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Bible verses about Relationship With God
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Self-mastery ("soberly" in NKJV) is self-government or self-control, the foundation of a strong godly life, growth, and producing fruit. If a person cannot govern himself, if he cannot master his passions, he will certainly not have a good relationship with his fellowman or God. His life will likely be marked by major excesses.

The biblical writers use this word in various ways: to behave in an orderly manner, to be sober, serious, sane, sound-minded, discreet, self-disciplined, prudent, and moderate. In context of a person controlling himself, Paul writes, "For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3; see Titus 2:6; I Peter 4:7).

A person who has self-mastery is even-handed, and his passions are under control. He makes proper use of his drives and desires, and his manner of life is not one of extremes. A person reflecting this quality will be making steady progress in growing into the perfectly balanced character of Jesus Christ.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Five Teachings of Grace


 

Worldliness: "the love of beauty—that which one finds attractive, appealing, or desirable—without a corresponding love of righteousness." The product of worldliness is that, rather than "tend and keep" as he was commanded by God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15), man will "use and abuse." Undoubtedly, Eden was gorgeous, the best and most magnificent environment anyone on earth has ever lived in. What did Adam and Eve do? They used and abused it until God was forced to banish them from it, placing cherubim with flaming swords to guard against their return (Genesis 3:24).

The general record of mankind is that wherever he has put his hand, man has not beautified but used and abused the earth. God is more concerned about man's spiritual beautification than He is about the physical earth, but He warns very clearly in Revelation 11:18 that He will "destroy those who destroy the earth." Man does not have the right concept of beauty. He has the wrong standards and ideals because Babylon impressed itself upon him. He uses and abuses virtually everything, and the results show everywhere on earth. This approach to life manifests Babylon's way and illustrates why God commands His people to come out of it.

God is most concerned about how we act toward other people, how we work within our relationships with our mates, our neighbors, and above all, our God. Do we use and abuse our relationships with God and other people? Do we do everything in our power to dress and keep? Do we have a love of beauty along with a love of righteousness? Although righteousness is indeed the keeping of God's commandments, God requires more of us in our lives. Unless we love the beauty of holiness, we will never become holy as God is holy (I Peter 1:13-16). The love of beauty must be encased in a love of righteousness.

The way of the world is 180 degrees removed from the love of beauty and righteousness. In I John 2, the apostle addresses this way of the world within the subject of love. Though keeping the commandments defines love, it includes a great deal more than that. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . ." (John 3:16). Jesus did not avoid suffering because suffering is an act of love. He loved beauty and righteousness so much that He was willing to follow the commands of God right to the cross. Beauty sustained Him, the beauty of holiness, the beauty of helping multitudes of sons and daughters to inherit the Kingdom of God.

Babylon would not do that. Those impressed by the way of Babylon will love beauty as much as we do, but they will not mix it with a love of righteousness. They will not "tend and keep" fellow man and God. The ever-repeating result is warfare on the field of battle, in the family, in the workplace, in society.

The reason for the state of this evil world is the lack of the love of beauty and the love of righteousness. It is simply a lack of the love of God. The love of God is a choice that is open to all Christians. If one does not choose to love, the only alternative is selfishness—self-concern. A selfish person will abuse. That is the worldly system. Worldliness is nothing more than self-centeredness. An individual chooses to be self-centered or show outgoing love—to be worldly or godly.

Laodiceanism is the most subtle form of self-centeredness or worldliness. It is so subtle that it escapes the detection of those who should be most able to see it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church and Laodiceanism


 

The Laodicean is not indifferent to making money or making his way in the world. He is not indifferent to improving himself through education or experience. Spending huge amounts of his time and energy pursuing his own interests, his problem is that he chooses the wrong priorities in life. He spends most of his time and energy achieving the wrong goals.

This pursuit of wrong goals restates the actual sin the Laodicean commits: idolatry, placing something above God in one's life. How? He serves himself within the church as if he did it for God. Perhaps he is involved in the work of God but only halfheartedly. Though probably attending Sabbath services faithfully, he is not personally involved with God on a day-to-day basis. He may serve within the church to be recognized, respected, maybe even ordained, forgetting that God called him to be a faithful and true witness of Him. Because he pays attention to the wrong things, his witness suffers terribly. Expending so much energy and enthusiasm in pursuing his own interests, he shows little or no interest in God or His goals. He is indifferent and lukewarm toward his relationship with God.

Because he has had such great success in amassing wealth, the Laodicean judges himself to be self-sufficient, which reveals that his faith is in what he can see, whether his own abilities or his wealth. He is not living by faith, but by sight (II Corinthians 5:7). To put more money in his pocket, he can become energetic, hard-working, and fervent, but he cannot seem to arouse himself about the things of God, which he cannot see. Such an attitude will incur the wrath of God every time!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church and Laodiceanism


 

The six parables of the Olivet Prophecy can be summarized in the following six principles:

  1. Though not knowing the day or hour of Christ's return, we can know the signs.
  2. God requires us to live in expectation with vigilance and constant watchfulness.
  3. God requires faithfulness to duty and wisdom in dealing with our fellow man.
  4. God requires preparedness through spiritual development, working on our relationship with Him, and increasing the Holy Spirit.
  5. God requires us to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18).
  6. Christ will judge us by how we treat Him and our brethren. We cannot fool the King—He can discern true love from false love. Nobody will pass under the rod through hypocrisy.

Jesus understood what the end time would be like, and thus He gave commensurate instruction on how to overcome it and how not to be drawn into this world's distractions. A Christian cannot afford to succumb to these pressure-packed, enervating, and distracting times that we live in. These God-given principles apply to a multitude of specific circumstances: how we conduct our marriages and careers, how we rear our children, how we run our homes, how we drive a car, how we dress, how we talk, how we entertain ourselves. In every case—always—the Kingdom of God covers all parts of our lives. It covers everything all the time for those who are called in this age.

We look to the future, but we live in the present. Are we living by what we believe? Are we truly living by faith? We look for a city whose builder is God, and as His representatives we witness for Him in the way we live our lives. The Laodicean is distracted—he is living by what he sees—and is useless to Christ because he is not a faithful and true witness. The righteous live by faith not by sight (II Corinthians 5:7). And so we must live and grow as the return of Christ nears day by day.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church and Laodiceanism


 

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God asserts:

Thus says the LORD, 'Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches: but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD. . . .' (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

How important is it to know God? "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3). As used here, eternal life is knowing God! He implies an intimate relationship with God that matures over a lifetime. Each party knows each other well, as familiarly as marriage partners. Thus Hosea observes, "Then shall we know, if we follow on [in the path of obedience] to know the LORD" (Hosea 6:3, KJV).

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wholeness of God


 

God guides and empowers us in this great pilgrimage by the Holy Spirit, but obedience, following God's commands, is the way we begin to experience and grow in God-life, called "eternal life" in the Scriptures. By obedience we come to know God. It is like walking in His shoes, as it were.

In its biblical usage, the word "know" implies intimacy. From biblical examples, this implication can even mean sexual intimacy. That is really knowing someone closely, especially considering how long a relationship with God exists. When we apply this to our relationship with God, the sexual dimension disappears, and the intimacy becomes a deep and abiding reverence, devotion, and loyalty.

People may think of God as nothing more than an intellectual exercise. They might say "I know God," or believe in a "first cause" or Creator without having any moral compunction. They go to church on Sunday and live the rest of the week just like all their neighbors and coworkers.

People may be emotional, saying God is in them and that they are filled with the "spirit," yet fail to see God in terms of commandments. They see God as something warm and snugly, a grandfatherly figure who rushes to their aid to blow away their problems, but they do not see Him as still purposefully creating.

Unmistakably and without compromise, Jesus, Paul, and John show that the only way that we can show we know God—that He is in us and we love Him—is if we have been regenerated by His Spirit and are obeying Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love


 

What we must truly know now, in our time of salvation (I Peter 4:17), is that no cause apart from God's will moved Him to make us the special object of His love. We must be careful to believe this fully because human nature always looks for some trait within us that motivated God to call us. Human nature always seeks to make itself look good. It will move us to think, even to say, "I have always loved God." Yet how can human nature honestly say this when we must repent before a relationship with Him can even begin? We repent of sin, the breaking of God's law, and love is the keeping of God's law. If we were really keeping God's law—that is, loving Him—then we would have no need to repent.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Seven


 

How do we build this vital relationship, the one on which our salvation depends? It is not difficult: We use the same process we use to build relationships with people. What do we do? We spend time with them, converse with them, and experience various activities with them. By that process, we come to know them better.

Is it any different with God? No! Talking to, spending time with, and experiencing life with God are how we get to know God. Moreover, knowing God is everything, as John 17:3 shows: "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."

What is a key element in coming to know God? Prayer! Prayer is contact with God, a major tool He provides us to develop our relationship with Him and our knowledge of Him. A thorough and deep knowledge of God—both intellectual and experiential—will go far in avoiding the deceptive traps of the Devil, our nature, and this evil age. When we truly understand the reality of God—who and what He is, how He thinks, what He does, what He purposes—we will be able to discern what motivates a statement or action.

Our relationship with God is our protection against deception, even the self-deception that a Laodicean is susceptible to, as Daniel 11:32 indicates: "He will flatter those who have violated the covenant and win them over to his side. But the people who know their God will be strong and will resist him" (New Living Translation, NLT, emphasis ours throughout). The surest way to develop this relationship, protecting us from deception, is through praying always.

The apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 15:33, "Do not be deceived: 'Evil company corrupts good habits.'" Instead, we can choose to fellowship with the very best company in the entire universe—our heavenly Father. That relationship comes through prayer. We talk to Him and He talks to us by the thoughts He inspires. By building this relationship, we develop the mind of God (Philippians 2:5), the mind that will help us see through the strong delusion promised to occur at the end of this age (II Thessalonians 2:11).

Pat Higgins
Praying Always (Part Six)


 

Christ's sinless sacrifice resulted in reconciliation with God. His sacrifice enabled God to justify us, that is, to consider us sinless in a legal sense. We were still sinful, but because we accepted Christ's sacrifice, His blood covered us. Thus, under His righteousness, we are allowed now to have access to God. Having access, we can be forgiven by God and made clean. Because of that, we have the opportunity now to have eternal life, and we are saved, then, by His life being lived in us.

So do we see what reconciliation produced? It did not produce just justification. Reconciliation produces life. If we follow this thought through, reconciliation becomes more than just bringing us back to equal footing. It enables us to go on—to perfection, let's say. We can go on to the type of life that God lives.

If we are not reconciled with God, then we have stalled our salvation process, which is not good. We never want to do this but to be always moving forward. Reconciliation thus becomes very important in the spiritual sense of our eternal salvation. We see here a principle that when we become reconciled, we can then move on in life—and, in a spiritual sense, towards eternal life. This works in principle in the same way in our personal problems with others.

We have gone from being enemies, hostile to God, to being children of God—and, thus, able to be saved through Christ living in us. As Paul says in verse 11, that should bring us great joy. Joy is another result—another fruit—of reconciliation. We are no longer under the burdensome cloud of being at odds with another. When reconciliation occurs, it is a relief to be able to breathe clearly and without stress, unlike when the relationship was antagonistic.


 

Genesis 2:1-3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The Hebrew word translated here as "rested" is the verb shabath, from which comes the noun form that is rendered in English as "Sabbath." Interestingly, the primary meaning of this word is not "rest," in terms of relaxing or rejuvenating, but "to desist from exertion" or "to cease." This makes perfect sense considering that God does not get tired (Isaiah 40:28)!

Genesis 2 states that at the end of Creation Week, God stopped His physical labors, not because He was tired, but because He was setting an example for us. Furthermore, God blessed this specific day of the week and sanctified it—He set it apart for a specific purpose. Just as God deliberately sets apart or sanctifies those people with whom He is working, He purposefully made the seventh day different from the other six.

Thus, not only did God create the Sabbath day—and thus it belongs to Him; Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28)—but He also made it separate and distinct from the other six days. So how can we think that this day belongs to us? There is not a single second of this sanctified time that we have authority over! This day is not our day—not for our work, our sports, or our entertainment. It still belongs fully to God, and only He can dictate its right and proper usage.

It is not that we have no part in this day. On the contrary, the Sabbath day is the most important day of the week for us as Christians, because it enhances our relationship with God the most.

When we tithe, we decide whether we are going to tithe by choosing whether or not we will submit to God and follow His way. Once we make the decision to follow God, we give up all claims to the money God requires of us. If we start "deciding" that money is ours to use, we also choose not to submit to God. Similarly, once we decide to follow God, we give up all prior claims to the 24-hour period of the Sabbath, to the extent that God requires us to monitor our speech and even our thoughts (Isaiah 58:13-14)!

We recognize that God has given us a stewardship responsibility in using the money and material possessions He has provided us, and correspondingly, we have a stewardship responsibility over His holy time and its proper use. The Sabbath is not our time. It may belong to God, but He entrusts us with the responsibility to keep it righteously. We had better handle it with care!

David C. Grabbe
It's Not Our Time


 

Genesis 2:15   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The Garden of Eden was the environment that God created for a relationship with Him to take place. Adam and Eve's responsibility was to dress and keep it. They were put there, not to do nothing, not just to pluck fruit off a tree, not even merely to receive eternal life, but to take care of the Garden.

Dress means "to embellish." This may seem a little strange, but Adam and Eve were to take care of it so well that it would become better than it was when God gave it to them. We like to think of the Garden as being a place of absolute and perfect beauty. Instead, since God told them to "dress and keep it," it seems that it was not complete. It had only been started. What He had done was certainly beautiful, but He wanted them to carry on and finish it.

Keep means "to guard" or "to preserve." If they did not work to dress the Garden, God is telling them, it would deteriorate. That is the way of all things physical, they degenerate if they are not maintained and taken care of.

There are spiritual lessons here. We have been invited into a relationship with God. Like any relationship, it must be worked on to make it increasingly tighter and more productive. We are to "dress and to keep" the relationship. We are not in the Garden, certainly, but we are in the relationship. To do this, we must use and grow in the Holy Spirit. The relationship is the key to accomplishing this. If there is no relationship, there is no Holy Spirit working in and with us, no chance that we will ever grow in the Spirit, and no way we can be close to God. The relationship is the key.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 7)


 

Genesis 2:18   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

How can a person, independent from consistent fellowship with the body of Christ, the church, still be a part of it? A person thinking this way is sliding away from God's intention, as His Word clearly shows. He fully intends we be active members of a physical body as well as the spiritual organism. Is the church only a spiritual organism? If the spiritual organism is the only important aspect, why even have congregations? Could congregations play a major role in preparing us for God's Kingdom?

Let's look at this from another angle. God intends mankind to be an active and contributing part of a physical community. "And the LORD God said, 'It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.' . . . Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:18, 24).

Perhaps verse 18 could be rephrased as, "It is not good that man be independent." Our God establishes principles and patterns in His Word from which we can extract wisdom, the practical application of truth. Some of the most basic and fundamental patterns for His purpose are established very early in Genesis.

What is He showing here? That, in relation to God's purpose, the most and the best will not be produced in us if we are alone. If we are independent, we remove ourselves from the circumstances that will produce the most toward His purpose. In this specific context, God is not commanding everyone to marry, but He is clearly showing that marriage is generally better than remaining single.

Everyone understands from his own experiences that the more people who comprise a unit or community, the greater the number and intensity of problems. This occurs largely because our carnality drives us to compete rather than cooperate. Sometimes a person desires so strongly to be independent of this kind of community relationship that he separates himself in order to be completely free from the suspicions, distrust, offenses, and other hardships that occur within a group. To put it another way, it is similar to a soldier running away from the battlefield to protect himself.

In its rawest form, it is selfishness and self-interest. It can be self-serving avoidance of being useful, of contributing steadfast strength and encouragement, of being a right example to others, or of being found wrong and corrected. If nothing else, we are detaching ourselves from the unit to which God intends we show allegiance and service.

John W. Ritenbaugh
For the Perfecting of the Saints


 

Genesis 3:1-5   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Satan made a seemingly gentle suggestion against God's word and work, first by presenting them in a negative light. God had spoken to Adam and Eve, giving them His word. They had gathered much about the mind and personality of God because of what He said.

In addition, they could see with their own eyes a great deal about God's person, personality, and mind by what He had made. They were in a beautiful garden, which reflected the mind of God. They could see the beauty of His mind, and how His mind provided things beautiful and delightful to enjoy. They knew a great deal about the mind of God simply from what they were able to observe.

By making the challenge the way Satan did, he first made them mildly skeptical about God's love, asking them, “Does God really love you?”

Second, he made it seem as though obedience to God was, in reality, servility. He made them begin to feel as though God's way was restrictive; that He was holding back good things from them. This thought naturally lead them to think much more could be obtained from life if they just followed their body's and mind's natural inclinations.

Third, he played his trump card: Not only would they not die, but they would be in control, free to determine right and wrong. In short, they would be equal to God!

Satan successfully brought them into a spirit of competition against God, resulting in the enmity described in Romans 8:7. He indirectly lied about God Himself, and he directly lied about the penalty, giving them misinformation about the reward.

He did tell them the truth, that their eyes would be opened and that they would not immediately die. Their eyes were opened, and they now looked at things through the twisted perspective, seeing evil in everything. From innocence, they became ashamed of their nakedness. The effect began immediately.

This is important because right thoughts precede right actions; right thoughts determine the release of proper emotions. Our thoughts express themselves even in our most casual relationships, in daily work, and most importantly, in our intimate relationships in our home and family. Most of all, they express themselves in our relationship with God. False beliefs about God and His purpose for man are far more destructive than alcohol and drugs. They confuse, divide, and bring on warfare.

Satan's lies, his counterfeits, and his devices are usually so subtle that only a trained mind can discern them. God teaches us to be able to see. He trains us to be able to spot the ploys, contrivances, and stratagems of our enemy so that we can overcome and defeat him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 2)


 

Genesis 3:9-10   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This event illustrates why there are so many false conceptions of God. Once Satan and sin enter man's life, man hides himself from God, and God must seek him out before a relationship and revelation of true knowledge of God can even begin.

Because it suits His purpose, God has permitted Satan to continue what he began in the Garden with Adam and Eve. Despite the fact that Adam and Eve literally saw God, they sinned because they really did not know Him.

Since eternal life lies in the relationship with God, it is extremely important how frequent and accurate our thoughts about Him are. Many influential people in this world are convinced that He does not even exist. By definition, agnostics are not sure, so how does their uncertainty affect their worship of Him?

This is a major reason why Jesus says in John 6:44 that no one comes to Him unless the Father draws him. He adds in Matthew 11:27 that no one "knows the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." Only true believers, those to whom God has specifically revealed Himself, have truth and thus eternal life.

Adam and Eve's summary dismissal from the Garden was among the most serious punishments ever inflicted on mankind because it severed contact with God. Without contact with God, a true conception of Him is impossible, and wholesale sin followed. We can conclude that what one knows about the true God Himself and how one uses that knowledge are the two most important issues in life. Seeking God is the most serious challenge of our lives! The quality of our present lives and the continuation of those lives everlastingly hinge on these two factors.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Seeking God (Part One): Our Biggest Problem


 

Genesis 3:23-24   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Sin was introduced and destroyed man's relationship with God, so God drove man out of the Garden. Practically every picture or painting of this scene shows God leading them out. But this is incorrect! He “drove them out,” implying a punishing anger. Their relationship was broken. A major principle is shown at the very beginning of the Bible: Sin destroys relationships and produces separation.

To understand this further, it is good to understand that at the heart of sin is the concept of failure. It is a specific kind of failure, producing a specific result and a specific fruit. Genesis 2 and 3 teach that sin is the failure to maintain a relationship, first with God, and secondly with man. Sin produces separation, first with God, and secondly with man. Eventually, sin produces death—the first death—and then the ultimate separation from which there can never be another relationship, the second death.

In addition to being separated from fellowship with God, Adam and Eve were also separated from the Tree of Life and access to the Holy Spirit.

A very clear progression is shown in the breaking of Adam and Eve's relationship with God:

1. They became convinced that their way was better than God's.

2. They became self-conscious, and they hid from God.

3. They tried to justify and defend what they did.

In order to build a relationship with God, those steps must be reversed:

1. We must drop every excuse and every justification.

2. We must drop our pride and stop hiding from God, thinking He is unaware of what is going on.

3. We must become convinced that God's way is better than ours.

Genesis 3:24 says that the Tree of Life is guarded. The Holy Spirit is guarded. We understand this symbolically, making it clear that our way back to the Tree of Life and access to the Holy Spirit is not going to be easy. In fact, it is impossible! No human being is going to get past a cherub.

There is no relationship possible with God until He removes the barrier. He then personally and individually invites us to come back. But how do we "come back" when we never had a relationship with Him before? We were separated from Him through the sin of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve had a relationship with Him, and Adam and Eve represent all of mankind. Therefore, in God's mind, we had a relationship, but we wrecked it in the persons of Adam and Eve. God invites us back into a relationship with Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 6)


 

Genesis 18:23-25   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Is God fair in His dealings with man? Consider this: Has God warned man what He is going to earn in the way of a death penalty if he sinned? Consider this list. In Exodus 21, we are warned that striking or cursing parents will result in death. In Leviticus 19, He says that if you desecrate a sacrifice, you are going to die. In Leviticus 24, He said that if you murder somebody, you are going to die. In Exodus 21, He says that if you kidnap somebody, you are going to die. In Leviticus 20, He says if you sacrifice a child in the fire, you are going to die. In Leviticus 24, He says If you take My name in vain—if you curse Me, if your use blasphemous statements about Me—you are going to die.

In Exodus 35, He issues the death penalty for breaking the Sabbath. In Leviticus 20, He issues the death penalty for consulting mediums. In Leviticus 20, He says that if you are practicing homosexuality, you are going to die. In Leviticus 20, if you practice incest, you are going to die. In Exodus 22, if you practice bestiality, you are going to die. In Deuteronomy 22, He says that if you rape somebody, you are going to die. In Deuteronomy 13, if you give a false prophecy, you are going to die.

In Exodus 22, if you practice sorcery, you are going to die. In Exodus 22, if you sacrifice to a false god, you are going to die. In Leviticus, if you commit adultery, you are going to die. In Numbers 4, if you desecrate a holy thing, you are going to die. In Numbers 16, if you disagree with God's judgment, you are going to die. In Leviticus 21, if you are a priest's daughter and you play the harlot, you are going to die.

I have only given you a partial list. God has clearly made known the penalty to mankind. Is God acting fairly? The penalty for some of these offenses really sounds harsh to modern minds. Death for a false prophecy? Death for committing adultery? Death for bestiality or homosexuality? All of these penalties are given in the Old Testament. By contrast, there is no corresponding list of penalties in the New Testament, which misleads some who are close to being biblically illiterate into thinking that they prefer the God of the New Testament to the God of the Old Testament. But the God of the New Testament is exactly the same Being as the God of the Old Testament; He says, "I change not" (Malachi 3:6). "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).

Those of us who are living under the New Covenant need to begin to think seriously about the way we conduct our lives, and especially in reference to our own relationship with God. We cannot deny that the New Testament list of capital offenses would appear to be a dramatic reduction from the Old. What we fail to consider is that the Old Testament list above is a massive reduction from what appears at the beginning of the Book, as in Genesis 18. The list, mainly out of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, represents an astonishing measure of grace from how things began.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Justice and Grace


 

Genesis 22:12   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God is assured that He has first place in the heart of his servant Abraham. Again, notice the tenderness in the words. He calls Isaac "your son, your only son," thinking no doubt of His own relationship with His Father.

Mike Ford
Abraham's One God


 

Exodus 3:13-14   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

A name expresses more than mere identification. God's name expresses His nature and operations, so He must explain His name to Moses. The Israelites in Egypt did not know God. They undoubtedly had a memory of Him, or they would not have cried out to Him to relieve them of their bondage. However, they had no relationship with Him and therefore did not really know Him. They knew of Him, but they did not know Him.

By comparison, neither did we know Him when we were in spiritual Egypt, even though we were not completely ignorant of Him. When Paul spoke to the pagan Greeks in Acts 17, he spoke assuming that they knew somewhat of the God he represented. He introduced his God to them as the "unknown God," and explained enough about Him to enable them to relate to Him. Nor were they completely ignorant of the God of creation. Nevertheless, when in spiritual Egypt, ignorance of God and His true nature and operations is pretty deep, and that is part of humanity's basic problem.

John W. Ritenbaugh
A Pre-Passover Look


 

Exodus 12:12-13   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The blood was a sign to the death angel to "pass over" their homes when it went through Egypt. Because of it, Israel's firstborn were saved, while Egypt's firstborn died.

The yearly ritual of Passover represents the death of Jesus Christ, who was God in the flesh. The innocent lamb had to be without blemish because it represented the only Man who ever lived a perfect, sinless life. Jesus Christ was the Lamb of God who gave His life and shed His blood so that we may be saved from eternal death by paying the penalty for our sins. Through faith in His sacrifice, we receive forgiveness of sin and come into a right relationship with God. Because His life was worth more than all human life combined, His sacrifice paid the price for all sin. He redeemed us from the penalty that the breaking of God's law imposes and freed us to live righteously.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Holy Days: Passover


 

Exodus 17:2   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Moses understood that he was God's direct representative and though he was not God, to reject him was to tempt God to do something, to react. What did Moses fear? He was afraid that God would react by striking those people dead because they were chiding with His ambassador.

This principle in no way means that His representatives are sinless or infallible. God has provided plenty of evidence of the weaknesses of his servants. Moses had quite a temper, which he had to learn to bring under control. We are all familiar with what David did. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, took on God, giving Him a piece of his mind—saying, "God, you tricked me!"—but God straightened him out. Jeremiah obviously had trouble getting his nature under control. Of course, more modern leaders have had problems with their natures as well, but those problems did not change the fact of their office and that God was able to use them as He desired. God controlled them in those things that were important to teaching us to improve our relationship with Him so that we might come out of this in His image.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 2): God's Pattern of Leadership


 

Exodus 20:4-6   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The second commandment teaches that He wants no one to be concerned about what He looks like. He has purposefully hidden this knowledge except to tell us that we generally look like Him. However, we do not know specifics. He has done this because physical attributes can be misleading about character. In our relationship with Him, He wants us to emphasize the spiritual—His character, the qualities of His spiritual attributes, and His purpose. The second commandment, then, involves the way we are to worship Him—in spirit and in truth, always aware that man does not live by bread alone.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment


 

Exodus 20:7   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The third commandment regulates the quality of our worship. It involves glorifying God in every aspect of life. Most people regard the third commandment very lightly. The Jews, however, have a saying: "When God gave the third commandment, the whole world trembled." They even warned witnesses at a trial with this statement. Why? The Jews believe that because it reads, "the LORD will not hold him guiltless," there is no forgiveness for transgressing it! If it is this important, perhaps we should pay closer attention to it!

God asks, "'To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him? . . . To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?' says the Holy One" (Isaiah 40:18, 25). Obviously, the second commandment expressly forbids making any representation of Him. God is unique; nothing can compare with Him. We are without a point of contact or physical reference to make any comparison.

This ought to show us the absolute folly of making images: On its face, every image is a lie. But should we not try to understand, to learn, what God is like? God does not want us concerned with what He looks like because it emphasizes the wrong area. He supplies us with enough information to know that He generally looks like a man. To Him, that is enough!

But He does want us to know what He is. He wants us to know Him. The entire Bible reveals His mind, character, attributes, offices, power, will, promises, plan, and relationship with us. The third commandment concerns this kind of knowledge and how well we apply it in our lives.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Third Commandment (1997)


 

Exodus 20:8-11   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God does not specifically identify Himself with any other day of the week, and He commands His people to meet with Him on no other day. These truths are so strong that God includes the Sabbath in the ten foundational laws governing morality. How much plainer can it get? In addition, the apostle Paul says this body of laws is spiritual (Romans 7:14). This has universal and eternal ramifications, further enhanced by the fact that Jesus kept it (and we are to follow His example, I John 2:4-6), as did the apostles.

God created the Sabbath because it enhances and protects our relationship with Him. It provides a witness to God, to ourselves and to the world. It keeps us in a proper frame of mind and furnishes us with the right knowledge of our part of the pilgrimage to God's Kingdom.

We live in a grubby, grasping, materially oriented world, where a built-in bias exists toward materialism and the exercise of carnality. If we follow it, we can find it is not hard at all to avoid spiritual things. But keeping the Sabbath almost forces us to think about God, the spiritual side of life and His creation. It presents us with opportunities to consider the WHYS of life, to get ourselves correctly oriented to use our time properly the other six days. Keeping the Sabbath correctly is the kernel, the nucleus, from which grows appropriate worship (our response to God).

Existentialist philosophers tell us that life is absurd. They say that all life is but a prelude to death. The Sabbath celebrates just the opposite! It reminds us that God's creative process is continuing. God is creating us in His image so that physical life is not absurd but a prelude to life on an infinitely higher, spiritual level. As we grow more like Him, we become more sanctified from this world. In experiencing, refreshing, and elevating the mind in the realm of the spirit, we get a foretaste of what is to come.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part One) (1997)


 

Exodus 20:8   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This is the fourth of the Ten Commandments and is the last of the four commandments which show love towards God. It is quite a simple statement and yet causes so much controversy. Some say that the Ten Commandments were given to and meant only for the Israelites—not for the rest of mankind—and that they were part of the Old Covenant between God and Israel which was nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ. God answers this opinion through Jesus Christ in Mark 2:27, and through the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 20:11-21, where He clearly puts the emphasis on the fact that they are HIS statutes, HIS judgments, and HIS Sabbaths. The prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 56:2 also shows that the Sabbath blessing is available to any man—not just the Israelites.

The original giving of God's Sabbath commandment to Adam and Eve at Eden (and from them to all the nations to whom that first couple gave birth) preceded the giving of the Sabbath commandment to the Israelites at Sinai. At that time (man's beginning), God made the Sabbath for man (not for the Israelites who did not yet exist as a nation), and it was therefore to be kept by all nations (see Genesis 2:2-3; Mark 2:27). The Sabbath command, already in existence, is here repeated and included in the Ten Commandments. Even though the Old Covenant with Israel has become obsolete, the original sanctification of the Sabbath Day, made holy for all mankind at creation, still remains!

There is absolutely no scripture in the entire Bible that tells of God "de-sanctifying" His Sabbath Day! In fact, both Isaiah and Ezekiel give very strong indications that the Sabbath will be kept in the World Tomorrow (see Isaiah 66:22-23 and Ezekiel 44:24; 45:17; 46:1-12).

Some say that the Sabbath was changed from the seventh day of the week to the first. Most Bible experts and scholars agree that there is no biblical support for this idea at all and that such changes were made much later by (human) church leaders.

The Hebrew word translated here into the English "remember" is zakar (Strongs 2142). As well as "to remember" and "to recall," the word zakar can mean "to think about," "to bring to mind," "to mention," "to record," and "to make a memorial of." These meanings show how special the status of the Sabbath should be to a Sabbath-keeper.

Many scriptures show that the Sabbath Day should be a day of rest from work (see Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 16:23; 20:10-11; 31:15; 35:2; Leviticus 23:3, Deuteronomy 5:14; Luke 23:56; Hebrews 4:9). Isaiah tells us that we should not do our own pleasure on the Sabbath, but rather that we should do God's pleasure (see Isaiah 58:13).

In the gospel accounts, Jesus shows us (by word and example) that:

  1. The Sabbath Day of rest should be a pleasure, and not a day of bondage to a list of pharisaical "do's and don'ts" (See Matthew 12:1-12; Mark 2:23-28; 3:2-4, Luke 6:1-9; 13:10-16; 14:1-5; John 5:9-18; 7:22-23; 9:14-16).
  2. The Sabbath is a day on which we should, if possible, attend church services. Jesus attended synagogue services, as He was a practicing Jew, illustrating the need for us to assemble together (see Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 12:9; 13:54; Mark 1:21; 6:2; Luke 4:16; 4:31; 13:10; John 6:59; 18:20).

Staff


 

Exodus 20:8-11   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

No other day is hallowed as the Sabbath is: It is set aside as holy to God. It belongs to Him. It is time for Him. Thus, the basic rule that the commandment lays down is that God requires that each person set aside this day for the worship and service of Him. Nothing in it even begins to suggest that this commandment is merely ceremonial in nature. Protestants say Christians do not have to keep the Sabbath because it is just a ceremony, but they cannot find that idea in Scripture - certainly not in the commandment itself.

Like the other commandments, the fourth commandment deals with relationships. One set of relationships - the business and work-a-day-world ones - is broken off or stopped on Friday at sunset, and another set of relationships - the spiritual ones - begin to be emphasized. In addition, the commandment looks back on creation, identifying that we are to keep the seventh day because God, the Creator, set it apart at creation.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 4)


 

Exodus 20:12   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

In God's eyes—and in a small child's—a parent stands in the place of God Himself. In the physical sense, parents are the child's creator, provider, lawgiver, teacher, and protector—and sometimes even savior. A child's response to this relationship will greatly determine his later response to larger relationships in society. And it is ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN to affect his relationship with God. Thus, since parents represent God, it becomes their obligation to live lives worthy of that honor. Ultimately, the responsibility for keeping this commandment falls on the child, but it begins with the parents through child training and example. If parents neither provide the correct example nor teach the correct way, they can hardly expect their children to honor them.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment (1997)


 

Exodus 20:16   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The ninth commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20), protects our relationship with God because by seeking and bearing true witness to the truth, we can have a relationship with God. God is truth (John 14:6), and he who speaks truth from the heart abides with God (Psalm 15:1-2). Speaking the truth also shows love toward our fellow man (Ephesians 4:15). Lies of any kind—bald-faced, white, or anywhere in between—cause separation and distrust, while truth, though sometimes hard to bear at first, produces unity and trust in the end.

Martin G. Collins
The Ninth Commandment


 

Numbers 18:8-11   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Sons and daughters indicate the family of the priest. It surely included his wife as well, but this was all God needed to say to make His intention clear. Spiritually, the altar represents God's table, and the sons and daughters are the brethren in the church, the Family of our High Priest. Since we are eating from God's table, this shows us in communion with God. It also shows us doing or having a portion in the work of the priest and as having a claim on the sacrifice.

All who have communion or fellowship with God must share that communion with His priests and His children, the rest of the church, our brothers and sisters. If one brings an offering, he shares in it. There is an interesting example of this in Acts 2:41-42, beginning on the Day of Pentecost and continuing for an unknown time thereafter: "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." The sharing with brothers and sisters is plainly expressed in the words "fellowship," "breaking of bread," and "prayers."

Verses 43-45 add, "Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need." It almost seems as if the godly fear, wonders, and signs sprang directly from the sharing spirit and the sacrifices made by those who gave.

Can we feast with God and ignore His other guests? A person in communion with God must be in communion with all who are in communion with Him. Do we see the oneness this implies? We are all eating of the same sacrifice, the same meal. We are all being fed and strengthened by the same Spirit, and God expects that we share what we have with our brothers and sisters.

This era of the church has never experienced anything similar to the first era, but before the end time is over, we may. In the meanwhile, we should open our homes in hospitality, sharing our experiences in life with one another. We should be praying with and for each other to assist in drawing us together in unity.

Christ is our supreme example in all things pertaining to life. What did Christ do to bring us into oneness with the Father? Whatever He did we must, in principle, also do as burnt and meal offerings, keeping the commands of God with all our heart in complete devotion. In His final teaching before His crucifixion, He sets a very high standard: "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). As means "equal to."

He also says in verse 13, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." Jesus laid down His life step by step and then concluded it by submitting to crucifixion for our well-being. Those sacrifices produce peace and unity with God for those who accept His sacrifice and submit to the burden of bearing one's responsibilities before God.

The conclusion is inescapable: The peace that God gives is directly linked to sacrifice and love. Our Father began the process by so loving the world that He sacrificed His only begotten Son for its sins. The Son followed the Father by magnanimously giving His life in sublime submission to the Father's will following laying down His life for them and us day by day.

All of this begins the process for us so that we can have peace with God and that His Spirit can shed His love abroad in our hearts. The process of producing peace, harmony, and unity is thus also directly linked as a result of our sacrifices in devoted obedience to His commands.

The burnt, meal, and peace offerings are meaningful illustrations of what is necessary within our relationships to produce peaceful and edifying fellowship that truly honors and glorifies God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Five): The Peace Offering, Sacrifice, and Love


 

Deuteronomy 4:21-24   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

There is heat in God's relationship with His people. Within the Ten Commandments, in the second commandment, He says, "For the LORD your God is a jealous God." What is jealousy? It is a passionate intolerance, even a hostility, toward a rival. It is also defined as vigilance in guarding a possession.

In this passage, God is having a passionate reaction against a rival, idolatry. God will not permit idolatry without reacting because idolatry promotes divided loyalties. We are His, and He does not choose to share us with anybody or anything else.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Seeking God


 

Deuteronomy 7:6-11   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Since God is holy, the people He chooses for Himself must also be holy, a principle that continues under the New Covenant. As God lives by high standards, so must His people keep those same high standards as an example to the rest of the world. Just as a human government sends out ambassadors to other nations to represent it in its affairs within those nations, God chose Israel to represent Him. What were His reasons?

» He chose Israel to be His own people, a special treasure for His own purposes.

» He chose them to demonstrate His love for them. He simply loved them. When God loves someone, He puts a great deal of responsibility on him.

» He chose them to keep His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with whom He also had a special relationship.

» He chose them to make a covenant with them, under which they were to keep His commandments and obey Him in everything. In return, He would bless them immensely.

God's choice of Israel was an act of love for them, even though He knew from the start that they would ultimately fail. God knew from the foundation of the world that all mankind would need a Savior (I Peter 1:19-20; Revelation 13:8), including Israelites. Yet, if any people were to succeed as God's model nation, it would be the children of Abraham. This is not because they were better, but because they of all people had a relationship with God, which had begun with Abraham. They had examples in their own ancestry that they could study to see that it could be done if they remained close to God.

To help them to succeed, God gave them His laws, another act of love. Moses writes:

Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people." For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)

Even in their laws they were to be a model nation for the rest of the world, not just for the Gentiles to notice, but to emulate. The Israelites should have made a great impression on the Canaanites, Philistines, Edomites, and all the nearby nations. This respect and admiration should have then spread beyond them to other nations.

Yet, because they failed to live by those good and righteous laws and to take advantage of God's nearness to them - in reality, they failed in just about everything He asked of them - their influence as a model nation rarely stretched beyond their borders. Too often, Israel was instead outright pagan!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Why Israel? (Part Two)


 

Deuteronomy 7:7-11   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Being chosen to be God's special treasure and become holy had nothing to do with any of our accomplishments, race, nationality, gender, IQ, or academic training. We are special and thus blessed because God loves us and because He is faithful to His promises to the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He reinforces these points by emphasizing that He is faithful, as well as by warning us that He is a God of justice.

Therefore, He is clearly stating that the foundation of this relationship is based completely in what He is within Himself, otherwise the relationship would have never gotten past the casual stage of mere acquaintance. The vast majority in the world who call themselves Christian are merely acquainted with God. By God's personal calling (John 6:44, 65), we have been made special—to have an intense and intimate relationship with Him. The very character of God, not any excellence in those He has chosen, is the basis for our being special.

This gives us no room for pride. He was not somehow attracted to us because we had been seeking Him all our lives, were so attractive, or had done so many good things. On the other hand, this blessing gives cause for a great deal of gratitude, and just as in a marriage, this specialness brings responsibilities.

God proclaims Himself to be the faithful God, and in Deuteronomy 7:11, He broadly states the means by which we are expected to prove our faithfulness in return: We are responsible to keep His commandments, statutes, and judgments. As in a marriage, because the parties have become special to each other, they are responsible to be faithful to each other above all others. A covenant made before God binds us to this intense, marital faithfulness.

I Peter 2:9 states this responsibility in a somewhat different manner: "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him, who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." Notice his sentence begins with "but," introducing an explanation of why the chosen are to be different from the disobedient of verses 7-8, and of what they are obligated to do.

As stated here, the responsibility of God's own special people is to proclaim—to show forth (KJV)—the praises of Him who has called us. The proclaiming is accomplished through speech and conduct. We show forth His praises in our witness through faithful obedience, just as is commanded in Deuteronomy 7:11.

I Peter 1:13-16 shows that being a special treasure and holiness are inextricably linked:

Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."

God emphasizes "special treasure" to impress us with the magnitude of His blessing in making us special and the critical importance of our difference from others expressed through holy conduct.

It is important to consider our calling as God's peculiar treasure a tremendous blessing that we never allow to slip from our minds. It opens the door to the knowledge of God, faith, forgiveness, His Holy Spirit, access to Him, transformation to be like Him, and an endless supply of other things He provides, besides everlasting life. However, there are specific things we must do and cannot do because we are special.

