John Ritenbaugh avers that the Book of Hebrews is "must" reading for all members of God's church who ardently seek the key for personal spiritual growth through a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ—the most important Being Who has ever lived on this earth, far above angels, apostles, prophets, and the Old Testament priesthood. As Christ is the vine and we are the branches, we can grow only if we obey and follow Him, allowing Him to prune us and correct us, realizing that we cannot bear fruit if we do not abide in Him. The theme of the Book is the superiority of Christ over everything. Christ's unique sinless perfection qualifies Him to purge our sins and initiate a sanctification process. Christ became as one of us to model the process of overcoming temptation and attaining godly character. Coming to earth as a baby, He started human life on the same level as all other humans, yet was exclusively able to overcome sin and carnal nature. Because the Book of Hebrews contains no salutation, we understand its audience to be the entirety of God's family. The Book shows contrasts and similarities between the New and Old Covenants and contains highly pointed warnings against Apostasy and fruitlessness. The Church is now on trial. This epistle issues an appear to be faithful, strong and steadfast as we seek to enhance the relationship with our Savior, High Priest and Tutor, seated in the most elevated position next to God the Father.
Charles Whitaker: In John 15:2, Christ describes two distinct actions on the part of the Father: "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes ...
Austin Del Castillo, observing the ballooning prayer list, the continuing fractures occurring throughout the greater Church of God, and the high frequency of people offended, asserts that, unless our primary relationship is with God the Father and Jesus Christ, a positive relationship with our called-out brethren will be impossible, and we will come to feel alone in our spiritual battle. Too many have become strangers to God. Our relationship with God must be real and not imaginary, much closer than any family member or friend. God loves us far more than we love our children. Through accessing His Holy Spirit as metaphorical branches of the vine, we take on godly characteristics, having love for our brethren, willing to sacrifice our lives for them, if necessary, exceeding the bravery of the mythical Aragorn and Boromir in the Lord of the Rings. Jesus will never force us to love Him; only we can do that. Absolutely no one should be closer and more intimate with us than Jesus Christ and God the Father.
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.
Clyde Finklea revisits the interpretation of John 15:2 , which reads in most translations, "every branch that does not bear fruit, He takes way." This is assumed by many to mean "get rid of." Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, in his book, The Secrets of the Vine, explains that "takes away" should be more properly rendered "take up," deriving from the tendency of new grape vines to bend down and become covered with dirt. Vineyard owners in northern California explained to Wilkinson that a branch is too valuable to simply discard, but would be washed off and lifted up, tied to a trellis to enable exposure to sunlight. If a vinedresser lifts up a vine, securing it to a trellis or pole, it is because it is fruitless. Once it begins to bear fruit, it is then pruned for the purpose of bearing more fruit. As God's called out ones, we need to be able to distinguish between punishment for wrong-doing and pruning for greater growth, something which Job's 'friends' had to learn the hard way. As products of God's workmanship, we endure His discipline, producing quality fruit to glorify Him.
Martin Collins, noting that the foundational way of life as outlined by Jesus Christ is not much followed in mainstream Christianity, and observing that the five foolish Virgins also belonged to the visible church, reminds us that we are only Christ's if we have God's Holy Spirit living in us, and we live according to the Spirit's prompts. There is no such thing as a secular Christian. Salvation is an ongoing work of God, obligating us to walk in the Spirit and not according to the flesh. If we walk in the Spirit, we will be not captivated by the lusts of the flesh. From the onset of our calling, we have been charged to bear spiritual fruit, being metaphorical branches of the vine, which is Christ. If we produce the fruit of the Spirit, we will maintain a sound mind, enabling us to acquire a new godly nature and character. We must mortify our past nature, realizing that all sin is abject failure and a fast track to death. As God's called-out ones, we need to reckon ourselves dead to the pulls of carnality. Sadly, we are guilty of sinning against God's Law every day, but if we willfully sin, rejecting the prompts of His Holy Spirit, we are, in effect, committing the unpardonable sin on an installment plan. Only those led by God's Holy Spirit are truly children of God. If we are not led by God's Spirit, we are pathetic slaves of sin. If we abide in Christ's words, we are His disciples. If we grow in the Spirit, allowing our character to be transformed from the inside out, we will be siblings and heirs of Christ, becoming full members of the family of God.
John Ritenbaugh, warning us not to complain about our lack of talents or spiritual gifts, assures us that, if we were called because of our talents, we would be able to brag. However, we were called solely for the purpose of fulfilling what God has in mind for us. To that end, God has given diverse gifts to all He has called, intending that we produce abundant spiritual fruit, glorifying God. As Adam did not create himself, we, called as first-fruits of a spiritual creation, have not and are not creating ourselves either. We are being trained to become leaders, but before we can lead, we must be able to carry out responsibilities, conforming to God's leadership, carefully meeting the demands of His covenants (solemn agreements between God and man). Covenants, contracts, and compacts are all designed to draw individuals together, unifying them in agreement to establish a purpose. Of the 70 billion people who have lived on the earth, only a meager fraction have entered into a covenant, the legal foundation for any relationship with God. Keeping any of the covenants involves faith in the Creator, the one who gives life and breath to each living being. All human beings have been given a basic understanding of right and wrong, having been imbued with a conscience (Romans 2:14), but the converted are presently more involved with God, and are expected to conform to a higher standard. In order to become a leader, one must be a good follower, pursuing with a high level of energy, appropriating the character of God. The covenants provide overviews of what we must follow, giving broad principles rather than specific details. The Sovereign God spells out the terms and the penalties, demonstrating patience and long-suffering as we slowly learn the rudiments. The first covenant recorded in Scripture, the Edenic Covenant, establishes the Sabbath, the solemn marriage relationship, and clearly shows God to be the source of all blessings, providing a pattern for all the covenants to follow.
