Bill Onisick, reflecting on some bizarre psychological and physiological reactions experienced by many sports fanatics, warns us that the competitive spirit to dominate and crush the competitor, not confined to athletic contests, militates against God’s mandate that we esteem others over ourselves. The exalting of self and of putting down others does not square with Jesus Christ’s admonition that we adopt a servant attitude in our relationship with others. The mob competitive spirit apparent in some athletic contests may be an attempt to fill a void left by the destruction of the family. If we allow our desire to dominate and exploit others to get out of control, as some of our political candidates have obviously done, we are taking on the spiritual mark of the beast, conforming our minds to Satan’s prideful and arrogant character. While sports provide many positive benefits, such as teamwork, discipline, respect for authority, and control of emotions, an uncontrolled manipulative, back-stabbing competitive spirit can undo all of the positive benefits. In our relationship with others, we must diffuse all tendencies to hold grudges and resentment, replacing these negative emotions with agape love.
Calling Ecclesiastes 7 "the most significant Old Testament chapter I have studied," John Ritenbaugh summarizes the many lessons Solomon teaches in its twenty-nine verses. Along with its central paradox, the chapter emphasizes the importance of an individual's lifelong search for wisdom, closing with an admonition that mankind has brought his problems on himself.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Romans 8:31-39, cautions us that the study of Ecclesiastes, a work composed by a highly gifted man, was intended for those mature in the faith. Even those with God's Spirit find the book to be difficult, and discover that life must be lived soberly, with orientation above the sun, fearing God and keeping His commandments. Along with Solomon, we must realize, amidst all the confusion under the sun, that everything matters, but that wisdom does not yield its fruit easily. Every day mankind is assailed by temptations to do evil, an assault depicted throughout Scripture as the siren call of a prostitute or temptress, symbolizing any overwhelming addiction and predilection to sin. To a Christian, the most dangerous prostitute is the world's philosophy, extremely enticing to the senses, but endangering our relationship to God, as Solomon's wives turned his heart from the Lord. To keep us secure from the temptations of the world, we must embrace our metaphorical sister, Wisdom, keeping us focused on our relationship with God. To be sure, God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able, but sadly man actively chooses to sin, polluting everything he touches. The Roman Catholic Church has taught that original sin has been passed along through sexual intercourse, creating a need for Mary to be 'conceived immaculately'. Sin does not enter us through this means, but is a spiritual matter, originating in the heart and in the mind. Sin enters us from contact with a sinful source, mainly from Satan, the prince and power of the air, and his demonic influence, broadcasting his spirit, attitudes, and thoughts. Collectively, we have been swimming in the influence of Satan's mind. Evil communication invariably corrupts character. Because Satan's spirit permeates everything in this world, we must be alert and on guard against temptations.
David Grabbe, citing a commentary referring to envy as the most precious daughter, makes a distinction between covetousness (desire for things) and envy ( emanating from a hatred for another person's success). Envy led Cain to kill Abel, and the Jewish leaders to crucify Jesus Christ. Satan was envious of a Superior Being. James links human wisdom with envy and self-seeking, attended with confusion and unease. Envy will separate the body of Christ if she (Satan's most precious daughter) can get her hooks into us. Envy led Joseph's brothers to plot to kill him for what they perceived as favoritism. Joseph, on the other hand, worked for the betterment of those above him. Retaining God in our knowledge is the key to keeping envy at bay. Any success or prosperity is because of what God has done; who are we to disagree with Him. Envy is the result of pushing God from our knowledge. It is easy to follow in Satan's footsteps, courting his daughter Envy, reaping the disquiet which accompanies envy.
John Ritenbaugh warns about conforming to the world by realizing that Satan fine tunes and customizes his deception. Like he had done with the apostle Peter, Satan also wants to sift us as wheat Thankfully, God will not let us be tempted above what we are able. The apostle Paul warns us to be vigilant about the world, not loving its attitudes, mindsets, and frame of mind. Loving (or setting our hearts upon) the world (as opposed to loving the LORD our God or our neighbor as ourselves) and being attached to the world (governed by the spirit and power of the air) is bad business. Loving the world and loving God the Father cannot transpire side by side; we cannot serve two masters. John is referring to spiritual things that have powerful influences on the fleshly appetites. Sin usually begins in the eye because it triggers desire. Pride disengages us from realizing that we are created beings and did not give ourselves abilities, gifts, materials, and tools we have nothing we did not receive. Pride leads to idolatry, the horrible sin which separated Israel from God. The called of God do not fit anywhere in the world; the church is unique—separate from anything in the world; we march to the beat of a different drummer. It is human nature (which is anti-God) to absorb the ways of the world. To the world, we are the 'enemy.' Our focus should be on treasuring our calling, preparing to become teachers in God's Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the architecture of banks and cathedrals, edifices designed to inspire trust and security because of their massive appearances, maintains that their very construction was intended to leave a deep psychological impact within us, appealing to our personal safety needs. In the world in which we live, subtle influences seek to continually shape us; our mental state is influenced by our environment, seeking to move us in a direction away from the influence of God. Immediately after the serpent entered the Garden of Eden, everything changed from God-centered to self-centered. The negative influences of Satan's society are difficult to combat. The immature are influenced by the immature; the immoral are influenced by the immoral. Homosexuality, gay marriages, and other perversions seem to be gaining ascendancy as God has apparently removed the protective hedge around our people. A return of the days of Noah cannot be far off. To God, everything matters.
