Richard Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that Americans have a reputation for kindness warns that we are likely more and more to see a dark underside of America, where hardness of heart supplants kindness. In this milieu, chesed (covenant loyalty and mercy, or showing loving kindness to the most aggravating sinner) cannot exist. David demonstrated chesed by displaying kindness to Jonathan's son Mephibosheth, in spite of the potential dangers doing so could bring to himself. The greater David, our Savior Jesus Christ, also exhibits chesed, loving us while we were still hostile to Him. Both Ruth and Naomi demonstrated covenant loyalty, remaining loyal to the marriage covenant long after the death of their spouses. Ruth faithfully continued to serve her mother-in-law, at what appeared to be great sacrifice to her own interests. Through her choice to become betrothed to Boaz, declining the attentions of more youthful suitors, she demonstrated a special covenant loyalty for which God blessed her by including her in the genealogy of the Messiah. Like Ruth and like Our Savior Jesus Christ, we must assume the role of a servant, obeying the marching orders of Micah 6:8: Walking humbly, justly, and demonstrating chesed.
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.
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, exploring the origins of Father's Day, suggests that it may have originated in Europe when the Roman Catholic Church set aside March 19th to honor fatherhood. In the United States, several women, seeking to honor their dead spouses who had died in accidents or military conflict, set various summer dates. Our most recent date, the third Sunday in June, was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The ideal father-son relationship was expressed by our Elder Brother, who honored God the Father by keeping His Commandments. How we honor our Heavenly Father determines the level of our spiritual maturity. We often encounter individuals in our fellowship who serve as supreme trials to us. Perhaps God has placed them there so we can develop our ability to forgive. Others may also consider us their biggest trial. Whether we weed a garden of our physical father or do something positive for our Heavenly One, we should realize that nothing says "Thank you" like obedience.
Richard Ritenbaugh reflects on the second law of thermodynamics which, emphasizes that, as energy is transformed to other forms, it degenerates into a more disordered state, wearing down into entropy, chaos and disorder—exactly the opposite of the Spiritual creation which transforms us into a more perfect state. As God transforms our mind with the change-agent of His Holy Spirit, it becomes completely renewed and reprogrammed into something everlasting, something God-like, learning to think as God thinks. The Feast of Unleavened Bread provides a formula as to how this process works, putting sin (typified as leaven) out and ingesting righteousness and purity (typified as unleavened bread) in its place. We are to demonstrate righteous behavior in our hands by our deeds and behavior and in our foreheads by our thoughts. Jesus Christ is the Living Bread that we must ingest daily by reading His word and imitating His behavior. As we ingest the Living Bread, we shun worldly behavior and conform to Christ's character. Only when we are conformed to the image of Christ, loving righteousness and hating lawlessness, are we acceptable to our Heavenly Father. As we are progressing through the sanctification process, our carnal natures must become completely displaced by God's Holy Spirit, motivating us to refrain from causing offense, but freely forgiving others as God has forgiven us.
Martin Collins, in the first part of his series on Christ's last words to His Disciples—which includes us—after His resurrection, focuses of three comments He made, all recorded in John 20. First, Christ, having achieved victory over sin and death, pronounced a greeting of peace, a peace which can only be achieved by yielding to God unconditionally, a peace which truly passes understanding. Christ then gives the Great Commission of becoming His messengers and His ambassadors, sharing His truth as the occasion arises. Finally, Jesus Christ breathed the Holy Spirit upon His followers as a type of what would occur on Pentecost. As His royal priesthood, we find it impossible to discern the deep things of God without His Holy Spirit, enabling us to discern both physical and spiritual. As members of the called-out Israel of God, we must be involved in proclaiming His message, feeding the flock, following and living His example, assuming the responsibilities, privileges, and blessings of our awesome commission.
Ryan McClure, reflecting on the lyrics of the Mills Brothers song, "You Always Hurt the One You Love," maintains that family members, especially siblings, inflict more pain on each other than strangers. Scripture has abundant examples of sibling rivalry from Cain and Abel through Jacob and Esau—a rift unsettled to this day. In I Corinthians 12, we learn God has intended that the spiritual body to which we have been called should have no schisms—no divisions. We are all metaphorically body parts having a specific function, totally interdependent on each other. Paul admonishes husbands to love their wives as their own bodies. As members of God's family, we need to be quick to forgive one another for real or imagined slights and offenses, realizing that in God's Kingdom, we will all be working together as one interdependent unit sharing the same family purpose.
Ted Bowling focuses on the foot-washing aspect of the Passover service, which is an annual renewal and re-dedication of our baptismal cleansing. Foot-washing was a common practice in antiquity, where the lowest servant was assigned to wash the soiled feet of a weary traveler. A disciple was similarly expected to be willing to perform the same tasks for his rabbi as a servant was for his master—except for untying his sandals, which was considered to be the very lowest of degradations. Jesus Christ, reversing the cultural expectation, took the role of a Gentile slave, and to the shock of his disciples stooped below what a disciple could be expected to do and washed their feet. He modeled the practice of foot-washing to dramatize the need to be submissive to one another, to serve one another—including those who betray—and to be one's brother's keeper, safeguarding our relationships with our brethren.
