David Grabbe, cautioning us to avoid using Strong's Concordance as final arbiter of the meaning of a Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic word, points out that all words have multiple meanings and consequently do not yield to the faulty "one meaning" or "exact meaning" assumption. The meaning of the noun spirit, for example, is highly variable, based on context. The meaning of the Ephesians' "losing their first love" can in one context refer to their loss of original enthusiasm, but the phrase can also refer to their gradual reprioritizing, lowering God to a less dominant position in their lives. It is improper to build a doctrine on one Scripture. We need at least two reliable Scriptures (and hopefully more) to establish any doctrine, a lesson we learn from God's standard of evidence—that any important matter must be decided "at the mouths" of at least two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15). Strong is correct to assert that the Greek words agape or agapeo can mean in one context "social love," but sadly, because a decadent culture has distorted the concepts underlying the meaning of the noun social, Strong's definition is too general to be reliable. It is best to rely on the maxim in Proverbs 11:14: "In a multitude of counselors there is safety."
Martin Collins, reflecting on the practice of "defriending" (or "unfriending") on Facebook, contrasts this practice with Christ's love for His called-out ones, a friending with the condition that godly fruit is born. When Paul challenged the Roman congregation to produce godly fruit, he was not looking for new converts, but evidence of the spiritual fruit of God's character. Jesus Christ became like us so that we could become like Him. The fruit Jesus asked His disciples to bear is designed to glorify the Father, to demonstrate love by obedience to His Commandments, and to increase the believer's joy, a by-product of sincere obedience. God admonishes us to not only bear fruit, but to bear more fruit through pruning. God is looking for a great deal of fruit as we yield to Him in order to exceed our self-imposed limitations, as well as for enduring fruit, in contrast to futile worldly projects which are subject to decay. As we bear godly fruit, the quality of our friendship with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and our brethren will increase exponentially as we make activities like intercessory prayer, sacrifice, hospitality, and charity a perpetual part of our spiritual repertoire.
Christians have been known to toss about the word "love" with seeming abandon, quoting verses from Jesus' lips or the apostle John's pen as if they were talismans that can solve all problems. Joseph Baity, however, calls their bluff, suggesting that culture has so confused the common understanding of love that most people do not know what true, godly love is.
Richard Ritenbaugh continues his exposé of artistic and spiritual resistance, an analogy derived from Stephen Pressfield's The War of Art, a manual designed to overcome artistic resistance and many forms of self-sabotage. The core of self-sabotage is our carnal human nature, which absolutely abhors any change which leads to self-sacrifice or to growth. Human nature is comfortable with the status quo, accepting the domination of Satan's influence and the world. Human nature is enmity (hatred and hostility) against God and His Holy Law. Human nature has instinctive antipathy to anything good. Most of the biblical luminaries, including Moses, Jonah, David, and Gideon demonstrated resistance to God's prompts, indicating that they initially feared men more than they feared God. When we are called, repent, and are baptized, our sins are washed away, but the baggage from our human nature stays with us. Like Gideon, we are tempted to put God repeatedly to the test, in spite of Christ's warning that an evil generation looks for a sign. When we resist God, we, like Peter, risk inadvertently channeling Satan. To actively overcome resistance, we must: (1) not forget God's laws, but etch them on our heart, (2) practice justice, mercy, and lovingkindness, (3) trust God and have faith in Him, and (4) remain humble, running from evil as we would run from a nest of angry hornets. We must put on the whole armor of God in order to stand.
