David C. Grabbe: Years ago, I had a discussion with a man whom I had known for quite some time, so we generally knew where the other stood on various religious topics. ...
Christians have been known to toss about the word "love" with seeming abandon, quoting verses from Jesus' lips or the apostle John's pen as if they were talismans that can solve all problems. Joseph Baity, however, calls their bluff, suggesting that culture has so confused the common understanding of love that most people do not know what true, godly love is.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Deuteronomy (the Old Covenant in its fullest form) constitutes instruction for the Israel of God, serving as a compass and guide, preparing God's people to enter the Promised Land. None of Deuteronomy is done away. The singular book that was read by Shaphan to Josiah was Deuteronomy; the curses in chapter 28 particularly alarmed the king, leading to a re-affirmation of the Covenant and a major house- cleaning, ridding the land of idolatry. Deuteronomy is a compass, giving guidance of how to submit to God, providing us a God approved world-view. We need to evaluate our spiritual heritage and pass it on to our children, as a kind of rite of spiritual civic citizenship. If one does not have a grasp of the history of his nation, he has no real claim to citizenship. If we are not equipped, by knowing our heritage through the study of history to live in Kingdom of God, we will be terrible citizens, ill-equipped to rule. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants are a major part of our heritage. Our heritage is tied to a higher standard of life than we have come out of. The Bible is primarily a history book containing the exploits of God's family. Deuteronomy has been written to keep us on track, to be reviewed thoroughly every seven years. Deuteronomy is a detailed, renewed covenant document. We are to be doing the same things required of physical Israel, except on a much higher level; we must consequently respond on a higher level. Deuteronomy is a law doctrine which is ruthlessly monotheistic; God will not brook idolatry. In Deuteronomy, the character of God is described explicitly. We are exhorted against hiding our relationship with God by compromising with the world's culture. Our faithfulness to God must reciprocate His faithfulness with us. We are a sanctified people, separated from the world as a treasure of God, who is faithful to us because He loves us. Loving Him is the key to our being faithful to Him. Love motivates willing submission to Him in obedience.
Bill Onisick suggests that if we inculcate the mission statement found in Deuteronomy 6:1-5 (known as the Shema), we will have a high certainty of life and a huge chance at success. If we get this one thing right (loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind) we will succeed at our objectives. Jesus Christ pointed out that the commandment to love God with all our being was the Great Commandment, teaching us that nothing is more important than our relationship with God. Anything else that competes for our attention is an idol, which we need to immediately scuttle. Our core purpose is to become like our Creator, morphing into His image as we dispose of our carnal nature. This process will take a great deal of time, but it is not impossible if we allow our Creator to mold us into His image.
Martin Collins, focusing on the danger of pride of intellect and knowledge, affirms that knowledge of the truth is essential, but it must be God's knowledge, and not a syncretistic mixture of worldly philosophy or mystical Gnostic admixtures. Political correctness, a modern application of Gnosticism, can usher in some unacceptable consequences, such as occurred with the prideful 'tolerance' of incest as practiced in the Corinthian congregation. Like leavening, toleration of one offense would lead to toleration of other offenses. Progressives in American politics shamelessly call evil good and good evil, murdering fetuses in the name of 'women's rights and practicing sodomy in the name of marriage 'equality.' All of these progressive insights emanate from Satan, who has 'transformed' himself as an angel of light. Similarly, ditchism in religion (veering from one extreme or the other, such as overly strict or overly lenient) leads to unpleasant imbalances. Relying "solely" on human intellect is one such ditch when it is isolated from the heart and from practice. Proper knowledge must always be joined to the will of God. A person who is puffed up parades his knowledge either by exhibiting impatience, intolerance, or an obsequious false modesty, marginalizing what they consider to be the weak or uneducated. Some prideful people, caught up in their wealth of knowledge, are rendered totally useless in serving others. Conversely, the love of Christ surpasses all knowledge, putting us into proper humble and lowly perspective; to know and love God is to understand Him. Knowledge of God creates love for God as well as perfecting our relationships with others. The happiest people in the church are those who know His teachings and practice them 24 hours a day, growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord, actively practicing love as motivated by God's Holy Spirit, instilling in us the mind of Christ.
