David Grabbe, cuing in the foundational scripture in Matthew 6:33, that we should seek first the Kingdom of God, reminds us that this admonition was placed in the midst of an admonition not to worry or take anxious thought, but instead to calmly set priorities. Seeking after righteousness is not necessarily synonymous with searching, but is instead an active moving toward all possible contexts of this fulfillment, now and in the future. The Kingdom refers to the future fulfillment of God's established kingdom, but it has partial fulfillment now when we consider that a kingdom must have a ruler, laws, subjects, and territory. The first three have already been partially fulfilled. Even when Christ told the Pharisees that the kingdom was in their midst, He served as the representative of the coming kingdom (while they were actively shutting people off from the kingdom, their eyes blurred to the King and Lawgiver). Those whom God has called serve as His subjects, both as they overcome in the flesh and at their resurrection in the Kingdom of God. Those whom God has called out are obligated to keep Christ's laws,as well as accept His sacrifice. We are obligated to continue pursuing righteousness as part of His royal priesthood, allowing Him to inscribe His laws on our hearts, remembering that He is the end (not the termination, but the goal) of actively leading a righteous life by the royal law, a life we cannot live without God's Holy Spirit.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the verdict of the macabre case in North Carolina, in which a couple had been collecting welfare benefits for an adopted daughter who had been mysteriously missing for two years, concludes that Judge Thomas Schroeder acted within the principles of biblical law, even though the majority of the citizenry would have liked to see the parents executed. Physical evidence failed to convict these scoundrels of anything more than welfare fraud. Real justice can only be based on the truth, potentially dangerous to the perpetrator or the victim. Though the Old and New Testament are complementary to one another, with the apostles directly quoting from the prophets, establishing Jesus Christ's Messianic identity, the emphasis of justice in the New Testament switches from national to personal in scope, from the nation of Israel to the Israel of God (the Church). The New Testament builds on and amplifies the Old Testament. Jesus magnifies the Law, fusing external motor behavior (or deeds) with internal psychological motivation. All sin begins as thought. Matthew 5: 17-20 encapsulates Christ's change in approach, taking the elementary literalist approach of the Pharisees into the real heart of the matter, focusing on what could and should be done on the Sabbath as opposed to what cannot be done. From the New Testament applications amplifying Old Testament principles, we find legal tenets practiced consistently in Israelitish countries, such as the need for two or three witnesses, protection against mob rule, penalties for frivolous lawsuits and hasty litigation, the principle of recompense and equity, conflict of interest considerations, separation of church and state, penalties against collusion, legitimate use of civil rights, and judicial clearing. While we are still learning the ropes of godly judging, we are commanded to refrain from presumptuously passing or executing judgment until Christ gives us our credentials.
Martin Collins indicates that, even though II and III John are the shortest books of the Bible, they do contain significant themes, amplifying the contents of I John, emphasizing the fellowship with God. II and III John, addressed to elders in supporting local churches, advocate hospitality to legitimate teachers and forbid supporting false teachers. II John provides tests of life, determining authenticity of genuine believers, as well as advocating faithfulness in large and small responsibilities, including the friends with which one chooses to associate, realizing that true wisdom is the right application of spiritual language. No conflict should ever exist between the spirit and the letter of the Law. The message of II John has special application today, where the church is also besieged by perennial schisms and heresies, not unlike the kind of problems experienced in the Corinthian congregation. Love for the truth automatically leads to love for one another within the congregation. A common commitment to the truth is the foundation of genuine Christian fellowship. In our quest for unity, we can never compromise with the truth. True love between brethren is impossible without an equal love for the truth, leading to a perpetual walking in the light of truth, elevating the Word of God over the traditions of man and every wind of questionable doctrine which inevitably leads to lawlessness. We have the obligation to test everything presented to our minds, examining it against the standard of the Scriptures, holding fast to the truth, filtering out and discarding any toxic prevarications.
When we study, it is always a good practice to study a verse or passage in context. The Parable of the Cloth and the Wineskins is a good example of why we should do this, since the parable concludes a much longer narrative. David Grabbe provides an overview of the context and then uses it to draw deeper meaning and application from the parable.
John Reid reminds us that even though the Pharisees had a corrupt form of righteousness, because they were in the office or seat of Moses, we should follow their instructions (pertaining to the Law of God), but not follow their hypocritical personal examples. The Pharisee, by contrasting himself with others, felt superior to others, having an exaggerated confidence in himself. To exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, we must use the magnification of the Law in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:17) to move our perception or understanding from the letter to the spirit of the Law, loving the Lord with all our might and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40), having mercy and patience with others as God has had mercy and patience with us. In addition, we should not separate ourselves from our brethren as had the Pharisees, but seek the fellowship of our fellow servants, ministering to their needs as we have the opportunity thereby ministering to Jesus Christ. By emphasizing the dimension of mercy and love, Jesus placed the bar much higher than could be attained by the Pharisees.
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount contains a concise explanation of what it takes to be a Christian. John Reid puts the spotlight on Matthew 5:38-42, explaining the spiritual principles behind the 'above and beyond' attitude.
Martin Collins contends that the effectiveness of a law is found in its purpose and intent rather than the letter. The blind spots to God's Law unfortunately are found in the spiritual application or principle rather than a specific motor behavior. Christ taught that the righteousness of the Pharisees was not enough to fulfill the law's requirements. Love and mercy constitute the essence of the spiritual fulfillment of the Law. God's Holy Spirit enables us to carry out the spiritual intent of the Law. By continually using God's Spirit, we gradually or incrementally take on God's nature in our innermost beings. As we judge other people, we must realize that the things that offend us mirror our own (hidden from us but transparent to others) faults.
