Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Like its physical counterpart, spiritual growth happens slowly and incrementally. We should not expect a newly baptized Christian to be able to produce self-control as easily and to the same degree as one who has been in the church of God for several decades. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Mark 4 contains a parable that is not often discussed, probably because it does not appear in Matthew 13 or among those well-known parables that Luke alone records, like the Parable of the Good Samaritan. ...
God spreads His Word liberally among the world's people. Besides God's direct involvement in converting people, the difference between one growing in it and another "dying on the vine" is the soil in which the Word is planted, explained in Jesus' Parable of the Sower.
David C. Grabbe: In Part One, we began to dig into the biblical metaphor of producing fruit and the importance of the root to that process. ...
The first parable of Matthew 13 lays the groundwork (pun intended) for the remainder of the chapter. Martin Collins explains the various soils upon which the seed of the gospel falls, and the reasons why growth—or its lack—results.
Bill Onisick, asserting that getting grape vines to bear fruit is difficult, suggests that the production of succulent grapes is at least a two-year project, in which pruning dead wood and lateral vines that produce much foliage, but little fruit, and exposing buds to sufficient sun (by thinning the canopy) are essential. Two-year-old canes, having been 90% pruned in the dormant season, normally produce seven buds apiece. Jacob referred to his son Joseph a fruitful vine, not restrained by walls. Jesus Christ is metaphorically the Vine and His Father is the Vinedresser; we are the branches, subject to trimming and pruning in order that we bear abundant spiritual fruit with much agape love. We will glorify our Heavenly Father if we produce much fruit, but we cannot bear fruit if we become detached from the vine. God planted the vine to be in His image. The best fertilizer for the vine is the shadow of the vine dresser. The bond that unites the whole of God's Kingdom and Family is His Holy Spirit.
Drawing an analogy between kudzu and the thorns in the Parable of the Sower, Mike Ford shows how we have to "weed out" detrimental habits that choke our lives. If we want to produce quality fruit, we must weed the garden!
The church of God has long acknowledged the biblical analogy of a harvest representing the gathering and eventual resurrection of the saints. Bill Keesee speculates that we can perhaps expand our understanding of the harvest analogy to include other aspects of our preparation for God's Kingdom.
The Bible uses agriculture to provide many lessons for us. Are we learning them—or are we repeating history as Israel did?
David Maas, focusing on Philippians 2:12, where Paul urges us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, takes issue with misguided theologians who have tried to create a false dichotomy between grace and works or grace and law. One of their common "proof-texts" is Ephesians 2:8-9; they emphasize verses 8 and 9, while failing to mention verse 10, which is logically connected to the preceding two verses through the conjunction gar, meaning because. Verse 10 clearly states that God has created us to do the works He was ordained for us. The scriptures are replete with cautions that God will critically appraise the works of His people. At the turn of the last century, insidious Protestant antinomian elements infiltrated into the Worldwide Church of God, savagely attacking such doctrinal concepts as "qualifying" and "building character," claiming that such concepts imply that we must work to "earn" salvation. Pointedly: We do not qualify for salvation, God has ordained that we surrender our lives to Him in order to build godly character. Because God has gifted us with free will, He cannot create character in us by fiat. Character comes only from choosing. Control over thoughts comes from choice. Christ will not control our thinking. Sanctification does not take place at the onset of our calling, but instead is a lifetime process which will not end until our death in the faith (or change at the First Resurrection). Our role in the sanctification process, insignificant as it may seem, consists of being junior partners (spiritual share-croppers), diligently cultivating the Fruits of God's Holy Spirit thought our post-calling experiences.
We often speak confidently of friends and relatives who will rise in the second or general resurrection to have their opportunity for salvation—but what a shame it would be if we were not there to greet them! Mike Ford, reminiscing about being there for his grandfather, urges us all to make our election sure!
