Richard Ritenbaugh begins by recapping the first three chapters of the Book of Lamentation: "Woe is me" (Chapter 1), "God did it" (Chapter 2), and "If God is behind it, it must have been good" (Chapter 3). He then focuses on the themes of the chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 is a summation of how low God had brought the people of Judah, prompting the theme, "How low can you go?" In Chapter 5, the community bewails what it has suffered, prompting the plaintive theme, "Have You utterly rejected us?" A close reading of the text reveals that, as terrible as this ordeal was, only a few people repented, a reality which justifies Christ powerful rebuke to their descendants, the Pharisees and Scribes, calling them vipers for persecuting and killing the prophets, warning them that their sins would culminate in yet another great destruction. The people suffering under the Babylonians had blindly basked in the privilege of being God's chosen people, while at the same time the blatantly trashed the terms of the Sinaitic Covenant. The inhabitants of Jerusalem could not make a clear cause-and-effect connection between their own sins and what was happening to them. Because the people of Judah demonstrated no fruits of Godly repentance, they failed to achieve anything like a personal relationship with God.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition of Ecclesiastes as he focuses on a paradox which initially provides a measure of grief and anguish to believers, the paradox which shows an unrighteous man flourishing and a righteous man suffering, points us to the solution of this conundrum in Psalm 73. There is grave, ever-growing danger when one combines envy and discontent, calling God into question for allowing evil circumstances to occur. People react to this 'disappointing' paradox in opposite ways, both leading to eternal death. One may be tempted to give up on God's laws totally, living according to the lusts of the flesh. But the opposite extreme is just as deadly because it arrogantly accuses God of having a deficiency in His regimen for mankind, and attempts to make 'improvements' in God's plan by establishing stringent regulations and strict asceticism, trying to impress God with 'over-righteousness.' When we are vexed with the apparent ease of the unrighteous, we should (1) resolve to continue in faith despite our suffering, (2) pray fervently for God's solution to take effect, (3) firmly reject the idea to solve the problem by self-administered shortcuts, (4) quit misjudging the circumstance any further, and (5) realize that God will guide us through the valley of the shadow of death. We have the responsibility to stir up the gift of God's Holy Spirit, giving us some sound-minded perspective of judging our life circumstances. Veering to either the left or to the right is not a viable solution because both extremes militate against God's grace and any chances of a relationship with God. Super-righteousness arrogantly puffs us up, making us odious to God, but humility and the willingness to serve makes us desirable to God. Super-righteousness divides people because the narcissism that motivates it can never be satisfied. The solution is to fear God, know God, and maintain faith in God.
The paradox that Solomon mentions in Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 is not in itself a difficult concept. The problem is that Solomon provides little in terms of an answer to the spiritual dangers that can arise from it. John Ritenbaugh reveals that a Christian's peril lies in his possible reactions to the paradox—the most serious of which is an impulsive lurch into super-righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh insists that this particular topic is attached to the Old and New Covenants, solemn agreements which are eternal (God's Word is eternal) and will not pass away, nor will they be 'done away.' Some things may be set aside for a while, but they are there for our purposes for learning how to judge. Some of the aspects which the world's religious claim are 'done away' will at a future time be brought back. We need to learn to judge in a godly manner, putting merciful restraints on our tendency to condemn or jump to conclusions. We need to inculcate the two great commandments: loving God and loving our fellow humans. We need to learn that sin has different levels of consequences. When it comes to judgment, one size does not fit all. Not everything is on the same level. God is going to judge each of us individually. Our ultimate destiny is to share rulership with our High Priest, Jesus Christ, judging righteously in God's Kingdom, rightly dividing the Word of God. God's Laws set the standards upon which righteous conduct is to be judged. It takes a lifetime to prepare to judge in the Kingdom of God. Learning to apply the spiritual dimension of the law is much more difficult than applying the physical dimension. But both of these dimensions are easier to keep than the traditions and regulations of men, inherently heavy burdens. When Gentile converts were admitted into the church, they were instructed to follow Old Covenant laws regarding the strangling of animals, eating of blood, or eating meat offered to idols. Clearly, the Old Covenant was not 'done away.' After Christ's return, some of the aspects of the Old Covenant, currently in abeyance (for example, circumcision and sacrifices), will be re-instituted. There is nothing evil about the Old Covenant; it provides insights on righteous judgment.
