Ronny Graham, exploring some of the stories behind the amazing accomplishments of the athletes competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics, suggests that participants often make great sacrifices, setting virtually all else aside for a chance at a perishable crown. The Apostle Paul was certainly aware of the obsessiveness of Olympic athletes but stressed that sacrificing for the achievement of eternal godly character was a far wiser investment. Organized games, such as the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Commonwealth Games and other "world cup" tournaments, as well as NASCAR competitions, mesmerize spectators. Highly successful racer Carl Edwards recently ended his career because he recognized it was robbing precious time from his family and other important interests. Could it be that we are obsessing over futile games—all forms of idolatry, giving insufficient thought to the demands of our calling? In the supremely important exercise of qualifying for God's Kingdom, there is no reward for second place.
Martin Collins, reflecting on an article by Dave Berry, who suggests that the Post-Truth, fake news norm has created a milieu where people appear to be hallucinating, warns God's called-out ones against feeling the same kind of frustration as the rest of society as we become immersed in negative and false news. If we accept our Elder Brother Jesus Christ's invitation to be protected by His name, becoming an Ambassador of the Sovereign of the universe, we can rise above the swamp of negativism and evil which threatens to envelop us. Because our citizenship is in heaven, we are members of God's family, metaphorically a component of God's Temple and a constituent of the Kingdom of God. In the current world, we are sojourners, pilgrims, aliens, and ambassadors, living among, yet separate from, the peoples of this present world. Our loyalty must be to the family to which we are called—the blood of Christ's sacrifice being thicker than water. We cannot be half-hearted Christians, attempting to take the narrow and broad way simultaneously. If we are not sure we are really committed to our calling, we should consider: (1.) Do we feel that we are an outsider when we are with our brethren? (2.) Do we feel more comfortable in "wordly" social contexts? (3.) Do we understand the argot of the Church family or does it seem foreign to us? (4.) Do we understand the subjects discussed and feel prepared to take part in the discussion or does everything seem like its in secret code? (5.) Are we in on the mysteries of the fellowship, or do we feel clueless? (6.) Do we feel comfortable with the laws of our fellowship or do they seem a burden? (7.) Do we have a spiritual birth certificate—God's Holy Spirit—that we carefully guard? If we are led by God's Spirit, having the spirit of adoption, we are the children of God and ambassadors of Jesus Christ.
Mike Ford, reflecting upon the test for which people who want to become naturalized citizens must prepare (a quiz battery of ten questions from a pool of hundred) expresses incredulity that the average teenager, trained in liberal, progressive public schools, cannot even pass these basic tests. The dumbed-down populace of modern Israel (most notably USA, Canada, and Australia) are challenged with events occurring several years ago, let alone hundreds of years or millennia. America’s current educational system leaves about 19% of its high-school graduates functionally illiterate. What happens to us minutes ago is also history, but most people, who do not observe the lessons of history, are destined to repeat them. It is necessary for God’s called-out ones to learn from history, realizing that two-thirds of the Bible appears in a historical context. As Ambassadors for Christ, we have the obligation to learn the history of the culture into which we are placed, so that we can reach individuals on their level, as the apostle Paul was able to do with the philosophers of Athens. Stephen showed his keen knowledge of historical events, as he delivered the sermon leading to his martyrdom. History is highly important to God. We absolutely need to know what went on before in order to progress forward in our spiritual journey.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Deuteronomy (the Old Covenant in its fullest form) constitutes instruction for the Israel of God, serving as a compass and guide, preparing God's people to enter the Promised Land. None of Deuteronomy is done away. The singular book that was read by Shaphan to Josiah was Deuteronomy; the curses in chapter 28 particularly alarmed the king, leading to a re-affirmation of the Covenant and a major house- cleaning, ridding the land of idolatry. Deuteronomy is a compass, giving guidance of how to submit to God, providing us a God approved world-view. We need to evaluate our spiritual heritage and pass it on to our children, as a kind of rite of spiritual civic citizenship. If one does not have a grasp of the history of his nation, he has no real claim to citizenship. If we are not equipped, by knowing our heritage through the study of history to live in Kingdom of God, we will be terrible citizens, ill-equipped to rule. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants are a major part of our heritage. Our heritage is tied to a higher standard of life than we have come out of. The Bible is primarily a history book containing the exploits of God's family. Deuteronomy has been written to keep us on track, to be reviewed thoroughly every seven years. Deuteronomy is a detailed, renewed covenant document. We are to be doing the same things required of physical Israel, except on a much higher level; we must consequently respond on a higher level. Deuteronomy is a law doctrine which is ruthlessly monotheistic; God will not brook idolatry. In Deuteronomy, the character of God is described explicitly. We are exhorted against hiding our relationship with God by compromising with the world's culture. Our faithfulness to God must reciprocate His faithfulness with us. We are a sanctified people, separated from the world as a treasure of God, who is faithful to us because He loves us. Loving Him is the key to our being faithful to Him. Love motivates willing submission to Him in obedience.
