Austin Del Castillo expresses alarm that the moral fabric of our society is rapidly unravelling, with all institutions yielding to corruption and immorality. Like society, the Church of God has splintered into a diverse assortment of groups, some blinded by their pompous self-righteousness, others absorbing the values of the world—all forgetting the profound purpose of their calling. The Parable of the Ten Virgins must become a wake-up call to the Church of God that we are "running on empty," as stated in the words of a Jackson Brown song. If we demonstrate mindfulness of God only on the Sabbath, if we think that a sermon's message is more applicable to another than to us, if we increasingly find studying God's Word unexciting, then we have obviously lost our first love and are courting a fate in the lake of fire rather than at the Marriage Supper. Developing a relationship with our Savior and God the Father is serious business. When King David realized that he had run out of God's Spirit after the Bathsheba-Uriah business, he returned to the filling station, begging God not to take away His Holy Spirit. God will be as patient with the five foolish virgins among us today as He was with David millennia ago. We in God's Church do not know how much time we have left. Let us immediately replenish our reserves of God's Holy Spirit before we travel any further.
Richard Ritenbaugh, while acknowledging that America's relationship with slavery has indeed been checkered, with chattel slaves and indentured servants contributing to the prosperity of earlier times, counters the 'Progressivist' claim that America invented slavery and historically practiced the most tyrannical abuses in the world. In point of fact, every ethnic group has both practiced slavery and has been victims of slavery. Israelites have been slaves multiple times, to the Egyptians, Canaanites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans. A culture of slavery pervaded life in the early Christian church , forcing Paul to pen instructions accommodating this practice in the context of love. As well, slavery was a part of the culture of ancient Israel, where God codified as part of His Law humane regulations, guaranteeing liberation of Israelite slaves after six years of service and the Jubilee. These regulations obligated masters to make provisions ensuring their slaves' successful transition to freedom. Contrasting the harsh treatment of slaves by some American slaveowners, God's treatment of us as slaves of righteousness is mild, with Christ's promise that His yoke is easy. Christ, having purchased us from a prior slave owner who was cruel, demands only a lifetime of reasonable service to our brethren with the same rigor as Christ has served us. God has given us a variety of talents and responsibilities to facilitate our serving one another in a spirit of humility, with none exalting himself above another. When we fulfill all the conditions for Christian behavior outlined in I Corinthians 12 and 13, we are still unprofitable servants unless we learn to forgive and meld in love (that is, in sincerity), compassion, and humility with our siblings in the God family.
Martin Collins, asking us if we have ever wanted to give up from our deluge of trials, reminds us that our predecessors have had similar sentiments. The conversion of the apostle Paul, his subsequent training, and lengthy service was not a walk in the park. His education prior to his conversion was extensive, even including instruction in the fine points of Pharisaic understanding under the feet of Gamaliel, a lead rabbi of the day. Having this background, he naturally found the emerging sect of Christianity deceptive and totally incompatible with Judaism. Wanting to emulate Phineas, he was determined to extirpate this blight before it loomed out of control. Jesus Christ evidently found some use for this intense zeal as He struck him down on the way to Damascus, diametrically reorienting Saul's priorities, forcing him to ask "Who are you?" and "What do you want me to do?" God can call anyone He wants, including a hopelessly stubborn, irascible drudge. Some progressive scholars would like us to believe that Paul faked this conversion for opportunistic purposes, forgetting that Paul had already garnered substantial prestige implementing the militant goals of the Pharisees. It would have taken extraordinary courage or audacity on Paul's part to witness to Damascus where his prior reputation was still known unless his conversion had been indeed completely genuine. Paul's lengthy apprenticeship, involving processing the guilt from Stephen's murder, the suspicions he faced from the people he had formerly persecuted, and his pastoral training in Arabia (lasting approximately three years) trained him thoroughly for the grueling missionary journeys he would later make, providing text and insight for the Epistles, a virtual roadmap for the totality of Christian living demanded of all God's called-out ones.
In the gospel accounts, the Pharisees receive the lion's share of Christ's correction for their blatant hypocrisy, and they have become a byword for that sin. Martin Collins explores the extent of this sin, which can reach to the point of the unpardonable sin, and suggests how we can overcome it.
