Martin Collins, reminding us that God's love does not shield the believer from sickness, pain, sorrow, or death, focuses on several scriptural contexts in which Jesus shed tears and expressed grief. Though no wimpy sentimentalist, Jesus chose to experience the often disrupting vicissitudes of human life, having the capacity to feel empathy. Like all of us, He felt weariness and exhaustion, grew in wisdom and knowledge, and felt anger and indignation. The short clause, "Jesus wept," conveys both His anger at the consequences of sin and His compassion for those who suffered, prompting observers to say, "He loved." Jesus was made like us so He could empathize with our weaknesses, qualifying Him to be our High Priest and Mediator. Unlike the religion of Ancient Greece, or Judaism, God's true religion shows God as having the capacity to feel, to empathize, and to have love for others. God meticulously keeps track of our tears and promises to wipe them away in the fullness of time. But, before God transforms our tears of sorrow into tears of joy, He commands that His called-out ones be the same kind of living sacrifices as were Moses, the apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ.
Martin Collins points out that our Savior has a tender spot for those who are weak in the faith but are doggedly struggling to hold fast to what they believe. People sometimes unfairly brand others who display a one-time weakness, as in the case of "Doubting Thomas," who demanded empirical evidence of Christ's resurrection. We forget that it was Thomas who boldly encouraged his fellow disciples to risk death by returning to Bethany for Lazarus' funeral. We forget that all the disciples who abandoned their Master expressed doubt until they themselves had a higher level of tangible evidence than hearsay. While all the disciples were in a brain fog as to where Christ was going following His impending betrayal and crucifixion, Thomas was not afraid to expose his ignorance. Thomas realized that to follow Christ involved denial of self and a willingness to die. The principle of death and denial is hard for us to apply because many things—fame, fortune, and power—compete to take the place of God's purpose for us. We must learn to say no to anything which goes against God's purpose. When we give up trying to run our own lives, we find the contentment of living the productive life God has prepared for us. Jesus' deliberately delayed His return to Bethany until Lazarus had died so that He could bolster the faith of Martha and His disciples, as well as His called-out ones today. Like Martha, we must allow Christ to transform our basic faith into an absolute trust in God's purpose for us.
Martin Collins, examining Jesus' purposeful delay in going to Lazarus' side as His friend succumbed to death, reminds us that 1) God's delays are always motivated by love, 2) His delayed help always comes at the right time, and 3) God's best help is never delayed. We dare not project the human traits of obstinacy and pre-occupation on God's delay. If God delays in answering a sincere prayer, His purpose is to increase faith, as in the case of His delay in providing Abraham with a son through Sarah. Similarly, our faith grows when God forces us to wait. We should never judge God's use of time against our uses of it, since God has not equipped us to know the beginning from the end. Like our Elder Brother, God gives all of us a certain amount of time and will not cut it short until we have fulfilled His purpose for us. Even though we have sufficient time, we cannot afford to waste a minute. Because time is precious and our life-span determined by God, we must walk circumspectly, redeeming the time, using this window of opportunity to do good. The lesson of the resurrection of Lazarus teaches us that, because Christ has the power to regenerate life, physical death is no terror to the believer, but is only a temporary rest before eternity. Paul assures us that, for God's called-out ones, death will never separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Martin Collins, focusing on the resurrection of Lazarus, examines its impact on Martha, Lazarus, Mary, the Disciples, and on us as well. Christ gently reprimanded Martha for focusing on her own goals, feeling unappreciated and neglected when others did not share that goal. After the miracle of her brother's resurrection, she was able to serve, yet without being preoccupied with herself. Lazarus, whom the Scriptures portray as nonassertive, becomes a sterling witness for Christ as he sits at the table with Him, his presence there more eloquent than words. When Mary anointed Jesus with expensive fragrance, she demonstrated her understanding of the costliness of Christ's impending sacrifice, an insight which the disciples would appreciate only later. The Disciples learned—and we must too—that God is sovereign over life and death, and the way to eternal life is accepting Christ's sacrifice and then following the example of His life. Sickness and hardship should not erode our faith in God's ultimately favorable purpose for us. A current trial may serve as a witness for the good of others. Just as the Prophet Hosea had difficulty seeing the outworking of God's plan, so we can experience difficulty finding the resolution of our trails. Praying according to God's will—and conforming our lives to that will—overrides self-doubt. God knows the beginning and ending of the salvation process.
