Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us of the "fake news" in the First Century that Christians were cannibals, atheists and unpatriotic. This view was fact-based, but the facts were contextually contorted by detractors. The Romans had their own version of a media which twists facts through rumor and innuendo. Every culture is prone to interpret facts erroneously—indeed, illogically—and to pass those misshapen interpretations along through various sorts of "whisper campaigns." Today, social media provide a technically advanced conduit for character-assassination. The apostle James recognizes how the tongue, driven by carnal nature, can metaphorically start a dangerous fire. James warns everyone that gossip, tale-bearing and being a busy-body is just as damnable in God's eyes as first-degree murder. Listening to gossip is just as serious an offence as being an accessory to murder. Shockingly, we have a big chunk of the hostile world in our mouth, a potentially deadly three-inch appendage capable of slaying a six-foot human being. When we slander another human being in a whisper campaign, we are diligently performing Satan's work. The prohibition against talebearing occupies a prominent location in the Holiness Code. If we have been guilty of talebearing and gossip—as all have been, we must: 1) ask for God to forgive us, and 2) ask Him to help us present our tongues as instruments of righteousness to God, for healing and edifying, rather than destroying, people.
David C. Grabbe: Acts 2 records the giving of the Holy Spirit on that notable Feast of Pentecost. In Peter's sermon that day, he explains the miraculous events by quoting Joel 2:28-32 ...
Ryan McClure, referring to the aggressive, offensive, and sometimes violent interaction between internet users called flaming, asks if we are flamers, or if are we pursuing righteousness in our speech and communication. It is important how we interact with our brethren and others. We can look to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who chose His words carefully. We do not want to spark flames with our opinions. When we speak, we should speak truth only, in kindness and gentleness.
David Grabbe, focusing on the prospect of a new pure language found in Zephaniah 3:8-9, takes issue with the naïve assumption that the blemishes of a language derive from syntactic, morphological, or phonetic considerations, but instead from the depths of the heart. The lips are defiled if the heart or mind is defiled. Charges emanating from sundry groups affiliating with Hebrew roots or sacred orientation mistakenly feel the purity of a language is innately embedded in pronunciation patterns, which are still a matter of speculation and guesswork from reconstructed dead languages. It is impossible to know the pronunciation of the early languages. The Bible was written in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek, with none of the tongues holding exclusivity for purity or sacredness. Culture has defiled Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, English, and every other language on earth. A pure language is a function of vocabulary emanating from a pure and undefiled. Any language on the face of the earth would be an acceptable candidate for a pure language if this criterion were met.
Charles Whittaker, reflecting on the episode in Genesis 11:1-9, in which God confused the languages, terminating the construction of the Tower of Babel, provides some insights as to the motivation of the Babel- folk for attempting to construct this doomed edifice. In these concentrated nine verses, we learn that man proposes and God deposes. In direct defiance of God's command to spread out over the entire earth, not concentrating in massive communities, Nimrod, in an effort to prevent the people from being scattered, sought to build a structure which would reach high enough into the heavens to safeguard against destruction by a universal flood. The Babylonian plain had few stones for building, but the Babel folk had carried through the Flood the basic technology for making bricks, baking them in a kiln. What attracted them to that particular region in Mesopotamia was abundant tar, pitch, or asphalt, making it possible, in Nimrod's mind, to use it as mortar, making the edifice waterproof and flood resistant. Nevertheless, lacking the iron technology which would have reinforced the walls, the structure itself would have probably collapsed on its own before it would have reached even the height of the pyramids. Nimrod's ill-fated plan, which supported the peoples' fear of loss of community and fear of scattering, was obliterated when God confused the languages. While Nimrod's plan for one world-one language failed, God reversed the Babel debacle with His own plan to unify, making one called-out people having one mutually understood language, commencing on a small scale on Pentecost, A.D. 31, when people heard the disciples preaching in their own languages, a project which will eventually lead to one pure language.