Ryan McClure, in part two of his "Judge Not, That You Be Not Judged" series, reiterates that Christians should not serve on juries because God has not equipped us at this time to look into peoples' hearts and motives. The apostle Paul gave us a clue in I Corinthians 5 that, when God's laws are flagrantly violated (such as any kind of blatant sexual perversion), communal consent is required to bring pressure on the offender. Matthew 18:15-20 establishes clear protocol in dealing with conflicts among brethren, yet, practicing Christians rarely follow the first step, going to one's brother privately, having replaced it with the institution of a merciless "rumor mill." We should never become a stumbling block for other brethren; we should not hold on to still shots we snapped four, five, or six years ago. We should remember that the speck we see in a brother's eye may be overshadowed by a railroad tie in our own eye. When we feel inclined to put on our judge's gowns, we need to focus on our own shortcomings instead of acting like busy bodies judging other people.
Bill Onisick, reviewing five daily meditation exercises adapted from Shawn Achor's book titled The Happiness Advantage— (1) grounding ourselves with expectation, (2) doing small acts of kindness to others, (3) reflecting on things for which we are thankful, (4) maintaining gratitude, and (5) bearing positive spiritual fruit—insists that, if we abide in Christ, maintaining a consistent gratitude attitude, we will become offended less and will overcome Satan's kill-joy tactics. If, on the other hand, we become prickly to others, others will show prickliness to us. Satan's most emulated tactic among brethren is to accuse and judge, reaping a bumper crop of unreconciled conflict. The prince of the power of the air wants us to have bitterness, resentment, and hostility between brethren just as he has produced those attitudes throughout the entire world. If we do not produce God's fruit, we will automatically produce Satan's fruit. Consequently, we need to retrain our minds to have more gratitude, applying it to others by practicing forgiveness, making peace with others, thereby emulating our sovereign God. If we stubbornly refuse to forgive others, we ironically clutch in our hands the key to our own prison cell. Only by letting go of the poisonous root of bitterness can we become like our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, and our Heavenly Father.
When Jesus declared His purpose to the Jews in Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19), the theme of His comments focused on liberty so that humanity can be reconciled and at-one with God. Austin Del Castillo posits that we human beings tend to work at cross-purposes to God, imprisoning ourselves and others in our adversarial relationships. The key to our cell is true forgiveness, for it is only through this means that we will be reconciled to God and to each other.
Ted Bowling, cuing in on three well-known parables in Luke 15 , all of which emphasize that every life matters —- every life is worth saving, focuses on the disturbing, resentful reaction of the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The older brother felt that he had remained loyal to the family's honor, while his younger brother disgraced the family and had squandered all his inheritance. After hitting rock bottom, having to eat swine food, the prodigal son came to his senses, and was willing to accept any humiliation if his father would take him back as a menial servant. The older brother, slow to forgive his younger, focused upon himself and dishonored his father by berating him for having compassion on who he considered a "worthless sinner." Instead of pulling rank on the older son, the father also treated him with compassion. Many of us are, or have been, in the same position as the older brother—looking down on those who have stumbled. We are not equipped to judge the sincerity of anybody else's repentance, and consequently should never gainsay the compassion of our Heavenly Father. Instead, we should emulate our Heavenly Father, being willing to extend forgiveness to a repentant brother or sister, responding with love and self- control. We need to pray for the ability or the power to reconcile.
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on Bob Dylan's lyrics in "The Times They Are A-changin'," reminds us that within a few years of Herbert W. Armstrong death, destructive heresies were imported into our previous fellowship by false teachers and ministers. Paul warned Timothy of perilous times to come about at the end of the age, when the character traits of individuals would become predominantly selfish, unforgiving, and unable to control their own impulses. Sadly, the mindset of society has begun to infiltrate the church, causing some of us to leave our first love by compromising the Sabbath and falling into the Commandment-breaking world, God's called-out ones need to wake up and strengthen those things which remain, yielding to God's sovereignty, rejecting the ruler of this world, Satan.
Bill Onisick, focusing on the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, which describes two highly productive servants and one wicked, unproductive servant, observes that the term talent has generalized (metaphorically) from a weight of precious metal to the abilities, gifts, and skills a person possesses. God, through His generous granting of spiritual gifts, has entrusted a great deal of treasure to us. God expects a return on the investment He has placed in us. Doing nothing with our abilities is a grievous abuse of this trust. What God has given us, we must use for His glory and the edification of our brethren. Building the church of God takes collective work; everybody has a part to play. Neglect is tantamount to blatant destruction. Our bodies, which belong to God, can heal themselves if we take care of them, giving them enough exercise, food, and rest. If we bury the even the smallest of our talents, God will take it away. When Jesus comes, will He see a profit from the ultimate investment He made for us?
Bill Onisick, focusing on the concept of the bread of affliction in Deuteronomy 16:3, admonishes us that the unleavened bread we consume consists of purity without hypocrisy, similar to a perfect gem held up to the sunlight. We have been de-leavened, but we know we still have sin in us that has to be purified through a lengthy process of sanctification. We need to be aware that the deadly leaven of hypocrisy, which comes in from the world, swell us up in pride. God desires a sincere, humble, compassionate heart, qualities our Elder Brother did not find in the leaders of the religious establishment of His time, qualities also lacking in religious leaders at the end time. Hypocrisy will be revealed in the light of God's truth. Our greatest challenge will be to overcome the puffed-up attitude of self-exaltation and pride. The separatist attitude of many splinter groups have driven the church apart. Hypocrisy stems from not recognizing our indebtedness to Christ's sacrifice, involving intense affliction. The daily eating of the bread of affliction identifies us with our Savior. We should emulate Christ as we endure the afflictions of our own life. God is creating us in His own image. Satan's leavening drives us to seek self-satisfaction, but we must be willing to sacrifice our lives for our brethren as Christ did. We must ingest Christ through His Word daily, putting on His agape love as the bond of perfection.