Martin Collins, concluding his series "God's Perseverance with the Saints," focuses on Christ's desire that all His disciples have unity and love. The unity He appeals for is not organizational unity, but unity within the divine nature, exampled in the unity between the Father and the Son. This unity operationally defines a family rather than a corporate unity, with a common Christian experience binding those He has called into an interdependent relationship where everyone serves each other with God-provided spiritual gifts. Christ, through His life-sacrifice while we were yet enslaved to sin, provides the model of love for us. We need to bring our highly flawed love to the infinitely-perfected level of agape love demonstrated by our Elder Brother. We must love our brethren even in their flawed state because God requires them to love us in our flawed state. We demonstrate this agape love when we 1) listen to one another, 2) share with one another, and 3) serve one another. Jesus set the standard for this kind of service as He washed the feet of His disciples the night Judas betrayed Him. If the world cannot see this perfected love demonstrated in us, we are seriously missing the mark.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the practice of "defriending" (or "unfriending") on Facebook, contrasts this practice with Christ's love for His called-out ones, a friending with the condition that godly fruit is born. When Paul challenged the Roman congregation to produce godly fruit, he was not looking for new converts, but evidence of the spiritual fruit of God's character. Jesus Christ became like us so that we could become like Him. The fruit Jesus asked His disciples to bear is designed to glorify the Father, to demonstrate love by obedience to His Commandments, and to increase the believer's joy, a by-product of sincere obedience. God admonishes us to not only bear fruit, but to bear more fruit through pruning. God is looking for a great deal of fruit as we yield to Him in order to exceed our self-imposed limitations, as well as for enduring fruit, in contrast to futile worldly projects which are subject to decay. As we bear godly fruit, the quality of our friendship with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and our brethren will increase exponentially as we make activities like intercessory prayer, sacrifice, hospitality, and charity a perpetual part of our spiritual repertoire.
Clyde Finklea, reminding us that the entirety of scripture has as a major theme, the sincerity of love - to friend and enemy alike, focuses on the enigmatic metaphor in Romans 12: 20 (derived from Proverbs 25:22) "heaping burning coals of fire on his head," an image which seems to connote revenge or malicious getting even. The difficulty seems to reside in a Hebrew idiom which is not clear without a cultural context. The context is hospitality to a stranger- including an enemy, to which we offer food, clothing, and a means to keep warm. If a stranger's fireplace went out in the cold of winter, the noble sacrificial thing to do would be to take embers from our own fire, placing it in a container enabling the stranger to re-ignite his fire, keeping warm. Consequently, heaping coals of fire on his head was not done with a vengeful motive, but for his comfort. Knowing the idiom ensures proper understanding of the meaning. We should not be overcome by evil, but must overcome evil with good.
Clyde Finklea: Among the world's more than seven billion people are upwards of two billion who identify themselves as Christians. Self-identification is fine for what it is worth, but we know that professed Christians ...
Martin Collins, assessing Paul's admonition that God's people be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1-2), acknowledges that God possesses three non-transmittable attributes: omnipotence (being all-powerful), omnipresence (existing everywhere at once), and omniscience (knowing everything). These attributes will never become descriptive of God's people. But there are other, transmittable, attributes which we can make a part of our new nature. These include love, forgiveness, compassion, and longsuffering. God commands that we emulate Jesus Christ, who sacrificed Himself for us. He instructs us to humble ourselves, giving our entire self as a sacrifice of love. Paul explains that light symbolizes the regeneration of the new creation, totally separate from the old creation, lying in darkness. There must be a regenerative change in what we are, how we think, and the way we think. With God's help, we must obliterate our evil, carnal nature, replacing it with purity and holiness, both of which will be evident to those with whom we associate. They will observe that no filthiness or course speech comes from us, as we radiate God's behavior (symbolized by light) in a murky world of darkness. Just as God characterized the Prophet Danial as being a light, He has also called us to be lights to the world, to radiate His attributes of forgiving, giving, and living.
Bill Onisick, alluding to some insights in Bruce Wilkinson's book Secrets of the Vine, namely that there are many barriers to producing agape love, contends that lack of love is the biggest problem the greater Church of God struggles with today. We find it difficult to love our brethren as Christ loved us because we do not want to expose our vulnerability, which is anchored to self-focused pride. Peter sank in his abortive walk on the water because his sense of vulnerability eroded away the needed faith for this act. Only when we sacrifice our sense of vulnerability and our penchant for pride will we have the strength to yield to God.
