Mike Fuhrer: In Part One, we saw that sin is not necessarily the breaking of a law—although that is often what we do when we sin—but in relation to the Greek word's meaning ...
Bill Onisick reminds us that, during our pre-Passover self-examination, we need to ask God for the ability to see our hidden weaknesses. Paradoxically, when we see a major fault in someone else (according to the speck-and-beam principle), it could well be that God is pointing out a deeply concealed sin within our own deceptive, carnal nature. We need to see ourselves as God sees us. The contrast between the behavior of Nabal (nicknamed "fool") and Abigail (whose name means "father's joy") demonstrates the critical divide in our warring carnal and spiritual natures. Nabal, who could figuratively represent foolish, arrogant, defiant, and inhospitable behavior that we may harbor in our unrepentant carnal nature, stands in stark contrast to Abigail, representing humility, peacefulness, and gentleness, characteristics of the wisdom that comes from above. In our pre-Passover examination, does God see "Nabal's" self-deceptive foolishness in us, leading to shame and disgrace, or does He see "Our Father's Joy" in us, leading to honor and salvation.
Ted Bowling, reflecting that God admonishes His People to become peacemakers, marvels that most of the world's leaders are clueless as to what constitutes peacemaking. The prevailing wisdom is that one must impose peace upon others by force—sometimes translated as peace through strength. Six shooters, bombers, and guided missiles have been misnamed "peacemakers." An example of a genuine peacemaker was the Patriarch Isaac, often identified as a type of Christ. When King Abimelech ordered him and his family to move, Isaac trusted God to find his family another home. After painstakingly digging wells at three separate locations, only to find local interlopers forcing them out, Isaac patiently yielded, trusting the Lord to find him better provisions. When King Abimelech had the chutzpah to ask Isaac to sign a non-aggression pact to protect himself from 'Isaac's wrath', the meek patriarch prepared a banquet for these dubious allies. In all his actions, Isaac exemplified going way beyond what is required to be a peacemaker. As God's called-out ones, we are admonished to emulate Jesus Christ and forefather Isaac's example.
David Grabbe, unraveling several apparently contradictory scriptures, exposes a fundamental flaw in western thinking—namely the binary (that is, either-or) thinking that leads us to construct false dilemmas. Perhaps the best example of this is the one delineated by Protestant theologians who conceptualize law and grace at the opposite sides of a continuum. They cannot imagine how God's sovereignty and man's free moral agency can co-exist. God is benevolent, but He is also severe. God is not waiting to smash us, but neither is He indulgent. If we acknowledge God as our sovereign, it stands to reason that we are duty bound to follow what He has said. As we walk in His grace, we begin to develop wisdom as to what is godly behavior and what is not. God's grace never undermines His sovereignty. Our daily walk with God should lead us to make choices resulting in wisdom and discernment.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition on Ecclesiastes, focuses on three interrelated terms: paradox (something contrary to expectation), conundrum (a riddle), and wisdom (skill in arts, such as Bezalel and Oholiab who were gifted in a specific skill—or spiritual insight). We are called into the body of Christ gifted with specific skills and abilities to work with Christ edifying and serving His body, equipping the saints. Metaphorically, we are building or constructing the church of Christ using the wisdom or skill with which we have been endowed. Biblical wisdom (a special sagacity of quickness of perception, soundness of judgment, and far-sightedness needed for resolving spiritual problems pertaining to life as it is lived day by day) is achievable by anyone called of God because God is the source of this wisdom. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes is directed to those who have been called; it is not an easy book for most people. In Ecclesiastes 7, paradoxes appear in the statements that the day of our death is better than the day of our birth, mourning is better than rejoicing, sorrow is better than laughter, rebuke is better than a song, and the end is better than the beginning. Carnally speaking, when viewing the relative fates of the righteous (who seem to suffer) and the wicked (who seem to prosper), the unrighteous often seem to have it better. Many Bible commentators are stumped with this apparent difficultly and are not helped with multiple translations of these paradoxes and conundrums. The solutions to these difficulties are solved in other locations in the Bible. When the righteous are going through grievous trials, they are not being punished, but tested. God will never forsake the righteous. We dare not judge the fairness of God; He is fully aware of what we (and all others) are going through. God has carefully orchestrated all life's experiences, including the destruction of our previous fellowship, in order to protect us from error and to see how all of us will stand individually.
