Martin Collins, taking the apostle Paul's cue that persecution expresses our relationship to Christ, suggests that persecution involves a wide spectrum, ranging from torture, physical beating, social excommunication, imprisonment and death—fates endured by the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11. Paul did not ask for the harassment and persecution he endured, but maintained that everything which befell him proved to be for the ultimate good of spreading the Gospel. Because of his impeccable witness, the entire Palace Guard at Rome received testimony, some persuaded to the point of conversion. Ironically, jealousy from other 'Christian' factions probably led to Paul's execution rather than persecution from the outside, a harbinger for those living in end-time persecution. The churches in Revelation 2-3 all receive their portion of persecution, but God promises deliverance and reward for those who endure. In the current diaspora of the Greater Church of God, the trials and problems are not much different than those of the first century, and Christ still promises boldness to those who see the big picture. Our boldness and confidence should match that of Paul's trusting in God to give us strength to overcome or endure, following Christ's example of esteeming others above ourselves, even those who maliciously abuse us, realizing that God will open their eyes at the right time. God will never disappoint us, but will give us His Holy Spirit and mind to navigate the spiritual minefield. Like Paul, we need to realize that all things, horrible and pleasant, will work God's ultimate purpose and our good.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses upon an inspiring incident in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, in which a runner, Derek Redmond, who had previously dropped out of competition because of an injured Achilles tendon, had another setback, a pulled hamstring, causing him to suddenly fall to the ground after having been in a commanding lead. Writhing in pain, with dogged determination, he managed, with some help from his devoted father, to finish the race. His inspiring example provides a spiritual analogy to all of God's called-out ones who must continually battle external obstacles (as well as the inner obstacles of carnal human nature), erecting a formidable barrier of resistance. The elite athlete, not always the one with the superior skills, nevertheless is the one with the gritty persistence to fight on regardless of the obstacles, wanting nothing to do with mediocrity. Persistence is the key attribute, having the attending synonyms endurance, steadfastness, or staying the course. Jesus counseled the value of this trait in the examples of the persistent neighbor asking for a loaf of bread in the middle of the night and the importunate widow who wore out the judge. Isaac provided a wonderful example of this tenacity, as he trusted God, repeatedly moving away from quarrelsome situations, trusting God to provide. Isaac, as a type of Christ, prefigured Jesus' returning to God the Father for sustenance and strength. Similarly, we are to return to the well of God's Spirit if we are to move forward. To develop Godly persistence, we should (1) have a clearly defined goal we desire with all our heart, (2) have a clearly established plan we can work on immediately, (3) make an irrevocable decision to reject all negative suggestions, and (4) accept encouragement and help from those on the same path.
Mark Schindler, maintaining that it is indeed a privilege to be in the body of Christ, cautions us to be mindful of our calling, and to remember that we are indeed the weak of the world, still seeing through a glass darkly, having incomplete knowledge as to how God is using us. We do know that the most intelligent and wise of all human beings is no match for God. Having God's spiritual gifts should not incline us to exercise any measure of pride because we have nothing that has not been given to us by God. We should not consider ourselves superior to others because we have been gifted. Satan wants us to fail by allowing our spiritual gifts to make us prideful. The only thing we dare boast about is what God has done. How we handle our opportunity of having these priceless gifts of understanding makes a big difference, especially when we realize that judgment is now out on the Household of God. The apostle Peter serves as a type of all those who have been gifted by God, occasionally needing to be redirected to a humble approach after falling. As we yield to God more, and rely on ourselves less, we mature spiritually, achieving wisdom and understanding. We will always have what we need if we submit to God's wisdom. No matter how many spiritual gifts we have been given, all glory belongs to our Great God.
