Bill Onisick, expanding on the "Being Unequally Yoked" youth Bible Study he delivered at the 2017 Feast of Tabernacles, explores the results of joining "mismatched" beings together. Examples range from an ox yoked to a donkey, struggling and pulling against each other, to ill-advised mixed marriages with pagan or gentile partners. When Israel ignored God's warning about assimilating Gentile ways, a yoke of bondage was the consequence. Compromise axiomatically leads to snare and abject bondage. When the Corinthian church tried to syncretize God's truth with the pagan culture around it, horrible enslaving consequences ensued. We are in the same position as the Corinthians, being immersed in a godless, evil world. We are greatly influenced by whomever we spend the most time. We become like those with whom we associate. God's way is not compatible with the world's way. Unfortunately, it is easy to become attached to worldly things. The antidote to being unequally yoked with the world is to take on Jesus Christ's gentle yoke—harnessing ourselves into His great plan. God earnestly wants us to be holy as He is holy because that is the only way He can dwell in us.
David Maas, resuming his exposition on the W's and H's of Meditation, provides of list of related scriptures, beginning with Psalm 119, showing that meditating on God's Holy Law produces profound peace and vivid memory. Meditation fosters peace and tranquility, and vastly improves memory consolidation, safeguarding the integrity of our emerging spiritual body. The only part of us that will survive through the grave is our character—our thoughts, the contents of hearts, what we think about all day long. God will access the lifelong file of memories and make a judgment upon how we have lived. Allowing media and entertainment to grab our attention will dangerously distract us from our primary objective—qualifying to be the Bride of Christ. Researchers have scientifically proven that meditation improves memory and memory consolidation, as well as generates profound peace as an antidote to agitation, stress, chaos and confusion. The act of meditating, even if the focus is on our breathing or on an idyllic scene, is beneficial physically or psychologically, but the maximum benefit will accrue if we meditate on the things God has mandated—namely His Law and His Word.
Richard Ritenbaugh, while acknowledging that America's relationship with slavery has indeed been checkered, with chattel slaves and indentured servants contributing to the prosperity of earlier times, counters the 'Progressivist' claim that America invented slavery and historically practiced the most tyrannical abuses in the world. In point of fact, every ethnic group has both practiced slavery and has been victims of slavery. Israelites have been slaves multiple times, to the Egyptians, Canaanites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans. A culture of slavery pervaded life in the early Christian church , forcing Paul to pen instructions accommodating this practice in the context of love. As well, slavery was a part of the culture of ancient Israel, where God codified as part of His Law humane regulations, guaranteeing liberation of Israelite slaves after six years of service and the Jubilee. These regulations obligated masters to make provisions ensuring their slaves' successful transition to freedom. Contrasting the harsh treatment of slaves by some American slaveowners, God's treatment of us as slaves of righteousness is mild, with Christ's promise that His yoke is easy. Christ, having purchased us from a prior slave owner who was cruel, demands only a lifetime of reasonable service to our brethren with the same rigor as Christ has served us. God has given us a variety of talents and responsibilities to facilitate our serving one another in a spirit of humility, with none exalting himself above another. When we fulfill all the conditions for Christian behavior outlined in I Corinthians 12 and 13, we are still unprofitable servants unless we learn to forgive and meld in love (that is, in sincerity), compassion, and humility with our siblings in the God family.
Beyond the fact that our Savior Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross of some sort, He used its imagery to instruct His followers: He bids us to take us our cross and follow Him. David Grabbe analyzes what Jesus' command would have meant to those who heard Him, showing that our Savior is asking us to follow His example of sacrifice in our own Christian lives.
Affliction seems to be an integral part of Christianity. Our Savior Jesus Christ and His apostles suffered a great deal during their ministries, and though modern Christians' burdens cannot compare to theirs, they are still significant enough to cause great pain. Pat Higgins demonstrates the relative nature of Christian affliction, urging believers to take the Bible's long view of their suffering.
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.