Martin Collins, asking whether suffering and sorrow come upon those whom God the Father or Jesus Christ loves, identifies four distinct Old Testament Messianic prophecies fulfilled by Christ's death and all cited by the Apostle John. They include (1) the dividing of His clothing (including his seamless tunic), prophesied in Psalm 22:18 and fulfilled in John 19:28-20, (2) the giving of sour wine, prophesied in Psalm 69:18 and fulfilled in John 19:28-29, (3) the breaking of the legs of the two criminals, but not Jesus' legs, prophesied in Psalm 34:20 and fulfilled in John 19:31-36, and (4) the piercing of His side, prophesied in Zechariah and fulfilled in John 19:34 -37. All of these prophesies depict suffering and sorrow. Additionally, there are three pictures of Christ as forsaken, crushed, and executed, including that of the tola worm crushed for its blood-like crimson dye used to make royal clothing. The seven last words or sayings of Christ recorded in the New Testament Gospels are as follows: (1) "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do," (2) "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise,"(3) "Jesus said to his mother: 'Woman, this is your son.' Then he said to the disciple: 'This is your mother.'" (4) "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (5) "' I thirst.' They took a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to His mouth. When Jesus had received the wine , He said (7) 'It is finished ;'and He bowed His head and handed over the spirit," (7) Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father , into your hands I commend my spirit." All these quotations derive from Old Testament Messianic prophecies, many from Psalm 22. It would be good, in preparation for Passover, for all of us to meditate deeply on these fulfilled Messianic prophecies.
Clyde Finklea, decrying the careless way the world uses the word “love,” does some etymological explorations of the Hebrew words ahavta and chesed connoting giving, commitment, unfailing love, devoted to acts of kindness, mercy, and longsuffering. These connotations are also captured by the Greek word agape, which prompts us to avoid retaliation, and instead practice concrete acts of kindness, not only putting up with one another, but attempting to add joy and comfort into each other’s lives. When David took all the guff from King Saul, and then later showed his mercy to Saul’s extended family, he demonstrated the true essence of godly love. Agape, chesed, and ahvata are in that respect interchangeable. God is love; how we practice love determines how we know God.
Bill Onisick, cuing in on Isaiah 9:6, reminds us that God gave Jesus Christ to us to restore peace, reconciliation, and harmony with God. We must follow Christ's example of sacrifice to be at peace with God. Our God is called a God of Peace and our Savior is called the Prince of Peace. In the Beatitudes, the peacemakers are called sons of God. To achieve the title "Son of God, one must emulate His proclivity for peacemaking. Besides practicing the absence of strife, peacemakers must augment harmony and joy. Godly peace goes way beyond truce and superficial cessation of hostilities, but actively builds harmony, unity, and tranquility within the God family. We are admonished not to be a peace breaker, causing our brother offense, but instead to actively build up harmony and unity with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and our brethren in Christ. Among the seven things God absolutely hates is one who spreads discord among his brethren. We constantly offend and are offended by brethren, making us peace breakers. God certainly does not need our help in correcting others. We should avoid heavy handed opinions, gossip, and other harmony-destroying activities. Peace breakers are not sons of God, but are sons of Satan. Peace in the God family begins with our relationship with God the Father. If we are not reconciled to God, we will not be reconciled to our brethren. We are not called to be peace lovers, but peacemakers, using His Holy Spirit to guide our behavior, bringing joy and harmony to the God-family as a true Son of God.
Ted Bowling, cuing in on the lyrics of Andrew Gold's song, Thank You For Being A Friend, compares biblical requirements for friendship, making the observation that true friendship is not just a casual relationship, but instead a deep commitment of trust, enabling the sharing of our deepest thoughts without fear of our confidences being spread all over Facebook the next morning. Friends support us unconditionally in trials, helping us to understand our faults and shortcomings, without assuming we have hopelessly botched up. The Scriptures set high standards for enduring friendships, whether we view the companionship of David with Jonathan, Abraham's friendship with God, or Christ's commitment to lay down His life for each of us. We should aspire to be willing to make the same kind of commitments in our friendships, sacrificing our time to encourage, bolster, admonish, and comfort a companion in need. Sometimes an encouraging word from a friend can work more powerfully than a prescription-strength anti-depressant. We need to assiduously cultivate our friendships, especially those within the body of Christ, reciprocating the love Christ has bestowed upon us.
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.
