Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the perennial desire of all cultures to return to a mythologized "Golden Age," a paradise wherein peace, abundance and harmony abound. When people claim that "old times" were better, they often overlook the thorny problems besetting those living then. God's people also have a proclivity to perceive the early Church nostalgically, focusing on a few Scriptures which point to the unity of that era. Reading the Scriptures more maturely however, we find that early church members experienced problems similar to what we face today. The early churches had to experience the same God-ordained process of sanctification (I Peter 1:3-7) and the same fiery trials (I Corinthians 10:13) we do today. Paul found it necessary to admonish (1) the Roman congregation to be discerning, shunning false teachers, (2) the Corinthian congregation to flee envy and strife, (3) the Galatian congregation to flee from tendencies to return to Judaism, (4) the members of the Ephesian congregation to maintain their "first love," (5) the Philippian congregation to put away division, (6) the Colossian congregation to eschew Jewish-gnostic philosophies, and (7) the Thessalonian congregation to reject interpretations of prophecy informed more by theory and rumor than by Scripture. The Golden Age has not yet arrived but will be coterminous with the Kingdom of God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the widespread belief in many pagan cultures that local tribal deities claim territoriality over their adherents' land, maintains that God had to disabuse Israel from believing such nonsense, using scattering and exile to partially accomplish His purpose. God is sovereign over the entire earth; His power is not venue-dependent. When Nebuchadnezzar had enough of Judah's rebellion, he transported the entire ruling class to Babylon, including Daniel and his companions. God used this event to scatter Judah and Benjamin through the prominent cultures of the earth. Jeremiah sent a letter in 597 BC, giving specific instructions to the captives as to how to conduct themselves in Gentile cultures, assuring them that they would be in this predicament for seventy years, after which God would rescue them. They were to improve their skills, buy houses, plant gardens, raise families, and be model citizens. Although they were not to assimilate inwardly, they were to blend in wherever God's Law was not violated. They were not to make a nuisance of themselves by proselyting, a principle still in effect today for God's called-out ones. In post-exilic times in Persia, God used concealed Jews (exampled by Mordecai and Esther) to ascend to levels of prominence on behalf of their people. Esther (her Persian name, a variety of Ishtar) and Mordecai (his Persian name, a variety of Marduk, a Babylonian deity) served as a kind of protective covering, enabling them to quietly carry on God's purpose. Paul applied the essence of Jeremiah's letter to Christians living in this present evil age, admonishing them to lead a quiet life, mind their own business, stay aloof from governmental affairs and set a godly example through diligence and good works.
Martin Collins discusses the apostle Paul's epistle to the Thessalonians, a group of dispirited, despairing Christians who had been bombarded by false teachings that the Day of the Lord had already come, prompting many to quit their employment, rest on their laurels, and become busy-bodies, as well as leading the leaders to express doubt and fear that the congregation would ever make the grade. Paul encourages the bewildered Thessalonians, suggesting that the purposes for the suffering they were now enduring consists of (1) growing in spiritual character, providing examples to the other congregations, (2) being prepared for future glory, and (3) glorifying Christ today. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to thank God for their salvation, surrender without complaint, ask God to give wisdom, and to watch for opportunities to serve, waiting patiently for God to work His purpose. We cannot be so excited about Christ's return that we neglect our own overcoming and character development. Because God's Church is under judgement now, we cannot rest on our laurels, but we must submit to God's summons to a life of purity and sacrifice. God can and will supply strength and power to all those who have been called, but our aspiration and goal of conforming to His image has to motivate our current performance. If we humbly trust in God, all of our works will bear fruit. In order for God to grow a church, the faith of its members must be strengthened through trials, love must increase, and hope must persevere, enduring under trial. Tribulation produces perseverance, which in turn leads to reciprocal glory with Christ.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon elements of what repentance is and what it produces, warns us that we are continually in need of repentance. The churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were warned to repent, prefiguring the identical conditions which would be extant in the current greater Church of God. Like faith, repentance must exist in the end times. We are admonished to change our mind and attitude, bringing about a total about-face in behavior, in which we abhor our human nature and diligently seek God's nature. Repentance must be motivated by a Godly sorrow which leads to a dramatic change of behavior. The Corinthian congregation was beset with myriad sins, including party-spirit and porneia, even though they were puffed up with pride because of their spiritual 'gifts.' Paul addressed the Corinthian congregation as carnal, even though its members were converted. The congregation in Paul's letters to the Hebrews had become dull of hearing, losing their spiritual maturity. Faith and repentance are inextricably linked as we move on to perfection. Godly sorrow leads to perfection, while worldly sorrow leads to death. Repentance has seven distinct fruits: 1) diligence (the motivation to accomplish), 2) clearing of self (washing away), 3) indignation (anger at injustice and sin, especially at ourselves), 4) fear, 5) vehement desire (a strong and persistent craving for righteousness and a burning desire to change), 6) zeal (wholehearted ardor for accomplishing a task), and 7) vindication (setting things right). We must, in repentance, voluntarily surrender the self, striving to imitate our Heavenly Father and our Elder Brother.
Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the messages in I Corinthians, especially those dealing with Christian living and character development, are particularly relevant to us today, answering the question, 'How is a Christian supposed to live and conduct himself in a desperately evil society?' Corinth was at the crossroads, both commercially and culturally, of the Mediterranean trade routes, making it wealthy, cosmopolitan, and abounding in religious diversity and syncretism. In Corinth, Paul's modus operandi was to approach this new community with stealth and diplomacy, finding bridges of commonality before introducing them to the truth of Christianity. Observing the consequences of appealing to the legal institutions of Rome, Paul insisted that conflicts be resolved internally within the fellowship rather than be made subject to stern and sometimes brutal Roman law.
Proselytism has become a bad word in today's discourse, but it has not always been that way. Charles Whitaker explores the Bible's view of evangelism, both from the Old and the New Testaments, as well as the world's official pronouncements on the practice.
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that meddling or being a busybody is a sin, as serious as murder or robbery. We must learn as Christians to operate in our appointed spheres of responsibility and not to meddle in someone else's—taking the job or prerogative of another. Jesus and the apostle Paul give us sterling examples of refusing to assume responsibilities not expressly given to them. We must learn to exercise judgment in helping others, but not to judge them now, not yet being qualified for or appointed to that weighty responsibility. Idleness is a major contributory cause of meddling, and gossip and tale-bearing are frequent accomplices. Meddling in another's affairs may actually complicate or interfere with God's capable work in them, so we need to apply the Golden Rule when seeking to help another. In working out our own salvation, we have enough do to without trying to meddle in someone else's.
In this Feast of Trumpets sermon, John Ritenbaugh, reflects on Malachi Martin's book, The Final Conclave, which claims that, not only are 60% of the College of Cardinals not firm believers, but that a hard core 27% are functional but prudent agnostics, hedging their bets. Some of us, facing the stress and uncertainties of the time, may also be going through the motions but losing every vestige of faith. The Day of the Lord, like a claw hammer, has both a business end (return of Christ) and a wrecking end (destruction, mayhem, and tribulation). In this stressful time, we had better have our convictions in order, realizing that not only is God preparing a place for us, He is also preparing us to be conformed to the image of His Son.
John Ritenbaugh, drawing a parallel from human physical love provides an eight-point checklist to determine whether our love for Christ is genuine. If we love another person, we will (1) think about (2) like to hear about (3) like to read about (4) seek to please (5) be with the friends of (6) be jealous of the honor of (7) like to talk to, and (8) always want to be with this person. Like the Ephesian church, in the wake of mounting disappointments, frustrations, deferred hopes and pressures, we cannot become weary of well-doing, allowing our first love and devotion to deteriorate, looking to the world to gratify our desires. We desperately need to redirect our energies (Colossians 3:1; Galatians 6:6-8), to rekindling our first love.
John Ritenbaugh examines the changing Israelitish mindset following two world wars, negatively influenced by affluence and cynicism which has undermined our ability to endure hardship and sacrifice in pursuit of a worthy national goal. Instead of discipline, indomitable will and character with pure national goals we have opted for self-indulgence, laxity, and compromise. In God's plan, the development of uncompromising character requires struggle and sacrifice. Our victory over Satan requires continual drill, tests and development of internal discipline. Like the military, the victory is built incrementally in the mind; the warfare is the drill. (Luke 16:10)
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