Kim Myers, lamenting the aftermath of the Presidential election, in which two candidates with extremely high negatives (evidently the best America had to offer) conducted (with the help of a dishonest media) one of the dirtiest campaigns in the history of America. Nevertheless, God Almighty is sovereign over the political affairs of this earth, appointing to office and removing from office as He sees fit. God's selecting a particular candidate does not necessarily mean He has given America a reprieve from the results of her sins or that God has given His called-out ones more time to get their act together. God's people must not abandon the sense of urgency which typified saints living before them. Satan knows that when people think they have all kinds of time, they lose all sense of urgency, becoming derelict in their spiritual chores (prayer, meditation, and Bible Study), lax in overcoming. Jesus forewarned His people that He would come unexpectedly as a thief. World conditions can change in the blink of an eye. God has always given the people of His churches urgent warnings, as seen in the examples of Sardis, Ephesus, Pergamos, and Philadelphia. As First Fruits, we must stay focused on God's overall plan, remembering that no one knows the time of Christ's return. If we stay vigilant, we aren't going to be caught off guard. The metaphor of a thief appears only in New Testament prophecies, suggesting that this message is intended for people living at the end of the age. The hand of God has been active in history, as during the attack on Pearl Harbor, occurring as it did when all three American aircraft carriers were safely out at sea. Likewise, the hand of God extended up north later during the Battle of Midway, where America attacks, as improperly coordinated as they were, still led to the destruction of three Japanese aircraft carriers, with almost their full complement of planes and pilots. Knowing that God actively intervenes in world events should give us the sense of urgency the foolish virgins lacked.
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on Bob Dylan's lyrics in "The Times They Are A-changin'," reminds us that within a few years of Herbert W. Armstrong death, destructive heresies were imported into our previous fellowship by false teachers and ministers. Paul warned Timothy of perilous times to come about at the end of the age, when the character traits of individuals would become predominantly selfish, unforgiving, and unable to control their own impulses. Sadly, the mindset of society has begun to infiltrate the church, causing some of us to leave our first love by compromising the Sabbath and falling into the Commandment-breaking world, God's called-out ones need to wake up and strengthen those things which remain, yielding to God's sovereignty, rejecting the ruler of this world, Satan.
Ronny Graham, reflecting upon mankind’s propensity to selectively filter events, forgetting the bad and remembering the good when assessing “the good old days,” asserts that our civilization has undergone a terrifying free-fall of morality and ethics for multiple decades. Some feel the good old days are a myth, while others claim that we do not realize how good we have had things until they are gone. French novelist Marcel Proust proclaims that “remembrance of things past is not necessarily remembrance of the way things really were.” We have myriads of memories of the way things used to be in the church, including multiple choices of feast sites, social and athletic activities, abundant TV and print media, as well as full-fledged educational institutions. Many of the splinter groups in the greater Church of God are trying to reproduce this elusive bygone milieu and nostalgically return to those times. When our forebears on the Sinai faced frustrating challenges, they longed to return to the good old days, when there were plenty of pots of meat with garlic and leeks to go around, forgetting, of course, the bitterness of bondage. To be sure, there was a time when the children of Israel did enjoy prosperity in the land of Egypt, as Jacob’s offspring began to multiply, rivaling the Egyptian population, a time they genuinely feared God. When Jacob’s offspring began to assimilate into Egyptian culture, practicing idolatry, their foolish apostasy cost them God’s protection. Israel’s greatest problem was their failure to remember the terms of God’s Covenant, including His Sabbaths. God put Israel into slavery because they profaned His Sabbaths and statutes. Our previous fellowship was likewise blown apart because of apostasy from God’s Covenant; we need to solemnly remember that fact and purpose to get back to the old faith once delivered.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: This world is a horrible place. The planet on which we live along with more than seven billion other human begins is an evil, scary, terrible place. The facts are clear and obvious....
Bill Onisick, asking whether God would consider us zealous, reminds us that both the congregation at Ephesus and Laodicea were cited for lost or flagging zeal. Zeal is a quality which could be characterized as ardent, passionate, energetic, or being on fire. Our God has been described as a consuming fire that cannot be restrained or held back. Jesus Christ exemplified this kind of zeal as He drove the moneychangers out of the temple. One metaphor of zeal is a cloak, selected as a grounds of comparison because of its use in protecting against cold, providing bedding, and shelter keeping the soldier warm against the elements. A cold and wet soldier is easily de-motivated. Zeal consumed Christ as it should consume all of us in our daily spiritual preparation. We are called to a life of self-sacrifice, glorifying God, building up His temple, no longer living for ourselves, but transformed with the love of Christ, igniting a burning zeal which consumes and overtakes us like an erupting volcano. We need to be demonstrating agape love for God and His family, building up God's Church with zealous good works. Our spiritual armor should include the protective cloak of zeal.
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.