Martin Collins, reminding us that the Days of Unleavened Bread dramatize the difficulty of our perpetual lifelong struggle to extricate ourselves from the bondage of sin, points out that the despicable institution of human slavery has been perpetually with us, and is still practiced today around the world, whether we speak of sex slaves, sweat shops, or cultural caste systems. Consequently, there are 30 million people living in slavery around the world, with 14 million slaves living in India, and an estimated 60,000 slaves in the United States today. In theApostle Paul's time, 60 million slaves lived in the Roman Empire, with strict laws enforced in order to discourage revolt. Runaway slaves were branded with an "F-U-G" on their forehead, becoming the etymology of the word "fugitive." Although Paul was powerless to attack the system of slavery, he tried to neutralize its evil within the church, advocating that slave owners relinquish the owner-property relationship to a brother-brother relationship. Paul appealed to Philemon to develop this kind of relationship after his slave Onesimus ran away, stealing his money, running to Rome to assist Paul during his imprisonment. Paul wrote a humble, brotherly, diplomatic letter to his old friend Philemon, offering to pay a substitutionary debt for Onesimus if he would treat him as if he were Paul himself. Apparently, Philemon obliged, and the once lowly slave Onesimus evidently became a profitable bishop in his later life, paying back Paul's and Philemon's trust, demonstrating generosity and Christian hospitality. We learn from Onesimus that the Christian is not to run away from his past, but instead to rise above it, making overcoming more of a conquest than an escape. Like Paul's assumption of Onesimus' debt, Christ took our sins on His account and put His righteousness on our account. As an heir with Christ, our bondage is only temporary until we are resurrected as family members of the God Family.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the fiery, feisty, vindictive temperament of Andrew Jackson, and his response to Presbyterian minister Dr. Edgar's question about willingness to forgive enemies, asserts that forgiving one's enemies is a defining mark of a real Christian. Andrew Jackson, after Dr. Edgar's persistent probing, finally displayed a tiny bit of one of the fruits of God's Spirit, prautes, or gentleness (meekness), possibly the second hardest fruit to develop, beginning with humbleness of mind and ending with longsuffering. In the apostle Paul's enumerations of Christian attributes, meekness always appears at near the end, reflecting the difficulty of attainment. Our modern understanding of meekness seems to be at variance with Paul's understanding of prautes. Sadly, language changes linguistic drift have degraded the original understanding, replacing it with "overly submissive and docile," tantamount to weakness and not having a backbone, a notion reinforced by Charles Wesley's hymn, Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild. The combined force of these connotations makes Jesus look like a doormat. The original denotation of the Greek prautes denoted a quiet confidence, strength, and self-composure, a sign of inner power and self-control, having trust and confidence in God. Meekness is the gentle, quiet spirit of selfless devotion to God, the very antithesis of arrogant pride. It is a quality prompted by God's Holy Spirit on the inside manifesting as graciousness on the outside. The meek person accepts what God is doing as a good thing. Meekness is humble submission to God, allowing us to bear injury without being turned emotionally inside out. Love is a major facet of meekness, a quality exemplified in Moses as he serenely shrugged off the abuses and slander from Miriam, Aaron, and other disgruntled, complaining Israelites. Jesus Christ exercised meekness in response to all the false accusations from the Sanhedrin, scribes, and Pharisees, exercising forbearance without an ounce of vindictiveness, refusing
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that, though we are born equally, we rapidly become vastly different due to the forces and elements which shape us. Those who have been called by God have been given an enviable treasure, something which must be guarded and esteemed above everything else. What we treasure will determine what we think, say, or do throughout our lives. What we treasure is that which is closest to our hearts. The responsibility given to the Church Christ has called out of this world to expand the teachings of Christ, magnifying them and making them clear and honorable. This process began with the Sermon on the Mount. Christ is the head; the church is to fill Christ out. Like the physical body, the spiritual body has many interdependent organs designed to serve the entire body. Nobody's calling was accidental. Consequently, the church continues with the same work Christ began, serving as a teaching institution, teaching the world and teaching its members. Over one billion people proclaim themselves to be Christian, but only one body keeps His commandments, including His Sabbath and Holy Days and the whole testimony of Christ. This group is a little flock compared to the rest of the aggregate that refuse to follow God's way. We have been reared in a nation that claims to be Christian, with its Constitution constructed upon biblical elements, but those elements have been ravaged and superseded by the traditions of man who have no respect for the things of God. When Christ first came to earth, the conditions were similar with the teachings of the Sadducees and Pharisees usurping God's ways—the way Protestant and Catholic teachings do today. We are cautioned about the leavening of the modern-day Pharisees and Sadducees, the doctrines of the world's religions.
Even though all of mankind has had to deal with the devastating effects of sin, most of us know people who seem to be unburdened by the disappointments in life. Some appear to be essentially immune to bitterness and discouragement, despite having endured a tremendous amount of pain. What allows them to take the hits that life throws at them and keep going, while most people tend to become mired in the muck and bogged down by life's troubles?
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the book Final Exit by Derek Humphry, a work exploring the prevalence of suicide and its impact on the survivors, warns us that this is the time to get our ducks in a row, making the most of what we have experienced, establishing our spiritual priorities, and reflecting deeply on why we gave ourselves to God. If we do not, we are subject to committing spiritual suicide, a fate far worse than those taking their lives without ever having God's Holy Spirit. Realizing that God intently hates evil, we may become discouraged reading the Bible, realizing that we do not measure up to even a fraction of God's standards. We need to change our perspective realizing that, as our father Jacob discovered, it is better to become a spiritual pilgrim (facing the myriad challenges confronting us and finding their solutions) than to play the part of an exile (running from pillar to post to escape curses). We must strive to stay on course spiritually to be in God's Kingdom in order to(1.) expand rule of God in individual lives, (2.) to restore peace to the creation, and (3.) to pay the debt we owe our loved ones who have not yet been called. It would be highly ironic—yea, tragic—if our loved ones eventually came into God's Kingdom, and we, through discouragement, had aborted our opportunity.