Richard Ritenbaugh, indicating that there are many flashpoints between the greater Church of God and nominal Christianity, suggests that perhaps one of the most significant differences concerns the place and purpose of God's Law. The carnal mind hates and despises God's Law. The Protestant doctrine of grace has an antinomian core, thinking that justification is a synonym for sanctification and salvation, ruling out any need for works. The Law was not nailed to the cross; the handwriting of ordinances (the record of our sins) was nailed to the cross. The Law shows us the boundary markers, serving as a protective hedge. Sadly, morality and 'moralism' are looked upon in many sectors of Protestantism as pejorative terms, juxtaposed in a false dichotomy with the gospel. We do not keep the Law to save ourselves, but keeping the Law is a major part of the Gospel, our guide to show us how to live our lives, helping us to stay in unity with the King. Nominal Christianity has rejected God's Law, the Sabbath, and God's Holy Days, all of which provide guidelines for our spiritual journey toward the Kingdom of God, following Jesus Christ with the help of God's Holy Spirit. Eating unleavened bread symbolizes taking in what is good and pure, purging out the old leaven and becoming a new lump—the new man. We have a part to play in forging the new man. The Feast of Unleavened Bread reminds us that God did the vast majority of the work, that God intends that His Law be in our mouths (not done away), and that these days are to be kept annually and in perpetuity. God's Word is available to us, enabling us to ingest it daily, making it part of our hearts and minds, enabling us to edify others and modeling it in our lives. God supplies the Word and the Spirit to put us on the same wavelength as He is on, working from the same playbook. We are being groomed to be the Bride of Christ. Our putting out sin and living righteously was not abolished by His death on the cross. We are called to be holy in all our conduct. We will not be
In this miraculous event recorded in Luke 14:1-6, Jesus deliberately heals a man with dropsy on the Sabbath at the house of a chief Pharisee. Martin Collins shows that Jesus was teaching them an unmistakable lesson about the purpose of the Sabbath day: It is a day to perform acts of loving service to others, especially to those in need.
John W. Ritenbaugh: Certain categories of subject matter published in the Church of the Great God's "Berean: Daily Verse and Comment" are almost certain to stir challenges against their content. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on the Pharisees, analyzes the reasons for their continuous condemnation. Having their origin in the days of Ezra, the Scribes and Pharisees were extremely zealous for the law, separating themselves for this exclusive purpose. Over time, this originally noble purpose devolved into a rigid, exclusivist sect, separating themselves from foreigners, heretics, or base people, manufacturing strict, repressive rules for the Sabbath; supporting and detailing the Temple service; and promoting strict observance of the tithing laws. As the teachers of the people, they held a great deal of power, which soon became corrupt, turning them into arrogant, desiccated legalists, ignoring the redemptive aspects of God's law. Pharisees sought after signs, interminably multiplied regulations concerning ceremonially clean and unclean, and developed elaborate regulations for washings, actually leading to the breaking of God's law.
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).
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.
Purity before God is far more than just being clean. John Ritenbaugh explains that to Jesus being pure in heart touches on the very holiness of God!
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.
Men have a love-hate relationship with mercy: They love to receive it, but hate to give it! Mercy, though, is one of the most important virtues, according to our Savior Jesus Christ. This article provides reasons why we should lean toward mercy in all our judgments.
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 teaches that in Galatians Paul took issue with the Halakhah- the Jewish way of life- not God's word, but a massive collection of human opinion, some fairly accurate, but some way off the mark, placing a yoke or burden upon its followers. Jesus, in Matthew 23, acknowledged the authority of those sitting in Moses seat, but he took great exception as to how they were using their authority, a zealous obsession with the traditions of the fathers, but almost no application of God's Law. Being strict in human tradition does not mean keeping God's laws, but instead an exercise in zeal without knowledge. On the other hand, Galatians 2:16 does not "do away" with God's Law, or make faith and works mutually exclusive (James 2:24). Works must be based upon faith in Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the Old Testament emphasis on the dwelling in booths and the sacrifices as the context for rejoicing (Leviticus 23:40-44). Even though the Feast is an interlude from our customary activities, it is not a vacation (a cessation from our spiritual sacrifices, duties, or responsibilities). If we do not prioritize properly, (fearing God -Deuteronomy 14:23 and seeking God's Kingdom- Matthew 6:33), the miscellaneous distractions of this world (Mark 4:19) could railroad our most important priority. The booths depict our current lives as pilgrims, people on the move, not living in our own country, wandering single-mindedly toward our destination as our forefather Abraham had earlier set the pattern (Hebrews 11:8), fully determined that the cares of the world would not deter him from his goal.
Before continuing with the book of Matthew, John Ritenbaugh answers four questions from church members. The first question is whether Micah 7:14 refers to a place of safety. In this prayer, Micah, after describing his current discouragement at the moral stage of Judah and their impending captivity, requests that God intervene and feed His people solitarily, protecting them with His rod of protection. This prayer has duality for our current times and the protection of God's church. The wooded region of Carmel becomes a symbol of protection, a refuge from invading armies. This wooded refuge, as well as Gilead, also could apply in type to the church in current times. The second question applies to the identity of Eliachim in Isaiah 22:25. Because of his apparent gradual corruption, Eliachim could not have been a Christ figure. A third question applies to the physical resurrection of the people who were resurrected at the time of Jesus' first resurrection, who served as witnesses proving the reality of the resurrection, and a type of the future resurrection. A fourth question concerns the context in I Corinthians 7 in which separation between married couple is permitted. The study concludes in Matthew 23 with the loss of proportion among the Pharisees, spending their entire lives in a negative attitude, avoiding sin, but not lightening the burdens of their flocks by applying justice, mercy, and faith. The Pharisees did not understand their own carnal nature and could not, with their blinded mindset, have prevented their impending hostility to Jesus and the saints. Avoiding sin does not necessarily equate with "doing good"; if we do good, we do not have time to sin. [Editors note: the Matthew portion of the Bible Study begins at the 49min-10sec mark] [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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.