Martin Collins, acknowledging that hardships are a normal part of life, perhaps leading us to despair that God has abandoned us, focuses our attention on a segment of the Apostle Paul's life (recorded in Acts 23-26) when he could have had these depressing thoughts, but did not. Paradoxically, when God seems to be silent, He is feverishly at work micro-managing what otherwise appears as insignificant details. When forty Zealots took an oath conspiring with the Sanhedrin to take the life of Paul, it looked as though he was as good as dead. But God intervened on Paul's behalf to fulfill His purpose. Because of this intervention, an army of armed guards transported Paul out of physical danger, thereby unwittingly facilitating an opportunity for Paul to preach the Gospel to three Roman leaders while he was a prisoner. Characteristically, God uses small things to accomplish His purpose, as He does by calling the base and foolish of the world to confound the wise. Despite the fallacious charges made against Paul by his many enemies, God enabled him to refute the charges with the truth. Just as all the stratagems arrayed against Paul eventually crumbled, the stratagems conspiring against God's called-out ones will also come to nothing. We need to remember that, during those times we fail to see God's hand, He is hard at work intervening on our behalf.
Over the last several decades, this world has shown itself to be one in which most people lack commitment, whether it is to their mechanics, their spouses, or their beliefs. Using Christ's exhortations to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, David Maas points out that Scripture foresees that a dearth of steadfastness marks the time of the end, but Christians are urged to hold fast.
Martin Collins, warning us to take our priestly responsibilities seriously, draws some parallels from the biblical examples demonstrating the purification of Levitical priests. Purification is an ongoing process in which we must put out the influences of the world. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, compels us to sacrifice ourselves through our reasonable service. The book of Malachi, with its emphasis on declining spiritual conditions, demonstrates some parallels to the state of today's scattered and damaged church, preoccupied with internal difficulties. We are being trained as a holy priesthood, called to offer unblemished sacrifices, reverently honoring our Heavenly Father's name, forcefully putting down pride, presumptuousness, and arrogance. Priests must continually demonstrate obedience to God, motivated by an attitude of service, and unhindered by laziness. A priest must focus on magnifying God's name, offering prayer as incense, and having a burning zeal for worship with no weariness and no deception. It is an honor and privilege to be called to the office of priest to assist our Elder Brother, the High Priest, and the Epitome of perfection. We must accept this office in humility, having accepted Christ's sacrifice, having pure thoughts, faithfully submitting to God, and benefitting one another.
John Ritenbaugh tackles the eternal security doctrine, a teaching that militates against good works, something that God had ordained for all of us. Works demonstrate our faith, our response to God's calling and His freely given grace. Reciprocity is always a part of our relationship with God. Trust is a response to God's tests. Abraham's response to God reciprocated his love back to God. The indictment against the Ephesian church stemmed from their lack of reciprocity (or first love). When our expectations have not been met, it becomes hard for us to maintain our zeal. We need to maintain the intensity to actively hear God's message. If we do not actively exercise our minds, work to maintain our relationship to Christ, and become dead to the world, we will drift away. We cannot allow what Christ is to slip from our minds. Where there is no love for Christ, there is no salvation and no membership in God's family. As in human love or infatuation, if we love another person, we like to think about him/her; likewise, we need to have Christ dwelling in our hearts at all times.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the writings of Malachi Martin, suggests that as the Catholic College of Cardinals have a large number of prudent agnostics within their ranks, we also have a great many fence sitters within the church of God, demonstrating an alarming deficit of faith. In times of intense stress and uncertainty, many become extremely apathetic, unwilling to persevere, unwilling to work at overcoming. We are on the threshold of the greatest period of testing ever to come upon mankind. We need to be developing a sense of internal hope and faith through the motivating power of God's Holy Spirit, striving to keep our focus on our calling (God sought us out purposefully), passionately striving for goodness. The apostle Peter wrote an entire epistle (I Peter) on the subject of hope—stressing that what we really need, God will not hold back—including shaping trials. Thankfully, we are not left without resources.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that whether we do or do not make it to the Feast of Tabernacles next year depends on our faithfulness at stirring up the gift of God's spirit within us through consistent prayer, Bible study, and hearing God's word. Distractions brought about by love of the world, neglect of Bible study, neglect of prayer, or neglect of God's word could seriously erode our faith, making us vulnerable to false doctrines and cares of the world.