Clyde Finklea, focusing on the concept of living a life that pleases God, as was exemplified by Enoch in Genesis 5:21, identifies seven qualities that enable us to live a life that pleases God. These seven qualities include 1.) faith and belief, 2.) righteousness, 3.) integrity, 4.) loving compassion toward others, 5.) bearing fruit, 6.) demonstrating humility (having no inflated ego), and 7.) commitment (a determination never to give up.) As Passover rapidly approaches, we must strive to inculcate these qualities into the fabric of our character.
Jesus had just confounded the Sadducees’ question concerning marriage in the resurrection, and their rivals, the Pharisees, were probably gloating at their discomfort. ...
As everyone knows, Scripture takes a very dim and stern view of sin because it is failure to live up to God's standard and destroys relationships, especially our relationship with God. After identifying the types and levels of sin, John Ritenbaugh suggests that the fear of God provides us the necessary motivation to overcome our iniquities.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking if we have ever been worried or anxious about something, suggested that fear is a normal human emotion. People naturally worry about their own welfare and the welfare of their loved ones, even though our God and Savior tells us to be anxious about nothing. Fears are pervasive and have deep tentacles, making them seemingly impossible to shake off. Stress (other than the several kinds of eustress) describes the negative effects of fear or anxiety to our nervous system, opening us up to many diseases, some of which may become fatal. God wants us to temper our fears with a change of perspective, realizing He has promised to ultimately rescue the children of Jacob after He makes an end of the world's godless regimes. We need to have the depth of faith and knowledge of God to realize He is with us and will rescue us, providing we trust Him, making Him our dwelling place, living obediently according to His commands, loving Him, serving Him with willing sacrificial service, and calling upon Him in constant communicative prayer, which by doing we could conquer our myriad fears and anxieties by changing our focus from earthly to heavenly things, growing continually in righteousness and godliness. We need to take everything to God in prayer, ensuring the peace of God will abound in our lives.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Deuteronomy is the only book commanded to be read at regular intervals. Deuteronomy covers the final 70 days of Moses' tumultuous life. The rulers of Israel were to write a copy of the Law and read it on a daily basis. As members of the Israel of God, kings and priests in waiting, we need to read it continually, learning to rule others by learning to rule ourselves. The book of Deuteronomy is the heart and pulse of the Old Testament, with its words throughout the New Testament (quoted 86 times), excoriating idolatry, providing a foundation of Christian doctrine, exposing human nature, and providing an outline preparing us to enter God's Kingdom. The spiritual concepts in Deuteronomy serve as a template for the ruler's instruction book. Unlike Leviticus, Deuteronomy is not a cold, codified law, but a heart-felt appeal from Almighty God for His children to remain faithful to Him. As God Almighty skillfully engineered a massive number of our forebears, He will similarly engineer the end-time exodus for the Israel of God. Likewise we have a responsibility to remain faithful, instructing our children in God's instruction, insuring the success of God's family operation. We are to fear, love, and serve God, walking in and keeping His Commandments with all our might.
John Ritenbaugh warns that if we are not moving forward, we will be swept back into the world. The warnings given to the people addressed by Amos and Isaiah were people (like us) who had already made a covenant with Him. Despite their having made the covenant with God, they did not really know God. After we have been called out by God, we have to seek Him and His way realizing that our conduct is motivated by our concept of God. We must be continually seeking God and living the way God lives. Abraham, when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac, added up what He knew about God, calculating that Isaac was the promised seed and would have to be replaced or resurrected. Eternal life, according to Barclay, was more than endless life, but the quality of life God lives. Coming to know God is the church's biggest problem. Romans 1:20 teaches that God's nature can be seen in the creation itself, but failure to have awe before God and to love Him leads to a confused reprobate mind. Emerson suggested that whatever people worship, they will become.
