John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that most of us resemble the Samaritan woman in our understanding of the value of our calling, maintains that our relationship with God is our sole protection from carnal human nature and the deadly pulls of the world. Whatever consumes our time has the power to either edify or distract us. Faith and works are interchangeable components in our salvation, demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship. The apostles Paul and James preached the same message, approaching the faith-works coin from different sides. Faith grounded in truth produces works in agreement with truth. Faith without godly works resembles an automobile without an engine. As a minority religion, God's Church appeared on the world scene in the midst of cultural upheaval. Peter's message on Pentecost led not only to exponential growth, but also to vicious persecution. As God stirred the cultural pot then, so He is doing today, on the cusp of Jesus' return. The frightful conditions during the First Century are only typical of the horrific times yet to come. To weather these horrendous conditions, we will need the encouragement of the Epistle of Hebrews.
Martin Collins, continuing the exposition of the Book of Joel, reiterates that the locust plague serves as a vivid precursor to the impending Day of the Lord. Joel assures the victims of the devastating plague that, if they would repent of their sins, returning to the covenant, the land would become refreshed, prosperity would return, the political threat would be averted, and the years lost to the devastation would be restored. What God promised to physical Israel He promises to the Israel of God—the Church. On Pentecost, 31 AD, God typically fulfilled Joel's prophecy of His Spirit being poured out on all flesh; in the Millennium, He will finally fulfil it. Throughout the Old Testament, God's Spirit was poured out on selected servants who had specific commissions to lead and warn God's people. In the future, a healing of the land, national security, and the restoration of lost years will accrue to the remnants of Israel and ultimately to all mankind. As members of God's royal priesthood, we need to humbly look out for the wellbeing of others, not like Diotrephes, who desired to have pre-eminence, but rather like Jesus Christ, who willingly sacrificed Himself for others. When God's Holy Spirit dwells in us, the most convincing manifestation is our repentance and yielding to God's direction, as manifested in the servant who always carried out his master's will faithfully.
Bill Onisick, reflecting on a theme in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, in which a weatherman (played by Bill Murray, who gets caught in a blizzard he failed to predict, doomed to relive the same day over again until he gets it right) sees a spiritual parallel in our process of overcoming well-entrenched perennial sins. Self-control is a spiritual gift that must be practiced; to not exercise this gift is tantamount to resisting and quenching God's Spirit. As spiritual adolescents, we often develop a defiant resistance to change, change which would ultimately make our lives easier and spiritually functional. If we become stiff-necked, like our ancestors at Sinai, we are clearly not submitting to God's Holy Spirit, sabotaging our overcoming and our path to salvation. Spiritual self-control is activated by regularly studying, meditating, praying, and crying out for more Holy Spirit and exercising it by our behavior.
John Reiss: This past Wednesday, Veterans Day, was the 96th anniversary of what was originally known as Armistice Day, proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson to commemorate the cessation of hostilities ...
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.
Ted Bowling, recollecting a conversation with his late mother about the identity of Philip, the individual who ministered to the Ethiopian eunuch, affirmed that this same Philip was one of the first seven deacons chosen to serve the neglected Grecian widows, providing sorely needed administrative relief. These men were chosen not only for their administrative savvy, but for their good reputation, character, wisdom, fullness of the Holy Spirit, and humility to serve in lowly and thankless positions. Philip served with Stephen, the first New Testament martyr, whose example was evidently instrumental in the calling and conversion of the apostle Paul. With the death of Stephen, Philip stepped in to fill the gap, preaching and serving the needs of the congregation in Samaria, evidently swelling the size of the fellowship with his dynamic preaching, providing Peter with a large number of candidates for baptism. At the peak of this accomplishment, he was removed from this responsibility and sent on another assignment, involving more uncertainty and arduous travel; Philip accepted this charge without complaining or grumbling, being willing to serve in any assigned capacity. When he encountered the Ethiopian eunuch, an official of Queen Candace, he approached the task of helping this single individual to understand with the same alacrity as teaching a multitude, leading to the baptism and conversion of this man. Philip teaches us that we do not have to preach to multitudes in order to be used by God; we never know in what capacity God may use us. As long as we humbly are willing to serve in any capacity, being willing to wash feet, God will find a use for us.
