Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the riot which occurred in Ephesus when the silversmith Demetrius became alarmed that the apostle Paul was endangering the local economy, indicates that Rome had zero-tolerance for any activity disturbing the tranquility of Empire. That state of affairs clashes significantly with the modern American regard for free speech, in which protests against President Trump, police brutality, abortion, NFL player's kneeling because of perceived brutality against blacks, homophobia, killing whales, etc. abound. The chaotic circus continues because Americans have a high regard for free speech. God, on the other hand, shows little tolerance for incessant grumbling, complaining, or murmuring. God consistently warns His People to avoid keeping company with rebels lest they become like them. "Acting out" in protest is unacceptable behavior on the part of a faithful, God-fearing Child of God.
James Beaubelle, focusing on the infamous narrative in Numbers 13-14 of the ten timid and two bold spies, referenced in four other books of the Bible, concludes that it behooves us to carefully consider the offenses preventing many ancient Israelites from entering their rest. That evil generation, despite its daily contact with God, refused to trust Him, but complained every step along the way. There was not a single day of rebellion, but a whole series of aggravating incidents, including complaining about bitter water, griping about the lack of food, , attempting to gather manna on the Sabbath, fashioning the golden calf, and the ten spies' dispiriting the people from entering the Promised land. We have the same carnal nature as our forebears and should learn from their example that complaining equates to lack of faith and that we must be ready to listen to and obey the One Who called us.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that the conclusion of the Old Testament as we have inherited from the Latin Vulgate does not have an upbeat ending, but instead ends with a threat of a curse, reviews the seven feeble queries made by the priests, questioning God's providence and His faithfulness, asking what good it does to be godly, keeping His commandments. Those who fear the Lord and esteem His name will be kept in God's Book of Remembrance, the Book of Life. Jesus Christ will acknowledge who is in the Book of Life, enabled to enter the Eternal City. David, in Psalm 139, reveals that all the days of his life were recorded in God's book before he was even born. God's moral standards are unchangeable and will not be altered by the wishful thinking of moral relativists. Delay in judgment should not be construed as God's abandonment of judgment. God desires that all people receive salvation, but He is not about to remove our free will by forcing it upon us. The wicked burned up as ashes certainly precludes the notion of universal salvation. As John the Baptist (in the Spirit of Elijah) made preparations for Christ's ministry, imploring people to repent and change, we must prepare for the Passover season through mental acts of praying, studying, and meditating on the Scriptures, especially on those passages in which God addresses us in the first person. We must continually examine ourselves to see if we are indeed walking according to our calling.
Ronny Graham, reflecting upon mankind’s propensity to selectively filter events, forgetting the bad and remembering the good when assessing “the good old days,” asserts that our civilization has undergone a terrifying free-fall of morality and ethics for multiple decades. Some feel the good old days are a myth, while others claim that we do not realize how good we have had things until they are gone. French novelist Marcel Proust proclaims that “remembrance of things past is not necessarily remembrance of the way things really were.” We have myriads of memories of the way things used to be in the church, including multiple choices of feast sites, social and athletic activities, abundant TV and print media, as well as full-fledged educational institutions. Many of the splinter groups in the greater Church of God are trying to reproduce this elusive bygone milieu and nostalgically return to those times. When our forebears on the Sinai faced frustrating challenges, they longed to return to the good old days, when there were plenty of pots of meat with garlic and leeks to go around, forgetting, of course, the bitterness of bondage. To be sure, there was a time when the children of Israel did enjoy prosperity in the land of Egypt, as Jacob’s offspring began to multiply, rivaling the Egyptian population, a time they genuinely feared God. When Jacob’s offspring began to assimilate into Egyptian culture, practicing idolatry, their foolish apostasy cost them God’s protection. Israel’s greatest problem was their failure to remember the terms of God’s Covenant, including His Sabbaths. God put Israel into slavery because they profaned His Sabbaths and statutes. Our previous fellowship was likewise blown apart because of apostasy from God’s Covenant; we need to solemnly remember that fact and purpose to get back to the old faith once delivered.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Romans 11:33-35, indicates that God is unparalleled in leadership, jurisdiction, and wisdom. We are not individually sovereign over much, but we are commanded to give ourselves over completely to God's sovereignty. If we do this, we will reap unfathomable blessings. We should develop a fear of God, which acts as a magnet to draw us toward Him. We discover that our pride gradually begins to disappear, displaced by humility. Knowledge of God (understanding and wisdom) is progressive; it does not happen all at once. As occurred to Isaiah, Job, and Daniel, we will feel a sense of our total unworthiness in the light of God's splendor when we come to see God. As we develop a relationship with Him, we begin to make better choices, yielding to His correction. Irreverence of God invariably promotes pride; knowing God promotes submission and humility. If we yield to God's sovereignty, we choose life and will develop the ability to make lifesaving, though admittedly difficult, choices. Then, only God's standard will be acceptable to us. Implicit obedience (as is displayed by the writer of Psalm 119:35-48, 132-133) will lead to greater spiritual growth. Murmuring and complaining appear to be an inborn trait of Israelites, as seen in the insatiable drive toward entitlements we witnessed in the recent presidential election. As God's called-out ones, we need to realize that we are in His view at all times, and that He is able to protect us and safeguard us. Consequently, we need to refrain from complaining, realizing that God is justified in everything He does or allows. God is the Potter; we are the clay. God intends that we devote our lives to seeking Him. As we do so, He will produce quality fruit in us.
