David Grabbe, taking issue with nominal Christianity's faulty doctrine of dominion theology (the belief that it is the Church's responsibility to spread God's Kingdom before Jesus Christ returns), using the "kingdom as leaven" parable as proof, takes apart this fallacious reasoning. We are correct to understand God's Kingdom (basilea) as a present reality, as Jesus the King stands among men, as well as a future reality, as when the glorified Jesus Christ will establish His Kingdom, putting down all human government. In the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers, the "kingdom" refers to the national kingdom, which would be taken from the chief priests, elders, and Pharisees. This usage informs the first four parables of Matthew 13 (the Sower and the Seed, the Wheat and the Tares, the Mustard Seed, and the Leaven). The history of God's relationship with His people has been troubling, His own ultimately rejecting Him and attempting to usurp His rightful power. For that reason, the parables forecast God's removal of power from physical Israel and His handing the keys of the Kingdom handed to the Church. The first four kingdom parables of Matthew 13 address the deficient and soon-to-become defunct physical kingdom, while the last four parables address the emergent spiritual kingdom. In the next installment of this message, we will delve into the significance of the Leaven parable.
Richard Ritenbaugh, examining Thomas Seeley's analysis of the swarm instinct of bee cultures, and sociologists' attempt to link that wired-in animal instinct to human behavior (opting usually for collective groupthink), suggests that there is a balanced approach to applying community behavior to Christian living, especially when we apply Paul's body analogies in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 God's admonition that we learn from the ant does not teach us to yield to a hierarchical system but, rather, to unselfishly participate in a community, the final goal being its edification. Swarm behavior, flock behavior, and herd behavior, according to Tom Seeley is more democratic than authoritarian (as assumed in previous models). In the Body of Christ, we similarly work as an interdependent body of believers, serving one another, laboring for a common goal, as is rehearsed annually through God's appointed feasts and Holy days, all of which have unique qualities and lessons. On Pentecost, the priests baked loaves with leavening, representing those set apart before Christ's earthly ministry and those set apart after His ministry. We are obligated to be team players, looking after the needs of the entire body. Our rugged individualism must be tempered with the knowledge that we are part of a larger, interdependent body. Though God called us all individually, we need to think of ourselves as a part of the community, being just as protective of the flock as is our Elder Brother. Whether we are branches of a vine, God's field, God's building, God's flock, or the very bride of Christ, the common denominator is that God has designed us to serve one another. If we, as servants and fellow family members, all do our part, God will give the increase. There ought not be schisms in the Body; we will be living together eternally.
Levi W. Graham: The primary principle of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares is relatively easy to see. However, an interesting bit of information appears in it that some may have overlooked. ...
Kim Myers, reminding us that we are in a lifelong battle with Satan every second of each day, cautions that all enticements to sin start in man's mind, beginning with attitudes. This battle commences at our baptism and does not cease until we are resurrected as Spirit being—or until we give up and yield to our carnal nature, marinated in Satan's foul attitudes. The process of being taken over by sin usually takes place over a lengthy period of time as we allow Satan's deceptive words to corrode our attitudes, permanently warping our character. Satan, in the first rebellion, took his time, probably persuading one angel at a time until he had a cadre of like-minds, poisoned with Satan's pride and discontent. As Satan corrupted other angels with words (all of the company of demons were at one time pure angelic beings), Satan also attempts to corrupt God's called-out ones with persuasive words. Satan corrupted our original parents with words; Satan may have fostered the final effect over a long period of time, but when doubt, lust, and pride were activated in Eve, her resistance became attenuated until it broke apart. As the Second Adam, our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, resisted the persuasive words of Satan with the words of Holy Scriptures, we must employ scripture in the same way, counteracting the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. As we approach the end times, we must continually guard against deception, especially since some of Satan's ministers are able to convincingly perform miracles. We are warned to cling to the faith once delivered, guarding against destructive heresies. We are in this work together, surrounded by both wheat and tares. Because Satan will attack us when and where we are the most vulnerable, we need to know God's words inside and out, being instant in prayer, continually "cracking the Book" for wisdom, counsel and godly insight, as well as to gain ammunition against the deadly spiritual forces around us, realizing the times will be much tougher as we approach the end of the age.