Austin Del Castillo maintains that the reason we are here is to learn our part in God's plan to reconcile the whole of mankind to Himself. We need to get to know God in order that we feel like Him, think like Him, and act like Him. Without Jesus Christ's atonement, we would be part of the walking dead. God forgives us more than once a day, renouncing His anger and absolving us from a payment of debt. In the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, we must compare ourselves to the servant who was forgiven 10,000 talents (approximately 200 million dollars), a debt far higher than anyone will ever owe to us. We are fellow incarcerated prisoners, both beholden to God through the very expensive sacrifice of Christ's blood. We are expected to forgive others as God has forgiven us. In Jesus' prayer the night of the Passover, He wasn't just acknowledging that He and the Father are one; He is also expressing the desire that we, His church (and eventually, all of mankind) also be one with them. Forgiveness is something we, like our Heavenly Father and Elder Brother, dispense daily. Lewis B. Smedes, Professor of theology at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA states, "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." Forgiving and being forgiven are part of being a family, something that is not forced or coerced, but given freely from the heart. We cannot badger someone into forgiving us, otherwise it is not felt. If we set our minds to never forgive someone even if he is impossibly obnoxious, it erodes our compassion and tenderness, possibly keeping us from entering God's Kingdom. If someone asks us to forgive him, we have the power to dramatically change the world for good.
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on Joseph Felix's book Lord Have Murphy, a humorous analysis of Murphy's Law, asserts that it is impossible to become perfect without having mercy or compassion. The parable of the good Samaritan provided a exemplary model for developing compassion, beginning with sympathy and culminating in an action or concrete act of goodness. Mercy is an action, not merely a state of mind The command made by Jesus to become perfect includes showing compassion to love our enemies, relieving their miserable conditions. The Laodicean mindset is characterized by a deficit in merciful acts, forgetting the enormous debt their Savior had paid with His life. Whenever we forget Christ's sacrifice for our sins, we resemble the unmerciful servant, who, when he was absolved of a million dollar debt, acted harshly and mercilessly to a fellow servant who owed him a mere twenty dollars. We have received an immense measure of mercy; Christ wants us show compassion to our fellow man. Our marching orders are to walk humbly and to love justice and mercy. Whoever has a large share of the world's possessions, but shuts his charity off when he sees a fellow Christian in need, is blind to his spiritual nakedness.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the Year of Release which falls on the Feast of Trumpets, relates that the Year of Release has ushered in major historical events, such as the September 11th attack and two financial collapses in 2001 and 2008. The Year of Release reminds us that God gives land as a gift to mankind to produce wealth. God is the Owner; we are the tenant as long as we exercise responsibility to dress and keep it. The Year of Release cancels, drops, and remits debts. The land continues to be God's. This year reminds us that God is the Creator, and we must trust God for sustenance every day. Man does not hold land in perpetuity, but only under the Eternal's trust. We own nothing until God entrusts us with His spiritual gifts. The Year of Release is a time lenders should forgive debts, mirroring God's forgiving our sins. The ancient Israelites had a difficult time forgiving debt. When we left spiritual Egypt, we were on death row, but all our sins were forgiven and the penalty dropped. The land Sabbath is a type of the weekly Sabbath wherein the land is given time to regenerate and restore its fertility. There was to be no sowing, no reaping, no pruning, and no storing, but the farmer, the animal, and the poor could glean the produce. The seventh year was also the time to release those who had fallen into servitude for monetary ineptitude.
Ryan McClure, reflecting on the oft-repeated Rodney King quotation, "Can we all get along?" asks us how we are doing with our relationships, dealing with people with whom we find it difficult to get along. The Scriptures provide many examples of how difficult relationships were dealt with by humility, deference, and longsuffering, including Abram to Lot, David to Saul, and Jacob to Esau. Our relationship challenges can be vastly improved if we increase our regimen of prayer and putting the fruits of God's Holy Spirit into action.
Martin Collins, reiterating that Joseph is a type of Jesus Christ, moves to the climactic point of the narrative in Genesis 45, in which Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. Joseph knew and recognized his brothers before they knew him. God knows our guiltiest secret sins which we think we have effectively hid. All things are open before God the Father and Jesus Christ. Joseph loved his brothers before they loved him, using tough love to bring them to repentance. Like Jesus, Joseph saved his brothers before they realized they were being saved. Actually the brothers thought they were lost. Sin cannot be hidden; we cannot escape its consequences. Like Jesus, Joseph called his brothers when they would have preferred to run from those. Joseph treated them with compassion as a loving brother; Christ calls us in the same manner. As a type of Christ, Joseph was more concerned about God's will than anything else, giving him a stable perspective, seeing God's providence. God prospered Joseph, making him governor of all Egypt. God saved the lives of Joseph's brothers, indicating that He plans well in advance. God saved other lives in the process of saving Joseph's household. God can use our errors to further His ultimate good; God's purpose will be done, and He is sovereign. Joseph, as a type of Christ, had the ability to forgive, in contrast to the anger and vindictiveness of Simeon and Levi, assuring them that he held no bitterness. Forgiveness is love fused to grace.