John W. Ritenbaugh
A Priceless Gift


 

Deuteronomy 8:2-3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 16 contains a vital lesson regarding humility, our relationship with God and our ultimate destiny. Here God explains why we have our experiences on our pilgrimage to the Kingdom of God. He specifically mentions humbling and testing three times. They are ultimately the means by which He will achieve our birth into His Kingdom. Humility is essential to our character and the out-working of His purpose because humility motivates us to bow before God's sovereignty. Those who submit to God's will have their prayers answered and receive additional blessings from Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Nine


 

Deuteronomy 8:6-7   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Think of this in its metaphorical, spiritual intent. When God comes into our lives, He begins to bless us. He will bless us in ways that we have not been blessed before. The Israelites in this situation were not blessed with the liberties and the prosperity that true liberty could bring. Their blessings and prosperity were going to be physical, and thus, God is using physical examples of how blessings will come into their lives.

Now what about those that come into our lives? Sometimes the blessings will be physical to some of us, and perhaps prosperity will come, but the main thing that He wants with us is the relationship between us and Him. He is looking for it to grow and develop until we are blessed spiritually by becoming like Him, allowing Him to create Himself in us so that we reveal to Him and to others His characteristics in our lives. He is telling us that blessings like these will come.

John W. Ritenbaugh
New Covenant Priesthood (Part 3)


 

Deuteronomy 12:6-11   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Is there such a zealous fervency like this in the church today? Is it burning in us individually? Is there such a hatred of evil and a love for God and His Family within us that we will not permit even one iota of idolatry within ourselves? Or, are we tolerant of its existence within ourselves and within the church, convincing ourselves that it really does not matter? These verses show that it matters very much to God!

Beginning in Deuteronomy 7, He is systematically defining their relationship to Him and the terms of faithfulness. God is to be our God—exclusively. Please understand that we cannot literally conform to some of these details today because we have no civil authority. Nevertheless, His stern commands illustrate how serious God is about idolatry—faithlessness to Him and the covenant. He charged them with this because He loved them, because faithfulness would be good for them and would bless them within the relationship, whereas faithlessness would bring curses on them, just as it does in human marriages.

John W. Ritenbaugh
A Priceless Gift


 

2 Samuel 12:9-14   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Regardless of how successful a person might consider himself in getting away with his adventure into sin, he could learn a few things from David. First, however, we must note Numbers 32:23: "But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out." Interestingly, the context of this verse is a warning to those who may not be faithful to their words of promise.

Overall, this story is a quick study into cause and effect. First, it teaches that, regardless of one's status, adultery cannot be committed without damaging relationships anymore than murder can be committed without damaging relationships. It does not matter whether the perpetrator is a prince or pauper. The only variable is the speed with which the effect takes place. We should never forget the warning given in Genesis 2:17: "In the day you eat of [the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil] you shall surely die." The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) no matter which commandment is broken.

Second, besides death, sin produces two effects that may also manifest slowly:

1. A damaged relationship with God. Isaiah 59:1-2 shows that sin creates division between God and us because of the breach of trust. Sin is a breaking of the terms of the covenant agreed on by both God and us. After committing a sin like adultery, can the individual be trusted any longer? This effect is not easily seen, but God's Word nonetheless reveals it does occur. As this episode shows, with repentance and God's merciful forgiveness, the division can be healed.

2. Evil results in our lives in this world. Even with God's forgiveness, this second effect remains and must be borne by the sinner—and tragically, by those sinned against. For example, the evil effects of David's sin brought death—either directly or indirectly—to five people. It directly caused the deaths of Uriah and the newborn son of David and Bathsheba. In addition, it greatly intensified the ultimately deadly competition between Absalom, Amnon, and Adonijah, all of whom died violently. With the dishonorable example of their father before their eyes, it could only teach disrespect, even for those closest to them.

Thus, the throne fell to Solomon. He never had to live through the kind of family life that David's older children did. When he committed similar sins, he could never say that he saw his father do the same things.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Seventh Commandment


 

1 Kings 18:21   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God says choose but then burn all bridges to the former way of life. Some of us, I fear, have maintained open-ended options, contingency plans, and escape clauses in our relationship with God. Like the Laodicean, we look at our spiritual contract with a view of finding loopholes and exploiting the blessings. It is apparent that some of us still approach our calling with the attitude of "what can I get away with and still appear to be a Christian?"

David F. Maas
Spiritual Double Agents


 

2 Kings 19:22   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

If anything attached to God is attacked, impugned, or blasphemed, it is the same as attacking God. He is showing the attachment, the relationship, is that close.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 3)


 

1 Chronicles 28:9   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We must make an effort to "dress and keep" our relationship with God. Despite all that He does as aspects of His grace and favor toward us, in giving us whatever gifts we need to submit to and obey Him, we still have a function in this. We see here that one of the functions is to seek Him.

Here is a flat-out promise that if we do seek Him, He will be found of us. Keep in mind that this promise does not apply to just anyone. It does not happen just because a person thinks to seek God. This promise is made to those who have already made the covenant with Him. They have already been invited by God into it, which is the position Solomon was in. He had already made the covenant with God, as had David. We have to consider this as though David were speaking directly to us.

If we seek Him for the purpose of drawing near to Him, He will be found of us since He has already invited us to draw near to Him by calling us. This reveals a spiritual principle. These things always spring from God's initiative, for He is the Creator and Sovereign Ruler. We can thus take advantage of His invitation and come before Him at any time. It is, frankly, our responsibility.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 7)


 

2 Chronicles 15:1-4   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

These men of Judah had made the covenant with Him, and this is important for understanding that reciprocity exists in our relationship with God. He begins by drawing near to us, and He expects a similar response from us.

We do not come near to Him in one giant leap. As it is in almost all human relationships, love develops gradually. Some feel that they fall in love with one glance across a crowded room, but what really happens is that the two mistake lust or passion for love. A love relationship exists when two people really know one another; they see all the warts and character imperfections and are still willing to submit to and serve each other in a warm and generous willingness.

God is perfect in His character, and the projection of His personality is also perfect in every way. We are the problem in this relationship; we are the ones with all the warts and blemishes. These faults are in our thinking, our attitudes, and our character. The reason we draw near to God is to have our wrong thinking and attitudes removed, changed. That is what the relationship is all about, so that we can be like God. He is perfect and mature, and He wants to bring us to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Then a marriage can take place.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 7)


 

2 Chronicles 15:1-2   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

At the beginning of his reign and for many years, Asa was a very fine king. He was upright, and he turned the Jews around and persuaded them to worship God by the kind of high-quality leadership he gave to them. His leadership was moral, focused on God, and good. The prophet Azariah, the son of Oded, came out to meet him, to encourage him to continue his ways.

Verse 2 shows reciprocity, a principle that we must understand. The Bible shows clearly that God deals with us as we deal with Him, and if we are seeking Him and applying His way, He will respond in far greater measure to us in blessing. Nobody out-gives God. The principle of reciprocity, part of the much broader principle of "whatever one sows, one reaps," brings it down to a finer point and makes it very personal. We need to realize that this principle is at work in our relationship with God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Knowing God


 

2 Chronicles 15:2-4   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The instruction is clear: When they sincerely sought Him, things went well, but when their seeking of Him relaxed and eventually stopped, the bottom fell out of their world: Sin increased, morality decreased, and contact with God ceased. This principle reveals to us that the power of a covenant people to keep their side of the agreement lies in their relationship with God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Seeking God (Part One): Our Biggest Problem


 

Job 9:32-35   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

As early as Job 9:32-35, though, Job complains that what he is enduring is completely and totally unfair and that God is wrong in permitting it to occur. The Revised English Bible clearly exposes at least an irritation against God, showing that Job, despite admitting that God is far greater, feels a measure of equality with Him!

God is not as I am, not someone I can challenge, and say, "Let us confront one another in court." If only there were one to arbitrate between us and impose his authority on us both, so that God might take his rod from my back, and terror of him might not come on me suddenly. I should then speak out without fear of him, for I know I am not what I am thought to be.

Despite being aware that a vast difference exists between God and man, Job is nonetheless unaware of how immeasurably different the reality is, shown in his willingness to stand with God before an umpire who would hear both sides of the case! He wants to be heard, not realizing he has no case to argue at all! He truly deserves nothing but death. At this point, Job is not yet overly concerned about God's right to do with him as He sees fit, but rather he is disturbed that God has not intervened and vindicated him before his accusing friends.

Job's complaint also reveals that he thought of sin merely in terms of an unrighteous act. He does not yet grasp that sin is more than a transgression of a code; it is a breaking of our covenant relationship with God that distorts life itself. Sin is the distortion, and whether it is an act visible on the outside or one of heart and motivation, the relationship with God is damaged because all sin is against Him. Jeremiah 17:9 reads, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?"

To speak or act of sin as though it is of no account to God, as though He is indifferent to it, to disclaim responsibility, strikes at the very core of our relationship with Him. This is what Job was doing in claiming that God did not care about him. The reality is that God was putting Job through this rigorous trial because He did care and did not want to lose the relationship with him.

Job's trial thus becomes a witness to us of the vast difference between God and us. Besides God's being eternal spirit and our being flesh, the greatest difference between Him and us is in our hearts. Jesus points out in Matthew 15:18-20 that sin begins in the heart. It is man's heart that needs changing. For one thing, its pride needs to be wrung from it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Job, Self-Righteousness, and Humility


 

Job 42:1-6   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The images Job held both of God in His relationship with Job and of himself in his relationship with God and fellow man are shattered into an unrecognizable mass of pulp. Above all, Job now knows that God owes him only what He determines that He owes him. God is not beholden to mankind for anything.

Will we claim that God owes us anything because of our good works? God does not owe us a thing, even if we do obey Him perfectly! Our covenant with Him is not made on that basis. The covenant is made knowing that we owe Him everything. We have nothing to bargain with. Do we receive salvation because we trade keeping the Sabbath or paying tithes for it?

Job is truly humbled. Do we recognize humility when we see it? Do we know what it really is? Humility is an internal matter, one of the heart, not one of outside appearance. Moses was a humble man, but he also had a commanding presence. However, a person's humility greatly affects what those watching him see and hear emanate from him.

Godly humility is not a giant inferiority complex, as some believe it to be. Man by nature is not humble; by nature, we are well-pleased with ourselves and insane enough to think that we deserve something good from the hand of God. This describes almost exactly what Job thought of himself in his relationship with God. Men think that as long as God allows them to conduct their lives in a civil way, keeping themselves from the grosser sins, then everything is fine in their relationship with Him. The important reality of true humility is far from what men think, as Job certainly discovered.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Job, Self-Righteousness, and Humility


 

Psalm 2:10-11   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

A hundred other verses say essentially the same thing: We must have the fear of God in us. Nevertheless, many persist in believing that, in Christianity, the fear of God has been replaced by love for God.

There is no doubt that God wants us to fear Him. Notice that Psalm 34:11 says that the fear of God is a quality that we must learn, indicating that we do not have this characteristic in us by nature. The fear of God, then, is different from the fears we normally have in life. Thus, it must be learned.

Fear is a powerful motivator. Our normal understanding of fear spans from being a mild apprehension or awareness of anxiety all the way to outright, bowel-moving terror. As an extreme, it creates the "fight or flight" response. Why, then, does a loving God want us to fear Him? Would He not rather want us to snuggle up to Him with no thought of fear?

Many people have that conception, but it is a mistaken one. We must not forget that God is not a man; He is God. He reminds us in Isaiah 55:8-9 that He does not think like a man. Yes, He wants us to love Him, but even in that love the sense of fear should always be present.

Recall that Psalm 2:11 commands, "Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling." To a Christian, fearing and rejoicing seem to be an odd couple. Paul writes in Philippians 2:12 to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Ordinarily, we associate "trembling" with fear, of being frightened. What is there to fear and tremble about in taking salvation to its conclusion?

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 says, "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." Within a Christian setting, we are much more comfortable with this command to love, yet notice verses 1-2:

Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the LORD your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, that you may fear the LORD your God to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged.

Immediately preceding and following His command in verse 5 to love Him, He also affirms that we are to fear Him (see verses 2, 13). The sense of verses 1-2 is that this fear is produced as we keep His commandments, not before! Clearly, fear of Him and love for Him cannot be separated from our relationship with Him.

Isaiah 8:13 adds another interesting aspect. "The LORD of hosts, Him you shall hallow; let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread." Surely, we might think that someone as close to God as Isaiah did not need to fear Him, but here God commands Isaiah to fear him. Why? Because the fear gained within the relationship with Him always motivates movement in the right, godly direction, regardless of the intensity of life's circumstances.

What about I John 4:17-18? Does it not contradict the assertion that our relationship with God should contain godly fear?

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

This passage does not contradict in the least, once we understand the kind of fear the apostle John is writing about. The clue to this fear appears in verse 17 in the term "boldness." John is referring to being bold in spite of the circumstances we face from life in this world once we are converted. The love of God works in us to dispel the fear of disease, oppressions, persecution, and death, but it does not drive out the fear of God. If it did, John would be contradicting what the Bible says elsewhere about the necessity of continuing to fear God. Christianity has not replaced the fear of God with the love of God, as many wrongly believe. Instead, the two work hand in hand.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sin, Christians, and the Fear of God


 

Psalm 17:15   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

To have His likeness is not just to be spirit as He is, but also to be like Him in quality of life. If we are, then the relationship with Him and His other sons will continue for all eternity. That is the Christian hope!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Resurrection From the Dead


 

Psalm 23:6   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This psalm began with the sheep, as it were, bragging across the fence to his neighbor. Through the course of the psalm, we went through the cycle of a year, and in this last verse, we find ourselves back again at the home ranch. The sheep is speaking about his shepherd's house, which is not up on the high tableland but down where the home ranch is.

The psalm began with a buoyant, "The LORD is my shepherd!" and it closes with an equally buoyant, positive note. The sheep is utterly satisfied. He is saying, "Boy, I love it here! Nothing will get me out of this outfit! You see, I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever."

We have come full circle with the sheep giving a statement of composure and contentment. In Ephesians 2:19, the house is defined as the family of God, of which Jesus is the Head.

Do our neighbors see us as being contented, happy, at peace? Do they see the effects of our intimate relationships with God in our lives? Are we good witnesses for His way? That is the question we are to ask ourselves as the psalm ends.

The sheep proclaims, "I will dwell in the presence of the LORD forever," concluding this poem of praise and thanksgiving of the sheep for his shepherd. The sheep had experienced life in the shepherd's care, and he wanted more of it! That thought should be a guiding beacon for us the remainder of our lives, as long as they might be—that it is our fervent desire to dwell in the presence of the Lord always.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 23 (Part 3)


 

Psalm 25:14   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Secret is also translated "counsel," but it is closer in meaning to "confide," indicating two people pressing or leaning together in quiet conversation, a posture that friends take when they share a confidence between them. It initially suggests intimate friendship, then that God opens His mind to those who fear Him so that He can more carefully instruct them in His way and will.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part One): Fear


 

Psalm 34:11-14   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

David makes an interesting statement here regarding the fear of God. We must learn the fear of the Lord; it is not something we have by nature. We find the evidence of this in the conduct of all who have lived since Adam and Eve. Romans 3:18 is just as true now as it always has been: "There is no fear of God before their eyes." The reason it must be taught becomes obvious once we understand that it arises and grows from one's relationship with God.

The relationship begins with God's calling. Before that, we may have sincerely believed that He exists, but we certainly did not know Him. Respect cannot exist between two parties—especially the quality of respect God desires—when they do not even know each other. Knowing of someone is far different from knowing him. This is certainly true of God, as the world has been flooded with misinformation about Him. Psalm 34:8 supports this: "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!" David exhorts us to experience a relationship with Him, for only then will we know that He is indeed good.

David adds in verses 12-14: "Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it." He urges us to understand that the fear of the Lord grows as the relationship develops. The relationship develops when we follow through in submission to God in conforming to His way of life. As we do this, we begin to get a taste of what it would be like to spend eternity as His companion in marriage.

The desires to please Him, not to disappoint Him, and to strive to protect the relationship grow from abject self-concern to preserve one's life to reverential awe for His great goodness and zealous desire to preserve and glorify His name within an increasingly intimate relationship. We can see how this would motivate what we do with our life and time. It would drive and guide us in how we did things. If we truly respect someone, we try very hard to give him the best possible quality in all we do for him.

Consider this in light of the dating process and the feelings that bring couples together in marriage. As Christians, we are now in the courtship period preceding marriage to our Savior. Access to and fellowship with Him, coupled with submission within the relationship, feeds a growing respect for Him and His way. By this, we come to know Him, and we are motivated to reciprocate His loving respect and to produce growth and the fruit of God's Spirit.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part One): Fear


 

Psalm 78:1-58   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Psalm 78 gives a clear and concise history of Israel's relationship with God. The psalmist illustrates four steps that led to their rebellion:

1. They forgot God's goodness (verse 11).

2. They tested God by insisting that He satisfy their lusts (verses 18-19).

3. They played moral hide-and-seek with God, which is hypocrisy; they served Him only when they discovered for the moment they could not escape Him (verses 35-37).

4. Finally, they substituted idols for God at the center of their lives (verses 57-58).

Israel never got the true picture. Because they were walking by sight, and not by faith, they were so impressed with what they saw that they limited God's ability to create His heart and mind in them (verse 41).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Preparing for the Feast


 

Psalm 78:40-42   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Provoked means "rebelled against." Their disrespect and irreverence produced the fruit of limiting His willingness and power to provide for them in any situation. In their minds, they set boundaries upon what they thought He would or could do. The psalmist does not mean they literally hogtied God to keep Him from doing things, though the practical result of their relationship virtually amounted to that. However, in their lack of faith and fear of God and their failure to make practical use of His sovereignty over His creation and His willingness to help His people, they mentally drew lines, concluding that God could not or would not provide for them in their circumstance. Thus, they chose to arrive at their own solutions that resulted in sin and death. They were obviously not living by faith but by sight. Hebrews 4:1-2 confirms this was at the base of Israel's failure in the wilderness

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility: Part Eleven


 

Psalm 145:18   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The question is, "How near?" This question has to be asked because many times we feel that God has gone way off somewhere. But how near is He? We have to ask this because the Bible describes Him as a God who is both far and near; He is both at the same time.

He is far in recognition of His sovereignty and of His position in relation to the rest of the creation. He is far above us in that regard. He is over all and directs and controls everything, always with His overall purpose in mind.

If we desire to have a good relationship with God, we will have to take this last factor into consideration, because it affects our lives. He does everything with His overall purpose in mind. There are occasions when He may be "unable" to act in our behalf on one of our requests of Him, because other people's situations whose lives touch on ours must be resolved first. A clear example of this is the book of Job.

Job was totally unaware of what was being worked out through, around, and about him. Even Satan was having something proved to him by God, because He challenged him. In the vernacular of today, God said to the Devil, "Okay, Satan. See if you can break Job. I challenge you to see if you can break him."

Satan could not break Job. The man stood his ground, even though he got battered mightily in the process, not really understanding what was happening. He undoubtingly appealled to God, but He could not answer because other things were being worked out through, around, and about in Job, of which he was totally unaware.

Job was not privy to the conversation between God and Satan, nor to the fact that God was putting him through this in order that a book be written of his experiences, which could not be written until the episode had resolved. So Job had to go through a great deal of discomfort, pain, and emotional anguish while the whole situation played out. For a while, God was a God from afar.

Now that we have more understanding, and the Bible is complete, we realize that He was also a God who was near because He strengthened Job so that he could resist the temptations of the most powerful being to tempt mankind. Job stood up just fine.

Because this book has been written, and because Job endured this, we now have a clear picture why, at times, bad things happen to good people. We can also see that this book of Job shows that God has faith in us too. It does not work just one way. God was working from afar, with His overall picture in mind for mankind, and God was also working nearby.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 6)


 

Proverbs 1:7   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The biblical fear of God runs the gamut from a mild respect through a deep, abiding, and reverential awe to sheer terror—a terror that causes the skin to crawl, the hair to stand on end, the throat to release a scream, the bowels to move, or the body to faint or collapse, groveling on the ground in a vain attempt to disappear, as Isaiah did (Isaiah 6:5). Fear can be an extremely effective motivator. Many of us have seen, heard, or experienced something so fearsome that the "fight or flight" response kicked in. The terror moved us to take immediate steps to defend ourselves physically or seek protection by running from the danger.

However, fear can also be a two-edged sword. Though it undoubtedly motivates, it can also paralyze us into doing nothing but rolling ourselves into a fetal position. In relation to God, a most subtle and deceptive problem is that, because we cannot literally see Him, we do not feel that responding to Him is of immediate concern. In this way, fearing God is not like our reaction to a lion suddenly jumping out of the jungle and confronting us on the path.

The result, though, can be just as deadly! The major difference is timing. Because of God's patience, the end comes more slowly if our reaction is not correct and no repentance occurs. Nonetheless, our relationship with God may die because not having the proper fear invites apathy and procrastination. Our fear must have enough of an "edge" that we are motivated to act correctly—but not so much that we are paralyzed into inaction. That "edge" grows as true knowledge of Him increases.

Some may think that God does not require of us this level of fear. However, for "trembles" in Isaiah 66:2, the Septuagint uses a Greek word that means a reverential awe that has an "edge" to it. God will "look on" a person who has this kind of fear. Without the proper fear of God in us, there will be precious little reciprocation of His love shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5).

Romans 12:1 makes it clear that overcoming in this way of life requires sacrifice. We all know how costly sacrifice is sometimes. Our apprehension of making sacrifices required to submit to God's will stops us on occasions, motivating us to draw back from obeying. In this case, the problem is fearing the wrong thing! Sometimes, the degree of the fear of God we need comes close to sheer terror because we are often so difficult to convince!

However, what is necessary as a matter of course is an abiding reverential awe.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part One): Fear


 

Proverbs 3:6   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Consider this scenario: A person spends the entire day walking from Point A to Point B with his best friend. However, he speaks to his friend only a little in the morning and mumbles a few words at night before falling to sleep, ignoring him for the rest of the day. What would be his friend's likely assessment of the state of their friendship? Even two extremely introverted friends would share interests and converse on them to some extent.

Is there a better friend than God? We have a great deal to discuss with Him every day, for every day is filled with decisions: what to eat or not to eat, what to purchase or not purchase, what to spend time doing or thinking about. We must also decide how to respond to other people and how to respond to our own emotions and attitudes.

Every significant choice should be brought to God. If we do not, we are making decisions based on human nature and declaring ourselves to be Laodiceans, self-sufficient and needing nothing, directly contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ (John 15:5). These do not have to be on-your-knees prayers, but we should at least silently ask God to bring His light to bear on the situation and to supply our needs, whether we need wisdom, discernment, strength, courage, understanding, patience, etc.

Notice the command in Galatians 5:16, 25: "I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. . . . If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." If we are walking in the Spirit, made possible by praying always, we cannot be sinning (verse 16). They are mutually exclusive.

Praying always is a major component of walking with God and one of the two tickets to avoiding tribulation and gaining entrance to God's Kingdom. As such, Enoch's life contains a point worthy of note that may apply to those living at the end time. God says of Enoch in Genesis 5:24: "And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him." If we walk with God as Enoch did, will God, true to His patterns, likewise take us away from the trouble on the horizon? Luke 21:36 indicates the answer could be, "Yes."

Pat Higgins
Praying Always (Part Five)


 

Proverbs 3:9-10   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

By paying to God what we owe Him (that is, His tithes), He rewards us with blessings. Christians often find their third tithe years to be abundant with all types of blessings and invaluable lessons learned. These are not always material blessings, however. Storing up spiritual treasures in heaven is far more important than physical prosperity. God does not promise to make us wealthy but that our relationship with Him will prosper. Such eternal blessings are far greater than any temporary physical blessings we could receive.

Martin G. Collins
Tithing: Third Tithe


 

Proverbs 7:4-5   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Besides following the codified laws and instructions of God, we are also told to take it to the next level, looking beyond the phrases beginning with "thou shalt" or "thus saith the Lord." We must go beyond just basic knowledge. Anybody can take a checklist of dos and don'ts and see if a specific situation applies in a literal or legalistic manner. God tells us to understand the command for the principle behind it, so we can apply it widely beyond a specific incident.

Understanding the principle, then, allows us to be wise. The basic definition of wisdom is "the right application" or "the right action" based on what we understand. This is echoed in Psalm 111:10, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments."

To be protected from these strange women, we need to have an understanding of godly principles and then act accordingly. To gain this wisdom and understanding, we must fear and obey God. To put it briefly, we need to have a good relationship with God. If we have the right relationship, we will begin to see things as He does; the things that are "strange" to Him will also become "strange" to us.

David C. Grabbe
Strange Women (Part Two)


 

Proverbs 30:1-6   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Agur claims no great intelligence or superior understanding. He feels his education is lacking in the more important areas of life, like the proper way to live and the knowledge of God. He is only a common man with no special abilities, powers or privileges—in fact, he would like to know the person who could do some of these things.

In verses 5 and 6 he states his conclusion: To get the most and the best from life, we should believe God, not presuming that we can comprehend the effects of our actions without advice from God in His Word. God's Word cannot be improved upon; every word of God is pure, as gold and silver are pure (Psalm 12:6). The value of God's Word cannot be increased by adding to or taking from it, anymore than gold can be increased in value by alloying it with something else. He advises that we strive to do nothing that God forbids and leave nothing undone that God commands. This is the approach of a man whose sole aim is to please God, and who does not want to do or not do anything that might strain the relationship.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Christmas, Syncretism, and Presumption


 

Ecclesiastes 2:22-24   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Solomon, knowing the human condition was a result of God's purpose, reveals that men can receive something good from his toilsome lot. Verse 26 lists three virtues we can derive from our labors: "For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God."

A person who combines his work with a relationship with God will receive growth in character! On the other hand, a sinner, cut off from God, must endure the drudgery of the struggle, and the rewards of his work would eventually benefit the righteous, not himself!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The First Prophecy (Part Three)


 

Ecclesiastes 11:1-10   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This chapter marks a decisive change in the book in that it not only becomes much more positive than it has been preceding this, but it also becomes more exhortive.

Remember that the term qoheleth means "the lecturer" or "the preacher." The preacher is now calling on the people who are listening to his dissertation to make a decision. He does not say, "You can make any kind of decision you want," but He weighs his advice heavily in one direction. He says, "I want you to make a decision, but this is the decision I think you ought to make."

It becomes positive in its tone and exhortive in terms of making a decision as to what they should do with the knowledge that he has given them thus far. He strongly urges his readers or hearers to cast their lots with God.

This section begins in Ecclesiastes 11:1 and ends in 12:7. There is a sustained theme of exhortation to hold wholeheartedly to the faith and to decisive commitment to obedience to God, regardless of whether life is adverse or comfortable.

Remember that at the beginning of the book he said that life is frustrating. If God is involved in a person's life, he has the opportunity to remove a great deal of the frustration from his life. His relationship with God will take the meaninglessness, the vanity, out of life. But all the children of God are required to make that choice because both choices are still there.

Not only that, but we know from earlier in the book that the life of the person who is living by faith will also be filled with many of the same kind of adversities that those living in vanity are. He has to live with the understanding that many things are out of his control.

The Christian therefore has to deal with this, and the way this is done is to make a decisive commitment to cast his lot to live by faith. If he does that, then Romans 8:28 will be fulfilled in his life. The difficulties will be there, but because the Christian has involved God in the way that he lives his life, then all things will indeed work together for good to those who are the elect and who love God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)


 

Song of Solomon 1:1   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We do not know for sure if the book is arranged chronologically or just in short, timeless vignettes. Some say that certain sections are dreams or flashbacks to previous scenes. However, a basic story can be seen in the flow of the text.

Song of Songs opens with the Shulamite in the blush of first love; it is so new to her that she must ask where her Beloved works (Song 1:7). The couple is separated, and each yearns to be reunited. The Beloved asks her to come away with him (Song 2:10), and the Shulamite seeks and finds him in the city (Song 3:2-4). Later, again separated, she looks for him again, only to be beaten by the city watchmen (Song 5:6-7). In the end, after praising each other's beauty and constancy, they are together again, and the Shulamite proclaims that "love is as strong as death" (Song 8:6).

However we arrange the various parts, the main story concerns the courtship of the Shulamite and the Beloved. In most of the book's verses, they vividly praise the other's excellence and express their deepest feelings. This human sexual imagery, rather than being erotic, simply pictures the depth of love and pleasure in a Christian's relationship with God. In a sense, the sexual union of man and wife is the closest human parallel to God's relationship with us.

Jesus Himself endorses this concept in John 17:3, "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." This knowledge of God is intimate, similar to the relationship between a man and his wife (see Genesis 4:1; Luke 1:34). The apostle Paul calls the church's relationship with Christ, likened to a marriage partnership, "a great mystery" (Ephesians 5:32). Later, John is shown that the church is indeed the Bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7-9).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy in Song


 

Song of Solomon 3:1-5   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This first dream sequence shows the Shulamite in bed, and even in her dreams she seeks the Beloved (verse 1). Her love for him is so consuming that she constantly looks for him everywhere. When she awakens in the dead of night, she goes out into the city to look for him (verse 2). She goes down every street, into every square, without finding him. She asks the policemen strolling their beats if they have seen him (verse 5), but when they give her no help, she continues her search and immediately finds him (verse 4). She is so overjoyed—and so fearful of losing him again—that she clutches him tightly and refuses to let him go until she brings him back to her mother's house where they will be married. Since her relationship with the Beloved is so wonderful, she advises the other young women to make certain they are truly ready for the experience before they commit to a relationship of their own (verse 5; see Luke 14:26-33).

What an incredible prophecy of the church of God today! Part of the church woke up from slumber with the strength and commitment to seek the Bridegroom high and low. These people were strong enough to overcome and pass by the problems they encountered out in the world. Before He had to knock on the door in judgment, these Christians have found Christ again and refuse to let Him go! They will not allow a separation to occur again!

Unfortunately, others have awakened more slowly, with much less strength and resolve.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy in Song


 

Isaiah 8:12-14   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Just in case we thought it was sufficient to stand only in reverence or awe or respect of Him, Isaiah adds, "Let Him be your dread!" God is asking, in effect, "Of whom are you more afraid, the Assyrians or Me?"

In The Interpreter's Bible Commentary appears an interesting comment regarding this passage. The editors saw clearly that God was instructing Isaiah to turn away from the bulk of the Israelites and aim his message at a tiny remnant of people who were willing to be obedient and faithful in response to God. He tells the prophet to reject the main body and pay attention to a small group, the remnant that desires to be faithful to God. He said, "I will become a snare, a trap, to those who are turning away from Me. They will stumble as a result of not having the fear of God and because of their faithlessness."

God does not seem the least bit worried that His people should dread Him. Indeed, this dread, rather than hindering a proper relationship with Him, is advanced as producing a positive benefit. He becomes a sanctuary, a place of abode, to which his people can run for safety. He is a place of safety for those who fear Him!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fear of God


 

Isaiah 14:12-15   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Probably all of us have thought that we know better than those in charge. Watch out! Thinking like this is not wrong in itself, but it is something that lodged itself in Lucifer's mind: "I know better than the one in charge," and in this case, it was God.

We can begin to see how his pride was beginning to exalt itself against God. It was moving to break the relationship between them. It was coming between Lucifer and God so that their relationship could not continue. Lucifer could not continue to serve God.

Most have felt that we have been overlooked, neglected, or abused. Most of us have felt rejected a time or two. Of and by themselves, these feelings are not wrong. But, again, we must beware, because these feelings can begin to generate pride. Such a thing fed Lucifer's feelings about himself. They simmered in him and made him angry, and he desired to assert his will to control the governance of all that was happening. "I will ascend to heaven," he said, and he tried to. We see the pattern here; we can see the process involved from beginning to end.

It ends in warfare against God, which is why a person of pride cannot have a good relationship with Him. A proud person cannot have faith in God, at least not very much. A small amount of faith can be there, but pride will definitely be a hindrance. This is why the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18:9-14 follows immediately after of the Parable of the Importunate Widow (Luke 18:1-8), which Jesus ends with, "When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on earth?"—because humility is essential to faith.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 6)


 

Isaiah 40:28-31   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

It is vital for us to understand that this is where the Sabbath "rest" comes from! God is the source of strength, power, and refreshment. They all come from our relationship with God within the proper keeping of the Sabbath day. He gives it to us as a gift of His grace.

He restores our energy. He gives us the power to overcome and to grow. He gives us peace of mind so that we are truly rested. He helps us to recover our strength. He enables us to live confident, hope-filled lives. He gives us good health and sound minds. "The Lord gives His beloved sleep." He gives us strength-restoring sleep. All of these things are gifts of grace from time well-spent in fellowship with Him, developing the relationship with Him and communicating with Him in Bible study and prayer.

How we use the Sabbath day tells Him a great deal about how we will do in His Kingdom. I fear that many of us have put the wrong emphasis on it. We tend to look at the Sabbath day as "things that we cannot do" rather than "things we can do" - truly liberating things we cannot devote time to do on the other six days of the week.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 1)


 

Isaiah 43:10-12   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Here, the third commandment comes into play. The third commandment involves the quality of our personal witness; we are commanded not to blaspheme, profane, trample upon the name of our God by means of our words, actions, and attitudes. We represent Him, bearing His name as His children. We have a sacred responsibility to uphold the quality of His name—the highest name of any name in all of the Creation.

The church is not a great nation or a military power. It is not a cultural institution organized to change this world. We exist solely to glorify God through our witness for Him. The primary witness is the way we live our lives. Each believer is a witness before the world of the worth of his relationship with the great God of heaven. In making this witness through personal conduct and preaching, we carry out God's purpose.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 1)


 

Isaiah 55:1-9   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This paragraph presents an overall and continuous solution to this weakness in the lives of the converted. First, notice that this paragraph is in the form of a command. It is not a mere suggestion but a direct charge from our Creator. As the reference to David indicates, it is addressed to His people, so His audience already knows Him to some degree. The word "return" (verse 7) confirms this, indicating that He and they already have a relationship, but those He is speaking to have lost some resolve and drifting apart has occurred.

The mention of David appears in verses 3-4. When this was written, David had been dead for about 250 years, so this inclusion inserts some symbolism and moves the time-setting, making it a prophecy that fits it into the end time as well as Isaiah's lifetime. David is a type of Jesus Christ in His office as King, which further confirms that God is commanding this of those who already know and have a relationship with Him. Not only have these people drifted away, but they are also not making the effort to "seek" Him to strengthen the relationship.

The responsibility of those who have made the covenant with Him to seek Him is thus not that of striving to find Him in order to establish a relationship as a relationship already exists. Rather, it is seeking Him in order to be like Him and become more fully intimate with His will.

Verses 1-3 remind us that our relationship with Him is not without cost. This paragraph begins with an urgent command: "Come!" The sense is that paying the cost of seeking is obligatory if the relationship is to continue.

We need to understand our position here. God not only loves us, but He also greatly desires us to be in His Kingdom. At the same time, He wants us to show voluntarily that we desire the relationship. In addition, to reinforce our obligation, we must grasp and fully accept that He has every legal right to command us to do this.

In Isaiah 55:1-3, our part in this relationship is clearly not costly in terms of money, but it is in terms of our lives and how we spend them. Our lives must be lived by faith in the One who redeemed us. Paul describes the Christian life as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Two)


 

Isaiah 55:1-3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

While each of the terms in the first three verses is an important symbol with spiritual meaning, we will focus briefly on only one of them, the symbol of "ear" in verse 3. God adds to that term, "come to Me" and "hear, and . . . live." How important is this concept?

Paul writes in Romans 10:17, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." "So then" marks this statement as a conclusion. If we desire to be in God's Kingdom, hearing is essential. Such a person must live by faith. Salvation is by grace through faith, and faith comes by hearing. Faith is an absolute necessity, and hearing is equally necessary for having faith that saves.

Interestingly, virtually every modern translation of this verse now reads, "So then faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ," or the end may be, "the word concerning Christ." Why make this change? The entire context of the book of Romans presents us with the knowledge of the spiritual foundation for a life in Christ and living by faith. It teaches us how to have a living relationship with the Father and Son, and it focuses on understanding the preaching of Christ. The translation change brings Christ more sharply into focus.

Matthew 17:5 reads: "While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!'" The One who became Jesus Christ is the same One urging us in Isaiah 55 to seek Him, and a major element in seeking Him is to hear Him. Hearing Him is the path to increasing faith and being enabled to live by faith, thus pleasing God.

The first sentence of the first paragraph of the article, "Ear, Hearing," in The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery reads, "In the Bible the ear is synonymous with the heart and mind as an organ of cognition" (p. 223). The placement of this statement helps emphasize the importance of thoroughly understanding what Christ has said. The Reader's Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder Dictionary defines cognition as "knowing, perceiving, or conceiving as an act or faculty distinct from emotion and volition." "Understanding," "grasping," and "getting" are synonyms. To come to know Christ obviously requires effort. Biblically, then, the hearing involved in Isaiah 55:1-3 requires concentrated listening, comparing scripture with scripture, and meditated understanding. These lead to living faith and grasping the sovereignty of God over our lives.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Two)


 

Isaiah 58:13-14   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

On the surface, the Sabbath appears to be only a rest - a break from physical labor. Rest is a factor in keeping it, but its central purpose, which should guide our use of the day, is the developing and building of our relationship with God, an exceedingly more important reason than ceasing to work! Not working only provides the time so that we can do what is more important - develop our relationship with God. The core reason for breaking from the normal routine is to get to know Him. Jesus says that eternal life is to know God (John 17:3). Do we want eternal life? We need to get to know God. That is what the Sabbath is for.

The Sabbath is a weekly, and sometimes annual, appointment of time to be devoted to God, so that the relationship does not become lost in the swirl of life's activities. If it is done right, no one has an excuse for not "knowing" Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 2)


 

Isaiah 59:2   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Sin involves man's relationship with his Maker. According to this verse, sin damages and can even sever that relationship: "Your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear." Crime is offense against man's laws, enacted by human legislative bodies. Which law, according to God's Word, has precedence? In the Bible, God clearly establishes His supreme position, as well as the individual's and human government's relationships to Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part 2): War! (1997)


 

Isaiah 66:1-2   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Humility is the key to oneness with God. Consequently, it is also the key to oneness with our brethren. God's way of achieving oneness is for each person to be so attuned to God that he is motivated to do everything possible to ensure that the relationship (with God or fellow man) is not only unbroken, but constantly becoming ever closer. We should do this because we are striving to become like Him, and that is how He is.

Each person is responsible for cleaning up his character and humbling himself before God. Each is not responsible for judging his brother so critically it drives a wedge between them and separates them. Such a person does not even see his own sin! In such a case, he could not be in God's Kingdom because that manner of thinking would continue right on into it, and God will not allow it there.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Pride, Humility, and the Day of Atonement


 

Jeremiah 2:2   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The Revised Standard Version, in the middle of verse two, read, "I remember your early devotion, the love of your bridal days." God uses the bridegroom and bride analogies because they picture the kind of fervent relationship He desires with us. Fervency is warmth of spirit. It is an attitude.

Does a person desire a relationship with somebody who shows no interest in him? There is a possibility that something like that might occur because someone could be attracted to another, but the other is not paying any attention. So, unless the attracted person makes a move to build a relationship, the other will never notice him. He has to seek the other out.

Now, we need to put God into this scenario. He does not need us in any way, and we are not holy like He is. We do not have the mind He has or His character. In fact, we know almost nothing about Him at the time He begins to make the effort to have a relationship with us. He would like to have one with us because He can see where it can go.

But what kind of reaction will He get from us? He wants the reaction of two people in love. It is helpful to look at this from God's point of view in terms of the end of the relationship. If we were God, would we desire to have a relationship with one who is not showing any interest in us? We would not want to marry anybody who did not have as much interest in us as we have in them. Marriage should be made on the basis of equal, fervent, mutual interest. It occurs because of a desire to be together, to do things together, to accomplish things together, to build a family together, even a desire to mature and grow old together.

This is exactly the kind of relationship that God wants. In several places, He specifically says, "I remember what it was like in our bridal days," because there was heat in the relationship. Each was truly seeking the other out.

John W. Ritenbaugh


 

Jeremiah 7:4-12   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We can learn a great deal from the prophets' descriptions of conditions in Israel in the years just before God scattered them. Jeremiah 7 contains an especially vivid description, describing attitudes and conduct just before Babylon's invasion of Judah. Anybody who cares and diligently searches for the causes of our present scattered condition can easily find many of them.

Verse 4 reveals a casual, self-righteous, and presumptuous self-confidence that, since they were fellowshipping with the "church," everything would be fine! Nevertheless, the enemy conquered Judah and took the people into captivity, so membership in the church is no guarantee that judgment will not come on us individually or collectively. Jeremiah expresses the Jews prideful assumption of being above correction, an attitude that has its basis in a confused understanding of God's love and the purity of His holiness.