Ecclesiastes 7:15 contains a saying that does not ring quite true in the Christian ear. In this way, it is a paradox, an inconsistency, something contrary to what is considered normal. John Ritenbaugh establishes the foundation for a comprehensive understanding of Solomon's intent, showing that he is cautioning us to consider carefully how we react to such paradoxes in life.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Proverbs 4:7, maintains that our supreme objective in godly living is attainment and cultivation of wisdom, which consists of attributes giving us skill in living. We learn that the Book of Ecclesiastes has no meaning for someone not called of God, relegating it as an epistle of despair from one of life's losers. But to those called of God, the treatise provides practical advice on weathering the trials of life under the sun, preparing us for a highly successful future spiritual life. With an over-the-sun orientation, we realize that the series of comparisons in Ecclesiastes 7 are not to be regarded as absolutes, but only as guideposts dependent upon prior experiences, and definitely require the proper follow-through on our part. The Bible is replete with examples of how things having had a successful launch eventually aborted, and vice versa, things having an insignificant and ostensibly hopeless beginning flourished and prospered. Consequently, we must evaluate the contexts in which the end of something is better. The long way, attended with humility, patience, and dependence on God, is preferable to any shortcut concocted by our willful, carnal nature. God wants us to use our trials to germinate the fruits of patience, peace, and self-control, bequeathing our offspring a legacy of wisdom, following the mindset of our father Abraham, who although an immensely wealthy man, lived in tents as a pilgrim, waiting for the ultimate spiritual prize of living as God does.
Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom. The kind of wisdom that it teaches, however, is not of the purely philosophical variety, but is a spiritual sagacity combined with practical skill in living. John Ritenbaugh explains that this kind of godly wisdom, if applied, will protect a Christian as he experiences the trials and tribulations of life in this world.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that Christ died to free us from fear of eternal death, reminds us that we nevertheless have the obligation to prepare for our physical death. When Jesus Christ holds the power over fear of death, we are delivered from the bondage of the terror of eternal death. In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon gives a series of "this is better than that" observations, with the common denominator that wisdom seems to carry more sadness and sorrow than mirth or foolishness, placing a higher value on rebuke than on praise. Even a rebuke from an enemy, which may rouse our anger or resentment, may be valuable for our character development. Both David and our Savior Jesus Christ endured rebuke without retaliating. Retaliation as a response to rebuke is a sure sign of character deficit. Some counsel resembles the useless fuel function of thorns—a quick burst of light, but very little heat. Accepting rebuke often takes more humility than we may have. Rebuke from a wise or righteous person, though painful, is motivated by love and caring concern. The Book of Ecclesiastes was written for converted people, not for the world. Only through a proper perspective of the reality of physical (and eternal) death can a person actually prepare for his ultimate fate. The apostle Paul could not have grown spiritually if he had not received a series of painful rebukes, accompanied by a low quality of life. Paul was able to see the big picture, realizing the end was better than the beginning as long as he was faithful. Because of his faithful endurance of godly rebuke, Paul's reputation following his death transcended anything he experienced in his lifetime.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the entire world is under the sway of Satan the devil (I John 5:19, Revelation 12:9, Ephesians 2:1-3), warns us to analyze and evaluate everything that enters our minds from the contaminated, mendacious media sources, media sources primarily promoting a leftist, secular humanist agenda, bent on pumping a deluge of lies into our helpless nervous systems, impacting our belief system, throwing us into a state of utter confusion. Recently, the impact of worldwide media has painted the rocket-firing Hamas as helpless victims and the Israeli's as Nazi exterminators. Ironically, both the Arabs and Jews are Semite peoples, but the collective leftist media wants to foment anti-Semitism in Western Israelitish nations. Satan hates God's chosen people and will do everything he can to destroy both Israel and the Israel of God. In a hateful world, thoroughly dominated with Satan's mindset, where the United Nations (in a vote of 33 to 1) condemned Zionism as equivalent to Nazism, God's called ones have a responsibility to analyze and evaluate everything through the sieve of God's Holy Scriptures, which the world we currently live in abhors with vehemence. We accept most of our opinions, prejudices, and beliefs unconsciously just as we acquire our dialects; we must scrutinize our own beliefs through the standards and principles of God's Holy Scriptures, making sure they are not contaminated and marinated with Satan's diabolical deception. God's people will be known for their fear of lying motivated by their fear of God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that satisfaction in life does not derive from material things or wealth, by instead from an eternal relationship with God who has given us abundant spiritual gifts which we must reciprocate by developing skill in living from using godly wisdom. Wisdom enables us to make the very best practical use of all of