Martin Collins points out that the graphic imagery of a turbulent sea appearing in Isaiah 57:19-20 describes the troubled minds experienced by those who reject God's laws. God's called-out ones must earnestly strive for peace, realizing that Satan has countless ways to trouble people. It is impossible to grow spiritually in a climate of animosity and jealousy. If we use the power of God's Holy Spirit, peace will naturally accrue as one of the fruits. If we have offended a brother in Christ (or anyone for that manner), we should: (1) admit any mistake in attitude or action, (2) not make excuses for our behavior, (3) acknowledge the hurt we have caused, expressing genuine sorrow, (4) accept consequences, as well as make restitution, (5) overcome our negative behavior by changing our attitude and actions, (6) face up to the offended person, and (7) ask for forgiveness. Similar formulas appear in this message for rebuilding relationships with God and spouse. Another formula for putting an end of contention consists of: (1) praying for humility and wisdom in handling conflict, (2) putting ourselves in the other person's shoes, (3) anticipating likely reactions in order to plan responses, (4) choosing the right time and place, (5) talking face to face if possible, (6) assuming the best about the other, (7) speaking only to build others up, (8) asking for feedback from the other person, and (9) recognizing our own limits, realizing God alone can change a person's mind. We should exercise the same kind of forgiveness and reconciliation to others that Christ has shown us.
In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus warns the Pharisees about crossing a line that cannot be uncrossed, an act of blasphemy that is commonly called "the unpardonable sin." David Grabbe explores the Bible's references to this often-misunderstood subject, showing that, while rare, one could fall into it through bitterness or neglect.
David Grabbe, reminding us that God's thoughts are infinitely higher than our thoughts, focuses on the danger of committing the unpardonable sin, attributing God's Holy Power to Beelzebub or Satan the devil. The Pharisees in Matthew 12 were sternly warned that attributing God's power to something profane, when one was aware he was doing it, is unpardonable. To commit the unpardonable sin, one has to become enlightened or called. If he willfully commit sin, sustaining opposition to God's Law, committing his heart against God in bitterness or resentment, he is courting mortal peril. Some individuals have sorely grieved God's Holy Spirit through neglect, weakness of the flesh, or some other circuitous detour without quenching God's Spirit. There is a point of no return in which rejection of God is so complete that repentance is impossible. In God's scattering of the Church, we are unable to know where and how God is working with individuals throughout the greater church of God. We dare not presumptuously and pompously try to speak for God in determining who is a tare and who is not. Injuriously speaking (judging the state of other peoples' conversion) is a fast track to committing the unpardonable sin. God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His plans are way beyond our scrutiny.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that people universally are curious about the future, asserts that prophecy is difficult and perplexing. Regardless of when Christ will return, we must be ready. False teachers, apostasy, and wars, as well as rumors of wars, will be a permanent part of the birth pangs ushering in Christ's Second Coming and the end of the world. Our challenge in the wake of the terrible things we witness now (an arena of passion and fury) must be to retain confidence that God is in control, even though our faith will be tried to its ultimate. The zeal we had at our calling cannot hold up to the current rigors. We need to learn to fear God more than those who persecute us. When we are ill-treated, we are persecuted for His sake—a high honor. God will give us special ability to witness for Him in the midst of gruesome trials and persecution. God's promises have conditions, namely, that we come to the stature of Christ. We are commanded not to be deceived, not to be afraid, and not to worry. Because Jesus will come unexpectedly and suddenly, we need to always live as though Christ will be returning tomorrow. God encourages us to stay settled in times of conflict, to stand firm in the faith, and to preach the Gospel to the world until Christ returns, an event which will be as the blink of the eye regardless of when we die. Consequently, we need to maintain a solid relationship with God, watching and praying continually, protecting our spiritual valuables. Until Christ returns, we must serve our brethren, using the spiritual gifts God has given us, in direct contrast to the evil servant, who is careless, cruel, and engages in carousing, believing he has plenty of time since Christ has supposedly delayed His coming. Faithless Christians will be judged more harshly than those who do not know Christ. To whom much has been committed, much will be expected.
