John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Jesus handpicked the twelve apostles for a specific work, notes that there is a strong possibility that God has also handpicked each one of us to fulfill a particular role in the Body. Like an engineer on a building project, Jesus Christ has constructed a blueprint with detailed specifications. God is the Supreme Designer. He has called the common and the foolish people for the task of confounding the mighty. But after our calling, God sanctifies us, pounding out the foolishness, through His Holy Spirit putting His precious thoughts into our minds, making matters which were once cloudy clear. Accepting the gift of God's Holy Spirit comes with grave responsibility. We are required to place a high value on this precious gift, guarding it with all our heart. Where our heart is will be our treasure. Spiritual treasure will last, while all things material will deteriorate. Our heart is what makes us tick, what we set our minds to. God reveals that He has a heart and the capacity to feel tenderness. To a lost and hurting people, He assures Ephraim (symbolic of the wayward northern ten Tribes of Israel), "My heart churns within me" (Hosea 11:8). The book of Hebrews clarifies that the persecution on the Church following Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, and the giving of the Holy Spirit did not come directly from God—but He did stir the pot that caused the persecuting in that fulcrum time in World History.
David Grabbe reminds us that, for the past 25 years, the highest priority of the Church of the Great God has not been the preaching of the Gospel to the world, but the feeding of the flock. If we lose sight that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, we will forget that Christ is currently purifying His Church, sanctifying the ones He has called to be His family. Christ is not an irresponsible landlord with His Church, but is actively intervening, taking charge of the church's growth and maturity. Christ was responsible for the recent scattering of the church, just as He was responsible for the scattering of ancient Israel. When we fail to learn from history, Christ gives us an opportunity to learn again. Christ gifted the body with servants that perform different roles depending upon the circumstances. In the latter days of the Worldwide Church of God, the leadership no longer walked by faith, but by sight. God gifts His Church spiritually so that we can come to the measure of Christ. We need to exercise faith that God can work through preachers having the same carnal nature as we do. In this phase of God's plan, the called-out ones need—and receive—God's serious attention so we can grow spiritually. We are required to walk by faith instead of by sight.
John Ritenbaugh, endeavoring to build an intensified appreciation for God's Holy Spirit, maintains that our sense of responsibility should also intensify when we realize that our calling was not random. The term "spirit" is associated with wind in both Greek and Hebrew, indicating a power that is invisible but forceful. God gave mankind distinctions no other animal ever received, including being fashioned in His image, enabled to manage the resources of the earth, having communication skills and memory, having the capacity to marry and express love and finally, realizing that sin carries a punishment. God has singled each one of us out individually, calling us, gifting us with capabilities, and preparing us for eternal life as members of His family. The birth Christ described to Nicodemus could be rendered both "from above" (as the wind comes from above) or "again" (referring to a totally new spiritual creation). If we are in Christ, having His mind, we are indeed a new creation. God is creating us and gifting us as we move along. We require the Holy Spirit to aid us in this transformative sanctification process. In this process, God might very well place us in situations we feel are above our head but He will also always supply the tools to accomplish the work He has given us. . Like the apostles Paul and Peter, we could not get by without the gifting of God's Holy Spirit. As we use the prompts and gifting of the Holy Spirit, realizing that God has initiated everything, we (as the early disciples) become elevated from servant to friend to sibling of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, differentiating Pentecost from the other High Holy Days, suggests that its uniqueness consists of the extra-special gift to God's called-out ones, namely the precious additive of God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to perform the tasks God has prepared, giving us the power to overcome, build character, and attain membership in His family. Without God's Holy Spirit, our carnal nature is hostile to all His purposes. In the context of physical death, there is no difference between the spirit of man and the spirit of an animal. But, with the sealing of God's Holy Spirit is the promise of becoming His offspring and serving productively in His family. The spirit in man separates mankind from animals, giving man the ability to plan, analyze, create art, music and literature, developing technology that makes our heads spin. Without God's Holy Spirit, mankind has never been able to live at peace. When we yield to God's Holy Spirit, we receive the power to do the things God has prepared His firstfruits to accomplish, adding exponentially to the capabilities and the achievements of the spirit in man.