Bill Onisick, asserting that getting grape vines to bear fruit is difficult, suggests that the production of succulent grapes is at least a two-year project, in which pruning dead wood and lateral vines that produce much foliage, but little fruit, and exposing buds to sufficient sun (by thinning the canopy) are essential. Two-year-old canes, having been 90% pruned in the dormant season, normally produce seven buds apiece. Jacob referred to his son Joseph a fruitful vine, not restrained by walls. Jesus Christ is metaphorically the Vine and His Father is the Vinedresser; we are the branches, subject to trimming and pruning in order that we bear abundant spiritual fruit with much agape love. We will glorify our Heavenly Father if we produce much fruit, but we cannot bear fruit if we become detached from the vine. God planted the vine to be in His image. The best fertilizer for the vine is the shadow of the vine dresser. The bond that unites the whole of God's Kingdom and Family is His Holy Spirit.
Clyde Finklea, asking us what identifies a person as a true disciple of Christ, points to the command in John 13:34, commanding that the disciples love one another as Christ loved us—loving to the extent that He would give up His life. God is composed of love, as described in its many facets in Galatians 5:22 and I Corinthians 13. Two positive facets identified in I Corinthians are longsuffering (the opposite of retaliation and vengeance), as exemplified by David in his response to Saul, and kindness or compassion, as expressed by David to Jonathan's heir. As Christians, we must exercise longsuffering and kindness to all, including to those that have done ill to us. The only way we can be considered disciples of Christ is if we love one another with His standard.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on popular music involving the theme of romantic love as the answer to all the world's ills, remarks that the composers of these lyrics have no idea as to what love really is. The fuzzy definition of love is responsible for tolerance of sin, deviancy and liberal, multi-cultural mis-evaluations. We should have a more mature understanding of love for God and love for neighbor. The outgoing concern toward other beings begins with God the Father to Jesus Christ to us. Without godly love, real love does not exist. Real love does not exist in isolation; another being must always be the object of real love. God's plan involving the reciprocal sharing of love among members of God's Family began well before the foundations of the world, at which time a possible sacrifice for sin had to be factored in. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. The love of God, through the mechanism of His Holy Spirit, works on our inner beings (our mind and spirit), making us like Him, demonstrating the love of God, loving God with all our minds (keeping His commandments) and our neighbors (including our enemies) as ourselves. The extent that we love our brethren may be an accurate gauge as to how much we love God.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the parable of the faithful and wise servant and the evil servant as well as the wise and foolish virgins, suggests that the Day of Trumpets emphasizes the state of caution and faithfulness required at the turbulent end times. The parables focus upon the relationship which we must have toward our fellow workers, warning us not to fall into a state of spiritual malaise in the midst of increasing stress. As a metaphor, sleep often has negative connotations of insensitivity, lack of alertness or awareness. Because the exact time of Christ's return is not known, we must be continually motivated as though His return were imminent. Those not prepared for the Day of the Lord will be blindsided by its unexpectedness. Christ and Paul realized that God only knows the time of Christ's return and have subsequently warned that we cannot rest on our laurels or fall asleep as in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. We must be making our preparations individually, not cuing in on our brethren, our family, or the world around us. As children of light we must conduct ourselves soberly, making positive use of our time, not allowing it to drift away. Being spiritually asleep or drunk will lead to poverty. We must wake up spiritually, taking off our carnal pajamas (the old carnal man) and clothing ourselves with the armor of God (Christ), redeeming the time and urgently pressing toward sanctification, holiness, and the Kingdom of God. The apostle Paul, afflicted with multiple health problems and considering his past life as worthless refuse, nevertheless, with sterling self-discipline, single-mindedly pressed on toward his spiritual goal, providing us an example for conduct under affliction and pressure. If we follow Paul's advice, we will not be emulating the wicked servant or the foolish virgins; we will be prepared.
John Ritenbaugh examines the lives of those who signed the Declaration of Independence, observing that they put their treasure and lives in danger, many dying as traitors and outcasts. All of the signers realized that they were lighting the fuse freeing the colonies from a tyrannical enslaving power. We must also be prepared to put our lives, treasure, and honor on the line, pledging everything we are and everything we have, picking up our cross daily, declaring our independence from carnality, evil and bondage to sin. The stakes are higher for us than for the signers of the Declaration of Independence. True godly patriotism cannot be forced; Christ voluntarily and willingly laid down His life for the flock. Godly patriotism is built and sustained by truth which issues forth in love, requiring a lifetime of spiritual struggle and sacrifice, patterned after the substitutionary sacrifice of our Elder Brother. We must say no to self-centeredness, bearing the pain and shame of this lifestyle Christ has given us, continuing to trust Him in all situations, serving our brethren in His behalf. Paradoxically, laying down our lives in the service of God the Father and Christ the Son, suffering hardship, and struggling with our carnal nature, actually makes us free. Ironically, preparing for spiritual struggle and warfare must take place in an environment of peace.