John Ritenbaugh reflecting on the curse imposed upon Satan and the enmity created between the serpent's seed and Eve, asserts that, paradoxically, this curse could be considered a blessing for those called of God, providing a practical means by which God creates character in those whom He called out before the foundation of the world. This understanding runs counter to the faulty dispensationalist theory which assumes that God, as a somewhat absent-minded tinker, must continually adjust His method of giving salvation (moving away from works to grace), making it easier and more inclusive. Dispensationalism assumes too much randomness or chance in God's plan, overlooking the intense purpose and planning of God's mind, having pre-planned or pre-destined all of us individually before the foundation of the world. Christ has full control of the church. Everything of consequence, including the development of our character, is engineered by Him; we did not find God by ourselves, but were chosen. The mystery of His plan, hidden from the world, has been revealed to the saints. The God who designed complex cells, molecules, and atoms certainly has the savvy to design a viable plan of salvation. God has had the same plan from the beginning of the world, having chosen us as the weak of the world so that no flesh could glory. The called-out church was not a passing fancy of God, but an entity which has been on His mind from the very beginning. Nothing happens randomly; God is in total control; the death of a sparrow (a rather insignificant and drab creature) does not occur without His full attention. We, like the sparrow, are undistinguished and drab by the world's standards, but given a glimpse of the mystery that God is reproducing Himself, bringing us altogether into one family in His Eternal Kingdom, at which time mother Eve's seed, from the line of Seth to the present, will be glorified.
Clyde Finklea, decrying the careless way the world uses the word “love,” does some etymological explorations of the Hebrew words ahavta and chesed connoting giving, commitment, unfailing love, devoted to acts of kindness, mercy, and longsuffering. These connotations are also captured by the Greek word agape, which prompts us to avoid retaliation, and instead practice concrete acts of kindness, not only putting up with one another, but attempting to add joy and comfort into each other’s lives. When David took all the guff from King Saul, and then later showed his mercy to Saul’s extended family, he demonstrated the true essence of godly love. Agape, chesed, and ahvata are in that respect interchangeable. God is love; how we practice love determines how we know God.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in Romans 11:26, which states that the calling of God is irrevocable and eventually the vast majority of Israel will be saved, suggests that the conversion of the Gentiles is part of God's plan to bring maximum conversion. As God's called-out ones, having been gifted with special spiritual gifts, we must learn to see ourselves and our function as God sees us—as a distinct, unique entity—a holy people, a special treasure above all people on the face of the earth. God loves the church in a way He does not love the world. Among the billions of people, we are separated out, set apart from the aggregate of people, identified as a special people gifted for a special purpose, and called to His marvelous light. God has chosen the weak and base things in order that nobody would glory in the flesh, but God would receive all the glory. We received our calling before the foundation of the world, children of the Promise to Abraham and Isaac, part of the Great Creator's personal selection. We should know and appreciate that we have been called, walking by faith rather than sight. As we walk in humility, God gives us spiritual gifts to accomplish His purpose, preparing us to live by faith. God actively involves Himself in the process, giving us life, education, conversion, faith, gifts, His Word, and the resurrection to come. Very few people, apart from the Church of God, are living their lives by faith, allowing our worldview to change from the perspective of the flesh to the perspective of Christ. The world should be able to marvel at the drastic transformation in our orientation and behavior. God will be holding us responsible for the gifts He has entrusted; we have no excuse to fail.
Bill Onisick, asking whether God would consider us zealous, reminds us that both the congregation at Ephesus and Laodicea were cited for lost or flagging zeal. Zeal is a quality which could be characterized as ardent, passionate, energetic, or being on fire. Our God has been described as a consuming fire that cannot be restrained or held back. Jesus Christ exemplified this kind of zeal as He drove the moneychangers out of the temple. One metaphor of zeal is a cloak, selected as a grounds of comparison because of its use in protecting against cold, providing bedding, and shelter keeping the soldier warm against the elements. A cold and wet soldier is easily de-motivated. Zeal consumed Christ as it should consume all of us in our daily spiritual preparation. We are called to a life of self-sacrifice, glorifying God, building up His temple, no longer living for ourselves, but transformed with the love of Christ, igniting a burning zeal which consumes and overtakes us like an erupting volcano. We need to be demonstrating agape love for God and His family, building up God's Church with zealous good works. Our spiritual armor should include the protective cloak of zeal.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that a conundrum or paradox exists in Ecclesiastes 7:15, admonishes us that we do not leave God out of the picture when we evaluate the twists and turns of our uncertain lives. Because we realize God is involved, we should learn to roll with the punches, refraining from judging God's motives in a negative light. We will never see the entire picture (looking through a glass darkly) until the fullness of time. There is no complacency in God's involvement with His Creation, even though our human nature, prompted by bitterness and despair, might carelessly assume that God is not closely involved with His creation. For God's called-out ones, trials are the tools God uses to test our faith; we must learn to trust God in these situations, neither giving up nor striving to impress God with our super-righteousness, which paradoxically militates against our relationship with God, subjecting us to Satan's wiles. Christians are not immune from disease, injury, or horrendous times; we should not assume it is punishment from God for our sins. God did not allow Job to go through horrendous trials because of his sins, nor did Jesus go through His suffering and crucifixion because of His sins. Each and every one of us has our own trials; we are not being punished. Trials are a means to produce spiritual growth, unless we resort to super-righteousness, straining to please God by exalting our works.
