Martin Collins, concluding his series "God's Perseverance with the Saints," focuses on Christ's desire that all His disciples have unity and love. The unity He appeals for is not organizational unity, but unity within the divine nature, exampled in the unity between the Father and the Son. This unity operationally defines a family rather than a corporate unity, with a common Christian experience binding those He has called into an interdependent relationship where everyone serves each other with God-provided spiritual gifts. Christ, through His life-sacrifice while we were yet enslaved to sin, provides the model of love for us. We need to bring our highly flawed love to the infinitely-perfected level of agape love demonstrated by our Elder Brother. We must love our brethren even in their flawed state because God requires them to love us in our flawed state. We demonstrate this agape love when we 1) listen to one another, 2) share with one another, and 3) serve one another. Jesus set the standard for this kind of service as He washed the feet of His disciples the night Judas betrayed Him. If the world cannot see this perfected love demonstrated in us, we are seriously missing the mark.
Levi W. Graham: New and old, North and South, black and white, Republican and Democrat, left and right. The vast array of differences that make up our world are an ever-present reality. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting that 30 years have passed since the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, and 24 years since the founding of the Church of the Great God, marvels that the greater church of God continues to scatter over 400 separate organizational structures. Realizing that God evidently determined to effect this diaspora, our primary goal should be spiritual rather than organizational unity, as we endeavor to achieve the same kind of unity Christ has for God the Father, a unity He prayed for His disciples at the last supper, and for all His called-out ones. Much of the onus for the fracturing of the WCG rested with the leadership, based on a philosophy of authoritarian gentile leadership Christ warned against, mimicking sheriffs rather than shepherds, driving rather than leading. To successfully lead the church, leaders or overseers must: (1) Realize that God is sovereign, always in control and always at work, responsible for good and calamity. (2) Know that Jesus is the head of the Church; God the Father put everything under His feet.. As parts of a spiritual body, with roles assigned by Christ, neither leaders nor lay people should arrogate responsibility not given us. (3) Ministers are servants rather than overlords; all the Bible luminaries, including Paul, Peter, James, and Jude, referred to themselves as servants. (4) The authority for the leadership in the church is spiritual, not physical, political or authoritarian. God has commissioned pastors to lead and persuade, equipping the saints to function as god has ordained, rather than to browbeat and give orders. (5) The pastor's job description is to be a shepherd, guiding, protecting, feeding, and walking in front of the flock, leading them rather than driving them.
Martin Collins, asking whether suffering and sorrow come upon those whom God the Father or Jesus Christ loves, identifies four distinct Old Testament Messianic prophecies fulfilled by Christ's death and all cited by the Apostle John. They include (1) the dividing of His clothing (including his seamless tunic), prophesied in Psalm 22:18 and fulfilled in John 19:28-20, (2) the giving of sour wine, prophesied in Psalm 69:18 and fulfilled in John 19:28-29, (3) the breaking of the legs of the two criminals, but not Jesus' legs, prophesied in Psalm 34:20 and fulfilled in John 19:31-36, and (4) the piercing of His side, prophesied in Zechariah and fulfilled in John 19:34 -37. All of these prophesies depict suffering and sorrow. Additionally, there are three pictures of Christ as forsaken, crushed, and executed, including that of the tola worm crushed for its blood-like crimson dye used to make royal clothing. The seven last words or sayings of Christ recorded in the New Testament Gospels are as follows: (1) "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do," (2) "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise,"(3) "Jesus said to his mother: 'Woman, this is your son.' Then he said to the disciple: 'This is your mother.'" (4) "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (5) "' I thirst.' They took a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to His mouth. When Jesus had received the wine , He said (7) 'It is finished ;'and He bowed His head and handed over the spirit," (7) Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father , into your hands I commend my spirit." All these quotations derive from Old Testament Messianic prophecies, many from Psalm 22. It would be good, in preparation for Passover, for all of us to meditate deeply on these fulfilled Messianic prophecies.
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
Bill Onisick, cuing in on Isaiah 9:6, reminds us that God gave Jesus Christ to us to restore peace, reconciliation, and harmony with God. We must follow Christ's example of sacrifice to be at peace with God. Our God is called a God of Peace and our Savior is called the Prince of Peace. In the Beatitudes, the peacemakers are called sons of God. To achieve the title "Son of God, one must emulate His proclivity for peacemaking. Besides practicing the absence of strife, peacemakers must augment harmony and joy. Godly peace goes way beyond truce and superficial cessation of hostilities, but actively builds harmony, unity, and tranquility within the God family. We are admonished not to be a peace breaker, causing our brother offense, but instead to actively build up harmony and unity with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and our brethren in Christ. Among the seven things God absolutely hates is one who spreads discord among his brethren. We constantly offend and are offended by brethren, making us peace breakers. God certainly does not need our help in correcting others. We should avoid heavy handed opinions, gossip, and other harmony-destroying activities. Peace breakers are not sons of God, but are sons of Satan. Peace in the God family begins with our relationship with God the Father. If we are not reconciled to God, we will not be reconciled to our brethren. We are not called to be peace lovers, but peacemakers, using His Holy Spirit to guide our behavior, bringing joy and harmony to the God-family as a true Son of God.
