John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the description of the New Covenant in Hebrews 8:10, reminds us that, although God never intended the Old Covenant to endure eternally, the spiritual and immutable law (shared by both the old and new covenants) was to last forever. God did not nail His holy Law to the cross, as major Protestant denominations mistakenly declare. Rather, God nailed the penalty for our past sins, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ, to the cross. The wages of sin is death. When Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, He not only provided a model as to how His called-out ones are to keep it, He magnified it and raised the standards of compliance, targeting not only behavior, but motive—the whole spiritual process which underlies any sin. To give His called-out ones the ability to reach these higher standards, He gifted them with the Holy Spirit, thereby empowering them to displace carnality with Godly character. God does not create such character by fiat. Rather, it grows steadily with our determination to participate and cooperate with God. The purpose of all of God's covenants with mankind is to create character and stop sin. The New Covenant, as explicated by Hebrews, contains "post graduate" responsibilities far beyond the letter-of-the-law instructions given in Leviticus. Unlike the faulty Protestant assumption that Christ has done all the work of salvation, Christ warns His people that they must soberly count the cost because of the vastly higher standards established in the New Covenant. Christ promises, through the means of His Holy Spirit, the power to do His will, thereby giving His people the necessary tools to achieve membership in the family of God.
Mike Ford focuses on Ecclesiastes 11:7-8, proclaiming that light is sweet and that it is a pleasure to see the sun. Even though still don't know a lot about the nature of light, God has revealed its cause and symbolic meaning in His scriptures. Light symbolizes God, righteousness and purity, while darkness symbolizes ignorance, evil, and depression. With day comes perception and hope, darkness brings fear and despair. When darkness spreads its pall over people's minds, they mistakenly believe God does not see their sins. Satan, the adversary dedicated to destruction, is the ruler of darkness and death. The Apostle John repeatedly emphasizes that God is light, and in Him there is categorically no darkness at all. If we keep His Commandments, we are walking in the light. If we hate our brother or if we become enticed by the ways of the world, we are living in darkness. Satan disguises himself as an angel of light and provides bright—but deadly—lures to his dens of sin. In the New Jerusalem, the luminosity (symbolic of righteousness) of God the Father, Jesus Christ and His Bride will obviate the light of sun and moon. It behooves God's called-out ones to walk in the light of righteousness, keeping His laws and commandments. We must not let the pulls of the flesh and the world conceal the light we reflect as we walk in the light of His Truth.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting that all of us have anticipated a magic day, like graduating, getting married, birth of children and grandchildren, or getting a promotion, cautions that we must be prepared to wait for the event to happen, living our lives one day at a time. We get ourselves ready for that special day. In the last eleven chapters of the book of Numbers, our forebears spent considerable time waiting, until the first generation who rebelled had perished. Their descendants had grown into a large group, waiting for their time to enter the Promised Land. Are we experiencing the same sensation, waiting in a holding pattern? God wants us to develop patience as we wait for the Kingdom of God. The last chapters in Numbers describe a hard-to-endure, lengthy holding pattern—not much happened. But significant things did occur during that time. The plodders will be the ones to make it into the Kingdom; God calls us to follow Him as obedient children, teachable and leadable. The second generation of Israelites were more teachable as obedient children, unlike their recalcitrant, rebellious parents. Joshua, a type of Jesus, took over the leadership of the people (as a military leader and a shepherd), bringing the gospel of the Promised Land. The antitype of Joshua, Jesus Christ, brought significant change—elevating the law above the letter to the realm of the spirit, laying bare the contents of the mind or heart. We have been called into the chosen generation, a royal priesthood, with minds transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We are required to bring sacrifices of a broken spirit and contrite heart. God wants us to eradicate every single sin, from secret to blatant. As we are waiting to enter the Promised man, we must learn to judge with revealed wisdom.