John O. Reid (1930-2016): A well-known principle of Bible study is that repetition is among the best forms of emphasis. If God states something once, it is important, and if twice, ...
Bill Onisick, asserting that most people are not aware of the motivations that drive their behavior, questions if we are cognizant of our own motivations, and if we are analyzing the activation, persistence, and intensity of them. Psychologists have concluded that fear and pleasure are the primary drivers. Our relationship with God begins in fear, but becomes agape love (displacing our carnal "get" attitude) as we reciprocate His love out to others. As God's called-out ones, we are preparing to become the Bride of Jesus Christ. Agape is the bond of perfection liberating us from a selfish fear to a selfless love, reflecting our Heavenly Father's example of sacrificial giving.
David C. Grabbe: Most translations fail to bring out that two different words are translated as "love" in John 21:15-17. Twice, Jesus asks Peter if he had agape love for Him, and both times ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon elements of what repentance is and what it produces, warns us that we are continually in need of repentance. The churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were warned to repent, prefiguring the identical conditions which would be extant in the current greater Church of God. Like faith, repentance must exist in the end times. We are admonished to change our mind and attitude, bringing about a total about-face in behavior, in which we abhor our human nature and diligently seek God's nature. Repentance must be motivated by a Godly sorrow which leads to a dramatic change of behavior. The Corinthian congregation was beset with myriad sins, including party-spirit and porneia, even though they were puffed up with pride because of their spiritual 'gifts.' Paul addressed the Corinthian congregation as carnal, even though its members were converted. The congregation in Paul's letters to the Hebrews had become dull of hearing, losing their spiritual maturity. Faith and repentance are inextricably linked as we move on to perfection. Godly sorrow leads to perfection, while worldly sorrow leads to death. Repentance has seven distinct fruits: 1) diligence (the motivation to accomplish), 2) clearing of self (washing away), 3) indignation (anger at injustice and sin, especially at ourselves), 4) fear, 5) vehement desire (a strong and persistent craving for righteousness and a burning desire to change), 6) zeal (wholehearted ardor for accomplishing a task), and 7) vindication (setting things right). We must, in repentance, voluntarily surrender the self, striving to imitate our Heavenly Father and our Elder Brother.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on popular music involving the theme of romantic love as the answer to all the world's ills, remarks that the composers of these lyrics have no idea as to what love really is. The fuzzy definition of love is responsible for tolerance of sin, deviancy and liberal, multi-cultural mis-evaluations. We should have a more mature understanding of love for God and love for neighbor. The outgoing concern toward other beings begins with God the Father to Jesus Christ to us. Without godly love, real love does not exist. Real love does not exist in isolation; another being must always be the object of real love. God's plan involving the reciprocal sharing of love among members of God's Family began well before the foundations of the world, at which time a possible sacrifice for sin had to be factored in. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. The love of God, through the mechanism of His Holy Spirit, works on our inner beings (our mind and spirit), making us like Him, demonstrating the love of God, loving God with all our minds (keeping His commandments) and our neighbors (including our enemies) as ourselves. The extent that we love our brethren may be an accurate gauge as to how much we love God.
Among the best-known signs of the end of the age is Jesus' declaration in Matthew 24:12 that "the love of many will grow cold." However, David Grabbe advises caution in judging that such a state exists in others, in a church group, or in the church as a whole. Could love be there but just not as we might expect it?