David Grabbe, reminding us that the Days of Unleavened Bread are about leaving one venue (sin and Satan) and moving toward deliverance, warns us that as we leave sin, we do not want to leave our first love, as did the Ephesus congregation as recorded in Revelation 2:1. The Ephesians had a strong sense of duty to not let down, as well as serving as a vanguard in the battle against the false doctrines of the Gnostics and the Nicolaitans. What was lacking was the devotion to Christ, Who had given His life; the spark of love had gone and was replaced by a mechanical going- through- the- motions. They were not zealously attempting to form a relationship with God and Jesus Christ. In an environment of turmoil, it is easy to draw inward in protection of the self, ignoring our relationship with God. Our goal is to grow to the stature of Jesus Christ, or our works are meaningless and will not produce fruit or light. Our prior fellowship lost its lamp-stand because of losing its first love. We do not dare follow in its footsteps, but must reignite our first love with the help of God's Holy Spirit.
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.
Among the best-known signs of the end of the age is Jesus' declaration in Matthew 24:12 that "the love of many will grow cold." However, David Grabbe advises caution in judging that such a state exists in others, in a church group, or in the church as a whole. Could love be there but just not as we might expect it?
It is an entirely human reaction to attempt to avoid anything that might be unpleasant, and this is especially true of an event as destructive as the Great Tribulation. David Grabbe posits that, if we show patient endurance now, overcoming and growing, God may bless us with protection from that horrible trial.
John Ritenbaugh tackles the eternal security doctrine, a teaching that militates against good works, something that God had ordained for all of us. Works demonstrate our faith, our response to God's calling and His freely given grace. Reciprocity is always a part of our relationship with God. Trust is a response to God's tests. Abraham's response to God reciprocated his love back to God. The indictment against the Ephesian church stemmed from their lack of reciprocity (or first love). When our expectations have not been met, it becomes hard for us to maintain our zeal. We need to maintain the intensity to actively hear God's message. If we do not actively exercise our minds, work to maintain our relationship to Christ, and become dead to the world, we will drift away. We cannot allow what Christ is to slip from our minds. Where there is no love for Christ, there is no salvation and no membership in God's family. As in human love or infatuation, if we love another person, we like to think about him/her; likewise, we need to have Christ dwelling in our hearts at all times.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the sheer variety of choices (distractions) available to us today (with their potential accompanying temptations and enervating time-wasting diversions) is extremely stressful because it automatically increases sin and lawlessness, automatically decreasing love, zeal, and affection. Like our society, the recipients of the general epistle of Hebrews were a group of people living in confusing rapidly changing times — experiencing intense economic, cultural, social, and moral upheaval. These "crusty old soldiers" or weary seasoned veterans identified in the book of Hebrews (like the Ephesians and far too many of us) were becoming inured and indifferent to mounting societal sin, allowing their spiritual energy to be sapped by resisting negative societal pressure, draining them or diverting them of their former zeal and devotion to Christ. If we incrementally lose our love, affection, and devotion to Christ, we automatically lose our desire and motivation to overcome, endangering our spiritual welfare as well as our relationship to Christ. God Almighty has mandated that we reignite the spark and rekindle our first love.
John Reid, contrasting the world's self-serving, lust-driven "way of get" (mistakenly called love) with God's example of sacrifice and way of outgoing concern, concludes that what the world needs now is the agape love modeled by the Father and Jesus Christ. We are called to take on the very nature of God, to put on the love of God that casts out all fear. Our goal is to take on the likeness of Jesus Christ, developing His character, thereby reflecting the true love of God. If we have lost our first love, we need to rekindle it by ardently keeping God's Commandments, demonstrating both love for God (the first four) and love for mankind (the last six). Attaining God's nature and love requires that we keep His commandments. Of all the spiritual gifts we could ever hope to attain, the love of God surpasses all of them. Love is the way God lives throughout eternity.
Christ's first letter to the churches focuses on the Ephesians, a people who succeeded in trying the spirits, but in the interim left [their] first love.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that walking worthy demands a balance between doctrine and application or between doctrine and conduct. Unity demands both. It is impossible to make a corporate union of all the splinters of the greater church of God because doctrinal, attitudinal, philosophical, and policy differences have grown increasingly disparate. Unity has to come from the inside out with God raising a leader which people, having their minds opened by God's Spirit, will voluntarily submit to. We can prepare for this unity by submitting to God's doctrines and living in accordance with them. Only when we have willingly gone back to our first love can we again attain family identity and spiritual unity.
The seven churches of Revelation 2-3 have intrigued Bible students for centuries. Where they simply seven churches in Asia, or do they have more immediate relevance to us today?
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.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that God is not in the torturing business but in the creating business, using calamities as part of His creative process. As Jacob's spiritual descendants or the Israel of God, we possess some of the same faithless proclivities as Jacob had before the decisive wrestling match at which time God prevailed. The scattering of the greater church of God has been brought about by casual indifference, deceit, and ultimately spiritual adultery (idolatry), leading to a fatal deterioration of first love. Like Jacob, who initially succumbed to weak faith and fear, we, as Jacob's spiritual seed, have to do what he did and repent of our loss of devotion to God and His purpose.
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.
Just how do you rend your heart? John Reid describes how searching for instruction on rending the heart, he came across an answer: Recapture your first love!