David Maas, anticipating the forthcoming Passover, and the stern warning from the apostle Paul that we thoroughly examine ourselves, cautions us to be very careful how we undertake this self-examination. We must realize that (1) taking the Passover in an unworthy manner can result in serious physical or spiritual hazards, (2) trying to use our own resources without a dialogue with our Creator is a hopeless exercise in futility, (3) substituting normal remorse or worldly sorrow instead of conviction from God's Holy Spirit will bring about a downward spiral to despair and death, and (4) conducting a superficial, general self-examination will yield less than optimal fruit. Rather, self-examination should be specific, referencing personal failings God has exposed. It should also focus on a sober and realistic comparison between our personal, fledgling fruit and the maximally mature fruit demonstrated by our Savior Jesus Christ. Tares and noxious weeds exist both in the Church and our own divided (that is, carnal versus and spiritual) minds. As we are mandated to put out the leaven, we are also obligated to pull out by the roots the poisonous weeds which threaten to strangle our access to God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the ability to do miracles does not identify a speaker as a representative of God, especially if the signs entice one to depart from the Word of God. Jesus warns that if we ask God for protection from demonic influence, we cannot sit back passively; Satan always counterattacks. Evil must be displaced with good. Jesus encourages us to develop spiritual family relationships within the Church of God coupled with common experiences to reinforce godly behavior. Generally, we cannot expect this kind of special reinforcement from our blood relatives or physical friends. The parable of the sower reflects the various levels of receptivity and conversion among people who are exposed to the Word of God. Matthew 13:22-23 seems to be aimed at the ministry, providing encouragement to keep plugging away despite some un-germinated seed. Like a farmer, the minister must learn patience before results are realized. We must use and develop what God has given or it will dissipate. The study concludes with an exposition of the tares (Darnel) and wheat parable, indicating that Satan has planted false brethren that are hard to distinguish from the real. God is the only one fit to judge.[NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the seed analogy of Jesus in John 12:24, emphasizes that sacrifice is absolutely necessary (the seed must give up its life) in order for quality fruit to be produced. Using this seed planting analogy, Jesus teaches that, as a seed must be planted, dying to itself in order to bear fruit, we similarly must sacrifice our lives- submitting our wills unconditionally to God's will in order to bear abundant fruit, attaining the abundant life we deeply crave. Conversely, if we try to placate the natural carnal lusts, we will not bear good fruit. After we die to sin in the waters of baptism, we no longer dedicate ourselves to satisfying our carnal drives, but instead to submit to God, who engineers the process of our spiritual growth into a new spiritual creation, children of light, reflecting the characteristics of our spiritual Parent. Keeping God's Commandments leads to spiritual insight and light, but breaking them leads to spiritual blindness and darkness. There is no neutrality in following God's Word. John 13:1-17 provides an unusual insight into the very mind of God, exemplified as a serving "footwashing" attitude, demonstrating servant leadership toward His creation, an attitude and behavior we are obligated to emulate. The essence of love is sacrifice.
The prophecies of the Minor Prophets are frequently overlooked, and Joel's prophecy—a slim three-chapter book—is no exception. Mike Fuhrer contends that church members are likely to misunderstand the literal meaning of the prophecy of Joel 2, in which God's mighty army sweeps across the countryside and into the city without serious opposition.
Mike Ford: Some years back, I had the opportunity to drive through southern Illinois several times. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Now that a little more than a week has passed since the Last Great Day closed the fall festival season, we have had a chance to digest a lesson or two from our experiences during that time. ...
James Kelley: Growing numbers of people around the world are worried about the food supply—and they should be. ...
Martin Collins examines the factors causing urgency and impatience demonstrated by people waiting for Christ to return. We desperately need to develop patience: an active, God given restraint and constancy in endurance while facing trials, realizing (exercising faith like a farmer waiting for produce) that God will take care of us. When juxtaposed against the experiences of the early luminaries like Jeremiah or Job, our frustrations and anticipations seem quite insipid and bland in comparison. Exercising impatience may reflect selfishness on our part, not considering God's timetable or larger picture of salvation for mankind. Trials and tests are marvelous developers of patience and godly contentment. Our patient responsibility includes continual watching and praying, guarding against despair, allowing God to infuse us with godly love, seeking godly fellowship, and patiently enduring trials.
The Bible contains many, many symbols that refer to the church. Included in this study are the symbols of the Temple and Tabernacle, the human body and trees.
The doctrine of tithing often raises specific questions regarding how many there are, who they go to and whether they are strictly on agriculture. This article gives the answers.
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