We must be prepared for God's Kingdom. The attitudes and conduct of these people, expressed here but applied to us now, show that we were not living up to God's expectations. We can learn, though, that fellowshipping with the church without the right attitudes and conduct can easily foster a delusion that all is well, while by God's judgment all clearly is not well! Verses 5-6 illustrate that their judgment of how to apply God's Word in their lives was severely compromised. They definitely did not love their neighbor as themselves; they were unmistakably self-centered. Is there more evidence here that we may have been the same?

Verse 10 expresses the extent this delusion had permeated their lives. By ignoring God's moral and ethical demands, they were in effect telling God that attending services released them from the guilt accrued during the rest of their lives. It was as if God's judgments did not apply to them. They were after all "in the church," right? It reads almost as if they felt they were doing God a favor by showing up! What is more, while there, they heard insipid messages telling them, "Peace, peace. Everything is okay. God's grace covers all."

Though ceremonially going through the motions, they lacked thorough dedication and devotion to God's way in every aspect of life. Beginning in verse 12, God reminds them that they should remember the history of former generations and take warning because they are on track to experience the same calamities. Have we in our time repeated their assumptions that everything is fine when it is not? It seems so, since the Laodicean assumes he is rich and increased with goods and needs nothing. The reality is that he is blind to his true condition and not clothed with God's righteousness.

God has called us into a courtship relationship leading to marriage with Jesus Christ. He makes clear what He expects from us as our part in this relationship. Jesus says to His disciples, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). A love relationship requires each to sacrifice thoughtfully for the other. Keeping of the commandments does not "save" us, but it prepares us to live eternally with Him and shows our attitude of submission to Him.

Jeremiah 7:5-9 plainly portrays precious little concern for fellow man. In fact, most of the sins Jeremiah directly mentions are transgressions of the last five commandments. Only one sin, idolatry, focuses directly on the first four commandments. This suggests that a breakdown in human relationships quickly followed the disintegration of the relationship between God and Israel. Similarly, I John 4:20-21 calls upon those who say they love God and claim to be Christians to love the brethren. John goes so far as to say that, if we do not love the brethren, our claim to love God is a lie! This is another area in which many fell short, and it led to division, which continues to the present.

This indicates that self-absorbed people indulged themselves at others' expense. Self-absorption produces strained marital relationships (and ultimately divorce) and alienated children as they and their parents go in wildly different directions. Within congregations, it yields shallow and casual relationships that show little true concern. Its fruit are intolerance, impatience, strong opinions about trivial things, offense, harsh judging, and division.

It produces busy people who feel as if they are accomplishing a great deal because they seem to get many things done. The church member may even prosper more than at any other time in his life. However, the busy-ness is spent on things of minor spiritual importance. Meanwhile, the relationship with God, while existent, is allowed to be neglected. That is what Laodiceanism is. People bring it in from the world where God is a figurehead but with whom there is no relationship. It is a deceitful fruit of too much time, attention, and energy focused on the wrong things. Laodiceanism is deceitful because the Bible reveals that the person afflicted with it is unaware that he has it. He is blind to it, but God certainly is not because He is being neglected in this relationship. How can He possibly marry someone who will not draw close to Him because of involvement in so many other things?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Seven)


 

Jeremiah 31:31-34   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

(See also Ezekiel 37:26; Jeremiah 50:5, 20)

Jeremiah 31:31-34 provides an encouraging conclusion to the saga of Israel and Judah once they have repented and returned to the land. These verses, quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12 and 10:16-17, show that this is the same covenant that the church has already made with God. Rather than doing away with the law of God, the New Covenant gives the people the means, not merely to obey it, but to accept it and make it a part of their lives. God will give the people of Israel and Judah new hearts, and they will finally be able to follow God consistently and have real relationships with Him. God will forgive their sins, and Israel will finally begin to be the witness to the rest of the world that God intended her to be (see Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Isaiah 62:1-2).

Even though God makes this covenant primarily with Israel and Judah (Jeremiah 31:31), it is not exclusive. Through Isaiah, God shows that Gentiles who submit themselves to Him can and will also make this covenant. Of particular interest is the requirement that the Sabbath be kept by those wishing to do this (Isaiah 56:1-2, 6-8).

Ezekiel 11:17, 19-21 foretells of Israel and Judah receiving from God a new heart—a spiritual heart that will enable them to keep His commandments and statutes.

Throughout its history, the essential difficulty in Israel's relationship with God has been one of the heart. God exclaims, "Oh, that they [Israel] had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!" (Deuteronomy 5:29). In Hebrews 3:10, God again identifies this problem: "Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, 'They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways'" (emphasis ours throughout).

The heart or spirit of a man is the center of his thought, reason, and motivation. Because of human nature, the natural—unconverted—heart is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). It has an innate, powerful pull toward the self, always making evaluations based on what it perceives as good for the individual regardless of the effect on others. Humanity has had approximately 6,000 years of such self-centered and destructive living, proving that man is simply unable to govern himself for very long. He needs direction and leadership from another—divine—source.

The Old Covenant that God made with Israel was a good agreement as far as it went, because all of God's works are good. The problem was not with its terms, but with the people who made it (Hebrews 8:7-8, 10). They lacked the right heart that would have allowed them to follow God truly and obey His laws. God, though, will give a new heart—a new spirit—to repentant Israelites, along with any others who desire to covenant with Him.

This "new spirit" is the Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit (see also Jeremiah 32:37-42; Ezekiel 36:26-27; 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29). It is the same Spirit that Jesus told His disciples they would receive, the power that would allow them—through their words and especially through the conduct of their lives—to be witnesses of God (Acts 1:8; see Luke 24:49). It is a Spirit "of power and of love and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7)—a mind that is balanced because God's concerns reside at its core. It is a mind inclined to obey God and to seek Him as the only Source of true solutions in a world that does not have the means or inclination to live in a way that is good for everybody and good eternally.

As Israel becomes God's model nation, due to her new heart and Spirit, the rest of the world will see that God's way—including His commandments, statutes, and judgments—produce peace and abundance. It is the nature of God's laws that, because of their Source, they bring good, prosperity, health, abundance, peace, and contentment (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). Yet, it takes the same spirit—heart—as the Lawgiver for one to understand and keep the laws in their true spiritual intent.

David C. Grabbe
The Second Exodus (Part Three)


 

Lamentations 2:13   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

"Breach" has a very interesting usage in the English language as it pertains to our relationship with God and the church's present state. Here is a list of synonyms for "breach" taken from The Reader's Digest Oxford Complete Word Finder: "break, gap, opening, rupture, split, alienation, schism."

The first definition for breach is unusually appropriate as far as the situation in the church is concerned: "the breaking of, or failure to observe a law or contract or standard." We have a covenant, a contract, with God, and He has given us a standard, the Ten Commandments. This sounds a great deal like I John 3:4: "Sin [which separates, creates a breach] is the transgression of the law."

The second definition of breach is also rich: "A breaking of relations; an estrangement; a quarrel, a broken state."

Together, these describe almost exactly what has happened to the church as a result of breaking the covenant (as a result of breaking laws, as a result of sin). There has been a breaking of relations with God because of the church's failure, as a body, to live up to the contract that we made with Him.

Spiritually "a repairer of breaches" is one who restores the right way, beginning with himself. He may have no influence or control over what others do, but he does have control over what he does, and when he repairs his own personal breach with God, the breach in the wall closes a bit. It is as if a stone or a brick were added to the wall—another person is again in a good relationship with God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 4)


 

Ezekiel 20:10-13   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God is referring to Israel's Sabbath-breaking in their wilderness journey, quite early in their relationship with Him. In addition, if there was any time—in all of the history of Israel's relationship with God—this was a time during which they had no excuse for breaking the Sabbath. He was with them at all times in the cloud and the pillar of fire. They were also a completely closed society. There should have been no other God to worship.

All of the people were gathered in one general location. There was no place to go. Double manna fell each Friday, and no manna fell on the Sabbath. They had no excuse for losing track of what day it was. God, jarringly, had a man executed for Sabbath-breaking to remind them how important the day is and to instill in them respect for it. Yet, God says they still rebelled, suggesting that God was mostly concerned with how they were keeping it.

They undoubtedly gave lip-service to the Sabbath, setting it aside on the calendar. When that day came around, any commercial business in the wilderness probably came to a halt on that day. They did not travel. It was what they were doing or not doing personally and individually on that day that harmed their relationship with God. That was the issue.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 1)


 

Ezekiel 22:25-30   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Do we have a wall to keep the enemies of God's way out of our lives and homes? Have we set boundaries against the world, or have we torn down the wall? If we have a wall, are we leaving the gates open and unguarded? Are we willing to fight to defend our families and our church? Or do we just let the enemy stream in unchallenged? Are we willing to stand up to the world?

This particular wall is not one of brick and stone, but a spiritual wall anchored by God, designed to keep spiritual problems out. I Timothy 5:8 says that if we fail to provide for the needs of our loved ones—both physically and spiritually—we are worse than an unbeliever! Have we done anything to protect our families—or has worldliness hurdled our puny walls, totally pervading every aspect of our lives?

Satan hates walls. "Let's all be one happy family," he whispers in our ears. "Walls are for the immature. You're spiritually mature now, so you can handle immorality without a problem." Do not fall for this line.

God Himself teaches us through His example to erect impregnable bulwarks against Satan. He placed cherubim with flaming swords at the entrance to the Garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24), and even New Jerusalem will have towering walls and gates (Revelation 21:12, 14). In type, the church is to be a wall (Song of Songs 8:10), within which peace dwells and righteousness flourishes.

God supplies this spiritual wall to those who seek His Way, His providence, and His will. The work of rebuilding our personal wall is the effort we put into seeking a strong relationship with Him, and He then provides the defenses for us. God becomes our wall.

God puts a wall around His people to keep Satan at bay, as in the example of Job. Satan complains, "Have You not made a hedge [wall] around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side?" (Job 1:10). Only after God removed the wall could Satan attack Job—and he wasted no time doing so! Surely, we see the lesson in this.

If we reject God, break down the wall or neglect our relationship with Him, what happens? "[W]hoever breaks through a wall will be bitten by a serpent" (Ecclesiastes 10:8). The Bible depicts Satan as a serpent. Many of our brethren have allowed their walls to crumble, and Satan has struck.

Sometimes God Himself tears down our walls because of our sins (Isaiah 5:4-5). As Paul puts it, He delivers us to Satan for the destruction of our flesh in the hope we will repent (I Corinthians 5:5). The surest way to restore the wall is through sincere and complete repentance. Playing at the repair job, daubing bits of untempered mortar here and there, will only increase God's wrath (Ezekiel 13:8-16). Such a wall, lacking God, gives the impression of security but crumbles at the smallest enemy strike. We must be totally committed to restoring our neglected relationship with God, thus restoring God's presence as the wall.

Staff
Rebuilding the Wall


 

Ezekiel 33:10-11   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The Old Testament was written without punctuation of any kind, and in fact, punctuation was not added until about 1,200 years after Ezekiel wrote this. As God's answer to the question of verse 10, verse 11 would read better if a period followed the words "Lord GOD." He replies that we should live as He would live if He were a man - sinlessly. When Jesus came as a man, He did exactly that.

Jesus declares in John 17:3, "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." A key to understanding Jesus' intent is to grasp His use of the word "eternal." We normally think of it as an endless length of time. However, William Barclay's commentary on this verse contains a simple and meaningful difference of opinion with that concept. Barclay contends that Jesus is speaking of something very good, one to be much desired. Living forever is not necessarily good unless the quality of life is also good. Therefore, "eternal" describes the quality of life God lives endlessly. Knowing God and being able to follow His example are vital to our living as He does. Jesus implies that, if one truly knows God, he will also live that way as an effect of his intimate relationship with God.

Yet, truly coming to know God creates one of the more difficult and continuous problems for church members. In fact, one commentator called it the church's biggest problem, and Romans 11:33 seems to confirm this. "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" Paul says plainly that the full depth of God's wisdom and knowledge are unsearchable and past finding out. We can indeed find out a great deal if we are devoted to seeking Him, an endeavor that requires thorough searching, evaluating, and adjusting of our conceptions. Certainly difficult, but not impossible!

Nevertheless, we must still seek Him, since this verse suggests that we can indeed learn much. It helps that God desires us to know Him, so He is willing to reveal Himself further.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Seeking God (Part One): Our Biggest Problem


 

Daniel 11:32   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The word translated "know" (Hebrew, yada; Greek, ginosko) is foundational when considering God's sovereignty. Yada appears in Daniel 11:32: "Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits." "Know" indicates a close, warm, and even passionate intimacy combined with head knowledge that produces an "edge" in a person's life. This enables us to trust God and, at the same time, to perceive what He is doing. It is this factor that makes God's Word authoritative to us.

This warm, close, and passionate relationship forms the very foundation of a true, working willingness to submit to His sovereignty. Do we really believe that, because God is holy, His anger burns against sin? That, because He is righteous, His judgments fall on those who rebel? That, because God is faithful, His promises of blessing or cursing are absolute? That, because God is omnipotent, nobody can resist Him? That, because God is omniscient, there is no problem He cannot master? "The people who know their God" do! Because God is what He is, we are seeing His prophecies of the end of this age being fulfilled in the world and in the church, and that translates into tumultuous, difficult, and sometimes scary and confusing times.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Introduction


 

Daniel 11:32   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Historical evidence identifies the man referred to as "he" as Antiochus Epiphanes. Because the record of his activities against the Jews parallels many of the activities prophesied about the end-time Beast of Revelation, many believe he is a symbolic forerunner of that one to come. This verse prophesies three things of the coming Beast:

First, we normally and correctly associate the Beast with great, though evil, power. However, among other things he will also be a flatterer. He will not only be a person of great political wisdom, but he will be personally persuasive and charming. Proverbs 31:30 warns us, "Charm is deceitful"—all too frequently, it is nothing more than a social and public relations skill used for personal gain. It can be nothing more than a dishonest puffery displayed to get another's cooperation to achieve an ulterior motive. Practically, it can easily become manipulation and control by a skilled person using honeyed words. David's experience with a charming betrayer is recorded in Psalm 55:21: "The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords." Politically, this activity is defined as treachery.

Second, this verse also tells us he will corrupt or seduce some of those who have made the covenant with God. At first, we might think that these are the unconverted, but that is not so. This refers to the last phrase of verse 30, where the Beast "shows regard for those who forsake the holy covenant." These are people who apostatize. A person cannot forsake an agreement he has never made. Some of the converted will be seduced by manipulative flatteries and corrupted into cooperation. At the end time, that means some of us! Reader's Digest Encyclopedic Dictionary lists some of the definitions of corrupt: "to pervert the fidelity or integrity of as by bribing; to destroy morally; pervert, ruin, change from the original, debase, contaminate."

Putting these two factors together, we ought to imagine God waving a yellow caution flag before us, revealing an area of danger that we should mark well. It is highly unlikely that any of us will move in the same political, social, and military circles as the Beast. Thus, his personal charm or flatteries will not be used to deceive us in an intimate, personal circumstance. Therefore, his political wisdom and flatteries will be exhibited in his public policies. We must never forget that this man will be of the world and as unconverted as a man can be.

Therefore the political strategies he will use will essentially be appeals to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (I John 2:15-17). He will appeal to us to abandon our faith and give our cooperation, trust, and loyalty to him by submitting to political programs and public policies that offer us physical well-being, peace, and safety under his umbrella. It will seem advantageous for us, at least on a short-term basis, to support his programs. He will make glowing promises of preferment, reward, and peace. But never forget, when seduction and subversion through flatteries fail, the reign of terror by persecution begins.

Third and finally, the verse prophesies that those who know their God shall be strong, or stand firm, and do exploits. God inserts this to show us how not to be deceived by flatteries. Jesus says in John 17:3, "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." Knowing God is the key to seeing through and rejecting the seductive flatteries of the Beast because it is the foundation of faith. We know God gives truths that are eternal.

The Beast will deceive through a combination of outright lies, partial truths, and temporary truths. The people who see through his devious words will do so because they know and believe God and His truth. They will therefore be strong in giving glory to Him. These people will prefer to risk their lives rather than betray God's honor. By believing God, they will be prepared for the Beast's onslaught, and this will give them strength because it produces firm resolve and sense of purpose. Though these prophecies are not yet fulfilled, evidence is accumulating that they are just over the horizon, and thus something we may soon face.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Three


 

Daniel 11:32   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Now this word "to know"—yada in Hebrew, ginöskö in Greek—indicates a combination of close, warm, and even passionate intimacy, combined with head knowledge that produces an edge in a person's life that enables him to trust God and at the same time perceive what He is doing. It is this factor that makes God's Word have authority with us. We know Him. It is not just a casual acquaintance, and it forms the very foundation of a true working relationship.

We need to ask ourselves: Do we really believe that God is holy, and because of that, His anger burns against sin; that because He is righteous, His judgments fall on those who rebel; that because He is faithful, His promises of either blessings or curses are absolute; that because He is omnipotent, nobody can resist Him; and because He is omniscient, there is no problem of which He is unaware or cannot master? Because God is what He is, we are seeing the prophecies He inspired regarding the end of the age being fulfilled in the world and in the church, and that translates into tumultuous, difficult, and sometimes scary and even confusing times for us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God (Part 1)


 

Daniel 11:32   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We would do well to notice the context of this verse. This prophecy is made of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, whom just about every commentator mentions is a type of the end-time Beast. The Beast appears to be rising in our time, so we should pay attention because we may be implied here.

This verse's final fulfillment will be in "the time of Jacob's trouble," a time that Jeremiah 30:7 says will be unlike any other that has ever been on earth. Nevertheless, "the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits." Note that those who know their God will do these things. Despite what they can plainly see happening, these people know by faith that the unseen and almighty sovereign God is still on His throne, overseeing everything that is going on, and knowing that His will will be done, regardless of what those living by sight think.

How do they know that His will will be done? Because they know Him intimately as a result of their relationship with Him. For a good part of their lives, they have walked with Him and talked with Him, and He has talked with them through His Word. By faith, they "see" God. They have submitted to Him, and He has reciprocated their attentions by blessing them in ways they know were from Him because, by faith, they were thinking spiritually.

Ephesians 1:11 reminds us, ". . . in Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will." God does not work a few things or even many things but all things according to His will. This "all things" must be qualified, since at least one thing is always excluded from it: God never ordains any of His children to sin. We are always to choose life, not death through sin (Deuteronomy 30:19). When we sin, it is our fault; we should know better. God has already evaluated the situation (I Corinthians 10:13). Do we have any doubt about His power to know what is going on and to make judgments?

God's purpose will stand, and nothing will stop Him from doing His pleasure. He is no distant spectator. Yes, He has given power to Satan, as well as to mankind, but God is all-powerful while Satan and man are but creatures. The Creator is greater than the sum total of all that He has made through Jesus Christ. Yes, God has created what we consider to be natural laws, and much of the material world is to some degree regulated by them, but He "upholds all things by the word of His power" (Hebrews 1:3).

Life is difficult, and few seem to make it through the entirety of life without becoming shell-shocked. Most muddle their way through, but we would be well-advised to take to heart what the apostle Peter writes in II Peter 1:19: "We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." The prophetic word has been confirmed to us. What are we to take heed of specifically? That God's counsel shall stand! He will do all His pleasure, and His pleasure is written in His Book, that is, what He has prophesied will happen.

Therefore, instead of looking at all the problems on planet earth and then turning to God, we must begin our thinking with God because the Word, which is now ours too, came from Him, and He has the will and the power to carry out what He has said He will do.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Sovereignty


 

Daniel 11:32   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The circumstance prophesied in Daniel 11:32 is gradually taking shape on the horizon. Those who know Him and "see" Him are those who so respect and revere Him that they never want to be out of His presence nor disappoint Him. The Bible describes such people as "fearing Him." Fear is generally defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by exposure to danger or expectation of lack or pain. Its synonyms include "dread," "terror," "panic," "alarm," and "fright." Though it contains elements of these characteristics, the fear of God is most certainly not dominated by them. This particular quality of fear is not abject terror.

The fear of God centers on worshipful admiration and appreciation. It is a wonder, awe, delight, pleasure, and warm approval of all He is in His Person. It esteems Him above all others because of the awesome, loving mixture of His intelligence, creativity, generosity, wisdom, kindness, patience, and mercy, all within an aura of overwhelming and yet subdued power. These qualities are not ones that a person immediately recognizes, but rather ones that an individual comes to know as the result of experience with Him. His qualities draw a person to God rather than repel him in cringing terror.

Psalm 34:11, a psalm of David, a man after God's own heart, makes a telling statement regarding this fear: "Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD." This fear is not natural to man; it is not built into the carnal mind. Human nature will reject it because the carnal mind is enmity with God (Romans 8:7).

Godly fear is a quality of reverence and respect of God that must be learned, and only those whom God calls and converts can learn it, because doing so requires a relationship with Him to come to know Him. The unconverted do not have this relationship. Those who fear God will do great exploits regardless of their human status, great or small. To be in that position, we must make the best use of the relationship that He enables by His calling. We have to respond by seeking Him to remain in His spiritual presence, or we will never learn the fear of God nor have it as part of our characters.

The fear of the Lord is a necessary, foundational plank supporting a life lived in faith. It is a strong influence that drives us toward God and His way, not one that incites us to flee from Him. It is not only foundational to this way of life, but it is also a fruit of it, learned and strengthened in the character of those who pay the costs of living by faith. The sons of God live in the present yet always look to the future in the Kingdom of God, humbly accepting His judgments on their lives. They strive to make good, daily use of His Word. Such people will receive God's spiritual blessings and do exploits.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty, Part Three: The Fruits


 

Hosea 4:1-2   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Hosea mentions a few ramifications of faithlessness. The major truth lost concerns God's Word and its importance to family, community life, and Israel's relationship with Him. However, it extends beyond that: Soon, there is no reliable basis for business or its relationships; there are no solid, unwavering moral standards; in general, people are consistently untrustworthy in all aspects of life; and dependability in anything is hard to find.

"No mercy" is the next valuable quality lost. In this context, mercy has the connotation of "steadfast love," rather than a singular act of kindness. Thus, as a people we blow hot and cold. When we are hot, we are hot, but we cannot seem to sustain it because our eye begins to rove onto some new interest that excites us. Dissatisfaction is an ever-present reality, and impatience simmers right beneath the surface.

Hosea adds that there is "no . . . knowledge of God." This knowledge contains two elements. The first is the general knowledge about God, that is, of His existence, Word, and way. As important as that is, the second—the acknowledgement of God—is even more vital in terms of affecting relationships. This indicates commitment, a robust loyalty to a way of life in which He is the focus. Jesus says in John 17:3 that eternal life is to know God, and the context seems to demand this idea of acknowledging Him.

The apostle Paul confirms in Romans 10:2 that Israel had a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. The Israelites had a general knowledge about God, but they did not seek Him nor know Him. At best, this suggests a very distant relationship.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Seventh Commandment


 

Amos 3:1-2   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This encompasses God's relationship to Israel. It is the only nation in the history of mankind that God has had an intimate, close, personal relationship with. The relationship was so close that He portrays it as a marriage—one that was altered, broken by divorce, as Jeremiah 3 says. However, He has made it clear that, despite Israel's whoredoms, His faithfulness to His promises remains unbroken because of His grace, and He will move to rescue Israel from its stubborn blindness.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 2)


 

Amos 3:1-3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Can two exist in a marriage relationship where one is constantly unfaithfully acting as a harlot? Yet, of all the nations that have existed on the earth, the only one that God made a covenant with did this to Him. God entered into no other relationship with any other nation in all of the history of mankind.

A person may have many friends, many family members, many business friends, fraternal friends, professional relationships, but by biblical standards for marriage, it is one spouse until death. God and Israel's relationship involved an intimacy normally associated only within marriage. Yes, God had relationships with other nations, but none even close to what He had with Israel. It was favored with gifts greater than any nation because of that intimacy, but perhaps the greatest gift of all was the revelation of God Himself, the knowledge of His purpose, and how to live life at its fullest. But because of these gifts, Israel's responsibility and deviancy was also the greatest on earth: great Jerusalem, great deviancy. The gift had never been given to any other people on earth.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 5)


 

Amos 3:2   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The basis of God's accusation and judgment against the people of Israel is their special relationship. From the beginning of His dealings with them, God has stressed their higher responsibility because of their knowledge of Him (Deuteronomy 4:5-10).

As used here, known can be cognitive, involving the thinking process, or it can be relational, indicating experience with someone else. The word is used in this latter sense in Genesis 4:1: "Adam knew Eve his wife." He had an intimate, caring relationship with her. So with God. Of all the world's nations, He had been intimate only with Israel, watching over and caring for her in a very personal way (Ezekiel 16:1-14). Israel was so dear to Him that He called her "the apple of His eye" (Deuteronomy 32:10)!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)


 

Amos 5:4-7   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The word "justice" used in verse 7 is associated with end-time circumstances in nearly every prophecy where social conditions are described in a nation on the verge of collapse. The Hebrew word is mishpat, translated justice, judgment, or ordinance. Because he is spiritually blind, the Laodicean, too, has lost his ability to judge between right and wrong. He can no longer discern, as the Bible phrases it, "between the clean and the unclean."

God speaks of this lack of judgment in terms of their courtship, their relationship, with Him. Similar to the situation today in the church, Christians need discernment, the ability to distinguish right from wrong, to make true judgments. The Laodicean lacks this ability and it shows in the decisions he makes.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church and Laodiceanism


 

Amos 5:4-6   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Beersheba played a role in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though the event for each was a little different, something was said to each that is significant to our lives, especially in light of the Holy Spirit.

Abraham's incident at Beersheba is written in Genesis 21:22-24:

And it came to pass at that time that Abimelech and Phichol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, "God is with you in all that you do. Now therefore swear to me by God that you will not deal falsely with me, with my offspring, or with my posterity; but that according to the kindness that I have done to you, you will do to me and to the land in which you have sojourned." And Abraham said, "I will swear."

In this event, Abimelech utters the words that become central to what Beersheba came to represent to the Israelites: "God is with you in all that you do." A pagan king observed Abraham's life as one that reflected godliness.

In Isaac's incident at Beersheba, recorded in Genesis 26:23-24, God Himself utters the assurance necessary for Isaac to trust Him: "Then He went up from there to Beersheba. And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, 'I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for My servant Abraham's sake.'" Like Isaac, we need assurance, we need to believe, that God is with us.

In Jacob's case, he is on his way to Egypt to meet with Joseph, filled with a stressful mixture of joy and fear, when the event of Genesis 46:1-4 occurs:

So Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. Then God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, "Jacob, Jacob!" And he said, "Here I am." And He said, "I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will put his hand on your eyes."

Thus, at Beersheba, each of the three patriarchs receives assurance of the companionship of God. What might have been the reaction of the Israelites when Amos said, "Don't pass over to Beersheba"?

It is a pastor's responsibility, not only to help to build peoples' trust in God, but also from time to time to sow doubt about their condition or standing before God. This is necessary because we often assume that all is well in our relationship with God. Amos filled not only the role of prophet but also of pastor of these wayward people, who were falsely confident in their standing with God.

An analysis of Paul's writings shows that his tactics at meeting church problems varied. At times, he energetically battered the opposition's position, and at others, he merely asked questions accompanied by some well-placed, incisive, solid, logical reasoning. In Amos 5:5, the prophet uses some strong imperatives, then turns to a recitation of matters the Israelites would have immediately recognized as accurate, even though they might not have accepted the truth of his statements.

Could these people have assumed - because of the general prosperity in Israel - that God was with them in all they did, despite all the evidence of their sinfulness Amos observed during their festival in Beersheba? Were they blind to the fact that prosperity is no guarantee that one is righteous before God?

The essence of the "God is with you" promise is that all is well and peace exists between God and a person; there is no barrier or constraint between them, and harmony reigns. Thus, the two can walk together because they have an understanding (Amos 3:3) - in fact, they may even have a covenant.

Amos had many reasons to believe that their assumption that God was with them was on shaky ground. First, in Amos 5:6, he briefly warns them of the fire of God's judgment, an allusion to the Day of the Lord, soon to fall upon them. He knows they are not seeking God to walk in His steps, so he proceeds to list a number of their sins. Finally, in verses 18-20, he shows them that they had no fear of the consequences of their way of life.

They truly assumed that everything was okay between them and God despite the sorry record of their sins that Amos laid before them! They completely ignored the fact that they, in reality, lived their lives apart from God. They really did not know the God they claimed to be walking with!

Consider the seriousness of verses 14-16:

Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the LORD God of hosts will be with you, as you have spoken. Hate evil, love good; establish justice in the gate. It may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. Therefore the LORD God of hosts, the Lord, says this. . . .

Nowhere else in the Bible do three successive verses feature the awesome name, "the LORD God of hosts," underscoring His leading the armies of heaven! Amos is making a very strong point by drawing their attention to the sovereign, omnipotent God of Armies, who is so far above us He is out of sight. These complacent people might choose to believe they were walking with Him, but it begs the question, did this great God want to walk with them as they were?

Adam would have happily remained in the Garden, provided he could hide, but God knew He could not allow such a condition to continue. What good would it do Adam? The Israelites' complacency had been telling them that, when the Day of the Lord arrived, God would side with His people, making it a day of great glory for them. Instead, Amos informs them that it would be just the opposite! It is a time of wailing and disaster (verses 16-17). They had been feeding themselves on false hopes. God says, "I will pass through you"!

In saying, "Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the LORD God of hosts will be with you, as you have spoken" (verse 14), Amos admonishes them to seek holiness. He is urging them to see that it is not just a way or rule of life, but a means of life. Hebrews 12:14 confirms its importance, ". . . without holiness no one will see the Lord." When the people of God follow the way that accords with God's will, they come into possession of life. We must never presume God's grace or take it for granted. We must always fervently seek and submit to the will of God in order to be in His Kingdom.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Amos 5 and the Feast of Tabernacles


 

Amos 5:5   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

What is Gilgal's significance in Israel's spiritual history? Israel's first experience at Gilgal occurs when the people cross into the Promised Land under Joshua: "Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho" (Joshua 4:19). In Gilgal, they set up the twelve stones taken from the Jordan as a memorial of their crossing (verse 20-24).

Joshua 5:1-12 records that it was in Gilgal that all the Israelite males who had been born during the forty years in the wilderness were circumcised, thus entering into the Old Covenant—in effect, becoming God's nation in the land. Verse 10 shows that they kept the first Passover in the Promised Land in Gilgal, and in verse 12, where they first ate the fruit of the land.

Chapters 9, 10, and 14 show that Joshua launched his military attacks from Gilgal against the people of the land to secure it for Israelite inhabitation. I Samuel 11:14-15 records that Saul was confirmed as Israel's first king in Gilgal. All this early history of Israel's occupation of Canaan made Gilgal a shrine to the Israelites' inheritance and possession of the land.

However, Amos again hits the people with a precisely aimed lightning bolt by saying, "Gilgal shall surely go into captivity [exile]" (Amos 5:5). He then fastens that thought more firmly in their minds by making it personal: "'Therefore I will send you into captivity beyond Damascus,' says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts" (verse 27). In other words, even though they observed a festival in the shrine that commemorated possession of the Promised Land, those prosperous, lukewarm people listening to him would lose the land and be taken into captivity.

From this knowledge, we can begin to understand the attitude that Amos confronted. Generally, complacency or apathy was the problem, but specifically, it was much narrower.

With the Bethel illustration, Amos points out that they were mistaken in believing that God was in this place, and therefore their hope for life was a hollow one. They were assuming that simply because they were there, it would work in their favor.

The Beersheba illustration makes them face the fact that they were assuming God was with them. Their pride was almost boundless. They should have been asking whether God was pleased to walk with them.

The Gilgal illustration deals with their assumption that, because they were not only in the Promised Land but in full possession of it, everything was thus well with them.

Amos 5 highlights three critical assumptions, all of which are factors in a doctrine evangelical Christians term "eternal security." The context of the chapter shows a wealth of religious activity (verses 21-26). Amos mentions religious festivals, animal sacrifices, and music they believed to be glorifying to God, all indicating worship services of some kind. They went in for religion in a big way! Undoubtedly, they were wholehearted about it, so it was probably emotionally satisfying to them. But what good is worship if it does not get through to God? This is what Amos reveals to them. All of their enthusiasm was for naught because their daily lives did not match God's standards.

We are assured of making it into God's Kingdom on the strength of His ability to prepare us. So what is the problem? Verse 24 gives us some insight: "But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

The first phrase can just as easily read, "Let justice [or, judgment] roll down." There is a clever play on a word here, as Gilgal means "the rolling." The people attended the festivals in Gilgal, but before their arrival and after they returned home, justice and righteousness failed to roll down—we might say "trickle down"—into their everyday life. Things went on as before. They had fun at the feast all right, but nothing changed spiritually.

Justice is the fruit of righteousness. When linked as they are in this verse, justice stands for correct moral practice in daily life, and righteousness for the cultivation of correct moral principles. Justice is external, righteousness is internal. The trouble with Gilgal was that the people allowed their human nature to keep their religion in a box with no way for it to influence daily life.

Together, these three illustrations show that our relationship with God is not a game. Each of His festivals has a serious purpose in keeping us oriented toward the completion of His purpose for us as individuals, for His church, for Israel, and in due time, for the whole world. Presently, attention is focused on the church and our part in its life. The church exists to serve Him in witnessing the gospel to the world by our lives, as well as by preaching. We cannot witness well without preparation, and the festivals play an important role in this.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Amos 5 and the Feast of Tabernacles


 

Amos 5:6   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God threatens to send fire, symbolizing divine rejection and purification (Malachi 4:1), upon Israel because of her false religion. The Bible, though ultimately written for His spiritual children, focuses on ancient Israel because she is comprised of God's chosen people. We can see our own lives in their examples. Amos proves through the Israelites' disobedience and corruption that they had no relationship with God. They had not allowed their privileged position under the covenant to transform them into godly people. Thus, God must send a purifying destruction upon them.

Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba were places of pilgrimage, places people went to observe the feasts. But God says, "I hate, I despise your feast days" (Amos 5:21)! Verses 22-23 show that the Israelites loved all the rituals and entertainments of the feasts, but they did not leave the feasts better people (verse 24). They returned to their homes unchanged, unrepentant, after what was supposed to be a rededication of their lives to God!

Our attitudes in attending the feasts today tell God just as much as the Israelites' did during Amos' ministry. Do we go to the Feast of Tabernacles to seek God and learn to fear Him, as He says in Deuteronomy 14:23? Our reasons for attending God's feasts are very important. Do we go to get love and enjoy ourselves? The feasts should be enjoyable, but those who go there to give love and serve others profit the most from them. Those who go to get love usually become offended and leave the feast, telling anyone who will listen how "cold" others were to them.

From the biblical events that occurred in these places, Bethel pictures reorientation and hope; Gilgal, possession of the promises; and Beersheba, fellowship with God. We can have these things in Christ if we abide under the terms of our covenant with Him. In the example of Israel, we can see that hearing and knowing the way of God intellectually is not enough. The lives of the people of Israel did not match what they knew.

The lesson we can learn from the events in Bethel are particularly illustrative of God's transforming influence. At Bethel, Jacob had his dream of a ladder reaching to heaven and angels walking up and down on it (Genesis 28:12). When he woke up from his dream, Jacob reckoned that God was surely in that place and named it "Bethel" or "house of God." The ascending and descending angels, messengers of God, depict God, not man, initiating communication. In other words, the ladder brought God to Bethel. When God arrives on the scene and descends to communicate with a man, He makes a difference in his life.

Certainly, Jacob's life quickly began to change, especially his attitude. He had been fleeing for his life, but when he got to Bethel, his future changed dramatically because God made contact with him. God reconfirmed to Jacob His promises to Abraham and Isaac. A transformation began then that did not end as long as he lived.

On the run from Esau, a man to be feared, Jacob felt at any moment his brother would appear around the next rock. He arrived at Bethel hopeless, but he left a man with a future—God said that He would be with him. So Jacob arose and made a covenant with God that if He would bless him, then he would give a tenth, a tithe, to God (Genesis 28:18-22).

When Jacob returned to Bethel after serving Laban for some twenty years, God appeared to him again, changing his name to Israel (Genesis 35:1-15). In the biblical record, a name change, normally occurring during a period of crisis in a person's conversion, signifies a change in his heart. Undoubtedly, a significant change happened here and another at Peniel where Jacob wrestled with Christ (Genesis 32:24-30). Peniel was a stepping stone to what occurred at his return to Bethel and between them, we see Jacob's spiritual conversion.

To Israel and Amos, then, Bethel represented reorientation and hope. There the old life and the old man became new. This idea is later reflected in New Testament teaching about our spiritual transformation into the image of God (II Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 4:12-15, 20-24; I John 3:2).

Contact with God causes transformation, and Bethel represents this hopeful reorientation. Israelites may have journeyed to Bethel, but Amos shows that no transformation occurred. There was no change in holiness or morality. They enjoyed the fellowship and good times of the feasts, but they returned to their homes, and it was "business as usual." Unlike Jacob, they had not repented.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)


 

Amos 5:16-17   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The farmer, accustomed to facing all the vagaries and insecurities of nature, like flooding and drought, is less likely to cry and mourn. The professional mourners, who cry at the drop of a hat, typify the other extreme. In their grief and despair, people will wander from one place to another looking for water, food, stability, hope, an organized city, or a functioning society. All they will find is anarchy. Will God be walking beside them? No, He inspired Amos to say, He would walk right through them!

Amos is not argumentative with them; he is not trying to prove anything to them anymore. He merely shows them what the Day of the Lord will be like. He paints a vivid and stark picture of the horrors in their future to make them evaluate the present status of their relationship with God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)


 

Amos 5:21-24   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Israel's religion was going nowhere. The people were not righteous, moral, or just in their dealings with one another, so their playing at religion, though sincere, was despicable to God.

In the list of sacrifices in verse 22, the sin offering is not mentioned, suggesting that the Israelites felt they had done no sin that required forgiveness. This shows that they were not in contact with God; they had no relationship with Him. If they had, they would have been aware where they had fallen short, and they could have repented.

Amos includes three other offerings that the Israelites gave but God would not accept. Knowing what they represent gives us insight into how the people were falling short in their spiritual lives.

The burnt offering teaches total devotion to the Creator. It was completely burned up on the altar, typifying the offerer being completely devoted in service to God. This offering corresponds to the first four commandments, which show love and devotion toward God.

Similarly, the grain offering, also called the cereal offering, meal offering, or meat offering, teaches total dedication and service to man. It was offered in conjunction with the burnt offering. The grain offering typifies the last six commandments, which regulate our relationships and love toward our fellow man.

The peace offering represents one's fellowship upward to God and outward to man. It was primarily given in thanks for God's blessing. When this offering was made, God, the priest, the offerer, and his family and friends shared in a common meal and fellowship, as all these parties ate part of the sacrificed animal.

But from God's reaction to their offerings, it is clear that the people of ancient Israel were not devoted to God or to their fellow man. Nor were they in true fellowship with either God or man, and therefore they could not see their sins. They did not see the holiness of God and compare themselves to it. If they had, they would have seen that they needed to make changes in their lives, but in judging themselves solely against other men—an unwise thing to do (II Corinthians 10:12)—they felt no need for repentance.

They did not understand what God really wanted of them. They may have appeased their own consciences with their church attendance, hymn singing, and sacrifices, but they went home and continued to oppress and cheat and lie. True religion is

1) A relationship with God (Matthew 22:37). Without a relationship with Him, we cannot know Him or understand His purpose for us.

2) Submission and obedience to God as our part of the relationship (James 4:7-8). In offering to make the covenant with the children of Israel (Exodus 20-24), He proposed to them. They accepted their obligation—to obey Him—but they were unfaithful in fulfilling it. As the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) and the future Bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7-9), the church must not fail as ancient Israel did.

3) Real love for God's truth (II Thessalonians 2:10). Israel neither loved nor sought God's truth.

4) Moral integrity (I Peter 3:8-12). Living in righteousness and holiness shows love toward God and man.

5) Social responsibility (James 1:27). Israel, as a nation of this world, had a responsibility to ensure that their care of their fellow Israelites was acceptable in God's eyes. The church, a spiritual organism, is not of this world, and as a body, has no responsibility at this time to change society—only ourselves. We must take care of our brethren within the church now, and we will have our chance to help this world in God's Kingdom.

These five points will not "buy" us into the presence of God, but rather they are five proofs that we follow true religion. Remember Jacob's dream. God chooses us and meets us at the foot of the ladder, making a difference in our lives. He gives us a way of life to follow, and we pledge to follow it. Thus, true religion is not a way to God but a way of living from God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)


 

Amos 5:25   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The giving of the law at Mount Sinai was the climax of a series of events that began at Passover, the moment and the means of the Israelites' redemption. At Passover they killed a lamb and put the blood on their doorposts. When the death angel passed through to slay the firstborn, those who had blood on the doorposts were spared. God was saving, redeeming, buying back His people.

