Martin Collins, taking the apostle Paul's cue that persecution expresses our relationship to Christ, suggests that persecution involves a wide spectrum, ranging from torture, physical beating, social excommunication, imprisonment and death—fates endured by the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11. Paul did not ask for the harassment and persecution he endured, but maintained that everything which befell him proved to be for the ultimate good of spreading the Gospel. Because of his impeccable witness, the entire Palace Guard at Rome received testimony, some persuaded to the point of conversion. Ironically, jealousy from other 'Christian' factions probably led to Paul's execution rather than persecution from the outside, a harbinger for those living in end-time persecution. The churches in Revelation 2-3 all receive their portion of persecution, but God promises deliverance and reward for those who endure. In the current diaspora of the Greater Church of God, the trials and problems are not much different than those of the first century, and Christ still promises boldness to those who see the big picture. Our boldness and confidence should match that of Paul's trusting in God to give us strength to overcome or endure, following Christ's example of esteeming others above ourselves, even those who maliciously abuse us, realizing that God will open their eyes at the right time. God will never disappoint us, but will give us His Holy Spirit and mind to navigate the spiritual minefield. Like Paul, we need to realize that all things, horrible and pleasant, will work God's ultimate purpose and our good.
Martin Collins, reiterating that Romans 8 provides assurance that we are of God, asks us to consider that the sufferings we go through now are miniscule compared to the glory which we will later receive, completely eclipsing the glory of Adam and Eve before their fall. Our suffering is temporal, fleeting, and momentary, as compared to our glory which will be eternal. Though our outer body wastes away, our inner being waxes more powerful. Sadly, we are limited by our mortality and our materialism from seeing the full picture which God has been revealing to us; Paul wants us to take the time to think it though. The whole material creation has been subject to futility; we groan, Creation and the Holy Spirit, both personified by Paul, groan. Nature is not a self-perfecting entity, but an entity subject to decay and entropy. People who do not know God will either worship or destroy the creation instead of worshipping its Creator. Either way, they are slaves to nature, cursed by Adam's sin. We, as God's called out ones, also groan waiting for our redemption into spirit bodies, enabling us to see God as He is. Our groaning is more akin to the expectant groaning of a woman in childbirth, awaiting a new life. Childbirth pangs last relatively for a short time compared to the aftermath blessing. We groan in hope, realizing that our bodies will be delivered in future glory, when we experience adoption into the very family of God, the final trajectory of our hope.
Clyde Finklea, acknowledging that life is full of good and bad times, directs us to learn the lesson of Ecclesiastes 7:13-14, to rejoice when times are good and to reflect soberly when times are bad, realizing that adversity or suffering is a tool that God uses to create something beautiful in us. Suffering always hurts, just as renovation on an old building involves tearing out something undesirable to transform it into something pleasant and useful.. The apostle Paul developed incredible spiritual strength by being tested to his limits in what he described as a trial or affliction beyond his capability of handling. Later he developed confidence to shake off a poisonous serpent, trusting in God to heal him. What he had earlier described as “burdened beyond our capacity” he later characterized as a momentary light affliction. To mature us, God uses trials to (1) render us capable of comforting others in their affliction, (2) prevent us from trusting in ourselves, but to motivate us to trust unconditionally in God, and (3) enable us to thank God for our newly acquired strength to endure greater trials and challenges. Whatever we face, God is able to provide us the strength to endure, enabling us to exponentially grow spiritually.
