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.
Ryan McClure reflects that the tearful goodbyes at the close of the Feast of Tabernacles often lead to a kind of post-Feast blues. Contemplating the soon-coming Satanic festivals of Halloween, Christmas and New Year's takes the edge off the Feast—and by the time Passover comes, Easter too will be at the door! We have come to the pass where some of the splinter groups in the Greater Church of God have grown exclusivist, forbidding contact with brethren in other fellowships of God's Church. We ask, "How far are we from the horror of brother delivering brother to death?" The antidote to post-Feast blues is to get our heads in the God's Word, meditating on the topic of endurance, thinking about what it takes to endure to the end.
Mike Ford, reflecting upon the high prevalence of 'snowflakes' (i.e., anxiety-ridden young people) needing a safe place, exemplified by the Yale girl shrieking for a safe place from Halloween costumes, and Harvard snowflakes, terrorized by having to pay library fines, contends that we have never experienced such fearfulness in pre-adults. A major contributory factor of this snowflake syndrome was the self-esteem movement of the 1960's, which brainwashed young people into thinking they were unique and special. Today's parents, refusing to teach their offspring responsibility, turning them over to government-controlled daycare at a young age, are turning the current generation into packs of violent savages. The family has been under attack since the 1960's, leaving in its wake a new normal of narcissism and irresponsibility. The youths Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had no fear of trial because they feared God more than raging fire. The antidote to fearfulness is God's Holy Spirit, destroying cowardice with a sound mind and a good work ethic.
John Reiss: In Part One, we discovered that, before he infamously betrayed the young United States of America, Benedict Arnold was an ardent and energetic patriot, training and equipping ...
Richard Ritenbaugh recounts the bitter feud which took place between two brothers, Adolph Dassler (founder of Adidas® shoes), and Rudolph Dassler (founder of Puma® shoes), stemming from a misunderstanding during a time Adolf took shelter in a bomb-shelter with his brother, who had exclaimed “Here come those dirty bastards back again,” referring to Allied bombers. Adolf mistakenly thought his brother was referring to his family. Sadly, the two brothers went to their graves unreconciled, but the employees buried the hatchet after a friendly soccer game. Similarly, the breach or the separation between us and God the Father has been repaired by the blood of Christ shed for us. We have been predestined to be adopted as full children in God’s family, receiving unmerited favor from God, chosen for His honor. We must remember what we were and how far God has brought us out of that place, pulled out of the muck and brought into His glory. We should find joy in the fellowship of God, thirsting for it. Of all the people on earth, only God’s called-out ones have the right to interact with the God of Heaven.
Richard Ritenbaugh, comparing the vitriol exhibited between supporters of the current two presidential candidates, makes the case that the acrimony between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1800 was far worse, leading to a bitter estrangement between two of America's Founding Fathers—an estrangement that lasted for ten long, bitter years. After being encouraged by another Founding Father, Benjamin Rush, the two estranged statesmen reluctantly began corresponding with each other, ultimately dying close friends on the same day, July 4, 1826. Jesus Christ placed a high priority on reconciliation, warning us that before we engage God at the altar, we had better make peace with our brother. Jesus also warned us that name-calling, belittling, slander, and undermining reputation is equivalent to murder-a capital offense making one subject to the fires of Gehenna. A dispute over anything should not be allowed to simmer until it leads to a seething grudge or a litigious minefield. In a legal dispute, reconciliation or conciliation may require a great deal of submission and downright groveling, but the outcome is generally better than what a judge would mete out. Likewise, a dispute in the body of Christ is best worked out between the two offended parties, rather than bringing it before the ministry or congregation, a tactic which makes for a great deal of unpleasantness. The Bible gives us three sterling examples of reconciliation among Abraham's offspring, including Isaac's reconciliation with Abimelech, Jacob's reconciliation with Esau, and Joseph's reconciliation with his brothers. The apostle John assures us we cannot claim to love God if we hate our brother, and, if we hate our brother, we are a murderer.
