Martin Collins, examining the properties of a paradox (a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true), suggests that paradox plays an essential role in the lives of those called by God. Some of the paradoxical truths of God include, "He who loses his life will find it," "It is more blessed to give than to receive," and "He who want to be a ruler must become a lowly servant." Learning to lead in God's Kingdom is learning to serve. We pass our lives as pilgrims in a foreign land, understanding our citizenship is in a future kingdom. Let us be content to be weak and powerless, realizing that, when we are poor in spirit, we receive power from God's Holy Spirit. Not having the eye of faith provided by God's Spirit, the world sees the discipleship in The Way as an resolvable and uncomfortable paradox. To one called by God, the paradoxes of God trump anything the around-and-about has to offer.
John Ritenbaugh, relating some insights from economist Gary North, an unusually religious man who has authored (or co-authored) over 60 books, all demonstrating a clear support of biblically-based law and economics, examines some of the causes of poverty and scarcity, concluding that material wealth is an inaccurate gauge of success and real wealth. North, endorsing the biblical work ethic, insists that, unless one works hard and sagaciously, scarcity and poverty will inexorably ensue. The rich young ruler and British oil magnate J. Paul Getty were wealthy by the standards of this world, yet poverty-stricken when it came to happiness because they were slaves to their wealth. In essence, they did not possess wealth, but wealth possessed them. God does not measure prosperity by the ownership of physical possessions but with the depth of a person's relationship with Him.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on God's creation of plants (Genesis 1:11-13), observes that God demonstrates His practicality and efficiency by establishing the genotype within the seed capable of infinite reproduction. God also gave humans the means to master time efficiently. God's called out-ones, metaphorized as soil, should strive to bear spiritual fruit efficiently and productively. Material well-being is not so reliable a measure of Spiritual fruitfulness as is the use to which we put God's gifts and talents in the service of others. Our greatest gift is our calling, obligating us to stabilize our treasure in the right direction, overcoming our carnal nature, and nurturing the gift of God's Holy Spirit through a regimen of prayer, Bible study, meditation, and fasting, producing a bumper crop of the fruits of the Spirit. As Christ demonstrates to the rich young ruler, for a person to have a prosperous life, one must lead a life of faith, yielding to God's goal that one be a well-rounded person in His image.
Mike Ford, distinguishing the terms "knowledge" (raw, accumulated facts) and "wisdom" (knowing and doing what is right), acknowledges that wisdom does not always come with old age. Many university professors have massive quantities of facts at their fingertips but prove themselves morons when it comes knowing how to live properly. What people come to treasure, such as a gold ring or an expensive guitar, inexorably receives proactive, protective attention. Some individuals have obsessed about the valuable Fenn treasure so much that it has cost outlandish expenditures of time and effort—even lives. If one would re-direct this effort to uncovering godly wisdom through prayer, study, fasting and meditation, the accumulated wealth would pale into insignificance the most magnificent worldly treasures of gold, silver, and precious minerals. Nothing is more valuable than godly wisdom. The wise of the world are fools in comparison to those who have learned to find and protect godly wisdom, realizing that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Martin Collins reflects that those who depict religion as a life of gloom and deprivation, full of do's and don'ts, are too short-sighted to realize that the empty husks of the world's entertainment do not satisfy the deepest need. In contrast, spiritual food satisfies our deepest cravings, including salvation and eternal life. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will be satisfied. As we digest spiritual food in the form of God's word, we must mix believing with faith, analogous to enzymes and gastric juices, in order to properly digest. As spiritual food enters our minds, it must be believed or it will provide no benefit. Fasting adds clarity to our thinking about spiritual things. Do we love our smartphones or our physical money more than we love God? Physical blessings deteriorate; spiritual blessings endure eternally.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on Proverbs 30:7-9, in which Agur asks God to cushion him from the extremes of poverty or excessive wealth, allowing himself to live a balanced life of contentment. Wealth has a powerful influence on one's life, causing us to overestimate our own prowess and underestimate God's involvement with us. We must not forget that it is God who gives us power to get wealth. Although the caution applies especially to material wealth, it also applies to any skill, talent, or gift God has given us. Any gift may turn one inwardly, away from the giver of the gift. We should be grateful, but not proud of our gifts. The Bible contains many rags to riches stories, such as Joseph, Ruth, David, Esther, all humble and righteous people who did not desire wealth, but knew they could fulfill their life's purposes if God were on their side. Job was a wealthy man who was also blameless and above reproach, but his health, family, and wealth were all stripped from him in a blink of the eye. His friends wrongly assumed that his loss of wealth was caused by sin, a foolish judgment not warranted by the facts. Solomon's wealth, on the other hand, turned him away from God. Outward prosperity does not provide an accurate indicator of spirituality. Christ warns us that our treasure needs to be in the right place, adding that: (1) We must be content with what we have, (2) We must be humble in our conduct, and (3) We must work faithfully and hard. Whatever our hand finds to do, we should do it with all of our might—energetically and intellectually (Ecclesiastes 9:10). The New Testament does not treat wealth as neutral because its power to persuade and influence does not allow many to control it. We dare not become enslaved to wealth's drugging power.