Ted Bowling, reflecting on the connotations of the word "circumspect," admonishes us to examine everything cautiously, circling around a speck [360 degrees], until we can see all sides. As we exercise circumspection (or perhaps being circum-suspect) we must take God's will for us into our cautious examining in our prayers, study, and meditation, emulating the Psalmist's David commitment to God to walk circumspectly, avoiding the world's alluring distractions. We have to learn from the mistakes we have made, determined to mature spiritually, taking ourselves away from the dangers we have previously encountered, harnessing our behavior, including our tongues.
Living by faith is not easy in this world—not by any stretch of the imagination. Among the spiritual realities that a faithful Christian must understand is God's sense of justice. John Ritenbaugh uses the instantaneous deaths of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, to illustrate the differences between His sometimes swift and terrifying—but perfect—justice and our own imperfect judgments.
David C. Grabbe: Before continuing with Judah’s next king, Jotham, it is worthwhile to consider another aspect of the previous three kings. ...
A survey of the New Testament reveals that, though we may recognize the "signs of the times," we will not be able to determine when Jesus Christ will return. David Grabbe pursues the concept of Christ's second coming "as a thief in the night," and what this means to Christians in this end time.
Sometime in their Christian lives, many people hit a plateau in their growth and go little further. Have we have overlooked the simple principle of "ask and it will be given" spoken by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount?
With all the military metaphors in the Bible, there can be no doubt that God likens the Christian life to a fight, a war, against the evils and temptations we face daily. In this light, John Ritenbaugh begins to examine Hebrews 11, the Faith Chapter, showing that the patterns revealed in it provide deep instruction for us in our Christian fight.
As Christians, we realize that God is not only powerful, but He is also the source of all power. How do we translate this understanding into practical action? John Ritenbaugh explains how we can tap into God's power to avoid slipping into apostasy.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the Bible shows a clear pattern of how people leave the Church. The first step in the pattern is looking back, as in the case of Lot's wife. The second step is to draw back, motivated by self-pity, shrinking back as from something distasteful. Step three consists of actually walking away and looking for something else. Step four consists of arriving at the point of no return, going backward, refusing to hear. In contrast, the book of Hebrews is a compact book laying out clear doctrine and practical exhortation to called-out ones who had started to drift, giving a practical model of being sanctified. Chapter 10 contains a fearful threat of the Lake of Fire for those having committed the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin constitutes sinning willfully and deliberately. To sin willingly means to be disposed to do it as of a second nature. We need to draw near God's throne with boldness, cleaning up our acts, using faith, hope, and love.
The Parable of the Talents is often confused with the Parable of the Pounds. Martin Collins brings out their differences, showing that these parables illustrate Christian responsibilities from different angles.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins is without doubt prophetic concerning the attitude of Christians at the end time. Martin Collins discusses the differences between the wise and foolish virgins, drawing out principles we can apply to our Christian walk.
The Parable of the Great Supper is Jesus' response to a fellow dinner guest exclaiming, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" In the parable, Jesus exposes and corrects the ignorance of those who, in their pride, misjudge their true moral condition.
John Ritenbaugh analyzes the five-point warning message given to the scattered Hebrews by Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews does not identify a single flagrant violation of law, but instead delivers a general castigation for incremental, continuous, disrespectful, and forgetful neglect—a failure to esteem what should have been thought precious, their calling and salvation, while esteeming inferior things like wealth or status. Hebrews expounds four other warnings, all designed to wake the church member up and motivate him toward greater devotion to God. Similarly, the modern church of God stands in danger of allowing salvation to slip away from pure neglect. By these warnings, we should know how to turn our lives around so we do not fall short and lose salvation.
God has often used micro metaphors to illustrate macro events. For example, in Isaiah 1:4-6, God compares the whole nation of Israel to a sick patient with an incurable disease, signalling impending captivity. The church has been alternately compared to a bride, vine, virgin, woman, mother, and body. Extrapolating from these metaphors, the condition of the greater church of God resembles a patient languishing from a deadly disease like cancer. This condition has resulted from a diet of spiritual junk food (the philosophies and traditions of the world) and abstinence from the life-sustaining bread of life (John 6:63). The words we "eat" create a faith that forms the walls of our belief system?a kind of spiritual immune system, protecting it from disease. Good health, then, is not merely a matter of diet, but an entire interactive process of prayer, study, obedience, and conformity to God's purpose for our lives.
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
We have a tendency to put matters behind us once we are finished with them, but we cannot afford to do this with the lessons we learn from the Days of Unleavened Bread. John Reid shows that those lessons are eternal!