Mike Fuhrer: For some inexplicable reason, some mainstream Christians—and even some true ones—will read a verse of Scripture and assume that it applies to them personally. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting that all of us have anticipated a magic day, like graduating, getting married, birth of children and grandchildren, or getting a promotion, cautions that we must be prepared to wait for the event to happen, living our lives one day at a time. We get ourselves ready for that special day. In the last eleven chapters of the book of Numbers, our forebears spent considerable time waiting, until the first generation who rebelled had perished. Their descendants had grown into a large group, waiting for their time to enter the Promised Land. Are we experiencing the same sensation, waiting in a holding pattern? God wants us to develop patience as we wait for the Kingdom of God. The last chapters in Numbers describe a hard-to-endure, lengthy holding pattern—not much happened. But significant things did occur during that time. The plodders will be the ones to make it into the Kingdom; God calls us to follow Him as obedient children, teachable and leadable. The second generation of Israelites were more teachable as obedient children, unlike their recalcitrant, rebellious parents. Joshua, a type of Jesus, took over the leadership of the people (as a military leader and a shepherd), bringing the gospel of the Promised Land. The antitype of Joshua, Jesus Christ, brought significant change—elevating the law above the letter to the realm of the spirit, laying bare the contents of the mind or heart. We have been called into the chosen generation, a royal priesthood, with minds transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We are required to bring sacrifices of a broken spirit and contrite heart. God wants us to eradicate every single sin, from secret to blatant. As we are waiting to enter the Promised man, we must learn to judge with revealed wisdom.
Affliction seems to be an integral part of Christianity. Our Savior Jesus Christ and His apostles suffered a great deal during their ministries, and though modern Christians' burdens cannot compare to theirs, they are still significant enough to cause great pain. Pat Higgins demonstrates the relative nature of Christian affliction, urging believers to take the Bible's long view of their suffering.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that Ecclesiastes 7 contains some of the most significant concepts applicable to the Christian religion, identifies them as follows: (1) A good name or reputation (based on trust, responsibility, or dependability) is better than gold and silver. (2) We should prepare for our eventual death, faithfully carrying out our God-given responsibilities. (3) Sorrow is better than laughter because we learn more from difficult times than we do from good times. (4) The heart of the wise disciplines itself to make use of difficult times. (5) We should not regret correction from someone who has gone through what we are going through. (6) We should not let impatience get the better of us, realizing that anger rests in the bosom of fools. (7) We should not look back, regretting our commitment, but continue to plow ahead as the best defense. (8) We should not lose sight of God, realizing that even in the bleakest trial, a better day is coming. Some trials are more difficult than others, but we should use them to diligently search for wisdom. Solomon felt he was only partially successful in finding answers to the paradox of life: why life is so difficult and why we have the problems we do. We cannot control life, but we can control our reactions to it. Solomon exercised a lifetime of hard work trying to find answers, but fell short because some things are discoverable only through God's revelation. Some things which were not yet revealed to Solomon are now being revealed to us. God is not responsible for the bad things which happen on earth or in our lives, but as we yield to the siren song of sin emanating from Satan and his demons, promising 'control' over our destiny, we bring destruction on ourselves. We must know that the desire to sin can be resisted as long as we resist evil and evil companions. We must deliberately choose to follow God's purpose for us to eternal life.
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.
The spiritual paradox that Solomon relates in Ecclesiastes 7:15 is followed by a warning of danger about a Christian's reaction to it. John Ritenbaugh assures us that confounding trials are not punishments from God for unrighteousness but tests of faith in which He is intimately involved to prepare us for the world to come.
The apostle Paul endured tremendous hardship, and his example teaches us that we have the ability—and even responsibility—to choose how we let our circumstances affect us. Paul had to decide whether to let his circumstances weigh him down or to rise above them so God could use him. ...
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that Christ died to free us from fear of eternal death, reminds us that we nevertheless have the obligation to prepare for our physical death. When Jesus Christ holds the power over fear of death, we are delivered from the bondage of the terror of eternal death. In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon gives a series of "this is better than that" observations, with the common denominator that wisdom seems to carry more sadness and sorrow than mirth or foolishness, placing a higher value on rebuke than on praise. Even a rebuke from an enemy, which may rouse our anger or resentment, may be valuable for our character development. Both David and our Savior Jesus Christ endured rebuke without retaliating. Retaliation as a response to rebuke is a sure sign of character deficit. Some counsel resembles the useless fuel function of thorns—a quick burst of light, but very little heat. Accepting rebuke often takes more humility than we may have. Rebuke from a wise or righteous person, though painful, is motivated by love and caring concern. The Book of Ecclesiastes was written for converted people, not for the world. Only through a proper perspective of the reality of physical (and eternal) death can a person actually prepare for his ultimate fate. The apostle Paul could not have grown spiritually if he had not received a series of painful rebukes, accompanied by a low quality of life. Paul was able to see the big picture, realizing the end was better than the beginning as long as he was faithful. Because of his faithful endurance of godly rebuke, Paul's reputation following his death transcended anything he experienced in his lifetime.