Bill Onisick, reviewing five daily meditation exercises adapted from Shawn Achor's book titled The Happiness Advantage— (1) grounding ourselves with expectation, (2) doing small acts of kindness to others, (3) reflecting on things for which we are thankful, (4) maintaining gratitude, and (5) bearing positive spiritual fruit—insists that, if we abide in Christ, maintaining a consistent gratitude attitude, we will become offended less and will overcome Satan's kill-joy tactics. If, on the other hand, we become prickly to others, others will show prickliness to us. Satan's most emulated tactic among brethren is to accuse and judge, reaping a bumper crop of unreconciled conflict. The prince of the power of the air wants us to have bitterness, resentment, and hostility between brethren just as he has produced those attitudes throughout the entire world. If we do not produce God's fruit, we will automatically produce Satan's fruit. Consequently, we need to retrain our minds to have more gratitude, applying it to others by practicing forgiveness, making peace with others, thereby emulating our sovereign God. If we stubbornly refuse to forgive others, we ironically clutch in our hands the key to our own prison cell. Only by letting go of the poisonous root of bitterness can we become like our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, and our Heavenly Father.
When Jesus declared His purpose to the Jews in Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19), the theme of His comments focused on liberty so that humanity can be reconciled and at-one with God. Austin Del Castillo posits that we human beings tend to work at cross-purposes to God, imprisoning ourselves and others in our adversarial relationships. The key to our cell is true forgiveness, for it is only through this means that we will be reconciled to God and to each other.
Ted Bowling, cuing in on three well-known parables in Luke 15 , all of which emphasize that every life matters —- every life is worth saving, focuses on the disturbing, resentful reaction of the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The older brother felt that he had remained loyal to the family's honor, while his younger brother disgraced the family and had squandered all his inheritance. After hitting rock bottom, having to eat swine food, the prodigal son came to his senses, and was willing to accept any humiliation if his father would take him back as a menial servant. The older brother, slow to forgive his younger, focused upon himself and dishonored his father by berating him for having compassion on who he considered a "worthless sinner." Instead of pulling rank on the older son, the father also treated him with compassion. Many of us are, or have been, in the same position as the older brother—looking down on those who have stumbled. We are not equipped to judge the sincerity of anybody else's repentance, and consequently should never gainsay the compassion of our Heavenly Father. Instead, we should emulate our Heavenly Father, being willing to extend forgiveness to a repentant brother or sister, responding with love and self- control. We need to pray for the ability or the power to reconcile.
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing Francis Shaeffer's observation, that bitterness rather than doctrine divides and estranges one member from of Christ's Body from another, suggests that individuals often look for a 'doctrinal' reason to cover up the real reason for leaving a congregation. Perhaps the principal cause of the estrangement between brethren can be explained by the Parable of the Leaven in Matthew 13:33, an image of a process of exaggerated growth, parallel to the mustard see analogy, in which a garden plant unnaturally grows into an imposing tree. Although many Bible Commentaries have assumed that both of these similes simply mean what started small will grow to something large, they fail to take into account the necessity of symbols remaining consistent beginning with the first mention in scripture. Leaven symbolizes corruption from sin, even as we examine the wave loaves, composed of humans laden from sin (from which they have repented). As ambassadors for Christ, already having our citizenship in Heaven, we still have sin in our nature. Interestingly, the grain offering in Leviticus 3, designated for the peace offering or fellowship offering did not contain leaven. As a biblical symbol, leaven stands for hypocrisy, false teachings, sexual immorality, vile corruption, malice and wickedness, a condition which will not exist in God's Kingdom, but is rampant in the Church of God today as it syncretizes doctrine with 'knowledge' derived from the Babylonic worldly philosophies. The woman sneaking in the leaven with three measures of meal in Matthew 13 evidently represents the Church, who surreptitiously mixed Christ's pure doctrine with a little sourdough of worldly wisdom, puffing up the church with intellectual vanity, but destroying the prospects of unity or reconciliation between the numerous splinter groups. With this leavening, Satan has destroyed the relationship between church members by corrupting the doctrines that had bound us together.
Bill Onisick, cuing in on Isaiah 9:6, reminds us that God gave Jesus Christ to us to restore peace, reconciliation, and harmony with God. We must follow Christ's example of sacrifice to be at peace with God. Our God is called a God of Peace and our Savior is called the Prince of Peace. In the Beatitudes, the peacemakers are called sons of God. To achieve the title "Son of God, one must emulate His proclivity for peacemaking. Besides practicing the absence of strife, peacemakers must augment harmony and joy. Godly peace goes way beyond truce and superficial cessation of hostilities, but actively builds harmony, unity, and tranquility within the God family. We are admonished not to be a peace breaker, causing our brother offense, but instead to actively build up harmony and unity with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and our brethren in Christ. Among the seven things God absolutely hates is one who spreads discord among his brethren. We constantly offend and are offended by brethren, making us peace breakers. God certainly does not need our help in correcting others. We should avoid heavy handed opinions, gossip, and other harmony-destroying activities. Peace breakers are not sons of God, but are sons of Satan. Peace in the God family begins with our relationship with God the Father. If we are not reconciled to God, we will not be reconciled to our brethren. We are not called to be peace lovers, but peacemakers, using His Holy Spirit to guide our behavior, bringing joy and harmony to the God-family as a true Son of God.