Richard Ritenbaugh, describing a horrific case of child abuse occurring in Pennsylvania in 2012, and the judge's decision as to its resolution, eliciting a mixed review of condemnation and approval, asks us, as future judges in God's Kingdom, if we have the biblical savvy to come to an equitable judgment. Are we ready, at this stage in our spiritual growth, to apply chapter and verse all the biblical principles that apply in this case. In the last message, Richard Ritenbaugh enumerated seven such principles: (1) All authority for law and justice resides in God, (2) the breaking of any law incurs a penalty, (3) sinful actions have inherent cause-and-effect consequences, (4) God has relegated the execution of judgment to constituted authority, (5) everyone is equal under the law, (6) everyone must obey the same laws, and (7) jurisdictions should organize courts in a hierarchical manner to handle cases of increasing difficulty. In this sermon, Richard Ritenbaugh expands his enumeration of principles of godly jurisprudence. The principles of justice in Exodus 21:22-27, sometimes simplified to the "eye for eye' principle or lex talionis, that the punishment should fit the offence , has been applied differently from culture to culture, with the Muslims applying it literally, chopping off a hand of a thief, while the Israelitish cultures apply the principle of proportional or monetary restitution. Jesus Christ applied a much higher standard in the Sermon on the Mount, based upon mercy and forgiveness—a standard that not even His followers, burdened with human nature, can yet attain. The monetary penalties prescribed by Old Testament law were intended to serve as deterrents to crime, as were the stern laws imposed on false witnesses and any form of perjury. Mob or vigilante behavior was outlawed, as well as partiality in judgment and bribery. The judge, in the interest of truth, had to have the intestinal fortitude and the strength to withstand the pressures of errant public opinion. God's judicial system purp
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on the concept of justice, asserts that real justice with fairness and equity (at least in the human sphere) is becoming rare. Divine justice, on the other hand, because Christ died for our sins, leans toward kindness and mercy. The Founding Fathers of the United States used biblical principles in the judicial system of the colonies, deriving 34% of their quotations and allusions from the Bible for their documents. The Puritans studied the scriptures assiduously, believing that if their principles would be incorporated into our laws, government would function smoothly and effectively. Sadly, those principles which were once implemented into our laws are being corrosively eroded and destroyed, as is manifest by the Supreme Court's endorsement of Roe vs. Wade, ushering in legalized murder on a massive scale. God created the universe, giving laws that would sustain life and promote happiness. All authority for law and justice resides in God; when God is taken out of the picture, darkness and chaos dominate. God clearly delineates good from bad and right from wrong. What He commands is good. The things which God forbids are bad for us. If God says something, it should never be thrown aside. Laws have penalties when they are transgressed. God, not a hanging judge, prefers that a sinner repents and gives them time to change and repent. God's laws, designed to create a better life and more perfect life and character, are not an end in themselves, but should become integrally a part of us. When sin becomes woven into our character, life becomes complicated; sin or crime has domino consequences, rippling through many generations. We never commit sin in a vacuum, but inevitably involve our family and ultimately bring curses to the rest of the entire human family. Sin destroys life. Execution of judgment is relegated to constituted authority, not presumptuous vigilantes or those who become involved in blood-feuds. The law should be executed with equity, with no partiality, favoritism, or
Mike Ford explores the possible physical and spiritual significance of the prohibition to mix wool and linen which appears in Deuteronomy 22:11 and Leviticus 19:19. One explanation seems to come from the consumer protection corner, asserting that mixing fibers produces an inferior garment. Some commentaries refer to the respective offerings of Cain and Abel, suggesting that linen may represent worldliness or unrighteousness (even though the book of Revelation tells us the saints will be clothed in linen), while wool symbolizes righteousness. Some Protestant commentaries jump to the conclusion that linen refers to works while wool refers to grace, indicating that they should never be joined. Some commentaries suggest that linen signifies Egypt (even though the Aaronic priests were commanded to wear linen undergarments) and that Israelites were forbidden to mix with Egypt. Realizing that since neither one jot nor tittle will pass from the Law until heaven and earth pass away, we are obligated to look for the commonsense spiritual applications. Since this law appears with other prohibitions of mixing seed, mixing livestock, and keeping things separate, we conclude that God wants us to remain separate from the world, not being unequally yoked with any aspect of this world.
Jesus had just confounded the Sadducees’ question concerning marriage in the resurrection, and their rivals, the Pharisees, were probably gloating at their discomfort. ...
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.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that it is necessary to cultivate righteous judgment, reminds us that not every law of God is on the same level of seriousness regarding His purpose and that not all things are equal in the framework of the Law. We should never assume that any of God's Laws have been done away, but in some ways are still binding. Scripture cannot be broken, but it can be modified. All of God's Commandments are righteousness; the same things keep happening over and over again throughout the ages. The practice of demonstrating God's agape love trumps all other spiritual gifts. Even though all unrighteousness is sin, not all sins are on the same level for us. We have to develop discernment to think, sorting the important from the marginally important. God wants us to think; understanding leads to wisdom, and wisdom leads to right choices. The two greatest laws (loving God and loving our neighbor) is one law with two aspects. The other laws are still in force, though not on the same level of importance. No law is 'done away.' The first tabernacle and its sacrificial offerings were symbolic of a greater spiritual reality of actively loving God as well as loving and serving our fellow man, as a living sacrifice, following in Jesus' footsteps. Doing righteousness is an expression of love.