Mark Schindler, reflecting on the 30th anniversary of his baptism, recalls how he joyfully, but perhaps myopically, assumed that he would automatically walk harmoniously and peacefully with the other members of the body of Christ into the Kingdom and eternity of God, without experiencing any impediments or sibling rivalry among our brethren in God’s family. As we are called into God’s Church, we come from divergent backgrounds, cultures, and philosophical viewpoints, potentially divisive and explosive, providing Satan a beachhead to divide and conquer brethren. Many of the things which have happened in our lives have molded and shaped our opinions, opinions that frequently place us at loggerheads with well-meaning people. If we allow the old man to dictate how we make decisions, we will trouble the Household of God and inherit nothing but the wind. Hanging onto the things of this world can do nothing but divide us. Are we willing to give up our intangible assets, such as our opinions, in order to allow Christ to fit us together in His Body? No matter how closely our experiences have meshed, no two people will ever see things 100% alike. All of us have come into God’s church from vastly different backgrounds, but with one major mandate—to love one another as Christ has loved us. Are we willing to jeopardize our spiritual inheritance by hanging onto opinions shaped by this world’s systems? Only by conforming to the example of Christ, fervently loving God the Father and loving our brethren as ourselves, can we edify instead of troubling God’s House. The meek, those who have power, but hold it wisely back, will inherit the Earth. Evildoers will be cut down like weeds, but the righteous will have an eternal inheritance. If our citizenship has been registered in Heaven, we are no longer residents of a fractured and divided nation
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking us whether we trust the current Federal government, points out that, according to recent polls, confidence in government has eroded to an all-time historical low, with only 13% of the citizenry believing government does right most of the time, 10% believing government never does anything right, while the vast majority, 75%, feel the government gets it right only part of the time. The Federal government has become a total disaster, with the rogue, criminal executive orders, systematically removing our freedoms, coming from the executive branch, destroying constitutional checks and balances. When we compare the mercurial instability of man's government to God, we witness a stark contrast. God does not change, His benefits are beyond measure, and compared to the confiscatory tribute demanded by government, God commands only a fractional proportion. God forgives our sins, gives us a Savior, gives us a down-payment on eternal life, provides food, and heals our diseases, all without a price tag. Like David running from Saul in the Judean wilderness, we find it far more profitable to trust in God rather than princes, knowing that God will never allow us to endure more than we can handle, and will provide a way of escape. David reminds us in the acrostic Psalm 37 that we should not be concerned about the wicked, whose destiny is to perish, and that the righteous are infinitely better off. We are warned not to nurse burning, vindictive anger, realizing that the temporary 'success' of the wicked will eventually turn into a bitter harvest. Instead of wasting our energy in resentment, we need to put our emotion into positively doing good, cultivating our faith, and committing our ways to the Lord, putting our loyalty to the covenant in sync with God's. In our commitment to God, we must relinquish control, allowing God to take the lead. God delights when we allow Him to guide us, inscribing His laws on our hearts.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ecclesiastes 10:13, explains the context in which the statement "money answers everything" appears. Some people obsess about money, working their fingers to the bone to accumulate more. Money is neutral, but the inordinate desire or love of money has horrific, evil consequences. Money does indeed represent power, whether it equates to having more goods, influence over people, or control over one's life. Sadly, for those mesmerized by money, it is an illusory power, vulnerable to stock market crashes, inflation, and deflation—hardly something in which to put confidence. Money's perceived value may only be in the eye of the beholder. In the really important things in life, money is powerless. Wealth cannot buy the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, or God's Holy Spirit. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath. If we trust in our riches, we will fall. Wealth cannot compensate for bad character. If we do not have godly character, wealth will control us, leading to disastrous consequences. God commands us to bring an offering before Him, realizing that the money or wealth has the potential of being a competitor to Him. An offering gives God a clear opportunity to evaluate us, showing where our trust really is. God is our security, and we have already given Him control over our lives. Our willingness to sacrifice (or not to sacrifice) shows where our loyalty and heart really are. Our motivation to sacrifice should resemble the woman who washed Jesus' feet with expensive, fragrant oil, showing her immense gratitude for having her sins forgiven.
The Hebrew word translated as “oil” literally means “fat” or “grease,” but figuratively, it means “richness,” an important idea to keep in mind. The word is also translated as “fruitful.” ...
David C. Grabbe: In examining the letter to Laodicea, we can easily see to what extent a relationship deficit stands at its core. Beginning with the name, Laodicea means "the people judge." ...
David C. Grabbe: The letter to Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-21), the Parable of the Faithful and Evil Servants (Luke 12:35-40), and the fifth chapter of the Song of Songs all picture Jesus Christ standing behind a door, waiting for His people to respond. ...