John Ritenbaugh, relating four Scriptures pertaining to Pentecost (comprising 700 years in fulfillment), suggests that God does not regard time the same way as we do. Spiritual entities, such as word and ideas, are powerful and potentially dangerous if used for evil purposes. We can be easily manipulated if we do not guard our minds. Politicians and advertisers unscrupulously use the prevailing Zeitgeist to manipulate, trap, and control gullible people. Spirit is an invisible force, the effects of which are abundantly clear by its manifestations. Spirit can be discerned by carefully thinking through and taking stock of its multiple effects. The Holy Spirit can be described as the mind and creative power of Almighty God. The spirit in man is an immaterial quality that empowers, giving the power of intellect, controlling the sensory modalities, giving us the ability to be self-aware. Spirit gives humans the power to think spatially, use language, invent, and plan for the future. We have never seen this spirit, but we use it every day. Words have the invisible power to encode thoughts, motivating people to feel or accomplish something. Words can inspire or defile, motivate or depress. The source of all sin is in the spirit or thought processes. Satan and his demonic forces use words to corrupt the vast majority of humankind, including ourselves. The only antidote to these vile thought processes is the Word of God. We have been mandated to choose to either follow God's pure, liberating, and clean Holy Spirit rather than to choose to yield to Satan's unholy, vile, enslaving, and dirty spirit. We absorb God's Holy Spirit by imbibing in His Word, spending as much time with God as possible.
II Corinthians 5:7 is clear that God wants us to walk—live our lives—by faith, but our pride and vanity, mirroring the attitude of Satan the Devil, frequently get in the way. John Ritenbaugh delves into the depths of pride and its tragic results for the individual and for all mankind, most of all because it causes us to reject God and His Word.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the movie The Sound of Music, reports that the screenplay distorted the real events depicting the Von Trapp family. It seems that the god of this world has taken every art form, distorting, and twisting the underlying truth. Every Christian has to endure a similar fate, bearing a cross of resisting falsehood, slander, and deception. We carry around in our own hearts the components that threaten to defile us. We must endure this destructive carnal nature and the wiles of the devil, until we enter the Kingdom of God. The world's churches blame God for infecting human nature with original sin; this lie was concocted by Satan, even though God, through His sovereignty, has certainly allowed Satan some latitude. Adam's sin was presumptuous and deliberate, and has directly infected all of his offspring. The second Adam, Jesus Christ, rectified this fatal error of our first parent. Though we inherited the proclivity to sin from Adam, he did not "make us sin;" we are individually responsible for our own sins and for the consequences of our sins—death. Everyone is equipped with a rudimentary conscience having a clear grasp of the essential law. Human nature is the adaptation of Satan's nature by the neutral nature—the spirit in man given by God as standard operating equipment. Our objective is to battle or deflect this carnal nature by means of God's Holy Spirit.
Human history proves that individuals quickly absorb the course of the world, losing their innocence and becoming self-centered and deceived like everybody else. John Ritenbaugh contends that Christians must continue to fight against these anti-God attitudes long after their calling to deepen and strengthen their relationships with God.
Everything we can know is communicated to us in some form. Usually, we are able to identify the sources of these communications through our senses. Yet, as John Ritenbaugh explains, we are also open to invisible communication from the spirit world—communication designed to conform us to "the course of this world."
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that when human beings are born, they are a blank slate with a slight inclination toward self-centeredness. But after living in this world, we become incrementally influenced by both evil spiritual influences and worldly influences. The Apostle Paul describes the gravity of these contrary pulls in Romans 7. Our carnal nature—-the sensual fleshly pulls—unfortunately will pursue us right to our very grave. God commands us to come out of Babylon, giving us spiritual tools and resources to do so, including faith, vision, hope, and love. The media through which these will be supplied are the relationships we have with the Father and the Son. Co-existence with sin is absolutely out of question in the life of a Christian; there is no middle ground. In regard to fornication with the world, God says, "save yourself for our marriage." Sin has an addictive quality incrementally hardening our hearts. Knowing God is the key to eternal life. As communication with God increases, communication with the world must decrease. We, like the Apostle Paul, must follow God's directions and do exactly what we are told, submitting and yielding totally to His will. The only thing that Babylon can communicate to us is sin; we must meticulously extricate ourselves from the world, and continue in the process of communicating with God until we are totally conformed to His image. Everything depends upon who we communicate with through prayer, Bible Study, and meditation.
