Charles Whitaker: One of the ways the "unlearned and unstable wrest" Scripture (II Peter 3:16) is to misapply the meaning of a word they find there. Wrongly understanding some word's denotation ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting that 30 years have passed since the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, and 24 years since the founding of the Church of the Great God, marvels that the greater church of God continues to scatter over 400 separate organizational structures. Realizing that God evidently determined to effect this diaspora, our primary goal should be spiritual rather than organizational unity, as we endeavor to achieve the same kind of unity Christ has for God the Father, a unity He prayed for His disciples at the last supper, and for all His called-out ones. Much of the onus for the fracturing of the WCG rested with the leadership, based on a philosophy of authoritarian gentile leadership Christ warned against, mimicking sheriffs rather than shepherds, driving rather than leading. To successfully lead the church, leaders or overseers must: (1) Realize that God is sovereign, always in control and always at work, responsible for good and calamity. (2) Know that Jesus is the head of the Church; God the Father put everything under His feet.. As parts of a spiritual body, with roles assigned by Christ, neither leaders nor lay people should arrogate responsibility not given us. (3) Ministers are servants rather than overlords; all the Bible luminaries, including Paul, Peter, James, and Jude, referred to themselves as servants. (4) The authority for the leadership in the church is spiritual, not physical, political or authoritarian. God has commissioned pastors to lead and persuade, equipping the saints to function as god has ordained, rather than to browbeat and give orders. (5) The pastor's job description is to be a shepherd, guiding, protecting, feeding, and walking in front of the flock, leading them rather than driving them.
Having laid extensive groundwork for the Bible's covenants, John Ritenbaugh begins to explore the first of these, the Edenic Covenant. Universal in scope, this covenant introduces God to mankind as his Creator and establishes the rules by which human beings are to relate to Him and to the earth and its human and non-human inhabitants. It is simultaneously a covenant of blessing and responsibility.
Even though Christians have been called to follow Christ, their journey to the Kingdom of God is preparation for leadership under Him. John Ritenbaugh explains that the covenants play a key role in this godly preparation. They not only show us what God requires of us in our relationship with Him, but they also instruct us in the minute details of God's way of living and ruling.
John Ritenbaugh begins by reiterating the six principle points of the universal Edenic Covenant: (1) establishing God as Creator, (2) presenting awesome gifts (such as our planet earth and our lives, (3) presenting us with our task of taking care of the earth, (4) establishing the marriage relationships through our original parents, (5) establishing the definition of sin and warning of its ultimate results, and (6) sanctifying the seventh day as the Sabbath for special instruction from God. He then delves into the horrendous consequences of sin, through the literal and figurative application of the term "nakedness," implying loss of innocence as well as the condition of shame and guilt. All figurative references to uncovering nakedness connect to idolatrous adultery or impurity of sins and transgression, including that of Adam and Eve, who fell from a state of intimate contact with God to profound estrangement between themselves, their Creator and virtually all of creation. The mark of sin, impossible to conceal, acquired by Adam and Eve, is a mark also borne by all their progeny, generating guilt and fear part of our mental repertoire, making us fearful of being exposed for what we really are. It is impossible to escape God's scrutiny. All of the sufferings of the present time had their origin in the Garden of Eden when our parents, greatly gifted by God in that they had a personal relationship with the Creator, sinned, seemingly in secret. But, their sin did not take place in a vacuum, no more than our sins do. They radiate out as ripples on water or spores of yeast in the leavening process. All Eve did was to take a bite of food, but the world has never been the same since that event. No one gets away with sin; the consequences reverberate endlessly. All of us will eventually be compelled to give an account of our behavior to our Creator. We will be able to blame only ourselves for our sins. We will not be able to blame our genetic make-up or our environment or Satan for our mistakes.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the unpleasant prospect of overhearing hurtful gossip about us from someone we have trusted, observes that, in all likelihood, our tongue has been just as detrimental against someone who may have trusted us. What goes around comes around; we reap what we sow. Even though the best defense is not to be guilty, we know that because of our toxic self-centeredness there is no infallibility in any of us. As God gives gifts to us, we must, as Solomon did, fine-tune them, realizing that seeking out wisdom is simultaneously a glorious and a burdensome task, requiring labor-intensive exercises which initially seem to yield diminishing returns. God does not instantaneously reveal everything we need to learn or everything we need to experience. We have the responsibility to seek out wisdom, understanding that it is the costliest commodity anywhere, having a price far beyond gold. Wisdom keeps us from sin, folly, and madness. Wisdom and understanding unveils for us the purpose of trials, solving the paradoxes and conundrums that erode our faith. Truly wise judges are humble, demonstrating that they do not know everything; humility will make us more cautious in our judgments about others and ourselves. As we put forth effort to pursue wisdom, the fruit will be holiness. Our goal is beyond salvation; it involves preparation for service in God's Kingdom. The search for wisdom carries with it a downside, the tendency to boast of our accomplishments, even though in our heart of hearts, we realize we have nothing that has not been given. As God's stewards, we must, like Solomon, blend sagacity and practical wisdom together, taking precautions against the allurements of the world, which have the tendency to short-circuit godly wisdom.