It is an entirely human reaction to attempt to avoid anything that might be unpleasant, and this is especially true of an event as destructive as the Great Tribulation. David Grabbe posits that, if we show patient endurance now, overcoming and growing, God may bless us with protection from that horrible trial.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the two great commandments are actually a seamless whole, one commandment with two different parts. We need to devote ourselves to both-devotion to God and devotion to our fellow man. Only when we can blend these two emphases are we able to develop character. Jesus" brother James warns that we cannot simultaneously praise God and curse mankind. All the law is fulfilled by loving our neighbor (as we love the Heavenly Father with all our being). We express our love for God when we serve His creation. He who loves God must love his brother, including spouse, children, kin, countryman, friend, ally in a business covenant, neighbor, acquaintence, and fellow human being. Our closeness with God transcends the other human relationships. Next in line would be our spiritual brethren who carry a higher priority than blood relations and the community at large, but our obligation to love, help, and to serve extends (at various levels) to all humanity.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the episodes in Mark 12:28-34, Matthew 22: 34-40, and Luke 10:25-37 are separate incidents. Loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbor as ourselves can not be separated. One cannot obey one command and ignore the other without having violated both. We need to be a neighbor to the needy crossing our path. Christian living requires keeping the "love thy neighbor" aspect of the spiritual law, demonstrated by giving physical aid to the neediest among us, especially our spiritual brothers. Our neighbors include our employees or employers to whom we must serve as we would Jesus Christ, even those who are harsh and unreasonable, emulating our Elder Brother Jesus Christ who did not retaliate even though He had the capability. David, a man after God"s own heart, studied the creation in order to learn God's mind. These encounters strengthened David to endure hardships and humiliation, realizing that God had ordered these experiences for his ultimate good. As we encounter other human beings, we need to realize that we are all in this same creative process together, showing pity and compassion on them, just as our Heavenly Father does. Jesus sets the bar very high when it comes to love. We no longer live for ourselves, but to Christ, who commands us to love all of mankind, including our enemies.
John Ritenbaugh observes that although each of God's festivals depicts increasingly larger numbers of people being drawn to God, the counter pulls emanating from sinful carnal human nature war against the prompts of God's Holy Spirit, producing continual conflict. Choosing between these two opposite poles is something we have to contend with daily. If we choose the spiritual pole, moving toward unity with God, we will become unified with others who similarly strive for these same spiritual goals. Without this spiritual contact, we subject ourselves to the second law of thermodynamics: entropy, chaos, and disorganization, but with God's Holy Spirit, we do not have to succumb. According to Lamentations 2, God scattered Judah for their sins. Likewise, God scattered the Worldwide Church of God (possibly using Satan as His agent) mercifully administering painful chastening for our own safety and protection, putting us in venues where we actively have to love and forbear one another. Pride condemned Satan to a fate of using or manipulating rather than serving. This presumptuous self-centered trait belonging to Hillel (later Satan or adversary) creates disunity and ultimate destruction. Unfortunately, several leaders of church groups have adopted these presumptuous competitive traits, arrogantly and disdainfully looking down on other groups within the greater Church of God, completely antithetical to the behavior of John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ. We must follow the example of Abel, humbly doing things on God's terms, rather than the example of Cain, presumptuously doing things on his own terms. Likewise, when we have nothing acceptable to offer to God (Exodus 23:16, Leviticus 22:25, Joshua 5), we cannot presumptuously make an offering.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that faith and love require reciprocal works on our part, even though God has made the initial step, providing His only Son as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. As God calls us, He provides the power both to will and to do. If we do not work with God in our conversion process, things will fall apart. Because our responding to God's love is so important, we need to respond reciprocally to God. If we love another person we like to think about him/her, to hear about him/her, to read about him/her, please him/her, to be friends with his friends too, and we are jealous about their reputation and honor. We will not bring dishonor on our spiritual family's name by our behavior, not forgetting that we are collectively the temple of God and the Body of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh tackles the eternal security doctrine, a teaching that militates against good works, something that God had ordained for all of us. Works demonstrate our faith, our response to God's calling and His freely given grace. Reciprocity is always a part of our relationship with God. Trust is a response to God's tests. Abraham's response to God reciprocated his love back to God. The indictment against the Ephesian church stemmed from their lack of reciprocity (or first love). When our expectations have not been met, it becomes hard for us to maintain our zeal. We need to maintain the intensity to actively hear God's message. If we do not actively exercise our minds, work to maintain our relationship to Christ, and become dead to the world, we will drift away. We cannot allow what Christ is to slip from our minds. Where there is no love for Christ, there is no salvation and no membership in God's family. As in human love or infatuation, if we love another person, we like to think about him/her; likewise, we need to have Christ dwelling in our hearts at all times.