"Deference" is a word that receives scant support in these days of individual rights and equality. Solomon, however, makes the subject of deference—that is, being properly respectful and submissive to an authority figure—a major part of Ecclesiastes 8. John Ritenbaugh urges Christians always to see God behind those in power over us, which will help in giving proper deference.
John Ritenbaugh reflects on two recent news items in which individuals foolishly initiated altercations with police and lost their lives in the process. As a matter of common sense, it seems the height of idiocy to challenge constituted authority. Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 8:17 that we are not privy to God's operations under the sun, but we must nevertheless leave room for God's operations, realizing that He has the prerogative to impose both blessings and calamity, the latter as a response to man's disobedience. God wants us to witness difficulties and the natural consequences of sin. In these difficult times, we need to be mindful that God is carefully watching us. As we yield to God, and apply godly wisdom, analyzing, calculating, observing, etc., our knowledge increases and we add an extra dimension of character as we morph into God's offspring. One of the difficult lessons we must process is that God backs up constituted authority, regardless of the governmental structures that placed it into office. We must realize that whether we are dealing with federal representatives, city council members, the policeman on the beat, our employer, our teachers, or our parents, we owe them the same deference and respect we would give to God. The human family was given by God as the building blocks of all governmental structures. As the beginning of wisdom is fear of Almighty God, we humans learn to fear, giving deference and respect to our parents, and then transfer this deference to civil government and other governmental structures of society. We must continually remember that we are strangers, pilgrims, and sojourners in an alien land. Even if we consider ourselves ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom, our latitude to participate in the governmental structures in this world has been greatly restricted. Nevertheless, we are obligated to render respect, deference, and honor to constituted authority as though we rendered it to God.
In Christ, our earthly citizenships are essentially inconsequential. Paul writes in Philippians 3:19 about the enemies of Christ who "set their minds on earthly things" or "side with earthly things." One area in which we can evaluate how much our heavenly Kingdom means to us is how much we set our minds on earthly kingdoms.
David C. Grabbe: The congregation at Colossae was being troubled by people who likely once had spiritual understanding but who had become enemies of Christ, having chosen to focus on the physical and temporal rather than the benefits and obligations of their heavenly citizenship.. ...
When Jesus Christ began His earthly ministry, He started by preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:23; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43). ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Over the past several weeks, the big story has been illegal immigration. ...
Domestic and foreign policy formulations derive from what a nation's people think about themselves. Charles Whitaker delves into the disproportionate divide among Americans between cosmopolitans and nationalists, and answers the bigger question, "Did we invent our self-image, or did God create it?"
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's impressive credentials and pedigree, which Paul considered rubbish, compared to his conversion and God's dramatic intervention in his life. Paul's writings, because of their complexity, have become the target of unscrupulous, antinomian twisting and equivocating by the carnal mind with its natural anti-law bias. By denigrating God's law, the unconverted presumptuously set their own standards. God's holy and righteous law was never designed to justify but only to identify sin and align one with the right standards—guiding one along the path to God's righteous purpose. Everyone who is saved will be a keeper of God's law. Paul used his life to illustrate our indebtedness to God and to caution about the law's limitation (or misapplied function) to justify, a function met only by Christ's sacrifice.
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.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: In America, where the political process is proudly hailed as free and democratic, it is considered somehow "un-American" not to vote whenever the polling stations open. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Most people do not consider patriotism to be a kind of faith, a religion of sorts, but it has every possibility of being or becoming one, especially to those who have become disaffected with "traditional religion." ...
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the calculated Hebrew calendar reflects God's faithfulness in providing His Spiritual offspring a reliable calendar. To concoct one's own calendar with errant human reason and assumptions equates with the presumptuous way of Cain. Some of the bedrock American values such as competition and individualism, when applied to changing established doctrine and established ordinances, bring an automatic curse of scattering and a seared conscience upon those who do these things. We cannot take the community's laws into our own hands, tweaking them for our own advantage, and still be a good Christian. Challenging the calendar is tantamount to challenging the laws of the Commonwealth of Israel (including its calendar) and challenging the sovereignty of Almighty God.
