David Grabbe, marveling that over the past 25 years the Church of the Great God has assembled a massive library of electronic resources as a service to the Greater Church of God, as well as to the world at large, asserts that God performed this work at a fraction of the cost incurred by our previous fellowship. Though our main focus has not been "to preach the Gospel to the world," we nevertheless provide prodigious quantities of spiritual food to anyone who requests it. If people are hungry, there is plenty of nourishing food to satisfy them. CGG.org received 1.7 million visitors last year and BibleTools.org 2.3 million. These figures testify that the world at large is receiving a witness. The things that we can quantifiably measure are not really important, the Head of the Church decides subscribers, members and income. Noah's warning was fruitless; Jesus Christ's ministry netted meager results. Without Christ, we could produce no fruit. What is important to God is faith—faith which He gives and by which we live. As technology becomes more affordable and available, the material world threatens to crowd God out of the picture. The information age will destroy us unless we learn to manage it properly, discarding carnality and diligently focusing on the Word of God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on a recent report by Harry Enten on the logic of calling more tie games earlier in the baseball season, points out that, before the advent of electric spotlights, games often ended in a tie. Enten cautions that deference to 'tradition' is no reason to ban tie games in Major League Baseball. Solomon's observation that there is nothing new under the sun applies to fashion, politics, economic systems, religion, technology—whatever mankind has put his mind to. It is gullible and naïve to consider anything brand new, trendy, exclusive, and never tried before. Every idea that has ever been considered will be recycled and repurposed as something new and revolutionary, remembered as a retread idea only by old-timers who have already been scammed by it years before. Satan, the master deceiver, has been repackaging sin as exciting and new over-and-over again for 6,000 years. Sadly, people are not any smarter than they were in the past, and will be suckered into it as their ancestors from previous generations.
Charles Whitaker, observing the plethora of pairings (binary opposites, dichotomies in Genesis 1 and 2 (day and night, male and female, sea and land, the Tree of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, etc.) asserts that during the first stage of Creation, God unleashed multiple universal processes of division or separation. In the New Creation in the fullness of time, God purposes to regather everything He has heretofore separated. After the Passover Jesus shared with His disciples up to the event of His crucifixion, the division between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, over the sun and under the sun, etc., was obliterated, initiating unification. During the New Order (New Heavens and the New Earth) described in Revelation, the division between night and day, as well as land and sea, will also be obliterated, indicating a thorough unification process. Consequently, God has shown His long-term plan as a two-phased project beginning as a lengthy separation process, followed by a reconciliation or unification process, in which all will be gathered, reconciled, and unified into the Body of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, citing a quotation from Paul Minear that the Bible is "an album of casual photographs of laborers . . . a book by workers, about workers, for workers," reminds us that love for work is a significant part of God's image. In the very beginning, in Genesis 2:2, God is described as ceaselessly working and enjoying His work, unlike the melancholy lament of Louis Armstrong, wishing he could be like "that lucky old sun" with nothing to do except to "roll around heaven all day," with seemingly no responsibilities. As God's called-out ones, we cannot adopt this attitude. Jesus told the Pharisees that His Father has been working continually, setting an example for all of us to develop a passion for creating, something He gave to Adam and Eve in their awesome task of tending and keeping the Garden of Eden, becoming, in effect, co-workers with God. Work has noble divine roots and is part of natural law; man will never become complete without working in cooperation with God. Contrary to popular belief, work did not originate with sin, but became cursed with a kind of resistance after Adam and Eve sinned, subjected to the futility described in Romans 8:19-20. If we view work from an "under the sun" perspective, we will ultimately come to regard it as futile drudgery, but if we view it from an "over the sun" perspective, we will come to see work as a marvelous gift, perhaps even a profound act of worship.