Martin Collins explores the response of Joseph's brothers to his benevolence to show how we also should respond to God's benevolence and grace. Human nature is inherently selfish, suspicious, and ungrateful. God demonstrates His love to us long before we are properly equipped to reciprocate. Every physical and spiritual gift comes from God. At times, God has to ignite our conscience and disable or de-stabilize our self-confidence in order to get our attention in a similar fashion as he did to Joseph's brothers. If we have residual guilt, we cannot possibly grow spiritually. Like Joseph's brothers, we all have concealed lies, but want others to think we have sterling integrity. If we want forgiveness for our sins, we must jettison our self-righteousness and forsake our buried and secret sins, enabling a transformation with God. Like Joseph's brothers, we must abandon our own efforts to guide the outcome of matters to suit our liking, and turn control over to God, allowing His spiritual radar to penetrate the depths of our hearts. God will always uncover our sins; it is to our advantage to repent early. We should not want to talk about our accomplishments, but what God has chosen to accomplish in our lives. God will deal with us until we relate to Him sincerely and forthrightly, just as Judah learned to do as God soundly destroyed all his props of self-confidence. As Judah, Moses, and Paul emerged to a willingness to give up their lives for their brethren, we too must be willing to sacrifice the ultimate for our fellow man, motivated by the power of God's Holy Spirit. Through His Spirit, we love one another by listening to one another, sharing our experiences with one another, and serving one another.
David Grabbe, reminding us that a major focus of John the Baptist's ministry was a call to repentance and turning to righteousness, a focus that Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul reinforced and magnified. Curiously, in main-stream Protestantism, repentance has fallen out of favor and has been replaced by cheap 'grace.' The Law allegedly has been done away in the process. Actually repentance is mentioned far more in the New Testament than in the Old Testament, as the New Covenant stresses that Christians have, after they have rejected their sinful past, have been designed for works that are in alignment with God's law. Jesus, in the model prayer asks us to ask for forgiveness of our trespasses on a daily basis and counsels five of the seven churches in Revelation 2 to repent from their sinful ways, radically change course, and turn to God. Repentance transcends remorse, incorporating works of righteousness in sync with God's Law. If the Law were done away, there would be no need of a Savior.
Ted Bowling, ruminating on God's purposeful act of forgetting, assures us that His active choosing not to remember sins is a sterling, Godly act of wisdom, one that we are commanded to emulate. God does not forget our sins because He cannot any longer remember them, but because He actively chooses to forget them upon our repentance. Forgiveness has a condition that we no longer repeat the sin; to please God is to sin no longer. If we believe that God remembers our sins, it will be impossible to progress spiritually. We also need to put our own sins behind us, not clinging to their memory. Like David, we need to let go of our transgressions, feeling secure that God has blotted them out of His memory. We also must emulate Jesus Christ's ability to forgive and blot out sins of others, but remember the good things or good works done by others.
Just before Jesus gives the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21-35, Peter comes to Him and asks how often he should forgive a sinning brother. ...
Clyde Finklea reflects that, as Hosea's wife Gomer was unfaithful, so has Israel been unfaithful to Almighty God, practicing idolatry, sexual immorality, child sacrifice, and other abominations. These transgressions led God to scatter Israel, making them slaves of the Assyrians, one of the cruelest of peoples. Even though Gomer proved unfaithful, Hosea still loved her, buying her back from captivity, restoring her as his wife, an act which depicts the loving forgiveness of God. Christians are to love one another as God has loved us and forgive one another as God has forgiven us.
John Ritenbaugh states that Atonement is the least looked forward to holy day, and the one Satan would like to deliberately obscure. The word atonement alters in meaning as we change the context in which it is used. When we parse the morphology, looking at the suffix "-ment" which changes a verb into a noun, suggests the means by which something is altered or changed, we find that atonement denotes the way something bad done in the past can be made good, or the means to which harmony is achieved, making the entire world at one or reconciled with God. Sin has separated mankind from God, forcing God not to listen to them. Man's estrangement is wholly beyond dispute, and totally man's fault. We cannot expect to reconcile to God on our own terms. Man is not God's equal; His sovereignty must be recognized at all times. The context of "covering" in the Old Covenant did not get rid of or purge sins, but merely covered them. The sacrifice of unblemished animals typified the type of life that Christ would lead: sinless. Sadly, our forebears kept these holy days mechanically, not regarding the significance or the meaning of a "sinless" offering. No heart to heart contact was every made with God; no atonement could be achieved if they never repented or changed. Sin could be considered a violation of relationship, brought about by idolatry, adultery, or fornication. When we realize that God alone can forgive sin, we understand that human love in Proverbs 16:6, does not atone for sin, but it allows the person offended the opportunity to protect or safeguard the reputation of the offender. The context of atonement in the New Covenant is to totally purge or wipe away the sins, only possible through the blood sacrifice of a perfect life, namely Jesus.
Even though our sins are forgiven when we come under Christ’s blood, a stipulation of that forgiveness is that we also forgive others. ...
David C. Grabbe: Under the Old Covenant, the Day of Atonement was the only day during the year when the high priest entered into the Holy of Holies. On that day, he sprinkled the blood of a sin offering ...
In our interactions with others, it is easy to fall into the traps of judgmentalism, gossip, and unforgiveness. John Reid explores a better, more Christian option: mercy. It is time for us to overcome our natural, carnal reactions and implement patience and forbearance in our relationships.
Martin Collins, citing Ephesians 4:29-32, warns against corrupt, bitter, and wrathful communication, a practice which may grieve or attenuate God's Spirit. We have the tendency to nurse or harbor grievances and bitterness, souring our outlook on everything, creating a cynical or hardened mindset, focusing on the faults and blemishes in everything. Our bitterness grieves Jesus Christ. Wrath and clamor permanently injure others. As the African proverb reminds us, "The axe forgets, but the tree remembers." Evil speaking, slander, and malice must be expunged from a Christian's verbal repertoire. We displace evil-speaking by flooding our minds with kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness, cultivating an entirely new emerging personality, useful and helpful to others, emulating Jesus Christ. Driving out the evil must be followed by cultivating goodness and righteousness. Positivity cancels out negativity. An antidote to depression is to get our hearts tenderheartedly focused on someone else, showing mercy and compassion, after the manner of the Good Samaritan, as well as of our Elder Brother and our Heavenly Father. We need to forgive others as God has forgiven us.