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that the doctrines entrusted to us through Herbert Armstrong's apostleship remain a major plank in the foundation of our faith. Adopting a revolutionary stance (Proverbs 24:21) for the sake of change, variety, or relieving boredom will systematically destroy the faith once delivered. Through the sanctification process, we incorporate Christ's righteousness by obedience, prayer, study, bearing fruit, sacrificing, serving, and yielding to God's Spirit, enabling us to develop character. In the current scattering, God is testing us to see whether we will hold fast, resisting heresies and false doctrines. Our vision must be kept alive and ever growing or our zeal, motivation, and unity will wane.
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.
It seems that some sins should be worse than others in God's eyes. Is this so? Martin Collins explains that, though all sin merits the death penalty, some sins carry greater consequences and penalties.
John Ritenbaugh explores the reciprocity aspect of the relationship between God and His called out ones. God in His sovereignty personally handpicks individuals with whom He desires to form a relationship. This relationship, like the physical creation, must be dressed, kept, tended, and maintained (Genesis 2:15). As in a human love relationship, ardently seeking God and desiring to conform to His image and mature into His character will cause the relationship to grow incrementally and intensify. Drawing near to God (in reciprocity to His love) is the key to the transference of God's mind to ours.
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the book of Jude, a scathing indictment against false teachers, is perhaps the most neglected book in the New Testament. It was designed for the end time, a time of apostasy, when most of these problems would occur. Jude admonishes ministers to protect the flock, warning that brute beasts (false teachers), having wormed themselves into leadership positions in the church, governed by lusts and desire for gain, will attempt to devour the flock with their cunning antinomian, ungodly teaching, twisting the doctrine of grace into licentiousness, encouraging unbelief, rebellion, and immorality. Jude, seeing the coming apostasy, admonishes people to put forth agonizing effort to be grounded in the truth, taking on God's mind.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the New Covenant seals the agreement with the body and blood of Christ, which is consumed inwardly. Partaking of this cup indicates that we are in unity with those in the body—fellow heirs of the world, as Abraham's seed, participating in the death and resurrection of our Savior. We must thoroughly examine ourselves, exercising and strengthening our faith, actively giving love back to God, to avoid taking this solemn event in a careless, irreverent, or nonchalant manner, jeopardizing our relationship with God, our relationship with our brethren, and our Christian liberty.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
All the signs point to Christ's imminent return, yet the Bible warns us not to let down! John Reid, using Hebrews 10, exhorts us to strive zealously to please God and finish our course!
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that we ought to be devoting considerable time getting to know our prospective bridegroom, like the Apostle Paul desiring to conform to Christ in every way before the marriage. This challenge becomes extremely complicated because Satan has deliberately designed this world to burn up our precious time, creating an artificial sense of urgency and a perpetual state of discontent, taking something that was formerly simple and making it extremely complicated. Following Herbert W. Armstrong's mandate to simplify our lives, we desperately need to redeem the time, seeking the Kingdom of God and conforming to God's personality.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the New Covenant of Hebrews 8:8 was given to Israel and Judah, not to the Gentiles. God does not deviate from this pattern; Israel is still involved with the New Covenant. It is not the physical nation, but the spiritual remnant (partly composed of grafted-in Gentiles- Romans 11:17-25 and the church or Israel of God- Galatians 6:16) with whom God is working, circumcising their hearts and writing His laws in the recesses of their hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10; 10:16)
Drawing an analogy between kudzu and the thorns in the Parable of the Sower, Mike Ford shows how we have to "weed out" detrimental habits that choke our lives. If we want to produce quality fruit, we must weed the garden!
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the reason for refraining from work or pleasure on the Sabbath is not labor or muscular energy, but the overall motivation for expending this energy. Proper preparation for the Sabbath frees us from customary distractions, allowing our words and fellowship to focus on God's purpose for our lives. The Sabbath is 1) a memorial of creation; 2) a recurring period of God's presence; 3) associated with liberty and redemption; 4) a time in which how it is kept looms more important than merely keeping or observing it; 5) represents a shift in emphasis from communal to individual responsibility, prefiguring the rest of God; 6) a time when not working becomes secondary to fellowship with God; and 7) requires a preparation day to clear away mundane activities, enabling total commitment to God.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that because of our close proximity to a materialistic world filled with man's works, our faith cannot take root. The Sabbath is the day consecrated by God for building faith, energizing our minds for fellowship with God. We dare not defile, profane, offer blemished sacrifices, or put to common use this holy time. Our approach to the Sabbath needs to be quality, whole-hearted, aimed at perfection rather than slipshod, lackadaisical, or "Dutching" it just to get by. The Sabbath contains three principal themes or motifs, focusing upon the past (creation), the present (redemption) and the future (prefiguring the Kingdom of God). We must diligently strive to enter this rest.
