John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that most of us resemble the Samaritan woman in our understanding of the value of our calling, maintains that our relationship with God is our sole protection from carnal human nature and the deadly pulls of the world. Whatever consumes our time has the power to either edify or distract us. Faith and works are interchangeable components in our salvation, demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship. The apostles Paul and James preached the same message, approaching the faith-works coin from different sides. Faith grounded in truth produces works in agreement with truth. Faith without godly works resembles an automobile without an engine. As a minority religion, God's Church appeared on the world scene in the midst of cultural upheaval. Peter's message on Pentecost led not only to exponential growth, but also to vicious persecution. As God stirred the cultural pot then, so He is doing today, on the cusp of Jesus' return. The frightful conditions during the First Century are only typical of the horrific times yet to come. To weather these horrendous conditions, we will need the encouragement of the Epistle of Hebrews.
Martin Collins assures us that we are not alone in our faith, but we have an overwhelming cloud of witnesses, both from the physical and spiritual realm. Christ's trial and crucifixion were not historical accidents, Rather, God prophesied both events in minute detail in Old Testament Scriptures. In the incident of Barabbas, the Scriptures amplify the message in quadraphonic sound. Barabbas, whose name means "the son of a man," likely represents all of us who have experienced redemption from death because of Christ. Pilate, who realized that Jesus was innocent, gave the mob the opportunity to request freedom for Jesus as one of his stratagems to free Him. However, the angry mob instead asked for the freedom of Barabbas, an insurrectionist, thief and murderer, a representative of every sinner who has ever lived. Barabbas must have considered himself "lucky" or perhaps was profoundly grateful to the man who died in his place. Like Barabbas, we also deserved to die, but do we consider ourselves lucky or are we profoundly grateful? Herod, Pilate , Pilate's wife, the thief in the cross, and the centurion knew that Christ was innocent, but the angry mob, filled with carnal nature could not countenance the gap between its lack of righteousness and the absolute sinlessness of the real Son of God. The Pharisees fabricated a half dozen false charges against Jesus to pull a bait- and switch con on Pilate, who ultimately submitted to the mob's demand that Jesus be crucified for 'blasphemy,' having declared Himself to be the Son of God, a claim corroborated as the truth by His own Father, His own testimony, angelic beings, shepherds in the fields, the four Gospels and many human witnesses who boldly risked their lives for their testimony—truly a great cloud of witnesses which we should seek to join
John Ritenbaugh, asking the questions "Who are we?" and "Where do we fit in?" examines the process of sanctification, comprising the state we are in because of God's action, a continuous process. The end result is that we will possess absolute holiness in every aspect of our life. Sanctification began beyond our control, and is an honor bestowed on a few out of billions, indicating that we are special to the Giver—an honor so valuable we do not want to lose out, motivating us to keep His laws, statutes, and judgments. Our calling, attended with spiritual gifts, could make us susceptible to the same dangerous pride Satan succumbed to if we do not exercise extreme caution. Satan knew he was gifted, but let his self-centered goals eclipse God's purpose for him. To Satan, God was the bad guy, thwarting his plans. God has placed us all in the body where it has pleased Him. We dare not imitate Satan by not appreciating where God has placed us. In order to benefit from the motivating power of the treasure, we must develop a single-fixed vision or goal, maintaining clear focus as if we were watching the movement of a ball in a team sport. We must exercise care about how we perceive ourselves against the backdrop of the world, constructing a worldview which takes in the preciousness of our calling. Seven truths which should be components of our world view are: (1) The church was planned before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6); (2) The church cannot be randomly joined; one must be called (John 6:44); (3) The Church is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 2:19-21); (4) Through the spirit of adoption, we become members of God's family (Romans 8:14-20); (5) Mankind has an impulse to worship; the correct way must be revealed; (6) The nation of Israel is a worldly institution; the Church is the Israel of God; and (7) God considers the Church as His treasure, giving His personal protection in order not to lose us. Our worldview should be a process of clarifying this treasure.