John W. Ritenbaugh: The sequence of petitions in the second half of the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:11-12) tells each of us that we should pray daily for the food needed for that day. ...
David F. Maas: How many of us have felt embarrassed after finding leavening in our homes during the Days of Unleavened Bread? Far more embarrassing is to reclaim leavening after throwing it out, yet I had such an experience, one I was ashamed for years to admit had happened. ...
Remember "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me"? In most cases, this is a lie. The hurtful words that we speak can create scars that last longer than any physical scar that sticks and stones may cause. Christians need to learn to harness the power of the tongue.
As members of God's church, what are we to do when destructive words come our way? Ted Bowling advises us not to take to heart everything people say. We must learn to take everything in our lives with much patience and longsuffering, which will result in peace.
Leviticus 4 and 5 contain the instructions for the sin and trespass offerings. John Ritenbaugh explains that sin and human nature affect everyone in society—from king to commoner—but God has covered sin from every angle in the sacrifice of His Son.
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.
Offenses and sins against us are unfortunately common. Jesus teaches us how to deal with them in this parable, focusing on our attitude of forgiveness because of being forgiven ourselves.
Martin Collins asserts that presumptuous self-justification is one of mankind's most deceptive or blinding sins. Glibly stating, "God will understand," we practice a dangerous and foolish form of situation ethics. God pays close attention to the small or insignificant things we may overlook or excuse in ourselves, sins we commit in weakness. God's patience does not constitute approval of our sin. God's truth penetrates and exposes our secret sins. Nothing can be concealed from Almighty God. The reverence and fear of God leads to hating evil and obeying God in both public and private contexts. Regarding our presumptuous thoughts and behaviors, God will certainly understand (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
We in the church have often considered footwashing merely as a ritual to remind us of the need to serve one another. Bill Keesee, however, explains how footwashing teaches another godly attribute: forgiveness.
Many of us tend to be pack-rats, saving everything for years and years until we have collected a mass of—well, junk! David Maas compares this with accumulated sin. The time has come to get rid of it!
Richard Ritenbaugh, expounding upon the principle that it is more blessed to give than to receive, suggests that the things we ardently desire for ourselves we should be willing to give to others, including forbearance and forgiveness. Following the Apostle Paul's example to the Corinthians, we ought to forgive and comfort one who has genuinely repented. Godly character includes the capacity to forgive and exercise forbearance. Within the body of Christ, we consist of interdependent cells, dependent upon each other. By failing to forgive our brother, we jeopardize the health or well being of the entire body. Extending forgiveness to a repentant brother is a godly characteristic, strengthening the entire body, leading to unity. Our Elder Brother's example should be our standard.
Mercy is a virtue that has gone out of vogue lately, though it is much admired. Jesus, however, places it among the most vital His followers should possess. John Ritenbaugh explains this often misunderstood beatitude.
Meekness is not a virtue that people consider valuable or even desirable. But Jesus lists it as a primary virtue of one who will inherit His Kingdom, and Paul numbers it among the fruits of God's Spirit. Is there something to meekness that we have failed to grasp?
During times of unrest and confusion, it is easy to blame others for our problems. Yet finger-pointing is contrary to everything God teaches, as it shows a self-exalting, judgmental attitude. Now is the time to break this ingrained habit!
Kindness, the fifth fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, goes hand-in-hand with love. It is an active expression of love toward God and fellow man. As we come out of this calloused world, we must develop kindness through the power of God's Spirit.
From the Bible's perspective, patience is far more than simple endurance or longsuffering. The patience that God has shown man collectively and individually gives us an example of what true, godly patience is. It is this kind of patience that Paul urges us to put on as part of the new man.
Richard Ritenbaugh, echoing a radio commentator's observation, "we wear our bones too tight" suggests that we are much too sensitive and litigious, greatly lacking in forbearance, tolerance and patience. A major part of God's character is forbearance, patiently putting up with over 700 years of covenant breaking by our ancestors, patiently refraining from giving them what they deserved. God put up with the foibles of Abraham, Samson, David, Job, and many others, allowing them space to repent and build character. We need to develop the godly trait of forbearance, having the capacity to have mercy on others while we wait for them to change. Forbearance when applied to our brethren leads to unity; lack of forbearance leads to scattering.
Men have a love-hate relationship with mercy: They love to receive it, but hate to give it! Mercy, though, is one of the most important virtues, according to our Savior Jesus Christ. This article provides reasons why we should lean toward mercy in all our judgments.
Following our too frequent mess-ups in life, forgiveness is so refreshing! John Reid examines forgiveness, highlighting how necessary it is for us to forgive others.
John Ritenbaugh insists that God does not love everybody equally. Nowhere does He tell us to prefer the world of the ungodly, adopting the pagan customs of the world's religions. Though God commands us to love our enemies, He does not tell us to be kindly affectionate to them. Though God says He is not willing that any should perish, universal salvation is not a doctrine of the Bible. The objects of God's love in John 3:16 are His begotten children who have reciprocated His love by keeping His laws, the same ones mentioned in I John 3:1. God loves His own.