John Ritenbaugh, distinguishing the terms freedom and liberty, suggests that Christian liberty is far more restrained than the word freedom would connote. Mainstream Christianity often obscures the major emphasis of God's purpose in our lives, focusing on a genie in a bottle endlessly showering miracles. God deliberately put His chosen people through testing, trails, and deprivation to see what they would do and how they would respond to His laws. Building character and conforming to Christ's image requires suffering, privations, testing, and trials, including the degradation of slavery. We are still suffering under the bondage of sin. Through God's grace, we are provided liberty with specified limits and boundaries. Grace is not the entire story, especially after we leave Egypt. We are to deny worldly lusts, putting out sin, having been obliged to live in godliness, preparing to live in good works. Consequently, grace places limits on our freedom, training us for our future life in the Kingdom of God. Our behavior must be clearly distinguishable from the non-believers in society. We cannot emulate our forebears, who although freed from Egypt, maintained their slave mentality, immersed in their worldly lusts, rebelling before they even commenced through the Red Sea, grumbling about their diet. We must desire the life-giving manna, the Bread of Life, namely the instruction provided through God's Word, producing good conduct and good life, keeping us from the bondage of sin. We need to be continually packing our minds with the Truth of God, fortifying our goal of attaining the Kingdom of God.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the admonition of Christ that we must take the straight gate or the narrow way (symbols of grave difficulty), indicates that our experience in overcoming and developing character will be fraught with difficulties. Nevertheless, God will provide the power to get through all this difficulty and anguish of spirit if we have true faith. Murmuring and grumbling are clear indications of lack of faith, and are in the same category as murder, idolatry, and fornication. Godliness with contentment is something we have to learn, stemming from absolute confidence in God's providence- beginning with the sacrifice of His Son-to each of us individually. The sacrifice of Jesus was the idea of God the Father.
John Ritenbaugh contends that those who believe in the "once saved always saved" doctrine foolishly fail to see that God has a more extensive and creative plan for mankind than merely saving them. One can fail to bring forth fruits of repentance and thus qualify for the Lake of Fire. By denigrating the role of works in repentance and building character, the proponents of the "no effort, no works, love Jesus only" idea ignore the lessons of Scripture and mock God's plan for mankind, suggesting that He requires nothing productive of His contractual partners. Salvation is not unconditional. If we deliberately choose death (Deuteronomy 30:19), rejecting God's covenant, He is not responsible for our breach of contract.
John Ritenbaugh begins to summarize the attitudes that we should develop toward this vital subject. Five things or insights understanding sovereignty should produce are: (1) a fear of God, (2) implicit and unquestioned obedience, (3) resignation to His will,(4) thankfulness and praise, and (5) an adoring worship of Him. Like Job, we need to mature into the resignation to God's will and purpose for our lives,realizing that both pleasant and horrendous times work for our ultimate spiritual growth and development.
John Ritenbaugh, expounding upon the sixth commandment, focuses upon the curious aberration of 'holy wars,' killing in the name of religion, or the motivation for waging 'just' wars. God has never given mankind the prerogative to determine whether war is just or not. Because God has supreme sovereignty and authority over all government, we are subject to (the sanctions and penalties of) all governmental authority, but are obligated to obey the highest authority- namely God Almighty. God promised the children of Israel that if they would obey Him, He would fight their battles for them- driving their enemies out. Ancient Israel's choice to go to war was not sanctioned by God. Likewise, God has promised to protect us upon the condition of our unconditional obedience to our covenant with Him. We have the responsibility to trust God unconditionally.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that working out our salvation does not mean working for salvation, but instead making what we believe operational. God, through His Spirit gives us the power both to will and to do. Paul admonishes the Philippians that nothing blemishes or disfigures their witness more than complaining, because like the ancient Israelites, they (and we) are actually calling God into account. Like Paul, we must consider our daily life a living sacrifice to perform whatever God demands of us. God desires that His witness extend from the written word to actual personalities performing and demonstrating His will — examples of living God's word. Without a living personality, the words just don't have the same effect. Paul, by establishing Epaproditus' credentials, punctuates or amplifies the intent of his written message.
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