the other gifts He has given, to make the best practical use of our calling, mobilizing our knowledge, judgment, discernment, understanding, and skill in living in alignment with God's purpose. Any skill, whether it be welding or playing basketball, comprises multiple and complex aspects. In sports or military contexts, it is important that the participants accept the system, breaking old ingrown habits and changing the way they do things. Wisdom can be defined as doing the right thing at the right time in the right way to the right measure. Godly wisdom is not given as a whole, but incrementally, involving much time and pressure. We must give ourselves willingly and patiently to this process in order that skill in living may be built. God has given the Book of Ecclesiastes to us to nudge us on to what is important and away from what is vanity, steering us to a perpetual mindset of faith and trust in God. Wisdom cannot at this time help us to understand all of life's mysteries. It is possible to act wisely in a given circumstance, but still feel frustrated because we do not see how all the pieces fit together. One should always look for the better choice, realizing the better choice is not necessarily the "best" one. In life's journey, a good reputation (a good name) and a positive relation with another (a wonderful marriage) is better than much material wealth. God admires integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, straightforwardness, and structural soundness of character in a person, the name a person has acquired by living righteously—a name which will last into eternity and an infinitely better life.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Ecclesiastes chapters 1-6 contains a sub-theme of materialism—specifically an indictment of the supposed satisfaction one receives from it suggests that materialism contains no lasting fulfillment. According to some studies, the higher a person is on the economic scale, the less altruistic he is inclined to become. The only lasting enjoyment comes from establishing a relationship with God, understanding that: (1) life is God's gift; (2) He desires us to spend our time preparing for an eternal relationship with Him; (3) the fruit of active involvement with God is eternal life; (4) by faith, seeking God will lead to an above-the-sun life; and finally, (5) if there is no kingdom of God, then nothing matters except what is going on in the here and now. We desperately need to seek Godly wisdom, a multi-faceted spiritual gift which helps us make practical use of all the other spiritual gifts. Wisdom is practical skill in living, coexistent with the fruits of God's Holy Spirit, a whole collection or spectrum of skills for living God's way—something that takes a lifetime to learn.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the multiple nuances of the Hebrew words translated into the English word "wisdom," suggests that an acquired skill for living represents the common denominator in all of these definitions. Godly wisdom is only attained with a high degree of training. Carnal wisdom, through the labyrinth of life, has practical value even without a spiritual context, but living by faith requires that we trust and obey God in those areas where we do not have all the facts. Faith is a spiritual work. Wisdom is not hidden and is readily available if we retain God in our thoughts. Wisdom and the fear of the Lord are inextricably bound together. Both wisdom and foolishness produce fruit according to their nature. Wisdom produces life; foolishness produces death. We reap what we sow. If we repent of our sins, and cry out for understanding, we will receive knowledge, discernment, and God's Holy Spirit. Wisdom must be continually sought after. God wants us to use wisdom to change ourselves, humbly replacing our perspective with God's perspective. Only God gives wisdom. God gives wisdom as a component of His grace to His family, far more valuable than gemstones. Godly wisdom, incompatible with pride and arrogance, cannot be mined out of the earth, and it is more valuable than anything so mined, transferable through the Millennium into eternal life. The fear of the Lord is the source of spiritual wisdom.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the book of Ecclesiastes, a document which provides an overview of the consequences of life's frustrating activities, gives us directions for making it through the labyrinth of life. This treatise prepares us with helpful, practical, and profitable approaches, preparing us for the Kingdom of God. Some approaches toward life are worthless while others are more profitable. God has purposely subjected nature and life to vanity and frustration, a curse resulting from Adam's sin. We are all caught in this curse. If we want things to work out properly, we not only have to keep the commandments, but we have to seek God to assimilate His nature within us. Until God Himself is here directing things through Jesus Christ, the problems of this world will not be corrected. Using godly wisdom helps us to deal with our circumstances, but it will not change the world. The work God has given us to do will give us pleasure and a satisfying sense of accomplishment. Work is a major factor in our lives, consisting of physical or mental activity directed toward the accomplishment of something. We must keep in mind that everything we do matters. God has been purposefully and energetically working for all eternity toward a goal, setting a pattern for all of us. We are created and designed to do good works, not to earn salvation, but instead to emulate the way of life lived by our Heavenly Father. Our God is a goal-setter, not only for Himself, but for us. God does the creating; God distributes the gifts; God distributes the responsibilities. The command to tend preceded Adam and Eve's sin; work was not the curse. Ultimately, we will be judged according to our work.
Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most practical, as well as profitable, book in the Old Testament, providing overviews of life-guiding advice, essentially a roadmap through the labyrinth, which constitutes the Christian's life journey. Ecclesiastes could be considered the core of biblical wisdom literature. The teacher's conclusions in Ecclesiastes are deliberately blunt. In the labyrinth journey, we are compelled to live by faith, not having all the facts at our disposal. Ecclesiastes is a practical guide in "right now" applications rather than anticipating the future. God knows where He is taking our lives; we do not have a clear picture where God is taking us. We need to develop a trust to submit to Him in order that He can prepare us for our destiny. Ecclesiastes was given to us to expose the world's false values and philosophies which have the tendency to throw God's people off balance. Thankfully, God does not leave our creation up to us or to chance. Godly wisdom accrues from practical experience (dodging obstacles and cul-de-sacs of the world) stemming from a relationship with God. Ecclesiastes gives practical advice for people living in a corrupt world trying to live a godly life, providing us helpful or useful cautions and warning as to what to avoid. Anything that is vanity is nothing compared to the permanence of God's Kingdom. God intends for His people that life should be profitable. In order to achieve that profitable life, we should be looking over the sun for a converted perspective. God is forcing us to make a choice between His profitable way (fearing Him and keeping His commandments) or the common way of mankind.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the movie the King's Speech as an example of a man who is reluctant to step into the role which circumstances thrust upon him. Do we as God's called-out ones find ourselves reluctant heirs to the throne or priesthood? We are all commoners, not yet equipped for rulership. The Parables of the Minas and the Talents indicates that we need to be faithful over what we have been given to do, and if we do, we will be given more responsibility in the future. God chooses the base and the weak because they are more pliable and teachable, more productive soil. We are getting the absolute best training in rulership or leadership in the Church of God finishing school, a virtual university of leadership. Much of our training derives from profiting from our mistakes. Thankfully, we have the ability to go right to the Father to ask for wisdom. If we keep the lines of communication open, through Bible Study and prayer, this wisdom (the hidden wisdom of God) is being inculcated into our character. The Holy Spirit is given to all of us (who are currently all over the map) binding us all together in one body. God desires us to acquiesce and defer to His Wisdom in all things. In this context, we should not be reluctant to take up our thrones or future responsibilities. We will be an essential part of God's blessing on humanity, as an extension of Jesus Christ. God will provide us all the power and know-how we will need.
II Corinthians 6:14-16 contains a warning that good and evil do not mix, so as Christians, we must be careful to avoid having anything to do with what is wrong. Highlighting Proverbs 8:13, David Grabbe reveals that the fear of God plays a significant role in ridding evil from our lives.
Jesus' admonition in Luke 21:36 has a far deeper meaning to the people of God at the end time than most people have realized. Pat Higgins answers the next obvious questions: How does 'praying always' work, and why is it such a powerful tool in the process of overcoming?