Martin Collins, reminding us that we, as followers of Christ, may suffer persecution, provides encouragement by reminding us we are promised boldness through the power of the Holy Spirit, making it unnecessary to prepare a response against the persecutors. When the laws of God conflict with the laws of man, civil disobedience is the only correct response, as was patterned by Peter, Paul, and the apostles, who boldly proclaimed Jesus' resurrection from the dead despite intimidations and threats from the religious establishment, terrified at losing their power base. The disciples knew, however, that with the power emanating from the Holy Spirit, the gates of hell could not prevail against their work. Peter was not in the least intimidated, boldly proclaiming to these religious leaders that: (1) they were guilty of crucifying Jesus, (2) Jesus rose from the dead, (3) the purpose of God was completed despite opposition and God's purpose alone will stand, and (4) Jesus is the only means of salvation, a statement which seems 'harsh' and 'intolerant' to most of the world. If we are following God, we will be compelled to disobey civil authority at some point. We cannot reclusively join a monastery nor should we become secular, cowardly assenting to evil laws, but we must fear God rather than man, righteously performing what God requires of us, realizing that our citizenship has been registered in Heaven. We should entrust ourselves to God for safe-keeping, realizing that the just shall live by faith.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his comparison of the timid, insignificant sparrow with the virtually unnoticed, timid Church, reiterates that God has complete oversight over the awesome plan of creating offspring in His image. Consequently, we should not fear Satan, his demons, or the world, but we should fear and respect the One who has complete involvement in our lives. The calling of God the Father, compelling us to conform to the image of Christ, is in fact, a calling to participate in the ministry of reconciliation, reuniting mankind with God the Father through Jesus Christ. God's called-out ones, selected and predestinated before the foundation of the world, continue to submit to His instructions, while other professing 'Christians' throw out whole portions of His Law, including the Sabbath, a major tenant in both the Old and New Covenants, created, like light, water, air, and food, as a benefit and blessing to mankind. As God called out the Jew and the Greek, He began with the least significant of all people (including us) that no flesh should glory in His sight. Whatever gifts or assignments God has given us are to be used boldly for God's glory, not our own. We are undergoing sanctification, set apart for a special purpose of being refined into His likeness, a process which takes a lifetime, honing skills of endurance and resisting sin. Currently, the scattering of the church has furnished us a measure of protection, but Satan is doubling down on his plans for persecution, and we will (with God's Spirit dwelling in us) resist his pulls as did our Elder Brother before us. The battle lines have already been drawn between the seed of Satan and the seed of Eve, with the separation of the line of Seth from the line of Cain. At least in part, God instituted marriage to reproduce, something angels cannot do (Luke 20:36). Though the sons of God have a natural fear of Satan, God has, in a sense, provided Satan to us for resistance, in order to develop godly character, becoming like Him, becoming one, as husband and
Ted Bowling, recollecting a conversation with his late mother about the identity of Philip, the individual who ministered to the Ethiopian eunuch, affirmed that this same Philip was one of the first seven deacons chosen to serve the neglected Grecian widows, providing sorely needed administrative relief. These men were chosen not only for their administrative savvy, but for their good reputation, character, wisdom, fullness of the Holy Spirit, and humility to serve in lowly and thankless positions. Philip served with Stephen, the first New Testament martyr, whose example was evidently instrumental in the calling and conversion of the apostle Paul. With the death of Stephen, Philip stepped in to fill the gap, preaching and serving the needs of the congregation in Samaria, evidently swelling the size of the fellowship with his dynamic preaching, providing Peter with a large number of candidates for baptism. At the peak of this accomplishment, he was removed from this responsibility and sent on another assignment, involving more uncertainty and arduous travel; Philip accepted this charge without complaining or grumbling, being willing to serve in any assigned capacity. When he encountered the Ethiopian eunuch, an official of Queen Candace, he approached the task of helping this single individual to understand with the same alacrity as teaching a multitude, leading to the baptism and conversion of this man. Philip teaches us that we do not have to preach to multitudes in order to be used by God; we never know in what capacity God may use us. As long as we humbly are willing to serve in any capacity, being willing to wash feet, God will find a use for us.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus did not often teach or heal Gentiles, as His work concentrated on His own people, the Jews of Judea and Galilee. However, He made an exception for the Phoenician woman's daughter due to the boldness of the elder woman's faith. Martin Collins shows how Jesus tested her faith—a test she passed with flying colors.
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.
Though we are surrounded and sometimes buffeted by numerous difficulties, trials, and threats, God is always faithful to provide what we need to endure and overcome them. Keying in on I Corinthians 16:13, Mike Ford illustrates what we must do to persevere through the tough times ahead.
As he begins concluding his series, John Ritenbaugh writes that the offerings have a great deal to do with our relationship with God. How closely do we identify with Christ? Are we walking in His footsteps? Are we being transformed into His image?
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.
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.
Bravery or courage is a character trait Christians need to possess. Many servants of God have had to face severe trials and hardships, and having a brave heart will help us to get through these tough times.
Standing up against the majority is never easy, but as Christians, we have been called to do just that. We need to grow in courage until we "are bold as a lion" (Proverbs 28:1)!