Clyde Finklea: Thirty-nine years ago, I observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread for the first time. I remember during those early years, getting the leaven out was heavily stressed. Understanding that leaven represents sin and corruption ...
The word “suffering” probably means something a little different to each of us, based on our own experiences and perhaps on our fears. Most likely, somewhere in our minds is the thought of ...
In this keynote message of the 2006 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh again alludes to the handwriting is on the wall episode in Daniel 5:5, reminding us that power belongs to God. David also states this in Psalm 62:11. Paul realized that only through using his reciprocity to strengthen his relationship with God was he able to both abound and be abased (Philippians 4:4). When we are in trouble, we, like David, need to contact God first. God is the only sure place of protection. When we are in deep distress, why not go directly to the top? To those who now believe, there is no being more trustworthy than God.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the Father and the Son are two distinct beings, not co-equal as the trinity doctrine proclaims, but having a superior-subordinate relationship, with the Son deferring to the Father in all things. Likewise, we will be in the same God Family, but in subordinate positions to the Father and the Son. The Son provides the blueprint for us, aggressively submitting to the will of the Father, using the Holy Spirit to bring every thought into captivity. Sometimes we may do right and not receive smooth-going, as demonstrated by the harrowing experiences of the apostles. In imitating Christ, we have to learn to endure hardness, battling a life-and-death struggle with our carnal minds, totally submitting to God by walking perpetually in the Spirit, being transformed from carnal nature to the glorious character and image of God. Our submission to the Father and Christ will never end, just as Christ's submission to the Father will never end.
Some of us cannot seem to realize a blessing if it slaps us across the face! Mark Schindler, in recounting a personal story, shows how ingratitude can hold us back in our relationship with God.
Luke, the writer of the gospel of that name and the book of Acts, is more significant to the New Testament than it may first appear. Though he cast the spotlight on others like Christ and Paul, what we know of his life contains lessons we can use.
We may not realize it, but our Christian lives are constantly under construction. It is this point of view that will make it easier for us to deal with both spiritual setbacks and progress.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that having an objective orientation (other centered approach) rather than a subjective orientation (self-centered apprach) leads to unity and reconciliation. As members of Christ's collective body, we must exercise those self-restraining and self-controlling godly attributes of walking worthy, having lowliness of mind, meekness, patience, and forbearance- all elements of love demonstrating a practical application for guarding the unity of the spirit.In the present scattering, permitted by Almighty God, the group that one fellowships with is less important than the understanding that there is one true church, bound by a spiritual, not a physical unity.
John Ritenbaugh, soberly reflecting on the $19 trillion dollar national debt and with 25% of American private citizens two days away from bankruptcy, he warns that the prudent shouldn't continue to live in a fool's paradise, but should make common sense preparations, like the ant, (Proverbs 6:6-8) storing up provisions for at least a season. Prophetic warnings are given to motivate preparation. Both the watchman and the one who hears (Ezekiel 3:17) have a grave responsibility to make prudent economic and spiritual preparations for bad times, tightening belts, helping themselves and others through the tough times.
John Ritenbaugh poses the question of whether technology really improves our character or quality of life. Are we really better people because we ride around in cars rather than walk? Technology, because of the spin it puts on expectations, can be a great source of discouragement and disillusionment when applying this heightened sense of expectation to God's seemingly slow and deliberate performance. Technology makes us susceptible to the 'quick fix' mentality, expecting dramatic miraculous solutions to all problems, making us susceptible to frauds and even deceptive demonic influence (Matthew 24:24; II Thessalonians 2:9-10; Revelation 13:13). When it comes to developing character, a quick fix miracle will not substitute for patient overcoming. God only works miracles consistent with His purpose (bearing witness to truth), not for any selfish desires on our part.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that pride comes about in a person because of a perverted comparison—a comparison that will elevate one above another, make one feel better than another, or more deserving than others. Because of its arrogant self-sufficiency, it stands between our relationship with God, the source of all true spirituality and spiritual gifts. Pride, subtly elevating man to the same level of God (a perverted comparison) results in his rejecting the very gifts God would give him for his salvation. Our dependence upon God for what we are and what we know is essential for the production of humility. The truly humble, realizing their dependence, cry out to God continually for help—all the way through life into the resurrection.