John Ritenbaugh reflects on two recent news items in which individuals foolishly initiated altercations with police and lost their lives in the process. As a matter of common sense, it seems the height of idiocy to challenge constituted authority. Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 8:17 that we are not privy to God's operations under the sun, but we must nevertheless leave room for God's operations, realizing that He has the prerogative to impose both blessings and calamity, the latter as a response to man's disobedience. God wants us to witness difficulties and the natural consequences of sin. In these difficult times, we need to be mindful that God is carefully watching us. As we yield to God, and apply godly wisdom, analyzing, calculating, observing, etc., our knowledge increases and we add an extra dimension of character as we morph into God's offspring. One of the difficult lessons we must process is that God backs up constituted authority, regardless of the governmental structures that placed it into office. We must realize that whether we are dealing with federal representatives, city council members, the policeman on the beat, our employer, our teachers, or our parents, we owe them the same deference and respect we would give to God. The human family was given by God as the building blocks of all governmental structures. As the beginning of wisdom is fear of Almighty God, we humans learn to fear, giving deference and respect to our parents, and then transfer this deference to civil government and other governmental structures of society. We must continually remember that we are strangers, pilgrims, and sojourners in an alien land. Even if we consider ourselves ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom, our latitude to participate in the governmental structures in this world has been greatly restricted. Nevertheless, we are obligated to render respect, deference, and honor to constituted authority as though we rendered it to God.
Clyde Finklea, asking us what identifies a person as a true disciple of Christ, points to the command in John 13:34, commanding that the disciples love one another as Christ loved us—loving to the extent that He would give up His life. God is composed of love, as described in its many facets in Galatians 5:22 and I Corinthians 13. Two positive facets identified in I Corinthians are longsuffering (the opposite of retaliation and vengeance), as exemplified by David in his response to Saul, and kindness or compassion, as expressed by David to Jonathan's heir. As Christians, we must exercise longsuffering and kindness to all, including to those that have done ill to us. The only way we can be considered disciples of Christ is if we love one another with His standard.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the fiery, feisty, vindictive temperament of Andrew Jackson, and his response to Presbyterian minister Dr. Edgar's question about willingness to forgive enemies, asserts that forgiving one's enemies is a defining mark of a real Christian. Andrew Jackson, after Dr. Edgar's persistent probing, finally displayed a tiny bit of one of the fruits of God's Spirit, prautes, or gentleness (meekness), possibly the second hardest fruit to develop, beginning with humbleness of mind and ending with longsuffering. In the apostle Paul's enumerations of Christian attributes, meekness always appears at near the end, reflecting the difficulty of attainment. Our modern understanding of meekness seems to be at variance with Paul's understanding of prautes. Sadly, language changes linguistic drift have degraded the original understanding, replacing it with "overly submissive and docile," tantamount to weakness and not having a backbone, a notion reinforced by Charles Wesley's hymn, Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild. The combined force of these connotations makes Jesus look like a doormat. The original denotation of the Greek prautes denoted a quiet confidence, strength, and self-composure, a sign of inner power and self-control, having trust and confidence in God. Meekness is the gentle, quiet spirit of selfless devotion to God, the very antithesis of arrogant pride. It is a quality prompted by God's Holy Spirit on the inside manifesting as graciousness on the outside. The meek person accepts what God is doing as a good thing. Meekness is humble submission to God, allowing us to bear injury without being turned emotionally inside out. Love is a major facet of meekness, a quality exemplified in Moses as he serenely shrugged off the abuses and slander from Miriam, Aaron, and other disgruntled, complaining Israelites. Jesus Christ exercised meekness in response to all the false accusations from the Sanhedrin, scribes, and Pharisees, exercising forbearance without an ounce of vindictiveness, refusing
Austin Del Castillo maintains that the reason we are here is to learn our part in God's plan to reconcile the whole of mankind to Himself. We need to get to know God in order that we feel like Him, think like Him, and act like Him. Without Jesus Christ's atonement, we would be part of the walking dead. God forgives us more than once a day, renouncing His anger and absolving us from a payment of debt. In the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, we must compare ourselves to the servant who was forgiven 10,000 talents (approximately 200 million dollars), a debt far higher than anyone will ever owe to us. We are fellow incarcerated prisoners, both beholden to God through the very expensive sacrifice of Christ's blood. We are expected to forgive others as God has forgiven us. In Jesus' prayer the night of the Passover, He wasn't just acknowledging that He and the Father are one; He is also expressing the desire that we, His church (and eventually, all of mankind) also be one with them. Forgiveness is something we, like our Heavenly Father and Elder Brother, dispense daily. Lewis B. Smedes, Professor of theology at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA states, "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." Forgiving and being forgiven are part of being a family, something that is not forced or coerced, but given freely from the heart. We cannot badger someone into forgiving us, otherwise it is not felt. If we set our minds to never forgive someone even if he is impossibly obnoxious, it erodes our compassion and tenderness, possibly keeping us from entering God's Kingdom. If someone asks us to forgive him, we have the power to dramatically change the world for good.