In this message on the definition of grace, John Ritenbaugh insists that God has never acted unjustly to any one of us, even one time. It is utterly impossible for Him to do so. Through the parables, we learn that our forgiveness by God is directly linked to our forgiveness of other men. The entire life of Christ (God incarnate) was a manifestation of God's grace, a gift to us, revealing the nature of God by means of a life lived- a life intended to give us an example to follow. In Christ's life, God ceases to be an abstraction, but instead a concrete reality for God's called-out ones to emulate.
John Ritenbaugh contends that while Scripture does allow for individuals to share their faults with one another for encouragement and brotherly advice, no man has the power to forgive sins or grant absolution, a prerogative retained by Christ and God the Father alone. Trusting human allies rather than God to also seems to be a main theme of Lamentations. An acrostic poem with highly structured multiple meters, Lamentations mimics the agitated talk of someone uncontrollably sobbing or crying. Personified as a grieved widow, Jerusalem recounts her sins as a nation, depending on her own strength or on her lovers (political alliances representing spiritual harlotry) rather than upon God, her Husband. Like Ezekiel, Lamentations also applies to modern Israel, which also has the faithless tendency to form adulterous political alliances with other nations rather than rely upon God, bringing the curse of captivity and mocking scorn.
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 Jesus' caution to Mary in John 20:17, "Don't touch me," is more accurately translated "Don't cling to me." Either translation does not contradict the First Fruits symbolism. (After all, the Levitical Priests had to "touch" the grain in order to offer it.) Also the charge Jesus gave to the disciples in John 20:23 was not to "forgive sin" but only to discern the fruits of repentance, consistent with the binding and loosing authority of Levitical Priests, applying God's law. Having the "Mind of Christ" gives the New Testament ministry the ability to discern the fruits of repentance. The problem with Thomas was more his tendency to be a loner, having cutting himself from the fellowship of his brothers, than his doubting. Thomas's insistence upon touching refutes the Gnostic's claim that Jesus did not have corporeal substance. Not only does the book of John (written in 96AD) provides a plethora of signs corroborating Jesus Christ's authenticity, but also shows a pattern to actively live as God would live if He were a man, with the effect of building and sustaining faith. The epilogue (chapter 21) seemed to be added to counteract the assumption that John would live until Christ's second coming, as well as confuting the Gnostics' claim that Jesus did not have physical substance. The conclusion describes the disciples' bewildered reaction to their resurrected teacher. In this incident, Jesus formally, by using expressions identifying different levels of love, affirms the intense responsibility and difficulty of the commission given to Peter.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that chapter 18 provides instructions to how to get along in the church. Jesus teaches a parable contrasting the enormity of what we are forgiven to what we forgive others. Our forgiveness by God is directly connected with our forgiveness of our brother; blessed is the merciful for they will obtain mercy. The Creator's life is worth more than the entire creation; offenses against us are a mere drop in the bucket compared to our sins against God. Gentile women became proselytes to Judaism because of the better treatment of women in the Bible as opposed to their treatment in Gentile religion. Sadly there was a wide variance between the ideal and the practice since the Jewish culture of that time also considered the woman a possession of her husband or father with no legal rights except those granted to her by her husband. Religious leaders, influenced by Hillel's liberal approach to divorce could grant divorces for trivial reasons. Jesus explained the original intent of marriage with Adam and Eve, who were explicitly designed for one another with no competition. Moses, because of the hardness of peoples' hearts allowed for a bill of divorcement as a temporary concession to their unconverted heart and mind, in order to prevent wholesale adultery. Uncleanness of heart is really the only real grounds for divorce, usually preceded by the unconverted mate leaving. In the case of desertion by the other mate, the converted person is free to marry. The ideal God intended in marriage can only be attained by those with God's spirit, with Christ living in them. Jesus admonishes us that we should emulate certain qualities of innocence and trust displayed by children as we become mature adults.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Matthew 18 describes the essence of personal relationships within the church. Seven basic characteristics are emphasized, including having a childlike humble attitude, setting a proper example, exercising self-denial, individual care, using tact in correcting a person, practicing fellowship and extending forgiveness. What we aim for in life has a profound effect on our attitudes and behavior. Unless we have sharply-etched goals, we are not going to succeed. If the goals are materialistic, we will be caught up in the attitudes of this world inculcating arrogant competition, totally at odds with attaining the Kingdom of God. If the Kingdom of God is not our goal, we won't use spiritual knowledge correctly. We have to learn to implicitly trust God as a child trusts his parents. Growing spiritually is tantamount to growing out of the habit of being offended. Those who are mature should be able to endure the slights and offenses of the spiritually immature, being circumspect not to lead anyone into sin through our careless example. We need to be willing to be willing to exercise self-sacrifice or self-discipline in order to set a proper example to preserve unity. It should be our objective to strengthen the weak as we have the resources to do so, realizing, of course, that there is a limit to what we can do. A root of bitterness should be assiduously avoided. A set of common sense instructions is given to resolve conflict and promote reconciliation, beginning with the offended going to the offender, and as a rare last resort brought to the ministry for judgment or solution. As we pray to God for a solution, we should pray to become victorious in our overcoming, being subject to His purpose and will, willing to forgive those who have offended us, always leaving the door to repentance open to the one who has sinned, forgiving him 70 x7 if necessary.
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