Since the church no longer keeps the Passover with the slaughter of a lamb, we miss important and poignant details that could enhance our observance. The author uses a personal experience with two ewes as a springboard to explain greater, spiritual lessons.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the mark of the beast, warning that because we have been immersed in Satan's system (Ephesians 2:1-2), we already have the mark branded into our minds and behavior (Romans 8:7). Our concern after our calling is to, with the help of God's Holy Spirit, overcome and get rid of that foul spirit's enslaving hold on us. Anger and hostility, driven by self-centered competitive pride constitute Satan's family characteristics, his spiritual mark on us (John 8:44), dividing nations, ethnic groups, families, as well as the greater church of God. Contrasted to the hostile, cunning, predatory nature of adversarial beasts (leopards, lions, serpents, and fire-breathing dragons), our Elder Brother, serving as our example, adopted a lamb-like meekness, making peace right to the death. (I Peter 2:21-23).
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that spirit in the vast majority of biblical contexts refers to the invisible, immaterial, internal activating dimension of the mind. It is repeatedly linked and used synonymously with heart, mind, and thoughts. Spirit (as activated by such things as cheer leading and marching bands) has the capacity to contagiously influence behavior. Satan's spirit as well as our own carnal minds (Ephesians 2:2, James 1:13) constitute compelling and impelling motivations to sin. Fortunately God has provided resources to His called-out ones, interfacing with their minds, predisposing them to hear His voice, to know what He is doing and to develop a relationship with Him, preventing temptation beyond what they can handle (I Corinthians 10:13)
John Ritenbaugh identifies spirit as the most important element in the whole salvation process. Spirit (ruach in Hebrew, pneuma in Greek) can be defined as that invisible, immaterial, internal activating agent which impels or creates. There are varieties of spirit (generated through advertising, cheerleading, or political rallies) motivating people to "go with the flow," conforming to a sheep-like mob psychology. Satan begets or inspires a spirit or mood (Ephesians 2:2; John 8:44) that captivates all of us before our calling, leading us to follow sinful appetites. God's Spirit is vastly different in that 1) it is holy, 2)provides a tap into infinite knowledge, and 3) provides us an interface with the mind, wisdom, and character of God (I Corinthians 2:9).
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God's called-out ones must perpetually walk a razor's edge with the allurement of the world (leading to death) on one side and the love of God (leading to eternal life) on the other. At birth, human nature is relatively neutral, with a slightly stronger pull to the self. Inspired by the prince and power of the air (Ephesians 2:2-3), the prevailing Zeitgesist(the dominant spirit or mindset of the time) pulls the believer away from the love of God (and immortality) to the world (and death). The element which will tip the scale toward following God (there is no quick fix to conversion) is to displace the love for the world with the love for God(a gift from God flowing from His Holy Spirit - Romans 5:5) and setting our hearts on spiritual treasures (Matthew 6:19-20).
The world's ways, ideas and attitudes naturally flow into the church over time. The question is, How well do we resist and/or reject them? Richard Ritenbaugh examines three areas that have crept into the modern church and wreaked havoc.
God has given us two valuable tools, which if used in proper proportions, bring about character and spiritual fruit. Used independently, like all polar or dichotomous thinking (going to one ditch or the other), over-emphasis on one has the tendency to distort the process. The law and God's Spirit (not to be considered polar opposites), given on the same calendar date (at Sinai and Jerusalem), must be applied in tandem to get the best results. Richard Ritenbaugh uses analogies from governmental codes and regulations to illustrate what happens when one extreme dominates the other. Over-emphasis on law produces rigidity and loophole hunters, while over-emphasis on spirit produces emotional imbalance, permissiveness, disobedience and lack of structure. Law and Spirit are not opposites, but complementary, and must work together in order to get results.
The sin of pride underlies many of our other sins, and it is often the reason for the contentions we get into as brethren. John Ritenbaugh looks at the origins of pride and shows how it manifests itself in us.
The world really hasn't the foggiest idea of what love really is. Of all God's spiritual gifts, love is the preserving agent preventing any of the other gifts such as prophecy, knowledge, or tongues to become corrupted. Love, an attribute of God Almighty, needs to be the driving force of everything we do. Without love, some normally positive attributes like drive, courage, and determination become brittle and self-seeking. God is the sole source of love; mankind by nature does not have it. It is only by knowing God that we can have this love. Love can be described as a cycle, which God initiates. As we give it back to Him, He gives more to us because we are growing and our love must be perfected. Love is not feeling but action. As God loves us, He expects us to reciprocate back to Him and out to our fellowman, and by so doing we become credible witnesses for God.
In this sermon on overcoming Satan, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that confusion or lack of peace is the clear fruit of Satan's involvement. It is nearly impossible for righteousness to be produced in an environment of instability and disharmony brought about by selfish ambition, competition, and bitter envy (James 3:16) In confronting our wily adversary (the source of all this confusion), we must maintain constant vigilance (James 4:7, I Peter 3:5-8), resisting unlawful desires, not allowing Satan to have a bridgehead in our emotions. Satan consistently works on our fear of being denied some form of pleasure.If we stay loyal to God, resisting Satan as Job did, Satan's power over us will be broken (I John 3:8, 5:18). Resistance must begin in the mind and thought processes (II Corinthians 10:3-5) where demonic influences try to persuade us to entertain ideas exalting ourselves over the truth or knowledge of God.