Among God's many names and titles is one that proclaims His supremacy over all others: "Most High God" or "God Most High." This name is first used when Melchizedek meets Abram after his victory over the kings who had taken Lot and his family captive. David Grabbe traces the usage of this divine name through the Bible, illustrating how it should give us confidence in God's governance over our lives.
Most of the professing Christian world believes that it is the duty of believers to "win people for Christ," a phrase that has been drawn from the apostle Paul's words in II Corinthians 9:19-22. David Grabbe argues that, contrary to majority opinion, this passage proclaims nothing of the sort if seen in the context of the whole counsel of God, particularly that of God's prerogative to call people to Him.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that the world's food supply has been increasingly contaminated by genetic modification, maintains that any attempt to seek a physical solution is impossible. Consequently, no one should ever permit himself to be in the position of condescending to others who are unable to purchase safe, organic foods. The Biblical proscriptions on food only apply to unclean 'foods' or clean foods offered to idols. The concern on the food issues should always be about protecting the conscience of the other person, especially the one with a weak conscience. The doubtful things do not concern unclean 'foods,' but clean foods offered to idols. What men are doing to our foods (i.e. GMO processed) does not cause a quick death. God provides protection if we trust Him to cleanse our foods.
David C. Grabbe: Under the Old Covenant, the Day of Atonement was the only day during the year when the high priest entered into the Holy of Holies. On that day, he sprinkled the blood of a sin offering ...
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the analogy or metaphor of wilderness wanderings, focuses on the role of suffering or persecution (pressure) in perfecting the saints. God the Father perfected Jesus Christ (our Elder Brother, High Priest, and Mediator) through suffering. Likewise, God the Father has determined that His called-out ones would also be prepared for the reward and inheritance through the same manner. We need to develop the character to govern ourselves because those who cannot rule themselves are not fit to rule anything. As we put on Jesus Christ, we also are required to put on His suffering. As we are called to suffer like our Elder Brother, we are similarly called to glorification. Glory follows suffering. Christ's suffering was not confined to crucifixion, but also consisted of rejection, snubbing, humiliation, and the duress of persecution. God is still with us when we are suffering, perfecting our character. Suffering comes with the territory of being prepared for the Kingdom of God. The path to glory lies through suffering for righteousness sake; there is no intrinsic value in any other kind of suffering. Since we will be working with Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God, God the Father will allow us to have parallel experiences as our Elder Brother endured. The ultimate rewards of this temporary suffering are mind-boggling if we doggedly follow our Archegos, Prodromou, Scout, Forerunner, and Trail-blazer, Jesus Christ, who gave us the example of leadership through service. God is equipping and perfecting us to work with Jesus Christ, using the tools of suffering, tests, and trials to build the right kind of godly character.
We all know that words can wound, but lately, we seem to have become too sensitive in this politically correct world of ours. For instance, a while back, The Global Language Monitor ran the following items: ...
As much as we wish our church congregations could get along peacefully, Jesus tells us that, sadly, offenses must come (Luke 17:1). Comparing our congregations to islands, this article explains our Savior's instructions about dealing with offenses, enabling church members to feel united and secure on their "islands" amidst a sometimes tumultuous world.