John Ritenbaugh, rehearsing one of the major factors which divided the Worldwide Church of God, the denigrating of all aspects of God's law, averring that belief in Christ trumps everything, claims that some major elements of righteous judgment were cavalierly tossed out the window. Such a careless approach led to the rejection of the Sabbath, wholesale embracing of Pagan holidays, discarding tithing, eating unclean meats, circumcision and other, what they considered to be purely ceremonial aspects of the law. Like the days of the Judges, the last days of the WCG demonstrated a dearth of righteous judgment. As with the first century church, God expects us to think wisely within the parameters of His Law, coming into alignment with His Word. Without applying righteous judgment, a person without God's Spirit might be inclined to discard the Sabbath, along with the dietary and sacrificial laws. The New Covenant also requires that we live by every word of God; the Law was not done away. Without God's Law, we cannot judge righteously. One should never carelessly assume that any law of God is done away, but we should also consider that not every law has the same level of seriousness and does not warrant the same level of judgment, as illustrated by the difference between willful sin and sin committed out of weakness. The weightier matters of the law (love and mercy) are more important than other aspects of the law, including faith and sacrifice. We need to develop righteous judgment to keep proportion as we make decisions about applying God's Law.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Romans 11:33-35, indicates that God is unparalleled in leadership, jurisdiction, and wisdom. We are not individually sovereign over much, but we are commanded to give ourselves over completely to God's sovereignty. If we do this, we will reap unfathomable blessings. We should develop a fear of God, which acts as a magnet to draw us toward Him. We discover that our pride gradually begins to disappear, displaced by humility. Knowledge of God (understanding and wisdom) is progressive; it does not happen all at once. As occurred to Isaiah, Job, and Daniel, we will feel a sense of our total unworthiness in the light of God's splendor when we come to see God. As we develop a relationship with Him, we begin to make better choices, yielding to His correction. Irreverence of God invariably promotes pride; knowing God promotes submission and humility. If we yield to God's sovereignty, we choose life and will develop the ability to make lifesaving, though admittedly difficult, choices. Then, only God's standard will be acceptable to us. Implicit obedience (as is displayed by the writer of Psalm 119:35-48, 132-133) will lead to greater spiritual growth. Murmuring and complaining appear to be an inborn trait of Israelites, as seen in the insatiable drive toward entitlements we witnessed in the recent presidential election. As God's called-out ones, we need to realize that we are in His view at all times, and that He is able to protect us and safeguard us. Consequently, we need to refrain from complaining, realizing that God is justified in everything He does or allows. God is the Potter; we are the clay. God intends that we devote our lives to seeking Him. As we do so, He will produce quality fruit in us.
Martin Collins reminds us that God's Law is a permanent and eternal entity. Because of its everlasting guideposts, people can order their lives by it; it is intended for human benefit, and should be used for illumination. Many denominations foolishly proclaim that God's laws have been abolished, replaced by a milder form of cheap grace, even though Jesus Christ teaches that until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or tittle of the Law will disappear. Christ insisted that He did not do away with the Law; the apostle Paul insists that we establish the Law, and Christ elaborated and magnified the Law, taking it from the physical and the tradition-bound activities, to the broader spiritual dimension and original intent. The Law must be internalized to enable us to keep it both in the letter and the spirit. Jesus Christ, through His life, modeled for us how to live our lives, demonstrating that God's Law should constitute our second nature, deeply embedded in our heart. Christ's sacrifice enabled us to have forgiveness for our sins. We commemorate His sacrifice annually on the eve of Passover. The Law of God must be perpetual by its very nature; right is always right. Could we worship a God who gives us an imperfect or mutilated law? Our flaws or weaknesses do not present a reason to abolish the Law. The Law is just and good; every command of God is for our protection, flagging areas of potential danger. God's Law is not intended for salvation, but for revealing to us our sins so that we may overcome them. When we tamper with Law, we do away with all standards, nullifying all accurate measurements. In all things, we must seek God's will, but we will not find it in human reasoning. The Law of God is pure, perfect, and sure. Paul assures us that God's Law is holy and spiritual, even though the law of sin militates against it continually until we mortify our human nature. When we are conformed to Christ through His Holy Spirit, holiness will be our nature.
