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.
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.
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.
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 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.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that whether we do or do not make it to the Feast of Tabernacles next year depends on our faithfulness at stirring up the gift of God's spirit within us through consistent prayer, Bible study, and hearing God's word. Distractions brought about by love of the world, neglect of Bible study, neglect of prayer, or neglect of God's word could seriously erode our faith, making us vulnerable to false doctrines and cares of the world.
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 admonishes the greater church of God that we make a conscious effort to feed the flock (devoting more effort, time, energy, and money than for preaching the Gospel as a witness for the world) until we get ourselves straightened out first. To preach to the world and ignore a disintegrating flock is like a husband and wife paying attention to people and things outside the home while the family is falling apart. We need to examine the causes for our split and our gravely deteriorating faith. Our emphasis must be on feeding the flock, restoring the faith once delivered, rebuilding the broken walls and repairing the breaches.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the preaching the gospel to the world, held by some to be the only identifying mark of the church, is at best the beginning of a long, complex process of creating disciples and godly offspring through steady feeding and encouragement to overcome (feeding the flock). God, as a responsible parent, is not one-dimensional in assigning responsibilities to His children, but frequently shifts gears, changing circumstances, giving His begotten children a well-rounded education. God - not Satan or an incompetent ministry - engineered the massive scattering of the church of God to move it away from pernicious and fatal Laodiceanism. We need to adjust to the new situation, realizing that God has engineered these events with the real work of God in mind: making man in His image and reproducing Himself.
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.
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!
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 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.
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