Bill Onisick, tackling a conundrum which appears to some people as a contradiction, examines Jesus Christ's statement in Matthew 26:29, "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." If we look at the episode of His tasting the sour wine with gall shortly before He gave up His spirit, and the episode of eating with His disciples before His ascension, one would initially experience some confusion. However, when compared to the prophetic Messianic Psalms (especially Psalm 22) when the gruesome details of Christ's suffering and crucifixion are highlighted, the reason for the sour wine, the separation from the Father, the yielding of His spirit, the darkness, and the significance of His perfect sacrifice are all made clear. When we consider that in the annual observance of the Passover, Jesus Christ is with us in Spirit, we realize that we are already participating in a foretaste of this event right now, while the ultimate fulfillment will occur during God's coming Kingdom.
David C. Grabbe: The New Testament in Modern English, commonly known as the "Phillips Translation," contains a salient rendering of John 15:1-8: "I am the real vine, my Father is the vine-dresser. ...
Government may very well be the most important subject in all the Bible because it contains the vital knowledge of how Christians are to govern themselves under the sovereignty of God. John Ritenbaugh concludes his series on our full acceptance of God's sovereignty by highlighting how Christ helps us to follow God's will as He did.
Bill Onisick: Song of Songs 2:15 contains an intriguing metaphor: "Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes." What are the "little foxes" in our lives?...
Bill Onisick: "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff—and it's all small stuff." Certainly, there is wisdom in this simple statement, which is also the title of a popular book by Richard Carlson, Ph.D. ...
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.
Clyde Finklea: During His Passover instructions to His disciples in the upper room, Jesus uses an illustration to explain how God works with us to produce fruit in our lives...
Even the beginning Bible student knows that Israel plays a prominant part in Scripture. Why? Richard Ritenbaugh explores God's stated purposes for choosing and using the children of Israel throughout His Word—and beyond.
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, recounting incidents from the movie Jeremiah Johnson, indicates that conflict and pressure in life's journey are the norm. We may try to run, but we cannot hide from life's troubles, stresses, or tribulations. Sin cannot be contained or isolated, but its effect spreads like leavening—to the guilty and innocent alike. The way that one lives provides testimony and witness. To witness and endure these trials, we must have faith in what we are. By submitting to God, we bring honor to our name. We are required by God to fulfill the uniqueness of what our biblical names and titles suggest, including the called, the Chosen, the Redeemed, the Bride of Christ, the Sons of God, and many others. Fortified with these acquired names and titles, we can have the strength to endure the inevitable trials we face.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that neglecting to feed the flock has been detrimental to preaching the gospel to the world. Because of this unwitting neglect, many members succumbed to the "lost in the crowd" syndrome, feeling insignificant, meaningless, and useless. The vine and branches analogy (John 15:1-6) and the body analogy (Romans 12:4-5; I Corinthians 12:12-17) indicates that we are all responsible for one another, with no one having an insignificant role. We draw upon God's Holy Spirit, not for ourselves only, but for the well-being of the entire body. Putting first things first,the condition of the body or temple is dependent upon the spiritual condition and well-being of the individual members of the body.
The Bible uses so many symbols for God's church that no single Bible Study could do them justice. Here are several more, many of them familiar to Bible readers.
The Branch is a well-known Old Testament prophetic figure, identified as the Messiah by most people. Yet, is there more to it than that? Why is the Branch not mentioned in the New Testament? What does it mean to us?
In this message, John Ritenbaugh, using the parable of Luke 11:24-28, admonishes that being cleaned up (or purged of leaven) is only the beginning of the growth process. To be made clean only prepares us for producing fruit. God's concern is for us to mature spiritually. If we stand still (resting on the laurels of our justification), the dark forces are going to pull us backwards. Uselessness invites disaster. We have to get away from the negative fixation of not doing and begin concentrating on doing. The consequences of not bearing fruit are graphically described in John 15:6. God's purpose, once we are cleaned, is to produce growth in us.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that whether we like it or not, we internalize our values (good and bad) in our children, teaching largely by example. If we do not take seriously the responsibility for rearing our children, somebody else will. Sadly, the evil influence emanating from Satan (the spirit of the power of the air), permeate the standards and behavior of the world, attempting to imprint its unacceptable behavior onto our offspring, squeezing them into its mold. If we imprint on our offspring an example inspired by God's Holy Spirit, our offspring will be inoculated against the evil influences of this world. Four factors which impact our child rearing are: (1) our relationship with God (remaining metaphorically attached to the vine through God's Holy Spirit), (2) our relationship with our spouse (continually expressing the example of affection and solemn respect for the marriage covenant), (3) our attitudes toward children and child-rearing (too many of which are sadly influenced by the world), and (4) our practice of child-rearing techniques. We get first crack at training Gods.
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.
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