John Reid reminds us that even though the Pharisees had a corrupt form of righteousness, because they were in the office or seat of Moses, we should follow their instructions (pertaining to the Law of God), but not follow their hypocritical personal examples. The Pharisee, by contrasting himself with others, felt superior to others, having an exaggerated confidence in himself. To exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, we must use the magnification of the Law in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:17) to move our perception or understanding from the letter to the spirit of the Law, loving the Lord with all our might and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40), having mercy and patience with others as God has had mercy and patience with us. In addition, we should not separate ourselves from our brethren as had the Pharisees, but seek the fellowship of our fellow servants, ministering to their needs as we have the opportunity thereby ministering to Jesus Christ. By emphasizing the dimension of mercy and love, Jesus placed the bar much higher than could be attained by the Pharisees.
Pentecost is known for its stupendous signs, particularly the display of power in Acts 2. David Grabbe shows that Pentecost teaches us of another, more personal witness: our own display of Christ's way of life in us.
There must be something to prove we are one with Christ, engrafted as part of Him and in union with the Father and the Son. John Ritenbaugh asserts that that something is the manner in which we conduct our life, and we must be living in conformity to the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ.
Martin Collins focuses upon the dark period in history called the Inter-Testamental period, approximately 400 years between the time of Malachi and Matthew, a time of intense political and intellectual fermentation. Internally, the terrible cataclysms gave rise to literature containing ardent Messianic expectation- including the Septuagint, with Malachi serving as the connecting link making a smooth transition between the Old and New Testaments. This time also marks a proliferation of law in the pharisaical tradition exalting the letter at the expense of the spirit- calling for a New Covenant antidote or solution in which minute regulations give way to principles.
Most people understand the basic point of this well-known parable. The whole story describes working compassion as contrasted to selfishness. It also clarifies just who is our neighbor.
Martin Collins contends that the effectiveness of a law is found in its purpose and intent rather than the letter. The blind spots to God's Law unfortunately are found in the spiritual application or principle rather than a specific motor behavior. Christ taught that the righteousness of the Pharisees was not enough to fulfill the law's requirements. Love and mercy constitute the essence of the spiritual fulfillment of the Law. God's Holy Spirit enables us to carry out the spiritual intent of the Law. By continually using God's Spirit, we gradually or incrementally take on God's nature in our innermost beings. As we judge other people, we must realize that the things that offend us mirror our own (hidden from us but transparent to others) faults.
John Ritenbaugh warns that we must not become contaminated or spiritually defiled by absorbing the ways and customs of this world. The Sabbath is not a mere ceremonial observance, but identifies God's people as different, and consequently a perpetual irritant to the world. We cannot cozy up to the world's customs, becoming spiritually defiled. We have to constantly battle human nature which metaphorically acts as a magnet attracting defilement. God's purpose can only be worked out if there is a great deal of separation between us and the world (II Corinthians 6:4-17).
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that Old Testament activities picture New Testament realities, far from done away, but raised or elevated to their spiritual intent. As a parallel to the Aaronic priesthood, the church has been chosen as a royal and holy priesthood (in training) offering up spiritual sacrifices and proclaiming praises of God (I Peter 2:5,9). Paul insists that our sacrifices (reasonable service) should extend to everything we do in life (Romans 12:2), including prayer, study, meditation, as well as sharing goods and experiences (Hebrews 13:15-16).
Although some people have mistakenly used the Bible as a cookbook, a marriage manual, a financial planner, or a childrearing book, it was not designed for those purposes. Herbert W. Armstrong referred to the Bible as a jig-saw puzzle or a coded book, seeming like gibberish to most of the world, but with the aid of God's Holy Spirit, God's elect can put all the pieces together, finding all the essentials for salvation. Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that while it does not contain all knowledge, it does contain foundational principles, enabling people imbued with the mind of Christ to function independently in a godly manner- expanding the law beyond the letter into a more spiritual dimension.