Contrary to the common idea that the Christian life is one of peace and contentment, John Ritenbaugh explains that it is really a constant, grueling battle against enemy forces such as our own human natures, this evil world, and 'principalities and powers' that do not want to see us inherit the Kingdom of God. Even so, if we are steadfast in the faith, we can prevail.
Philosophers and ethicists, steeped in humanism, shoot wide of the truth in answering, 'Who is my neighbor?' Charles Whitaker explains that the Bible reveals the answer to this big moral question, as well as providing sensible guidelines on the finer details of Christian charity.
Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that Christianity has both an inward aspect (building godly character or becoming sanctified) and an outward aspect (doing practical philanthropic good works.) Both aspects are vitally necessary, with righteous character serving as the well - spring or fountainhead for the second (outward) aspect. Godly good works, of necessity, should reflect a great deal of thought and concern, with considerable attention to the long-term consequences of the extended help. Soft-heartedness must not be accompanied by soft-headedness, but must take into account long-term solutions (the ultimate well-being of the recipient of the charity) involving thoughtfulness and common sense, carefully considering God's will in the matter. Good works are the fruit of righteousness, not an end in itself. We need to give according to our abilities, freely, generously, with a view of honoring God.
John Reid, contrasting the world's self-serving, lust-driven "way of get" (mistakenly called love) with God's example of sacrifice and way of outgoing concern, concludes that what the world needs now is the agape love modeled by the Father and Jesus Christ. We are called to take on the very nature of God, to put on the love of God that casts out all fear. Our goal is to take on the likeness of Jesus Christ, developing His character, thereby reflecting the true love of God. If we have lost our first love, we need to rekindle it by ardently keeping God's Commandments, demonstrating both love for God (the first four) and love for mankind (the last six). Attaining God's nature and love requires that we keep His commandments. Of all the spiritual gifts we could ever hope to attain, the love of God surpasses all of them. Love is the way God lives throughout eternity.
John Ritenbaugh points out the impossibility of serving two masters equally (Matthew 6:24), especially if each master's goals, objectives, or interests are antithetical to one another. If we try to serve both equally, we run the risk of losing both. Eventually one wil love the other and disrespect the other. Trusting mammon (any worldly treasure inspired by Satan) will erode faith, eventually turning us to idolatry and eternal death. We need to emulate the lives of Moses (who gave up power and massive worldly goods) and Paul (who gave up pedigree and prestigious religious credentials) to yield to and follow God's direction. The best way to attain true wealth and the abundant eternal life is to loosen our grip on worldly rewards and single-mindedly follow Christ.
Love is the first of the fruit of the Spirit, the one trait of God that exemplifies His character. John Ritenbaugh explains what love is and what love does.
Richard Ritenbaugh, echoing a radio commentator's observation, "we wear our bones too tight" suggests that we are much too sensitive and litigious, greatly lacking in forbearance, tolerance and patience. A major part of God's character is forbearance, patiently putting up with over 700 years of covenant breaking by our ancestors, patiently refraining from giving them what they deserved. God put up with the foibles of Abraham, Samson, David, Job, and many others, allowing them space to repent and build character. We need to develop the godly trait of forbearance, having the capacity to have mercy on others while we wait for them to change. Forbearance when applied to our brethren leads to unity; lack of forbearance leads to scattering.
Prior to the Days of Unleavened Bread, we are told to examine ourselves. How can we do that? John Reid gives a few pointers on doing a thorough, honest once over.