Mount Sinai adds the other half of the equation. Though redemption through the blood of a lamb (Christ) freed them from sin's dominion and death, the giving of the law at Mount Sinai shows that freeing them is not all that God had in mind. Israel came to Mount Sinai after being redeemed, heard the law, and assented to keep it. God gave the law to show the pattern of life, the principles of righteousness, for the redeemed.

On one side of the coin is grace and on the other is law and obedience. They are harmonious; they cannot be separated. They are both vital parts of the process of sanctification leading to salvation. Grace is given upon repentance from sin, but after repentance, what is a Christian to do with his life? Obedience to God and living a life of holiness become his first priorities, and these work to produce character in the image of God (II Corinthians 3:18).

Amos 5:25 reconfirms that the sacrifice, offering, and shedding of blood is a foundational necessity for a relationship with God. "Did you offer Me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?" The answer is, "Yes." The people were sacrificing, but is that all that they did? He implies that though they were sacrificing, something was missing—obedience to the law.

God told Israel that He would dwell in the Tabernacle, specifically the Holy of Holies, the symbolism of which we need to understand. The most important piece of furniture inside the Holy of Holies was the Mercy Seat, a wooden chest overlaid with gold. Its lid functioned as the seat. Inside the chest, under the seat, were stored the two tablets of stone, symbolizing God sitting on His law, the basis of His judgment.

When one sins, he begins to separate himself from fellowship with God (Isaiah 59:1-2). He is no longer permitted, as it were, to come into the Holy of Holies. What means did God provide to heal the broken relationship, to restore the fellowship?

One might think that the giving of a sin offering would appease God, and He would forgive the sin. However, Hebrews 10:4 is very clear: "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins." Then why did God have the Israelites make these sacrifices? "But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year" (verse 3). As Amos does not mention the sin offering in Amos 5:22, it seems that Israel did not even make the attempt to be reminded of sin.

So how was fellowship restored? On the Day of Atonement, once a year, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies to sprinkle the Mercy Seat with blood. God's intent in this ritual was to show people that their transgressions of His law were covered by the blood. The redeemed were again in fellowship with God.

The blood and the law are essential parts for maintaining the correct relationship with God. The law is permanent and codifies the nature of God in precepts to help us understand Him clearly. Obedience to His law is a perpetual requirement, with blood available to cover any transgression of it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)


 

Amos 7:7-9   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

A major proof of false religion is that it cannot validate its effectiveness before the witness of man, but God can and does validate the true religion. He produces evidence of His righteousness, power, purpose, and way in many forms. God has performed miracles, signs, and wonders in the sight of thousands of witnesses.

Without objective assurance from time to time, we would be living in a world of religious make-believe. God sometimes validates Himself before man by advertising His power through an undeniable occurrence like Jesus' resurrection (I Corinthians 15:1-8). Men have verified the truths of God through observation and experimentation (I Kings 18:30-39). Man is thus without excuse (Romans 1:18-25).

On occasion, God also verifies our personal relationship with Him by immediately answering a prayer or miraculously saving us from harm. On the other hand, if He needs to get our attention, He will shake us awake by allowing a test or trial to warn us that the relationship is degenerating. Because we are assured that God is with us, the testing is good. It keeps us from sinking into complacency and pride, both of which will separate us from Him.

This is what God is addressing in the principle of the plumb line. Amos understood that God was using it to test the spirituality, morality, and genuineness of the people against the standard. The test answers the question, "Are they really God's people?" God wants to know if they are exhibiting His characteristics.

This idea of a spiritual standard of measure transferred directly into the New Testament church. God uses similar imagery, a measuring rod, in Revelation 11:1. To the Laodicean church (Revelation 3:14-22), God uses fire to refer to a test instead of a plumb line.

As we can see from these examples, the end-time church will be tested. How are we going to build? What will the test reveal about our Christian growth (I Corinthians 3:9-16)? We are commanded to grow "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). From this we see that the plumb line is God's revelation of Himself as the standard.

At first, God's revelation of Himself was direct, visible, and personal, but later, as Israel grew, He revealed Himself more verbally through the prophets. They recorded His revelation for all time and all people, and we read it today in our Bibles.

God's law is the primary vehicle He uses to reveal His nature; it defines how He lives. If we want to be in His Kingdom and live as He does, we must obey His law, but obeying God's law in no way minimizes grace. God revealed Himself to Israel first as Redeemer and then as Lawgiver. He freed His people from their slavery in Egypt before He gave them the standard of His law. Grace precedes law. God gives grace first, but He does not leave His people ignorant of the life that pleases Him, which is revealed in His law.

The plumb line combines grace and law, and God will test us against both. If we rely on His grace without law, or on His law without grace, we will not pass the test. If either is abused, we will not measure up to the standard.

Leviticus 19 shows that the revelation of the law is important because it is a verbal description of God's nature. Our God is a holy God (verse 2), and He expects His representatives to be holy also. But how do we become holy?

After God redeems us from sin and extends to us His Spirit and grace—His free, unmerited election, He expects us to follow His instructions. The remainder of Leviticus 19 fills in the details—we become holy by doing these things. These actions reflect God's nature. Since God is holy, His law is holy, and if we follow His holy law, we can—with the indwelling of His Holy Spirit—grow to be holy like our holy God.

God chose Israel and extended the offer for a relationship with Him, to walk and fellowship with Him. After Israel's rejection of it, He has now extended this offer to those He has specifically called and chosen (John 6:44; I Corinthians 1:26-29).

God loves His people and gives them redemption, grace. He expects it will result in obedience to His law, the reflection of His nature, so on occasion, He holds a plumb line against them to check their progress. But when He sees that they have rejected His way of life, He has no choice but to try to guide them to repentance—by any means necessary.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)


 

Obadiah 1:3-4   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Pride deceives one into believing and eventually doing wrongly. What does it deceive a person into believing?

In this context God quotes Edom as saying, "Who will bring me down to the ground?" Edom dwelt in the mountainous country southeast of Judea, and Petra was their stronghold. They thought their combination of military strength and impregnable position made them impossible to defeat. Yet notice what verse 4 adds: "'Though you exalt yourself as high as the eagle, and though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,' says the LORD."

What had pride done? It had deceived them into believing they were secure, self-sufficient, quick-witted, intelligent, and strong enough to withstand anybody. This clearly illustrates that pride's power lies in its ability to deceive us into believing in our self-sufficiency. Even in our everyday relationships with other people, this is a serious deception, but when the deception involves our relationship with God, the level of seriousness reaches alarming proportions.

The Edomites looked at their stronghold and then at themselves and their enemies. They concluded they were stronger than all—they were impregnable! Their evaluation was in error because they left God out of the picture. Therein lies much of the problem concerning pride. Against whom do we evaluate ourselves? Pride usually chooses to evaluate the self against those considered inferior. It must do this so as not to lose its sense of worth. To preserve itself, it will search until it finds a flaw.

If it chooses to evaluate the self against a superior, its own quality diminishes because the result of the evaluation changes markedly. In such a case, pride will often drive the person to compete against—and attempt to defeat—the superior one to preserve his status (Proverbs 13:10). Pride's power is in deceit, and the ground it plows to produce evil is in faulty evaluation.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Pride, Humility, and the Day of Atonement


 

Micah 6:6-8   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Notice carefully the comparisons Micah uses to illustrate the value of humility in God's eyes, especially the ascending value of each illustration. Calves for sacrifices are in the plural, indicating more than one sacrifice at a time when even one calf would have been an offering of considerable monetary value. A thousand rams might be what a king would offer. Obviously, so many rams are a very valuable gift, but we should already be asking ourselves, "Is this the right way to impress God?" Ten thousand rivers of olive oil would equal the value of the offerings of many kings of many nations. Does that meet the standard God sets? One's own firstborn is without doubt the most precious gift of all. Yet, again, the implication is that this is not what God wants.

What follows is one of the truly great statements in the entire Bible. Micah names three great acts of love for God and fellow man that pave the way for a good relationship with Him: 1) To be righteous and absolutely fair to all regardless of their status in life. 2) To show kindness freely and willingly to others. 3) To live humbly in conscious fellowship of the greatness and sovereignty of God. These three actions will work to glorify God so that He enables those acting thus to neutralize their pride.

Our service to God should not be given to Him with the primary purpose to "get" things selfishly from Him. Our purpose should always be to honor and glorify Him through what He is doing in our lives. Nevertheless, God is most certainly not against providing us with wonderful gifts as we humbly submit to Him with pure motives.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living by Faith and Humility


 

Zephaniah 1:12   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Pictured as holding aloft a lamp as He walks, God searches through the city—Jerusalem, Zion—shining a light to reveal everyone to His judgment. No one escapes the judgment of God. Who is He looking for in particular? He looks for complacent men, like the Laodicean. Just as Hosea uses wine to illustrate the principle (Hosea 4:6, 11-12), Zephaniah also mentions wine though it is obscured in the translation: the words "settled in complacency" are literally "settled on their lees" like the dregs of wine (cf. the footnote on this verse, NKJV)!

Again, the prophet speaks of a prosperous people who had deluded themselves into believing that their physical wealth meant that they were equally rich spiritually. As the years passed, their relationship with God had diminished into lip service and complacency. When God describes them saying things "in their heart," He means a reasoning process that happens internally. A person could not see it with his eyes, but the attitude cannot be hidden from the Judge walking the city with the lamp of truth.

In today's parlance we call their problem "sins of omission." Like the Laodicean, the religious Jew of that day was not on the streets committing horrible crimes like murder or rape or armed robbery. These verses speak about the thousands and thousands of ordinary people who were stagnant and indifferent toward their relationship with God. Their problem was not what they did, but what they did not do.

Nor does God accuse the Laodicean of the more apparent sins in Revelation 3. He is angry with him because of what he is not doing! He is not a true and faithful witness, and indeed cannot be, because of his poor judgment in prioritizing his life. In focusing on his selfish pursuits and self-centeredness, he leaves God almost completely out of his life. Still, he bears the name of God, attends Sabbath services, and at least in a superficial way, worships God on the Sabbath. Yet the relationship is growing cold as he fails to seek Him earnestly as in courtship.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church and Laodiceanism


 

Haggai 2:11-14   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God is teaching us through Haggai that the uncleanness of this world can be transferred from one person to another, but holiness cannot!

In like manner, preparedness for God's Kingdom cannot be transferred from person to person, because in this lesson, it represents something internal—a matter of the heart. It is an intangible spiritual thing that accrues as a result of spending long periods of time learning, understanding, and honing one's spiritual skills. It is too late when a skill is needed immediately, and it is not there.

The same is true of character. It cannot be borrowed or lent. We cannot borrow a relationship with God. It is non-transferable as holiness is non-transferable. This teaches us that opportunity knocks, and then it passes.

The foolish virgins of Matthew 25 failed to face the possibility that the bridegroom might come later than expected. When they were awakened by the shout, there was no time to do anything except to fill their lamps.

Nobody can deliver his brother. Each person within his relationship with God determines his own destiny. The Laodicean's faith has become perfunctory (Revelation 3:15-19). He attends church and is involved socially with brethren, but in daily life and private times, he merely goes through the motion in much the same manner as the Israelites in Amos' day (see, for instance, Amos 5:1-27).

God shows that those unprepared are not admitted to His Kingdom, but this should not be construed as a callous rejection of a person's perhaps lifelong desire. For, unless the Laodicean repents, he has rejected the Kingdom of God on a daily basis—day after day declining to do God's will, even though it is in his mind to desire the Kingdom. He is not taking care of business, so God gives the Laodicean what he shows by his life what he really wants.

This is the principle of reciprocity. It is similar to an unmarried person who, despite surface appearances to the contrary, never makes preparations for his or her coming marriage. Suppose a man meets a woman who could become his future mate, but even though there may be admiration on his part, the relationship never develops because the woman does little or nothing to show her own admiration. A Laodicean is like this woman, rarely showing any affection for God, too busy to deepen the relationship.

We have to seek God—that is our part. It cannot be casual. It has to be zealous. Is that not what God says to the Laodicean? "Be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3:19).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Laodiceanism and Being There Next Year


 

Haggai 2:11-14   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Uncleanness, or the defilement of this world, can be transferred from one person to another, but holiness cannot. Likewise, righteousness, character, and preparedness for God's Kingdom cannot be transferred from person to person because they represent internal qualities, matters of the heart.

Holy character and righteousness are personal matters, intangibles that accrue from spending long periods of time learning, applying, and honing spiritual skills in the daily experiences of life. It is too late when one needs a skill immediately, and it is not there. The same is true of character: It cannot be borrowed. Perhaps more importantly, we cannot borrow a relationship with God.

This ought to teach us that opportunity knocks and then passes. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), the foolish virgins fail to anticipate the possibility that the Bridegroom might come later than they expect. When they are awakened, there is no time to do anything except fill their own lamps. This proves that nobody can deliver his brother. Each person, within his relationship with God, determines his own destiny.

The Laodicean's faith, however, has become perfunctory. He attends church and is involved with brethren socially, but privately, he merely goes through the motions in much the same way as the Israelites did in Amos' day. Absent is the fervency that develops through careful analysis and evaluation of the world and its corrupt promises against God and His holy promises.

God shows that the unprepared will not be admitted to His Kingdom. We should not construe this as a calloused rejection of a person's perhaps lifelong desire, but we should realize that the Laodicean has rejected the Kingdom of God on a daily basis over a long time! God is not unfair in His judgment. He gives the Laodicean what he showed he wanted. God reciprocates in kind.

Perhaps we can understand God's judgment if we imagine what ours would be if we were engaged to someone who never prepares for our upcoming marriage. What person would want a wife or a husband who had no enthusiasm for the marriage? Or perhaps we can compare it to a person who meets someone who would make a wonderful mate, but despite having ample opportunity and mutual admiration, the relationship never develops due to the other's being constantly distracted.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Be There Next Year


 

Matthew 5:3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Being poor in spirit is a far cry from being strapped in one's financial circumstances. Poverty of spirit is a change in a person's heart made by the great God Almighty when He awakens the mind to His reality and begins revealing the greatness of His person and purpose. The individual begins to become aware of his own puny character defiled by vanity and to realize that he is in the presence of brilliant intellect, power, and holiness. What happens to Job, for example, in Job 38-42 is not an ordinary change of mind but on the order of a miraculous divine intervention.

Until God intervenes, Job argues vehemently that he is not a sinner; in fact, he contends that he is a man of purity and good works. What he sees revealed about himself in comparison to God causes him great disgust: Now he realizes that he is a loud-mouthed braggart with a sky-high opinion of himself. It causes him such revulsion that he comes to abhor himself as a fool. In his own eyes barely moments before, he thought of himself as a shining jewel representing God before men. Moments later, he is a burned-out, worthless hunk of junk.

As one who thought highly of himself, he had argued with everyone to defend himself. Now, deflated, he admits, "I uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." A powerful change had taken place in his attitude toward God and fellow man. He thought he knew everything worthwhile and shouted it to the high heavens, but the reality is that he knows nothing of what is truly important. He is broken.

Poverty of spirit occurs when a person empties himself of all desire to exercise personal self-will, and just as important, renounces all preconceived opinions in a wholehearted search for God. A person who is poor in spirit is willing to set aside his present habits, views, prejudices, and way of life if necessary—to jettison anything and everything that might stand between himself and God. To the mind of one poor of spirit, God, above all, must be pleased.

To be poor in spirit is not to lack courage but to acknowledge spiritual bankruptcy. It is the mind of one who confesses his unworthiness before God and realizes that he is utterly dependent on Him in every facet of life. Job had been a wealthy man accustomed to ordering others about. He depended on no one. He now discovers that he is totally dependent on God for every breath of life, and God must be acknowledged, beginning with his personal relationship with Him and then extending out to the ways he perceived and dealt with other men.

For the first time in his life, Job fully understands that without God, he could do nothing of value toward an eternal relationship with Him (John 15:5). Poverty of spirit is foundational to everything that proceeds from a person's relationship with God from that point forward. It is indispensible to continuing and growing the relationship, otherwise the ego becomes a major hindrance.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Job, Self-Righteousness, and Humility


 

Matthew 5:3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We can gauge how important the quality of humility is to our relationship with God by considering its setting. It appears in the Sermon on the Mount, three whole chapters in which Jesus lays out before His followers the foundational teaching that, if followed, will work to produce a good relationship with God. The foundation of the foundation, we might say, is the Beatitudes, and the very first quality He presents, implying its prime necessity, is poverty of spirit.

Poverty of spirit is the diametric opposite of the haughty, competitive, self-assertive, self-sufficient arrogance of pride that says, "This is the way I see it." Being poor in spirit has absolutely nothing to do with being hard up in one's circumstances—in fact, it has nothing to do with the physical realm. It is a fundamental part of the spiritual realm, of which God and the purity of His attitudes, character, and truths are the central elements.

"Poor in spirit" is poverty as compared to God's qualities. It is poverty in terms of Holy Spirit. It is to be destitute in regard to the fruit and power of God's Holy Spirit of which we all desperately need. This attitude is the product of self-evaluation in which a person, comparing his own to God's spiritual qualities, finds himself utterly impoverished of any virtue of value to eternal life. Not only that, he finds himself utterly unable, powerless, to help himself to become like God.

Thus, a person who is poor of spirit clearly sees and appreciates his dependence on God both physically and spiritually. Humility is a fruit of the realization of his complete dependence. He is nothing in his own eyes and knows that his proper place is face down in the dust before God.

The apostle John writes in I John 5:4-5, "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." The honest recognition of need, the desire to glorify God, and the practice of overcoming leads a called-out one to live by faith.

Jesus Christ is the One that God has assigned to oversee and empower us. He is the Helper and Advocate (I John 2:1) who goes alongside, enabling us to be created in His image. From Him, we draw spiritual strength, and He gives grace to the humble.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living by Faith and Humility


 

Matthew 5:4   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

When Jesus gives this beatitude, He does not say, "Blessed are those that have mourned" but "Blessed are those who mourn." He states it as a present and continuous experience. Repentance is not a one-time experience, nor does human nature, "the old man," simply disappear after we receive the new nature. Christianity involves a continuous learning and growing process. We are not instantly created in the image of God by fiat. God has decreed that we must live by faith, and that requires time and experience. We are created in the image of God through the fires of life's sorrows and adversities, as well as its joys. Even of our Savior, Isaiah writes, "He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). Paul adds,

Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. (Hebrews 5:7-8)

The Christian is one whose mind is attuned to God's through an ever-deepening relationship. He has much to mourn over because the sins he commits—both of omission and commission—are a daily sense of grief and will remain so as long as his conscience stays tender. A tender conscience becomes hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. An active and growing relationship with God will lead to an enhanced discovery of human nature's depravity because God will faithfully reveal the massive gulf between His holiness and our corrupt and ever-polluting heart. He will make us conscious of the distance and coldness of our love, the surges of pride and doubt, and the lack of fruit we produce.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Three: Mourning


 

Matthew 5:43-48   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We cannot be perfect apart from others. The Bible links perfection with human relationships. Christ urges us to be as perfect as our Father in heaven and ties the process to how we treat each other. The Kingdom of God is about eternal, peaceful relationships. We cannot withdraw from people and still develop the necessary relationship skills, just as God never leaves us but continues to work with us. Life would be easier for Him if He ignored us, but He works on, helping us develop our relationships with Him. He is the One who works perfection in us.

Martin G. Collins
Basic Doctrines: Going On to Perfection


 

Matthew 6:33   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

What do we actually do to "seek first the Kingdom of God"? How do we in our daily actions put God first? How do we take Christ's abstract statement and turn it into concrete steps that we can employ in our lives? One answer is Luke 21:36. Seeking God—is the solution to all our problems. Luke 21:36 gives us the first step in implementing that solution—praying always. This is a foundation on which to build eternal life.

By being in conscious and constant communication, we are acknowledging God. We are bringing Him into the picture, obeying Matthew 6:33 by seeking Him first. When we do that, we create the opportunity to put some interesting dynamics into action that will facilitate overcoming.

Could we have any better companion than God? With no other could we possibly find better fellowship. God designed prayer to be an act by a free-moral agent who consciously chooses to be with Him to develop their relationship. When we pray, we acknowledge that we are in the presence of God, giving Him the opportunity to rub off on us, like iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17).

When person A rubs off on person B, it implies that B becomes a little more like A—he begins to take on the other's characteristics. The same holds true with the relationship between God and us. Who has the easier time dealing with temptation—God or us? Of course, God does (James 1:13)! It follows, then, that if the more God rubs off on us, the more we become like Him—the more successful our battle against temptation becomes. The more God rubs off on us, the more the battle becomes God's, not ours.

To have the right kind of fellowship and relationship with God, we have to be aware of the reality that we are always in His presence; He is "a God near at hand" (Jeremiah 23:23). Because God has promised never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and since we are the Temple where His Spirit dwells (I Corinthians 3:16), God is constantly with us. For His children, the question is never whether He is present, but whether we acknowledge His presence. Praying always accomplishes this.

If being in the presence of a friend of fine character improves us on a human level (Proverbs 13:20), how much more true is this when we are in the presence of God Himself, the very definition of character and wisdom? That is how He can rub off on us: We are with Him, in His fellowship, in His presence, through prayer. When it comes to His children, He is never way off somewhere, if we would but acknowledge this fact.

God designed human beings to adapt to their environment. Before conversion, this world and its influences were molding us into an anti-God form. Acknowledging God's presence is the antidote that counteracts the influence under which we have lived since birth.

God's calling is an invitation to fellowship with Him, and getting to know Him is our salvation (John 17:3). If this is so, then the means—prayer—is a vital part of the foundation on which we need to build. That is the message of Luke 21:36. Praying always leads to overcoming, and both will lead to an escape from God's wrath and fellowship with Christ on into God's Kingdom.

Notice another illustration of the power of presence. What happens to us when we are around people who are pessimistic, angry, fearful, whining? Compare that to our reaction when around those who are positive and enthusiastic, facing life with gentle humor, determination, and energy. The former can quickly drain and depress us, while the latter can energize and enthuse us. In these situations, a literal transference of a spiritual attitude takes place. However, as we increase our physical distance from either of these examples, their power to influence erodes.

What happens on the human plane is no different from what happens spiritually. The spirit—good or bad—of people radiates out from them. It can affect, even change our spirit. Likewise, Satan's spirit permeates our environment, influencing us unless we choose to counteract it.

That choice is praying at every opportunity, willingly submitting ourselves to the persuasion of the most positive, righteous, and unchanging attitudes that exist in the entire universe! This is why after prayer, after spending time in the presence of God, people can feel peace, joy, or confidence. On the other hand, they can also feel humbled and chastened because God has led them to remorse and repentance. Prayer changes things—us.

Pat Higgins
Praying Always (Part Four)


 

Matthew 7:11   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God's gracious gifts are just that—gracious. They are unearned and unmerited by us who have willingly sinned against Him, desecrated His beautiful creation and either ignored or neglected His awesome purpose. Despite this, His gifts of life are nonetheless unforced, an abundant manifestation of His kind nature. He does not return evil for evil; He does not bear grudges, burn with resentment, or plot to get even. Rather, He freely gives even to evil doers while He patiently works toward the completion of His purpose!

It has always been this way. Despite the Israelites' manifold sins after their rescue from Egypt, He continued to provide food, water, and protection all the way into the Promised Land. Once in the land, they continued their provocations for about another seven hundred years before He finally drove them into captivity. All the while He provided for them so abundantly that Israel became a very wealthy, albeit ungrateful, nation.

Psalm 78:37-39 records this of Israel's relationship with God:

For their heart was not steadfast with Him, nor were they faithful in His covenant. But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them. Yes, many a time He turned His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath; for He remembered that they were but flesh, a breath that passes away and does not come again.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness


 

Matthew 7:21-24   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Most assuredly, neither Jesus' teaching nor His manner of living conformed to this world. His warning is that many will use His name and authority to do marvelous works, but in their personal lives they will not submit to the very instructions that would develop their relationship with God and work to produce His image in them! The only conclusion we can draw is that, despite receiving the instruction, they nonetheless conformed to the world.

Clearly, if we do not know God because we are not really walking in His shoes, as it were, if He does not recognize us or see in us any family resemblance to Him because we are not at one with Him, He will command us to depart, to leave the Marriage Supper! We will not spend eternity with Him. We will have built our house on sandy ground despite all the privileges and warnings given to us!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Two): Vision


 

Matthew 7:21-23   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

These people profess Christ's name. They take it for themselves and do these so-called works, in which they seem to preach, prophesy, do good works like casting out demons, and perform wonders. Yet, what does Jesus say? "I never knew you."

What did they profess? They professed to know God and have a relationship with Him, but He says, "I never knew you, because really you never knew Me." How does He know that? They were practicing lawlessness!

What is lawlessness? Sin! These people lack obedience. They may have the knowledge, but they lack putting this knowledge into godly practice. They believe that they know God's will, but they do not do it. Failing to practice God's will, Jesus says, is sin. Why is failing to practice God's law sin? Because, if we are not doing God's will, we are certainly doing something else!

What is not of God is sin (compare Romans 14:23)!

They have not hit the mark, which is one of the definitions of sin. Obviously, their problems originate in the way they think. If their thoughts were godly, they would behave in a godly manner. However, since they do not behave in a godly manner, their thoughts must not really be godly.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Is God in All Our Thoughts?


 

Matthew 9:28   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

In Matthew 9:28, Jesus asks the two blind men seeking healing, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" Christ's challenge concerns their faith. If faith is present, miraculous healing will occur according to God's will. If it is absent, God will grant no healing. A person of faith receives preferential treatment, and in fact, faith is so important to God that His Word declares, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Hebrews 11:6).

The blind men answer Christ's challenge with outstanding, genuine faith, saying, "Yes, Lord." In the Greek, this is a strong affirmation, carrying a tone of certainty. The men had no doubt that Christ could heal them, unlike many people today. They believed Jesus was the son of David, indicating that, though they were blind, God had begun to open their minds.

These men faced many disadvantages that worked against producing faith, but they still trusted Christ in impressive ways. Those who—unjustifiably—excuse their lack of faith because of life's difficulties hinder their spiritual growth. Many with handicaps and weaknesses have come to have faithful relationships with Christ.

Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing Two Blind Men (Part Two)


 

Matthew 13:10-16   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Jesus clearly declares that the Israelites have closed their own eyes and ears (verse 15) - they made a conscious decision to do so. This can be done by simply choosing to ignore what God says or neglecting what has been given to them. They have ignored the works of His hands - the Creation - by which it is clearly shown that He is (Romans 1:20)! Because the carnal mind is enmity against God (Romans 8:7) and does not want to be tied down to a relationship with God, it prefers to do something else.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 11)


 

Matthew 16:6-12   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Jesus warns His disciples to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees." Seeing their puzzlement, He explains further. "Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (verse 12). Both testaments use leaven as a symbol of sin because of what it does to a lump of bread dough. Once yeast enters the dough, it immediately begins to spread by breaking down in reaction to the dough's sugars and producing a gas that puffs the bread up.

Like leaven, when sin enters a person's life, it begins to corrupt and fill him with vanity. A person enslaved by habitual sin will have a difficult time growing in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ because of sin's corrupting influence. Sin defiles and can permanently destroy relationships with God and man.

Throughout the year we hear frequent exhortations to produce fruit and grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. During Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, we give special emphasis to "getting the leaven out." These three actions are all parts of the same process. Though not technically the same, they are related closely enough to say they are simply different ways of describing the same process. "Getting the leaven out" is the most negative, "growing" is the most general, and "producing fruit" is the most specific. All three emphasize that a Christian should not stand still after entering the New Covenant. God expects him to take steps to ensure that these actions will occur in his life.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Five Teachings of Grace


 

Matthew 16:21-23   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

These verses show how easily a disciple of Christ can become the means of communication from demons. Peter did the speaking, but Jesus spoke to Satan, attributing the source of the disciple's action. His verbal outburst was against God's will that Jesus suffer and die. Without recognizing it, Peter permitted himself to be a willing conduit for Satan's will!

Several years ago, I clipped an abstract of a book, Wrestling with Dark Angels, which was advertised in a book catalog. The abstract reads:

They're those inner "voices of reason" that try to convince you that wrong is right, that evil is good. They're Satan's dark angels, and you fight them every day. Some of today's most respected theologians help you better understand these supernatural forces so you can combat them effectively—and win the war for your mind.

There is a time coming, represented by the Feast of Tabernacles and Last Great Day, when these dark forces of reason will no longer be free to influence mankind as they can now. Those who are now facing them without understanding what is happening will have died, been resurrected, and will live again with the knowledge of why life was so difficult before. God will not make them face these dark angels' subtle but powerful influence again. It will have had its effect, which will still have to be overcome. However, the possibility of that influence being refreshed each day will not exist.

The solution for us today is to combat that influence by means of the continuous influence of God's Holy Spirit flowing from our relationship with God through Bible study, prayer, meditation, occasional fasting, and obedience. Being in the spiritual presence of God and His Son Jesus Christ is the antidote. It is our shield and the means to flee Babylon.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part One)


 

Matthew 17:19-21   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

A lack of faith is a sign of a weak prayer life. Jesus Christ advises us how to address unbelief—prayer and fasting.

On a human level, how do we build trust, faith, and loyalty? Will we have faith in someone we do not know? Can we be loyal to a stranger? We build confidence in others through repeated contact with them over time—close and frequent communication. As we get to know them, to see them in action, to see their characters, we eventually reach a point where we can have trust and faith in them and in their behavior. Is it any different with God?

Prayer provides the repeated and continual contact with God that we need to get to know Him. This sets in motion the process that will lead to faith, to God being willing to give us the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8). The prayerful person becomes the faithful person, not the other way around. Hebrews 11:6 illustrates this point: "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."

Notice the condition in this verse: God is not the rewarder of everyone, but "of those who diligently seek Him." The gift of living faith comes from diligently, actively seeking Him, consistently and with zeal. Prayer is a major tool in seeking God, along with study, fasting, and using the knowledge gained to conform to His will—practical Christian living and overcoming. Those who prove their diligence by doing these things are the ones rewarded with the faith to overcome (I John 5:4).

The Sabbath is an external sign that identifies God's people (Exodus 31:13, 17). Yet a person may be a nominal Sabbath-keeper without having a true relationship with God. Is there another sign—a less visible one—that perhaps only God sees? Yes, and Zechariah 13:9 shows it is prayer: "They will pray in my name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'You are my people,' and they will reply, 'You, LORD, are our God!'" (Contemporary English Version).

Those with a weak prayer life have weak faith (Matthew 17:19-21). Those with weak faith are sinful (Romans 14:23) and are promised death (Ezekiel 18:20; Romans 6:23). That is just how important earnest prayer is as part of a solid foundation, especially during the end time. As I Peter 4:7 instructs, "But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers."

Pat Higgins
Praying Always (Part Two)


 

Matthew 18:20   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Many stay-at-home members use this verse to justify not fellowshipping with a larger organization. On the surface, it seems to support their argument. However, we must look at it in context.

The chapter begins with Jesus teaching about our need for humility (verses 1-5). He uses the analogy of body parts to show the importance of not offending little ones (verses 6-10). He then gives the Parable of the Lost Sheep to show His concern for every sheep (verses 11 - 14). He instructs about how we should deal with offenses among us (verses 15-20). The context of the entire chapter is interpersonal relations and offenses, not church administration. Peter understood this, for he immediately asks how often one should forgive a brother (verse 21).

God requires two or three witnesses lest injustice come from one man's word against another (verse 16; Deuteronomy 19:15). He will honor the decision based on the judgment of two or three along with the accuser. If the offender will not listen to them, the offense should be taken to a larger forum—the church. The very context assumes the existence of a larger group. God prefers, however, that matters be handled privately in a smaller group whom He will be among rather than escalating every personal problem to the attention of the whole church. Notice the instruction: Go to the offender ALONE first, then escalate it only as necessary to solve the problem.

In I Corinthians 5, Paul shows how this works in practical application when a church member was unabashedly committing sexual sins. Notice that Paul had ministerial, hierarchical authority over the Gentile church in Corinth. He even made his judgment of the situation—disfellowship that man!—without being present! Later, upon the man's repentance, he ordered him restored, and forgave even as they forgave (II Corinthians 2:10). He also legislated what their attitude and approach to a repentant sinner should be!

Did he allow every group of two or three in the congregation to make a judgment? How would God have bound the conflicting judgments that surely would have arisen between the people of varying levels of understanding and maturity in Corinth? The church would have been divided into many small groups had Paul not exercised his authority.

Is that not what we have seen as groups have misapplied Matthew 18:20, lifting it out of context, and justifying their own doctrinal and administrative decisions? This misapplication and twisting of this one scripture automatically repudiates any authority God placed in an ordained ministry and splinters the church. Is that how Paul understood Scripture, or did he constantly defend his own position as an apostle and that of the local ordained ministry to preserve unity?

We are told to judge by the fruits. What are the fruits of two or three people deciding they can make doctrinal and administrative judgments? We need look no further than the dividing and redividing of groups in today's greater church of God to see that the fruits are not good.

Scattered sheep are just that: scattered and in grave danger. Contrast the dubious idea of Christ giving administrative authority to two or three scattered sheep to the very clear and powerful administrative authority given to Peter as head administrator of the church in Matthew 16:18 (see also John 21:15-17). Compare also Hebrews 5:4 where no man can take the office of high priest to himself. Can any of us decide we are the final word? Can we take any office in the priesthood to ourselves? God compares presumption to witchcraft (I Samuel 15:23).

Staff
For the Perfecting of the Saints


 

Matthew 22:36-40   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Jesus Christ's response to the Pharisee's question shows that He divided the Ten Commandments into two sections or tables. He covers the first four by saying, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment" (verses 37-38). This supersedes all other commandments; none is greater. The second, covering the last six, is similar to it. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (verse 39).

God also arranged each section to begin with the most important command. He placed first the commandment, which, if kept, will ensure the greatest benefit to our lives, both physically and spiritually. On the other hand, if we break this commandment, it will cause the most damage to our worship of God or to the community by virtually ensuring that we will break others. In the first table of the law, this commandment is, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:2). In the second, it is the fifth commandment: "Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you" (verse 12).

Just as the first commandment governs our relationship with God, the fifth commandment is first among those that govern our relationships with men. When we keep it or break it, it affects those relationships. Not only is it chief in this section, it also acts as a bridge between the two tables of the law. When we keep the fifth commandment properly, it leads us to revere and obey God Himself.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment (1997)


 

Matthew 22:37-40   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The Ten Commandments can be summarized in two overall principles: love toward God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love toward neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God, and the last six commandments expound on our relationship with fellow man.

What does it mean to have a relationship with God? An analogy is frequently used to describe the relationship between Christ and the church is that of a groom and a bride (Revelation 21:1-4). Likewise, Paul writes in II Corinthians 11:2: "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." The word "betrothed" seems somewhat archaic; today, we would say the church is "engaged" to Christ. By making the New Covenant with Him, we have agreed to spend all eternity with Him, but at present, we are within the period preceding the marriage described in Revelation 19:7-9. Following the analogy, we are to be preparing ourselves for this future relationship. During this preparation time, the parties involved are getting to know each other. God the Father has handpicked us for this relationship, and now is the time we need to make ourselves ready.

How does this fit into the Sabbath and the concept of ownership? God has already established a regular meeting time with us—a "date," as it were. Every week, that part of our schedule is already determined. Amos 3:3 asks, "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" In other words, can a person meet with another if they have not determined a meeting time?

Sabbath time has been specially designated as the Bride's time with Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we should restrict our interaction with Him to this day; on the contrary, part of each day should be devoted to prayer and Bible study. Nevertheless, this is a primary reason the seventh day has been set apart and made holy.

What does this mean practically? Imagine a couple planning to marry. Being devoted to one another, they have set their wedding date and have agreed to meet on a weekly basis. It is easy to see that, if the young man shows up at the designated time, but the young woman suddenly decides that there is a more convenient time, a rift is going to develop in the relationship. Obviously, the correct day is vitally important. God has already established that day.

Suppose the couple gets the day right, and they meet and spend time together. What if the young lady, in the midst of this quality time she is supposed to be spending with the one she loves, pulls out a cellphone and begins talking to her friends, as if her fiancé does not even exist? What if the topic of conversation, either between her and her friends or between her and her fiancé, is little more than gossip or what she is planning on doing as soon as her weekly date with her alleged beloved is over? Or, what if their date, which her betrothed had made special for them, has become a mere ceremony to her? What if she just goes through the motions, doing the things required of her, showing little or no feeling about what this relationship really means to her?

On a spiritual level, we are commanded to assemble, if possible, and part of our Sabbath is intended to be for fellowshipping. What are the topics of our conversation? Do sports, entertainment, shopping, or business advance our relationship with God? Is catching up on the latest gossip and social news appropriate for this time that does not belong to us? During this weekly appointment, where do our thoughts wander? Do we think about our business interests or financial concerns? Do we think about or make plans for what we are going to do as soon as the sun sets? Do we esteem Saturday night more than the time God has set apart for us to meet with Him? Are our Sabbath services mere ceremonies? Are we demonstrating to God by our actions on this day that we are eagerly looking forward to spending eternity with Him?

These are points to ponder.

David C. Grabbe
It's Not Our Time


 

Matthew 23:23   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

"Judgment, mercy, and faith" can be paraphrased to make them easier to understand. Judgment means "being fair and even-handed in judgment." Mercy means "being compassionate and kind in action," and faith means "being loyal to God in keeping His law." Justice is a more accurate, modern translation of "judgment," and "faith" might be better rendered faithfulness or trust. Thus, Jesus is speaking about justice, compassion, and faithfulness (or loyalty).

Jesus applied these concepts in confronting the Pharisees because they had reached a tragically wrong conclusion regarding the intent of God's laws.

Weightier means "more important," "central," or "more decisive" as compared to what is peripheral or secondary. Thus, the intent of God's law is to produce justice, compassion and kindness, and loyalty to God. Of course, the major thing that will be produced is a right relationship with God and men, and character will be built.

The Pharisees were guilty of a massive distortion of God's will, or what could even be called God's pleasure, and in their zeal to be absolutely correct, they corrupted those they were leading. Their problem was their attitude toward law, one opposite from most people's. Most people tend to become looser and more liberal in their application of law, but for some strange reason, the Pharisees corrupted the law in the complete other direction. God felt it necessary to correct this corruption so that we would understand that it is equally perverse.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 4)


 

Matthew 24:12-13   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

In recent years, the indicator in verse 12 about "love . . . grow[ing] cold" has often been cited when a grievance toward a particular church organization or group arose. This verse, however, can easily be misapplied, so it behooves us to more fully understand what it means so that we can know if or when it is being fulfilled.

Understanding the word translated "love" is a vital first step. It is the well-known Greek word agape, the love that people have only because God has given it to them (Romans 5:5; II Timothy 1:7; I John 2:5; 4:7-8). The people whose agape love is growing cold must have had it in the first place, so it refers to those whom God has called into a relationship with Him (John 6:44).

It is important to differentiate between this agape love and the other types of love mentioned in the Bible. Phileo love means "to be a friend to" or "to be fond of" a person or object, indicating "having affection for," whereas Strong's Concordance notes that agape "is wider, embracing especially the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety" (emphasis ours). Similarly, philadelphia love means "fraternal affection" or "brotherly love." Agape love, though, is manifested first toward God, because it is a dutiful, submissive, obedient love, one that does what is right regardless of how a person feels about it. In other words, agape love has a moral core rather than an emotional one.

The Bible shows that, in general, we show agape love to the Father through our obedience and submission, especially to His law (John 14:15-23; 15:10; I John 2:5; 5:2-3; II John 6). We show agape love to each other through sacrifice, just as Jesus' example of love—to those around Him and to us—was through sacrifice (John 13:34; 15:12-13; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 5:2, 25; I John 3:16, 18; 4:9-12).

The meaning of Matthew 24:12, then, is that agape love will grow cold because of lawlessness, even though there may still be brotherly love, kindness, and human affection. Remember, we show agape love to God through obedience—the opposite of lawlessness—so when disobedience increases, agape grows cold. An example of this appears in the letter to the Ephesians, where Jesus says that they had left their first love—their first agape—and He commands them to repent (Revelation 2:4-5), that is, to turn away from their lawlessness. When there is compromise, or the setting aside of God's standard of righteousness and holiness, then the submissive love toward God and the sacrificial love toward man will begin to grow cold. It is a simple cause-and-effect relationship.

In this prophecy, Jesus Christ is describing an ongoing breakdown in the relationship with God. Since that most important relationship is the source of agape love, if it is waning, then it will be evident in other relationships. A symptom may be that sacrificial love toward other people is decreasing, but the real cause is that the relationship with God is cooling off.

A cause of this deterioration is found in the preceding verse: "Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many" (Matthew 24:11). While a true prophet always upholds God's law (Deuteronomy 13:3-4; Isaiah 8:19-20; Romans 8:7), a false prophet is willing to compromise with God's standard of holiness when it suits him. Those following a false teacher will likewise slide into lawlessness, becoming separated from God (Isaiah 59:1-3).