Ronny Graham, focusing on II Thessalonians 2:16-17, a passage emphasizing comfort and consolation, asks us whether we are good comforters. When loved ones die, we may find it difficult to express comfort to the family. One of the major themes of the book of Job is comfort, ranging from the miserable comforters consisting of Job's friends to Jesus Christ's comforting words on the night of His last Passover. One of Job's friends , Eliaphaz, seemed to get counsel from a familiar spirit, providing Job with no comfort. Jesus Christ, in John 13-17, provides words of comfort to His disciples, promising them the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit. The words of comfort we give to others should be true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind.
When Solomon visits the Temple, he comes away from his observations of the worshippers with a sense that too many treat religion far too casually and carelessly, forgetting that they are coming before the great God. As John Ritenbaugh explains, Solomon admonishes his readers to listen to God's Word when they approach Him and to be careful to follow through with what they promised when they made the covenant with Him.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that, although Ecclesiastes contains no direct prophecies, it does not present Christ as Savior, it contains no "thus saith the Lord" commands, and it makes no mention of Satan, nevertheless it does deals with quality of life issues for those who have been called, emphasizing responsibility and choice in this perplexing labyrinth of life, continually fearing God and respecting Him. We must hear God with focused attention, following through on purposeful obedience. Life is meaningless to those uncalled under the sun, but not meaningless to those called by God, who focus their lives over the sun. We are implored to be swift to hear and slow to speak when we are in His presence—which is ALL the time. When we forget, we drift into careless hypocrisy and disrespect for God. We must be purposefully selective, riveted on God's Words, but screening out the distractions of the world. Our highest responsibility is to sustain our faith by hearing God's Word, and diligently following through with obedience.
Charles Whitaker, commenting on the symbol of wind in Scripture, suggests that there are both positive and negative connotations. Wind can be frightfully powerful, as depicted by tornadoes and hurricanes. Wind has the function to broadcast seed and disperse pollen. Wind can damage soil through erosion. Mankind has difficulty controlling or harnessing the wind; God Almighty controls and channels wind, an invisible medium, making it an ideal symbol for God's Holy Spirit, having both powerful and gentle properties—as a still small voice of a gentle breeze. When we consider the voice mechanism, the power to articulate the vocal bands is wind from the lungs. Through the spirit in man, mankind can produce audible vocal symbols called words, symbols of concepts, referred to by the Greeks as logos. Words are intended to convey meaning. Thought without words cannot be communicated. Without words, we have no access to spirit whether it is the spirit in man, a demonic spirit, or God's Holy Spirit. Wind is a major factor in determining the weather, as well the psychological environment of our mind—a kind of zeitgeist having the power to encourage or discourage attitudes. God's breathing life into Adam was a precursor of the later granting of His Holy Spirit. Through God's Words empowered with His Holy Spirit, we can be transported into His Kingdom.
Among the gospel writers, only Mark records Jesus' healing of the deaf-mute man (Mark 7:31-37) in any detail. His handicap, one that first-century medicine had few answers for, isolated him from society. Martin Collins explains that Christ's healing of the man's hearing and speech have spiritual counterparts from which we can learn valuable lessons.
Whether we were born yesterday, born with a silver spoon in our mouth, or born and raised a stick in the mud, we hear and most likely use clichés a million times a day. ...
John Ritenbaugh affirms that faith and love require reciprocal works on our part, even though God has made the initial step, providing His only Son as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. As God calls us, He provides the power both to will and to do. If we do not work with God in our conversion process, things will fall apart. Because our responding to God's love is so important, we need to respond reciprocally to God. If we love another person we like to think about him/her, to hear about him/her, to read about him/her, please him/her, to be friends with his friends too, and we are jealous about their reputation and honor. We will not bring dishonor on our spiritual family's name by our behavior, not forgetting that we are collectively the temple of God and the Body of Christ.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Over the past week or so, we have witnessed several examples of a consequence of present-day America's inclusive, diverse, multicultural society. ...
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the technological and linguistic changes that have occurred in the short span of one century, marvels at the drastic decrease of our attention span and the corresponding degradation of language. The dramatic shift in orientation from words to pictures has weakened thought and the transmission of ideas, "dumbing down" our culture toward drabness, unaesthetic plainness, and imprecision. Because virtually everything we know about God comes through words, this denigration of language (the vehicle transmitting spiritual truths, metaphorical bread or food) could prove highly detrimental to our spiritual welfare. Spiritually, relying exclusively on images leads to shallowness of thought at best and idolatry at its worst. The Word of God, however, provides depth and nourishment leading to salvation and eternal life. Through God's Spirit, we need to learn how to process the Word of God effectively and efficiently.