John Reid, reflecting upon a Civil War incident in which a young highly principled lieutenant made an impression upon his abusive captain before sacrificing his life for him, focuses upon the topic of agape love. While we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died for us. Love covers sins; God appreciates when we show concern for others, developing the maturity to overlook the slights others have made to us. Love sets an example for others to follow; in some cases inspiring regret in others for the pain they have caused us. Christ has set us a high standard to emulate- characterized and described by Paul in I Corinthians 13. As we love, we become lights to the world. If we truly love, we will have gained the mind of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that salvation cannot be earned or bought, reminds us that a gift is still a gift even though a condition has to be met. Meeting a condition does not (as Protestants would have us believe) change the character of a proposition. Keeping the commandments is the way we express love for God. The works that God demands of us consists of overcoming our flesh, the world, and Satan, as reflected in keeping God's commandments (John 14:15, I John 5:3). There is a direct relationship between loving Christ and doing the right works. God's love for us places us under a compelling obligation to reciprocate and to pass it on to others.
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 focuses upon the emotional dimension of love, reiterating that love doesn't become 'love' until the thought, or the feeling, motivates the person to act. Love is an act. If we don't do what is right, the right feeling will never be formed, because emotions are largely developed by our experiences. The right emotions require God's Holy Spirit. Like a marriage relationship, our relationship with God grows more and more intimate as we give it time and attention, conforming to the other person's preferences in the relationship. We are never going to know God unless we do the same kinds of things with Him, keeping His Commandments, devoting time to prayer, Bible study, and meditation. If we are working on our relationship with God (giving it our time and attention), then God's love for us will be reciprocated back to Him in the form of obedience, totally trusting in Him to shape our lives for His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that love is not a feeling, but an action- defined by John as keeping God's commandments (I John 2:3), the only means by which we can possibly know Him, leading to eternal life. While what humans consider love is self-centered and carnal, God's love is essentially others-centered. When God begins the love cycle, by His Spirit, He gives us His love; then it only becomes matured in us as we use it (loving God and loving our neighbor by the keeping of His Commandments). If we don't use it, then it bounces off from us and nothing is accomplished. Using God's love may be compared to learning to skate; the more we use it the stronger it gets. Beginning as a feeling, it doesn't become love until an action is taken.
The world really hasn't the foggiest idea of what love really is. Of all God's spiritual gifts, love is the preserving agent preventing any of the other gifts such as prophecy, knowledge, or tongues to become corrupted. Love, an attribute of God Almighty, needs to be the driving force of everything we do. Without love, some normally positive attributes like drive, courage, and determination become brittle and self-seeking. God is the sole source of love; mankind by nature does not have it. It is only by knowing God that we can have this love. Love can be described as a cycle, which God initiates. As we give it back to Him, He gives more to us because we are growing and our love must be perfected. Love is not feeling but action. As God loves us, He expects us to reciprocate back to Him and out to our fellowman, and by so doing we become credible witnesses for God.
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 reveals that the valley-of-shadow imagery symbolizes the fears, frustrations, trials, and tests needed to produce character, quality fruit, and an intimate trust in the shepherd. His rod, an extension of his will and strength, serves not only against predators, but also prevents members of the flock from butting heads. It also helps him to identify and to judge. The staff, symbolic of God's Spirit, represents gentle guidance. The prepared table depicts a plateau or a mesa that the shepherd has made safe and secure for grazing. Christ, our Shepherd, has prepared the way for us, safeguarding us from predators and removing our fear of starvation and death. The oil, also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, refers to protective salve that prevents maddening or deadly insect infestation. Goodness and mercy refer to the agape love that we desperately need to acquire and use so we can leave behind a blessing. The house depicts contentment in the Family of God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's motivation for his letter to the Philippians, both appealing for unity and offering encouragement, reminding them that their relationship with one another was through Christ. Unity could only be maintained if they prayed for one another, exercising reasoning, discerning, and discriminating agape love. Paul encourages the Philippians, assuring them that his own incarceration (apparently engineered by God) had turned out for the best, enabling him, exuding his cheerful personality, to provide one—on-one testimony to a succession of guards, enabling God's witness to get to the upper echelons of the praetorian guard, greatly extending or amplifying the witness. Regardless of the precariousness of his ostensibly grave circumstances, Paul, with deep conviction, expected spiritual deliverance.