David C. Grabbe
Is the Love of Many Growing Cold?


 

Matthew 24:45-51   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The parable of the faithful and evil servants admonishes us to be faithful and wise in carrying out responsibilities and relationships with our fellow servants, our brothers in the body of Christ.

A faithful person is trustworthy, scrupulous, honest, upright, and truthful. Without specifically stating it, Christ is saying that we have to be keeping the first of the two great commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37).

In this context "wise" means judicious, prudent, sensible, showing sound judgment. It suggests an understanding of people and situations, showing unusual discernment and judgment in dealing with them. Just as Paul writes in I Thessalonians 5:6 about being self-controlled, Christ's use of "wise" indicates an exercising of restraint, using sound, practical wisdom and discretion, and acting in good sense and godly rationality. In short, Christ means exercising love. He tells us that we should be faithful in keeping the second of the two great commandments: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39).

Since this parable applies to everyone, Christ admonishes us to lead in a way that unites and inspires others to be faithful. We do this by giving them the truth, a good example, and encouragement. In this way, we become wise and faithful stewards of the trust God has given us.

In these verses, Christ strongly links belief with behavior in both examples. If we believe in His return, we will not live as we would like carnally. It is as simple as that. If we really believe He will return soon, this parable shows that our belief will regulate our lives, keeping us from extremes of conduct.

This faithful attitude is opposed to that of the scornful servant, who says his master delays His coming and beats his fellows. His conduct turns for the worse as he eats and drinks with the drunkards. From the description Christ provides, the evil servant's attitude is arrogant, violent, self-indulgent, gluttonous, and hypocritical. Because he believes he has plenty of time to square his relationship with God, his conduct becomes evil.

In summary, whoever is entrusted with duties must perform them faithfully, prepared at all times to account for what he has done. The key words in this parable are faithful, wise, and ready.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church and Laodiceanism


 

Matthew 25:1-13   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The Parable of the Ten Virgins pictures the church waiting for the Bridegroom's return. Because of an unexpectedly long delay, He finds half the virgins unprepared when He finally arrives.

In weddings of that time, the bridegroom traditionally led a procession of bridesmaids from where they waited to his home. Since the procession almost invariably took place at night, each bridesmaid was expected to supply her own torch or lamp. If the bridegroom came later than expected, the bridesmaid needed to be prepared with extra torches or oil for her lamp.

The difference between the wise and the foolish virgins in the parable is not that one group did not have oil, but that one group did not have enough for the unexpectedly long delay. When the cry went out, their lamps were still burning, but they were sputtering and going out. Oil, of course, represents God's Holy Spirit. The wise virgins, like the faithful and wise servant of Matthew 24:45-51, are prepared. They make sure that they remain in contact with the dispenser of oil, as is implied when they say to the foolish virgins, "No, . . . go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves" (verse 9). The wise had been in recent contact with the dispenser of oil, whereas the others apparently had dallied around. Going frequently to the dispenser, the wise, when the bridegroom arrived, had an adequate supply to trim their lamps and go into the marriage supper. The lesson is preparedness through vision and foresight.

Because it is an internal state, preparedness cannot be transferred. That is evident in the reaction of the virgins. It is a matter of the heart, an intangible that accrues by spending long periods of time under many circumstances with the Dispenser of the Holy Spirit. What cannot be transferred to those who are unprepared are matters of attitude, character, skill, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. They are personal attributes that are built and honed over months and years.

When one needs a skill immediately, how much time does it take to learn it? If a man suddenly needed the skill to repair an automobile, and he had never done any work on one, he may as well have no hands at all! It works the same way with spiritual attributes. Preparing for eventualities is the lesson of this parable. The wise virgins prepared for the eventuality that it might take longer for the bridegroom to come—they showed foresight and vision, and they entered the wedding feast. The others did not.

The oil cannot be borrowed either. In no way can it be passed from one person to another. We cannot borrow character or a relationship with God. The parable teaches us that opportunity comes, opportunity knocks, and then opportunity leaves. The foolish failed to face the possibility that the bridegroom would come later than expected, and when they were awakened, they had no time to fetch any oil and fill their lamps.

No one can deliver his brother. Each person determines his own destiny. No matter how close we are, even if we are one in flesh as in marriage, a husband cannot deliver his wife, and a wife cannot deliver her husband. Nor can we deliver our children. Everyone stands on his own in his relationship with God. God makes this clear in Ezekiel 14:14: "'Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,' says the Lord God." Though it is a hard lesson, it should motivate us to discipline ourselves, to exercise self-control, to be alert, and to give our attention to our spiritual priorities. Thus, each person determines his own destiny.

Equating the foolish virgins with their modern counterparts, the Laodiceans, their faith is perfunctory. Their church membership is routine, merely going through the motions. They have enough faith that they at least show up for church services. They have beliefs and character and motivation—but not enough!

The Bridegroom's refusal to admit the five foolish virgins (verse 12) must not be construed as a callous rejection of their lifelong desire to enter the Kingdom. Far from callous, Christ's rejection is entirely justified because these people never make preparations for their marriage to Him. In the analogy, though they realize they have met their future mate and admire Him, they never develop the relationship. In a sense, they have already rejected Him. Thus, an additional lesson in this parable is that our relationship with God must be worked on continually.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church and Laodiceanism


 

Matthew 25:31-46   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Understanding the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats lies in their surprised responses. Both the sheep and the goats respond, "When did we see you in need and help you?" (verses 37-39, 44). This parable contains two lessons.

The first lesson is that neither the sheep nor the goats are surprised at the place Christ assigns them. A careful reading of the parable shows that clearly. They do not respond to the place that Christ assigns them, but they express surprise at the reasons He gives for His judgment. A vital question to Christians is, on what does He base his judgment? The basis of His judgment is how they treated Christ! Of course, their treatment of Christ manifests itself in how they treated those in whom Christ lived, those who had His Spirit.

The second lesson is no less important than the first. Jesus, our Judge, eliminates the possibility of hypocrisy obscuring His judgment of the sheep and the goats. If the goats had thought that treating their brothers in the faith would have gotten them into the Kingdom, they would have done it. What is the lesson? Jesus is interested in love from the heart, not a false love.

The true love of God is seen in the sheep. As the sheep respond to their brother's need, they are united in their distress and at the same time unwittingly, unconsciously, without hypocrisy, align themselves with Christ. Apparently, they are not even aware of what they were doing. This is a kind of love that cannot be faked or put on. "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

The reaction of the goats is quite different. They have little sympathy for God's way and remain indifferent, Laodicean, to their brethren. In so doing, they reject their Messiah, their King, since He lived in the people whom they would not serve. The goats are condemned because of their sins of omission.

Because they had developed their relationship with Christ through prayer, Bible study, fasting, and obedience, the sheep have love through a regular infusion of the Spirit of God. "[T]he love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:5). A godly life always comes down to the basic things. The sheep are simply unconsciously and unaffectedly good, kind, sympathetic, and concerned, attributes of character that cannot be feigned.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church and Laodiceanism


 

Matthew 27:46   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Could it be that this provides insight into the only thing He feared - the loss of contact and communication with His Father - and that He did not know what He would do then?

We need to consider this deeply and appreciatively because this is the great gift made available to us by Christ's sacrifice. Fellowship with God, being at peace with Him, and having access to Him are admittance to the very fountain of living waters. We can safely say that, once our sins are covered by Christ's blood, access to God is the source of all spiritual strength and growth because the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us (Romans 5:1-5).

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Six): The Sin Offering


 

Matthew 27:50-51   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Consider the general layout of the Tabernacle in the wilderness as well as the Temple in Jerusalem. Both basically were the same. As one approached its front, the first object encountered would be the altar of sacrifice, the brazen alter by which atonement was made. The Hebrew word translated as atonement means "by which we draw near." In other words, by sacrifice, represented by the brazen altar, we draw near to God, seeking Him.

After the brazen altar comes the laver. It could be described as being like a big bathtub. Here a person was to wash himself before proceeding any farther.

Once inside the sanctuary, light came from the candelabra, representing Christ as the Light of the World, as well as the light of God's truth spread from activity of the seven churches.

On the table was the shewbread, representing Christ as the Bread of Life. Directly in front of one who entered the Holy Place, past the table of shewbread, stood the altar of incense, representing the prayers of the saints. Barring one's way into the Holy of Holies, into the very presence of God, was the veil. Once behind it, a person would be before the Mercy Seat, in the very presence of God.

The veil being torn apart at Christ's death symbolizes that a personal relationship with God can be established. The way had been opened by the sacrificial death of our Savior. This intimate relationship with God is the key to our being transformed from glory to glory (II Corinthians 3:18).

If we cannot enter God's presence, if we are far away, there is not much hope of transformation. This is why the Bible so frequently urges us to seek God. Seeking God is part of "dressing and keeping" the relationship, helping it to grow. This close relationship is vital to increasing the Holy Spirit in us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 7)


 

Luke 1:50   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

A Christian is a person upon whom God has shown mercy, and here Luke also identifies Christians as those who fear God. In Luke 18:2, 4, Jesus reveals in a parable that it is the unconverted who do not fear God. His followers fear God.

Elsewhere, the Bible identifies Christians as those who fear God. Notice Acts 9:31: "Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied." Later, Luke writes: "And they said, 'Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you" (Acts 10:22). Cornelius, a Gentile prepared for baptism, is called "one who fears God."

Hebrews 5:7 describes Jesus' fear of God: ". . . who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear." Even Jesus, who knew God better than anyone who had ever walked the face of the earth, feared God. Note the special attention paid to the fact that God answered His prayers because He did.

God is holy. He is different to a level so far above mankind that those who truly know Him do not lose that apprehension and awe that comes from the privilege of being in the presence of sheer, powerfully pure holiness. Fear plays a large part in a good relationship with God.

Genesis 3:10 is the first time a form of fear appears in Scripture, and interestingly, it is in the context of sin. Adam responds to God, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself." Elsewhere, the English word "fear" and its cognates appear in many contexts and forms: "feared," "fearful," "fearfully," "fearfulness," "fearing," and "afraid." These terms appear over 720 times in Scripture.

We tend to be uncertain about fearing God because we think of fear as a negative characteristic. We feel that we should love Him rather than fear Him. However, as we study God's Word and experience life with Him, we come to understand that, at the foundation of loving God, godly fear modifies our highly variable faith in God and love for God in significant ways.

All of those forms of "fear" express a wide range of emotions. Feelings such as dread, distress, dismay, trouble, terror, horror, alarm, awe, respect, reverence, and admiration may all appear as "fear" in Scripture. The fear that God desires in us is a good, positive, motivating quality.

This fear is one that we do not naturally possess. Recall Psalm 34:11: "Come you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD." How do we learn the fear of God? Psalm 33:8-9 gives insight: "Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast." Godly fear is one of a deep and abiding respect that grows as we learn—from within a continuing, intimate relationship—of His character, His purpose, and His powers. The unconverted do not have this relationship as a sustaining presence.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sin, Christians, and the Fear of God


 

Luke 14:20   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This is the most insignificant excuse of all, yet such excuses are used frequently. It is amazing that people allow themselves to be excluded from the Kingdom of God with such weak reasons. The man's abrupt, brusque, and impolite excuse is empty of substance and void of thought. He represents those whose domestic cares and responsibilities control so much of their time and interest that they neglect their relationship with God.

Balanced and right marriage and family relationships never keep us from a right relationship with God. Quite the contrary, they enhance and promote it. Nevertheless, Jesus intends to teach us that the love of relatives and friends often distracts our affections from God, preventing us from accepting the blessings that He wants to bestow on us (Luke 14:26-28; 18:29-30; I Corinthians 7:29-33). For instance, some excuse themselves from appearing before God on the Sabbath to worship Him because another family member cannot or does not want to attend.

Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Great Supper


 

Luke 17:5-10   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Verse 10 contains the key to increased faith: the word "say." The principle boils down to working with a specific attitude. Christ tells us to do everything possible to be as profitable as this servant (verses 7-8), without expecting any recognition for it (verse 9). Then we can present the sincere, humble attitude: "We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do."

Humanly, the servant could have taken the attitude, "You owe me! Didn't I go 'above and beyond'?" No! "Above and beyond" is not applicable to our relationship with God. We could never do enough to put God in our debt.

I Corinthians 4:7 asks, "What do you have that you did not receive?" We have no room to boast that we have done anything without God's oversight (Daniel 4:28-35). I Corinthians 6:20 tells us we owe God everything, as He has redeemed us by the most precious blood of His own Son. Paul commands us not to grow weary but do good to all (Galatians 6:9-10). James echoes him: "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). God has backed us into a corner. Where do we have any room for "above and beyond"?

In both the planning and action stages of works of goodness or faith, we decide how much to give, how far to go. But in hindsight, what good thing have we ever done that qualifies for "above and beyond" our duty to God? Whatever it was, the Scriptures plainly show we were commanded to do it! It was our duty because we found it in our power to do it (Proverbs 3:27). We cannot take the attitude that, "We did these good things, so that makes us profitable to God." If we do, we have no basis for faith. Our faith would be in ourselves, not in God.

Staff
Beware of Faith Blockers!


 

Luke 17:5   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The apostles wanted more faith so they could meet the challenges of God's demands, but Jesus knew that it was not quantity they needed but quality. They did not need an increase of faith that would bring some reward following its use, but a faith that, although small like a mustard seed, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). The disciple with this type of living faith is convinced of the fact that God exists (Romans 4:16-22; Hebrews 11:1-3), conscious of his intimate relationship with God (Romans 5:1-2), and concerned about absolute submission to His will (Romans 12:2).

Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Unprofitable Servants


 

Luke 21:34-36   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This chapter gives us an overview of the hair-raising, terrifying events leading to Christ's return. Despite all the evidence that will be available for us to witness and thus motivate us, He feels it is necessary to warn us to be alert.

It seems almost redundant. Why should we of all people need to be warned? Well, the general answer is because the Laodicean has trouble keeping his attention, his mind, focused. His mind is all over the place. At least in terms of spiritual things, the Laodicean, has a short attention span. He can go at it for spurts—maybe on the Sabbath for a couple of hours—but what happens during the week? Has his love of beauty—the beauty that this world is fully capable of producing to distract the senses—kept him occupied? Is he drawn to those things? If he is, what relationship will be abused? The answer to that is very clear: his relationship with God.

When we consider Revelation 3:14-18 carefully, we see that this is the problem. The Laodicean has compromised with his life in the use of his time. It is not that he is sinning all the time, but that he is not paying attention to the Bridegroom!

Ladies, how would you feel if the man you are to marry pays attention to everything but you? What would happen to the relationship? That is the problem with the Laodicean: His mind is drifting to take in all kinds of things except the One that he is going to marry—until the Sabbath comes along. He will appear in church, and everything looks fairly good, but all during the week he has been paying attention to everything except Christ.

Prayer becomes ineffective. He does not allow God to communicate with him through Bible study in the way that he should. There is very little meditation. He is not doing a great deal of thinking about the One to whom he is betrothed. We can begin to see that his love of beauty is taking him in the wrong direction, and the abuse falls on the relationship that he most needs to build and to protect.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Laodiceanism


 

Luke 21:35-36   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

He is not saying we should always pray, "Father, save me!" That would be self-centered. He says, "Develop this beautiful relationship with God that I've made possible for you. Remain in contact with Him."

Our prayers need to take on the quality of communication that is the ideal when a man and a woman date toward marriage. On the first date, they may not know much about each another, but with further contact their knowledge of each other grows. In talking back and forth, the relationship develops. They discover common interests. They find each other attractive and fascinating. As events progress, they work to improve the relationship so that they can eventually marry, continuing the relationship with greater intimacy, pleasure, and productivity. God desires this kind of relationship with His people.

Jesus Christ warns that the same factor that ruins a marriage - if one or the other begins to find another more attractive - can ruin this relationship with God. In these perilous times, divorce claims roughly 50 percent of marriages. An institution that God intends to be very beautiful is destroyed because a love of a beautiful relationship is not paired with a love of righteousness. The world has successfully squeezed the couple into its mold. Though it may have begun beautifully, the relationship has a horrible ending.

God intends prayer to be communication with Him to develop a beautiful relationship begun through the acceptance of Christ's sacrifice. As a product of keeping the relationship alive, we show our commitment by keeping our appointments with Him, upholding the vow we made at baptism, keeping His commandments, showing we are trustworthy by overcoming our sins.

While we work on this relationship, we are watching! We are on guard. We are alert, like a soldier on guard duty, making sure that what we hold to be beautiful is not destroyed. Imagine what would happen if a guard, while pacing at his post, was attracted by something to one side. If he goes over to inspect it, the enemy attacks! Babylon employs exactly the same strategy. And sadly, the duped guard exactly depicts a Laodicean, who gets distracted by desirable things. The rudiments of the cause of this distraction are illustrated in Luke 21. A Laodicean is lulled into a spiritual complacency and apathy by the attractiveness of the world. That is Christ's warning - stay alert, be on guard, and pray!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church and Laodiceanism


 

Luke 22:31   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Jesus asks His Father to strengthen Peter's faith. But notice Jesus' perception: He could see that Peter would stumble—and stumble very badly. He had such confidence that God would turn Peter around that He says, "When you return, when you are converted and come back to Me, strengthen your brethren." That is how confident Jesus was that God would hear His prayers.

Faith is the foundation of Christian character. Without it, we have no access to God. "He who comes to God must believe that He is" (Hebrews 11:6). Satan was out to destroy Peter's trust in God, and Jesus acted to guard him. "That your faith should not fail" means that it should not come to an end or disappear completely. Peter did stumble badly, but he also got up and went on. It is entirely possible that Peter had a lot of confidence (remember that he says in verse 33, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death"), but that confidence was in himself.

For Peter to have the right kind of faith, God had almost to smash the man where he could easily see his faith, his confidence in himself, as absolutely nothing, and that if he were going to have a good relationship with God, it would have to be on the basis of his confidence in God, not in Peter. Peter had to stumble in order to have true faith in God. When faith is broken down, the foundations of true spiritual life give away. That is why Satan wanted to destroy Peter's faith. If he could do that, the entire structure of the man's relationship with God would collapse, but God did not allow it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith and Prayer


 

John 1:11-13   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Just because we see does not mean that we will believe because there is a spiritual aspect to this sort of seeing and believing. This passage indicates that "His own" showed not even a flash of recognition as to His true identity.

Consider the incongruity of this. We frequently hear of personalities in the public eye affecting some kind of a mode of dress or lifestyle that will set them apart and make them instantly recognizable. In this regard, compare Jesus Christ, the most unique Personality that ever lived in the history of mankind! He was a one-of-a-kind, the only human who ever lived life sinlessly. Yet, even those of His generation who saw Him could not identify Him, God in the flesh!

This suggests that one must be predisposed to believe, to have the ability to "see." It is interesting to note that, to those who exercised this faith, "He gave the power [right, authority, ability] to become the children of God" (verse 12). Only those who "see" and then "receive" Christ can enter into a relationship with God that results in nothing less than the creation of a new being.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Do You See God? (Part One)


 

John 4:23-24   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Except within the context of a passage, the Bible never clearly defines worship, yet understanding what it is is critical. God is even now measuring His Temple and its altar to see who worships there in truth (Revelation 11:1-2). We are the temple of God, so we are being measured to see if we are truly worshipping God or not.

The thesaurus gives these synonyms for worship: adulate, honor, glorify, edify, deify. The Greek word most often translated "worship" is proskuneo, meaning "to kiss, make obeisance, reverence." Strong's defines it as "to fawn or crouch to, i.e. (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore)." The picture of being prostrate or bowed down is often associated with worship.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for "worship" is shachah, defined as "to depress, i.e. prostrate (especially reflexive, in homage to royalty or God)." This word is also translated in the Authorized Version as "bow down, crouch, fall down, humbly beseech, do obeisance, do reverence, make to stoop, worship."

Worship, then, is reverencing God, adoring, honoring, and bowing down before Him. But a deeper study of worship shows that it is more a thing of the heart and mind than a physical action or position. Jesus says worshippers worship Him in vain when "their heart is far from Me" (Matthew 15:8).

Perhaps we can say worship means having a bowed-down head and heart as we adore and revere our Maker! It is an attitude of totally and unconditionally surrendering to the One we call our Master, our Lord, our God. Mere words are not enough! Many call Jesus "Lord, Lord," yet He will claim not to know them, for their actions are not those of one who really knows Him (Matthew 7:21-23) or has totally submitted to God and His way. This is why Paul testifies before Felix, the procurator of Palestine, "But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers. . ." (Acts 24:14).

Worshipping thus becomes a relationship with our holy God, characterized by a bowed-down heart in total surrender. It reflects one poor in spirit and one who mourns as he recognizes his abject spiritual bankruptcy. As we bow our hearts and heads to God in worship, crying out for mercy and to be filled with God's attitudes, we are comforted and filled.

Bowing and worshipping go hand in hand in many verses in the Bible. Satan tries to get our Savior to "fall down and worship" him, but Jesus angrily replies, "Away with you, Satan! . . . 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve'" (Matthew 4:9-10). David urges us to "worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker" (Psalm 95:6). When Abraham's servant sees how well God has blessed his quest to find a wife for Isaac, "he worship[s] the LORD, bowing himself to the earth" (Genesis 24:52).

When Job hears the horrific news of the total loss of everything he once enjoyed, including all his children, he does what many would consider an unusual thing: "Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshipped" (Job 1:20). What an example of faith!

After Solomon dedicates the new Temple to God in prayer, the people worship: "When all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed their faces to the ground on the pavement, and worshiped and praised the LORD" (II Chronicles 7:3). The same acts of worship are repeated in King Hezekiah's day, as "all who were present with him bowed and worshiped" (II Chronicles 29:29).

Acts of worship like this often occur in heaven itself: "And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, 'Amen! Alleluia!'" (Revelation 19:4).

Perhaps this partly explains why worship is not deeply imbedded in our thinking. People in our independent, me-first, Western society dare not be caught on their knees in public - anywhere, anytime! Other cultures literally bow the head in deference to an older or titled person. We seldom see that here. Muslims the world over will spontaneously prostrate themselves - with foreheads on the ground - five times a day when they are called to prayer. In the Western world such demonstrations of worship are rare.

What would we think of a worship service where every person present bowed down so low that their faces touched the ground? Would this feel right? Would we be comfortable doing it? Would we believe this to be "overboard"? Yet that is often how our forefathers in Israel worshipped God.

When done properly, if we truly understand worship, this attitude of a bowed-down heart and head permeates everything we do. We seek to do God's will. We ask, "What would Jesus do?" in every situation. We do all for the glory of God, and in this sense, everything we do becomes either an act of worship - or of desecration.

The Bible also teaches there are specific times when God's people should worship. For example, Abraham tells his servants as he traveled the last few miles before sacrificing Isaac: "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you" (Genesis 22:5). In one sense we could say Abraham had been worshipping all along the way to Moriah, yet he states he was going to a specific point, at a specific time and place to worship. Similarly, after traveling many miles for many weeks, the magi tell King Herod they had come to worship the Child born to be King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2).

Worship, then, is a constant attitude of yieldedness and humility before God, but there are certain times and occasions when we worship pointedly and in earnest.

Staff
Worship God!


 

John 4:23   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Here, "spirit" stands contrasted to ritual, rite, or form as represented by His mention of the Temple in Jerusalem (verse 20). "Spirit" implies heart, mind, with gratitude, praise, pure sincerity, and fervent desire to glorify God by being like Him. It is these true worshippers to whom God grants His Spirit. They are close to Him because they seek Him.

Such a Christian presses the relationship. He continues to pursue it right to the end because it is good. Reciprocity is here at work: We seek Him, and He seeks us. He gives us His Spirit, and it flows out from us in good works that bring glory and honor to God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 7)


 

John 5:25   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

His declaration is interesting because the subject directly involves a resurrection, and it is also tied to a vital process that sets the elect apart. The key words in this verse are "hear" and "dead."

We need to add a thought from Ephesians 2:1: "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins." Before God's calling, even though we were physically alive, we were spiritually dead because of sin. However, John 5:25 says that the dead "hear" His voice. Similarly, those who are spiritually dead cannot "hear" God's Word until they are called, made part of the elect, and enabled by God to hear and thus understand His Word clearly.

Another important factor appears in Hebrews 10:38: "The just shall live by faith." Also, Ephesians 2:8 says that we are "saved by grace through faith." Romans 10:17 adds, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Finally, in John 6:63, Jesus clinches the point: "The words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life."

This linkage of truths makes vitally clear the importance of the calling and election by God. His enabling of us to "hear" is what begins to sweep away the spiritual blindness that has kept us ignorant of the purpose He is working out here below. This miracle of hearing gives rise to truly effective faith. It makes God's Word truly logical and believable, making commitment in obedience to His purpose possible.

Yet, what if a person cannot "hear" what God is saying? None of these saving elements comes to pass in life because no faith is produced!

Jesus utters another awesome, humbling truth in John 10:3-4, 6, 16:

"To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." . . . Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them. . . . "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd."

He describes our calling and relationship with our Shepherd—Himself—in intimate and personal terms. "He calls them by name." He personally leads them out of their pen, a symbol of the world in which we are held captive, enslaved, and spiritually dead. Conversely, verse 6 plainly depicts the spiritual condition of the uncalled: They did not understand. God had not enabled them because He was not calling them to be a part of His purpose at that time. Thus, the miracle that opens our minds so we could "hear" was not performed on them.

Romans 8:30 adds another startling truth: "Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and who He justified, these He also glorified." Only the called are justified! Justification through repentance and the atoning blood of Jesus Christ is what permits us into the presence of God, enabling further growth to glorification in God's Kingdom!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Six)


 

John 6:44   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Our calling, our life in Christ begins when the Father directly interfaces with our mind for the purpose of revealing Himself, His ways, His purpose, His plan, His mind, His attitude, His perspective, His character, His love, His power, His mercy, His forgiveness, and on and on, that we might use our life and free-moral agency to choose life—which brings us back to Deuteronomy 30 and its context.

But most important is that the Father Himself does this. God miraculously joins His own mind to ours! There is nothing mysterious about this at all. He begins to transfer His thoughts, His attitudes, His character—the Spirit of His mind—into our minds. When it tells us, "Grieve not the Spirit of God," he means, "Don't grieve the Father by resisting Him." He is transferring the invisible essence of His mind through the access that we have to Him by means of the death of Jesus Christ. He is by no means kidding about the importance of this process. He is helping us to understand that, even as we are influenced by those around us, unless we are in the presence of God, we will not be influenced by Him. This is why it is so vital for us to share life with Him.

This is where prayer and Bible study become important because we are literally in His presence and He can transfer the essence of His mind into ours. Nobody sees it. When we obey, we are giving Him permission to do this. We submit, using our free moral agency. There is nothing magical about this at all. It occurs when we respond to the influence of the interface that He creates between us when we believe His Word and submit, and when we strengthen the relationship through prayer, Bible study, and meditation.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 1)


 

John 6:44   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

It is the work of God to open our minds to enable us to respond in a godly way - that is, by faith - to the manifestation of Himself through His Word, the manifestation of Christ through His Word, the manifestation of God's works through His Word. He does this so that we can see the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, which means that God has given to each one of us the capacity to do what Moses did (Hebrews 11:26-27). Maybe not as well, not having to trust in exactly the same way or to the same degree, but nonetheless, we can follow the same principle.

So, even though we have a spiritual capacity by nature because of the spirit in man within us - all of mankind has this spiritual capacity - a true spiritual relationship can really be made only by those whom God calls. We have been given a gift of God that enables us to have the kind of faith that Moses and the apostle Paul had.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 3)


 

John 6:44-45   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The "something" that bridges the gap between us and God is initiated by God. Jesus plainly says that no man can come to Him unless the Father makes an effort to initiate a bridging of the chasm to effect a fellowship with us. Man will not do it, and indeed cannot do it. Why? Because he is so deceived. Mankind does not even know where to look for God. Satan has done his work of deception remarkably well. He has the whole world confused and deceived, according to Revelation 12:9.

If a man on his own began to look for God, where would he look? How would he imagine God's form or shape? What kind of ideals would he look for? What would the doctrines be like? What would the hope be? What would the purpose be? What would the plan be? Mankind is helpless in this regard; all he can do is come up with idols, false religions with false doctrines and false ways.

It is absolutely essential that God initiate the bridging of the chasm between us, since we would not do it and cannot do it, being too deceived. If it were up to man, then we could hardly expect to have fellowship with God, and even now, under Satan's deception, our fellowship even with other human beings is difficult.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Truth (Part 4)


 

John 8:32   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

An implication of this passage is that freedom is always relative. Nobody is ever really free from responsibility in his relationships with others, especially in his relationship with God. Political freedom leapt to the Jews' mind in this instance, and they replied, "We have never been in bondage to any man." But even at this time, they were in a kind of bondage to the Romans, though they did not consider themselves to be so. But political freedom is not the only kind of freedom that one can have, and in reality, it is far from the most important. Nobody is ever free to do everything that he might think to do. He will always be constrained by law, principles, tradition, and even safety factors to choose to direct himself in a certain way.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Submitting (Part 1)


 

John 13:27   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We find Judas at this time in perfect union with Satan to do the Devil's bidding to betray Christ, something that is not very pleasant to consider. How can people turn their backs on the truth, on God Himself?

We can discern a logical progression because as union with one strengthens, union with the other weakens. In Judas' case, the union with God weakened. Why? He was entertaining thoughts that were in opposition to the spirit, to the mind, to the words of God. He allowed these ideas to grow through circumstances that arose in his life, and they kept getting stronger. His union with Satan, who was undoubtedly pumping these ideas into him or putting perverse twists on what he heard so that he began to feel alienated and separated from Christ, became stronger. At the same time, his union with God decayed until he betrayed Jesus.

This can happen to us, so we must fight against it. Married people ought to be able to understand how this works, as it is what happens when a divorce occurs. Usually, a married couple begin their union feeling as though they will never separate; they feel an intense bond with one another. But because their union is not worked at, gradually one or the other begins to be attracted to union with another. Everybody has to be on guard against this.

When the Bible speaks about guarding, keeping, preserving, and enduring, it is referring to this possibility. We must work to endure and preserve our union with God - and keep working at it to make it strong. How do we make a strong relationship? In the same way a couple works at it before they are married. In their dating and courtship, they do everything they can to please the other so that a union occurs. It is simple to grasp in principle but sometimes hard to do.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part 4)


 

John 13:35   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Even as God is revealed by what He does, so will His children. Our love for God has not made this possible, but His love for us has, as I John 4:19 says, "We love Him because He first loved us." Thus, our love for Him is a response to His love for us. Since God shows His love for us by drawing us to Him, it behooves us to do acts of love toward others to draw them.

God's act of love in giving His Son defines the ultimate requirement of true love, the giving of our most beloved possession in sacrifice for another's gain. We can understand, then, that godly love will almost always have sacrifice involved in its giving. Sacrifice is the essence, the essential or vital part, of love.

God's love originates in Himself, was manifested in His Son, and is perfected in His people. God's love is perfected in us when we reproduce it in or among ourselves, primarily in our fellowship. We either use love and perfect it or lose it. This partly explains the apostle John's intense concern about fellowship. What concerned him is not just an optional blessing to believers, but a fundamental outlet for the manifestation and perfection of God's love among and in the saints.

It should be obvious that we neither have God's love by nature, nor is it self-generated. Romans 5:5 verifies this understanding: "Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which was given to us." We receive godly love from its Source, God, by means of His Spirit.

Only by knowing God can we have this love, and only by loving can we know Him! This may sound like a vicious cycle, but the two go together. Only by learning to love God can we learn His nature, that is, what He is like. We cannot have that love until we first come to know Him. By fellowshipping with Him, we come to know Him and receive His love, and in using His love, we become like Him and really know Him. We can only really come to know God by experiencing the use of His love ourselves.

All this is possible because God, in His love, initiates a relationship with us, grants us repentance, gives us His Spirit, and then, because of His love, takes the lead in sustaining the relationship. This is why Paul says in Romans 5:10 that "we shall be saved by His life." He primarily shoulders the burden of our salvation. How comforting!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love


 

John 14:15   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Within our relationship with God, a measure of reciprocity always exists, even though our part is but a tiny percentage of the overall amount. It must be this way because love cannot be one-sided, or the relationship will not exist for very long. This is a major reason why Jesus says in John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." Obedience is the way we reciprocate His love toward us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part One)


 

John 15:1-8   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Christ came to this earth as THE BRANCH and fulfilled all righteousness, qualifying to replace Satan and rule as King over all the earth. He proved His worthiness by remaining in full accord with His heavenly Father, and bearing the spiritual fruit that makes redemption and salvation possible.

Likewise, we - whether natural or grafted in (Romans 11:17-24) - are also branches attached to the solid trunk of the tree, Christ. It is only by our abiding in Him - our attachment to Him - our close relationship with Him - that we produce any growth or godly works. As Paul writes in Romans 11:16, "If the root is holy, so are the branches." Our righteousness, works, and holiness come to us only because of our connection to Him.

Jesus says that God, in love, prunes us, chastens us, tries us, so that we become more profitable (see also Hebrews 12:3-11). He will do what He must to make us yield. But if we resist and eventually sever our connection with Him, we are fit only to be burned. God has no use for dead wood.

God wants us to use this connection to His Son to "bear much fruit," just as Jesus Christ did. Doing so proves to Him, to ourselves, and to everyone else that we are true Christians, disciples of His Son, the Branch. By this, we will glorify God and secure our place in His Kingdom.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Branch


 

John 15:11   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

If we are working on the relationship with God, giving it our time and attention, then God's love for us (since He is its source) will be reciprocated back to Him in the form of obedience. We could also call our response love, keeping the commandments, or conforming to His will. Whatever we call it, our lives will then be enriched by joy. Is that not a good deal? Psalm 16:11 says that there is joy evermore in His presence. Jesus is confirming this here. If we will abide in God, in His love, then it will produce joy in our lives.

This kind of love is not the hormone-driven, passionate, and emotional roller coaster that we call "falling in love," but a deep, stable sense of well-being. A word of caution: This is not something that happens in a flash, just because two people know one another. It develops because the two experience a wide variety of events together. Anyone who is thinking of marrying had better be willing to spend a great deal of time with their intended to experience quite a number of things together, so that they can determine whether their lives will really be compatible.

What is it that is produced by experiencing a great number of circumstances together? Trust in each other is produced. Within the relationship with God, He begins to trust us, and we begin to trust Him. We could call this trust "loyalty" or "faithfulness." That is the fruit of proper fellowship. Is that not what happens humanly? The same principle is at work in our relationship with God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Emotional Dimension


 

John 15:13-14   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We like to think of ourselves as rising to the occasion when a time of great crisis arises. We all hope to emulate what the heroes of faith did. But as great as they were, Jesus says here, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you." It is very easy to think of the sacrifice implied in "lay[ing] down one's life" as dying for another in one moment of time. Though that may occasionally occur, the context shows this sacrifice within the framework of friendship. Friendship occurs over months and years, not just in one moment in time.

In true friendships, because we are eager to help, we willingly spend ourselves ungrudgingly, without tallying the cost. Friends open their hearts and minds to each other without secrecy, which one would not do for a mere acquaintance. True friends allow the other to see right in and know them as they really are. Friends share what they have learned. Finally, and most importantly for this article, a friend trusts the one who believes in him, and risks that the other will never doubt his loyalty but look upon him with proven confidence.

Though the principle given by Christ is applicable to all friendships, He has one specific friendship as His primary focus: ours with Him, or more generally, ours with God. Proverbs 18:24 says, "A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." That friend is Jesus of Nazareth, but He made it very clear that if we are His friends, we will show it in our obedience to His commands. But before we can obey, we must trust Him.

Take a moment to evaluate yourself. Are you as open and frank with Him as He is with us through His Word? Often our prayers are stiff and formal, not truly honest. Besides that, sometimes we become bored in His presence and soon have nothing to say to Him. Is it not true that we do not trust Him as fully as we should? That we are often quick to doubt Him? That we easily grow suspicious of Him? That we lose heart or fear that He has forgotten us? That He is not really trying or is unequal to the task of shepherding us into His Kingdom? Though He has never failed us, we are so quick to suspect and blame Him!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Wandering the Wilderness in Faith


 

John 15:13-15   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

John 15:13-15 presents us with an interesting and exciting expansion of our place within our relationship with Christ. Redemption, at first glance, elevates us from being a slave of unrighteousness and Satan to being a slave of righteousness and Jesus Christ. Yet, here Christ elevates our calling to an almost unimaginable height—intimate friendship with Him and the Father.

In many cases, our understanding and therefore our appreciation of this falls short of what it should be. Few or none of us have known either the depths of actual, physical slavery to another individual or the heights of walking the halls of power. In ancient Rome, the friends of the Caesar had greater access to him than his governmental counselors and military advisors. History says they had access to him at all times, even into his bedchambers.

A slave would never know such a relationship. A slave never receives a reason for the work assigned him; he simply must do it because he has no other choice. However, a friend of Christ is a confidant of the One in power, who shares the knowledge of His purpose with him. Then the friend voluntarily adopts it as his own, perhaps for no other reason than the basis of their friendship.

We do not follow Christ simply because of some chance impulse. We have been specifically chosen, summoned by Him to be His friend! Here is our obligation set boldly and clearly before us: "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give it you" (John 15:16). We have been specifically appointed, ordained, placed in this unique relationship that we may produce the right things in life.

At first, our obligation rests upon the fact of Jesus giving Himself as the price of our spiritual redemption from slavery and death. If we have any sense at all—any discernment of what He has rescued us from and what He has given us the opportunity to possess—our sense of gratitude should explode in zeal and motivate us to loyalty because we owe Him so much!

Our sense of obligation is further built and strengthened by the knowledge that we have been specifically summoned and appointed to share in an intimate, loving, family relationship and friendship that He sustains through His office as High Priest. If we have any sense of gratitude for His work in intervening, leading, guiding, correcting, and perfecting our character so that we produce much fruit and love one another, our sense of obligation will be further stirred to ensure that we do not let Him down in any area of life. We will always strive to glorify Him.

This motivational factor is largely dependent upon feeling—but not the sickeningly sweet sentimentality of some of this world's Christianity. This feeling is derived from a clear understanding of what has been done and continues to be done in our behalf. This deep, heartfelt, and comprehending feeling arises in the minds of people who have had firsthand experience with the suffering that sin and death bring. They know in their heart of hearts that they are guilty of rebellion against this wonderful Personality who created us, died for us, and continues to be our friend through thick and thin. They know He greatly desires that friendship to continue for all eternity because He is changing us to be like Him and be one with Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Four): Obligation


 

John 17:3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

In John 17:3, Jesus describes eternal life as knowing God. "Know" does not indicate a mere casual familiarity, but a very close relationship approaching the intimacy of a sexual one. That is how we must relate to Him.

There are other verses that show that God "knows" us:

» I Corinthians 8:3: "But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him."
» Galatians 4:9: "But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?"
» Amos 3:2: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." Though God says this to Israel, it applies even more intimately to the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).

These verses again show a vital key to understanding our relationship with Him: Our love for Him is merely a response to His initiative.

By way of contrast, compare these to what Jesus says to those who are not called as their disobedience shows, but who masquerade as disciples, even as ministers, as if they really knew the Father and Son:

Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matthew 7:21-23)

Since He never knew them, is this not just another way of saying, "I never loved you"?

We are who we are, the foolish and weak of the world. We believe because God has appointed us to eternal life. We have faith because of His grace, and the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts because the Father loves us. If we understand the Scriptures correctly, God has chosen the most unlikely people upon which to pour out His grace and love and so become holy and without blame before Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Seven


 

John 17:3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

He does not use the term "immortal" or "endless," but He describes a kind and quality of life in terms of knowledge and a relationship with the Father and Son, a very intimate relationship.

Do not be misled by the limited Strong's definition of the word translated "eternal" in this verse. A more complete lexicon like Spiros Zodhiates' Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament gives a more precise usage—how the word is used in the Bible rather than merely in classical Greek. Zodhiates says that the word refers to the "life which is God's" (p. 107). The life of God is more than endless, and that is what is important here. He adds, "It is to be understood as referring not only to duration, but more so to quality. That is, it is not merely life that is eternal in duration, but is primarily something different from the natural life of man, i.e., the life of God."