John W. Ritenbaugh: The sequence of petitions in the second half of the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:11-12) tells each of us that we should pray daily for the food needed for that day. ...
As mere men, we find it easy to limit God. While all of His attributes are in perfect, harmonious balance, we tend to emphasize one of His qualities over another. Without divine intervention, everyone essentially creates a god in his own image, crudely patching together anecdotes and selected scriptures that reinforce his idea of the divine ...
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount contains a concise explanation of what it takes to be a Christian. John Reid puts the spotlight on Matthew 5:38-42, explaining the spiritual principles behind the 'above and beyond' attitude.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that when human beings are born, they are a blank slate with a slight inclination toward self-centeredness. But after living in this world, we become incrementally influenced by both evil spiritual influences and worldly influences. The Apostle Paul describes the gravity of these contrary pulls in Romans 7. Our carnal nature—-the sensual fleshly pulls—unfortunately will pursue us right to our very grave. God commands us to come out of Babylon, giving us spiritual tools and resources to do so, including faith, vision, hope, and love. The media through which these will be supplied are the relationships we have with the Father and the Son. Co-existence with sin is absolutely out of question in the life of a Christian; there is no middle ground. In regard to fornication with the world, God says, "save yourself for our marriage." Sin has an addictive quality incrementally hardening our hearts. Knowing God is the key to eternal life. As communication with God increases, communication with the world must decrease. We, like the Apostle Paul, must follow God's directions and do exactly what we are told, submitting and yielding totally to His will. The only thing that Babylon can communicate to us is sin; we must meticulously extricate ourselves from the world, and continue in the process of communicating with God until we are totally conformed to His image. Everything depends upon who we communicate with through prayer, Bible Study, and meditation.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Satan's great rebellion when he rallied one-third of the angels against the government of God. They were cast down to the earth, where they have since held a beachhead of operations, even though the venue has been downgraded from a headquarters to a prison. Though these demons share the habitation with us, they are greatly restrained. Ultimately the demonic powers will be unleashed again. As an indication of potential problems in the future, we have experienced a number of seemingly insoluble relationship problems. Some of the demons ability to communicate with mankind has been opened up to them. The battles are likely to be psychological and spiritual. Cities are places of concentrated evil. Air is that medium through which most media travels, including radio and television—and spirit in general. Experimenter Emoto discovered that negative attitudes can distort the molecular structure of water. The demons who already inhabit the earth look upon us as interlopers. We need to monitor our thought impulses, lest we might be bothered by demons. Trench and Bengel suggest that the cosmos, the spirit of the world or the zeitgeist entraps us into carnal and human nature- moving us along into aberrant behavior.
Offenses and sins against us are unfortunately common. Jesus teaches us how to deal with them in this parable, focusing on our attitude of forgiveness because of being forgiven ourselves.
Our physical bodies, like the walled cities of ancient times, has a defense system to keep out invaders. Spiritually, how well do we maintain our defenses against error and contamination? John Ritenbaugh urges us to listen diligently to God's Word for true nourishment.
God calls us 'living stones' in I Peter 2. Bill Keesee illustrates why this description is so apt view of God's work making us His jewels.
People who jump from one fellowship to another often do so for superficial reasons such as a personal slight or perhaps defending a pet doctrine. Ministers should be judged by the fruit that they produce in terms of their teaching or the examples that they set. Because fruit takes time to mature, we members ought to exercise patience, refraining from grumbling, or premature judging. In the checklist distinguishing the true shepherds from the hirelings, true shepherds are seen in their genuine concern for the flock, as opposed to hirelings who only devour or take advantage of the flock.
Richard Ritenbaugh, expounding upon the principle that it is more blessed to give than to receive, suggests that the things we ardently desire for ourselves we should be willing to give to others, including forbearance and forgiveness. Following the Apostle Paul's example to the Corinthians, we ought to forgive and comfort one who has genuinely repented. Godly character includes the capacity to forgive and exercise forbearance. Within the body of Christ, we consist of interdependent cells, dependent upon each other. By failing to forgive our brother, we jeopardize the health or well being of the entire body. Extending forgiveness to a repentant brother is a godly characteristic, strengthening the entire body, leading to unity. Our Elder Brother's example should be our standard.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God alone chooses the servants through whom He works His will. Sometimes the rationale God uses for selecting His vessels defies worldly wisdom. The major reason for the horrendous split of the greater church of God was the rejection of the doctrines God's servant and Apostle Herbert Armstrong had restored. Apparently, God has used this confusing state of affairs to weed out those individuals who will not yield or submit to those doctrines. When it comes to submitting to God's government, we dare not vainly compare ourselves one to another (II Corinthians 10:12).