David Grabbe, examining the saying, "ignorance is bliss," implying that a measure of peace may come to us if we do not know something that might be disturbing, cautions us that this ignorance is dangerous when it comes to the spiritual preparation of self-examination before the Passover. Self-evaluation is foundational for observing the Passover in a worthy manner. Self-examination is painful, but productive, when we see the horrendous cost of Christ's sacrifice for us. In Dr. M. Scott Peck's book The People of the Lie, a malady called "malignant narcissism," caused by excessive pride, leads its victims to psychologically maim other people. The people of the lie are afraid of the light of truth, assiduously protecting their dysfunctional mindset. They are adept at shifting the blame for their hidden faults on someone else, keeping the bright light off themselves. The people of the lie do not believe they have any major defects and, consequently, do not have any need to change. Individuals with Laodicean attitudes, blind to their spiritual blindness (a double indictment), are prime examples of people of the lie, people whom God spews out of His mouth. Human nature has the proclivity of establishing its own standard of righteousness, using selective evidence, as is seen in the pompous behavior of the Pharisee exalting himself over the despondent tax collector. The Corinthians, rich in spiritual gifts, refused to examine the seamier side of their spiritual depravity. We must not assemble selective evidence as we examine ourselves in preparation for Passover, remembering that we had a major part in causing the scattering of our previous fellowship. We need Christ's mind to put things together accurately; Christ is the only One who can enable us to see our spiritual condition clearly. Our growth will stop without the continual reminder that we are not yet a finished product.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the massive deceptions blinding our citizenry from the true dangers of the economic and cultural wars which threaten our quality of life, questions whether advanced technology is an acceptable tradeoff for eroded morality. Our technology has made possible annihilation of millions rather than thousands of people, having built faithfully on the foundation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Satan, now, has the power to wipe out entire nations. Our patriarch Abraham was much better off than the distinguished citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah who lived in comparative luxury. The belief that technology has made us better is really a facade, masking the reality that intangible factors of love and hope have hopelessly deteriorated. Thankfully, although Satan has been allowed limited power over mankind, God's purpose for mankind will prevail. God will allow Satan to wreak havoc, using him as a tool to bring the oblivious, naïve, Western world to repentance. Even though we are in God's hands, we cannot live carelessly, but always must be mindful of Satan's deception.
Bill Onisick, characterizing the Pharisees as separatists, meticulously following man-made rituals and traditions, but oblivious of the weightier matters of the law, examines the deadly leavening of a Pharisee. The Pharisees performed their roles like actors behind mask, wanting the approval of men by his role-playing of piety. Pharisees are condemned for their proud look, their puffed-up attitude, their sowing discord among brethren, and causing contention. If we feel we are better than our brethren, separating ourselves from them either by avoiding them physically or holding hostility against them secretly, we are hypocrites and actors, harboring the leavening of the Pharisees in us. We need to rid ourselves of the pretentious hypocrisy of the Pharisees and avail ourselves of a pure humble heart, pouring out agape love to our brethren.
Martin Collins, initially focusing on the commission of God's prophets as God's watchmen and messengers, switches his emphasis to the false prophets, those promoting the broad way, giving people what they want to hear. In the Roman Catholic Church, every month of the year was at one time a birth month of Christ. Finally, the Pagan date for the rebirth of the sun, or Saturnalia, was selected to resolve the hopelessly confused issue. Prophets, who falsely speak in God's name, prophesying lies, are particularly odious to God Almighty, causing people to go into captivity. The false prophets lead people away from God's way of life, causing them to forget His name, replacing God's truth with human tradition, telling people what they want to hear. Penalties were severe in Deuteronomy 13:1-5, proscribing the death penalty for falsehood. Christ warned against false prophets in the Sermon on the Mount and the Olivet prophecy, both from outside and inside the church, promising liberty by preaching against the Law of God. Even though the false prophets and teachers are subtle, they are easy to identify if one examines the fruit. The law of biogenesis demonstrates that good fruit cannot come from a bad tree. Even though they may be persuasive and gentle, promising liberty, they deliver depression and discouragement, and like wolves, desire to tear the flock to shreds.
II Corinthians 6:14-16 contains a warning that good and evil do not mix, so as Christians, we must be careful to avoid having anything to do with what is wrong. Highlighting Proverbs 8:13, David Grabbe reveals that the fear of God plays a significant role in ridding evil from our lives.
The world is so full of lying and other forms of deceit that "bearing false witness" has become a way of life for the vast majority of humanity. In discussing the ninth commandment, John Ritenbaugh reveals the relationship between telling the truth and faithfulness, virtues that are necessary parts of an effective witness.