Martin Collins, reflecting on an administrative decision about care of the widows in the early Church (mentioned in Acts 6:1), suggests that dual languages and dual cultures (Greek and Hebrew) led to at a perceived "double standard" in the way welfare was distributed to Jewish and Hellenistic widows. The solution was to select deacons with leadership or organizational capabilities. These deacons were largely of Greek extraction. The necessary qualities of deacons are patterned on the servant-leadership model established by Jesus Christ; a deacon is a servant. Christ does not want His staff to exercise Gentile patterns of tyrannical, top-down leadership, but to humbly serve people without striving for greatness. Jesus taught His disciples how to be servants by washing their feet. Stephen proved himself one of the most effective witnesses, forgiving his enemies just as Christ had previously given the example. His recorded sermon proved a powerful witness outlining the connection of the Old Testament (Israel's History) to the teaching of Christ and the New Covenant, as well as launching the Gospel to the Gentiles. Throughout Israel's history, prophets have been persecuted; Moses had been rejected by his people. According to Stephen, the Jewish leaders had taken on the rebellious attitude of Joseph's brothers. They had murdered the prophets, resisting the Holy Spirit, and had not followed the Law of Moses (as they claimed to have done). The day of the physical temple, according to Stephen, had ended; God is omniscient and omnipotent, dwelling in all locations, choosing representatives from all peoples of the world. Stephen was full of faith, grace, power, light, scripture, and love. Jesus stood as an Advocate and Mediator for Stephen. He will do no less for us. God will, through His Holy Spirit, provide the extraordinary strength we need, giving us the power to be living sacrifices and true witnesses.
Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom. The kind of wisdom that it teaches, however, is not of the purely philosophical variety, but is a spiritual sagacity combined with practical skill in living. John Ritenbaugh explains that this kind of godly wisdom, if applied, will protect a Christian as he experiences the trials and tribulations of life in this world.
While we must express some of our own faith as we come to salvation, the great bulk of "saving faith" is a gift of God, given graciously and miraculously as part of God's creative process in us. In particular, John Ritenbaugh uses the examples of Abel and Enoch to illustrate the pattern of faith through which God walks His people.
John Ritenbaugh profiles the narcissistic personality, characterized by a highly self-absorbed and manipulative individual who, on one hand, has abused his God-given gifts and, on the other hand, neglected the responsibility of using them properly. Probably the biblical character best exemplifying the narcissistic personality is David's son, Absalom, clearly a spoiled son in a dysfunctional family. David was not noted for his childrearing skills, rarely calling any of his children into account for their behavior, but pampered them and indulged their multiple transgressions. Moreover, in both David's and Jacob's polygamous marital situations (tolerated but not condoned by God), fairness would have been next to impossible. Absalom developed a highly deceitful charm, able to "sweet-talk a bird out of a tree" with his disarming verbal eloquence, learning to be a controller par excellent. Using his scheming manipulative skills, he stealthily (taking the law in his own hands) arranged the murder of his older brother, a competitive contender for the throne. Absalom, using his manipulative charm and unctuous verbal skills, won the hearts of the common people, undercutting his father's honor and authority. For his vanity, his self-aggrandizement, and super-inflated ego, he became a "pin cushion" at the order of Joab. Absalom used his gifts and talents only for himself. With Absalom's negative example in mind, we need to make sure we do not use our spiritual gifts for self-service or self-aggrandizement, or worse yet, not to use them at all. Our children are gifts from God; we as parents must pass on to our children the sense of responsibility that has been given to us. We have to make ourselves answerable and responsible for their behavior, disciplining them for their carelessness and reinforcing their thoughtfulness. If Absalom would have been reared with these principles, much of David's bitterness and heartache would have been alleviated.
The Parable of the Talents is often confused with the Parable of the Pounds. Martin Collins brings out their differences, showing that these parables illustrate Christian responsibilities from different angles.
The Parable of the Talents continues Jesus' thought from the Parable of the Ten Virgins. While the first parable highlights preparation and watching for Christ's return, the second portrays Christians engaged in profitable activity in the meantime.