In this study, John Ritenbaugh teaches us that Abraham's iron clad faith was developed incrementally as a result of calculating or "adding it all up," matching the promises of God (perceiving His overall intent) with the current situation, realizing from his ongoing relationship with God, that it was impossible for Him to lie. We learn from Abraham's experience to trust God even when we have incomplete data. We learn from Abraham's experience, that when we attempt to take the expedient way out (embracing a carnal or worldly solution), we will run into grave difficulties- forcing us back to the fundamentals of faith. As descendents of Abraham, we must learn to trust God, forming an on-going relationship with Him, realizing that God's ways and the world's ways do not mix.
John Ritenbaugh gives us empathy for the apostle Paul, graphically portraying his physical hardships involving more than 6,500 miles of perilous foot- and sea-travel. Through the eyes of various secular, contemporary histories, we vicariously experience his difficulties working his trade, problems with lawless communities, frequent inclement weather, unsanitary inn accommodations, dangers from wild animals, hazardous ship travel, overbearing treatment from Roman soldiers, etc. The study then shifts to an introduction to the book of Lamentations, focusing on grim hardships (similar to Paul's perils) Christians may face in the future.
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 explores the connection between feelings or emotions (specifically controlling temper) and health, suggesting that the scriptures are seemingly light years ahead of scientific inquiry. Also the inextricable connection between ceremonial sacrifices and new moons preclude any current obligations to religiously observe new moons. At the beginning of Acts 16, we notice that Paul, by circumcising Timothy, demonstrates a reluctance to flaunt his religious liberty, preferring instead to exercise cautious conservative expediency. The first European convert to Christianity was Lydia, a generous, hospitable woman. The beating and false imprisonment of Paul and Silas (for casting out a demon- upsetting local customs) followed by their miraculous release (when an earthquake shook the prison to its foundations) brought about several positive outcomes: (1) The conversion of the bewildered jailer and his family, (2) Protection for local converts to Christianity,(3) Protection for future evangelists coming through the region, and (4)Correction of local authorities for rushing to judgment, having imprisoned a Roman citizen (a punishable offense in the Roman colony of Philippi). This dramatic episode underscores God's proclivity for turning something initially evil into something good in the long run.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the martyrdom of Stephen, largely instigated by Hellenistic Jews, actually had the paradoxical dramatic effect of spreading the Gospel into Gentile venues, enabling individuals like Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, upon repentance, belief, and baptism to be added to the fellowship. Even more remarkable in this section of Acts was the miraculous dramatic conversion of the zealous learned Pharisee Saul (virtually handpicked by Jesus Christ and rigorously trained in Arabia for three years) into Paul the Apostle, fashioned (his intense zeal redirected or refocused) for great accomplishment as well as great suffering. Like Jeremiah and John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul was sanctified in his mother's womb, set apart for a specific purpose. At the conclusion of the chapter we find the account of the resurrection of Tabitha (or Dorcas) following Peter's fervent prayer.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we, like the crowds who rejected Jesus' message, have unconsciously absorbed a whole pre-packaged set of behaviors or attitudes (human traditions) from our culture, sometimes dangerously inhibiting the assimilation of the precious truths of God's Word. One cardinal lesson we glean from the feeding of the five thousand is that when God calls us, He not only realizes our present limitations, but also has a vision of what we can become when we combine our meager capabilities with His infinite power. Unlike the crowds in John 6 who tried to get Jesus to serve their own selfish purposes, our relationship to God should be one of total submission to His will, patterning our lives according to His purpose. The storm the disciples encounter on the Sea of Galilee instructs us that when we are in the midst of a trial getting nowhere, if we invite Christ into the situation (having faith He is near), we will immediately have peace. We glean from Jesus' counsel to the crowd at Capernaum that any attempt to fulfill a deeply felt spiritual need with a physical solution will never give satisfaction, but will instead lead to addiction, perversion, frustration and despair. Our orientation should always be on the spiritual.
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