John Reiss: In Part One, we learned about Hur, the son of Caleb, a Jew whom Exodus 17:8-13 records as helping Aaron hold up Moses' hands to secure a victory against the attacking Amalekites. ...
John Reiss: Romans 15:4 reads in the New International Version, "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures ...
Ronny Graham answers the complaints of timid people who feel that they have not been gifted by God by maintaining that God has gifted every called-out-one. Living in America has been an inestimable gift. All gifts are from above and are meant to be mutually complementary. God has gifted everyone in the church, but not everyone is bold enough to use his gifts, as is witnessed by the abortive choir at this Feast. No gift is more glamorous or more important than any other gift. As in the physical body, some of the homelier looking parts receive the greatest honor. Every human being has a voice box with functional vocal cords; attendees of next years feast should enjoy a large (Mormon Tabernacle proportion) choir.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the myriad infomercials offering systems and formulae for success, from making money by flipping real estate or improving our golf score, focuses on the winning playbooks of several professional football coaches, drawing the spiritual analogy that we must be willing to be team players, yielding our private ambitions and desires for the good of the team. It is the coach's prerogative to expect that we conform to his playbook. We are obligated to transform or change our game to please our coach. For God's called-out ones, this mandate becomes challenging because the world desperately wants to squeeze us into its mold. It is far easier to conform to the world than to conform to Christ. We must extricate ourselves from the walking dead and yield to God to renew our minds, living in the spirit rather than in the flesh. Four major warning signs caution us that we have come too close to compromising with the world. 1) We discover there is a serious change in our prayer and/or Bible study habits. 2) We find ourselves withdrawing from fellowship with the brethren—tantamount to withdrawing from God. 3) We find ourselves seeking praise from those in the world. 4) We begin to look to the world for solutions to problems. We need to remember that Christ, not our human reason, is the Way.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting that 30 years have passed since the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, and 24 years since the founding of the Church of the Great God, marvels that the greater church of God continues to scatter over 400 separate organizational structures. Realizing that God evidently determined to effect this diaspora, our primary goal should be spiritual rather than organizational unity, as we endeavor to achieve the same kind of unity Christ has for God the Father, a unity He prayed for His disciples at the last supper, and for all His called-out ones. Much of the onus for the fracturing of the WCG rested with the leadership, based on a philosophy of authoritarian gentile leadership Christ warned against, mimicking sheriffs rather than shepherds, driving rather than leading. To successfully lead the church, leaders or overseers must: (1) Realize that God is sovereign, always in control and always at work, responsible for good and calamity. (2) Know that Jesus is the head of the Church; God the Father put everything under His feet.. As parts of a spiritual body, with roles assigned by Christ, neither leaders nor lay people should arrogate responsibility not given us. (3) Ministers are servants rather than overlords; all the Bible luminaries, including Paul, Peter, James, and Jude, referred to themselves as servants. (4) The authority for the leadership in the church is spiritual, not physical, political or authoritarian. God has commissioned pastors to lead and persuade, equipping the saints to function as god has ordained, rather than to browbeat and give orders. (5) The pastor's job description is to be a shepherd, guiding, protecting, feeding, and walking in front of the flock, leading them rather than driving them.