The biblical city of Smyrna, whose church received one of Christ's seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3, may be one that Bible students know the least about. In explaining Jesus' message to this church, David Grabbe shows how the city's name helps to reveal the themes that the Head of the church wants us to understand as His return nears.
The Bible reveals a definite pattern of God's displeasure with acts of presumption. John Ritenbaugh expounds several of these circumstances, showing that God's justice is always consonant with His righteousness—and that we should be grateful for His mercy, as we are all guilty of this sin.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that several parallels exist in the account of Balaam and one's approach to God. As God's children, we have to be on guard against people who are intimidated by righteousness and will seek to destroy its practice. Balaam, motivated by self-interest, believing that the ends justify the means, willing to do anything to get his way, shows himself spiritually inferior to a donkey when it comes to yielding to God's correction. The Laodicean, motivated by blind self-interest and the wages of unrighteousness, totally oblivious to the consequences, imitates Balaam's approach to God. In evaluating the Balaam episode in Numbers 22, we would do better to imitate the donkey than her master.
What is the difference between reputation and character? Which is more important? Ultimately, our character should be the foundation of our reputation.
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.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that unless the splinters of the greater church of God repair their mangled relationships with the Almighty, recoupling will be impossible. A major contributory factor in the scattering is the deceitful heart of man (Jeremiah 17:9) and carnal nature (Romans 8:7) which attempts to substitute charm and social skills (passing it off as conversion) for sincerity and a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17, Isaiah 66:3). Because God's scrutiny penetrates right through to the inner heart (I Samuel 16:7), it is foolish and pointless to use the same duplicity toward Him as we use to deceive others and sadly, even ourselves.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that God is not in the torturing business but in the creating business, using calamities as part of His creative process. As Jacob's spiritual descendants or the Israel of God, we possess some of the same faithless proclivities as Jacob had before the decisive wrestling match at which time God prevailed. The scattering of the greater church of God has been brought about by casual indifference, deceit, and ultimately spiritual adultery (idolatry), leading to a fatal deterioration of first love. Like Jacob, who initially succumbed to weak faith and fear, we, as Jacob's spiritual seed, have to do what he did and repent of our loss of devotion to God and His purpose.
The Ninth Commandment: You Shall Not Bear False Witness.
John Ritenbaugh warns us against blaming our sins on something other than ourselves. God holds us personally responsible for our part in any sin (James 1: 12-16). Joseph's example proves that even the most difficult temptation can be resisted and overcome, though this skill must be developed incrementally. Joseph's early preparation gave him the ability to make the best out of any situation. The conclusion of Joseph's story shows a remarkable metamorphosis in his brothers—from hardness of heart to softness and compassion. Like Christ, Joseph's integrity and steadfastness provided the conditions for his brothers' repentance and eventual reconciliation.
John Ritenbaugh indicts modern Israel for its blatant hypocrisy, playing games with God's truth. A community can only be established upon a foundation of stability and truth. The two most influential persons in any community are the preacher and king — roles that our Elder Brother Jesus has rightfully assumed by virtue of His inherent embodiment of truth. The Ninth Commandment carries some striking harmonic parallels with the Third Commandment, the latter regulating the quality of our relationships with others as the former regulates the quality of our relationship with God. God wants our relationship with other men to be based upon His truth, establishing a solid reputation for honesty, faithfulness, and reliability. Conversion (and being a good witness) hinges upon recognizing, submitting to, and embracing truth, totally uncovering and displacing any deceptive shameful hidden things in our lives.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates Christ's superior qualifications as High Priest. After the change from the Aaronic to the Melchizedek priesthood, it was also necessary to bring about a major change in the Covenant. The flaw in the Old Covenant was not in the law, but stemmed from the fleshly, deceitful, carnal hearts of mankind. All zealous rededications to the Old Covenant (such as that of Josiah) ultimately failed. In order to fulfill the New Covenant, God has had to perform a heart transplant operation, replacing the deceitful stony heart with a pure undefiled heart (a heart predisposed to keep God's law in both the letter and spirit by means of His Holy Spirit), enabling us to incrementally know God and to absorb His divine nature), an event prophesied by Jeremiah. The Old Covenant made no provision for the forgiveness sin, nor did it contain any means for man's nature to be transformed into God's divine nature.
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