The Daily Bible Study Commentary: John (Volume 2) by William Barclay contains this comment:

There is another important thought in this passage, for it contains the great New Testament definition of eternal life. It is eternal life to know God and to know Jesus Christ whom he has sent. Let us remind ourselves of what eternal means. In Greek, it is aionis. This word has to do, not so much with duration of life, for life which went on forever would not necessarily be a boon. Its main meaning is quality of life. There is only one person to whom the aionis can properly be applied, and that is God. Eternal life is, therefore, nothing other than the life of God. To possess it, to enter into it, is to experience here and now something of the splendor and the majesty, and the joy, and the peace, and the holiness, which are characteristic of the life of God. (p. 207)

John 17:3 also contains the word "know." To understand eternal life, we must also understand how this word is used here. It undoubtedly contains elements of intellectual knowledge, understanding, discernment, information, and familiarity. However, this word suggests more than this because the Old Testament regularly uses "know" to describe sexual knowledge. Sexual knowledge between a husband and wife is the most intimate of knowledge. Husband and wife are no longer two but one flesh. In this regard, in John 17:3, the important thing is not the sexual act but the intimacy of heart and mind that in true love precede the act. To know God, therefore, is not merely to have intellectual knowledge of Him, but it is having an intimate, personal relationship with Him like the nearest and dearest relationship between two people.

Hosea 4:6 provides an interesting example of the practical effect of "knowing": "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children." God's implication is clear. If they had possessed knowledge of God, they would have had the power to avoid being destroyed. Nobody in his right mind wants to be destroyed. Ignorance might be bliss, but this verse shows it can be dangerously life-threatening.

Consider the implications of a lack of knowledge in the area of physical law. A person who does not know the power of electricity, nitroglycerin, carbon monoxide, drugs, or certain medications could pay for his ignorance with his life. Or, even if a person's ignorance of these things does not kill him, he might have the quality of his life severely impaired through a maiming, debilitating injury. However, when they are used with knowledge, they can do worthwhile things. Similarly, knowing God opens to men the freest and most rewarding expressions of an abundant life.

What if a person does not know of God's righteousness? Proverbs 11:6 says, "The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the unfaithful will be caught by their own lust." What a person does not have cannot deliver them, thus they are injured or destroyed. Isaiah 11:9 shows that during the Millennium, the knowledge of God will cover the earth like a vast ocean. This is what will make the Millennium so wonderful!

Eternal life is more than just endless life. The biblical eternal life includes power to produce quality living superabundantly far beyond merely existing forever.

We should touch briefly on its sexual aspect. Genesis 4:1, 17, 25 each contain the Hebrew word yada'. It has a wide variety of possible applications, one of which is "to lie by man." In each case in Genesis 4, it is translated as "knew," since that is its basic meaning. The Hebrews used it to describe the sexual part of the relationship between husband and wife; thus, it suggests intimacy. When applied to God, it highlights not merely being acquainted with Him but, as we would say today, being "inside His head." The corresponding Greek word, ginosko, translated "know" in John 17:3, can be and is used in the same way as yada' in Hebrew (see Luke 1:34).

To know God thus includes a wide range of mental, emotional, and experiential knowledge. The fruit of this intimacy includes love, reverence, obedience, honor, gratitude, and deep affection. We come to know Him as sovereign Ruler, Master, parent, brother, friend, Savior, and Lawgiver. We would never know this mixture of admirable qualities and authority without getting close to Him. They compel us to yield to Him with all of our heart while we strive to obey and glorify Him.

In sum, this points to Jesus indicating that eternal life is not merely endless, though that is its dominant sense, but that those who have it live intimately with God and conduct their lives as God does—otherwise, there would be no close intimacy with Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Six): Eternal Life


 

John 17:3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

When Adam and Eve sinned, they, representing all mankind, were expelled by God from the Garden of Eden. The Garden represents being in God's presence and thereby having easy access and communication with Him. In Genesis 2:17, God had warned Adam and Eve that in the day they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would die. Once they sinned, it became evident that God did not mean they would die immediately, but that, if they ate of that tree, they were as good as dead.

Their human life went on, but God, to emphasize the serious effect of their sin to later generations, placed a flaming sword to guard the Garden's borders. This portrayed that mankind, though still alive, was cut off from any relationship with Him. Thus, sin, which demonstrates a lack of love and fidelity for our Creator, not only seals the death penalty on each sinner, but it also denies an individual access to and thus communication with God while they live on under Satan's continuing influence.

When Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and we, by faith in that sacrifice, became justified, God legally cleared us of guilt before Him. It is as though the barrier of the flaming sword between us and Him were removed, opening the way for communication with Him and for the growth of a relationship with Him that never before existed for us.

The relationship we have with the Father and the Son through the work of Jesus Christ, both as the payment for our sins and as our High Priest, is everything in terms of salvation. Why is this true? Because we can now communicate with Them! Having access to God furnishes an opportunity for a relationship with the Father and the Son. The relationship is the medium of communication - holy, righteous, spiritual communication.

This communication is more than a mere counterbalance to the evil spiritual influence of this world. It decidedly tips the scales in our favor in this war for our spiritual survival, if we will but continue to believe and trust Them by taking advantage of the contact, communication, and influence freely given to us. What Jesus does ever so briefly in John 17:3 is to tie quality of life, called "eternal life," to a person's relationship with God.

Even though many in it may be religious, the world does not have a relationship with God. There is no communication from Him to them. Undoubtedly, a lot of people know many things about God, but they cannot actually know Him without access to Him. It is like a person knowing of someone from across town by reputation but really knowing nothing about him through personal contact.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part Three)


 

John 17:3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The term "know" implies intimate, experiential knowledge, not merely bookish or theoretical knowledge. Jesus Christ suggests that having an intimate relationship with the Father and Son causes us to become one with them. The only way we can do that is by living the way God does by faith. He walks—lives life—with those who agree with Him. The One who already had this unique relationship with God reveals to us the knowledge of how to do that.

Originally given to a spiritually faltering people, Amos 5:4 adds a vital command: "For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: 'Seek Me and live.'" The word "seek" is not being used in the sense of "search" because God had already revealed Himself to them. Instead, it conveys the sense of "turn to Me," "seek to live as I do," "turn to My way of life," "seek to know Me in intimate detail."

In John 17:3, "eternal" is translated from the Greek aionis. Here, it deals not so much with duration of life, since by itself living forever would not necessarily be good. Rather, it implies "quality." Eternal life is the life of God, the way He lives life. To possess it is to experience a small measure of its splendor now.

Four times in this chapter (verses 6, 11, 12, and 26), Jesus uses the word "name" in reference to God. "Name" represents, identifies, signifies, and encompasses what He is revealing to us about God. It includes what He is in His Person, His attributes, and His purpose. God's name keeps, guards, and sustains us, both by our trusting what it signifies and then, through obedience, expressing what it means.

Psalm 9:2, 10 declares, "I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High. . . . And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You." "Name" does not refer to what He is called or the sound of that name, but to what He is like in His nature and character. We can trust what He is. This has marvelous implications for us. Matthew 28:19-20 says:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

The word "in" in verse 19 can just as correctly be translated as "into," meaning that we are immersed into the name of the Father and Son. We now bear that name! They are God, and we are children of God. Baptism and the receipt of the Holy Spirit are the entrance into that name and all it implies! We have entered into the Family of God! Just as a son bears his father's name, God's name is our spiritual family name.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Third Commandment


 

John 17:21   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Christ is indicating a union: "That you might be unified, with the Father, in the same way that the Father and the Son are."

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 3)


 

John 17:21-23   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Notice how many time He says "may be." The English word "may" implies possibilities—permission for a thing to occur, not its certainty.

In other words, Jesus' prayer shows that those in a covenant with God will have to desire unity in the same way that God does. It is a possibility that we can have it. We have permission to have it, but it is not certain yet. That unity hangs in the balance, depending on the way that we react within the relationship. Thus, He is praying that it will happen, but it is a "maybe."

The reason we need to desire unity in the same way God does is so that we can prepare for it by doing God's will, by exercising faith. Then we will be prepared to live in the same way that He does for all eternity with Him.

A husband and wife cannot be one unless they are both prepared to live the same way as the other and to make any sacrifices that might be necessary to blend the lives together. So when they marry, their union is a "maybe." The possibility exists if the two will make the efforts to make the "maybe" absolute. As Christians, we must desire this unity enough to make the right choices and sacrifices to marry Jesus Christ in His Kingdom. It is not a "done deal" yet!

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 3)


 

John 21:22   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

From this direct response of Jesus, we can see that God expects each person to take personal responsibility in responding to the events of his own life and not to look with envy, bitterness, or self-righteousness at what He requires of others. Each must learn to operate within his faith. God deals with each of us individually, preparing us for what He wants for His Kingdom. In a context that applies to the entire nation of Israel among all other peoples of the earth, Deuteronomy 8:18 contains an element of this same principle: "And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day."

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Two


 

Acts 20:27   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Paul said this when making his last goodbye to the Ephesian elders on his way to Jerusalem. Eventually, from there, he went to Rome to face the authorities there. He had spent many years in his journeys crisscrossing the area of what is today western Turkey, preaching the gospel to them, as well as to the world. In making this statement, he is saying, in effect, that a disciple is not made merely by preaching the gospel to him as a witness. There is a vast difference between the two. A disciple of Christ is created through preaching, personal study, prayer, meditation, fellowship, and experience in a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the church. Jesus clearly says in Matthew 28:20 that the disciples were to be taught "all things whatsoever I have commanded you."

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 2)


 

Acts 26:14   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Christ seems to be saying, "Saul, why are you beating your head against the wall?" Paul was zealously persecuting God's church, all the while thinking he was part of the true religion, but at that point, he did not even know the true God! God called him dramatically to change the source of his belief system so that he could guide the Gentiles in changing theirs from Satan to God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment (1997)


 

Romans 1:11-12   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Do not be misled by the word established because it can suggest that they were not already established, which they were. The next verse explains what he means.

The apostle Paul is talking about "feeding the flock," preaching "the whole counsel of God" in infinite detail. The words of God—the gospel—when understood in its broadest sense, include the entirety of the Bible. It is not confined to making a witness so that people might have this held against them in a legal sense by God—as if God were saying, "I gave you My word, but you didn't respond to it."

God's primary concern is to prepare His children to share a relationship in fellowship with Him for all eternity—everybody living exactly the same way. The "gospel" requires an infinite expansion on the bare basics that bring us to conversion so we can see the application of God's way of life in every situation possible in our lives.

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 1)


 

Romans 3:20   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Salvation cannot be obtained by simply repenting and deciding to obey God's laws. Merely keeping the law will not justify anyone. Being justified means having one's sins forgiven and coming into a right relationship with God.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Basic Doctrines: Salvation


 

Romans 3:23   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Sin is an overwhelming reality throughout the entire world. Regardless of location, race, ethnicity, or gender, nobody escapes committing sin because all are encumbered with a nature at war with God and thus not subject to His law (Romans 8:7). In fact, mankind commits so much sin that it seems that he is barely able to keep it contained. Satan's deception is so thorough that most people on earth commit sin without being aware that they are doing it!

The churches of this world have abandoned the law of God and are badly divided by sectarianism. Buried under an avalanche of false doctrines, they give no indication through the witness of their church members that it can rise to offer any effective defense against sin's pervasive influence. The churches have lost their power.

The world is filled with violence resulting from sin. We are frequently assaulted by lies that are fully intended to mislead us from the truth. Government, business, and individuals try to squeeze every dime out us to increase their profits. We could examine each of the Ten Commandments in this manner, but these few examples give an overview of the undeniable fact that morality - of which God's laws are the standard - is almost completely swamped by a veritable ocean of sin, with our own among the rest of mankind's.

That God has not blown up the entire planet is certainly a testament to His confident vision that He can bring something beautiful and good out of what He has made, despite man's tireless and unrelenting efforts to destroy it. Above all, it speaks superabundantly of His grace. Is there anything in God's great creation we in our enmity against Him have not attempted to befoul, corrupt, and destroy completely through sin?

This situation cannot get any better unless sinning stops or is stopped. History reveals that life in general can be made marginally better in a given culture for brief periods, which happens occasionally after a devastating war. Early on during a period of peace, when people are too disgusted and exhausted to make war any more, they turn their attention to the far more positive labors of reconstruction. Thus, the quality of life rises because not as many people are sinning so egregiously.

Even so, no government or religion has enough spiritual, moral, or physical power to stop sin in its tracks. Overcoming sin is a very personal problem. It is not just the other person who sins: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). In this context, the glory of God is that He, by way of contrast to us, is holy. He does not sin - ever!

Each person must take it upon himself to stop sinning. Nobody can live life for another; the strong godly character of any person cannot be transferred to another. Because of human nature's deceitful self-centered pull, imitating another's evil example is relatively easy. All one has to do is to go along with the flow of the crowd. But following true moral instruction and imitating the good works of another so that one does not sin are exceedingly more difficult. Each person must face the truth about his own flawed character, allow himself to be convicted of his need to stop it in its tracks, and then put righteousness into action.

One human cannot stop sin in another, for a person can sin within himself in his lustful thoughts, and no one else even knows it has happened. Overcoming sin is an individual burden each must strive to achieve before God.

Many, having some knowledge of sin, sincerely want to do this. However, the Bible reveals there is a major "catch." It can be accomplished only in a close, successful relationship with God because the enabling power to overcome sin must be given by God within that relationship.

Once one becomes more thoroughly aware of the exceeding sinfulness of sin within himself - so aware and concerned about what God thinks of him that he wants to do something about its very real existence in his life - it elicits the question, "What must one do?" Notice the word "do." Does this not indicate activity of some kind? In other words, are we willing to expend some measure of energy - work - to begin stopping sin in our lives?

The person who experiences a deeply felt guilt regarding his sinful nature and broken relationship with God comes to understand from his study of God's Word - a work in itself - that it frequently appeals to the disciple to keep the commandments of God - another work. Yet, the world so often objects that works are not required for salvation, that one could become confused.

Obviously, something or somebody is wrong somewhere along the line. God's Word contains no contradictions, and in many places, it definitely commands the doing of works. At least eight times the Bible says we will be judged or rewarded according to our works. Since the Bible does call for works, could people be confused as to precisely when they are to be done?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Three)


 

Romans 3:28   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This concludes Paul's entire discussion begun in Romans 3:10. The only way we can be justified—that is, have our sins forgiven and be brought into a right relationship with God—is through faith in the sacrifice of Christ. This justification is something that is imputed to us once we meet God's conditions of repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). We cannot earn it through lawkeeping or doing good works.

However, what many do not understand is that being justified is not the same as being saved. Justification is only one step on the road to salvation. Someone who has been justified cannot break God's laws with impunity and expect to receive salvation anyway. To have our sins forgiven, we must repent from having broken the laws of God (Acts 3:19). To repent means "to turn around"—to stop sinning and orient our lives to obeying God's law. Paul explains it plainly in Romans 3:31: "Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law."

The true Christian, having repented from sin, has been given the gift of God's Holy Spirit, which is the love of God that enables him to keep His laws in their full spiritual intent and purpose. He has been justified and has received God's undeserved pardon. He realizes his sins caused Jesus Christ to have to suffer and die. Because of all of these things, the true Christian strives with all his might to resist the pulls of the flesh and to put sin out of his life.

Paul makes it very clear that the true Christian must not continue to live a life of sin. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2). The true Christian understands that the way he lives and conducts his life has a great bearing upon whether he will inherit the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).

To receive salvation, we must not only be justified, but we must live a life of obedience to the laws of God, developing the fruits of His Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23). Then—and only then—will God give us the gift of eternal life.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Saved By Faith Alone?


 

Romans 4:3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

"What does scripture say? 'Abraham took God at his word, and that act of faith was accepted as putting him into a right relationship with God'" (The New Testament: A Translation by William Barclay).

Abraham's "act of faith" was to believe the words of God. Simply, faith is believing what God says. That belief, that faith, is what pleases God, putting us in a position to have a right relationship with Him. A right relationship, even on a human level, must have trust as its foundation.

Abraham's example also shows us that this belief, this faith, is not just intellectual agreement but rather a deep conviction that motivates our core and changes how we think. The evidence of this change is an action. True belief and faith must have action to complete it, or else it is dead and useless faith (James 2:20).

Pat Higgins
Faith—What Is It?


 

Romans 4:13-16   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God justifies us. He does it freely. One of His purposes for doing so is that the promises may be sure.

The Jews have a saying, "How can a man enter into a right relationship with God so that he, too, may inherit the promises?" They understood the promises were made to Abraham and to his seed. They wanted to be able to participate in it, so they posed this question. Their answer: "He must do so by acquiring merit in the sight of God through doing good works, which the law prescribes." That is to say, by one's own effort.

However, as Paul describes here, justification through works, if it were even possible, would destroy the promises of God because no man can keep the law fully! If nobody can keep the law, because the giving of the promises depends on keeping the law, then God cannot give the promises. No one would ever qualify.

So God, wanting to ensure that the promises are given, justifies a person of His own free will. He blesses us, so that we can qualify to receive the promises on the basis of His grace. We had better be glad He does it this way, or we could never be co-inheritors of what Abraham is promised.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace


 

Romans 4:16   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Paul states a major reason why justification absolutely must be by grace through faith: It is by means of grace that everybody receives a fair chance for salvation. Grace levels the playing field. What would happen to those who could not match the impressive body of works of an Abraham? They would fail to be justified. The truth is that even Abraham was not justified by his circumcision works. He, too, was justified through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and God's grace. It has been this way from the beginning; Genesis 6:8 testifies that Noah found grace in God's eyes.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)


 

Romans 4:19-21   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

There was nothing vague about God to Abraham. His relationship with God was of such intimacy that he thoroughly understood His character and purpose. He knew that he could trust God to act and react within clear parameters. Abraham added up what he knew about God and about His promise that Isaac was the promised seed, reached a conclusion, and acted. He knew God would have either to resurrect Isaac or to provide a substitute. He chose to trust the One he knew has the power and is faithful.

What if, like most Americans, Abraham had just guessed, based upon vague remembrances of a Sunday school class, movies, fiction works, and paranormal inspirations? We can assume that he would have worshipped the idols of his father Terah. A right concept of God is a Christian necessity because a wrong notion of Him is the very foundation, the starting point, for idolatry. In brief, the essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.

God makes this clear at Mount Sinai after making the covenant with Israel and giving them His law. In Exodus 32, Aaron, confronted by the sinful pressure of his peers, became carried away and made a stupid Golden Calf to rescue them from their perceived dilemma. Aaron and the Israelites revealed that their false concepts of God remained. God had the idol immediately destroyed. Israel sinned in attempting to determine the nature of God based on their own reasoning, and many died in a punishing demonstration of the true God's wrath at this egregious sin.

The Israelites of today are still at it; modern Israelites are fantasizing about God. The idolater simply imagines a conception of God and then acts as though his conceptions are true. He is deceived and certainly does not know the true God as Abraham did.

God seeks out those with whom He desires to make the covenant. At that time, all they understand about Him is in broad terms. They are then to seek Him out to know Him more precisely. Those who make the New Covenant with God are required to seek out intimate details regarding His nature, purpose, and character.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Seeking God (Part One): Our Biggest Problem


 

Romans 5:8-9   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We are justified by faith in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus Christ's life was worth more than all the rest of humanity combined, His death paid the penalty of the sins of the whole world. Through faith in His suffering and death, we receive forgiveness of sins and are brought into a right relationship with God.

The scripture states that "we shall be saved from wrath through Him." "Justified" does not mean "saved"; nor does it mean that we have eternal life. It simply means that our guilty past has been wiped clean because Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Once justified, we can proceed to the next step in the process of salvation.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Basic Doctrines: Salvation


 

Romans 5:8-10   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Verse 10 says, "We shall be saved," in the future tense. Thus, we now have access to the Father, to the Tree of Life, and to a relationship to build upon which should lead to everlasting life. But God has willed that our development must take place within the world, not the Garden of Eden.

Part of God's solution clears us of guilt of past sins; this is referred to in the Bible as "justification." Justification by faith in Christ's blood is only a partial solution because it neither changes the nature nor the character that is the cause of our needing justification through Christ's blood. It does clear us of indebtedness due to sin, and that in itself is a major blessing—an enormous gift—but by itself, it does not change the behavior that was responsible for us being indebted in the first place. It does open the door to that change, and thus verse 10 says, "We shall be saved by His life." This phrase implies help to enable us to be saved. Help is available to fulfill our part because Christ is alive to assist us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Laodiceanism and Being There Next Year


 

Romans 5:8-10   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God initiates the relationship with us. He makes it possible, paving the way so that we can have fellowship with Him. Through this relationship, which He made possible through the gift of His Son, He desires to develop trust in us. Without that gift, without that expression of His love, the relationship never would have begun.

God is also the one who keeps the relationship going. If He did not do this, we would not have enough faith to trust Him, just like the Israelites of old. We would be too impatient, and we would not believe what He said. Obedience, loyalty, and devotion to Him would never be produced.

So, God keeps forgiving us. He keeps extending the hand, beckoning us to come back to the relationship. This is so clearly seen in the way God dealt with Israel in the Old Testament. Over and over, He forgave her and opened the way for her to come back. He deals no differently with us.

The key element in our salvation is this fellowship, which has been initiated through the death of Jesus Christ so that, through the relationship, we can begin to conform to the image of God by being permitted into His presence. If we do not do what is necessary on our part, giving our time and attention to the fellowship—to the relationship—nothing will happen.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Emotional Dimension


 

Romans 5:12   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

When Adam and Eve sinned, God judged them. Since they were the father and mother of all of mankind, and they were the only representatives of mankind at the time, all of mankind figuratively sinned in Adam and Eve. God's judgment was correct, because given the chance, every human has sinned.

What then happened to Adam and Eve? They were ushered out of the Garden, and God put a cherubim at its entrance to guard the Garden and the Tree of Life so that nobody could get back in. This is why at times the Bible bids people to return to God when they had never seemingly turned away from Him. Yet, all of mankind did turn away from God in Adam and Eve, and He invites us to return to the place, symbolically, where everything started, back to the environs He occupies, where the Tree of Life is.

The relationship with God is everything to our salvation. Without what Christ did in dying for our sins, we would not be in the position to have one with Him. Christ's payment of our sins opens up the way for a relationship to be built and for us to grow in the Holy Spirit, because now we have access to the Tree of Life in a relationship with God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 7)


 

Romans 8:9   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Are we already spirit? Well, the old hat pin test works very well here. This verse says, "You are . . . in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwells in you." "In" is not being used to state physical position, a physical location, but in the sense of concerned with. Paul uses it in the same sense as we would say, "He is in politics" - this person is concerned or involved with politics. A Christian's concern is with things of the Spirit of God, the mind of God. It is a matter of mind, attitude, thought, perspective, wisdom, knowledge, and direction of life. Jesus said, "He who seeks to save his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." It is a matter of concern, involvement. That is what "in the spirit" is.

It is a matter of direction of life. It is the concept of spiritual relationships that dominate the correct understanding, not physical location in regard to Christ or the church, because those relationships can and do involve people of all races, all nationalities, physically located in all places on earth. But when one is "in the spirit," that person's great concern and involvement in life lies in his relationship with God. If one is "in the flesh," then his concern and involvement revolves around his relationship with the carnal world.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 4)


 

Romans 8:29-30   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

No one has been glorified yet but Jesus Christ. God is so confident that He can finish what He has started that He states the promise as though it is already completed.

Verse 29 says, "For whom He foreknew." "Foreknew" applies to that period before His calling of us. Before He caused us to turn to Him, before He actually extended the invitation, He knew us. He was watching over our lives. Who knows how many times He intervened to alter the course of our lives in order to bring something critical about, whether it was our education or saving us from injury or death or disease? Who knows how He may have intervened because He "foreknew" us?

My study Bible comments about the word "foreknew":

This is not simple prescience or advanced knowledge. This knowledge should also not be understood in the sense of being acquainted with, but in the sense of bringing into a special relationship with, as Adam knew Eve his wife.

In other words, foreknew does not merely mean "to be acquainted with" or "to have advanced knowledge" of us. When God foreknew us, He was so close to us that He was sticking right by our side. He had clear insight and attended closely to what was happening in our lives.

God said to Israel, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2) Jesus said, "I know My sheep" (John 10:27). In Matthew 7:23, He said to another group of people, "I never knew you."

Foreknowledge is God's determination to bring certain ones into a special relationship with Himself. Since it is foreknowledge, He determined to bring us to glory long before He called us, long before He caused us to turn to Him. He has been personally involved with us. We were not just personally selected, but also personally sought out. Why? We could say "for glory," that is, to be admitted into His Kingdom. This is certainly true, but it was also so that, first, He could have a relationship with us, that we would seek Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 7)


 

Romans 10:1-3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

What we observe in the world around us confirms that end-time Israel is following the same spiritual pattern that our ancestors established anciently. Human nature does not change. These verses verify that some knowledge of God remains within the Israelitish nations.

However, theirs is not an enlightened, discerning, and intelligent zeal for God. Rather, God says in Hosea 4:6 that His people—in this case meaning ancient Israel—are destroyed for a lack of true knowledge. God then lays the greater blame on the teachers for their failure to teach truth. The Interpreter's Commentary says that "ignorant" in Romans 10:3 can correctly be translated as "ignoring," revealing a deliberate disregarding of God's righteousness.

The broader history of Old Testament Israel shows that God's Word was available, but the people did not access it to seek God. Thus, their ignorance was not completely the teacher's fault; the people should have studied the Bible on their own. Paul explains in Romans 1:18-21 that man is without excuse before Him because knowledge of God is available. The contrast Paul provides in Romans 10:1-3 indicates that the teaching the Israelites received produced at best a vague, superficial base of knowledge about God. This is not a foundation of true knowledge that will work to produce a good relationship between God and man.

We can see an example of this kind of teaching in our time. Most of us have seen what is happening in so many churches these days, most especially in the mega-churches. Their services come across as superficial entertainment that gives people an upbeat social experience that contains some religious instruction. They come up short in teaching high-quality biblical truths to enhance people's relationships with God. It has produced a people who believe that they are saved and going to heaven immediately after death, and who think God's laws are done away. They keep Christmas and Easter, which are obviously pagan holidays, and at the same time fail to keep the Sabbaths, which both Jesus and Paul clearly kept.

How can they be following Christ when they do not do what He did and in fact do what pagans do? Where is God in the minds of those who conduct their lives like this? In truth, what they think about Him is nowhere near the truth because neither they nor their teachers make the effort to know Him (John 17:3).

They know some things about Him, but they do not know Him. If they did, they would be seeking Him, and He would be revealing truth. Where should they be seeking Him? They must begin in the Scriptures. In them, two things are beyond dispute: first, that God is the Supreme Sovereign over His creation, His purpose for creating it, and His plan for fulfilling it; and second, that man is responsible to this awesome Creator.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Sovereignty


 

Romans 11:5   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This spiritual remnant is what several New Testament writers term "the elect," those who have been called and chosen by God through grace. These "elect" have received what Israel did not: spiritual redemption, salvation, a relationship with God, and so forth.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Remnant


 

Romans 12:1-2   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

To grasp this properly, one must understand these two verses against the background of the book of Romans. The preceding eleven chapters contain the doctrinal foundation and prelude to the last four chapters of practical Christian living. These two verses bridge the gap between the doctrinal foundation and the practical, daily applications. In these two verses, he is essentially saying, "In light of what I have told you, this is what you are obligated to do in order to serve—that is, to love—Christ."

First, we must operate by these two principles and give up our whole being constantly to these pursuits. Second, we must yield ourselves so that we are not merely avoiding conformity to this world but being transformed into a new being, proving to ourselves the benefits of this way of life. Thus, we are to apply these two principles to the subject of the rest of chapter 12, which primarily concerns relationships with the brethren within the church, and secondarily, with those in the world.

John W. Ritenbaugh
An Unpayable Debt and Obligation


 

Romans 15:4   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

If we see things happening within the body of Christ, the Old Testament is a great reservoir of instruction regarding God's relationship with those who have made a covenant with Him.

God faithfully recorded the way the Israelites acted and reacted to Him, as well as the way He reacted to them. He had people like Moses, Samuel, David, and Ezra to write these things down. When the time came for His Son to come, die for the sins of the world, and start the church, His people had at their fingertips all the instruction they needed to find out what was happening, why, and what to do about it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 2)


 

Romans 15:13   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Could we call ourselves out of spiritual Egypt? Can we forgive ourselves through our works? Can we give ourselves the Holy Spirit? Can we give ourselves the gifts needed to achieve God's purpose? Do we begin to see that it is He who should be our hope? Everything, including hope, flows from this real, literal, personal Being with whom we must develop a relationship so that we truly know Him.

Jesus utters a great profundity when He says that "eternal life is to know God" (John 17:3). It is profound because this God—Jesus' God—is God, and He can fulfill His promises. Promises are not worth a thing, not even the paper they are written on, except for the holiness, the power, and the integrity of the one who gives them. Can God be trusted? If He can, we can have hope. Our hope is in Him. If we put our trust in the promises, we are putting our hope in the wrong place because they are just added benefits.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Perseverance and Hope


 

1 Corinthians 1:9   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Our calling would go nowhere beyond a meaningless invitation if God was not faithful to forgive our sins. Without forgiveness and cleansing, there is no access to Him, and thus no relationship with Him blossoms and grows.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness


 

1 Corinthians 1:9   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This particular verse is written in such a way as to be translated either "with" or "in": Our fellowship is with Christ, or our fellowship is in Christ. It can go either way. The case is both subjective and objective in I Corinthians 1:9.

Fellowship means "sharing," "communion with," "companionship with," or "association with." We have been called into an association—a companionship, a fellowship, a communion—with Christ. All these words are synonyms. The only difference might be the degree of the intimacy that is expressed. In addition, fellowship indicates people having things in common—they do things together because they share common interests. What we have in common is our love for Christ.

We are drawn to the brethren because of the common tie—the common love for the same Person. Even when we meet people in the church for the very first time, we do not feel as though they are perfect strangers to us because of that commonality. We recognize the spirit or attitude that emanates from them. It is almost something that we can feel or see because our senses seem to be attuned to it. This is why world travelers with the church say that they can go into another congregation and know that it is of the same Spirit as the one that they traveled from.

There is a bond or union between us because we love the same Person. To the Christian, then, Christ's friend is our friend. We are members of the same body. We are children in the same Family. We are soldiers in the same army. We are pilgrims on the same road. These same analogies are used many places in the Bible.

John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ


 

1 Corinthians 1:19-21   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God has purposely chosen this means to put proud and stiff-necked man totally in debt to Him for the most important achievement in all of life. Men have accomplished much and will continue to do many great things. However, verses 19-21 expose why the wise of this world will not submit to God. The reason becomes clear in the phrase, "the foolishness of preaching" (verse 21, King James Version [KJV]). This translation is somewhat misleading in the King James; it should read "the foolishness of the message preached," as in the New King James Version (NKJV). Paul is not saying that the wise of this world reject the act of preaching but that they consider the content of the message preached to be foolish. In other words, the wise will not believe the gospel, most specifically that God in the flesh has died for the sins of the world.

It cannot be overestimated how important humility expressed by faith before God is to the overall spiritual purpose of God for each individual! Each person must know as fully as possible that Christ died for him, that his own works do not provide forgiveness, and that he has not created himself in Christ Jesus. Nobody evolves into a godly person on the strength of his own will. It is God who works in us both to will and to do (Philippians 2:13). No new creation creates itself. So, by and large, God calls the undignified, base, weak, and foolish of this world, people whom the unbelieving wise consider to be insignificant and of no account. He does this so that no human will glory in His presence. On this, a German commentator, Johann Albrecht Bengel, clarifies, "We have permission to glory, not before God, but in God."

The term "in Christ Jesus" (I Corinthians 1:30) indicates that we are in an intimate relationship with Him. Paul then details—through the terms "wisdom," "righteousness," "sanctification," and "redemption"—that God, using our believing, humble, submissive cooperation, will be responsible for all things accomplished in and through us. Some modern commentators believe that, because "wise" and "wisdom" appear so many times earlier in this chapter, the terms "righteousness," "sanctification," and "redemption" should be in parentheses because Paul intends them to define what he means by true wisdom in this context.

God, then, is pleased to save those who believe and to do a mighty work in them. This set Abel apart from, as far as we know, every other person living on earth at that time. What he did by faith pictures what everyone who receives salvation must also do to begin his walk toward the Kingdom of God. Everyone must be called of God; believe enough of His Word to know that he is a sinner who needs the blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins; repent, that is, undergo a change of mind toward God; and be justified, made legally righteous by having Jesus Christ's righteousness imputed to him. This enables a relationship with God to begin, and sanctification unto glorification can proceed.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)


 

1 Corinthians 1:26-29   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Nobody will ever come before God and say, "I did it by the strength of my own hands." Though this person may have faith and a strong will, he is certainly not perfect. Many times, when the Israelites' faith broke down, God had to intervene in some way to save them. Whether it is Israel at the Red Sea or Israel out in the wilderness, time and again He had to intervene and spare them, even in times when they showed a measure of faith.

Since man's creation, humans have been exalting themselves against God by choosing to do things their own way. However, there is only one way that works eternally, and every human being will be led to see his weaknesses and know that it is by grace that we are saved. This realization does wonders to a person's feelings about himself, making humility possible. This, in turn, makes it possible for him to yield to God, which makes it possible for him to deal with other human beings, not with a high hand or as a master to a slave, but as a friend—as an understanding brother or sister who has gone through similar experiences and seen their own failures, and who can commiserate, sympathize, show compassion and mercy, encourage, and inspire the one who has failed.

God will work in each person and will do it in such a way that he will come to realize that merely knowing the truth—and even believing the truth and acting on it—are not enough. God must save them by grace.

This is not to say that works are unimportant. They are vital to maintaining and developing a relationship with God. They are important in building character, and in this sense, without works we will have a difficult time being saved. If nothing else, doing good works shows that a relationship exists between a person and God. So works are important to earning rewards, to building character, to providing a witness for God, but they still will not save us of and by themselves because, since we are imperfect, they are also terribly flawed.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 1)


 

1 Corinthians 11:24-29   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The "cup" symbolizes the blood Jesus spilled in sacrificing His life. God is saying that through the blood of Christ, He is "sealing" His agreement of salvation with us. Though He had already promised it, Christ's blood certifies His agreement to justify us in preparation for salvation (Romans 5:9-10).

Such a monumental sacrifice must be fittingly remembered! If Passover becomes a mere ritual or pious habit, it loses its significance because Christ is not really being remembered with understanding and appreciation. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes the brethren as rushing through the service, their minds so focused on their own bellies that they were treating each other with selfish disregard. Passover's purpose is not just to remember certain historical events, but to grasp the point of Christ's death. If we fail to comprehend its meaning, we are much more likely to treat His death unworthily.

Paul covers three major subjects in I Corinthians 11 and the chapters surrounding it: 1) our relationship with God, 2) our relationship with other members of the church and 3) spiritual liberty. Their common factor—the unique means by which all three are made possible—is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Christ, Our Passover


 

1 Corinthians 11:25-29   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Verse 25 reads, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood." It employs a figure of speech in which the word "cup" is a metonymy, meaning that the cup represents what it contains: literally wine. The wine symbolized His blood, thus, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood."

A covenant is an agreement, a contract, between two parties. It is a device to bring people into a binding relationship to accomplish some undertaking. This particular covenant is unusual in that it is in His blood.

In his commentary on I Corinthians 11:23-34 (p. 104), William Barclay makes a very interesting comment on this. He changes a few words and provides proof that the change is grammatically legitimate. He paraphrases it in this manner: "This covenant cost Me My life." This agreement, the New Covenant, is made at the cost of the most precious, the most valuable and dearest Life that has ever lived on the face of the earth, that of our sinless Creator. It did not come cheaply.

Barclay's paraphrase is justifiable because the life of the flesh is in the blood (Leviticus 17:14). The giving of that specific Life by His shed blood made possible the establishment of a covenantal relationship with God. This relationship is the fruit of Christ's sinless life and subsequent death. Passover portrays what makes salvation a reality for us because justification before God is its fruit. We can consider Christ's making this relationship possible the most important accomplishment of all that He has done through His death.

Our relationship with God is our salvation. We could have no salvation unless the relationship existed because we would still be cut off from God. Once established, this relationship must be developed and to be developed, it must be continued! "If you continue, you will become free," says Jesus. This begins the process of truly coming to know God, and to know God is eternal life (John 17:3).

Within the context of I Corinthians 11, a major point deals with people not properly discerning the sacred gravity of what the symbols represent. Some in Corinth were making a mockery of the Passover. The church members gathered for a meal, and some were getting drunk, others ate in a gluttonous manner, while a few received little food because others were hogging it all. What they did edified the body not at all! They experienced very little of the right kind of spiritual fellowship.

The apostle writes his epistle to correct a corrupt situation. His point is that, in doing what they did, they were not discerning the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus Christ. If they had truly understood their significance, they would not have acted in this manner. They were not properly interpreting and applying the meaning to their own lives. In treating Christ's sacrifice in a frivolous manner, their application especially went awry. They went through the motions of taking the Passover but without appreciating the reality that the symbols represented.

The word "unworthy" in I Corinthians 11:27 means "lacking in merit or worth." The Corinthians had no appreciation of the precious value of what the symbols represented to their personal salvation. They were missing the eternal character of what they were observing, caring little about who had died and grasping almost nothing of the love that went into His act. They were truly profaning the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ and putting Him to an open shame.

A major point of understanding about observing Passover is that our attitude toward Christ's sacrifice affects our approach to life in general. Above all, it will affect our relationship with the Father, as well as with one another, because the strength of our obligation to submit to Jesus Christ will be diminished. We will not feel it all that important to submit in obedience.

If God wants us to understand anything by our observing the Passover, it is 1) the tremendous costs it took to free us and to maintain that freedom, and 2) how far Jesus Christ, our Example, was willing to be "pushed" without giving in to sin in even the smallest of matters. Let us take Passover soberly, with the serious significance of what it represents at the forefront of our minds.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Awesome Cost of Love


 

1 Corinthians 13:13   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Paul penned these immortal words, which one commentator called "the eternal trinity": faith, hope, and love. We continuously need these three factors, which is what "abide" implies. Our need for them never ends; we need them throughout life, every day without end. We live by faith, and the other two are directly connected to faith. They are, in fact, the three building blocks of a successful, abundant life. They are inextricably bound, tied to our relationship with God, and they are the qualities that make us run or work correctly.

Think of it this way. We are God's invention. He built us, and as our manufacturer, He designed us to function and produce. Automobiles run on gasoline. They do what they do because of the way they were designed and built, and they move only when fueled by gasoline. Movement is a key here: We run—move—on faith, hope, and love. These qualities nourish us, giving us strength to function as God intends. Every living human being, or who has ever lived, was intended to function by these qualities, but only the faith, hope, and love that comes from God will work to produce true success.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Perseverance and Hope


 

2 Corinthians 2:6-8   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

When put together with II Corinthians 2:11, Paul is saying that a godly sorrow unto repentance can actually give Satan the opportunity to turn a person's feelings about his sin into an abnormal self-pity, which will destroy that despairing person's relationship with the church and with God. He can turn such a person into a bitter cynic. The Devil is that clever.

It does not end there. In addition, he can turn the righteous indignation of those who are offended by another's sin into bitter self-righteousness if they do not forgive and forget and move on. He gets people going and coming unless they are aware that he can turn something good into a ploy to destroy a person's relationship with God and the church.

These are not the only weapons that Satan has in his arsenal. Remember, we are involved in a war, and a general will employ every kind of ploy, device, tool, or contrivance to rout the enemy. He will use decoys, infiltration, subversion, propaganda, rumors, misleading leaks of information, and sometimes a frontal attack with diversions on the flanks.

Satan is no different. However, God makes sure to warn us of his subtlety. The Devil creates distractions and illusions to deflect us from reaching our goal. He has the ability to make things that are in God's purpose unimportant (for instance, material things or vanity) seem important, while eternal, spiritual things he makes seem unimportant, unnecessary, and unrealistic.

Knowledge of what he is like would be unnecessary if he could not affect us after baptism. Despite his earlier defeat at the hand of God as well as his defeat by our David, Jesus Christ, he is still seeking to destroy God. Even if he fails at that, he still wants to destroy God's purpose of having us inherit His Kingdom.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 2)


 

2 Corinthians 3:3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Paul specifically says that the law will be written in the fleshly tables of our heart by the Spirit of the living God! However, the circumcision of the heart is a co-operative effort. God does His part, and we do ours by submitting to Him. Both parts are involved within this process, by which God is enabling us to have the power to sustain a relationship with Him. And that power is given only to the children of promise, the children of God, the church, the remnant, those who are in Christ, those who have received God's Spirit.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 11)


 

2 Corinthians 4:17   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

One source, God, produces the commonality that makes us a spiritual Family. He engineered and created it. He is the personality who guides, directs, and accomplishes this unity through His Holy Spirit. All of His teaching, His truth, is being funneled from the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ, and out to the church by means of the Holy Spirit.

We hold a critical position in all of this because we have the power to accept or reject His truth, and the acceptance or rejection of the truth of God determines if we will have greater and better fellowship. We will either become a more unified part of His Family or less. Our choice is the critical factor.

