Bill Onisick, holding a cluster of grapes which had prematurely dried because of a fungus infection, laments that this blight could have been stopped by proactive maintenance rather than reactive maintenance. In Proverbs 24, we read an allegorical portrayal of a vineyard gone to ruin by neglect and laziness. Poverty and destruction are the products of neglect. Preventative maintenance will help us whether we deal with physical or spiritual problems. Ingesting too much junk food, especially food heavily laden with sugar, shortens an otherwise healthy life, making us susceptible to diabetes and other degenerative diseases. Spiritually, if we neglect our daily regime of prayer, Bible Study, and meditation, we stunt our spiritual growth. Daily maintenance requires a rooting out (through repentance) of debilitating sins. If we live in the flesh rather than drink in God's Holy Spirit, we will wither. Now is the time to engage in preventative maintenance, building walls of protection, pulling up nettles, breaking up fallow ground, and sowing seeds of agape love, not only in preparing for the Holy Days, but throughout our entire spiritual pilgrimage.
David F. Maas: In the previous essay, we learned that God, in His supreme wisdom and sovereignty, carves out a singular role for rejects, off-scourings, and castaways. ...
Martin Collins, reflecting on anti-biblical "scholarship" emanating from pseudo-experts, assures us that, when properly evaluated, there are no discrepancies in scripture; God is not the author of confusion, but of peace and order. God purposely refrained from unfolding His Holy Word as a factual historical report in order that we may learn to place "precept with precept," discovering something new every time we read the Bible. The Atheist may feel a certain degree of smugness in denying the Bible. Those of us called of God learn to progress from milk to solid food, stimulating our curiosity in progressive stages, as God brings us to new levels of understanding. God does not enlighten us until we are mature enough to absorb and use knowledge. God may use paradoxes and apparent contradictions to put balance into our behavior, for example, understanding the contexts in which riches or poverty can be either a blessing or a curse. God's Word forces us to value the Spirit above the Letter, walking as a living epistle, rejecting the counterfeit main-stream Christianity's notion that grace gives license to disobey the Law, as we come to recognize that the doers of the law will be justified. Faith without works is dead, but living faith is demonstrated by godly works. The testimony of the Bible and that of the physical universe are not discordant, but harmonious, demonstrating that God is the designer and sustainer of all life. Those who have given their lives to discredit the Bible must shamefully eat their own words in the fullness of time. Bible difficulties are designed to stimulate our minds and make us curious, to lead us to value Spirit over letter and to sharpen our abilities solve paradox and so-called contradiction. God's inspiration of His Word is perfect.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on Proverbs 30:7-9, in which Agur asks God to cushion him from the extremes of poverty or excessive wealth, allowing himself to live a balanced life of contentment. Wealth has a powerful influence on one's life, causing us to overestimate our own prowess and underestimate God's involvement with us. We must not forget that it is God who gives us power to get wealth. Although the caution applies especially to material wealth, it also applies to any skill, talent, or gift God has given us. Any gift may turn one inwardly, away from the giver of the gift. We should be grateful, but not proud of our gifts. The Bible contains many rags to riches stories, such as Joseph, Ruth, David, Esther, all humble and righteous people who did not desire wealth, but knew they could fulfill their life's purposes if God were on their side. Job was a wealthy man who was also blameless and above reproach, but his health, family, and wealth were all stripped from him in a blink of the eye. His friends wrongly assumed that his loss of wealth was caused by sin, a foolish judgment not warranted by the facts. Solomon's wealth, on the other hand, turned him away from God. Outward prosperity does not provide an accurate indicator of spirituality. Christ warns us that our treasure needs to be in the right place, adding that: (1) We must be content with what we have, (2) We must be humble in our conduct, and (3) We must work faithfully and hard. Whatever our hand finds to do, we should do it with all of our might—energetically and intellectually (Ecclesiastes 9:10). The New Testament does not treat wealth as neutral because its power to persuade and influence does not allow many to control it. We dare not become enslaved to wealth's drugging power.
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.
The content of Ecclesiastes 4 is a series of comparisons based in the everyday life of a society—from the gulf between the powerful and those they oppress to the various attitudes that people bring to their daily work. John Ritenbaugh explains that Solomon provides these comparisons to indicate the choices we should make to live better lives in alignment with God, even in an "under the sun" world.
Terrorism is frequently in the news these days, and seeing it, we abhor the acts of terrorists as cruelty and violence against unsuspecting civilians. David Maas, however, wonders if we may be causing just as much destruction as the average terrorist through negligence and passivity.
The eighth commandment seems so simple: "You shall not steal." Yet, it seems that just about everyone on earth has his hand in someone else's pocket! John Ritenbaugh documents the ubiquity of thievery, particularly in the U.S., explaining that the solution is equally simple: honest, hard work.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: A few months ago, as my wife and I were bustling through a local Wal-Mart on our weekly shopping "date," we came across a trio of young men slouching their way down a main aisle. ...