John Ritenbaugh insists that this particular topic is attached to the Old and New Covenants, solemn agreements which are eternal (God's Word is eternal) and will not pass away, nor will they be 'done away.' Some things may be set aside for a while, but they are there for our purposes for learning how to judge. Some of the aspects which the world's religious claim are 'done away' will at a future time be brought back. We need to learn to judge in a godly manner, putting merciful restraints on our tendency to condemn or jump to conclusions. We need to inculcate the two great commandments: loving God and loving our fellow humans. We need to learn that sin has different levels of consequences. When it comes to judgment, one size does not fit all. Not everything is on the same level. God is going to judge each of us individually. Our ultimate destiny is to share rulership with our High Priest, Jesus Christ, judging righteously in God's Kingdom, rightly dividing the Word of God. God's Laws set the standards upon which righteous conduct is to be judged. It takes a lifetime to prepare to judge in the Kingdom of God. Learning to apply the spiritual dimension of the law is much more difficult than applying the physical dimension. But both of these dimensions are easier to keep than the traditions and regulations of men, inherently heavy burdens. When Gentile converts were admitted into the church, they were instructed to follow Old Covenant laws regarding the strangling of animals, eating of blood, or eating meat offered to idols. Clearly, the Old Covenant was not 'done away.' After Christ's return, some of the aspects of the Old Covenant, currently in abeyance (for example, circumcision and sacrifices), will be re-instituted. There is nothing evil about the Old Covenant; it provides insights on righteous judgment.
The Bible makes frequent use of the yoke as a symbol of work, servitude, and union, but we moderns are unfamiliar with yokes due to our non-agrarian lifestyles. Ronny Graham describes the various kinds of yokes—including human yokes—and shows how they are relevant to our Christian lives.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that the command to eat unleavened Bread outnumbers the command to refrain from eating leavened bread three to one, indicating that if we actively engaged ourselves in studying God's word and doing righteousness, we wouldn't have time or place to participate in unrighteousness. Ingesting God's word and actively applying its principles gives us life-sustaining energy to fulfill our personal commission.The book of James had to be written as a counterbalance to antinomian elements that had crept into the church around 60AD, twisting Paul's writings, teaching that grace nullifies the need for works — a condition which has an eerie parallel today. James emphasizes the works required for sanctification after the justification process has been completed. Doing good, like eating unleavened bread, is proactive, displacing sin by righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh clarifies some difficult terms which Protestant theologians have misapplied, characterizing God's holy law as a "yoke of bondage." If we fail to realize that Paul's focus in the Galatians epistle was justification (rather than the whole salvation process of sanctification and glorification) we could become confused. The Old Covenant had no provision for justification nor did it provide a mechanism to change the heart. The antinomian argument ignores that Christ also puts a yoke of responsibility on New Covenant participants (Matthew 11:29-30). The yoke of bondage Paul referred to was a syncretism of Halakhah- the code of regulations added by the Pharisees- and Gnostic ascetic ritualism, neither a part of God's Law. God's Spirit and law keeping are not contradictory.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the subtle changes made by the Worldwide Church of God have contaminated and corrupted virtually every doctrine we have lived by. Alterations in 'the package' affect the whole of what is produced. Proponents of these doctrines fail to see that God is doing more than merely saving people; He is producing sons in His image. Naively thinking that grace was something unique to the New Covenant and law unique to the Old Covenant, these misguided proponents of the 'do away with the law' mentality fail to see that the difference between the two covenants was in the quality of the the faith. The obligation in both covenants consisted of commandment-keeping. Justification denotes alignment with God's Law- not an excuse to break it.
After explaining the context in which Paul advocated going from house to house, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Paul, who understands clearly that God alone calls (John 6:44), makes his initial contact with non-believers in public places (synagogue and forum), going later to private dwellings by invitation only. Chapter 15 focuses upon the Council of Jerusalem, discussing the controversial subject of circumcision and its relationship to salvation. Peter, speaking from his experience working among the Gentiles, realized that some aspects of the ceremonial laws (including circumcision) were not obligatory to Gentiles for salvation, but that the entire Law of God (given by Jesus Christ), far from done away, is to be kept in a more responsible spiritual sense (respecting the boundaries or constraints of conscience) by both Jews and Gentiles. It had become apparent to the apostles gathered at Jerusalem that God had made a parallel visitation and calling to the Gentiles as He had originally concluded with Israel. The new spiritual tabernacle (the Israel of God) would be composed of Gentiles as well as people of Israel.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that disciples of Christ should expect persecution, often from people we normally would feel comfort and protection from, such as members from our own family. The two-edged sword (the Word of God) divides families because receptivity of this word is not a given- especially if one has not yet been called. Many more people ridicule God's Word than keep it. God's called out ones have to love God's Word more than family. Service in the work of God will inevitably bring persecution, but it will also bring reward. Chapter 11 focuses upon the ruminations of John the Baptist, who even though he was close to Christ, may have misunderstood the nature of Christ's true mission. John the Baptist, labeled as "none greater" never performed a miracle. It will take a great deal of expended energy to make it into the Kingdom of God. We cannot afford to be negligent or complacent about our calling, or our willingness to yield to His teachings, letting it dissipate like the ancient Israelites, the people of Bethsaida or Chorazin - or the Laodiceans . We must be teachable and adaptable, willing to take Christ's yoke, not tripped up in intellectual vanity or pride. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]