Martin Collins indicates that, even though II and III John are the shortest books of the Bible, they do contain significant themes, amplifying the contents of I John, emphasizing the fellowship with God. II and III John, addressed to elders in supporting local churches, advocate hospitality to legitimate teachers and forbid supporting false teachers. II John provides tests of life, determining authenticity of genuine believers, as well as advocating faithfulness in large and small responsibilities, including the friends with which one chooses to associate, realizing that true wisdom is the right application of spiritual language. No conflict should ever exist between the spirit and the letter of the Law. The message of II John has special application today, where the church is also besieged by perennial schisms and heresies, not unlike the kind of problems experienced in the Corinthian congregation. Love for the truth automatically leads to love for one another within the congregation. A common commitment to the truth is the foundation of genuine Christian fellowship. In our quest for unity, we can never compromise with the truth. True love between brethren is impossible without an equal love for the truth, leading to a perpetual walking in the light of truth, elevating the Word of God over the traditions of man and every wind of questionable doctrine which inevitably leads to lawlessness. We have the obligation to test everything presented to our minds, examining it against the standard of the Scriptures, holding fast to the truth, filtering out and discarding any toxic prevarications.
Mark Schindler, reflecting that the final marching orders Jesus gave to His disciples on the Passover before He was betrayed was that they love one another, sacrificially sticking together in service to one another, asserts that this command should be front and center in our own minds. The exemplary behavior of the Sullivan brothers, sons of Thomas and Aletta Sullivan of Waterloo, Iowa, five siblings who lost their lives, was a notable event in 1943, an event which led the War Department to establish the Sole Survivor Policy. All five of the Sullivan brothers enlisted at the same time, requesting that they serve together in the same unit, perishing together on the USS Juneau, instrumental in deterring the Japanese from recovering Guadalcanal. The craft was blown in half, her survivors exposed to hyperthermia and shark attacks. The Sullivan brothers perished together, sticking together to the bitter end. Likewise, we have been conscripted into a fierce spiritual battle in which many saints have valiantly sacrificed their lives. We must join them in their efforts to sacrifice for the body of Christ, sticking together through all obstacles, contributing our skills to serve one another, realizing that the sacrifices will lead to unity as resurrected members of God's family. Just as the sacrifices made by the Sullivan family served in rallying the spirit of the American people to win the war, our sacrifices should serve to boost the morale of others making sacrifices, inspiring all our brethren to stick together to attain victory in our spiritual battle. We cannot allow the sacrifices that have been made by our forebears to become forgotten.
We do not often think of fellowship as a means of devotion, but when we look into the book of Acts at the unity of the early church, fellowship was a priority of those first members of God's church. Clyde Finklea reveals that Christian fellowship is more than just getting together on a regular basis; it is sharing with each other on a higher, spiritual level.
At times the paradox is painful, but it is nevertheless true. True Christians "receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon [us]" (Acts 1:8), yet even with that divine power there is much that we would like to do but cannot. ...
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.
The most prestigious international organization dedicated to peace on earth is the United Nations, but such a name can be true only in the most vaguely hopeful way. Nations and the people who comprise them are tragically disunited. John Ritenbaugh shows what we must do, personally and individually, when calamitous events—in the world and in the church—are taking place.
Jesus, in His prayer recorded in John 17, fervently asks for unity among His Disciples (and by extension-all of us). Almost 20% of this prayer is devoted to the subject of unity, that His disciples would be unified with God the Father and with each other, as Jesus is unified with the Father. If we aren't unified with our Heavenly Father, we can't possibly be at one with (or a functioning member of) the Body of Christ. Each member of Christ's body must choose to function in the role God has ordained to produce unity, emulating our elder Brother always doing those things that please the Father by keeping His Commandments (statutes, judgments, and ordinances), enabling us to become at one with Him. Unity with our Heavenly Father leads to unity in the church or the Body of Christ. Failing to discern the Lord's Body- the church (by refusing to engage in rigorous self-examination) leads to eating and drinking damnation to ourselves. The disunity which Paul described in 1 Corinthians 12 has an antidote in 1 Corinthians 13, namely love in all of its manifestations, resulting in physical and spiritual healing and peace, the ideal environment for the growth of spiritual fruit. If we are separated from God the Father and Jesus Christ, we cannot be unified with the church, as was demonstrated by the devastating destruction and Diaspora of the Worldwide Church of God. The disintegration will never be repaired except as individuals voluntarily submit themselves to the rule of God the Father.