John Ritenbaugh observes that, in every biblical covenant, God gives responsibilities in order to be in alignment with Him. If we fail to meet the responsibilities He has given to us, God will penalize us. Every covenant we find in Scripture outlines promises, responsibilities, and penalties. As members of the Body of Christ, we have been given specific tasks to carry out, placed in that Body where we can be the most productive. God is currently at work producing leadership in an organization which will follow Him, calling people into His family one by one, meticulously crafting it into a perfect organism. God is showing the same precision in His spiritual creation as He did in the physical creation. God did not create the universe and then just walk away, paying less attention to us than the earth (as magnificent as it is). Everything God made works (including our ultimate spiritual creation) perfectly. Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father, upholds and tends His spiritual creation right now. As God used Noah to build an ark (Noah perhaps had no idea as to what an ark was and what rain was), God has also called us to complete a project to which we are totally oblivious. Though we are in much ignorance as to how the end project will emerge, God has provided us tools to finish what He has called us to do. By reviewing God's patterns, we can see that we are part of the same project to which Noah and his family, progenitors of Christ, had been called. The ark, a protective enclosure or place of sanctuary, recurs perennially in Scripture, as the basket, protecting Moses, another Christ figure. Joseph, another Christ figure, was transported in a kind of ark (a coffin) into the Promised Land. The Ark of the Covenant is a protective enclosure, shielding God's treasures. The church metaphorically is an ark, a structure protecting God's called-out ones until the time of resurrection into His family. As Noah could not see God, but still did what He commanded, walking by faith, trusting Him totally, we, as
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the metaphorical aspects of work and walking, suggests that these activities play a major role in overcoming and sanctification. We must have a higher regard for Christian works than our everyday job, realizing that work is a wholesome activity toward the production of something. The first picture we see of God is that He is working or creating. If we are going to be in the Kingdom of God, work is important. Adam was never granted a welfare existence. The command to work preceded Adam and Eve's sin. The curse was not defined as "having to work," but the curse of thorns and thistles made work more difficult. Solomon emphasized in Ecclesiastes 2 that we should enjoy and derive pleasure from our work. The way that we work is a visible witness of God before the world. Technically, we do not work for our employer, but for God. We serve as Jesus Christ's bond-slave. We work for Jesus Christ regardless of what our daily tasks are; we must assiduously avoid indolence or laziness, but instead to be profitable servants. Profitability applies just as much to the attaining of skill as attaining money. The body of Jesus Christ has many skilled functions; not everyone has the same function. We can hone our skills in prayer, Bible study, and meditation, systematically involving all of our sense modalities, compiling notes and study references, making our studying time incrementally more valuable. Work does involve sacrifice of time and energy in order to produce value; we give up our entire lives to produce profit. Work is a costly investment of our life producing a profit for God.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the times we are about to go through will be unparalleled history, suggests that we need to keep our vision before us. We have the obligation to be loyal to Jesus Christ. We cannot, as our forebears did on the Sinai, harden our necks in disbelief and disobedience as a result of flagging faith. Our forebears were charged with enthusiasm as they left Egypt, but their faith ultimately waned. Our current day fellowship faced a similar attenuation of faith, leading to a precarious decline in membership. We have an obligation to place our faith in a Living Being. Christ is not going to draw back from us, but we might allow something to come between us and our High Priest. The people of Hebrews, like us, were living in an end time, prior to the destruction of the temple. For the recipients of Hebrews and for us, faith is a use it or lose it proposition. God sought us out; we didn't find Him by our seeking. What God has given us He has given to very few people. Humility must be at the foundation in the relationship between us and Jesus Christ. The church exists solely because what God has purposed and done, not because anything we have done. When pride exists within us, God can do nothing with us. God dwells with those who exhibit contrite and humble hearts. In His spiritual creation, God has demonstrated extraordinary planning and foresight, planning and caring for the destinations of billions of individuals. With God, nothing happens randomly; even mistakes we have made can work for our ultimate good. As God's called-out ones, we are special.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Jesus Christ's prayer for unity in John 17, insists that unity with our brethren is impossible without unity with God first. Adam and Eve severed this unity by yielding to Satan's influence, stimulating their minds with a novel diversion. Sin automatically separates us from God. The key to overcoming rests exclusively in our relationship with God. We are placed in the Body of Christ at His discretion, and are obligated to subject ourselves to His workmanship, keeping Him continually in our thoughts, night and day. We do not produce any fruit unless we are attached to the vine. As members of Christ's body, we must function for the good of the whole body, not competing with other organs or limbs. We must continually see God and function as a son of God. As with our Elder Brother, if we do those things that please our Heavenly Father, He will be there for us. Not responding to God and treating our brethren shabbily, brings harsh judgment upon us. Unity in the Body is brought about by yielding to and using the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, enabling us to love our brother as God has loved us. The more we have in common, the greater will be unity and peace.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the formative years of the Church of the Great God, remembers that certain individuals wanted to make radical changes in the church service, including using a contentious debate format. When Herbert W. Armstrong first decided on the method of worship for the Radio Church of God and the Worldwide Church of God, he based it on principles of order and decorum found in large part in I Corinthians, insisting that all things be done decently and in order. Paul's instructions on order are found in I Corinthians 9, 11, 12, and 14, establishing practical guidelines for ministerial authority, the pattern of church governance, the conduct of members and proper observance of the Passover, the organization and division of labor in the church, and establishing guidelines for worship, bringing order out of chaos.