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.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that God's people must exercise correct judgment as to what is permitted on the Sabbath and what is not. God's law is not so inflexible that He will not allow alteration for special circumstances. Sometimes higher laws of extending mercy overrule a normal situation. The intensity of work or energy expended is not the issue, but rather the motivation behind the work. We need to develop righteous judgment about what constitutes a genuine Sabbath emergency and what may be a deceptive rationalization of our human nature.
Many people, even in the church, fail to understand the kind of righteousness God is looking for. David Maas shows that God wants it written on our hearts—not just a set of dos and don'ts or rewards and punishments.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that the command to eat unleavened Bread outnumbers the command to refrain from eating leavened bread three to one, indicating that if we actively engaged ourselves in studying God's word and doing righteousness, we wouldn't have time or place to participate in unrighteousness. Ingesting God's word and actively applying its principles gives us life-sustaining energy to fulfill our personal commission.The book of James had to be written as a counterbalance to antinomian elements that had crept into the church around 60AD, twisting Paul's writings, teaching that grace nullifies the need for works — a condition which has an eerie parallel today. James emphasizes the works required for sanctification after the justification process has been completed. Doing good, like eating unleavened bread, is proactive, displacing sin by righteousness.
Faith and fidelity to God and His way of life should be a major part of our character. In this fourth article on the weightier matters, it details what faith and fidelity are, how to recognize a lack of them in our lives and how to develop them so we can grow into the image of Jesus Christ.
God has given us two valuable tools, which if used in proper proportions, bring about character and spiritual fruit. Used independently, like all polar or dichotomous thinking (going to one ditch or the other), over-emphasis on one has the tendency to distort the process. The law and God's Spirit (not to be considered polar opposites), given on the same calendar date (at Sinai and Jerusalem), must be applied in tandem to get the best results. Richard Ritenbaugh uses analogies from governmental codes and regulations to illustrate what happens when one extreme dominates the other. Over-emphasis on law produces rigidity and loophole hunters, while over-emphasis on spirit produces emotional imbalance, permissiveness, disobedience and lack of structure. Law and Spirit are not opposites, but complementary, and must work together in order to get results.
Jesus blasts the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23, and He tells them they had ignored the "weightier matters." This article begins a series that explains why we should focus on certain virtues as we keep God's law.
John Ritenbaugh explores the role of human nature in the fatal attraction to sin. Though relatively neutral at its inception, human nature is subject to a deadly magnetic pull toward self-centeredness, deceit, and sin (Jeremiah 17:9). By the time God calls us, we are hopelessly ensnared and enslaved by sin. To counteract this deadly pull, we must imitate Christ's standard of active righteousness (going about doing good; Acts 10:38) as opposed to the Pharisee's more passive righteousness (a meticulous, reactive avoidance of evil). The sins of omission (the majority of our sins), neglect, and ignorance have the tendency to dissolve when we practice Christ's standard of active righteousness.
Many people believe that our sins are the focus of Passover—but they are wrong! John Ritenbaugh shows that Christ, the Passover Lamb, should be our focus. How well do you know Him?
John Ritenbaugh, countering the naive assumption that the spirit of the law does away with the letter, insists that without the letter, there is no spirit because no foundations are possible. Writing the laws on our heart does not occur magically, but is a process (involving, prayer, meditation, learning and growing through life's experiences as our Elder Brother also grew in experience (Luke 2:40) We must walk as He walked (I John 2:6). The myriad examples given throughout the scriptures demonstrate for us (stretch out) the intent of the law. No scripture may say anything regarding a particular law, but examples (especially of Christ) will show God's will. The law appears in example form all over the scripture.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the entire Old Testament was written with the New Testament church in mind. Certain temporary ceremonial sacrifices, washings, and rituals were set aside when the spiritual reality—such as Christ's sacrifice replacing animal sacrifices and God's Holy Spirit and His Word replacing physical washings (Hebrews 9:18; Ephesians 5:26)—added a spiritual dimension. All biblical law, including the ceremonies, comes from God. Paul never taught any Jew to forsake the Law of Moses, the constitution and civil code, but he did rail against Pharisaical additions for the expressed purpose of attaining justification. Even though a change occurred in the administration of existing law, no laws were done away. Instead, they are written in the hearts of the converted (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16).
John Ritenbaugh exposes the deplorable contraditions in the arguments of those who advocate doctrinal change. By their reasoning, they portray God as 'a confused and false minister who lacks the power to instruct his chosen leaders to 'get it right." But that is not the way the Bible portrays Him!