Charles Whittaker, reflecting on the episode in Genesis 11:1-9, in which God confused the languages, terminating the construction of the Tower of Babel, provides some insights as to the motivation of the Babel- folk for attempting to construct this doomed edifice. In these concentrated nine verses, we learn that man proposes and God deposes. In direct defiance of God's command to spread out over the entire earth, not concentrating in massive communities, Nimrod, in an effort to prevent the people from being scattered, sought to build a structure which would reach high enough into the heavens to safeguard against destruction by a universal flood. The Babylonian plain had few stones for building, but the Babel folk had carried through the Flood the basic technology for making bricks, baking them in a kiln. What attracted them to that particular region in Mesopotamia was abundant tar, pitch, or asphalt, making it possible, in Nimrod's mind, to use it as mortar, making the edifice waterproof and flood resistant. Nevertheless, lacking the iron technology which would have reinforced the walls, the structure itself would have probably collapsed on its own before it would have reached even the height of the pyramids. Nimrod's ill-fated plan, which supported the peoples' fear of loss of community and fear of scattering, was obliterated when God confused the languages. While Nimrod's plan for one world-one language failed, God reversed the Babel debacle with His own plan to unify, making one called-out people having one mutually understood language, commencing on a small scale on Pentecost, A.D. 31, when people heard the disciples preaching in their own languages, a project which will eventually lead to one pure language.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that satisfaction in life does not derive from material things or wealth, by instead from an eternal relationship with God who has given us abundant spiritual gifts which we must reciprocate by developing skill in living from using godly wisdom. Wisdom enables us to make the very best practical use of all of the other gifts He has given, to make the best practical use of our calling, mobilizing our knowledge, judgment, discernment, understanding, and skill in living in alignment with God's purpose. Any skill, whether it be welding or playing basketball, comprises multiple and complex aspects. In sports or military contexts, it is important that the participants accept the system, breaking old ingrown habits and changing the way they do things. Wisdom can be defined as doing the right thing at the right time in the right way to the right measure. Godly wisdom is not given as a whole, but incrementally, involving much time and pressure. We must give ourselves willingly and patiently to this process in order that skill in living may be built. God has given the Book of Ecclesiastes to us to nudge us on to what is important and away from what is vanity, steering us to a perpetual mindset of faith and trust in God. Wisdom cannot at this time help us to understand all of life's mysteries. It is possible to act wisely in a given circumstance, but still feel frustrated because we do not see how all the pieces fit together. One should always look for the better choice, realizing the better choice is not necessarily the "best" one. In life's journey, a good reputation (a good name) and a positive relation with another (a wonderful marriage) is better than much material wealth. God admires integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, straightforwardness, and structural soundness of character in a person, the name a person has acquired by living righteously—a name which will last into eternity and an infinitely better life.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Ecclesiastes chapters 1-6 contains a sub-theme of materialism—specifically an indictment of the supposed satisfaction one receives from it suggests that materialism contains no lasting fulfillment. According to some studies, the higher a person is on the economic scale, the less altruistic he is inclined to become. The only lasting enjoyment comes from establishing a relationship with God, understanding that: (1) life is God's gift; (2) He desires us to spend our time preparing for an eternal relationship with Him; (3) the fruit of active involvement with God is eternal life; (4) by faith, seeking God will lead to an above-the-sun life; and finally, (5) if there is no kingdom of God, then nothing matters except what is going on in the here and now. We desperately need to seek Godly wisdom, a multi-faceted spiritual gift which helps us make practical use of all the other spiritual gifts. Wisdom is practical skill in living, coexistent with the fruits of God's Holy Spirit, a whole collection or spectrum of skills for living God's way—something that takes a lifetime to learn.
When Solomon visits the Temple, he comes away from his observations of the worshippers with a sense that too many treat religion far too casually and carelessly, forgetting that they are coming before the great God. As John Ritenbaugh explains, Solomon admonishes his readers to listen to God's Word when they approach Him and to be careful to follow through with what they promised when they made the covenant with Him.
The content of Ecclesiastes 4 is a series of comparisons based in the everyday life of a society—from the gulf between the powerful and those they oppress to the various attitudes that people bring to their daily work. John Ritenbaugh explains that Solomon provides these comparisons to indicate the choices we should make to live better lives in alignment with God, even in an "under the sun" world.