John Reid focuses upon the dangerous trait of human nature of allowing familiarity or complacency to lure people into carelessly taking something for granted. It is particularly dangerous to take God and His purpose for us for granted. If we see God clearly, we will not. Contributing factors in not clearly seeing His purpose include 1) sloppy prayer and Bible study (I Timothy 4:14-16), 2) becoming entangled in the world's cares (Matthew 13:22), and 3) refusal to change or overcome. With a contrite heart, we need to love God zealously (Deuteronomy 6:5), never taking our eyes off the great purpose He has for us.
John Ritenbaugh, drawing a parallel from human physical love provides an eight-point checklist to determine whether our love for Christ is genuine. If we love another person, we will (1) think about (2) like to hear about (3) like to read about (4) seek to please (5) be with the friends of (6) be jealous of the honor of (7) like to talk to, and (8) always want to be with this person. Like the Ephesian church, in the wake of mounting disappointments, frustrations, deferred hopes and pressures, we cannot become weary of well-doing, allowing our first love and devotion to deteriorate, looking to the world to gratify our desires. We desperately need to redirect our energies (Colossians 3:1; Galatians 6:6-8), to rekindling our first love.
The seventh and last of the attitudes within the church, Laodiceanism is the attitude that dominates the era of the end time. It seems more natural to think that this attitude would be the least likely to dominate in such terrible times—that it ought to be obvious that the return of Christ is near. But Christ prophesies that it will occur. In fact, it indicates the power of Babylon! Why does Babylon dominate the church in the end time? Because it dominates the world, and the Christian permits it to dominate him!
John Ritenbaugh warns that benign neglect of the Sabbath covenant can incrementally lead us into idolatry, as it apparently led Solomon into idolatry. We are admonished to respect or treat this holy time as different from the other days of the week, forsaking our mundane concerns, but allowing God to perform intense spiritual work, redeeming us from spiritual bondage, increasing our faith, and working out salvation in us. The Sabbath provides us the necessary time to systematically inculcate God's Word into our inner beings, fellowshipping with God and other called-out brethren. We need to carefully prepare for the Sabbath, making careful use of this precious preparation time for future service in His Kingdom. The Sabbath typifies the time of full redemption of Salvation and the establishment of His Kingdom on this earth- a millennial rest for this creation.
John Ritenbaugh observes that in our modern fast-paced, hectic culture, we commit far too little time to God, depriving ourselves of the Holy Spirit and attenuating the faith required to draw close to God. The Sabbath was made to guarantee this needed time to establish our contact with God. We dare not pollute or profane this day by presumptuously doing our own thing, incrementally neglecting the hearing of sermons, fellowship, prayer, meditation, and Bible study. The Sabbath (a memorial of God's creation and a pre-figuration or promise of a future rest) provides the time for hearing God's word right now and doing good. God's presence has sanctified or set this recurring period of time apart as holy. During this time, we need to develop respect for instruction into God's way that will lead us into eternal life. We need to guard our thoughts, words, and behavior, making sure that we do not pollute this holy time.