Martin Collins, reflecting on an administrative decision about care of the widows in the early Church (mentioned in Acts 6:1), suggests that dual languages and dual cultures (Greek and Hebrew) led to at a perceived "double standard" in the way welfare was distributed to Jewish and Hellenistic widows. The solution was to select deacons with leadership or organizational capabilities. These deacons were largely of Greek extraction. The necessary qualities of deacons are patterned on the servant-leadership model established by Jesus Christ; a deacon is a servant. Christ does not want His staff to exercise Gentile patterns of tyrannical, top-down leadership, but to humbly serve people without striving for greatness. Jesus taught His disciples how to be servants by washing their feet. Stephen proved himself one of the most effective witnesses, forgiving his enemies just as Christ had previously given the example. His recorded sermon proved a powerful witness outlining the connection of the Old Testament (Israel's History) to the teaching of Christ and the New Covenant, as well as launching the Gospel to the Gentiles. Throughout Israel's history, prophets have been persecuted; Moses had been rejected by his people. According to Stephen, the Jewish leaders had taken on the rebellious attitude of Joseph's brothers. They had murdered the prophets, resisting the Holy Spirit, and had not followed the Law of Moses (as they claimed to have done). The day of the physical temple, according to Stephen, had ended; God is omniscient and omnipotent, dwelling in all locations, choosing representatives from all peoples of the world. Stephen was full of faith, grace, power, light, scripture, and love. Jesus stood as an Advocate and Mediator for Stephen. He will do no less for us. God will, through His Holy Spirit, provide the extraordinary strength we need, giving us the power to be living sacrifices and true witnesses.
As we trudge relentlessly into the time of the end, and the bright summer days continue to be spiritually dark, we frequently cast about for any indicator of how much longer it will be until Jesus Christ returns, bringing the mad rule of man to a close. ...
In this message on God's promises of protection and healing, Richard Ritenbaugh identifies several conditions for receiving them, including God's sovereignty, God's purpose, and one's level of growth. A way to see things "God's way" involves replacing our carnal, egocentric viewpoint with outgoing concern. We must transpose our "me first" attitude with a "you first" one. Nonetheless, God's promises stand, and He is very willing to fulfill them for us.
Over the centuries, God has been disappointed by mankind over and over again. One man who did not disappoint was the deacon Stephen. Find out why he was so special.
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 continues to reflect on Stephen's incendiary message to fellow Hellenistic Jews (ostensibly given in hopes of their repentance), chastising them for their perennial rejection of prophets and deliverers, including the greatest Deliverer ever sent (namely Jesus Christ), clinging instead superstitiously to the land, the law, and the temple. Stephen's 'untimely' martyrdom and his compassion on his persecutors, followed by the protest reaction against his brutal murder (all part of God's divine plan) resulted in a rapid spreading of the Gospel. The study then focuses upon the influence of Simon Magus, a noted practitioner of sorcery or magic who became impressed with the power of God's Holy Spirit, presumptuously offering Peter money to purchase this power for selfish purposes to control others rather than to serve them. Peter recognized the hypocritical, deceitful, impure motives of this request and responded appropriately.
John Ritenbaugh explains that Stephen ignited the ire of the Hellenistic Jews, a group passionately devoted to the temple, law and land as a defensive reaction to their historical scattering. Stephen rebukes them for their reactionary (almost superstitious) devotion to the past or reverence to a specific temple location, advocating instead a pilgrim mentality, realizing that God is not confined to a fixed location. Stephen points out that historically, God has dealt with His people without land or temple, but instead through a series of deliverers (Joseph, Moses, and ultimately, Jesus Christ), initially unrecognized or rejected by their own people. Stephen suggests that his audience has rejected the Deliverer and has replaced it with an idol (of worshiping the temple) as their forefathers had turned to a golden idol, while rejecting God and His living law.
John Ritenbaugh initially focuses upon the execution of Ananias and Sapphira for their deceit and hypocrisy (an event parallel to Aachan's deceit and execution), pretending to have sacrificed more than they actually had. In this same account, Luke records the volatile confrontation of the Apostles (who had been instructed by an angel to stand their ground and not back down) and the Sanhedrin. Amazingly, the Apostles found an ally in a prominent wise Pharisee named Gamaliel, a grandson of Hillel, advocating tolerance to a group he had considered another sect of Judaism. In Acts 6, a bifurcation of the responsibilities of physical serving (such as serving the widows) and spiritual serving (prayer and preaching) takes place (with the understanding that both aspects of serving are intertwined). One of the new appointees to the new physical office, Stephen, boldly proclaimed that Christianity was not just another sect of Judaism, thereby bringing down the wrath of the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
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