Ecclesiastes 3 is among the best-known chapters of the Bible, and its major theme is a subject that concerns us all: time. Solomon reveals that God is solidly in control of time. John Ritenbaugh teaches that knowing that God is sovereign over time should fill a Christian with faith in God's work in him, in the church, and in His plan for humanity.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon II John 5, an epistle which cautions about deceivers who would denigrate the value of work, considers the straining on the point "we cannot earn salvation" a red herring, diverting our attention from the true value of Christian work. God indeed judges the quality and quantity of what we do in our Christian responsibilities. Our calling is a vocation; work or labor is vitally important in our calling. God is our model regarding work, mandating that we produce fruits of righteousness. Christ admonishes that our highest regard should be seeking the Kingdom of God and righteousness. We work for Christ as His slaves. Profit from life is produced by work, requiring sacrifices of time and energy. Christians have been created for the very purpose of doing good works which God has prepared for us. We will be continuing in this work for all eternity. Christian works were never intended to save us; Jesus' works as our Savior and high Priest is what saves us. Doing the works provides practice in God's way of life, engraving in us His character, providing a witness to the world, glorifying God. It takes work to put things in order and prepare for the return of Christ. Three parables in the Olivet prophecy (The Two Servants, Wise and Foolish Virgins, and the Talents) emphasize the necessity of work in the preparation for Christ's return. One's faithfulness in productivity does not transfer to one who has been a slacker. We are all being scrutinized and judged by Almighty God as to what we do, especially as it related to our service to our fellow servants. Whatever we sow, regarding our relationships with one another, we will reap. Sin (of commission or omission) describes the failure to maintain God's standards. The failure to work is sin. Works do not save us, but everyone who is saved works. We will be judged and rewarded according to our works, both the quantity and the quality.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the book of Ecclesiastes, a document which provides an overview of the consequences of life's frustrating activities, gives us directions for making it through the labyrinth of life. This treatise prepares us with helpful, practical, and profitable approaches, preparing us for the Kingdom of God. Some approaches toward life are worthless while others are more profitable. God has purposely subjected nature and life to vanity and frustration, a curse resulting from Adam's sin. We are all caught in this curse. If we want things to work out properly, we not only have to keep the commandments, but we have to seek God to assimilate His nature within us. Until God Himself is here directing things through Jesus Christ, the problems of this world will not be corrected. Using godly wisdom helps us to deal with our circumstances, but it will not change the world. The work God has given us to do will give us pleasure and a satisfying sense of accomplishment. Work is a major factor in our lives, consisting of physical or mental activity directed toward the accomplishment of something. We must keep in mind that everything we do matters. God has been purposefully and energetically working for all eternity toward a goal, setting a pattern for all of us. We are created and designed to do good works, not to earn salvation, but instead to emulate the way of life lived by our Heavenly Father. Our God is a goal-setter, not only for Himself, but for us. God does the creating; God distributes the gifts; God distributes the responsibilities. The command to tend preceded Adam and Eve's sin; work was not the curse. Ultimately, we will be judged according to our work.
Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most practical, as well as profitable, book in the Old Testament, providing overviews of life-guiding advice, essentially a roadmap through the labyrinth, which constitutes the Christian's life journey. Ecclesiastes could be considered the core of biblical wisdom literature. The teacher's conclusions in Ecclesiastes are deliberately blunt. In the labyrinth journey, we are compelled to live by faith, not having all the facts at our disposal. Ecclesiastes is a practical guide in "right now" applications rather than anticipating the future. God knows where He is taking our lives; we do not have a clear picture where God is taking us. We need to develop a trust to submit to Him in order that He can prepare us for our destiny. Ecclesiastes was given to us to expose the world's false values and philosophies which have the tendency to throw God's people off balance. Thankfully, God does not leave our creation up to us or to chance. Godly wisdom accrues from practical experience (dodging obstacles and cul-de-sacs of the world) stemming from a relationship with God. Ecclesiastes gives practical advice for people living in a corrupt world trying to live a godly life, providing us helpful or useful cautions and warning as to what to avoid. Anything that is vanity is nothing compared to the permanence of God's Kingdom. God intends for His people that life should be profitable. In order to achieve that profitable life, we should be looking over the sun for a converted perspective. God is forcing us to make a choice between His profitable way (fearing Him and keeping His commandments) or the common way of mankind.
Among the Old Testament's books of wisdom, Ecclesiastes stands as one seemingly out of place: full of frustration, blunt, and even a little hopeless. However, since God is its ultimate Author, its themes are realistic and necessary for us to grasp. With this article, John Ritenbaugh begins an extended series on Ecclesiastes and its trove of deep understanding.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that God emphasizes the rather pessimistic theme of Ecclesiastes during the Feast of Tabernacles to show the consequences of doing whatever our human heart has led us to do. Without incorporating God's purpose (Ecclesiastes 12:14), our lives, even with all the creature comforts satisfied to the maximum, are absolutely meaningless. Solomon, by continuously evaluating the causes and effects of his calculated pleasure- or meaning-seeking experiment, records many shrewd, commonsense observations about the meaning of life. Even with vast materialistic, artistic, or academic accomplishments, life without the purpose of God is depressingly hollow, disappointing, meaningless, and vain. These disillusionments force God's called-out ones to live by faith. Consequently, God can turn something formerly disappointing and meaningless into something meaningful, purposeful, and profitable for those who fear and trust Him (Roman 8:28).
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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