, complaining Israelites. Jesus Christ exercised meekness in response to all the false accusations from the Sanhedrin, scribes, and Pharisees, exercising forbearance without an ounce of vindictiveness, refusing
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on Joseph Felix's book Lord Have Murphy, a humorous analysis of Murphy's Law, asserts that it is impossible to become perfect without having mercy or compassion. The parable of the good Samaritan provided a exemplary model for developing compassion, beginning with sympathy and culminating in an action or concrete act of goodness. Mercy is an action, not merely a state of mind The command made by Jesus to become perfect includes showing compassion to love our enemies, relieving their miserable conditions. The Laodicean mindset is characterized by a deficit in merciful acts, forgetting the enormous debt their Savior had paid with His life. Whenever we forget Christ's sacrifice for our sins, we resemble the unmerciful servant, who, when he was absolved of a million dollar debt, acted harshly and mercilessly to a fellow servant who owed him a mere twenty dollars. We have received an immense measure of mercy; Christ wants us show compassion to our fellow man. Our marching orders are to walk humbly and to love justice and mercy. Whoever has a large share of the world's possessions, but shuts his charity off when he sees a fellow Christian in need, is blind to his spiritual nakedness.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on popular music involving the theme of romantic love as the answer to all the world's ills, remarks that the composers of these lyrics have no idea as to what love really is. The fuzzy definition of love is responsible for tolerance of sin, deviancy and liberal, multi-cultural mis-evaluations. We should have a more mature understanding of love for God and love for neighbor. The outgoing concern toward other beings begins with God the Father to Jesus Christ to us. Without godly love, real love does not exist. Real love does not exist in isolation; another being must always be the object of real love. God's plan involving the reciprocal sharing of love among members of God's Family began well before the foundations of the world, at which time a possible sacrifice for sin had to be factored in. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. The love of God, through the mechanism of His Holy Spirit, works on our inner beings (our mind and spirit), making us like Him, demonstrating the love of God, loving God with all our minds (keeping His commandments) and our neighbors (including our enemies) as ourselves. The extent that we love our brethren may be an accurate gauge as to how much we love God.
On Tuesday, April 14, 2009, crowds gathered in Bingham Hall, a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill educational building, filling the seats with college students, professors, and members of the community, waiting to hear Congressman Tom Tancredo speak about illegal immigration....
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh continues the theme of the difficulty we have in this age to distinguish truth from error. Satan's biggest targets for disinformation are God's called-out ones. As the apostles turned the world upside down by the Gospel, Satan's implanted tares immediately began to spread disinformation—so much so that the 'Christian' church of the second century bore little resemblance to the church Christ founded. Who, then, are His true disciples? They may be identified by: 1) being led by God's Spirit dwelling within, causing them to yield to God's will; 2) behaving in love toward friend and foe; 3) abiding perpetually in God's Word (not merely agreeing with, but actually living the teaching, coming to know the truth by practical experience; and 4) bearing much spiritual fruit.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: The news of the week involved the latest verbal blunder of televangelist Pat Robertson. ...
Remember "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me"? In most cases, this is a lie. The hurtful words that we speak can create scars that last longer than any physical scar that sticks and stones may cause. Christians need to learn to harness the power of the tongue.
Most people understand the basic point of this well-known parable. The whole story describes working compassion as contrasted to selfishness. It also clarifies just who is our neighbor.
The Sermon on the Mount is as vitally important to us today as it was when Christ preached it. It contains within it the very way we are to conduct our lives as God's representatives on this earth. How well are we following what Christ taught?
Love is the first of the fruit of the Spirit, the one trait of God that exemplifies His character. John Ritenbaugh explains what love is and what love does.
Our society is becoming increasingly violent. John Ritenbaugh shows how the sixth commandment covers crime, capital punishment, murder, hatred, revenge and war.
John Ritenbaugh insists that God does not love everybody equally. Nowhere does He tell us to prefer the world of the ungodly, adopting the pagan customs of the world's religions. Though God commands us to love our enemies, He does not tell us to be kindly affectionate to them. Though God says He is not willing that any should perish, universal salvation is not a doctrine of the Bible. The objects of God's love in John 3:16 are His begotten children who have reciprocated His love by keeping His laws, the same ones mentioned in I John 3:1. God loves His own.
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 focuses upon the emotional dimension of love, reiterating that love doesn't become 'love' until the thought, or the feeling, motivates the person to act. Love is an act. If we don't do what is right, the right feeling will never be formed, because emotions are largely developed by our experiences. The right emotions require God's Holy Spirit. Like a marriage relationship, our relationship with God grows more and more intimate as we give it time and attention, conforming to the other person's preferences in the relationship. We are never going to know God unless we do the same kinds of things with Him, keeping His Commandments, devoting time to prayer, Bible study, and meditation. If we are working on our relationship with God (giving it our time and attention), then God's love for us will be reciprocated back to Him in the form of obedience, totally trusting in Him to shape our lives for His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the valley-of-shadow imagery symbolizes the fears, frustrations, trials, and tests needed to produce character, quality fruit, and an intimate trust in the shepherd. His rod, an extension of his will and strength, serves not only against predators, but also prevents members of the flock from butting heads. It also helps him to identify and to judge. The staff, symbolic of God's Spirit, represents gentle guidance. The prepared table depicts a plateau or a mesa that the shepherd has made safe and secure for grazing. Christ, our Shepherd, has prepared the way for us, safeguarding us from predators and removing our fear of starvation and death. The oil, also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, refers to protective salve that prevents maddening or deadly insect infestation. Goodness and mercy refer to the agape love that we desperately need to acquire and use so we can leave behind a blessing. The house depicts contentment in the Family of God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon a singular disaster to befall modern Israel, involving captivity-largely as a result of its shameless toleration of rising violent crime. God ordained capital punishment, but because of the flawed legal system, with the exceptions for insanity, youth, and police mistakes, the deterrent value has been rendered ineffective in modern Israel. The prison system, actually producing academies for learning crime, is pitifully inferior to God's system of justice. Nevertheless, resisting civil governmental authority (a buffer against chaos) is tantamount to resisting God's authority. People who reinforce in themselves the habit of rebellion (resisting God's as well as man's authority) will be mercifully terminated in a lake of fire. Jesus, by emphasizing the spirit of the law, places deterrents on the motive- preventing the actual murderous deed from ever taking place. Brooding anger, bitterness, resentment, revenge, and scorn constitute the activating motives for actual murder. We need to develop the maturity and faith to allow God to take vengeance rather than presumptuously taking this prerogative upon ourselves. Christ teaches that we also need to learn to (with the help of God's Holy Spirit) proactively promote peace by attending to the physical needs of our 'enemies,' responding as Christ would respond.