The Bible warns us that a great False Prophet will soon arise to sway mankind into idolatry. In addition, numerous passages speak of other false prophets and false teachers in the church and in the world. David Grabbe, in exposing the differences between false prophets and true ones, explains what we need to look out for as the end nears.
John Ritenbaugh, noting that the church generally reflects the problems of society, suggests that while this may be a sad commentary, it nevertheless demonstrates that we definitely are products of a powerful, addictive, and enticing Babylonian system. We are currently living in an axial period between two ages- the Babylonish system coming violently to an end- making way for God's Millennial government. Until we arrive at the Millennial Kingdom, God has promised to provide the resources to meet the challenges and temptations, leaving us no excuse for failure. We dare not tempt God by refusing to make an effort to extract ourselves from the powerful temptations and pulls of Babylon, compromising our morality and principles for self-centered comfort, safety, and pleasure (Laodiceanism)- exalting desire for beauty over righteousness, abusing the earth, our relationships, and our own bodies. The love or desire for beauty must absolutely be coupled with love for righteousness and holiness- with our focus, passion, and ardor upon Almighty God and our relationship with Christ taking central place in our lives, displacing everything else.
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.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that after justification, for grace to be made dominant, its influence must extend beyond justification, into the sanctification stage where the believer must yield himself to righteousness, keeping God's commandments making himself a slave of righteousness. God's grace is manifested by His giving gifts, carrying us forward, making it possible to be transformed into the image of His Son. Our responsibility is to walk where God leads us, realizing that He is the one always out in front doing the creating, putting forth energy to make something happen—the change of our heart. Only those yielding themselves to the New Covenant will receive this transformation—a miraculous new creation, patterned after Christ's spiritual image. In the whole sanctification process, it is God working in us to will and to do.
Richard Ritenbaugh teaches that we, like ancient Israel, walk out of our individual circumstances through a metaphorical desert of trials and tests, following God into the promised land. If we don't copy God's walk, imitating righteousness or blamelessness and rejecting sin, we won't reach our goal of being conformed to God's image. Our walk with God must be full time and must be motivated by God's Holy Spirit (setting our minds to keeping His commandments, loving God and serving others).
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Deuteronomy 30:15-20, stresses that the choices we make on the day-to-day basis have long-term spiritual consequences. Only the immature think their behaviors will not catch up with them (Numbers 32:23). If we learn to fear and love God, loyalty, faithfulness and commandment keeping will naturally follow. If we love and fear God, taking God into our consciousness with every behavior, we will instinctively haste and depart from evil. Like a physical marriage, our covenant with God is based upon the driving force of love and respect.
John Ritenbaugh points out that when people do not have the fear of God, they drift away from Him. At the first Pentecost, only a fraction of Christ's total audience (about 120) were left, those who feared God, trembled at His word, and were really committed. After the Spirit of God is imparted, removing the pernicious fear of men and installing the life-sustaining fear of God, the real dramatic growth takes place- the sanctification process- a time we (with a poor and contrite spirit) use the fear of God as the prime motivator (coupled with the love of God) to move us from carnal to spiritual-from profane to holy. The fear of God keeps us from doing stupid things like sinning, enabling God's love to do its work. Knowing the terror of the Lord (as a consuming fire) should always be a part of our thinking. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil. The fear of God draws us toward Him.
Faithlessness is the essence of mankind's general character at the end of the age. However, faithfulness is to be a hallmark of a true Christian. How can we become more faithful? How can we be true to the course God has laid out for us?