John Reid, contrasting the world's self-serving, lust-driven "way of get" (mistakenly called love) with God's example of sacrifice and way of outgoing concern, concludes that what the world needs now is the agape love modeled by the Father and Jesus Christ. We are called to take on the very nature of God, to put on the love of God that casts out all fear. Our goal is to take on the likeness of Jesus Christ, developing His character, thereby reflecting the true love of God. If we have lost our first love, we need to rekindle it by ardently keeping God's Commandments, demonstrating both love for God (the first four) and love for mankind (the last six). Attaining God's nature and love requires that we keep His commandments. Of all the spiritual gifts we could ever hope to attain, the love of God surpasses all of them. Love is the way God lives throughout eternity.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the people who were preaching Christ from questionable motives were church members and not Judaizers, as some have assumed. Paul experienced a dilemma wondering if it would be better to suffer martyrdom, finishing his life's calling or remain alive to help the Philippians bear more spiritual fruit. Paul and the Philippians had mutual affection and respect for one another. Paul, after encouraging this congregation, assures them that their spiritual growth depended on their personal relationship with Christ, urging them to stand fast in the unity of the truth, being loyal citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven as Philippi was a loyal colony of Rome. Paul, assuring them that God is with them, providing everything they need to overcome, teaches that individual overcoming in lowliness of mind, putting others ahead of self, leads to the whole body being strengthened.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Apostle Paul, in this prison epistle, conveyed to the Philippians his optimism that the apparent misfortune was actually a blessing, actually enabling Paul to magnify his effectiveness, enabling more fruit to be borne. Paul, looking far beyond his prison experience, would be contented no matter what God had chosen for him, even though he felt a special desire to help the Philippians- striving to be worthy citizens of the outpost of the Kingdom of God (even as Philippi was an outpost of Rome) boldly unified in Christ (having Christ's mind -receiving encouragement by God) in a team effort (having a selfless concern for others) against a common adversary. Paul suggests that it is a very high calling to suffer for Christ (Faith untested is not faith/no cross-no glory)-serving as a crucible for perfection or maturity.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the humble, serving, or footwashing attitude exemplified by Jesus in John 13 provides a clear insight into the mind of God. Jesus humbled Himself, pouring out His divinity to serve mankind, providing an example for us to also serve others. The loving way in which Jesus appealed to Judas leaves us further insights about Jesus conscious choice to accept His Father's will, glorifying His Father through His sacrifice for man's benefit. The Father likewise glorifies His Son by resurrecting and honoring Him. God expects us to follow Christ's example of loving others, with all of their flaws and weaknesses, more than ourselves. This kind of love does not come naturally, but must be acquired through God's Holy Spirit. In chapter 14, Jesus, anticipating His imminent death, provides encouragement, comfort and assurance to His disciples (all of us actually) that they would have a role in His future kingdom. Jesus, by His example, teaches us not to get discouraged if we don't see immediate results from obeying God or carrying out His will. The results may not be realized this side of the grave. By following Christ's example, we follow in the Way of truth, leading to Eternal life and glorification.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the seed analogy of Jesus in John 12:24, emphasizes that sacrifice is absolutely necessary (the seed must give up its life) in order for quality fruit to be produced. Using this seed planting analogy, Jesus teaches that, as a seed must be planted, dying to itself in order to bear fruit, we similarly must sacrifice our lives- submitting our wills unconditionally to God's will in order to bear abundant fruit, attaining the abundant life we deeply crave. Conversely, if we try to placate the natural carnal lusts, we will not bear good fruit. After we die to sin in the waters of baptism, we no longer dedicate ourselves to satisfying our carnal drives, but instead to submit to God, who engineers the process of our spiritual growth into a new spiritual creation, children of light, reflecting the characteristics of our spiritual Parent. Keeping God's Commandments leads to spiritual insight and light, but breaking them leads to spiritual blindness and darkness. There is no neutrality in following God's Word. John 13:1-17 provides an unusual insight into the very mind of God, exemplified as a serving "footwashing" attitude, demonstrating servant leadership toward His creation, an attitude and behavior we are obligated to emulate. The essence of love is sacrifice.
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