After warning against literary junk food, John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the dominant emphasis of Matthew, an ex-government official, who concentrated upon the kingly qualities of Jesus as a descendant of the royal house of David, representing the Lion of Judah. Matthew highlights Jesus' authority over the deposed king (Satan), the Kingdom of Heaven (appearing 33 times) and righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the smallest unit of government is the individual; God is dealing with each of us on this most basic of all levels of government. It is under the New Covenant that individuals are immersed or installed into His church by the Spirit of God, given only to those who willingly consent to obey Him. In this special handpicked condition, God expects us to learn to govern ourselves. Because the church is a royal priesthood of believers with Christ as the High Priest, there is no religious hierarchy between God and us (Hebrews 10:21-22). In order for us to be transformed from the glory of man to the glory of God, we must have the same kind of access to the Father as Christ did, taking on the awesome responsibility of behaving like the sons of God.
John Ritenbaugh again emphasizes the burden-relieving, liberating and redemptive aspect of the Sabbath, suggesting that the seemingly provocative healings that Jesus performed on the Sabbath stood in stark contrast to the oppressive bondage of the Pharisees' elaborate regulations.The ministry of Christ was a manifestation of the redemptive work of the Father. Some work ordinarily profane is permissible for priests in the temple in order to minister to the spiritual needs of the people. The many physical healings Christ performed served as a type of a future spiritual healing. The work required on the Sabbath is to prepare for the Kingdom of God, fellowshipping with our brethren, doing charitable works of service to those in need, and relieving their burdens.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the intent or purpose of the scripture in Deuteronomy 23:2 prohibiting offspring from illegitimate unions (often carrying psychological baggage and irreversible physical damage) from holding offices of responsibility in physical Israel for ten generations. Acts 14 begins with the people of the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe mistaking Paul for Hermes and Barnabas for Zeus. When Paul convinces the crowds that he and Barnabas were not gods, they were treated with contempt rather than adoration. The church, it seems, has always been forced to live in hostile environments. At the beginning of chapter 15, the question is posed whether a Gentile must undergo circumcision in order to be saved or keep the law in order to become justified. Lawkeeping in the present does not justify past sins, nor is it intended to be a vehicle for salvation. This understanding does not do away with God's law, which must be kept in the spirit. Following the Council of Jerusalem, God now begins His spiritual work through the church, taking His Word out to the nations.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God gave the Sabbath (a sanctified, set-apart period of recurring time) to His people in order that they come to know Him intimately, learning to live as He lives. Idolatry, scattering, and captivity have always been the natural consequences of Sabbath breaking. Freedom from bondage and liberty are the natural consequences of Sabbath keeping. God gives relatively few broad principles concerning how the Sabbath is to be kept. Our Elder Brother has given us specific examples of how to use Sabbath time properly, having begun His redemptive liberating ministry on the Sabbath and ending it on a preparation day. Christ emphasized the liberating or redemptive intent (or burden-relieving aspect) of the Sabbath. Acts of liberation or release from bondage occur frequently on the Sabbath Day. We need to follow our Elder Brother's example of relieving burdens.
John Ritenbaugh explains that Stephen ignited the ire of the Hellenistic Jews, a group passionately devoted to the temple, law and land as a defensive reaction to their historical scattering. Stephen rebukes them for their reactionary (almost superstitious) devotion to the past or reverence to a specific temple location, advocating instead a pilgrim mentality, realizing that God is not confined to a fixed location. Stephen points out that historically, God has dealt with His people without land or temple, but instead through a series of deliverers (Joseph, Moses, and ultimately, Jesus Christ), initially unrecognized or rejected by their own people. Stephen suggests that his audience has rejected the Deliverer and has replaced it with an idol (of worshiping the temple) as their forefathers had turned to a golden idol, while rejecting God and His living law.