When Solomon visits the Temple, he comes away from his observations of the worshippers with a sense that too many treat religion far too casually and carelessly, forgetting that they are coming before the great God. As John Ritenbaugh explains, Solomon admonishes his readers to listen to God's Word when they approach Him and to be careful to follow through with what they promised when they made the covenant with Him.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Deuteronomy 30:19-20, reminds us that we are called to a lifetime of decisions and judgments. We have problems with judging fellow brethren in different groups of the greater Church of God, of which at least three claim to be the only true church. This intemperate judgment may come back to bite the biter in a painful place. Judgments must always be open to new information; a fellow servant never falls on our judgment or estimation of him. It is terribly difficult at times to recognize the tare or to recognize the true wheat. Christ's judgments are made according to what each person has been given. We need to internalize this practice of judging and evaluating, especially regarding our brother or fellow servant. We cannot possibly know the levels of gifting God has bestowed on the other members of God's family. Just because we understand an aspect of spiritual truth does not mean that God has gifted the other member to comprehend it, or vice versa. God gifts each person as it pleases Him. God provides the hearing ear, understanding, and wisdom, both in the physical and spiritual dimensions. Not everybody has ears to hear in both dimensions. Even the converted do not comprehend the full spectrum of parable-centric teaching, often containing multiple layers of meaning. The secret things belong to God; the revealed things become our property on a need-to-know basis, only when we have developed the ability to use the information responsibly, using the mind of Christ. We have been given spiritual gifts to serve the entire congregation as they are needed.
Jesus' Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13 warns us that there will be false brethren within the church. Using the example of Christ Himself, Ted Bowling shows that the Bible also tells us how to interact with them in a godly manner.
The biblical city of Smyrna, whose church received one of Christ's seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3, may be one that Bible students know the least about. In explaining Jesus' message to this church, David Grabbe shows how the city's name helps to reveal the themes that the Head of the church wants us to understand as His return nears.
Unlike God, "who inhabits eternity" (Isaiah 57:15), we mortals have a limited existence. Because of our finite time, we tend to view things through the lens of immediacy. ...
David C. Grabbe: As a new year dawns on most of the nations of the earth, people's thoughts often turn to what lies ahead. ...
As mere men, we find it easy to limit God. While all of His attributes are in perfect, harmonious balance, we tend to emphasize one of His qualities over another. Without divine intervention, everyone essentially creates a god in his own image, crudely patching together anecdotes and selected scriptures that reinforce his idea of the divine ...
John Ritenbaugh asks the question, "How much leavening would God allow to infiltrate into the church, society, or the individual before He steps in to correct it?" Leaven can symbolically represent false teaching, as in the stifling traditions of the Pharisees, the skepticism of the Sadducees, and the secularism of Herod, all producing deadly cynicism and pessimism. With immense forbearance and patience, God carefully timed the cumulative wickedness of a people (when every thought would become saturated with evil) before He intervened. Likewise, we have no insight as to how much sin God will tolerate in the church or our own lives before He will sternly intervene. The tares and wheat (sin and righteousness, heresies and truth, or unconverted and converted) must coexist until the harvest when the fruit will become clearly seen, at which time a separation and judgment will take place, when the good will be contrasted from the evil. In the meantime, the persecution we receive now will show God definitively where our loyalties lie.
The penultimate parable of Matthew 13 uses the illustration with which Christ's disciples were very familiar: fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Martin Collins explains that this parable focuses on the equity of God's judgment.
Most commentators see in the Parable of the Leaven a positive message of the growth of the church. Martin Collins, however, shows that they have it exactly backward—Jesus' parable is a warning of internal corruption!
Richard Ritenbaugh continues the theme of the difficulty we have in this age to distinguish truth from error. Satan's biggest targets for disinformation are God's called-out ones. As the apostles turned the world upside down by the Gospel, Satan's implanted tares immediately began to spread disinformation—so much so that the 'Christian' church of the second century bore little resemblance to the church Christ founded. Who, then, are His true disciples? They may be identified by: 1) being led by God's Spirit dwelling within, causing them to yield to God's will; 2) behaving in love toward friend and foe; 3) abiding perpetually in God's Word (not merely agreeing with, but actually living the teaching, coming to know the truth by practical experience; and 4) bearing much spiritual fruit.
Bible students do not often consider Christ's parables to contain intrigue, but His Parable of the Wheat and the Tares has its share! Martin Collins explains this story of a sinister enemy sowing his agents among the saints.
Matthew 13 contains more parables than any other chapter in the Gospels. What many fail to realize is that they are related in theme and organized to teach Christians specific lessons. Martin Collins explains that they provide a prophetic summary of the development of the church.
Having shown that God is involved in world affairs, John Ritenbaugh concludes by showing that God's hand was definitely involved in the scattering of the church. Our reaction needs to be positive: that, if He felt it needed to be done, we should respond by growing and preparing ourselves for His Kingdom.