Parents are responsible to instill in their children a deep, abiding sense of responsibility toward God, prepare them for life, and fashion them as responsible citizens in God's government. As parents, we need to analyze and learn the right principles of government as they apply to management; this is the chemistry of government. In governing the family (childrearing), understanding the simple makes the complex more achievable. Three elements - expectation of reward, fear of disadvantage, and charisma - constitute the chemistry of government and childrearing. In the right proportions, positive governmental and childrearing results can be produced, but in the wrong proportions, the results can be explosive and deadly. Parents must learn to combine these elements artfully to prepare their children for a productive role in God's Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that as the residents of Philippi (an outpost in a foreign land) had never seen or been to Rome, their status as citizens of Rome compelled them to maintain the culture and traditions of Rome. Likewise, not one of us who claim citizenship in Heaven has ever been there, but like an ambassador in a foreign land, we are compelled to carry on the culture and laws in our personal lives. Where our citizenship is plays a vital role in what we do with our lives. Realizing our high calling should give us contentment and joy, putting an end to the petty self-centered striving and competition (for earthly concerns and rewards) entangling and enslaving those not yet called. Our anxiety about our future will melt away into joy and peace once we realize and internalize that God has our best interests in mind in every circumstance we find ourselves.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that mankind does not have (nor ever had) the prerogative to determine standards of righteousness, including whether war is justified. God clearly demonstrated that He was willing to fight Israel's battles for them. Neither ancient Israel nor modern Israel has been authorized to wage war. God's purpose (as well as His promises to our patriarchs) will stand regardless of whether Israel presumptuously chooses to go to war or not. Many biblical examples illustrate that when the leader put his faith in God and submitted himself to God's rule, God supernaturally protected His people. As Jesus lived as a human, He modeled for us a life of restraint and non-violence. Ambassadors of a foreign power do not become involved in another nations politics or wars. When the Kingdom of God becomes a kingdom of this earth, Jesus Christ (along with His resurrected saints) will permanently put an end to all rebellion and conflict.
Paul systematically planned his travels to specific cities for specific reasons, choosing Philippi for its strategic location as the only autonomous Roman colony in the region having historical cultural, military and commercial significance. As an autonomous outpost of Roman culture, more Roman than Rome, it provides a metaphor of a Christian's status of occupying an outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven, ardently maintaining a loyalty to the customs and laws of the home country. From Philippi, God called people from several nationalities and social strata, galvanizing them into one family. Paul expresses joy and camaraderie more with this congregation than any other, appreciating their selflessness, generosity, and sacrifice. Paul, from his vantage point of a prisoner, offers both abundant encouragement (God will complete what He has begun) as well as a plaintive appeal for unity to this congregation.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the topic of self-defense, examining the scriptural instructions for proactively avoiding or resolving dangerous conflicts. At the beginning of Acts 22, Paul, after clearing himself of a spurious charge (of taking a gentile into the temple), establishes his identity and credentials as a Jew (a zealous disciple of Gamaliel) in order to build a foundation from which to provide a logical defense of his 'apostasy' and testimony of his miraculous conversion (at the hand of God) on the road to Damascus, showing the continuity between Paul's revelation (from Jesus Christ) and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As Paul suggested that the gentiles could approach God independently from Jewish tradition, the crowd became riotous again. Paul saves himself from a certain scourging by establishing his identity as a natural born Roman citizen, giving him the protection of Roman law. Paul extricates himself from another dangerous situation (the convening of the Sanhedrin by the corrupt high priest Ananias) by proclaiming himself a Pharisee (hoping for a resurrection), creating another dissension (between the Pharisees and Saduccees), forcing the Roman soldiers to rescue him.
John Ritenbaugh explores the connection between feelings or emotions (specifically controlling temper) and health, suggesting that the scriptures are seemingly light years ahead of scientific inquiry. Also the inextricable connection between ceremonial sacrifices and new moons preclude any current obligations to religiously observe new moons. At the beginning of Acts 16, we notice that Paul, by circumcising Timothy, demonstrates a reluctance to flaunt his religious liberty, preferring instead to exercise cautious conservative expediency. The first European convert to Christianity was Lydia, a generous, hospitable woman. The beating and false imprisonment of Paul and Silas (for casting out a demon- upsetting local customs) followed by their miraculous release (when an earthquake shook the prison to its foundations) brought about several positive outcomes: (1) The conversion of the bewildered jailer and his family, (2) Protection for local converts to Christianity,(3) Protection for future evangelists coming through the region, and (4)Correction of local authorities for rushing to judgment, having imprisoned a Roman citizen (a punishable offense in the Roman colony of Philippi). This dramatic episode underscores God's proclivity for turning something initially evil into something good in the long run.
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.]
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