In the world, it is common practice to use whatever means necessary to grasp the brass ring, but such selfish ambition should be absent from the church. In light of the example of Korah, have we allowed ourselves to be led by men or are we really following God?
John Ritenbaugh discusses the implication of Dathan and Korah's rebellion in Numbers 16:1-5, agitating for a democratization of priestly responsibilities. God clearly reveals that not everybody set apart is holy in the same way, nor is God dealing the same way with each person. The privileges granted the priesthood are accompanied with equally weighty responsibilities. The New Testament church as a priesthood has been 1) set apart by God (not by people or self), 2) totally belongs to God, 3) has been awarded gifts for very specific functions, and 4) given the exclusive duty of drawing near to God.
In this follow-up sermon on the antidote to presumptuousness, Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that a person who is truly content is never presumptuous. Korah and Abiram were not contented with where God had placed them in the body, but, in a spirit of pride-filled competition, wanted to arrogate to themselves the office of Moses, as Heylel wanted to arrogate to himself God's office. God is very quick to punish presumptuous sins. Self-exaltation leads to debasement. Following the cue of our Elder Brother, we ought to humble ourselves, content to be nothing, allowing God to do the exalting. We need to be content in whatever position God has called us (Philippians 4:11-13).
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God alone chooses the servants through whom He works His will. Sometimes the rationale God uses for selecting His vessels defies worldly wisdom. The major reason for the horrendous split of the greater church of God was the rejection of the doctrines God's servant and Apostle Herbert Armstrong had restored. Apparently, God has used this confusing state of affairs to weed out those individuals who will not yield or submit to those doctrines. When it comes to submitting to God's government, we dare not vainly compare ourselves one to another (II Corinthians 10:12).
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that works are not the cause of salvation, but instead are the effect of God's creative efforts at bringing us into His image—a new creation. We are created in Christ Jesus, given a tiny spark of His nature from which to draw spiritual nourishment and receive our power to act. In this context, works are nothing more than our puny efforts to respond to God's love by voluntarily living like God does. The perfect tense of the verb 'saved' in Ephesians 2:8 (denoting an action started in the past and continuing in the present) does not guarantee that we will always remain in that state, but only if we continue to yield to God's shaping power, mortifying our human nature, and conforming to His image.
[Editor's note: the Matthew portion of the Bible Study begins at the 49min-30sec mark] Before continuing the Bible Study in Matthew 24, John Ritenbaugh, after first examining the role of the Levites, goes into great detail explaining the various roles or functions of offices of responsibility within the church, including that of apostle, evangelist, pastor, and elder- sometimes called bishop, presbyter, or overseer. All of these appointed positions carry the singular responsibility as shepherds to perfect, correct, and edify the saints, bringing the entire congregation to the unity of Christ. The series of events described by Christ in Matthew 24 should be compared to the six seals described in Revelation 6 and the seventh seal described in Revelation 7, showing a definite chronological progression from the Great Tribulation to the terrifying cosmic signs, followed by the climactic Day of the Lord. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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