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.
We all have many biases—toward the food we eat, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, and even the detergent we use in our washing machines! However, not all biases are good. Dan Elmore provides biblical examples of partiality that caused no end of troubles. More importantly, we need to avoid partiality for the problems it can cause in the church.
The Bible makes it very plain that salvation is by grace, but it is also clear that we are 'created in Christ Jesus for good works' (Ephesians 2:10). Having explained justification, John Ritenbaugh tackles the process of sanctification, showing that the far greater part of God's saving work in us occurs after baptism!
The peace offering teaches many things, but one of its main symbols is fellowship. John Ritenbaugh explains that our communion with the Father and the Son obligates us to pursue peace, follow the example of Christ, and be pure.
Many people may have seen "Lessons from the Geese" in a business setting, but Mike Ford shows how these lessons can benefit us in God's church.
Richard Ritenbaugh, expounding upon the principle that it is more blessed to give than to receive, suggests that the things we ardently desire for ourselves we should be willing to give to others, including forbearance and forgiveness. Following the Apostle Paul's example to the Corinthians, we ought to forgive and comfort one who has genuinely repented. Godly character includes the capacity to forgive and exercise forbearance. Within the body of Christ, we consist of interdependent cells, dependent upon each other. By failing to forgive our brother, we jeopardize the health or well being of the entire body. Extending forgiveness to a repentant brother is a godly characteristic, strengthening the entire body, leading to unity. Our Elder Brother's example should be our standard.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that having an objective orientation (other centered approach) rather than a subjective orientation (self-centered apprach) leads to unity and reconciliation. As members of Christ's collective body, we must exercise those self-restraining and self-controlling godly attributes of walking worthy, having lowliness of mind, meekness, patience, and forbearance- all elements of love demonstrating a practical application for guarding the unity of the spirit.In the present scattering, permitted by Almighty God, the group that one fellowships with is less important than the understanding that there is one true church, bound by a spiritual, not a physical unity.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that walking worthy demands a balance between doctrine and application or between doctrine and conduct. Unity demands both. It is impossible to make a corporate union of all the splinters of the greater church of God because doctrinal, attitudinal, philosophical, and policy differences have grown increasingly disparate. Unity has to come from the inside out with God raising a leader which people, having their minds opened by God's Spirit, will voluntarily submit to. We can prepare for this unity by submitting to God's doctrines and living in accordance with them. Only when we have willingly gone back to our first love can we again attain family identity and spiritual unity.
John Ritenbaugh, after a thorough analysis of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, concludes that the seven conditions described (all having a common denominator an admonition to hold fast to something once given, but slipping away- namely the faith once delivered - Jude 3) are both sequential and contemporaneous, applying to groups now extant as well as individuals within the groups. All of us have these conditions within us to one degree or another. The scattering of the churches was an act of love by Almighty God to wake us up out of our passive, lethargic, faithless condition. The antidote to this splitting and scattering is to make the feeding of the flock our top priority, in which all the body, not just the ministry, participates to nurture one another, encouraging each other to return to the faith once delivered.
Focusing upon Psalm 133 as the 14th step of 15 degrees of ascent, Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that in our spiritual pilgrimage, unity will be perhaps one of the last objectives to be accomplished. Upon the anointing or setting apart of our High Priest Jesus Christ, and our own anointing with God's Holy Spirit, we receive the means to attain this unity. Like the descent of the dew of Hermon and the fragrant oil, unity comes from God through His Son to us by the anointing of His Spirit, covering us from head to toe. Unity comes only through the initiation of God. It is our responsibility to respond to His command to be unified, humbly walking worthy of His calling, willing to render our reasonable service to one another, motivated by His Holy Spirit. If we would follow the practical suggestions given by Paul in Romans 12, we could do our part in promoting unity in God's church.
A biblical study on the basic aspects of one of the fruit of God's Spirit, joy.