People who jump from one fellowship to another often do so for superficial reasons such as a personal slight or perhaps defending a pet doctrine. Ministers should be judged by the fruit that they produce in terms of their teaching or the examples that they set. Because fruit takes time to mature, we members ought to exercise patience, refraining from grumbling, or premature judging. In the checklist distinguishing the true shepherds from the hirelings, true shepherds are seen in their genuine concern for the flock, as opposed to hirelings who only devour or take advantage of the flock.
The Bible mentions eating around 700 times, highlighting the broad practicality of the Bible's instruction. Its lessons for us are drawn from life itself, and eating is a major part of everyone's experience. Regardless of race, wealth, education, gender, or age, everybody eats. By studying eating in the experiences of others, we plumb a deep well of instruction from which we can draw vital lessons to help us through life.
We in God's church generally know very little about the wavesheaf offering, even though it represents one of the most significant acts of God's Plan: the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ! John Ritenbaugh explains its relevance to us today.
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 reiterates that God alone chooses the servants through whom He works His will. Sometimes the rationale God uses for selecting His vessels defies worldly wisdom. The major reason for the horrendous split of the greater church of God was the rejection of the doctrines God's servant and Apostle Herbert Armstrong had restored. Apparently, God has used this confusing state of affairs to weed out those individuals who will not yield or submit to those doctrines. When it comes to submitting to God's government, we dare not vainly compare ourselves one to another (II Corinthians 10:12).
Richard Ritenbaugh presents an encouraging conclusion to his series on Matthew 13 by describing Christ's work on behalf of the church (Hidden Treasure, Pearl of Great Price, Dragnet) and the work of the ministry (Householder). The church constitutes His treasure, hidden in the world, purchased and redeemed with Christ's blood. The Pearl of Great Price depicts a rich merchant (Christ), the only one who had the means to redeem His church. The Dragnet symbolizes the scope of God's calling while the separation process indicates God's high standards of selection, indicating a time of righteous and impartial judgment. The Householder parable shows the responsibility of the ministry to be authoritative interpreters of scripture, using what they have learned and experienced to instruct the people.
Richard Ritenbaugh insists that the Bible, in both parables and prophecies, interprets itself and remains consistent in its use of symbols. We cannot arbitrarily pull symbols out of the air and attach meaning. The first four parables of Matthew 13 (Sower, Wheat and Tares, Mustard Seed, and Leaven) all describe Satan's plan to destroy the church: (1) attacking at early stages of growth, (2) infiltrating through secret agents, (3) influencing unchecked, unnatural growth going beyond God's ordained limits, inviting worldly and demonic influence, and (4) influencing yielding to sin and false doctrine.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that biblical history substantiates that God does not always have the church perform the same functions continually, but sometimes drastically alters the course according to needs and conditions. The perceived detours are necessary adjustments God makes to accomplish His purpose. "The work" changes according to God's direction and our need. Currently, God has imploded, exploded, and scattered (a pattern He has used before) His Church for our ultimate spiritual safety. The primary focus of "the work" at this time is the repair or re-attainment of the believing faith (the faith once delivered through revelation) that has seriously deteriorated because of heresy, apostasy, and self-satisfied Laodiceanism. The turn-around begins individually with the purification of each living stone through repentance and re-commitment to our covenant with God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the book of Mark, emphasizing the symbolism of the ox, whose enduring servitude and sacrifice produces a great deal in the way of growth. Downplaying or understating kingly authority or lordship (the hallmark of Matthew) Mark concentrates on the uncomplaining and sacrificing traits of a servant. Jesus sets a pattern for us by serving without thought of authority, power, position, status, fame, or gain, but as a patient, enduring, faithful servant, practicing good will and providing a role model of pure religion (James 1:27) for us to emulate.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the ability to do miracles does not identify a speaker as a representative of God, especially if the signs entice one to depart from the Word of God. Jesus warns that if we ask God for protection from demonic influence, we cannot sit back passively; Satan always counterattacks. Evil must be displaced with good. Jesus encourages us to develop spiritual family relationships within the Church of God coupled with common experiences to reinforce godly behavior. Generally, we cannot expect this kind of special reinforcement from our blood relatives or physical friends. The parable of the sower reflects the various levels of receptivity and conversion among people who are exposed to the Word of God. Matthew 13:22-23 seems to be aimed at the ministry, providing encouragement to keep plugging away despite some un-germinated seed. Like a farmer, the minister must learn patience before results are realized. We must use and develop what God has given or it will dissipate. The study concludes with an exposition of the tares (Darnel) and wheat parable, indicating that Satan has planted false brethren that are hard to distinguish from the real. God is the only one fit to judge.[NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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