The biblical city of Smyrna, whose church received one of Christ's seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3, may be one that Bible students know the least about. In explaining Jesus' message to this church, David Grabbe shows how the city's name helps to reveal the themes that the Head of the church wants us to understand as His return nears.
It is a wonderful thing that God has called us out of this world and paid the penalty for our sins, but what happens next? After making the covenant with God, how does a person avoid backsliding as so many biblical examples show? John Ritenbaugh answers these questions by explaining what seeking God is really all about.
Reflecting that most prophetic interpretations have not been correct, John Ritenbaugh warns that we must exercise caution when attempting to interpret prophecy. As we have erred regarding Israel's identity, Protestants have erred by assuming that the tiny nation of Israel is end-time Israel. The greater church of God does not have all the pieces about the identity of Israel, the nature of the Laodicean and Philadelphian churches, whether the Beast will rise from a feeble and decrepit Europe, who the King of the South is, etc. The apostle Paul urged that we get our focus more balanced, emphasizing love over prophetic correctness, not remaining indifferent to what Christ deemed important, and learning how to use our trials to persevere and grow. Christ warned His disciples as He ascended not to obsess over prophecy. Instead, we need to persevere, not becoming distracted, and diligently submit to the Word of God.
The Parable of the Talents continues Jesus' thought from the Parable of the Ten Virgins. While the first parable highlights preparation and watching for Christ's return, the second portrays Christians engaged in profitable activity in the meantime.
Jesus' Parable of the Treasure in Matthew 6:19-21 is designed to get us to evaluate the relative values of material wealth and "treasures in heaven." Martin Collins expands on the metaphors of moths, rust, and thieves.
John Ritenbaugh insists that true riches consist of what we are (or what we become) rather than what we have. True riches consist of those things that can be carried through the grave and into the Kingdom of God. The circumstances of our lives (totally determined by God)- health, sickness, wealth, poverty, etc. we could consider as the scaffolding for the building of character fit for the Kingdom of God. What God really wants is for us to see things from His point of view, making the right choices, consciously striving to build character, developing into His image.
John Ritenbaugh addresses the topic of stewardship, suggesting that what we are called to do at this time is to fulfill our job as a steward, entrusted with managing, protecting, preserving, attending, and increasing what has been entrusted to us- namely the fabulous wealth of the mysteries of God and our spiritual inheritance (I Corinthians 4:1). Our responsibilities as stewards include fidelity, trustworthiness, loyalty, reliability, and devotion to duty. In the Parable of the Unjust Steward, rather than commending worldliness, cheating, or scheming, Jesus commends the practical preparations for the future which He desired children of the light to follow.
John Ritenbaugh, using the term "malignant narcissism" (from M. Scott Peck's book "People Of The Lie") to describe the blind Laodicean pride which denies our inherent sinfulness and imperfection by means of clever self-decptive quibbling and equivocation. Accepting one of the most pernicious gifts of Protestantism (no works mentality), the Laodicean doesn't know that it takes mental work and exertion to produce faith; it does not come by magic or by mere acceptance of certain knowledge. The Good Samaritan parable teaches that unless one practices doing good rather than just knowing good, his faith will be severely compromised.
The letter to Smyrna contains a rarity among the seven churches—no criticism! What's so good about the Smyrnans?
John Ritenbaugh explains the significance of the eye, clear vision, and light metaphors in Matthew 6:22-23, stating that the eye represents understanding (as the metaphorical eye of the heart) while the light represents truth. It is not enough to have knowledge of the right treasure; we also need to have the understanding of where all the pieces fit. Clear vision lightens the way spiritually, ethically, and morally. If the eye of the heart is aimed at spiritual treasure and the glory of God, it will remain singly focused. Using this spiritual vision or understanding, the best way to protect the heart is to saturate it with the word of God.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that being poor in spirit (a precursor to humility) is a necessary, foundational spiritual state one must have to qualify for God's Kingdom. As the polar opposite of pride, poor in spirit describes a condition of being acutely aware of ones dependency and unworthiness. Because of this deep inner felt need and want, those who are poor in spirit are primed to receive and apply the Gospel's instruction to their lives. Poor in spirit (not a product of human nature) does not equate with physical poverty (there is often much pride in indigence), but instead a spiritual state of felt need in which one renounces his smug self-sufficiency, recognizing his intense dependency upon God for all things.
Laodiceans think of themselves as rich, while God sees them as poor. On the other hand, the Smyrnans see themselves as poor, yet God says they are rich! What are true riches?
The seventh and last of the attitudes within the church, Laodiceanism is the attitude that dominates the era of the end time. It seems more natural to think that this attitude would be the least likely to dominate in such terrible times—that it ought to be obvious that the return of Christ is near. But Christ prophesies that it will occur. In fact, it indicates the power of Babylon! Why does Babylon dominate the church in the end time? Because it dominates the world, and the Christian permits it to dominate him!
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