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the mark of the beast, warning that because we have been immersed in Satan's system (Ephesians 2:1-2), we already have the mark branded into our minds and behavior (Romans 8:7). Our concern after our calling is to, with the help of God's Holy Spirit, overcome and get rid of that foul spirit's enslaving hold on us. Anger and hostility, driven by self-centered competitive pride constitute Satan's family characteristics, his spiritual mark on us (John 8:44), dividing nations, ethnic groups, families, as well as the greater church of God. Contrasted to the hostile, cunning, predatory nature of adversarial beasts (leopards, lions, serpents, and fire-breathing dragons), our Elder Brother, serving as our example, adopted a lamb-like meekness, making peace right to the death. (I Peter 2:21-23).
Humans, by nature, are very adept at causing offense. As Christians, we must be learning the fine art of tact and diplomacy that works toward reconciliation and unity among the brethren. David Maas gives key points on how to take on these godly traits.
Focusing upon Psalm 133 as the 14th step of 15 degrees of ascent, Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that in our spiritual pilgrimage, unity will be perhaps one of the last objectives to be accomplished. Upon the anointing or setting apart of our High Priest Jesus Christ, and our own anointing with God's Holy Spirit, we receive the means to attain this unity. Like the descent of the dew of Hermon and the fragrant oil, unity comes from God through His Son to us by the anointing of His Spirit, covering us from head to toe. Unity comes only through the initiation of God. It is our responsibility to respond to His command to be unified, humbly walking worthy of His calling, willing to render our reasonable service to one another, motivated by His Holy Spirit. If we would follow the practical suggestions given by Paul in Romans 12, we could do our part in promoting unity in God's church.
Richard Ritenbaugh, echoing a radio commentator's observation, "we wear our bones too tight" suggests that we are much too sensitive and litigious, greatly lacking in forbearance, tolerance and patience. A major part of God's character is forbearance, patiently putting up with over 700 years of covenant breaking by our ancestors, patiently refraining from giving them what they deserved. God put up with the foibles of Abraham, Samson, David, Job, and many others, allowing them space to repent and build character. We need to develop the godly trait of forbearance, having the capacity to have mercy on others while we wait for them to change. Forbearance when applied to our brethren leads to unity; lack of forbearance leads to scattering.
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.
Our society is becoming increasingly violent. John Ritenbaugh shows how the sixth commandment covers crime, capital punishment, murder, hatred, revenge and war.
Observing that more controversy exists about the counting of Pentecost than for any of the holy days, John Ritenbaugh suggests the confusion may be a function of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19). Confusion, separation, and division have been our legacy since the Garden of Eden. The major reason for Christ's ministry was to put an end to the quarreling and division, enabling us to be one with the Father and with each other. Three of God's festivals (Passover, Atonement, and Pentecost) have a direct bearing on the principle of unity. As we individually strive to become unified with God, believing in His authority and His doctrines, we will ultimately become unified, in one accord, with our brethren. It is our individual responsibility, enabled by God's Holy Spirit, to follow those things that were revealed by God through His apostles, keeping God's Commandments, rather than following our own inclinations or private agenda.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the Word of God is not ever improved by syncretizing or alloying it with human philosophy, a pattern of reasoning which often begins with a faulty or dangerous premise. The Gnostics criticized by Paul in Colossians 2:16-17 were guilty of bringing in ritualistic ascetic discipline to propitiate demons. While Paul never criticized self-discipline and rigor, he did condemn the practice if it did not emanate from Jesus Christ and if it contaminated the keeping of the Sabbath or Holy Days. God is not merely interested in what we do, but why we do the thing. Some misguided scholars, looking at the "touch not, taste not" phrase, assume that God is not careful about rules. They ignore the context in which Paul condemns an attractive self-disciplining mind control regime or system (Gnosticism) totally cut off from the Headship of Christ.
The Bible states that offenses will come. John Ritenbaugh explains how to handle offenses and how to keep minor irritations from growing into bitterness.