Laziness and fear are the greatest challenges to love. When Protestant theologians disparage "works," connecting them to salvation rather than sanctification and growth, they encourage spiritual laziness. If we are lazy, we might still be saved, but we will have built nothing to fulfill God's purpose in us. If we refuse to work hard at character building, the principle of entropy will turn our efforts into a state of disorganization. If we make no effort to overcome, the principle of inertia will keep us going in the same way we have allowed ourselves to drift. An irrational fear of loss prevents the development of agape love within us—we fear that keeping God's commandments will cause us to lose something valuable. Like a musician who practices everyday, by continual effort at commandment keeping, we will soon develop feelings of confidence by knowing what we are doing is right (I John 3:17-19; John 15:9-10).
John Ritenbaugh teaches that God has given us a checkpoint against which we can check ourselves in times of despondency and despair, so whether we doubt, fear, or the self—whether the problems are moderate or deep—we can go back to see whether we are keeping God's commands and working on developing our fellowship with Him. God has created mankind with the need to face challenges—the need to overcome—or we quickly become subject to boredom or "ennui." Our major responsibility is to govern ourselves scrupulously and conscientiously within the framework of God's Laws, overcoming negative impulses by the knowledge and Spirit of God, seeking a total relationship with Him in thought, emotion, and deed, extending to our relations with our brethren. Fellowship with God is the only antidote to overwhelming feelings of despair, doubt, and self-condemnation.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the persecution of the apostles in the fourth chapter. Peter, inspired by God's Holy Spirit, demonstrated exemplary boldness and courage before the Sadducees (zealous influential movers and shakers of the Jewish community, descendents of the Maccabees), religious leaders who feared losing their power and influence. Peter, John, and the early church had confidence in God's absolute sovereignty, realizing that no human authority could thwart God's power. This powerful conviction gave them confidence to endure their trials, submitting to whatever God had prepared for them, realizing that God uses trials to further His ultimate purpose for them. The last portion of this chapter illustrates the exemplary, voluntary generosity exhibited in the early church.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Jesus Christ's sinlessness was not the result of being a programmed automaton, but instead as a result of volition or choice—actively struggling against carnal pulls and temptations, enabling Him to fully empathize and have compassion on those tempted in like manner. He experienced exactly the same kind of temptations and suffering we experience, qualifying Him for the role of High Priest, bridge-builder between man and God, the same role for which members of God's called-out Family are also qualifying. Like our Elder Brother, we must learn righteous judgment by continually exercising our spiritual muscle, practicing making choices, distinguishing right from wrong, but building godly character and spiritual maturity through the enabling power of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the encounter of Jesus with the woman of Samaria, perhaps an exemplification of the entire unconverted world, but also symbolic of a church, initially hardened, self-willed and skeptical when called out of the world, but afterwards zealous and energized when enlightened by the truth. As Jesus revealed Himself to her and exposed the disgusting details of her past, so God does the same thing to us when we are called. As the woman had to be drawn away from false concepts of worship, we must be weaned away from poisonous superstitions and false doctrine polluting our worship of God. Only those who attain the Spirit of God within their inner beings will worship God in spirit and in truth. Spiritual sacrifices include humility, fidelity, and service. As the woman had to be diverted from using the living water for selfish purposes, we must learn to derive satisfaction from serving others, emulating Christ's example of becoming energized by doing the work of God, planting and reaping the spiritual harvest.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the episode in Matthew 20, in which Jesus was deep in thought, reflecting on the prophecies leading up to His crucifixion. At this point, His disciples were not converted, but displayed considerable carnality. The mother of two of the disciples asked for places of honor for her sons; none of the disciples had even an inkling of servant leadership. True greatness does not come from dominance but from serving and sacrificing with the attitude of a slave. Love is sacrificial. Willingness to sacrifice self is the secret to success in God's plan for us. If we would sacrifice instead of attempting to dominate one another, our marriages would be successes. Drinking ones cup is emblematic of enduring whatever we must go through, different for every human being. Our cup is to follow Christ in any situation, supreme sacrifice or lifelong commitment, acting how He would act. No one can really count the cost in advance. When the opportunity comes to learn spiritual truths, we must seize the opportunity as aggressively and boldly as the two blind men sought healing, rejecting any inkling of timidity. In our prayers, we must come before the throne of God boldly and then show gratitude for His response. God is not against doing something dramatic once in awhile in order to make an impact. When He made His entry into Jerusalem, it possibly attracted the attention of 2 ½ million people, most of them visitors. Evidently this event had been planned rather than done on the spur of the moment. His arrival prompted the overwhelming response "Hosanna" or "save now." The crowd was selecting the Lamb to be sacrificed. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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