God is faithful. He has done what He has done. He has initiated the contact, making the bridging of the gap possible through Jesus Christ. He has given us the mechanism by which a relationship can be accomplished, and now the critical part is in our hands: yielding to the truth that He gives to us. If we yield, then God's creative efforts in us are not going to be frustrated.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Truth (Part 4)


 

2 Corinthians 5:11   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

When God summoned us to His way of life, He persuaded us with various proofs that He exists, desires a relationship with us, and rules not just the universe but also the affairs of men. As often happens during our first love (Revelation 2:4-5), we desire to share our joy and newfound truth with others. Most of the time, our early evangelistic efforts fail to produce any new converts to the faith - instead, our efforts usually cause problems in our relationships.

Most lay-members, after one or two failures of this sort, get smart and desist in trying to convert their relatives and friends. They realize that nothing will ever happen without God first calling the other individual and changing his heart by His Spirit to accept the truth (John 6:44; Romans 2:4-5; 8:7; I Corinthians 2:10-14; Hebrews 8:10; Ezekiel 11:19). All our preaching and cajoling will accomplish nothing unless God moves to initiate a personal relationship with him.

Ministers do not have such an easy out. Certainly, in their personal relationships they can quit trying to "save" those unconverted members of their families, but in their professional capacity, their job is to "persuade men." In personal conduct, counsel, sermons, and articles, they must devote their energies to showing and explaining why God's way is true and will lead to eternal life in God's Kingdom.

Today, that is not an easy task. It has never been easy, really, but the current environment makes it harder than it has been historically. For starters, though a high percentage of people say they believe in God, most people are no longer religious but secular. Religion is not a high-ranking concern, and because of this, religious issues fly under their radar and over their heads. They just do not care, and even when they inquire about them, they do not understand them because they lack the background and education necessary to evaluate them properly.

Another problem is competition. It used to be that most people at least treated Sunday, "the Lord's day," as a Sabbath and devoted most or all of that time to religious pursuits. No longer. Sunday, though it is not God's Sabbath day, is used just like any other day: for work and entertainment. If God receives a few hours on Sunday morning for worship services, most Americans - and Europeans to an even greater degree - think He should feel satisfied that they could spare Him even that much!

Yet a third hindrance is the way moderns think. Too many people, especially younger adults, have absorbed the postmodern, values-neutral approach. This way of thinking considers every idea and belief as equally valid, neither right nor wrong. A person can believe anything he likes - even that the moon is made of green cheese - and he should not be judged as right or wrong. Any god one worships, or for that matter, if one chooses to worship no god, is fine, and no one god or belief system is better than any other.

In such an environment, how can we persuade anyone of the truth? Our success certainly looks bleak.

The answer lies in what Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:9-11: "We make it our aim . . . to be well pleasing to Him." Our judgment does not rest on how many men we persuade but on whether we do the job. We are called to make the witness for God and Christ to the best of our ability and strength. Christ will judge us "according to what [we have] done, whether good or bad." How others react to us and what we say or write matters little; it is "God who gives the increase" (I Corinthians 3:5-8). As Paul says, one plants and another waters, but what happens to the sprout is not under their control but God's.

Thus, we cannot quantify the results of our persuasion as others can. We cannot see the growth of our "business" in statistical form. The true measure of our success will be revealed in God's Kingdom, and even then, we will be unable to claim the glory for it. For in persuading men, we "do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh


 

2 Corinthians 5:16-17   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

If a person truly believes, he will repent, and the consequence is reconciliation with God. Our relationship to Him changes; it is entirely new. Our point of view, our world view, changes. We no longer look at life in the same way. Now we view everything from the perspective of God, His Word, and His Kingdom. We no longer look upon people as we did before.

Before our reconciliation we had a superficial view of Christ. Now we view Him as the Eternal Creator, Lord, Savior, and High Priest who lives in us by His Spirit and with whom we are now in fellowship. This has a tremendous impact on how we conduct our lives.

We understand that God is creating a new race beginning with Christ, the second Adam. A man in Christ is a new creation, not merely improved or reformed, but remade. Reconciliation is not just politely ignoring hostilities. It is the total removal of hostilities so there can be a relationship, a fellowship, between God and man that will produce sanctification leading to holiness and complete and total at-one-ment with the great God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Separation and At-One-Ment


 

2 Corinthians 5:17   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Christians are to be in union with Christ. This explains why it is so important to study the Bible, to meditate on it, to spend time trying to understand it, to communicate with one another with the Word and with the Father. What are we doing as we absorb God's Word? God's Word is part of His mind, His personality, His character. It is the way He thinks.

We cannot be in union with someone we do not know or who we have no relationship with. We cannot be in union with someone we never think about.

The more we think about Him, the more we carry His word in our mind. The more experiences that we have with Him, the deeper, stronger, sharper, clearer, and more real the union becomes. It all pivots around the Word of God. Jesus says, "The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63).

They are an invisible force and power because, if we believe His words, they begin to work in our lives because we use them. They begin to produce what God intends them to produce. As we use them, we become more one with Him because we are becoming like Him. Our lives begin to be operated by His mind expressed in His Word. The more we use them, the more we become like Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part 4)


 

2 Corinthians 5:18-19   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Part of the responsibility of the church of God in preaching the gospel around the world is to inform mankind how they can be reconciled to God. In many cases, people do not even know they are separated from God. However, all have been separated from Him, and all need to be reconciled to God through the redemption offered in Christ's payment for sin. To do this, we must also proclaim what sin is, as many are equally ignorant of what constitutes sin. Doing this enables them to judge their need for reconciliation through Jesus Christ.

Preaching the gospel is not just about the Kingdom of God but includes many attendant features that flesh out understanding necessary for establishing communion with God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Six): The Sin Offering


 

2 Corinthians 13:5   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Do you not know yourselves? - We have all learned many things through trial and suffering over the years, but it has not been all pain and agony. At various times, we have abounded with joy, contentment, peace, and growth as well, and we should thank God who has engineered and authored these blessings. However, beyond honestly identifying how far we have come, we also need to recognize and acknowledge the stony parts that are still in us, repenting before God with our whole hearts.

As Paul says in I Corinthians 6:19-20, "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." To paraphrase, do we not realize the magnitude of our relationship with God and the obligation this puts us under to live every second as an example of God's way of life? God's people are not ordinary in any sense!

Solomon writes in Proverbs 4:23, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life." The heart, the mind, is the storehouse of our character. We must spend time in meditation and in prayer asking for insight from God to reveal to us exactly who we are - inside - where normally only God can see. We must implore Him for understanding about who we really are right now in His eyes. We need this information to understand properly our relationship with Him.

This is a solemn and sobering process, but it should not be something we fear. Still, we must come to God in this process with humility and a heart ready to repent immediately of flaws that He shows us. This process is not superficial by any means, but one designed to reach to the very heart of our being.

Remember, God may be a consuming fire to His enemies (Hebrews 12:29), but to His own children, He is a boundless provider and loving Father (Ephesians 3:14-21). He is quick to forgive if we freely confess our sins to Him (I John 1:9).

Staff
What Does 'Examine Yourselves' Mean?


 

Galatians 3:2-3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Those who say that Paul's words mean that one does not have to obey God in order to receive His Spirit simply do not understand what he was talking about. They also do not understand the circumstances that the apostle was addressing. The main problem in the churches in Galatia was that people were being taught that they could be justified—have their sins forgiven and be brought into a right relationship with God—by lawkeeping. The people's minds were being turned away from faith in Jesus Christ. Paul was reminding them that the only way anyone can receive forgiveness of sins is through faith in Christ's sacrifice.

To drive his point home, Paul reminds the Galatians that they did not receive God's Holy Spirit by lawkeeping while ignoring faith in the sacrifice of Christ. He points out that, without faith in the sacrifice of Christ, no one can be justified, no one can be forgiven of sins, and no one can be given the gift of God's Holy Spirit.

This does not negate the fact that there are still basically two requirements for receiving God's Spirit, namely, repentance and faith in Christ. Both of these requirements must be met before one can receive the Spirit. Repentance involves turning from sin and turning toward obedience to God's commandments.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Is Obedience Required Before Receiving God's Holy Spirit?


 

Galatians 3:8   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The word scripture refers to the Old Testament. Paul writes in a way where the Scripture is personified ("foreseeing"), but the intent is clear that the Scripture is being spoken of in terms of the Author. The One who inspired the Old Testament (Scripture) foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles through faith. This means that the doctrine of justification by faith is contained in the Old Testament (Psalm 130:3, 143:2; Exodus 34:7; Job 4:17, 9:2-3,29, 15:14, 25:4; Ecclesiastes 7:20), and is not something contained just in the New—if not directly, then at least indirectly by showing that we cannot justify ourselves in God's eyes. (God foretells of this Gentile justification in Isaiah 49:6, 22-23, 60.)

The phrase "would justify" is in the present indicative sense, which means that it is now, and at all times, God's one way of justification. Here it would better be translated as "justifies." God justifies through faith—He always has, and as long as the present order of things continues, He always will. There was never a time when a person could have been justified by their works or actions.

Faith in Christ is the means by which God would justify the heathens ("the nations"—the Gentiles), but that justification does not mean they were allowed to remain Gentiles (heathens) in a spiritual sense. Being justified does not mean we are told we have not done anything wrong. Being justified means we are brought into legal alignment with God and His law, so the sin-induced gulf between God and man can be overcome and the relationship can begin. The physical Gentiles are/were given the opportunity to repent (Acts 11:18), which coincides with justification, but even repentance means that a change in behavior (works) must be made. God saves us from our sins, not in our sins.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 3:14   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Because of Christ's atoning sacrifice, everyone—Jew and Gentile—could receive the same blessing that Abraham received. Part of that blessing, which began all others, was justification by means of faith rather than by works. God knew, from the foundation of the world (when Adam and Eve sinned and started this present order of things), that justification by works would not be possible. It is not possible for a man to keep the entire law (letter and spirit) without having the same Spirit as the Lawgiver. Abraham, the father of the faithful, showed that the way to justification was by faith in what God is doing and will do, rather than on our own goodness. These same blessings that Abraham received (justification, God's Holy Spirit, the sanctification process, spiritual gifts, and future glorification) are available to anyone else that God has called, regardless of their race, social status, gender, etc.

God's promise to Abraham (Abram) is detailed in Genesis 12:1-3. Part of that promise was that "in you [Abraham], all nations of the earth would be blessed." Later, in Genesis 13:15, God expanded the promise to include eternal life too—the only way it is possible for Abraham (and his descendants) to have the land "forever" is if Abraham was to be living forever. Land is worthless to the dead.

John 17:3 defines eternal life: "And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent." Eternal life is knowing—experiencing—God. But God does not allow just anybody to know Him; it is evident from John 6:44 and other verses that God must call someone to a relationship with Him. A man cannot, of his own volition, initiate a relationship with God—Abraham's life shows this clearly.

Mankind had the opportunity through Adam and Eve to have eternal life, but once sin entered the world, and death through sin (both of which are the antithesis of God), God had to guarantee that He would not have sinful beings living forever. God blocked the way to the Tree of Life with a flaming sword, and since that time the only way to approach the Tree of Life has been through God's intervention and calling.

When God calls a person and makes a relationship with Him possible, it is through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. The person must first be justified before God, and the only way that justification is possible is through faith in Christ. Once a man is justified, God then gives a measure of His Holy Spirit to him. If a man completes the sanctification process, by means of yielding to the Holy Spirit, upon resurrection or Christ's return that man will be changed into a spirit being and live forever with the rest of the God Family. All of this is a fulfillment of the promise that God gave to Abraham and to his Seed.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 3:20   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

A mediator is only necessary when there is an agreement for two or more parties to agree to or discuss. God's promise to Abraham, and the inheritance that will come from that in the future, was not something that had to be negotiated. A mediator was not necessary, because there was only one party—God—who was agreeing to do a certain action. God's promise was His intent to carry something out, and so it was not necessary for there to be a mediator.

The Mosaic covenant required a mediator. Moses stood between the Rock and the children of Israel. The Israelites did not want to deal directly with God (Exodus 20:18-21) and instead requested that Moses speak with God and then speak to the children of Israel. The Old Covenant was set up with a high priest as an intercessor, who would stand between God and the people. The system, the covenant, did not allow for a personal relationship to develop between God and an individual, except in the rare exceptions where God made it happen. But it was not available to the average Israelite.

God's promise is sure! Abraham and the others in the "cloud of witnesses" all died without receiving the promises in their entirety. But the spiritual children of Abraham still stand to inherit eternal life, the earth, etc. This was not an agreement or covenant, but a promise.

When the covenant was ratified at Sinai, Moses was the mediator for only physical Israel. The Gentiles, the rest of the people who would be the spiritual descendents of Abraham, were not represented. Because of this, the agreement made at Sinai could not affect the unrepresented people. This is why the Old Covenant, or the Mosaic Covenant, is not binding anymore: Christ, the Seed, came to earth as a man, and the temporary covenant between God and Israel became obsolete.

God's law did not become obsolete, though—God does not change, and so His definition of what is right and what is wrong does not change. If it was wrong for the Israelites to commit adultery or fornication, it is still wrong now. If it was wrong for the children of Israel to break the Sabbath, it is still wrong now. Obedience to God's law was a condition of the covenanted agreement, but doing away with the covenant does not do away with God's law!

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 3:23   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The verse continues the imagery of verse 22: The law was/is a jailor or a guard. There is but one way of escape—faith, and by extension the entire system that Christ brought—and all other avenues are cut off. By defining what is right and wrong, moral and immoral, the codified law shows man that there is but one solution: Not to do away with the law but to follow the path that Christ revealed and made possible.

It is sin that keeps us confined in a state of misery; sin represents the shackles of bondage and captivity. The law is merely the warden that shows why we are in bondage—the law itself is not bondage. It reveals to us why we are separated from God, and how we fail to live up to His standard. If this system were confined to just the elements of sin, man's sinful nature, and the codified law, mankind would be forever imprisoned because he would continually sin, and the law would continually condemn him—and keep him from his full potential.

With the introduction of faith in Jesus Christ, a way of escape from this perpetual cycle opens up: Through a relationship with God, our sins are forgiven, and we receive a portion of the same Spirit as the Lawmaker. The law is not done away with, but we are given the tools and the means to begin living as God does through the justification and sanctification processes. The law is also not the end or the goal. As we get closer to the goal (glorification—eternal life with God), we will exhibit more and more of the fruits that demonstrate the way God lives, behaves, interacts, etc., which are the intent behind the codified law.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 3:29   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The apostle directs our understanding of Abraham's offspring away from the usual biological definition and toward one pivoting around a relationship with Christ. A few verses earlier, he shows that faith is the crucial substance (see Hebrews 11:1) of that relationship: "Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham" (Galatians 3:7).

Operatively, then, "the faith of Christ" (Galatians 2:16, KJV), not a faith we inflame within ourselves, is the source—we could even say, the functional cause—of our spiritual kinship with Abraham. Through our exercise of Christ's faith in us, we become Abraham's children. Regardless of lineage, we are not his spiritual children by birth. For the purposes of spiritual salvation, reconciliation with God by the faith of Jesus Christ renders irrelevant the genetic, national, social, and gender differences among Homo sapiens (see Galatians 3:26-29).

Thus, the apostle stresses the importance of faith over genealogy. Israel, from God's viewpoint, is first and foremost a spiritual entity, a nation and people (I Peter 2:9) of faith, and only secondarily—subordinately—a physical or natural entity.

Charles Whitaker
Servant of God, Act II: God's Gift of Faith


 

Galatians 3:29   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Abraham is the father of the physical nation God elected to work in and through, and he is also the father of those He calls to be part of His forming spiritual nation. Appreciating Abraham as the father of the physical nation is easy, but seeing him as father of the spiritual nation is not so simple, as we are more apt to think that, because God begets us, He is our spiritual Father. We must therefore see Abraham's spiritual fatherhood in a different light.

The Jews of Jesus' day did not grasp Abraham's spiritual fatherhood correctly. Jesus gives the answer to this perplexing title in John 8, where a great deal of the dialogue involves ancestry.

"And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me. . . . I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me." They said to Him, 'Where is Your Father?" Jesus answered, "You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also." . . . Then Jesus said to them, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him." (verses 16, 18-19, 28-29)

Abraham's spiritual fatherhood soon becomes the focus of Jesus' instruction:

They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, 'You will be made free'?" . . . "I know that you are Abraham's descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father." They answered and said to Him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this." (John 8:33, 37-40)

Members of the same family bear a likeness to one another. It is this principle that designates who is a spiritual child of Abraham. It is not a matter of physical resemblance but a similarity of moral and spiritual attitude and behavior. Christ designates that resemblance to be believing God as Abraham did, as well as doing the works that he did. In the larger picture, a spiritual descendant of Abraham will grow and overcome, gradually changing into the spiritual image of Jesus Christ.

The factor that set Abraham apart above all others was that faith drove, motivated, inspired, and guided—sometimes dramatically—what he did with his life. Thus, Abraham is not only the physical progenitor of Israelites but also the spiritual, moral pattern that his descendants are to conform to.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Six)


 

Galatians 5:17   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Sometimes we seem to consist of a whole clamorous mob of desires, like week-old kittens, blind of eye with mouths wide open, mewing to be satisfied. It is as if two voices are in us, arguing, "You shall, you shall not. You ought, you ought not." Does not God want us to set a will above these appetites that cannot be bribed, a reason that cannot be deceived, and a conscience that will be true to God and His standards? We must either control ourselves using the courage, power, and love of God's Spirit, or we will fall to pieces.

Adam and Eve established the pattern for mankind in the Garden of Eden. All of us have followed it, and then, conscience-smitten, we rankle under feelings of weakness. They were tempted by the subtle persuasions of Satan and the appeals of their own appetites for forbidden fruit that looked so good. To this they succumbed, and they sinned, bringing upon themselves the death penalty and much more evil besides. What is the use of appealing to men who cannot govern themselves, whose very disease is that they cannot, whose conscience cries out often both before and after they have done wrong, "Who shall deliver me from this body of death?" It is useless to tell a king whose subjects have overthrown him to rule his kingdom. His kingdom is in full revolt, and he has no soldiers behind him. He is a monarch with no power.

A certain Bishop Butler said, "If conscience had power, as it has authority, it would govern the world." Authority without power is nothing but vanity. Conscience has the authority to guide or accuse, but what good is it if the will is so enfeebled that the passions and desires get the bit between their teeth, trample the conscience, and gallop headlong to the inevitable collision with the ditch?

The solution to this lies in our relationship with Christ:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

This is the only thing that will give us complete self-control, and it will not fail.

In Luke 11:13, Jesus makes this wonderful promise of strength to those who trust Him:

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!

Trust Jesus Christ, and ask Him to govern. Ask Him for more of God's Holy Spirit, and He will help you to control yourself. Remember, II Timothy 1:7 says this is a major reason that He gives us His Spirit. He will not fail in what He has promised because the request fits perfectly into God's purpose of creating sons in His image.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control


 

Ephesians 1:13-14   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This chapter extols the uniqueness of the church, which Paul refers to as "the purchased possession." Israel became God's personal possession through the destruction of Egypt, and more importantly, with the killing of Egypt's firstborn as the price for Israel's liberty. God "purchased" Israel and its liberties by this means.

What we see taking form is a separate and unique people. Even though all mankind owes its existence to God as their Creator, Israel and the church are both separate and unique because they belong to God in a way other people and nations do not. Amos 3:2 declares, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth." God purchased these people at awesome cost and thus came into possession of them.

When Israel became His property, it gave them certain liberties. So it is with us, but we receive more besides. Among other things regarding the uniqueness of the church, Paul explains that its members have been set apart (redeemed and freed from the rest of mankind and its ways) and sealed through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The term sealed is important because it embraces, not only the sense of ownership, but also security and guarantee. Individual seals were unique, used on documents to identify the sender and to render the content secure from prying eyes and theft, and so they were a guarantee that the contents would reach the intended destination.

God's children may look no different on the outside, but they have been given something inside, something spiritual, that makes them different from others and special to God. They are different only because of something God has done, which also makes them His personal, treasured possession.

John 1:12-13 declares, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name: who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." That "something" is the right or power (KJV) to believe the Word of God, which opens our minds and imparts to us the knowledge of God and His purpose, faith, the fear of God, the love of God, and so much more.

Billions of people have access to the Bible. They read it and may even attend church and call themselves Christian, but they then ignore and disobey huge amounts of it, thus not living by every Word of God. This is actual evidence that those who are part of God's special treasure do indeed possess something that sets them apart and motivates them to obey more completely.

Deuteronomy 7:6 begins a section that reveals one of the major reasons why God has done this. "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth." Segullah appears again as "special treasure," but along with segullah is another, more familiar term that identifies being a special treasure as an aspect of a larger subject: the blessings and responsibilities of holiness.

Holy literally means "set apart." Being a special treasure has set us apart from other people. Others, without this advantage, are not set apart. When this principle from the Old Testament is combined with Ephesians 1:13-14, we can understand that the blessing of having the Spirit of God makes us special, different, and holy (Romans 8:9).

This occurs because, in God's self-revelation, His Spirit imparts faith and the love of God beyond what the natural mind is capable. It is becoming clear that being blessed as a special, holy people imposes responsibilities on us that we are required—indeed commanded—to meet. The standards within this relationship are high, requiring gifts and growth to meet them.

John W. Ritenbaugh
A Priceless Gift


 

Ephesians 2:1-3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

From the time we were born, Satan began to inject us with his mind, thoughts, ways, attitudes, and purposes, so by the time that God gets to us—but in God's good time He calls us and begins to convert us—we are in union with Satan. All our lives, he has been broadcasting, and we are in agreement with him. This is what has to be overcome.

Satan is with us always. But we have to understand that nobody, not even God, can take away our right of choice of whom we want to be in union with. When God begins to convert us, He makes us well aware that we have a choice and that we can resist and determine who we want to be united with—God or Satan—just as we can determine in our own lives who we want to be friends with.

We can choose our friends. We can choose, then, the kind of relationships we have with them. We can walk away from them, if they are pulling us down—away from union with God.

Unfortunately, that has to be done sometimes so that we be in union, at one with, the Father. We hope that does not happen very often. Parents know that at times they have tell their children, "We don't want you to hang out with him or her." Why? Because they know that that other kid will pull their children down, so they do not want them in union with him. It is a simple principle.

God has put us into the position where we have the opportunity to use our time and energy to make the choice of whether we will be in union with Him. He leaves the choice to us. It is a tremendous thing that He does this because it produces wonderful effects.

So we are juxtaposed between, on the one hand, God, and on the other hand, Satan. But we are free from Satan because we have the choice of whom we want to be in union with.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part 4)


 

Ephesians 2:12   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Notice two important factors he links to hope in Ephesians 2:12. First, in the time before God called the Ephesian Gentiles into a relationship with Him, they were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise."

The commonwealth of Israel could be either the nation or the church because under the Old Covenant ancient Israel established a relationship with God, received a small measure of His promises, and possessed the hope of the Messiah. However, the primary meaning here is the church; those who have made the New Covenant with God are the Israel of God and a holy nation (Galatians 6:16; I Peter 2:9). The New Covenant contains God's confirmed promises—confirmed in the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah, Christ Jesus.

Being part of ancient Israel under the Old Covenant did not give a person access to many promises that would have given him reason to hope. The Old Covenant promised no forgiveness of sin, no access to God, no promise of the Holy Spirit, and no promise of eternal and everlasting life, all of which we have. We have continuing, never-ending hopes because the New Covenant ensures a continuous relationship. Our relationship necessarily involves the other part of Ephesians 2:12: Before our calling, we were also without God in the world. Our hope is not merely in the fact that we have made a covenant, but more importantly, with whom we made it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Three): Hope


 

Ephesians 2:12   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

One cannot be separated from God any further than this verse describes.

The Bible's general approach to man's estrangement from God is that it is a fact without dispute. It assumes that the separation is there and that there is good reason for it. The separation is obvious from Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden. They and all mankind were now separated from the presence of God, so every biblical writer after picked up on this fact and assumed everybody knew that man is separated from God.

Atonement, therefore, is necessary if God and man are ever going to be brought back together. So the New Testament approach to it is that our disobedience to God's will—what we know as sin—has alienated us from Him, and that it must be somehow remedied if a right relationship is to be restored.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Azazel Goat


 

Ephesians 4:1-3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Notice carefully what Paul names as the reason for making unity and peace: the value we place on our calling. If, in our heart of hearts, we consider it of small value, our conduct, especially toward our brethren, will reveal it and work to produce contention and disunity. Thus John writes, "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" (I John 4:20).

Paul next counsels us to choose to conduct ourselves humbly. Humility is pride's opposite. If pride only produces contention, it follows that humility will work to soothe, calm, heal, and unify. He advises us to cultivate meekness or gentleness, the opposite of the self-assertiveness that our contemporary culture promotes so strongly. Self-assertiveness is competitive determination to press one's will at all costs. This approach may indeed "win" battles over other brethren, but it might be helpful to remember God's counsel in Proverbs 15:1, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." James declares that godly wisdom is "gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy" (James 3:17).

Then Paul counsels that we be patient; likewise, James counsels us to "let patience have its perfect work" (James 1:4). We often want quick resolutions to the irritations between us, which is certainly understandable since we want to get rid of the burden those differences impose. But we must understand that speedy solutions are not always possible. Interestingly, in Paul's letter to the Philippians, he does not use his apostolic authority to drive the two feuding women into a forced solution (Philippians 4:1). Some problems are deeply buried within both sides of the contention, so finally Paul admonishes us to forbear with each other in love. Essentially, he says to "put up with it" or endure it, doing nothing to bring the other party down in the eyes of others and vainly elevate the self. This is peacemaking through living by godly character.

Yet another aspect to the Christian duty of peacemaking is our privilege by prayer to invoke God's mercy upon the world, the church, and individuals we know are having difficulties or whom we perceive God may be punishing. This is one of the sacrifices of righteousness mentioned in relation to Psalm 4:5. The Bible provides many examples of godly people doing this. Abraham prayed for Sodom, Gomorrah, and probably Lot too, when the division between them and God was so great that He had to destroy the cities (Genesis 18:16-33). Moses interceded for Israel before God following the Golden Calf incident (Exodus 33:11-14). Aaron ran through the camp of Israel with a smoking censer (a symbol of the prayers of the saints) following another of Israel's rebellions that greatly disturbed the peace between them and God (Numbers 16:44-50). In each case, God relented to some degree. We will probably never know in this life how much our prayers affect the course of division or how much others—even the wicked—gained as a result of our intercession, but we should find comfort knowing that we have done at least this much toward making peace.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 7: Blessed Are the Peacemakers


 

Ephesians 4:17-32   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Most of us realize that the unity of the church of God courses through the book of Ephesians as a general theme. Paul illustrates the church as a complete body of which Jesus, though in heaven, is the Head, and the elect here on earth comprise the rest of it. Early on, Paul declares how God has planned the organization of His purpose from the very beginning, determining whom He would call, give His Spirit to, and perfect as His children.

In Ephesians 4, the apostle begins to clarify our Christian responsibilities regarding works. He appeals to us in verse 1 to make every effort to live a manner of life that measures up to the magnificence of our high calling. He then makes sure we understand that we must carry out our responsibilities in humility, kindness, and forbearance as we strive to maintain doctrinal accord in purity.

He explains that Christ has given each of us gifts to meet our responsibilities in maintaining the unity of God's church. Foremost among these gifts are teachers who will work to equip us for service in the church and eventually in the Kingdom. This same process will enable us to grow to completion, to mature, no longer wavering in our loyalties, certain in the direction of our lives, and not deceived by the craftiness of men.

With that foundation, the "therefore" in verse 17 draws our focus to the practical applications necessary to meet the standards of the preceding spiritual concepts. We must not conduct our lives as the unconverted do. They are blinded to these spiritual realities and so conduct life in ignorance, following the lusts of darkened minds.

Because we are being educated by God, the standards of conduct are established by His truths and are therefore exceedingly higher. We must make every effort to throw off the works of carnality and strive to acquire a renewed mind through diligent, continuous effort so that we can be created in the image of God in true righteousness and holiness (verse 24).

In verses 25-29, Paul moves even further from generalities to clear, specific works that we must do. We must speak truth so that we do not injure another through lies, as well as to maintain unity. Because deceit produces distrust, unity cannot be maintained if lying occurs. We must not allow our tempers to flare out of control, for they serve as an open door for Satan to create havoc.

We must be honest, earning our way so that we are prepared to give to others who are in need. We must be careful that what we speak is not only true but also edifying, imparting encouragement, empathy, sympathy, exhortation, and even gentle correction when needed.

In verse 30 is a brief and kind reminder that, in doing our works we must never forget that we owe everything to our indwelling Lord and Master. We must make every effort to be thankful, acknowledging Him as the Source of all gifts and strengths, enabling us to glorify Him through our works.

In the final two verses of the chapter, Paul delineates specific responsibilities concerning our attitudes toward fellow Christians within personal relationships.

This brief overview of just one chapter shows clearly how much works enter into a Christian's life as practical requirements that cannot be passed off as unnecessary. How else will a Christian glorify God? How else will he grow to reflect the image of God? How else will he fulfill God's command to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19) except by faithfully doing those works that lead to life?

Through the whole process of sanctification, the Christian will make constant use of two additional works: daily prayer and Bible study, which must be combined with his efforts to obey God. No one who is careless about performing these works can expect to make progress growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ during sanctification.

Why? Without them, he will have no relationship with either the Father or the Son, and thus will not be enabled to achieve the required works. They are the Source of the powers that make it possible for us to do the works God has ordained. If we do not follow through on these two works, we will surely hear ourselves called "wicked and lazy" and be cast into "outer darkness" where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:24-30).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Four)


 

Ephesians 5:28-33   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

A baby is not born evil. It is most certainly born with a measure of self-centeredness that God pronounced as very good in Genesis 1:31, for some small measure of self-centeredness enables a person to take care of the self.

Understood and controlled, a right measure of self-love provides a foundation for the love of others, which proves beneficial for the giver as well as the receiver. This is especially true in marriage because husband and wife become one flesh; to love one's spouse is to love the self because of this oneness.

It is at least equally true, if not more so, in our relationship with Christ. He is our example. Because of our spiritual oneness with Him, and because we are His body, His loving service of us is the same as loving Himself. This principle works both ways. Our loving service of Him is also the same as loving ourselves. What we see in these two intimate relationships is a practical application and benefit of the Golden Rule—"Do unto others as you would have them do to you"—in operation, with the added benefit to the giver.

The problem with self-love is that, without contact with God throughout life, an individual's innate self-centeredness can easily develop into an extreme and sharply honed sinfulness and evil. Such an egotist gives little thought to loving others as a way of life; he shows little care for others and rarely looks for ways to serve. Without God, life becomes all about the self. The world, established by and built upon selfish human nature, continues to feed its self-absorbed inclinations and cravings.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Two)


 

Philippians 2:12-15   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

These four verses admonish us on what God expects of us as the child in our relationship with Him. It is important for us to understand that "work out your salvation" does not mean work for salvation. It means we must take what God has given us to its logical conclusion. God liberated Israel from Egyptian slavery, but His purpose was not complete until they trekked across the wilderness and possessed the Promised Land. Their liberty came as an act of God's grace, but that same grace required them to meet responsibilities and carry them to their conclusion.

Verse 13 explains that God's grace did not end at the borders of Egypt for them, nor does it end for us once we are justified. He gives us both the motivation and the power to accomplish what His pleasure is for us. But we should understand that He gives us the desire and power to accomplish His will, not our pleasures. This is an excellent principle for parents to apply in motivating their children to respond positively. Children are largely the creations of their parents. If parents expect their children to reach certain goals, they must equip them with the attitudes, skills, and tools necessary to accomplish those aims.

"Fear and trembling" indicates both a deep respect for the Almighty who has called us, as well as a healthy measure of concern for uncertainties about what will be required of us as we proceed along this way. As we spiritually mature, the trials we must work through generally become more difficult, not easier. When the Philippians took up their cross, they did not know for sure what lay ahead, nor do we. For them, it was conflict (Philippians 1:29-30); for Jesus, death (Philippians 2:8); for Paul, martyrdom (Philippians 2:17); for Timothy, costly sacrificial service to the church (Philippians 2:20); and for Epaphroditus, physical illness nearly to death (Philippians 2:27).

Of course, these things are far more serious than a child's responsibility to put his room in order, but we must consider if God is fair in His dealings with man. Is a parent fair in charging his children with responsibilities to carry out around the house?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Seven


 

Philippians 3:18-19   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Paul writes in Philippians 3:18-19 that gluttons tend to concentrate on physical things, neglecting their spiritual relationship with God.

We may think such idolatry is rare among us, but the apostle says there are "many . . . whose god is their belly," their appetites, their physical senses. They break the first commandment, "You shall have no other gods before me," because their desire becomes a higher priority than their Creator and Sustainer. Gluttony breaks the rest of the commandments as well:

The second, when we serve or relinquish control to our physical desires. Colossians 3:5 says, "Therefore put to death your members which are on earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." We "bow down" to a false god when we gratify our lusts of the flesh and of the eyes (I John 2:16).

The third, when we fail to uphold God's name—and all that it represents—in glory and honor. Many call themselves Christians and claim to follow Christ, but lack the holy character God wants us to have (I Peter 2:5, 9). Is "Glutton" the name God wants His holy people to have? I Peter 1:15 answers, "He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct."

The fourth, when we use the Sabbath, a feast day, to crave and overeat. Sometimes we do this under the assumption that, since we are fellowshipping, we can eat excessive amounts. Eating or drinking too much is seeking our own pleasure, which Isaiah 58:13-14 warns against in the context of the Sabbath:

If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the LORD. . . .

The fifth, when we do not wisely use the many years of support and training we received from our parents. A child of any age who does not have self-control is a worry and an embarrassment to his parents. The glutton, abusing his body with excessive food, may not live even as long as his parents, fulfilling the inverse of the commandment's promise.

The sixth, by systematically and continually destroying the body and mind that God has given into our care. It is slow suicide. If parents are gluttons, they teach their children to do the same, thereby eventually killing them as well. Since our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19), to destroy it knowingly is sin.

The seventh, when we over-eat, over-buy, over-accumulate as a "get" way of life. Our way of life is our religion, and if it is a lifestyle of excessive desire, our religion is in competition with God's way of life. This, in effect, is spiritual adultery, as seen in Jeremiah 3:6-10. God says in verse 9, "So it came to pass, through [Judah's] casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees." These idols, worshipped on the high places, became the object of Judah's excessive desire, just as food, drink, or any material thing can be.

The eighth, when we take more than what is balanced and needful, thus more than God has given. In addition, by hoarding for ourselves we steal from others. Certainly, when there are people without enough, for us to consume more than we need is wrong (Proverbs 22:9; 11:24-26). A society that over-consumes at the expense of others is, at the very least, greedy. Wastefulness is a by-product of gluttony, and Americans no longer live by sayings like, "Waste not, want not!" We live in a careless, throw-away society, but the day will come when this gluttonous nation will lose everything and be taken into captivity. Proverbs 23:21 predicts, "For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty."

The ninth, when we are gluttonous while calling ourselves Christians. This is a lie and hypocritical, misrepresenting God. Commonly, gluttons blame a thyroid problem or claim it is a disease, thereby relinquishing responsibility. If this is not true, it is a lie. It is also a lie if we think that giving into excessive desire will not hurt us. God speaks of such self-deception in Jeremiah 7:8-10:

Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, "We are delivered to do all these abominations"?

The tenth, when we are not satisfied with what we have and desire the possessions of others. A glutton wants even more than he has. Children must be taught not to want the biggest piece of cake or the most ice cream. Solomon had one wife, then he wanted another and another and another until he had hundreds. Solomon was a glutton, which his power and wealth made easier.

As James says, if we break one commandment, we break them all (James 2:10). With gluttony, we can specifically break each one. It is not a trivial matter!

Martin G. Collins
Gluttony: A Lack of Self-Control (Part Two)


 

Philippians 4:12-13   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Be aware, be warned, and be exhorted that, if we have any desire to overcome faults, if we sincerely desire to be in God's Kingdom, if we desire to be like God and glorify Him, we need to protect our relationship with Him. He is the Source of the power to do all things, even to grow while also enduring these intense times. Paul is saying that he knows how to discipline himself and thus keep on track in every circumstance of life. By this time in Paul's life, he had the skills required for making the best of every situation.

He is not suggesting that he did this alone through mere human discipline and skill that anybody can achieve, but that he was enabled because of his faithful relationship with Christ. The real dynamic is that Christ has the power, and it was He who faithfully enabled Paul. The apostle's skills, which enabled him to accomplish things that pleased God, were spiritual.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Power Belongs to God (Part One)


 

Colossians 3:22-25   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Is God involved in our lives? Paul is bringing the example of Christ, and His attitude toward those who were in authority, all the way down to an employment level. In Ephesians 5:21, he brought it down to a relationship within a congregation. But in both cases, the submitting was done out of respect for God—not because the authority was great, not because the person was a better man or woman—in fact, it had nothing whatever to do with the character of the person in authority.

Our submission has everything to do with our relationship to God, what we know of Him, and the purpose He is working out. The biblical definition of submission is clear. This instruction is in perfect harmony with Romans 12 where he says, "Live with all men in peace," as well as, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay!"

Submission is an act of faith. It has nothing at all to do with the quality of character of the person to whom we are submitting. It does not matter whether he is a good or a bad guy. It does not matter whether or not we feel what he is doing is unjust. It may be very unjust—as the taking of Christ's life was very unjust. But Christ submitted to whatever God permitted—out of fear, out of respect, out of faith that God had Him in His hands and nothing would happen before its time. He knew God was concerned about the outcome of His life.

So then, biblical submission is respecting divinely appointed authority out of respect for Christ.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Submitting (Part 1)


 

1 Timothy 2:1   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

"Intercession" is exactly the same Greek word as is translated "prayer" in I Timothy 4:5. It has an interesting etymology that instructs us on an important aspect of prayer. The word, a verb, is entugchanein.

It began to appear in Greek centuries before Christ, meaning simply "to meet a person," as if a person would meet another along the way. However, through the centuries, the word took on a somewhat different meaning. Eventually, it meant, not just "to meet," but "to meet and converse." This is natural because, if a person falls in with another along the way, he usually does not ignore the other but strikes up a conversation.

Then, as time went by, it began to take on yet a different meaning: "to have intimate fellowship with the person." To this point, the word describes how to have a right approach to God. In practical fact, it illustrates that we are not conversing with God from a distance. We are so intimately associated with Him that we are His children. This word is describing an intimate family relationship. God is not way off on the top of a mountain somewhere. Even as early as Deuteronomy 30:14, He says, "The word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart"!

If we are going to have the right kind of fellowship and relationship with God in prayer, we have to understand that we are in His very presence. Looking at this humanly and physically, this is how He can rub off on us. We are in His fellowship, in His presence. He is not far off. When Christ gave His life for us, the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom, symbolizing that access to God was completely open to Him, and now we have this same access to the Father through Christ. We are right before His throne when we are talking to Him.

However, entugchanein continued to change. The change shows up in the noun form of the word, enteuxis, meaning "a petition to a king." It can be used in the sense of the king summoning someone into his presence or of someone presenting a request to the king. Putting these together, it sugests that we have "intimate access to petition the king." We do not have intimate fellowship with just anybody, but to the King of all the universe!

We have both privilege and power in prayer. This is where the concept "the power of prayer" comes from. Because we have the privilege to come before the King in intimate fellowship, we have access to His power. It is not that prayer itself has the power, but that we have access to the One who has the power.

This means we have to be extra careful what we ask God: He may give us what we ask, and we will be sorry. Mighty forces can be unleashed when we ask God for things. God's people have a responsibility to ask of Him things that are according to His will.

As a tool, prayer is to be used to accomplish a wide variety of things within God's purpose. It is to be used in regard to the things of this life. God wants us to pray about this life, as in supplying our daily need. However, He will primarily use it, not for this life, but for His eternal purpose, reproducing Himself and creating His holiness in us. His purpose is in preparing us for the Kingdom of God.

So be warned that His purpose will supersede ours when we pray.

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is Prayer?


 

2 Timothy 3:4-5   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Paul uses these phrases as an overall assessment of the cause of the horrible conduct he describes. The root cause is that a true relationship with God is missing. Despite having some knowledge of God, people are not living by faith. They are ignoring Him and feel free to pursue their own desires, on which they place a higher priority than on what God says. Their pleasure is what they desire in terms of conduct, and the behaviors that Paul lists reveal the lack of godly fear. He is simply not an all-the-time reality to them.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Sovereignty


 

Titus 1:13-16   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

He begins by accusing the Cretans, but then he mentions Jewish fables, and the Jews, too, become part of those he is accusing. It may be that the Cretans of whom Paul speaks may have actually been ethnic Jews who had had contact with persecuting Jews from outside Crete.

