Ted Bowling, cuing in on Philippians 2:12, which states that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, remembers an incident of an earthquake he had experienced in San Bernardino, an incident fraught with terror and feelings of helplessness as the concrete under his feet rolled like waves. The fear and trembling before God is more like reverence and awe instead of abject terror. The fear and terror we experience leads us to total dependence upon God with a desire to repudiate sin, which is loathsome to God. We cannot do this on our own, but must ask God for the will and desire to overcome our carnal human nature. We bring honor to God by keeping His commandments. Paul asks members of the Philippian congregation to take stock of themselves, making sure they were solicitous of the needs of the congregation, esteeming others before self, emulating the example of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ. As we emulate Christ, growing in His character, and when we serve our brethren with selflessness, we bring glory to God the Father.
John Ritenbaugh, claiming that one major reason people find Ecclesiastes to be pessimistic is that much of life also contains negativity, suggests that Solomon, who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, found much of life discouraging, disappointing, trying, and fraught with vanity. Nevertheless, his lifetime observations provide the reader with insight and practical counsel to navigate the twists and turns of our journey through life. God has given time to mankind as a gift, manipulating its use for each and every person. We need to be thankful to God for physical life itself, considering that the bad as well as the pleasant aspects are fashioned for our ultimate good. We have the obligation to give ourselves over to His fashioning in the best and the worst of times, realizing that God's purpose is being worked out in the process. God's calling turns our lives upside down, giving us challenges we never heretofore considered facing, forcing us to make decisions. We need to be thankful for what God is putting us through, realizing that God is continually with us and is overseeing all the shaping circumstances. It is necessary to live our lives by faith, trusting God in all circumstances (which He designs) with the help of His Holy Spirit. In the poem (or music) of life, God is playing the tune. God is totally sovereign over time, continually involved in the purpose of His creation, working with billions of people at different stages of growth, knowing our limitations and making adjustments accordingly, all the while allowing for our free moral agency. When we go through grim circumstances, whether as individuals or institutions, we need to see God behind the overall manipulations. In the scattering of our previous fellowship, God, not Satan, was in total control of the circumstances. God knows the end from the beginning.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that a life lived apart from God, under the sun, amounts to vanity and a fist full of wind. As we become aware of God's involvement in our lives, we begin to stand in awe of God, developing an appreciation for the proper investment of our time. 780 references to time recur through Scripture. Thousands of aphorisms occur in our culture emphasizing the preciousness and transitory nature of time. Solomon warns against bad choices in our investment of time. Our knowledge that we will ultimately die should motivate us to use our time circumspectly. God's universe runs on His time, not on ours. God has placed the concept of eternity in our hearts, giving us the ability to bind time backwards and forwards. Life and time are inextricably related in our lives; as time slips away from us, life does too. The 14 pairs or merismus patterns (gathering/ throwing away/ being born/ dying, etc) occur to very human being and are God-given for the purpose of testing His children, meticulously guiding and directing our lives. We are not an insignificant afterthought. Everything in life matters. Consequently, our wisest investment in life is to fear God and keep His commandments, for it is God who orders life. Everything in Scripture is precisely timed and ordered for a specific purpose. Consequently, we should never miss any opportunity to submit ourselves to the perfect immutable will of God.
As everyone knows, Scripture takes a very dim and stern view of sin because it is failure to live up to God's standard and destroys relationships, especially our relationship with God. After identifying the types and levels of sin, John Ritenbaugh suggests that the fear of God provides us the necessary motivation to overcome our iniquities.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the scripture commanding the saving of second tithe, focuses on the admonition that we learn to fear God, having awe, respect, with a certain measure of dread. We are admonished to internalize the book of Deuteronomy in preparation for our future leadership roles. In one sense, Deuteronomy serves as the Reader's Digest Condensed Book or the Cliff Notes, outlining the details for our salvation, providing us instructions for our relationship to God and our guidebook to the Promised Land. Deviating from this set of instructions leads to apostasy, idolatry or spiritual adultery, a situation in which physical Israel perennially found itself, having become repeatedly immersed in degenerate heathen religious practices. Ezekiel 16 is directed to modern Israel, a people who have outstripped their ancestors in their zeal to defile themselves in a moral and spiritual cesspool. Unfortunately, all of us have been tainted by this degenerate culture. Modern Israel's major sin is idolatry. Once the First Commandment is broken, the others topple like a house of cards. Most of the world worships pictures or sculptures of gods and lords. Those who trust these false entities are as good as dead. There is no alternative to worshipping the one true God. Israel's propensity for idolatry is deeply ingrained in them, impatiently and emotionally clamoring for something they could see—a malleable idol. Unfortunately, this propensity toward idolatry is part of human nature, a natural extension of self-centered coveting; transforming ourselves into the god we serve. God will not brook competition under any circumstances, demanding total destruction of all alternative forms and methods of worship—no form of syncretism with anything pagan whatsoever.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the significance of the Day of Trumpets, asserts that it is characterized by shouting or a memorial of blowing of trumpets (teruah), signifying alarm, joy, or excitement. Before the commandment to keep this feast, only one event involving trumpets had occurred to the Israelites, namely the giving of the Covenant on Mount Sinai, when God spoke audibly to Moses and the people, intentionally intimidating them to test their faithfulness, to instill the fear of the Lord in them, and to keep them from sin. Most Israelites soon forgot the magnitude of God's power. When the psalmist Asaph remembered God's power, he was motivated to worship Him properly. This fear enables us to learn to walk in God's ways, acquiring wisdom and understanding, avoiding and hating evil, loving and finding refuge in God, ultimately attaining the reward of eternal life. The fear of the Lord is the basic attitudinal setting for a Christian, called by Jesus "poor in spirit."