John Ritenbaugh observes that ancient Israel had at the core of its religion (as well as its dominant cultural norm) an obsession to serve or please the self at the expense of justice and truth and the best interests of the socially disadvantaged. Because of Israel's excessive self-seeking and self-serving pride, God threatens to remove His protection, allowing its people to go into captivity. Pride (the catalyst for Laodiceanism) causes people to reject God and to follow idolatrous ways. Israel's leaders should 1) never be content with the way things are, 2) never let care and concern for self take priority over the welfare of others, 3) covet peace with God, but only on His terms, 4) choose things that are more excellent, and 5) embrace morality.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the spiritual bondage (slavery to sin) Jesus referred to in John 8:34, warns against habitual sin- or sinning as a "way of life"- under the power, control, or influence of sin (graphically described by Paul in Romans 7:7-24.) As long as we are slaves of sin (following the dictates of our own lustful desires), we have no free moral agency. God liberates us from sin in order that we might be free to obey Him. Jesus warns the Pharisees that because righteousness and character cannot be transferred from one person to another, they cannot trust in their pedigree (as physical descendants of Abraham). Without the implanted Spirit of God, we have absolutely no capacity to receive or appreciate spiritual truth or to hear God's Word, allowing it to convict us, making an impact on our lives. The study concludes in John 9 with an examination into the healing of the man blind from birth, occurring near the Pool of Siloam.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the over-riding motivation for the individuals bringing to Jesus the woman caught in adultery was to trap Him, impaling Him on the horns of a dilemma. (Condemning the woman to death would have brought Him into conflict with Roman law; not condemning Her would have brought Him into conflict with the law of Moses.) Jesus, when He wrote in the dirt, perhaps listed instances in which the spirit of the law was violated in the thoughts or behaviors of the accusers, exposing the cruel, condemnatory attitude of the Pharisees. God's approach to authority is that it should be used to serve, and that the chief function of judging (from the stance of humility, mercy, and understanding) is to evaluate and to gently correct and reclaim rather than to condemn. Jesus, claiming to be the light of the world (drawing on a familiar temple ceremony involving candelabras), emphasizes His function as the Messiah, the embodiment of truth, giving form, shape, and substance to our lives, guiding us around or through life's difficulties. Believing that Jesus is God will motivate us to submit to Him in every aspect of our lives, providing an antidote to enslaving fears common to all of mankind, freeing us from the bondage of sin.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that chapter 18 provides instructions to how to get along in the church. Jesus teaches a parable contrasting the enormity of what we are forgiven to what we forgive others. Our forgiveness by God is directly connected with our forgiveness of our brother; blessed is the merciful for they will obtain mercy. The Creator's life is worth more than the entire creation; offenses against us are a mere drop in the bucket compared to our sins against God. Gentile women became proselytes to Judaism because of the better treatment of women in the Bible as opposed to their treatment in Gentile religion. Sadly there was a wide variance between the ideal and the practice since the Jewish culture of that time also considered the woman a possession of her husband or father with no legal rights except those granted to her by her husband. Religious leaders, influenced by Hillel's liberal approach to divorce could grant divorces for trivial reasons. Jesus explained the original intent of marriage with Adam and Eve, who were explicitly designed for one another with no competition. Moses, because of the hardness of peoples' hearts allowed for a bill of divorcement as a temporary concession to their unconverted heart and mind, in order to prevent wholesale adultery. Uncleanness of heart is really the only real grounds for divorce, usually preceded by the unconverted mate leaving. In the case of desertion by the other mate, the converted person is free to marry. The ideal God intended in marriage can only be attained by those with God's spirit, with Christ living in them. Jesus admonishes us that we should emulate certain qualities of innocence and trust displayed by children as we become mature adults.
John Ritenbaugh indicates that in Matthew 5:21-22, there exist degrees in the spirit of murder, with destroying a reputation as the worst. All sin is against God, but before one attempts to establish a relationship with God, he should heal the breach with his fellow man. If a conflict exists between husband and wife, his prayers could be hindered. We are admonished to take care of problems while they are small rather than allow them to brood, exercising moderation and self control. If we continually fill our mind with good thoughts and motivations, we won't be thinking base or unclean thoughts. Jesus, desiring to restore the spirit as well as the letter of the law, warned against rash or hasty divorces, taking oaths or vows, invoking God's name frivolously, realizing that a covenant is binding whether we formally invoke His name or not. As God's people, our word should be good as gold. The Lex Talionis (eye for an eye) principle provided the foundations for an equitable solution, allowing for equal justice or monetary compensation for pain, time, indignity, etc. Jesus set a standard of non-retaliation and non-vengeance—not getting even for an insult, suffering for righteousness as our Elder Brother Jesus Christ did for us. We need to be more concerned about our duties or obligations than our rights. When we are conscripted into service and when we lend to the poor, we need to realize God will make it right to us. When we love conditionally, with the hope of getting something back, we have no reward, but if we love with unconditional, godly agape love, loving our enemies, removing any thought of vengeance, becoming godlike in the process, doing what we were created for.