Affliction seems to be an integral part of Christianity. Our Savior Jesus Christ and His apostles suffered a great deal during their ministries, and though modern Christians' burdens cannot compare to theirs, they are still significant enough to cause great pain. Pat Higgins demonstrates the relative nature of Christian affliction, urging believers to take the Bible's long view of their suffering.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the term blessed and blessing, rendered into triviality by the prosperity gospel, cautions us not to be glibly equating God with a magic genie or spiritual automatic pill- dispenser. Material blessings do not necessarily equate to prosperity, even though God has commanded us to be productive and work hard. In the Beatitudes, the destitute and disenfranchised were given promissory notes of His Kingdom. Individually, most of the major figures in the Bible did not have abundant physical prosperity , but were immensely blessed spiritually. We should desire the spiritual side of the spectrum, worthy to be well-spoken of at Christ's return. When we ask to be blessed, it should be exclusively on His terms, leading to our eternal good. What God has done in our earthly lives should be the best preparation for our future responsibilities. There can be NO blessing without the indwelling of Christ through God's Holy Spirit, the true source of our joy and happiness. Without the fellowship with Christ, there is no prosperity, either spiritual or physical. The Seven Churches of revelation all received immense spiritual promises, a new name, co-rulership over the nations, being kept from the hour of trial , and being made pillars in the Temple of God. These rewards are contingent upon overcoming a specific deficit through performing a specific developmental task, all involving the keeping of God's Commandments.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the difficulties in translation from Greek and Hebrew to English, as well as comprehending spiritual truths with a fleshly mind, maintains that it is only through God's Holy Spirit we can comprehend those truths at all. Even with God's Holy Spirit, we have difficulty. Our minds are too finite, earthbound, and dumb to comprehend what God is trying to get across to us. We are not equipped to comprehend the width, length, and breadth of the knowledge of God. Few of us are truly wise, knowing as we do only the rudiments of what is contained in the Bible. All of us are stumped on different biblical concepts. The concept of joy may provide difficulty, as it has a broad range of meaning from spiritual to physical extremes. Even certain unsavory elements in society may bring people joy. Godly joy (New Testament) is on a higher plane than happiness and pleasure, what C. S. Lewis would describe as an "unsatisfied desire to be in total union with God." Joy comes from anticipating the future with Godly hope. The fruits of the Spirit mortify and transcend the works of the flesh through the power of God's Holy Spirit. Without God's Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit (including joy) are unattainable. Godly joy buoys people in the midst of grave trials, providing hope for a future eternal reward, depending on the absolute faithfulness of God. A Christian (who by definition has Christ's mind in him) can express joy because he sees God, as well as precious things God has not even revealed to angels. If God is in us, we have all the power we will need, giving us exceeding joy, a positive perception of reality generating hope, ultimately seeing beyond any event to our incredible, inexpressible, eternal reward. Joy constitutes the pure elation of spirit that revels in knowing God, knowing that His eternal plan will culminate in our ultimate salvation.
Over the last several decades, this world has shown itself to be one in which most people lack commitment, whether it is to their mechanics, their spouses, or their beliefs. Using Christ's exhortations to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, David Maas points out that Scripture foresees that a dearth of steadfastness marks the time of the end, but Christians are urged to hold fast.
What many religious people do not seem to understand is that justification before God is just the beginning of something far more involved—and that is living by faith. John Ritenbaugh covers the faithful life and work of Noah, illustrating that walking by faith with God is a practical responsibility.
In this Parable, Jesus emphasizes the kind of faith His disciples need to endure trials and obey His commands. Martin Collins explains that the only way for a Christian to obtain increased faith is to manifest steadfast, persevering obedience grounded in humility with the help of God's Spirit.
Most of Christianity believes humans go to heaven or hell after death, but is this so? This belief does not originate in the Bible—and in fact, the Bible reveals a very different Christian destiny.
Richard Ritenbaugh discusses the pivotal holy day, the Feast of Trumpets, a day looking back to three holy days in which God deals with individuals and looks forward to three holy days in which God works with progressively larger groups. This day is a memorial of shouting or blowing of trumpets. Teruw'ah (the shout of the shofar) is often associated with the sound of war, symbolizing the Day of the Lord, the real war to end all wars, the time Christ will subdue and render judgment to all the evil hostile forces (governments under Satan's influence) on the earth, bringing rewards to His called out ones. Although these events will take place with relative quickness and speed, the whole time sequence will take some time to completely unfold. If we remain faithful, this day will have a positive outcome.
In this Feast of Trumpets message, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that salvation is not a one time event, but a continuous process analogous to the birth process—not just immunity from death, but a total dramatic transformation of our nature into a totally new creation. Six major reasons why works are necessary (following the initial justification stage) include: (1) to undertake godly character building and preparation for God's Kingdom; (2) to give evidence of our faith; (3) to witness to the world that God is God; (4) to glorify God; (5) to prepare for a reward; and (6) to exercise living faith toward a covenant partner who has been eternally faithful.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on man's ultimate destiny to have dominion over the entire universe, admonishes that preparation for this awesome responsibility requires faithful stewardship over the things God has entrusted to us (our bodies, families, possessions, etc.)—dressing, keeping, and maintaining those things, overcoming and growing, building character, and making use of the gifts God has given us. Though salvation along with the will and power come from God, the character must come from our effort at overcoming. In the seeming delay of the Bridegroom, we must rouse ourselves from our slumber and diligently prepare for His return.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that we must avoid distractions and keep our lives focused on God and His Holy Word. The prophetic messages in Revelation 2 and 3 are designed for the end times, shortly before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. All seven churches—with their unique attitudes—will be extant contemporaneously at the end time. If a message ("he who overcomes," "I know your works") is repeated seven times in two chapters, God must want us to understand these concerns. Nothing is more important than repentance and overcoming, producing mature, committed, loyal disciples displaying exemplary conduct and good works, avoiding the distractions of Satan (Ephesians 6:12) and the allurements of this world (I John 2:15).
Laziness and fear are the greatest challenges to love. When Protestant theologians disparage "works," connecting them to salvation rather than sanctification and growth, they encourage spiritual laziness. If we are lazy, we might still be saved, but we will have built nothing to fulfill God's purpose in us. If we refuse to work hard at character building, the principle of entropy will turn our efforts into a state of disorganization. If we make no effort to overcome, the principle of inertia will keep us going in the same way we have allowed ourselves to drift. An irrational fear of loss prevents the development of agape love within us—we fear that keeping God's commandments will cause us to lose something valuable. Like a musician who practices everyday, by continual effort at commandment keeping, we will soon develop feelings of confidence by knowing what we are doing is right (I John 3:17-19; John 15:9-10).
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.]
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