David Grabbe, examining the implications of Isaiah 22:15-11, maintains that many major splinters of the greater Church of God have misunderstood the context of this passage which describes Shebna's expulsion from his role as Steward because of his blatant, self-important presumptuousness. Shebna was replaced by Eliakim who was a man of humility and lowliness of mind. Some of the self-exalting behaviors of those claiming to have the Key of David and an open door resemble more the self-focused attitude of Shebna rather than the humble attitude of Eliakim. The gracious promises given to the Philadelphians are given to those who absolutely know they have little strength and desperately need the continual aid of God's Holy Spirit to go through the open door of prayer to God's Throne Room. If we arrogantly compare ourselves among each other, boasting of our magazines, radio stations, and new members, we are no better than the pompous, self-important Shebna.
The American West was explored and settled by tough men and women who knew the value of land and what could be produced from it. Mike Ford decries the recent trend in which more and more land is owned, not by individuals, but by the government—a situation that contradicts the biblical principles concerning land ownership and the stability and wealth it brings.
A survey of the New Testament reveals that, though we may recognize the "signs of the times," we will not be able to determine when Jesus Christ will return. David Grabbe pursues the concept of Christ's second coming "as a thief in the night," and what this means to Christians in this end time.
James Kelley: Growing numbers of people around the world are worried about the food supply—and they should be. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: From last week's essay, it is apparent that Constitutional protections of private property ownership have been eroded over the past several decades, not just by major Supreme Court decisions, but also by the steady encroachment of socialism into American culture. ...
We live in a society that is increasingly concerned about ownership. We have a proclivity to assume ownership over things we find in our grasp. David Grabbe considers this principle in relation to the Sabbath. Who owns it—and how does the answer to this question affect our keeping of it?
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.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that humility is not an obsequious demonstration of low self esteem, but instead it is a proper estimate of our relationship to God, which is a choice to act and behave as a servant or slave. If we would follow Christ's example of humility, we would have automatic unity. We need to have both the inclination and the follow-through act of humility and lowliness of mind. We have to cultivate the same attitude as our Elder Brother as He esteemed others above Himself. Faith, praise, gratitude, thanksgiving, and humility all work together at building character. Perseverance in prayer and faithfulness causes our faith to increase and rescues us from pernicious worldliness.
The Bible frequently uses analogies from physical life to explain spiritual principles. Food and eating are no exceptions. In fact, there are over 700 references to eating in Scripture. The lessons we can learn from them must be important!
John Ritenbaugh points out 700 references to the act of eating, all providing contexts or vehicles of serious spiritual instruction. Banquets invariably provide springboards for instruction, from Abraham's entertaining of angels, to Joseph's banquet for his brothers, to Esther's banquet for Haman to Belshazzar's feast featuring the handwriting on the wall to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Banquets- eating or refraining from eating- not only display God's faithful provisions and human righteousness, but eating (or refraining from eating) displays tests of a person's morality such as Adam and Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit, the sign of keeping the covenant (Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14) and Christ's refusal to be tempted by food (Matthew 4). Eating reminds us that God's provision and human need also apply on a spiritual level.