John Ritenbaugh cautions that placing our hope in the wrong thing can jeopardize our relationship with God. We must remember that God alone is the source from whom all blessings flow, and that we need to reciprocate those gifts back to God,fearing and standing in awe of Him, honoring Him, and conforming to His standards. We must always look for the spirit and intent of what God commands rather than look for a specific "thus saith the Lord" clause. The liberal mindset looks for loopholes or strategies for circumventing God's commands, but the Godly mindset fears transgressing the intent and spirit of the law. Formality and decorum (in terms of dress and behavior) are part of godly standards and sanctity.
Even though a Christian's potential in God's Kingdom is so wonderful, it is still necessary for God to motivate His children to reach it. John Ritenbaugh begins his series on Christian motivation by expounding the fear of God.
Once we accept God's sovereignty, it begins to produce certain virtues in us. John Ritenbaugh explains four of these byproducts of total submission to God.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that we must be careful lest we be deceived into thinking that justice delayed while continuing in a sin means acceptance of that sin by God. Justice delayed does not equate to justice denied. We will absolutely reap what we sow. We desperately need to guard against naiveté, immaturity, ignorance, carelessness, and negligence in handling God's word. Spiritually, fear is the first line of defense, keeping us from profaning God's name, tarnishing the image of the Lord, and defending us from pain and/or death. If we hold something precious, we will guard and protect it with our life. Unlike the perverted concept of grace taught by many Protestant denominations, real grace promotes the right kind of fear and respect for God,serving as the essence and power behind an obedient life. The fear of God (following the principle of reciprocity) is the key to God's blessings.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that even before we acquire the necessary motivational building blocks of faith, hope, and love, we must acquire the fear of God (spanning the emotions of stark terror to reverential awe) providing a key, unlocking the treasures of God. The process of acquiring this fear comes through a perennial sequential pattern of chaos or disorder followed by Divine order, revealing God's glory, followed by judgment in some form. The cycle takes place in our lives just as assuredly as it did in the biblical examples. Judgment is now upon the Church of God. Learning from biblical examples, we dare not treat what is holy as common, but must (with the metaphorical hills and valleys of our character leveled) maintain a steady reverential fear of God.
John Ritenbaugh begins to summarize the attitudes that we should develop toward this vital subject. Five things or insights understanding sovereignty should produce are: (1) a fear of God, (2) implicit and unquestioned obedience, (3) resignation to His will,(4) thankfulness and praise, and (5) an adoring worship of Him. Like Job, we need to mature into the resignation to God's will and purpose for our lives,realizing that both pleasant and horrendous times work for our ultimate spiritual growth and development.
Having knowledge of God's law is not a guarantee of spiritual success or growth. Only those motivated to use the law will experience growth and produce fruit. The fear of God is the first element of motivation, ranging from reverential awe to stark terror. Fearing God leads to a determination not to bring shame on God's name or offending and hurting the relationship between God and us. We have to, like Nehemiah, who in his determination not to offend God, developed self control, refusing to conform to the corrupt practices of the world, unlike the procurator Felix, who cowardly capitulated to the tyranny of the majority.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that Deuteronomy (the commentary of the Law placed along side of the Tablets of the Law), designed to be systematically reviewed every seven years, provides us vision and preparatory instruction for living in our new Promised Land as members of God's family. We need to learn (it doesn't come naturally) and acquire the fear of God- equated with hating evil and doing good, leading to faith and wisdom. If we fear God, we will be less inclined to fear people. The sermon explores the subject of grace, indicating that we have nothing that we didn't receive from God- including our calling, justification, skills, attributes, spiritual gifts, and our pending eternal life. The final theme in this sermon explores God's faithfulness (no variableness nor shadow of turning), symbolized by the image of the harvest- depicting God's faithfulness from the beginning to completion. Living in booths depicts transitory existence suggesting our total dependency upon God.
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