Just as important as follow-through is in an athletic motion, its spiritual counterpart is vital to our life in Christ. We must have the will and commitment to carry our devotion to God through to the very end.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that biblical history substantiates that God does not always have the church perform the same functions continually, but sometimes drastically alters the course according to needs and conditions. The perceived detours are necessary adjustments God makes to accomplish His purpose. "The work" changes according to God's direction and our need. Currently, God has imploded, exploded, and scattered (a pattern He has used before) His Church for our ultimate spiritual safety. The primary focus of "the work" at this time is the repair or re-attainment of the believing faith (the faith once delivered through revelation) that has seriously deteriorated because of heresy, apostasy, and self-satisfied Laodiceanism. The turn-around begins individually with the purification of each living stone through repentance and re-commitment to our covenant with God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the easiest part of God's work is the preaching the Gospel to the world- a task mechanically carried out as the church deteriorated from within. Much more demanding is the feeding of the flock, producing the kind of faith and trust to transform formerly carnal individuals into glorified members of His family. The work of the church varies from time to time, with different functions performed as different needs arise. God determines when, where, and the direction He wants His work to go. At this time, God has purposed to "blow the church apart" for our own spiritual safety. Our current focus should be upon the factors that caused the deterioration within the body, determining to respond to God, fixing the problems (the cracked foundations of faith emanating from a counterfeit gospel) that led to our implosion and scattering.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that salvation cannot be earned or bought, reminds us that a gift is still a gift even though a condition has to be met. Meeting a condition does not (as Protestants would have us believe) change the character of a proposition. Keeping the commandments is the way we express love for God. The works that God demands of us consists of overcoming our flesh, the world, and Satan, as reflected in keeping God's commandments (John 14:15, I John 5:3). There is a direct relationship between loving Christ and doing the right works. God's love for us places us under a compelling obligation to reciprocate and to pass it on to others.
Countering the Protestant red-herring argument, "You cannot earn salvation by works," John Ritenbaugh stresses that works certainly are not "done away" but that God expects works from all those He has called. We show our faithfulness and loyalty to God by our works or conduct - what we produce by what we have been given. The works demanded of us consist of continual striving to be faithful to our covenant relationship with God by keeping His commandments (not the traditions of men). As we strive to live by the Spirit instead of by the flesh (Romans 8:5) we will produce the kind of fruit pleasing to God. God forces a converted person to choose between two opposing forces (Romans 8:13), providing us His Spirit as a tool to overcome.
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).
John Ritenbaugh counsels us not to have an apathetic relationship toward God (Revelation 3:15), but instead to ardently, earnestly, diligently, and fervently seek God in order to imitate His behavior in our lives. The fervency of a passionate courtship and marriage relationship provides the grounds for comparison of the kind of relationship God wants with us. Jesus, David, and Jacob exemplified the passionate fervor and heat (both to purify good and to destroy evil) God demands of us. If we search for God with all our hearts, looking for something which is a vital necessity for us (Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:12-13; Hebrews 11:6) God will reward us, giving us what we are seeking: a warm, ardent relationship, transforming us into what He is.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's work in Ephesus, during his third evangelist campaign, where he entered the stronghold of worship of the mythological multi-breasted goddess of fertility or providence — Diana or Artemis- whose statue supposedly had fallen from heaven by the hand of Zeus. Initially Paul had to augment the understanding of new converts to Christianity who had received the baptism of John, but who were ignorant of the function of God's Holy Spirit. For several years, Paul used the school of Tyrannus to continue his evangelistic teaching. From this venue, the precedent of anointed cloths for the healing of the sick had its origin. Paul's success at promoting the Way started to undermine the prosperity of vendors promoting the worship of Diana, leading to a riotous assembly (actually a hastily called 'union meeting') in the Temple of Diana, a tumult which the city clerk was able to diplomatically quell, giving Paul and his companions room to breathe and regroup.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the suffering we experience in trials stems from a desire of our carnal nature to bail out, giving in to temptation to satisfy the appetites of the flesh. As the trials become more intense, our flesh ravenously demands to be satisfied, making sin look increasingly more attractive. As we stiffen our necks and resist God's will, we automatically lose what we have gained spiritually and become ignorant of His awesome purpose for us. We must emulate our Elder Brother, who learned through suffering (resisting the powerful, deceitful pulls of sin), preparing Himself for His role as High Priest. Giving in hardens our hearts and alienates us from the fellowship with God. Like the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, we must soberly reflect upon our calling, unconditionally trusting in God's faithfulness to fulfill His purpose for us.
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 reflects that the book of Hebrews is perhaps the least understood, most complex and most scholarly of all the books in the New Testament. However, in terms of spiritual insight, it is a pivotal book, whose function is to bridge the purposes and themes of the Old and New Testaments. It focuses on the work of a Master—the Son of God—who has done something far superior than anyone else has ever done. The primary purpose for this combination treatise-sermon-epistle was to encourage a group of people, presumably Jews in Rome or Judea, who lived at a close of an era and were bewildered and weary of well-doing, to maintain their resolve to continue their spiritual journey.
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