David C. Grabbe: Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns about false prophets, who appear one way yet conceal something spiritually deadly (Matthew 7:15-20). Despite not providing many specifics ...
David Grabbe, focusing on Christ's warning about false prophets in His Sermon on the Mount, cautions us that every belief will produce something, either pointing us toward or away from God. The false prophet conceals something deadly, which will eventually yield poisonous or toxic spiritual fruit. If the belief derives from God's Holy Spirit, we reap love, joy, and peace. As Paul chastised the Corinthians for their divisiveness, each clinging to his hero or champion teacher, he also intimated that a fifth teacher seemed to be influencing them, a teacher syncretizing God's doctrines with the 'wisdom' of the age, using contemporary, philosophy, sociology, or psychology to adulterate the purity of doctrine with Gnosticism. evolution, or something far worse, all deriving their power from the prince and power of the air, the current ruler of the earth. All of these deadly admixtures will produce a bumper crop of bad fruit. As the human body is able to adjust to changes in the environment, our nervous system adjusts to darkness, stench, pollution, profanity, and every form of evil. What was once repulsive may now seem normal or tolerable. The media has corrupted the integrity of our consciences. The wisdom of this age literally saps spiritual growth. When our prior fellowship, after the new regime took over, imbibed of fallacious doctrines, our fellowship harvested an abundant crop of poisoned, contaminated fruit.
David Grabbe, pointing out that not all of God's servants are given the same marching orders (planting, watering, etc) maintains that planting seed (preaching the Gospel to the world) is only the beginning of the phase. Our function is not and has never been adding members to the Body of Christ; God alone determines who the first fruits are. The Church has always sequentially planted seeds, watered, and then cultivated the first fruits, making them ready for harvest, tasks always occurring under God's supervision. The Church of the Great God, pastured by John Ritenbaugh, has undertaken to continue to cultivate the ground planted and watered by Herbert W. Armstrong, edifying and bringing its members closer to the stature of Christ. While feeding the flock is the highest priority, CGG has not hidden from the world as many misinformed critics in the other splinter groups have implied. The CGG has become a resource center serving many of the other groups also following the Way, with the Forerunner going out to 63,000 subscribers, the Berean Bible Study, going out to 113,000 subscribers per day, and 3 million e-mails processed every month. Judging the quality of our work by purely physical standards (i.e. the number of television stations one has acquired or the number of co-workers one has attained) is not a measure of spiritual growth, and to equate it with spiritual growth in rank Laodiceanism. Spiritual growth is determined by quality of our relationship with God.
Richard Ritenbaugh observes that the self-indulgent, immoral culture of Corinth parallels today's America and the current fractured state of the church. Paul, before he gives the Corinthians a corrective message on factions and party spirit, reminds them that they are sanctified members of Christ's body, which should not be divided by schism. He pleads with them to present a united front, all adhering to the same doctrines. Getting rid of pride and selfish ambition makes attaining unity as genuine Christians very difficult. Ironically, fractures or schisms in the church serve as a litmus test, distinguishing those faithful who really belong to Christ. Our ultimate responsibility is to zig and zag with Christ in faith, and not become deceived or distracted by human reason. A true, godly minister does not draw people to himself, but instead to Jesus Christ and the Father. Not placing Christ at the forefront will lead to carnal-mindedness and retardation of spiritual growth and maturity.
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.
John Ritenbaugh provides the rationale of this phase of the church's work- what and why the Church of the Great God is doing what it is doing. In this time of scattering, God is testing our loyalty to Him, correcting deficiencies that will keep us out of His Kingdom. Despite the untested Protestant assumption that "the work" of God is preaching the Gospel to the world, nowhere does the combination of words "preaching the gospel to the world is the work of God" appear in the Bible. Though it is part of the work, it is only a small part. The hardest part of God's work is the feeding of the flock the full counsel of God, to get the called-out ones ready to enter the God-family (in His Spiritual image)-especially considering the cesspool of heresy and apostasy from which we have been rescued. God engineered the scattering for our own good, enabling experiences to restore faith and attain the full stature of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon two sets of verses (Colossians 2:16-18; Galatians 4:9-10) which Protestant theologians have blasphemously charged that Paul was referring to God's Law, Sabbath, and Holy Days as weak and beggarly elements of the world. In both instances Paul was not referring to keeping the Holy Days at all, but instead an attempt by some in those congregations to syncretize Gnostic asceticism with the keeping of Holy Days, perverting their right use, in addition to bringing in superstitious lucky days, months, and seasons from pagan customs involving demon worship. In both contexts, Paul admonishes these congregations that the object of our faith must be Christ (including keeping His Commandments) rather than demons or human tradition.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that our concept of time is vastly different from God's, indicates that our spiritual pilgrimage (including our participation in the work of God) is largely a matter of faith, not sight. If we see God in the picture, we will not be impatient, but will be carefully evaluating the evidence whether or not God is opening doors. The work of God does not always stay the same, continually shifting media, techniques, and approaches- following a zig-zagging cloud. The work has variously been concerned with building an ark, rebuilding a wall, preaching to the public, etc, but the focus was always on the furtherance of the Word of God. We need to make sure that we are not running where God has not sent us. Our approach to government ought to be voluntary (internally controlled) but unconditional submission to God's family structured hierarchical authority.
At the beginning of chapter 18, Paul arrives in Corinth, befriended by Roman expatriates Priscilla and Aquila, devout individuals very important in Paul's ministry, both economically and spiritually. Paul's spirits are additionally revived and energized at receiving good news from Silas and Timothy, leading him to be more aggressive and bold. With this new-found energy, Paul encountered some new persecution but also saw his work bear fruit; he was driven from the synagogue, but paradoxically won over the leader of the synagogue, Crispus, to Christianity. A potential problem and source of persecution is quickly resolved by the new Roman consul, Gallio, who, upon refusing to get involved in what he considers an intramural squabble in the Jewish church, gives Christianity legal status in the Roman empire. At the conclusion of the chapter, we become acquainted with the eloquent new convert Apollos, whose deficit in knowledge and understanding is filled in by Priscilla and Aquila.
John Ritenbaugh reflects that the book of Hebrews is perhaps the least understood, most complex and most scholarly of all the books in the New Testament. However, in terms of spiritual insight, it is a pivotal book, whose function is to bridge the purposes and themes of the Old and New Testaments. It focuses on the work of a Master—the Son of God—who has done something far superior than anyone else has ever done. The primary purpose for this combination treatise-sermon-epistle was to encourage a group of people, presumably Jews in Rome or Judea, who lived at a close of an era and were bewildered and weary of well-doing, to maintain their resolve to continue their spiritual journey.
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