John Ritenbaugh discusses the implication of Dathan and Korah's rebellion in Numbers 16:1-5, agitating for a democratization of priestly responsibilities. God clearly reveals that not everybody set apart is holy in the same way, nor is God dealing the same way with each person. The privileges granted the priesthood are accompanied with equally weighty responsibilities. The New Testament church as a priesthood has been 1) set apart by God (not by people or self), 2) totally belongs to God, 3) has been awarded gifts for very specific functions, and 4) given the exclusive duty of drawing near to God.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the reason for refraining from work or pleasure on the Sabbath is not labor or muscular energy, but the overall motivation for expending this energy. Proper preparation for the Sabbath frees us from customary distractions, allowing our words and fellowship to focus on God's purpose for our lives. The Sabbath is 1) a memorial of creation; 2) a recurring period of God's presence; 3) associated with liberty and redemption; 4) a time in which how it is kept looms more important than merely keeping or observing it; 5) represents a shift in emphasis from communal to individual responsibility, prefiguring the rest of God; 6) a time when not working becomes secondary to fellowship with God; and 7) requires a preparation day to clear away mundane activities, enabling total commitment to God.
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 chapter 21 describes Jesus Christ's public announcement of His Messiah-ship, when the crowds would select Him to be the Paschal sacrificial Lamb of God. After overturning the money changer's tables and cursing the fig tree, Jesus relates a parable about a man (symbolizing God) who planted a vineyard (symbolizing Israel and Judah), turning it over to some husbandmen (symbolizing the religious leaders who were responsible for the education of the nation), who later proved to be unfaithful, beating the owners servants (symbolizing the prophets) and killing the owner's son (symbolizing Jesus Christ). The responsibility for tending the vineyard was removed from those wicked husbandmen (symbolizing the priests and Pharisees) and given to new servants who would tend it faithfully, bringing about quality fruit replacing physical Israel with the Israel of God- or the Church. If the Church fails in its responsibility, God will take it away again and give it to someone who will bring forth fruit. When God gives us a responsibility, He gives us all the tools we need to carry it out as well as the freedom to decide how best to do it. God wants to see how we do with what we have been given. As future kings, we must learn how to solve problems. We are going to be accountable for the outcome. Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of the Kingdom of God will either be a sanctuary or a stumbling block or grinding stone to those leaders, peoples, or nations He encounters. We cannot allow the cares of the world to run interference with our calling. Spiritual goals, including nurturing our spouses and families, have to come first. Prayer and Bible study must be regarded as our lifeblood in establishing a relationship with God. Walking by faith (rather than walking by sight) will help us establish the right priorities. Our betrothal to Christ at this time does not have a specific date for the actual marriage; we must be prepared at all times. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh characterizes chapter 12 as the "rise of the opposition," outlining the rising suspicions on the part of the Jews, the prejudiced blindness and the active investigation, countermanded by Jesus response, making claims to His authority, His courageous defiance, and His bold attack. In the first several verses, it is clear the disciples were not stealing corn (Deuteronomy 23:25) nor were they breaking the Sabbath as David had not broken the Sabbath when he ate the showbread on the Sabbath when he was fleeing from Saul, nor do the heavy priestly duties (normally work forbidden by lay members) violate the Sabbath. Human need takes precedence over human custom. Jesus didn't break the Sabbath, but he did break extra-legal fanatical human custom applied to the Sabbath apart from God's Law- those foolish prohibitions proscribing healing and alleviating human misery. Interestingly, Jesus did these miracles in a courageous, but nevertheless a discreet manner, asking his clients not to publicize these events, but nevertheless, as a humble servant [not yet a conquering hero- nor certainly a brawling instigator of incendiary riots], demonstrating humane application of the Sabbath law to the Jews and the Gentiles, having universal application. His motives were misconstrued by the opposition, accusing Him of using demonic powers. Christ warns us that following His way of life will bring persecution. Our spiritual gifts and skills (discerning skills to distinguish good from evil) we must continually use so they don't degenerate. When we cannot make this distinction any longer, we have, in essence committed the unpardonable sin- candidates for the Lake of Fire. The well-spring of good (as well as evil) stems from the heart, producing the fruit of good (or evil) works and good (or evil) words. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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