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 addresses the topic of stewardship, suggesting that what we are called to do at this time is to fulfill our job as a steward, entrusted with managing, protecting, preserving, attending, and increasing what has been entrusted to us- namely the fabulous wealth of the mysteries of God and our spiritual inheritance (I Corinthians 4:1). Our responsibilities as stewards include fidelity, trustworthiness, loyalty, reliability, and devotion to duty. In the Parable of the Unjust Steward, rather than commending worldliness, cheating, or scheming, Jesus commends the practical preparations for the future which He desired children of the light to follow.
Is God an environmentalist? Should Christians care about the ecological health of the earth and its inhabitants, human or otherwise? Richard Ritenbaugh explains the Bible's position on the environmental issue.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the role of a steward- a person responsible for the resourceful conducting, supervision, or managing of something entrusted into his care by a superior. Notable examples in scripture of this office were Eliazer, Joseph, David's stewards, Melzar as well as Jesus parables illustrating faithful and unfaithful stewards. We, as stewards of God, have been entrusted with many things: His Spirit, His Word, His Spiritual gifts for the purpose of helping the congregation as well as the talents and abilities He has given us. We have been entrusted with our calling, hope, and inheritance. His disciples or ministers are to provide meat in due season, being ready to provide suitable answers, be watchful and protective of his master's goods and his master's flocks. We must be watchful and protective of our families and our relationships with others, and especially our relationship with God.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes, that like Moses, Paul, James, and Joshua, all of us have been called to be faithful stewards of God, endowed with gifts to serve the congregation. Like Moses, we have to develop conviction, a product of a relationship of God, established by being faithful day by day in the little things of life. Never in the history of the Bible has anyone given up more material possessions and power as Moses had to serve God. Nevertheless, it took God 40 years (a time when his preferences gradually became transformed into rock-solid convictions) to bring Moses to the humble position where He could profitably use Moses to be His servant. Like Moses, Abraham and Sarah, we have to learn to synchronize our timetables with God's (Genesis 18:14, Daniel 8:17-19) God sets the schedule.
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.
The seventh and last of the attitudes within the church, Laodiceanism is the attitude that dominates the era of the end time. It seems more natural to think that this attitude would be the least likely to dominate in such terrible times—that it ought to be obvious that the return of Christ is near. But Christ prophesies that it will occur. In fact, it indicates the power of Babylon! Why does Babylon dominate the church in the end time? Because it dominates the world, and the Christian permits it to dominate him!
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that it is the responsibility of each person to govern himself. Otherwise, even the very best government (the government of our Head, Jesus Christ) won't work. Goethe said "the best of all governments is that which teaches us to govern ourselves" Voluntary consent and mutual consent is the way to unity. Christ expects the leader to give, to give, and to give some more. Consequently, the authority in the ministry is a "staff position" given by God, as a gift to the church, for equipping the saints for service and for edifying the body of Christ so that we can all grow up into Christ.
Of all creation, man is the only creature made in God's image and given dominion over the rest of creation. When God breathed in the spirit of man (Genesis 2:7) to enable thinking, feeling, and creating, He imbued God-like characteristics, giving mankind the capability of subduing, controlling, and directing the rest of creation—a power not given to animals (Genesis 1:26, 28). With dominion comes responsibility to maintain (Genesis 2:15). The sad history of mankind shows that he has badly mismanaged his power, bringing about disease, war, and famine. Such people will be brought into account (Revelation 11:18). God's Spirit enables us to direct this power in a responsible, godly manner.
[Editor's note: the Matthew portion of the Bible Study begins at the 49min-30sec mark] Before continuing the Bible Study in Matthew 24, John Ritenbaugh, after first examining the role of the Levites, goes into great detail explaining the various roles or functions of offices of responsibility within the church, including that of apostle, evangelist, pastor, and elder- sometimes called bishop, presbyter, or overseer. All of these appointed positions carry the singular responsibility as shepherds to perfect, correct, and edify the saints, bringing the entire congregation to the unity of Christ. The series of events described by Christ in Matthew 24 should be compared to the six seals described in Revelation 6 and the seventh seal described in Revelation 7, showing a definite chronological progression from the Great Tribulation to the terrifying cosmic signs, followed by the climactic Day of the Lord. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
Even with all the political, environmental and military problems hanging over us, Americans are most concerned about their personal finances. Herbert Armstrong shows from Scripture how your financial problems can be solved!
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