Remember "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me"? In most cases, this is a lie. The hurtful words that we speak can create scars that last longer than any physical scar that sticks and stones may cause. Christians need to learn to harness the power of the tongue.
As members of God's church, what are we to do when destructive words come our way? Ted Bowling advises us not to take to heart everything people say. We must learn to take everything in our lives with much patience and longsuffering, which will result in peace.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Wordsworth's lament, "the world is too much with us," comments that the fast pace of the world - the hurry or rush mode - threatens to crowd God out of our thoughts. We cannot allow the cares of the world or the stress of the world's pressures, or the pride of the world (self-sufficiency)to crowd God out of our thoughts or to defile our minds, bringing about abominable works or evil fruits. The spiritual battle we fight is in our minds and in our thoughts. We are what we think - what we put into our minds. We need to actively lay siege to our carnality and hostile thoughts, bringing them into captivity to God's Holy Spirit. Our thoughts (hopefully filled with the knowledge of God) determine the content of our speech and the contents of our actions- i.e. our fruits. What we sow we will reap.
Jesus calls His disciples "the salt of the earth." Do we know what He meant? Mike Ford explains the spiritual side of this common mineral compound.
Much of a Christian's judgment will be based on his interactions with people—many different kinds of people. Enter tact and diplomacy, two necessary tools in the task of getting along. We need to use them like seasoned diplomats.
Using the analogy of Maestro Arturo Toscanini's ability to anticipate mistakes or sense when something was amiss, Martin Collins examines the vital subject of discernment— both physical and spiritual. Human discernment, according to Dr. N. Scott Peck, can be developed and exercised, triggering early warning systems with the reactions of revulsion and confusion when confronted by the presence of evil. Discernment can be developed by paying close attention to a person's vocabulary, his tone of voice, laughter, and body language. True spiritual discernment is a gift from God imparted through His Holy Spirit, enabling us to judge between good and evil, comparing things in life with God's word to see whether it matches God's standard. Like human discernment, spiritual discernment must be exercised by daily use until it becomes a habit. (Hebrews 5:14)
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.
The tongue is maybe the most untamed "beast" on earth! James says we all offend in word. But James 3 is filled with wisdom regarding how we can overcome the beast.
The Ninth Commandment: You Shall Not Bear False Witness.
Atonement, when we are commanded to afflict our souls through fasting, is a time of self-evaluation and repentance. This is the only way to have real unity with God.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes chapter 12 as the "rise of the opposition," outlining the rising suspicions on the part of the Jews, the prejudiced blindness and the active investigation, countermanded by Jesus response, making claims to His authority, His courageous defiance, and His bold attack. In the first several verses, it is clear the disciples were not stealing corn (Deuteronomy 23:25) nor were they breaking the Sabbath as David had not broken the Sabbath when he ate the showbread on the Sabbath when he was fleeing from Saul, nor do the heavy priestly duties (normally work forbidden by lay members) violate the Sabbath. Human need takes precedence over human custom. Jesus didn't break the Sabbath, but he did break extra-legal fanatical human custom applied to the Sabbath apart from God's Law- those foolish prohibitions proscribing healing and alleviating human misery. Interestingly, Jesus did these miracles in a courageous, but nevertheless a discreet manner, asking his clients not to publicize these events, but nevertheless, as a humble servant [not yet a conquering hero- nor certainly a brawling instigator of incendiary riots], demonstrating humane application of the Sabbath law to the Jews and the Gentiles, having universal application. His motives were misconstrued by the opposition, accusing Him of using demonic powers. Christ warns us that following His way of life will bring persecution. Our spiritual gifts and skills (discerning skills to distinguish good from evil) we must continually use so they don't degenerate. When we cannot make this distinction any longer, we have, in essence committed the unpardonable sin- candidates for the Lake of Fire. The well-spring of good (as well as evil) stems from the heart, producing the fruit of good (or evil) works and good (or evil) words. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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