John Ritenbaugh points out the impossibility of serving two masters equally (Matthew 6:24), especially if each master's goals, objectives, or interests are antithetical to one another. If we try to serve both equally, we run the risk of losing both. Eventually one wil love the other and disrespect the other. Trusting mammon (any worldly treasure inspired by Satan) will erode faith, eventually turning us to idolatry and eternal death. We need to emulate the lives of Moses (who gave up power and massive worldly goods) and Paul (who gave up pedigree and prestigious religious credentials) to yield to and follow God's direction. The best way to attain true wealth and the abundant eternal life is to loosen our grip on worldly rewards and single-mindedly follow Christ.
Love is the first of the fruit of the Spirit, the one trait of God that exemplifies His character. John Ritenbaugh explains what love is and what love does.
In this Unleavened Bread sermon, Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that learning God's way (and unlearning Satan's way) takes a lifetime- spiritually speaking, perhaps the most difficult and arduous task on the entire earth. Over a lifetime, with our cooperation, God fashions us into vessels of honor. The commands to eat unleavened bread outnumber the commands to refrain from eating leavened bread three to one, indicating that the most efficient way of eliminating sin is to do righteousness (eating God's word and applying its principles in our lives) If we do good, we won't have the time to do bad. The epistle of James applies to the Christian after the justification process has begun, indicating that after receiving forgiveness, after receiving God's implanted word, we are obligated to fulfill God's purpose in our lives, yielding to trials, bringing forth the fruits of character by doing (not just hearing) God's word. Paul and James steadfastly agree that faith without works is stone dead.
God has invited us into a love relationship--one in which He has already shown Himself to be absolutely faithful. If we truly love Him, severing our affections with this world, we will meet the demands of becoming holy. God's Holy Spirit enables us to have this love (Romans 5:5), but we must actively use it or lose it. We must seek God as ardently as we would a physical love relationship, spending quality time with Him. If we make no effort to pursue this relationship, it cools. Similarly, unfaithfulness (idolatry) will destroy it. Obedience (expressing our love toward God and proving that we trust Him) will strengthen this relationship, giving us a higher quality, more abundant life and increased blessings.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon a generally pessimistic treatise, read in the annual cyclical Jewish tradition, during the Feast of Tabernacles, illustrates the disillusionment that love for this world will inevitably bring (I John 2:17). Realizing that the world is passing away, our priorities should be on fearing God and keeping his commandments. The temporary booths (short lived and quickly deteriorating) at the Feast depicts our temporary and impermanent, often unpleasant and disappointing (Hebrews 2:10) earthly pilgrimage or sojourn, contrasted with the permanence of Christ's rule and our future eternal life. (Romans 8:17-18). Without living for God's purpose for us, this life is absolutely meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 12:14, Hebrews 1:10-12)
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.
The world really hasn't the foggiest idea of what love really is. Of all God's spiritual gifts, love is the preserving agent preventing any of the other gifts such as prophecy, knowledge, or tongues to become corrupted. Love, an attribute of God Almighty, needs to be the driving force of everything we do. Without love, some normally positive attributes like drive, courage, and determination become brittle and self-seeking. God is the sole source of love; mankind by nature does not have it. It is only by knowing God that we can have this love. Love can be described as a cycle, which God initiates. As we give it back to Him, He gives more to us because we are growing and our love must be perfected. Love is not feeling but action. As God loves us, He expects us to reciprocate back to Him and out to our fellowman, and by so doing we become credible witnesses for God.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that God has given us a checkpoint against which we can check ourselves in times of despondency and despair, so whether we doubt, fear, or the self—whether the problems are moderate or deep—we can go back to see whether we are keeping God's commands and working on developing our fellowship with Him. God has created mankind with the need to face challenges—the need to overcome—or we quickly become subject to boredom or "ennui." Our major responsibility is to govern ourselves scrupulously and conscientiously within the framework of God's Laws, overcoming negative impulses by the knowledge and Spirit of God, seeking a total relationship with Him in thought, emotion, and deed, extending to our relations with our brethren. Fellowship with God is the only antidote to overwhelming feelings of despair, doubt, and self-condemnation.
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