Observing that more controversy exists about the counting of Pentecost than for any of the holy days, John Ritenbaugh suggests the confusion may be a function of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19). Confusion, separation, and division have been our legacy since the Garden of Eden. The major reason for Christ's ministry was to put an end to the quarreling and division, enabling us to be one with the Father and with each other. Three of God's festivals (Passover, Atonement, and Pentecost) have a direct bearing on the principle of unity. As we individually strive to become unified with God, believing in His authority and His doctrines, we will ultimately become unified, in one accord, with our brethren. It is our individual responsibility, enabled by God's Holy Spirit, to follow those things that were revealed by God through His apostles, keeping God's Commandments, rather than following our own inclinations or private agenda.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the breakup of our former fellowship into hundreds of pieces, examines the prospects for future unity. God gave His approval for the destruction of our prior fellowship into myriad splinter groups, allowing heresies to emerge enabling God to see who really loves Him. God has authorized and ordained the splitting for the best interests of everyone at this time. Historically splitting has eventually allowed a wider geographical spreading of the message wherever the house of Israel was forced to flee from persecution. When we understand that the churches in Revelation 2-3 will be all extant at the end-time gathering, we can see God's plan of providing special instruction for the individual groups, all having different personalities and different focuses, for specialized uses in the regathering when Christ, the son of David, having the key of David, will put all these pieces back together, assigning the roles which best fit the specialized training.
Taking issue with those who have embraced the widely held notion that God does not have body parts, John Ritenbaugh asserts that just because spirit is invisible to the present physical receptors, much the same as wind or electromagnetic waves (John 3:8), it is nevertheless real - able to be comprehended by spiritual receptors (II Kings 6:17, I John 3:2). The numerous figures of speech describing God's body parts substantiate that God has shape and form and occupies a specific location. Figures of speech always have legitimate grounds of comparison. The term omnipresent, rather than suggesting some ethereal grotesque omnibody, can be explained by being "in union with His spirit" as in John 14:19-20 in which God the Father, Christ, and the Called out ones are depicted to be "in" one another- one unit as analogous to a marriage union when two become one flesh through sharing combined goals, aspirations and a kindred spiritual presence.
In this sermon for the Days of Unleavened Bread, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God demands that we have an obligation to dress and keep that which is placed in our care, improving what He has given to us. We dare not stand still, but must make considerable effort to grow (2 Peter 3:17-18). The work of the ministry consists of equipping the body to grow and mature in love and unity (Ephesians 4:16). Christian growth takes work and effort, individually borne by every member of the body, involving rigorous self-examination, drill, self-control, self-discipline, and actively overcoming the things which separate us from God and our brethren. God's grace teaches us to actively displace our worldly desires or cravings with Godly cravings and desires for truth and righteousness (Colossians 3:5; Titus 2:11-14).
John Ritenbaugh asserts that keeping the Feast of Tabernacles in a central location enables us to realize that we are involved in something larger than our own salvation- part of a universal and eternal mission, giving us unity toward God's purpose. Jeroboam, motivated by political ambition and self-centered fear, incrementally and surreptitiously established a more convenient idolatrous festival, replacing the Levites, and establishing new centers of worship in order to prevent his people from keeping the legitimate Feast of Tabernacles in Judah. The modern parallel seems quite clear.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that it is the responsibility of each person to govern himself. Otherwise, even the very best government (the government of our Head, Jesus Christ) won't work. Goethe said "the best of all governments is that which teaches us to govern ourselves" Voluntary consent and mutual consent is the way to unity. Christ expects the leader to give, to give, and to give some more. Consequently, the authority in the ministry is a "staff position" given by God, as a gift to the church, for equipping the saints for service and for edifying the body of Christ so that we can all grow up into Christ.
John Ritenbaugh observes that we need to learn how to adjust to time as God views it—a view that is vastly different from ours. In Jesus' prayer in John 17, He asks for unity in relationships, especially cooperation, reconciliation and peace within the emerging, developing family of God. We are to glorify God by carrying on the work that He has initiated by His death and the example of His life. God will save and glorify those who are doing the work (bearing our cross, enduring, and witnessing through our lives). Unlike the other accounts of Jesus' trial and crucifixion seeming to show His passivity, John shows Jesus totally in charge, purposefully and courageously moving across the Brook Kidron to meet the advancing enemy to willingly lay down His life. The entire trial of Jesus was a disgusting mockery of justice, built on false charges, false witnesses, and a number of compromised judges.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the shepherd and door analogies occurring in John 10, depicting the close relationship of Jesus with His flock as the security and stability provided by His protection, as opposed to the approach of the hireling. Christ not only promises us life without end, but He also promises abundant life (eternal life; living life as God lives it) as well as protection from Satan. As Christ is one (in mind and purpose) with God the Father, we must be at one with God and other fellow believers through the medium of godly love, as opposed to the anarchy resulting from seeking our own way. Peace is produced by love; Christians are at unity with God and with each other when love is the driving force in our lives, prompting us to keep His commandments. An individual commissioned by God is God to Whom he is sent. With God's Holy Spirit, God sets His called ones apart, enabling them to live righteously and in unity with one another.
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