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the details of the vine and branch analogy concluding that Jesus presents Himself as the true or genuine Vine, as contrasted to the unfaithful or degenerate vine (ancient Israel). As the church (the Israel of God) is obligated to remain organically attached to Christ (the True Vine), there is no such thing as an "independent Christian." Conversion involves a continuous reciprocal process in which God displays His love to us and we respond reciprocally to Him. Continuing in His Love by giving ourselves back to Him is our part of this mutual reciprocal process. Conforming to God's purpose will inevitably bring friction and persecution from the world and often from our own physical family. Throughout history, five false charges have been made against Christians claiming they were: (1) insurrectionists, (2) cannibals, (3) having flagrant immorality, (4) arsonists or incendiaries, and (5) dividing or separating families. God's Holy Spirit gives us understanding by piecing things together from the scripture, convicting us and allowing us to go through life's experiences through the prism of scriptural truths.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Philip's request to "show us the Father," suggests that Jesus has provided the way of knowing how God would lead His life in the flesh. Jesus is the way, the embodiment of the truth, and the mirror image of the Father. As a human born into an ordinary family, Jesus experienced all the responsibilities, struggles, frustrations, temptations, and pains that we do. We have an Elder Brother who has been on the front lines, providing us a model to live our lives. Jesus taught us that love is a moral act rather than a feeling, based upon pleasing God by fulfilling His Commandments. Love and obedience are inseparable. Jesus encouraged His disciples by promising to send the Holy Spirit to help them (and us) to cope with the rigorous demands of living the Christian life, making us sensitive to God and educating us to the purposes of God. As we continue to obey, yielding to His purpose, we enter a closer relationship with God, until eventually, having attained the mind of God, loving and personifying truth, we become like the Father and the Son.
[Editors Note: Audio quality improves at the 4 minute mark.]
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Jesus' reluctance to go immediately to Lazarus, suggests that He intended to impress upon His close friends, Mary and Martha, the gravity of sin's consequences. The example also forcefully illustrates that Jesus (reflecting God the Father) keeps His own timetable; nobody pushes Him. The issue of fear of death is addressed in this study, with the conclusion that trust in God's ability to resurrect can neutralize this most basic universal debilitating fear, a fear that increases exponentially the older we get. Christ gives us the assurance that death is not the end. Internalizing this assurance opens the way to the abundant life, enabling us to live boldly, conquering, with God's help, the fear of death. Our approach at that point will become God-centered rather than self-centered. The episode of Jesus' weeping emphasizes that God has emotions, revealing anger, compassion, and empathy. The resurrection of Lazarus, the last of the seven signs Jesus performed before His death, proved to be the last straw for the religious leaders, who became motivated to crucify Him.
John Ritenbaugh indicates that in Matthew 5:21-22, there exist degrees in the spirit of murder, with destroying a reputation as the worst. All sin is against God, but before one attempts to establish a relationship with God, he should heal the breach with his fellow man. If a conflict exists between husband and wife, his prayers could be hindered. We are admonished to take care of problems while they are small rather than allow them to brood, exercising moderation and self control. If we continually fill our mind with good thoughts and motivations, we won't be thinking base or unclean thoughts. Jesus, desiring to restore the spirit as well as the letter of the law, warned against rash or hasty divorces, taking oaths or vows, invoking God's name frivolously, realizing that a covenant is binding whether we formally invoke His name or not. As God's people, our word should be good as gold. The Lex Talionis (eye for an eye) principle provided the foundations for an equitable solution, allowing for equal justice or monetary compensation for pain, time, indignity, etc. Jesus set a standard of non-retaliation and non-vengeance—not getting even for an insult, suffering for righteousness as our Elder Brother Jesus Christ did for us. We need to be more concerned about our duties or obligations than our rights. When we are conscripted into service and when we lend to the poor, we need to realize God will make it right to us. When we love conditionally, with the hope of getting something back, we have no reward, but if we love with unconditional, godly agape love, loving our enemies, removing any thought of vengeance, becoming godlike in the process, doing what we were created for.
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