Many people, even in the church, fail to understand the kind of righteousness God is looking for. David Maas shows that God wants it written on our hearts—not just a set of dos and don'ts or rewards and punishments.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that the command to eat unleavened Bread outnumbers the command to refrain from eating leavened bread three to one, indicating that if we actively engaged ourselves in studying God's word and doing righteousness, we wouldn't have time or place to participate in unrighteousness. Ingesting God's word and actively applying its principles gives us life-sustaining energy to fulfill our personal commission.The book of James had to be written as a counterbalance to antinomian elements that had crept into the church around 60AD, twisting Paul's writings, teaching that grace nullifies the need for works — a condition which has an eerie parallel today. James emphasizes the works required for sanctification after the justification process has been completed. Doing good, like eating unleavened bread, is proactive, displacing sin by righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh explores the role of human nature in the fatal attraction to sin. Though relatively neutral at its inception, human nature is subject to a deadly magnetic pull toward self-centeredness, deceit, and sin (Jeremiah 17:9). By the time God calls us, we are hopelessly ensnared and enslaved by sin. To counteract this deadly pull, we must imitate Christ's standard of active righteousness (going about doing good; Acts 10:38) as opposed to the Pharisee's more passive righteousness (a meticulous, reactive avoidance of evil). The sins of omission (the majority of our sins), neglect, and ignorance have the tendency to dissolve when we practice Christ's standard of active righteousness.
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
In this message, John Ritenbaugh, using the parable of Luke 11:24-28, admonishes that being cleaned up (or purged of leaven) is only the beginning of the growth process. To be made clean only prepares us for producing fruit. God's concern is for us to mature spiritually. If we stand still (resting on the laurels of our justification), the dark forces are going to pull us backwards. Uselessness invites disaster. We have to get away from the negative fixation of not doing and begin concentrating on doing. The consequences of not bearing fruit are graphically described in John 15:6. God's purpose, once we are cleaned, is to produce growth in us.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon a singular disaster to befall modern Israel, involving captivity-largely as a result of its shameless toleration of rising violent crime. God ordained capital punishment, but because of the flawed legal system, with the exceptions for insanity, youth, and police mistakes, the deterrent value has been rendered ineffective in modern Israel. The prison system, actually producing academies for learning crime, is pitifully inferior to God's system of justice. Nevertheless, resisting civil governmental authority (a buffer against chaos) is tantamount to resisting God's authority. People who reinforce in themselves the habit of rebellion (resisting God's as well as man's authority) will be mercifully terminated in a lake of fire. Jesus, by emphasizing the spirit of the law, places deterrents on the motive- preventing the actual murderous deed from ever taking place. Brooding anger, bitterness, resentment, revenge, and scorn constitute the activating motives for actual murder. We need to develop the maturity and faith to allow God to take vengeance rather than presumptuously taking this prerogative upon ourselves. Christ teaches that we also need to learn to (with the help of God's Holy Spirit) proactively promote peace by attending to the physical needs of our 'enemies,' responding as Christ would respond.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the people to whom Amos addresses have the mistaken assumption that because they have made the covenant with God that they complacently bask in a kind of divine favoritism—God's country, God's people, God's church. God's holy and spiritual law, describing and defining His standard of holiness, His character, nature, or essence, serves as the template into which our character needs to be formed or molded. The combination of the redeeming and the law-giving aspects of God's nature determines the plumb line against which all of us are judged. Jacob's descendents, embracing false religion (after the idolatrous, syncretistic manner of Jeroboam I) have severely placed a strain upon God's patience. As members of the Israel of God, we must assiduously measure up to God's plumb line, insisting upon positive moral purity in all our thoughts and behaviors, avoiding sin by doing good—a course that will put us totally out of sync with the rest of society—a society ripe in sin and immorality, begging for harsh correction.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that chapter 18 provides instructions to how to get along in the church. Jesus teaches a parable contrasting the enormity of what we are forgiven to what we forgive others. Our forgiveness by God is directly connected with our forgiveness of our brother; blessed is the merciful for they will obtain mercy. The Creator's life is worth more than the entire creation; offenses against us are a mere drop in the bucket compared to our sins against God. Gentile women became proselytes to Judaism because of the better treatment of women in the Bible as opposed to their treatment in Gentile religion. Sadly there was a wide variance between the ideal and the practice since the Jewish culture of that time also considered the woman a possession of her husband or father with no legal rights except those granted to her by her husband. Religious leaders, influenced by Hillel's liberal approach to divorce could grant divorces for trivial reasons. Jesus explained the original intent of marriage with Adam and Eve, who were explicitly designed for one another with no competition. Moses, because of the hardness of peoples' hearts allowed for a bill of divorcement as a temporary concession to their unconverted heart and mind, in order to prevent wholesale adultery. Uncleanness of heart is really the only real grounds for divorce, usually preceded by the unconverted mate leaving. In the case of desertion by the other mate, the converted person is free to marry. The ideal God intended in marriage can only be attained by those with God's spirit, with Christ living in them. Jesus admonishes us that we should emulate certain qualities of innocence and trust displayed by children as we become mature adults.