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, reflecting upon Philip's request to "show us the Father," suggests that Jesus has provided the way of knowing how God would lead His life in the flesh. Jesus is the way, the embodiment of the truth, and the mirror image of the Father. As a human born into an ordinary family, Jesus experienced all the responsibilities, struggles, frustrations, temptations, and pains that we do. We have an Elder Brother who has been on the front lines, providing us a model to live our lives. Jesus taught us that love is a moral act rather than a feeling, based upon pleasing God by fulfilling His Commandments. Love and obedience are inseparable. Jesus encouraged His disciples by promising to send the Holy Spirit to help them (and us) to cope with the rigorous demands of living the Christian life, making us sensitive to God and educating us to the purposes of God. As we continue to obey, yielding to His purpose, we enter a closer relationship with God, until eventually, having attained the mind of God, loving and personifying truth, we become like the Father and the Son.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the humble, serving, or footwashing attitude exemplified by Jesus in John 13 provides a clear insight into the mind of God. Jesus humbled Himself, pouring out His divinity to serve mankind, providing an example for us to also serve others. The loving way in which Jesus appealed to Judas leaves us further insights about Jesus conscious choice to accept His Father's will, glorifying His Father through His sacrifice for man's benefit. The Father likewise glorifies His Son by resurrecting and honoring Him. God expects us to follow Christ's example of loving others, with all of their flaws and weaknesses, more than ourselves. This kind of love does not come naturally, but must be acquired through God's Holy Spirit. In chapter 14, Jesus, anticipating His imminent death, provides encouragement, comfort and assurance to His disciples (all of us actually) that they would have a role in His future kingdom. Jesus, by His example, teaches us not to get discouraged if we don't see immediate results from obeying God or carrying out His will. The results may not be realized this side of the grave. By following Christ's example, we follow in the Way of truth, leading to Eternal life and glorification.
[Editors Note: Audio quality improves at the 4 minute mark.]
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the episode of the healing of the man blind from birth and the resultant threats imposed upon the man and his family by the Pharisees who accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. The man, healed by Jesus but persecuted and disfellowshipped by the Pharisees, realized God was responsible for the miracle. One can conclude that the closer we get to God, the more likely we will have persecution; but the closer we get to Him, the greater and more real He becomes and the more likely we will serve Him correctly. The blind man can represent the entire world blinded by Satan. When Christ opens our eyes and cleanses us from our impurities, our behavior impacts those around us, leading to some bewilderment and persecution, but incrementally toward greater knowledge of God. Seemingly, only a person conscious of his blindness (weakness or lacks) will make an effort to overcome. In chapter ten, the shepherd/sheep analogy demonstrates the importance of the sheep "knowing the Master's voice" in the midst of a community corral having many diverse flocks. The gate or door of the corral (as symbolized by Christ) connotes security, tranquility, and order, protecting the flock from thieves and predators (metaphorically representing false prophets and false doctrine). Christ takes responsibility for caring for His flock (who over the years have become His intimate companions), including laying down His very life.
John Ritenbaugh indicates that in Matthew 5:21-22, there exist degrees in the spirit of murder, with destroying a reputation as the worst. All sin is against God, but before one attempts to establish a relationship with God, he should heal the breach with his fellow man. If a conflict exists between husband and wife, his prayers could be hindered. We are admonished to take care of problems while they are small rather than allow them to brood, exercising moderation and self control. If we continually fill our mind with good thoughts and motivations, we won't be thinking base or unclean thoughts. Jesus, desiring to restore the spirit as well as the letter of the law, warned against rash or hasty divorces, taking oaths or vows, invoking God's name frivolously, realizing that a covenant is binding whether we formally invoke His name or not. As God's people, our word should be good as gold. The Lex Talionis (eye for an eye) principle provided the foundations for an equitable solution, allowing for equal justice or monetary compensation for pain, time, indignity, etc. Jesus set a standard of non-retaliation and non-vengeance—not getting even for an insult, suffering for righteousness as our Elder Brother Jesus Christ did for us. We need to be more concerned about our duties or obligations than our rights. When we are conscripted into service and when we lend to the poor, we need to realize God will make it right to us. When we love conditionally, with the hope of getting something back, we have no reward, but if we love with unconditional, godly agape love, loving our enemies, removing any thought of vengeance, becoming godlike in the process, doing what we were created for.