John Ritenbaugh warns that we dare not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in us as a result of the trials we go through - those burdens intended by God to strengthen us and perfect us. We are warned not to emulate the example of Esau, whose worldly mindset blunted his ability to distinguish the sacred from the profane, leading him to give up his birthright to satisfy a bodily craving. We have superior promises (of future Eternal life and a place in God's very family as well as current access to God's presence through the work of Jesus Christ). The intense admonitory quality in the twelfth chapter stems from the stark, inescapable reality that God will not budge one inch on sin. Far from being an indulgent lenient parent, God is a consuming fire to those who will not obey. We need to develop the same white-hot hatred for sin as does our Heavenly Father. Finally we are admonished to (1) increase our fellowship with our brethren, (2) practice hospitality, (3) sympathize and empathize with those going through trials, (4) strive for pure and chaste marriages, (5) resist covetousness, and (6) ease the ministry's burden
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
John Ritenbaugh observes that Hebrews is addressed to a people living at the end of an era, who were drifting away, had lost their first love or devotion, and were no longer motivated by zeal. Through lack of prayer, Bible study, and meditation, they had incrementally lost their portion of God's Holy Spirit, which now resembled a tiny, sporadic drip from a water skin. Through careless neglect, they were allowing something precious to slip out of their fingers, squandering a far greater treasure—their potential to become members of the God Family—than the people under the Old Covenant had neglected. Christ, our Trailblazer or Forerunner, was perfected through suffering, and we are to be perfected in the same way. We also need to be made perfect (adequate for our ultimate purpose) through suffering.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Jesus' calculation upon the time of arrival at the Feast of Tabernacles, indicates that Jesus carefully took into account many variables to maximize His effectiveness at this event. The myriad opinions of the crowd concerning Jesus were all conditioned from their perspectives and traditions, but hardly ever from God's perspective. Jesus demonstrated that the only way to learn the doctrine of God is by doing it. He also taught us to look for God not only in the extraordinary, but also in the ordinary. Jesus warns the crowd [and us by extension] that the time to seek God is now, while we still have a sense of spiritual need (or hunger) lest we permanently miss out on the opportunity. Cuing in on a water ceremony performed daily at the Feast, Jesus drew a spiritual lesson, dramatizing the need for God's Holy Spirit without measure. Amazingly, throughout these dramatic encounters with the public, Jesus had deliberately chosen a course that would lead to His death rather than to immediate power and adulation.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes chapter 12 as the "rise of the opposition," outlining the rising suspicions on the part of the Jews, the prejudiced blindness and the active investigation, countermanded by Jesus response, making claims to His authority, His courageous defiance, and His bold attack. In the first several verses, it is clear the disciples were not stealing corn (Deuteronomy 23:25) nor were they breaking the Sabbath as David had not broken the Sabbath when he ate the showbread on the Sabbath when he was fleeing from Saul, nor do the heavy priestly duties (normally work forbidden by lay members) violate the Sabbath. Human need takes precedence over human custom. Jesus didn't break the Sabbath, but he did break extra-legal fanatical human custom applied to the Sabbath apart from God's Law- those foolish prohibitions proscribing healing and alleviating human misery. Interestingly, Jesus did these miracles in a courageous, but nevertheless a discreet manner, asking his clients not to publicize these events, but nevertheless, as a humble servant [not yet a conquering hero- nor certainly a brawling instigator of incendiary riots], demonstrating humane application of the Sabbath law to the Jews and the Gentiles, having universal application. His motives were misconstrued by the opposition, accusing Him of using demonic powers. Christ warns us that following His way of life will bring persecution. Our spiritual gifts and skills (discerning skills to distinguish good from evil) we must continually use so they don't degenerate. When we cannot make this distinction any longer, we have, in essence committed the unpardonable sin- candidates for the Lake of Fire. The well-spring of good (as well as evil) stems from the heart, producing the fruit of good (or evil) works and good (or evil) words. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that disciples of Christ should expect persecution, often from people we normally would feel comfort and protection from, such as members from our own family. The two-edged sword (the Word of God) divides families because receptivity of this word is not a given- especially if one has not yet been called. Many more people ridicule God's Word than keep it. God's called out ones have to love God's Word more than family. Service in the work of God will inevitably bring persecution, but it will also bring reward. Chapter 11 focuses upon the ruminations of John the Baptist, who even though he was close to Christ, may have misunderstood the nature of Christ's true mission. John the Baptist, labeled as "none greater" never performed a miracle. It will take a great deal of expended energy to make it into the Kingdom of God. We cannot afford to be negligent or complacent about our calling, or our willingness to yield to His teachings, letting it dissipate like the ancient Israelites, the people of Bethsaida or Chorazin - or the Laodiceans . We must be teachable and adaptable, willing to take Christ's yoke, not tripped up in intellectual vanity or pride. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
Can a Christian commit a sin, and still be a Christian? Or would this be "the unpardonable sin"? Or would it prove he never was a Christian? Thousands worry, because they do not understand what IS the sin that shall never be forgiven.
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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