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
John Ritenbaugh, after a thorough analysis of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, concludes that the seven conditions described (all having a common denominator an admonition to hold fast to something once given, but slipping away- namely the faith once delivered - Jude 3) are both sequential and contemporaneous, applying to groups now extant as well as individuals within the groups. All of us have these conditions within us to one degree or another. The scattering of the churches was an act of love by Almighty God to wake us up out of our passive, lethargic, faithless condition. The antidote to this splitting and scattering is to make the feeding of the flock our top priority, in which all the body, not just the ministry, participates to nurture one another, encouraging each other to return to the faith once delivered.
John Ritenbaugh admonishes the greater church of God that we make a conscious effort to feed the flock (devoting more effort, time, energy, and money than for preaching the Gospel as a witness for the world) until we get ourselves straightened out first. To preach to the world and ignore a disintegrating flock is like a husband and wife paying attention to people and things outside the home while the family is falling apart. We need to examine the causes for our split and our gravely deteriorating faith. Our emphasis must be on feeding the flock, restoring the faith once delivered, rebuilding the broken walls and repairing the breaches.
Mordecai, a Jew living in the Persia capital, faithfully guided Esther through a time of potentially great trouble. Mark Schindler uses his example to show that such character is not out of our reach!
Kindness, the fifth fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, goes hand-in-hand with love. It is an active expression of love toward God and fellow man. As we come out of this calloused world, we must develop kindness through the power of God's Spirit.
Just how do you rend your heart? John Reid describes how searching for instruction on rending the heart, he came across an answer: Recapture your first love!
Just as important as follow-through is in an athletic motion, its spiritual counterpart is vital to our life in Christ. We must have the will and commitment to carry our devotion to God through to the very end.
John Ritenbaugh again focuses on the meal offering, typifying the intense self-sacrifice required in service to man. Oil (symbolic of the power of God's Holy Spirit), frankincense(symbolic of character sweetened under intense heat) and salt (symbolic of preservation from corruption) are poured on this fine flour (ground to talcum powder consistency). A small portion (representing Christ's perfect sinless sacrifice) is burned on the altar and two loaves (representing the first fruits -I Corinthians 15:20, James 1:18) baked with leaven (typifying the presence of sin) are waved before God (Leviticus 23:20) and consumed by Aaron and his sons as compensation for their service and sacrifice.
John Ritenbaugh, drawing a parallel from human physical love provides an eight-point checklist to determine whether our love for Christ is genuine. If we love another person, we will (1) think about (2) like to hear about (3) like to read about (4) seek to please (5) be with the friends of (6) be jealous of the honor of (7) like to talk to, and (8) always want to be with this person. Like the Ephesian church, in the wake of mounting disappointments, frustrations, deferred hopes and pressures, we cannot become weary of well-doing, allowing our first love and devotion to deteriorate, looking to the world to gratify our desires. We desperately need to redirect our energies (Colossians 3:1; Galatians 6:6-8), to rekindling our first love.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Abraham's example of going to war. Even though God does not glorify war, there are spiritual parallels we can learn from it, including discipline and self-sacrifice. Abraham was willing to lay down his life to rescue his nephew Lot. His sacrifice shows us what kind of effort and sacrifice is needed to wage spiritual war, getting the Gospel out despite the militant resistance of Satan and his demons. They are masters of keeping us off balance, keeping the pressure on us, dogging our heels, trying to make us miss the mark, and preventing us from rescuing others held captive. Anyone involved in the work of God is in a spiritual war, often experiencing enervation and temptation to compromise. God provides faith and energy in those occasions to overcome and endure.
John Ritenbaugh reflects that the book of Hebrews is perhaps the least understood, most complex and most scholarly of all the books in the New Testament. However, in terms of spiritual insight, it is a pivotal book, whose function is to bridge the purposes and themes of the Old and New Testaments. It focuses on the work of a Master—the Son of God—who has done something far superior than anyone else has ever done. The primary purpose for this combination treatise-sermon-epistle was to encourage a group of people, presumably Jews in Rome or Judea, who lived at a close of an era and were bewildered and weary of well-doing, to maintain their resolve to continue their spiritual journey.