Martin Collins, reflecting upon Paul's confrontation with a recalcitrant minority in Corinth, warns that we cannot fight spiritual battles with physical or worldly weapons. Gentleness and meekness were Paul's preferred approaches in dealing with people. Meekness (strength under control, maintaining peace in the midst of confrontations) is practiced when one restores a badly behaving Christian or in dealing with a newly called individual. Jesus demonstrated His meekness in His treatment of many with whom He interacted. In contrast to James and John, Jesus, balancing firmness and gentleness, seeks to save rather than destroy. In childrearing, we must learn to guide our children rather than to break their spirits, and in our marriages, to control our tongues. Aubrey Andlin in Man of Steel and Velvet advocates that we work to have restraint and self-control, develop gentle character, and develop humility.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that one perennial theme of the major and minor prophets is the deplorable faithlessness of Israel, depicted as a fickle, spoiled, pampered, well-dressed streetwalker, suggests that the day of Israel's calamity is right upon the horizon. To the remnants of this decadent civilization of modern Israel, God's begotten children, God provides the book of Proverbs as an antidote. Wisdom is inextricably linked with fear and reverence for God. Without wisdom, genius and brilliance is useless at best and dangerous at worst. Wisdom warns us not to let the world squeeze us into its mold. Unfortunately, as a nation, we have rejected wisdom in favor of foolishness, bringing about major devastating calamities: famines, pestilence, earthquakes, cosmic disturbances (graphically depicted in Deuteronomy 32, Jeremiah 4, and Ezekiel 2-3,6-7) upon our apostate faithless people after the prior devastation of Gentile nations who didn't have a relationship with God.
If we don't know where we're going, we aren't going to get there! John Ritenbaugh illustrates that our vision of our goal—the Kingdom of God—is a compelling motivation to overcome, grow, and bear fruit in preparation for eternal life.
The Parable of the Unjust Steward has bothered Bible students for many years. Is Christ saying that Christians are foolish? Are we make friends with greedy people? Are we doomed to fail? This Bible Study answers these frequent questions.
Conversion, our walk with God, is a lifelong process in which we endeavor to see things as God does. John Ritenbaugh admonishes Christians to understand and act on the fact that God is deeply involved in our lives.
James' exhortation about the use of our tongues seems to stop with James 3:12. However, the rest of the chapter provides additional wisdom on controlling our speech.
This world lauds warmakers, but God says that peacemakers are blessed. John Ritenbaugh explains the beatitude in Matthew 5:9.
We live in a world that has little or no idea what true peace is or how it is achieved. John Ritenbaugh shows how we can produce godly peace even in the midst of turmoil and why it is such an important virtue.
Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the epistle of James stresses both faith and works, emphasizing those factors necessary for growth, enabling us to produce a bountiful harvest of fruit. We are to exercise humility and impartiality, taking particular effort to bring our tongues under control, being cautiously slow to speak, acknowledging God in all our thoughts. We are obligated to do practical works of goodness and kindness to our brethren, being solicitous of their needs, and making intercessory prayer for them. To him who knows to do good but doesn't, it is sin. Eating unleavened bread is equivalent to practicing good works.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that God emphasizes the rather pessimistic theme of Ecclesiastes during the Feast of Tabernacles to show the consequences of doing whatever our human heart has led us to do. Without incorporating God's purpose (Ecclesiastes 12:14), our lives, even with all the creature comforts satisfied to the maximum, are absolutely meaningless. Solomon, by continuously evaluating the causes and effects of his calculated pleasure- or meaning-seeking experiment, records many shrewd, commonsense observations about the meaning of life. Even with vast materialistic, artistic, or academic accomplishments, life without the purpose of God is depressingly hollow, disappointing, meaningless, and vain. These disillusionments force God's called-out ones to live by faith. Consequently, God can turn something formerly disappointing and meaningless into something meaningful, purposeful, and profitable for those who fear and trust Him (Roman 8:28).
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that confusion or lack of peace is the clear fruit of Satan's involvement. It is nearly impossible for righteousness to be produced in an environment of instability and disharmony brought about by selfish ambition, competition, and bitter envy. In confronting our wily adversary, we must maintain constant vigilance, resisting unlawful desires, not allowing Satan to have a bridgehead in our emotions. Satan consistently works on our fear of being denied some form of pleasure. If we stay loyal to God, resisting Satan as Job did, Satan's power over us will be broken. Resistance must begin in the mind and thought processes where demonic influences try to persuade us to entertain ideas exalting ourselves over the truth or knowledge of God.
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