After warning against literary junk food, John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the dominant emphasis of Matthew, an ex-government official, who concentrated upon the kingly qualities of Jesus as a descendant of the royal house of David, representing the Lion of Judah. Matthew highlights Jesus' authority over the deposed king (Satan), the Kingdom of Heaven (appearing 33 times) and righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the consequences of the reorientation of culture from family or group concerns to individual rights, pleasure seeking, or the elusive drive toward equality. If everyone seeks his own gratification at the expense of the general welfare (family, church, society) conflict is inevitable (James 4:1). Because God sanctions all authority (Romans 13:1, I Peter 2:13), the only way a society can work (family, church, civil) is for everyone to submit to one another in the fear of Christ. Biblical submission is the respecting of divinely appointed authority out of respect for Christ. Our model of submission should be after the manner of our Elder Brother (Philippians 2:6-8). Submission is an act of faith in God, and an act of love for all concerned.
The sin of pride underlies many of our other sins, and it is often the reason for the contentions we get into as brethren. John Ritenbaugh looks at the origins of pride and shows how it manifests itself in us.
Of all animals, the sheep is the most dependent on its owner for its well-being. From the viewpoint of the sheep, the extraordinary care of the shepherd comes into sharp focus. If sheep are not provided with fresh, flowing water, they will drink from stagnant puddles, contracting diseases. Likewise, if we attempt to drink from sources other than God's Word, we risk spiritual contamination. Sheep left to self-indulgence become cast down (immobile, unable to get up) and must be turned over—set again on the right paths. Similarly, habit-driven humans, because of our self-indulgent constitutions, can also become immobilized both physically and spiritually. Fortunately, our heavenly Father uses various means to exercise us spiritually to keep us from becoming cast down. To safeguard the health of the sheep, the shepherd must keep the flock moving—in paths of righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that chapter 18 provides instructions to how to get along in the church. Jesus teaches a parable contrasting the enormity of what we are forgiven to what we forgive others. Our forgiveness by God is directly connected with our forgiveness of our brother; blessed is the merciful for they will obtain mercy. The Creator's life is worth more than the entire creation; offenses against us are a mere drop in the bucket compared to our sins against God. Gentile women became proselytes to Judaism because of the better treatment of women in the Bible as opposed to their treatment in Gentile religion. Sadly there was a wide variance between the ideal and the practice since the Jewish culture of that time also considered the woman a possession of her husband or father with no legal rights except those granted to her by her husband. Religious leaders, influenced by Hillel's liberal approach to divorce could grant divorces for trivial reasons. Jesus explained the original intent of marriage with Adam and Eve, who were explicitly designed for one another with no competition. Moses, because of the hardness of peoples' hearts allowed for a bill of divorcement as a temporary concession to their unconverted heart and mind, in order to prevent wholesale adultery. Uncleanness of heart is really the only real grounds for divorce, usually preceded by the unconverted mate leaving. In the case of desertion by the other mate, the converted person is free to marry. The ideal God intended in marriage can only be attained by those with God's spirit, with Christ living in them. Jesus admonishes us that we should emulate certain qualities of innocence and trust displayed by children as we become mature adults.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Matthew 18 describes the essence of personal relationships within the church. Seven basic characteristics are emphasized, including having a childlike humble attitude, setting a proper example, exercising self-denial, individual care, using tact in correcting a person, practicing fellowship and extending forgiveness. What we aim for in life has a profound effect on our attitudes and behavior. Unless we have sharply-etched goals, we are not going to succeed. If the goals are materialistic, we will be caught up in the attitudes of this world inculcating arrogant competition, totally at odds with attaining the Kingdom of God. If the Kingdom of God is not our goal, we won't use spiritual knowledge correctly. We have to learn to implicitly trust God as a child trusts his parents. Growing spiritually is tantamount to growing out of the habit of being offended. Those who are mature should be able to endure the slights and offenses of the spiritually immature, being circumspect not to lead anyone into sin through our careless example. We need to be willing to be willing to exercise self-sacrifice or self-discipline in order to set a proper example to preserve unity. It should be our objective to strengthen the weak as we have the resources to do so, realizing, of course, that there is a limit to what we can do. A root of bitterness should be assiduously avoided. A set of common sense instructions is given to resolve conflict and promote reconciliation, beginning with the offended going to the offender, and as a rare last resort brought to the ministry for judgment or solution. As we pray to God for a solution, we should pray to become victorious in our overcoming, being subject to His purpose and will, willing to forgive those who have offended us, always leaving the door to repentance open to the one who has sinned, forgiving him 70 x7 if necessary.
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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