Philosophers and ethicists, steeped in humanism, shoot wide of the truth in answering, 'Who is my neighbor?' Charles Whitaker explains that the Bible reveals the answer to this big moral question, as well as providing sensible guidelines on the finer details of Christian charity.
In an age when globalism is a reality, when immediate contact with far-flung peoples occurs every day, answering "Who is my neighbor?" is a vital necessity. En route to explaining Jesus' reply to the lawyer in Luke 10, Charles Whitaker exposes how today's celebrated thinkers answer this question.
Of all people, one might think, Christians should be the most blessed, yet they often fall under heavy trials. However, the reality is that God is putting us through the paces, correcting us and refining us, to bring us to salvation.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon several abuses of one of God's gifts to mankind — eating and drinking. While drunkenness and gluttony indicate self-centeredness, lack of discipline, often leading to poverty and ill health, moderation in all things is the way to glorify God in our bodies. God's called out ones must exercise moderation in their approach to eating of food, imbibing of alcohol, and excesses of anything in which there might be a possibility of borderline conduct. God has provided the blessing of (1) family union, (2) food and drink, (3) clothing, and (4) work with the condition that we exercise responsible stewardship over these gifts practicing moderation in all things.
What is it to be poor in spirit? John Ritenbaugh describes this attribute in its biblical usage. Those who are truly poor in spirit are on the road to true spiritual riches!
John Ritenbaugh suggests that being poor in spirit (a precursor to humility) is a necessary, foundational spiritual state one must have to qualify for God's Kingdom. As the polar opposite of pride, poor in spirit describes a condition of being acutely aware of ones dependency and unworthiness. Because of this deep inner felt need and want, those who are poor in spirit are primed to receive and apply the Gospel's instruction to their lives. Poor in spirit (not a product of human nature) does not equate with physical poverty (there is often much pride in indigence), but instead a spiritual state of felt need in which one renounces his smug self-sufficiency, recognizing his intense dependency upon God for all things.
Laodiceans think of themselves as rich, while God sees them as poor. On the other hand, the Smyrnans see themselves as poor, yet God says they are rich! What are true riches?
John Ritenbaugh, drawing from his own experiences at taking care of sheep and from Philip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, points out that animal metaphors are better understood if one has had real-life experiences with them. Of all the animals, sheep need the most care and are extremely vulnerable to predators, pests, and fear, leading to an extremely dependent and trustful behavior. From the viewpoint of a sheep, the narrator of Psalm 23 expresses gratitude and contentment for the shepherd's watchful care and continuous providence. Occasionally a sheep may not show contentment, "worrying a fence" to look for greener pastures, leading other sheep astray in the process. Shepherds have to deal decisively with this potential hazard. A shepherd realizes that a flock may be made to lie down only if they are free from fear, friction in the flock, pests and insects, and hunger.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that God intended land to be the basis for all wealth, desiring that families should own and retain property. The Jubilee Laws indicate that God never intended any kind of state collective (or corporate) ownership of property, but that families should retain what has been given to them. The Federal Government, through confiscatory taxes, has violated the commandment against stealing- modeling theft for society at large. Beside predatory street crime (dramatically on the increase), blue collar and white-collar theft have even more dramatically contributed (and continue to contribute) to the demise or failure of many large businesses and to the economic woes of our country in general- literally stealing from (the inheritance of) future generations. In modern Israel, we are drowning in thievery, forcing the land to vomit us out. Wealth accumulated by honest work and diligence will be blessed, but hastily acquired by any kind of theft or dishonesty will be cursed.
John Ritenbaugh distinguishes a temple from a synagogue, indicating that there was but one temple in Jerusalem, a monument to God, having very little preaching, but many synagogues in each town. Jesus taught in their synagogues in services which contained formalized prayers and readings from the scripture. Following the readings, a sermon was given either by the ruler of the synagogue or someone he deemed worthy, even though the person may not have had formalized ecclesiastical training. Except for the ruler of the synagogue, there didn't seem to be a formal minister. Preaching was intended to be general, providing overview, while the teaching was intended to be specific, providing details. Matthew provides systematic order and structure to his Gospel. Matthew's encapsulation of the Beatitudes, the essence (perhaps the distillation or compendium of many sermons) of Jesus Christ's teaching, contains the foundation of His teaching through the entirety of His ministry. It would be entirely possible to make a sermon from each one of the verses from Matthew 5-7. The various themes are presented in different contexts in Luke's account, indicating a perennial theme. Luke set things down in chronological order; Matthew set things down in topical or thematic order. The seriousness of the teaching can be illustrated by Jesus sitting down to teach. The beatitudes, attitudes directed way from self are intended to provide an antidote for depression and sorrow now and in the future, bringing a state of happiness and bliss, totally unattached from physical things or circumstances, but bubbles up from within deriving from divine favor- a gift from God. Poor in spirit connotes more absolute trust in and submission to God rather than abject poverty or financially impoverished. Mourning or sadness is good to make us see cause and effect and make the heart better; when things go wrong, we are driven to think and look for solutions. Godly pain
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