What is he accusing these people of? Of a practice that follows the Israelitish people in every age: believing that God indeed exists but showing by their conduct that they do not truly believe Him. He charges them with exposing in their behavior that they do not believe that they are truly, personally answerable to the sovereign God. In other words, they do not fear Him. The reality of what God truly is and requires has not affected them enough to make a difference in how they live their lives in actual day-to-day practice.

Since we live within this environment, it brings up a question for us to resolve: How can we live by faith if we do not have sufficient knowledge of the greatness, the closeness, and the awesome grace of God shown in the mercy He has already given? It is this mercy that allows us to begin even the barest of a relationship with Him, build on it, and come to know Him and fear Him.

A recent Barna poll revealed that over 80% of Americans believe God exists, but that belief has little influence on their conduct. Just about anything goes in this nation anymore. The great immorality of the American people reveals that they are not very concerned about being answerable to Him. Considering what has happened in Israel's history, should we not be concerned about what this might lead to in the near future?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part One)


 

Hebrews 2:1   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We have all heard of couples, supposedly in love, who have drifted apart. It is not that either one or the other intended to drift away, but it happened because maybe one or both were not paying attention to the relationship. Something else had grabbed the interest of one or the other, or both, so they began to drift apart.

John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ


 

Hebrews 4:1-2   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Israel failed because they did not accept what they heard in faith. Therefore they did not submit in obedience to God. They never came to love Him or to know Him. Those with the greatest faith are the ones who know God best because they are continually working to develop their relationship with Him by talking with Him, letting Him talk to us through study, yielding to Him, and living in conformity to His way.

That is what Enoch did, which is why he stood out. There is something interesting about Enoch that might be noteworthy to us living in the end time. On the heels of the fact that he walked with God, the writer adds that "God took him, and he was not." Could this be an indicator of who will be taken to the Place of Safety? Enoch was taken away from trouble that he should not see the kind of violent death that otherwise would have come upon him. God rescued him from it and placed him in another area, and he lived out his life in peace, dying a normal death.

Is faith important to Passover? It may be that it is the single most important aspect to Passover, because everything else is built upon, founded upon, and anchored to our faith in God and the depth of our relationship with Him. Israel knew that God existed, but that knowledge never carried through into their daily life in living trust. It was "business as usual," even though they were separated from Egypt, and thus it is clear why Israel failed. There is a direct connection between knowing God and submitting to Him, because to know Him is to love Him, and we submit to those we love.

John W. Ritenbaugh
A Pre-Passover Look


 

Hebrews 9:15-17   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Christ did this so that we can serve God. Thus, in order for us to serve God personally, we must be close to Him. Sin separates! What does sin do to relationships, either with humans or with God? It divides. When a person steals from another, do they become closer? If a spouse commits adultery, does that bring a married couple closer? No, it drives them apart. If a person covets something belonging to another person, does their relationship blossom? Sin separates.

Above all, it separates us from God. How can we be close to Him as long as we are sinning? Something had to be done, first of all, to bridge the gap: The sins had to be forgiven. Therefore, Jesus Christ, when He qualified by being blameless, voluntarily offered Himself to be the sacrifice that would overcome the division.

Before He did this, knowing He would die, He made out a will. He said, "When I die, those who take advantage of My death will inherit what I have inherited." The inheritance is to be in His Family! With it goes all the other promises: the promises of the Holy Spirit, eternal life, all the gifts, continual forgiveness, etc.

Whatever is needed, He will supply it. He will continue to stand between God and us, for a priest is one who bridges the gap between different parties to bring them together. He is saying, "When I am resurrected, I will always stand in the gap and be there when you need Me, and I will administer the Spirit of God."

Being brought close to God not only enables us to serve Him, it also enables the Father to serve us. Because we are in His presence, He can distribute to us the gifts than enable us to continue. Christ, then, is shown to be the Sacrifice for forgiveness of sin; the Mediator of peace between God and us; the Testator who died, passing on the benefits to us. These benefits work to remove the flaw, allowing us to keep the terms of the New Covenant.

We can then have a sustained and wonderful relationship with God. We can have His laws written on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10) and so be transformed into His image, qualified to share the inheritance of the promises with Him because we are like Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace and Law (Part 13)


 

Hebrews 10:19-22   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Praying to the Father, through Jesus Christ, brings us into the presence of the most holy, positive, righteous, peaceful, serving, giving, humble, merciful, and unchanging attitudes and character that exist in the entire universe! The notes at Psalm 16:11 demonstrate a simplified effect of this in how the attitudes of people we spend time with affect us. Whether that person's attitude is positive or negative, unless we resist or our attitude is strong, our attitude tends to echo the strength of the other's attitudes. If the other is personally close to us—especially if we deem the relationship important to us—the effect of the transfer of attitudes intensifies. Similarly, physical nearness also intensifies the effect.

This is why men reflect Satan's spirit. Satan "broadcasts" it over our entire environment here on earth, thus, we are always "near" it. In fact, God has willed that at this time it will have no strong competition among the unconverted. Even we cannot entirely escape its influence; even when in God's presence, we can bring that spirit with us.

Notice that Hebrews 10:22 says, "[L]et us draw near. . . ." Nearness enhances the transfer of the qualities of God's Spirit, and He greatly desires we have these qualities because they will make us like Him. Being in His presence is a primary way this is accomplished. This is why a person can leave God's presence in prayer at peace, full of joy, or filled with confidence—or on the other hand, chastened, having been led to remorse and repentance. Drawing near to God has little to do with distance and everything to do with deepening our relationship with Him. As this occurs, prayer begins to change things—us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Nine


 

Hebrews 10:22-24   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The first thing Paul lays out in this transition is a three-step trigger to prime the Hebrew Christians' latent memories so they will be armed with foundational incentives to rouse themselves spiritually and start moving forward. In verses 22-24, he makes three exhortations.

First, "let us draw near." In other words, get moving! He says, "Take advantage of this privilege of coming before God, and believe without doubting, knowing your sins are forgiven and remembering that God is faithful and merciful to forgive." Recall that in the performance of their duties, the priests had to wash their hands and feet before entering the holy place. This is why Paul mentions water. He is alluding to the Hebrews' need to become clean. He urges them to repent of their lackadaisical attitudes and to meet with their Maker in prayer.

Second, he commands them to "hold fast your profession." Paul uses a similar phrase five times before this. Apparently, lackadaisical drifting was a particularly common problem for them. He wants them to show by their conduct that they believe in what God has promised in the resurrection from the dead. In short, he advises, "Remember your conviction in the awesome hope of our calling." These people were allowing the world to get them down; they were succumbing to a "what's the use" resignation. They were not busy confirming their souls. Paul exhorts them to continue, to persevere in the grace God had already shown them, not wanting them to waste it by failing to look ahead and be persistent. He presses them to yield to God and to allow themselves to be reassured that He is faithful to His promises.

Pay special attention to the third exhortation in verse 24. The word "consider" is very emphatic. He urges them to think upon and to strive for unity by giving conscientious care to each other. He wants the Hebrews to give special attention to their brethren's circumstances, trials, temptations, weaknesses, and needs. They need to "fire each other up" to promote love for God and for each other and to carry out our common responsibilities. Christians do this by setting a good example, by occasional suitable exhortations, by acts of kindness, and by expressions of appreciation.

Notice that as this exhortation begins, Paul calls upon the "big three" Christian virtues: faith, hope, and love. These would form the foundation of what the Hebrews must do if they were to reverse their slide toward the Lake of Fire. These virtues must be implemented because they affect the quality of a person's relationship with God. Because a Christian has God's Spirit, these virtues are already part of him. However, each individual must himself choose to use them to turn his life around; no one can do this for another. Of course, it is understood that God is always there to help a person do this.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Power: Our Shield Against Apostasy


 

Hebrews 10:24-25   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The New Testament stresses that Christians need the fellowship of others of like mind. An identifying mark of the true church is that the members have love for one another (John 13:35). Indeed, one of the criteria by which Christ will judge us is how we treat our brethren in the church (Matthew 25:31-46). How can we love and serve one another if we do not fellowship with and get to know each other?

God has given us ample instruction regarding how we should relate to other Christians. It is His purpose to teach us how to get along with each other so we can teach others about these things in the Millennium. We are to be unselfish and concerned for the needs of others (Philippians 2:4). God wants us to learn patience and forgiveness (Colossians 3:13), striving to be "kindly affectionate," humble, and self-effacing in our dealings with one another (Romans 12:10). We should be giving and hospitable to our brethren (verse 13).

The New Testament is replete with various admonitions on how we should interact with our brothers and sisters in the church. Obviously, God views our interaction with other Christians as vital to our training to become members of the God Family and qualifying for a position in His Kingdom. He wants us to develop interpersonal skills that equip us to deal with occasional differences of opinion and offenses.

Our fellowship should be a source of encouragement to one another. We should use this time to show love to our brethren and to motivate them to perform acts of kindness and service for others. All of these exhortations show a clear need for us to be part of an organization of God's people. God's Sabbath service is like a weekly training school for Christians. The spiritual food that God's true ministers prepare for us is vitally important for our spiritual growth and development. In discussing the relationship of the ministry to the church member, Paul explains that the ministry is given

for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-13)

The interaction that we have with one another when we fellowship at church services helps us to develop the fruit of God's Spirit—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Paul shows that the church is truly Christ's body, and like the human body, each part depends upon the other parts.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
For the Perfecting of the Saints


 

Hebrews 10:25   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together - The Revised English Bible renders this verse: "We should not stay away from our meetings, as some do, but rather encourage one another, all the more because we see the day of the Lord drawing near." Since the New Testament church observed the Sabbath, it is evident that Paul is saying, "We need to be attending church services, especially since the end is coming soon!"

A good friend of mine and I were talking about how the church keeps the Sabbath. He commented that, generally, church members baptized before the mid-1970s seem to have a greater zeal for making sure they always get to services on the Sabbath than those baptized later.

This may or may not be true, but there does seem to be a trend not to consider assembling on the Sabbath as important as it used to be. In the past, we would never think of missing church services to attend a wedding or visit with family coming into town. We would never stay home because we were tired. When someone became ill, the whole family did not stay at home; we thought that everyone else should still go or at the very least one of us should represent the family at church. Since it was the most important event of the week, we would always plan to be at services, even if we "ruffled the feathers" of relatives or neighbors.

We obediently honor God in coming before Him at services. Each Sabbath is to be "a holy convocation" (Leviticus 23:3), meaning we are "called together" to worship Him. In a way, it is like a weekly Family reunion to pay homage to our Father, and in turn, He instructs us further in His way of life.

In addition, we partially fulfill some of the elements discussed in Hebrews 10:22-24. The Sabbath allows us to draw near to God and strengthen our faith. It helps us to hold fast our belief in doctrine through the messages we hear. And through fellowship with the brethren, assembling on the Sabbath enables us to know and consider others' needs, showing us how we may aid them.

Are there reasons to stay home on the Sabbath? Of course. Personal or family sickness, as when a child is ill. Business trips and family vacations will interfere occasionally with attending services, but we can take tapes or articles and booklets. We may have put in an especially difficult, exhausting week, but even here, we can plan and prioritize to avoid these situations so we can attend services. In fact, having a difficult week is all the more reason to make sure we make it to Sabbath services.

Our former church affiliation says that keeping the Sabbath is just a tradition, not a law. It is interesting that the only part of the Bible that God did not inspire to be written by a human being is the Ten Commandments. God wrote them Himself with His own finger. He did this because the commandments are His mind, the foundation upon which everything else stands. Thus, the keeping of the Sabbath is not a "tradition." It is a direct, eternally binding command of God, and thus we should do all we can never to forsake the assembling of ourselves on it.

John O. Reid
Contend Earnestly


 

Hebrews 10:32   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This was written to the Ephesian era of the church (Revelation 2:1-7), which lost its first love. But when the people were in the bloom of their first love, were they enthusiastic! They put everything into the relationship. They yielded themselves to God. They were obedient and submissive. They were in no way neglecting the relationship.

Yet, even though these people made such a great start, it was possible for their relationship with God to deteriorate. The evidence is in Revelation 2 and in the book of Hebrews. They allowed the relationship to degenerate through neglect.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Conviction and Moses


 

Hebrews 10:33-35   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

In the past these people had been deeply convicted, but because they were not doing the things necessary for maintaining and building a relationship with God, they lost what they had. Part of the reason Hebrews is in the Bible is to remind Christians what can happen to someone who does not maintain his part of the relationship.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Conviction and Moses


 

Hebrews 11:1   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

In the phrase "faith is the substance of things hoped for," Paul is not really defining what faith is, but rather he is showing what faith does in an operative sense: Faith undergirds what we hope for. Substance means "that which stands under." Faith is the foundation for what we hope, the foundation for our relationship with God and everything that it implies within His purpose. Faith is the very beginning of everything that really matters spiritually.

By saying that it is the "evidence" or "assurance" (the word can literally be translated "title deed," but "assurance" seems to be the best all-around word) of things hoped for, the author comes much closer to defining what faith is. In its simplest form, faith is merely belief. As our understanding becomes more complex and operative, when we begin to put faith to work, it becomes "confidence," and finally, in its best form, when it becomes fully operational, it is "trust." This trust, this full measure of faith, is alive and works within our relationship with God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
A Pre-Passover Look


 

Hebrews 11:5   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Nearly fifty times in the New Testament, walking is used as a metaphor to describe how we live our daily lives. These numerous references signify just how important this concept is to God. For instance, Paul exhorts us to make our walk a worthy one (Colossians 1:10), one accomplished by faith and not sight (II Corinthians 5:7).

Enoch walked with God for 300 years (Genesis 5:22, 24). For three centuries, Enoch included God in every aspect of his life. In other words, wherever Enoch was, God was. In life, they were inseparable partners. We can please God as Enoch did by following his example.

How do we include God in every aspect of our lives as Enoch did in such an exemplary way? How do we ensure that God is wherever we are? Striving to pray always accomplishes both. It is a major element in walking with God.

How do we compare to Enoch's example? Can God say of us what He says about Enoch, that He is a partner in every aspect of our lives? Rather than running from God as a Laodicean would, Enoch wanted God to be present and involved in his life. He willingly and without fear subjected himself to God's minute evaluation and examination because of their intimate relationship developed through time and contact.

Enoch's walk with God is an example of a life lived with true dedication, and it can be the same for us. Praying always clearly demonstrates the true intent of the heart and our true dedication to God. The first Great Commandment is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:36-38). Because it is first, we will probably be evaluated on it most thoroughly. Praying always demonstrates our desire to comply with it.

Pat Higgins
Praying Always (Part Five)


 

Hebrews 11:6   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Because faith is indispensable to a good relationship with God, its importance cannot be overemphasized. But notice the condition in this verse. It does not say that God is the rewarder of everyone but "of those who diligently seek Him." Living faith is direct; it has its foundation in diligently, actively, consistently, zealously seeking Him in study and prayer and in conforming to His will. Those who are doing these things are encouraged that they will be rewarded. The reward is to find Him. This, in turn, increases faith.

The biblical word "faith" is most synonymous with the English word "trust." "Faith" can be a mere agreement with a cold, hard fact. This is fine as far as it goes, but it loses a great deal of meaning when we consider that this One with whom we are dealing is a warm, dynamic, powerful, loving Personality. Biblical faith, trust, is firm. It is faith in full flower, acting consciously and with agreeable feeling - we might call it "conviction."

This faith is not done coldly and calculatedly - simply because a thing is right. It is not done with a "perhaps" or a "maybe," but with joy and with firm conviction, with a consciousness that one is in agreement with this dynamic and loving personality. We should be aware of our unity with Him just as we are aware of our sense of touch - our strongest sense in terms of evoking emotion: consider a punch in the nose compared to a kiss. But faith, trust, is sensitive in the same way. It is conscious of the things of God; it sees God. In addition, faith not only evokes the hard, cold facts (it has "a remembrance of truth"), but also responds emotionally to a wonderful, dynamic, gracious, and powerful Personality, who is our Friend.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Fervency


 

Hebrews 11:6   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Notice that Hebrews 11:6 reads, "he who comes to God," and I Peter 2:3-4 uses a similar phrase. "Coming to God" means that one approaches nearer to God, seeks Him, or he walks with Him. It signifies fellowship with Him.

The Bible shows three stages of coming to God. The first is at God's calling when one begins to draw near. It results in justification and the imputing of Christ's righteousness. The second is more continuous, occurring during sanctification, as a person seeks to be like God, conform to His image, and have His laws written, engraved, into his character. The third stage occurs at the resurrection when the individual is glorified.

John 6:44 clarifies our first coming to God: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day." Nobody comes to God, no one seeks the God of the Bible, until he becomes aware of his need of Him. Nobody comes to God until he realizes he is far from Him and out of His favor—in fact, he is under God's condemnation and separated from the quality of life called in the Bible "eternal life." God reveals a measure of these things through His calling.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates this (Luke 15:14-19). The son did not return or draw near to his father until he was aware of his need. This sense of need motivates us to seek God and draw near to Him. This sense of need is a gift of God's grace working on a person's mind and is initially given when God summons the individual to approach Him.

Ephesians 4:17-24 covers the second "coming to God":

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness on their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ. If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Verse 30 adds an instructive, albeit sobering, thought: "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." The Holy Spirit mentioned here is God Himself, who is hurt, sorrowed, by our sinful neglect of His gift. Once He bestows this sense of need, it is a continuous impulse unless we stifle it by neglecting to follow through, as those in the book of Hebrews were doing.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)


 

Hebrews 11:6   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We are responsible for maintaining our fellowship with Him by doing the works that He has appointed for us to do. For instance, there must be continuous exercise of prayer, study into His Word, and seeking to be like Him. We seek Him because we grow to admire—indeed respect—His love and character, appreciate the purpose He has brought into our lives, desire His merciful forgiveness, and realize He is our Benefactor in every aspect of life. However, we must do all of these things in faith.

Notice Paul's counsel in II Corinthians 5:7: "For we walk by faith, not by sight." Like life, walking is a continuous process. Thus, when Hebrews 11:6 says, "He who comes to Him must believe that He is," it means far more than just assenting to a vague idea of a "First Cause." Under the New Covenant, we are dealing with a living Personality working within His creation.

To walk by faith is a practical responsibility. It results from believing in His character and His works as revealed in His Word to the extent that we trust Him and submit to His commands in every area of life. His character is a major reason why we must continue to seek Him: so that our knowledge of Him is continually sharpened and refined to inform our imitation of Him in our lives. Otherwise, we will be pursuing a phantom designed by our own imaginations. We need to grasp as much of His transcendent holiness, supreme sovereignty, almighty power, and perfect justice, as well as His abundant mercy and wonderful grace.

Hebrews 11:6 emphasizes that He is a Rewarder, a Benefactor to those who come to Him and consistently walk with Him by faith. He rewards those who, as a way of life, seek Him in anticipation of His treating them with patient, respectful kindness, even abundance, as He works to create us in the image of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 11:5-7 balances reward with duty. Together, these verses show that, to be rewarded, we must walk with Him and seek Him. Walking and seeking are where "works" come into play, troubling those who believe in the incomplete Eternal Security doctrine.

In summary, walking with God and seeking Him by faith require keeping God in mind combined with making the efforts of obedience and any sacrifices of time, energy, and rejection by worldly family, friends, and business associates. Nevertheless, these result in being rewarded by God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)


 

Hebrews 11:17-19   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Notice our example of faith, Abraham, the "Father of the Faithful." As Abraham had the knife raised to sacrifice his son, the only evidence he had was the words of God. Abraham could believe God—take Him at His word—or believe all the evidence he could see that the son of promise would die before God fulfilled His promises. Abraham could not "see" what God was going to do. As far as Abraham was concerned, Isaac was dead. The only "evidence" he had that it all would work out was God's words—the promises God made to him.

God also needed evidence. God did not know for sure what was in Abraham's heart (Genesis 22:12) until Abraham made the decision to trust God rather than all the physical evidence around him. The patriarch's actions proved he would walk by faith and not by sight.

To walk is an action. So even the phrase "walk by faith" demonstrates that living faith requires action. Our evidence is God's words. God's evidence is our actions.

We are in the same boat as Abraham. So says Galatians 3:6: "You have exactly the same experience as Abraham. Abraham took God at his word, and that act of faith was accepted as putting him into a right relationship with God" (William Barclay). Just as Abraham had to choose between believing God and believing the circumstances he could see, God also has to put us into exactly the same position. He must find out what is the true intent of our hearts—the depth of our faith. God needs to "know" that we will trust Him, no matter what, before He commits to a permanent, eternal relationship with us.

Pat Higgins
Faith—What Is It?


 

Hebrews 11:27   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This succinct statement illustrates what made the difference between those who succeeded in living by faith and entered the Promised Land and those who left Egypt but died during the pilgrimage: Those who succeeded "saw" God.

This is perhaps the simplest and clearest explanation of the nature of faith in the entire Bible. Hebrews is written to a group of people undergoing severe trials, and the author encourages and counsels them to persevere through them and remain on track for the Kingdom of God. At this point, Moses is the specific illustration of living by faith. In his relationship with God, he is described as being sustained in perseverance as if he literally saw God with His bodily eyes.

Hebrews 11:1 explains, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." The author is saying that faith is the confident conviction that, like the foundation of a building, stands under and supports a life lived by faith in the invisible God. This brings up an important question: How can a person live by faith if he does not have sufficient knowledge of the sovereign greatness, closeness, and awesome grace of God? In the mercy that He has already given, God has shown enough of Himself to allow us to begin a relationship with Him. Of course, we need more to come to know Him and fear Him as He desires.

A recent Barna poll reported that over 80% of Americans believe God exists. Yet, how is their level of knowledge about Him affecting their conduct? Clearly, it is not supporting moral living to any great extent. This fact triggers the thought that the great immorality of the American people reveals that they are not very concerned about being answerable to Him. They have heard of Him but do not know Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Two)


 

James 3:18   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

For the seed which one day produces the reward which righteousness brings can only be sown when personal relationships are right and by those whose conduct produces such relationships. (James 3:18; William Barclay's Daily Bible Study)

In this verse, James is talking about a social situation. God's purpose - the fruit that He wants from His way of life, the kind of character that He wants in us - has to be produced in peace. It cannot be produced in war.

Why it cannot be produced in war is obvious. When one is involved in war, he is thinking only of himself, which runs 180 degrees counter to God's nature. God's nature is outgoing. When one is engaged in war, all one is seeking to do is to preserve the self. For God's purpose to be fulfilled to the very best degree, peace is required.

The seed, which one day produces the reward that righteousness brings, can only be sown when personal relationships are right, and by those whose conduct will produce such relationships.

Jesus says that peacemakers will be the children of God, not those who butt others aside, aggressively trying to get to the top, asserting themselves, their will, and their ideas in every circumstance, angling to be the big shot. "Out of my way, buddy. That is my beat." Those people, by implication, will not see God.

This is why God will permit a divorce. Does He not say through Paul in I Corinthians 7:15, "If the unbeliever departs, let him depart"? The believer "is not under bondage in such cases" because "God has called us to peace." God will permit a divorce so that a person can be saved due to the subsequent peace. In a family in which a war rages between a husband and wife, it is possible that God may lose both of them.

When those who butt and disturb the flock are present, the flock will not prosper. The shepherd has to ensure that there is peace, freedom from fear from the outside, freedom from tension within, and freedom from aggravation. (We even use the term "bug," which is what insects do to sheep: They irritate them to no end so they cannot gain weight and are discontented.) The shepherd must also make sure there is freedom from hunger - a congregation, a flock, will prosper if it is being well-fed.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 23 (Part 1)


 

1 Peter 3:7   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

A husband should give his wife the impression she is the finest in the land. The apostle links this with our salvation and relationship with God. It is that important!

Staff
A Matter of Honor


 

2 Peter 2:1   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The King James Version calls their heresies damnable, implying that their words—their messages—are destructive to one's faith and relationship with God. "Denying the Lord" does not mean they deny that He lived or died or that He is God, but that their words and conduct are opposed to His fundamental nature. Their lives deny any close contact with Him.

David C. Grabbe
What Is a False Prophet?


 

1 John 1:3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We have fellowship with God, with Jesus Christ, and with one another—all in the same context. This fellowship hinges upon each of us striving to be good as God is good, that is, walking in the light (verse 7).

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 12)


 

1 John 1:3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We have been called into a fellowship—both with Christ and with those who make up His church—to be with Him and in Him, indicating in the church, the Body of Christ.

Physically, we may not have a great deal in common. We may be different nationalities, we may even speak different languages, we may come from somewhat different cultures, but spiritually, we have the same Father and Christ. This unity in God in no way automatically removes the reality of our differences, but because of that commonality—because we agree on the most important things of life—we can walk together and overcome the differences because we love Christ.

John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ


 

1 John 1:7   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

As we grow, God reveals more of His perfection to us, and as He reveals His perfection, His light, His truth, we continue to repent. Knowing better what He is, we go to Him for forgiveness of what we are and what we have done, and He continues to cleanse us by the blood of Jesus Christ, washing our imperfections away.

Everything in the Christian life ultimately comes down to our relationship with God. Without the relationship, without the fellowship that is made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ—which bridges the gap between us and God and enables us to have the relationship—no growth will take place. The practice of walking in the light makes perfect. It is not a matter of changing and cleansing ourselves, but rather that fellowship with God has a transforming and perfecting quality.

We know that "evil communication [company, NKJV] corrupts good manners" (I Corinthians 15:33, KJV). The obverse of this is that wonderful, pure, good communication produces good manners. When we are around evil people, we will pick up their habits and their ways. When we choose as our companions people who have the standards of God and fellowship with them, they will likely rub off on us. We cannot fellowship with anyone better than God. That is the whole purpose of the relationship. When we are around Him, we become like Him, unless we consciously decide to cut ourselves off from Him by rejecting His truth.

It is a wonderful system. Everything hinges on the relationship, on the fellowship, and then ultimately on the response to truth. We cannot afford to allow the carnal nature in us (it is still there even after conversion, as Paul said that sin was still in him; Romans 7:14-25) to gain the upper hand and prevent us from working and building on this relationship.

Leviticus 19:2 tells us that we are to be holy because He is holy, and that is what this fellowship is doing, equipping us for holiness on a day-to-day basis. Maintaining that fellowship is not always easy because of the prejudices that we bring with us due to the traditions of our human cultures. We were once helpless before them, having absorbed what our parents taught us until God opened our minds to the truth. Even now, it takes conscious effort for us to respond to the truth, but if we want to be holy, we must maintain the relationship.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Truth (Part 3)


 

1 John 2:3-6   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This passage helps us understand how we can have the right attitude and emotion in our obedience. We come to know God through the same general process we get to know fellow human beings—by fellowshipping or experiencing life with them.

Around 500 years before Christ, Greek philosophers believed they could come to know God through intellectual reasoning and argument. This idea had a simple premise: that man is curious! They reasoned that it is man's nature to ask questions. Since God made man so, if men asked the right questions and thought them through, they would force God to reveal Himself. The flaw in this is seen in the fruit it produced. Though it supplied a number of right answers, it did not—could not—make men moral beings. Such a process could not change man's nature.

To them, religion became something akin to higher mathematics. It was intense mental activity, yielding intellectual satisfaction but no moral action. Plato and Socrates, for example, saw nothing wrong with homosexuality. The gods of Greek mythology also reflect this immorality, as they had the same weaknesses as human beings.

A few hundred years later, the Greeks pursued becoming one with God through mystery religions. One of their distinctive features was the passion play, which always had the same general theme. A god lived, suffered terribly, died a cruel, unjust death, and then rose to life again. Before being allowed to see the play, an initiate endured a long course of instruction and ascetic discipline. As he progressed in the religion, he was gradually worked into a state of intense expectation.

Then, at the right time, his instructors took him to the passion play, where they orchestrated the environment to heighten the emotional experience: cunning lighting, sensuous music, fragrant incense, and uplifting liturgy. As the story developed, the initiate became so emotionally involved that he identified himself with and believed he shared the god's suffering, victory, and immortality.

But this exercise failed them in coming to know God. Not only did it not change man's nature, but the passion play was also full of lies! The result was not true knowing but feeling. It acted like a religious drug, the effects of which were short-lived. It was an abnormal experience, somewhat like a modern Pentecostal meeting where worshippers pray down the "spirit" and speak in tongues. Such activities are escapes from the realities of ordinary life.

Contrast these Greek methods with the Bible's way of knowing God. Knowledge of God comes, not by speculation or emotionalism, but by God's direct self-revelation. In other words, God Himself initiates our knowing of Him, beginning our relationship by drawing us by His Spirit (John 6:44).

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love


 

1 John 2:10-17   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Remember that John's epistle is written to church members. Therefore, he frames matters in absolute terms, offering no middle ground regarding sin and one's relationships with God and fellow man. It must be this way because this is our one and only opportunity for salvation, and sin was what cut us off from God in the first place, causing us to need salvation. We do not want to fall into that position again. Sin is serious business!

Regarding our moral and spiritual conduct, we must recognize that there is no twilight zone, especially in our relationship with God. A Christian cannot muddle around morally or spiritually, thinking that sin is a rather minor affair. It cost Jesus His life! In this relationship, which is in reality preparation for a marriage, love and loyalty are extremely important.

John spells matters out as either light or darkness, love or hatred, all absolutes. Where love is absent, hatred rules in darkness. Where love prevails, there is light. Through the word "darkness," John is disclosing that, because of the sin or hatred, a lack of love for a brother, the relationship with God declines. Notice in verse 11 that the sin John mentions is against a brother, meaning a fellow church member. Hatred is not a trifling matter! Later, in I John 3:15, John says that one who hates his brother is a murderer. What is the result? A relationship is broken, and communication with the brother ends.

Even more serious, we find that the sin also involves one's relationship with God because the effect of that sin is a measure of spiritual blindness. The hater grows insensitive to or hardened against spiritual truth.

Paul reinforces what John teaches, writing in Hebrews 3:12-13, "Beware brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." He warns that sin has a deceptive quality. It promises so much even before it actually becomes an act of conduct, but it delivers far short of its promise. Its truly sneaky aspect is its powerful tendency to lure us into further sin, enslaving us and hardening our minds against righteousness. In other words, it shares characteristics with drugs in that it is addictive or enslaving, destroying one's well-being.

Herein lies the cause of the apostle John's concern in I John 2. God is the source of spiritual truth (light), and we are sanctified as His children and to His service by it because we believe it. However, under the sin of hating, communication with God begins to break down, and consequently, the sinner puts himself in peril of falling completely away. Notice in I John 2:13-14, John mentions that the fathers - those in the congregation older in the faith - have known the Father. He appeals to them to exercise their longstanding, mature leadership within the congregation in a right manner.

The word "known" ties John's thoughts directly with Jesus' words in John 17:3. Knowing God, having an intimate relationship with Him, is the key to living a life - called "eternal life" - which will be acceptable for living in the Kingdom of God. Hating a brother actually cuts the sinner off from the Source of the gifts and strengths necessary to live that quality of life. In other words, the sinner is not properly using what God has already given him and is showing disloyalty both to God and to another member of the Family.

Beginning in verse 15, John pens three of the more notable verses in his writings. When considered in context, they should be scary stuff for a Christian. Why does he command us not to love the world? Because the sinner's conduct exhibited in his hatred of his brother reveals the source of communication prompting his sin! John exposes the communication to which the hater is responding.

Under no circumstance would God ever communicate the sin of hatred toward a brother. Besides, James confirms that God tempts no one (James 1:13). John is warning that the person's affections are drawing him away from God and toward the world, and he had better do something about it before he slips completely back into the world.

This also connects to John 1:5. "And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." Darkness symbolizes the spiritual blindness of Satan's unconverted world. In the book of Revelation, this blindness is represented by Babylon the Great. Satan's world simply does not get it, that is, spiritual truth. Because it cannot grasp God's truths, the only spirituality the world can ultimately communicate is inducement to sin, which it does insistently and attractively.

This leads us back to God's illustration regarding Adam, Eve, and Satan. Satan is the god of this world (II Corinthians 4:4), and thus its spiritual leader and governing principle. He persuaded Adam and Eve to sin. So the only way we can come out of the world is to reverse the process that placed us in the world in the first place: to stop sinning. One can phrase it more positively as to yield to God's will rather than Satan's or to God's communication rather than this world's.

We could never leave the world on our own. God must mercifully deliver us by calling us. We do not understand the mechanics of what He actually does in our minds, but in calling us, He miraculously does something to begin leading us to think of matters in relation to God with a clarity of understanding and intensity that we never before experienced. It is almost as if we suddenly understood a foreign language.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part Three)


 

1 John 4:20   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We cannot be right with God unless we are also right with men. Make peace quickly; do not let the sun go down on your wrath (Ephesians 4:26). Hatred is sin, and sin separates us from God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part One) (1997)


 

1 John 5:11-13   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Eternal life is more than endless living. It includes fellowship with God and at least beginning to live life as God lives.

When God gave us eternal life, He gave us something unique, a life different from the one we were living before our calling. At that time, we were "dead" in trespasses and sins because we were living a life that produced death. Those still in the world continue to live this kind of life by nature. Do they have fellowship with God? Do they walk with Him as friends because they agree with Him about how to live and to remain at His side endlessly?

Understanding this fellowship aspect is important to understanding eternal life. "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" (Amos 3:3). God created humanity for fellowship, and by nature, we seek it out on many levels. Many find it through hobbies, the arts, politics, intellectual pursuits, social organizations, and sports. The greatest and highest form of fellowship, though, is with God and others who share the common desire to live like God always and whom He is transforming to that end. This fellowship is reserved for those whom God summons.

This means an independent Christian is a contradiction in terms. The Christian church is a community fellowship comparable to a body of which Christ is the Head (I Corinthians 12:12-31). Hebrews 10:25 commands us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Fellowship is not just friendly conversation and geniality. The Bible's writers show plainly it is a tightly knit relationship marked by self-sacrificial love manifested in mutual service, concern, prayer, labor, and helpfulness.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Six): Eternal Life


 

Revelation 2:1-7   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

With Ephesus, we are looking at a people who had not so much drifted from the doctrines but had changed in the way that they respected and applied them. The book of Hebrews was written to the Hebrew people in the first century who were drifting. The Ephesus letter applies directly to them.

Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip away. (Hebrews 2:1)

The letter to Ephesus shows that they had let them slip or were in the process of doing so.

For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him. (Hebrews 2:2-3)

The Ephesians had become neglectful losing their devotion to this way of life. This is a very stern warning: "I will remove your candlestick." He advises them, "Repent. Go back."

One cannot go back to something that he did not previously have. This is a key to our separation from God. It will be a major key in re-unifying us-going back to what we had before: repenting, turning, going back. We must never forget that we are involved in a relationship with a real live Being, and He is not just any being but the One that we are to marry.

Would we want to marry someone who could take us or leave us? That is what happened to these people: They had lost their devotion to the relationship. They still had the doctrines, but their devotion was gone. They did not cherish Him anymore. They did not cherish the relationship, even though they had not walked away from the doctrines. So He says, "Turn. Go back."

It is good to recognize a hopeful sign-that it does not say that they had "lost" their first love but that they had "left" it. The power to love was still residing in them, but they would have to stir themselves up and use it. Love is what one does out of consideration for making the relationship better than it had ever been before. They needed to stir up the Spirit within them and return to the same zeal and devotion that they had shown at the beginning of their conversion.

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 4)


 

Revelation 2:4-5   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

If we love a person, we are glad to be able to consult with him, to seek his tastes and opinions. Why? So we can please him. We act on his advice; we do the things that he approves of. In fact, we will even deny ourselves to meet his wishes and abstain from the things that we know that he dislikes.

Anybody who has gone through a courtship understands this. If we find that the object of our affection does not like the way we do certain things, the colors that we wear in our clothing, the style of our dress, the car we drive, or the same foods we like, what will we do? We will try to conform to him or her as long as it is lawful. If we love that person, we will try to please him or her in any way that we possibly can. But, if we are indifferent to the person, who cares what he or she thinks?

It is easy to see why this love is so important, for love is the mainspring of the right kind of works.

The people who do not love Christ, they are working, active, expending their energies on things that they love, but what they love is not Christ. And because it is not Christ, they do the wrong works.

When we are in love, we will even learn things that we are not naturally inclined toward because we think it will give the other person pleasure. Some guys are nuts over baseball, golf, or whatever sport—perhaps hunting or fishing—and the poor girl will put herself through agony to watch a boring baseball game with him or go golfing, hunting, or fishing with him just to please him because she loves him.

Are we that way with Christ? Do we do what we can, everything we can, denying ourselves or learning new things because we want to please Him? We want to please Him because we love Him. These are areas that we must evaluate ourselves on.

John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ


 

Revelation 2:17   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

If we overcome by the strength of the spiritual manna, we will someday eat of the "hidden manna." As a perpetual reminder of how He took care of them in the wilderness for 40 years, God commanded Moses and Aaron to save some manna in a golden pot placed inside the Ark of the Covenant. The lid of the Ark represents the mercy seat of God's throne. Since Jesus Christ fulfills the type of the manna, this pictures the reward of those who eat and use God's bread every day. A time is coming when they will be one with Christ on His throne, working intimately with Him in the innermost part of His Temple. It pictures us receiving Christ in a very close and rewarding relationship for all eternity, as we feed forever on the empowering and encouraging words of our soon-coming King.

Staff
Have You Had Your Manna Today?


 

Revelation 3:2-3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

One can only have a remainder when he has had a whole previously. Some portion of it is gone.

For many of these people, the relationship is dead. However, He still makes reference to a previous, better condition: "Remember therefore what you have received and heard." It is as if He is recalling something that they had once shared, something that He had given them. They had received it and grasped it, but it was slipping away—to the extent that some of them were dead. The relationship in these cases was broken. Thus, to those who remain, He exhorts them to hold on to what they have been given: "Strengthen the things that remain."

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 4)


 

Revelation 3:2-3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Christ warns these people to take heed because what they have received is about to die in them. Spiritually, they are "dead men walking."

Staff
The Seven Churches: Sardis


 

Revelation 3:2   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God first addresses their "works." While they may still have the truth, their dead works indicate a lack of living faith (James 2:17-20). This indicates a people who perceive themselves to be alive, but who apparently are basically standing still, spiritually catatonic, and comatose. They may exist as stones in the Temple, but not as "living stones" (I Peter 2:5). Perhaps this is why Christ says "not one stone will be left upon another" (Matthew 24:2)!

Staff
The Seven Churches: Sardis


 

Revelation 3:15-16   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Christ admits the truth about them. "I know your works [obedience and service], that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot" (Revelation 3:15). Why does He wish this? Because if they were either cold or hot, they would be useful to Him. Lukewarm Christians send confusing messages. In this state, being useless to Him, He spews them out of His mouth. All the messages to these seven churches highlight works because they are evidence of how Christians conduct their relationships with God. Works reveal the heart. They are a gauge of one's witness and spiritual state.

Metaphorically, what does lukewarmness signify here? To define it to this point, a rough definition might be "that which gives no refreshment, or that which has neither the cleansing properties of hot water nor the refreshing properties of cold." Modern synonyms of the word "lukewarm" give illuminating insights into its use in this letter: lacking ardor, enthusiasm or conviction; moderate; mild; unemotional; halfhearted; hesitant; indecisive; irresolute; uncertain; uncommitted; unresponsive; indifferent; impassive; languid; phlegmatic; apathetic; nonchalant; lackadaisical.

Recall the hallmarks of Babylon: pride, self-glorification, reliance on wealth, satiety, complacency, avoidance of suffering. Although he has the abilities and resources to be a great witness, the Laodicean is complacent, self-satisfied, bored with or indifferent to the real issues of life. For a Christian, the real issues are faith in Christ and our Christian responsibility. And to do the work Christ has called us to, our loyalty and devotion must be to Him, first and foremost!

A problem arises, however, in "spotting" a Laodicean—these qualities do not necessarily show on the outside. Why? Remember Christ describes a spiritual condition. This is a matter of the heart. What does He want to see in him? He wants the Laodicean to get off the fence—to be one way or the other, cold or hot. Conversely, the Laodicean judges that he is balanced, right in the middle. But his concept of balance is skewed. Why will he not move off the middle? He feels he has it good there! If he moves left or right, he fears that he will suffer! Thus, he has no desire to move.

Then what happens? The Laodicean must compromise. This is interesting in light of what the history books record. Ancient Laodicea's main line of defense was conciliation and compromise! Why? Again, the answer lies in the city's inadequate water supply, making it very susceptible to the siege of an invading army. By having its tenuous water supply cut off, the city was at the mercy of its attacker. With no water, it could hold out for only a short while. The Laodicean solution? They became masters of appeasement, accommodation, conciliation, and diplomacy. Peace at any cost! How did they appease? They bought their enemies off! Laodicea used its wealth to conciliate and compromise.

Christ uses the attitude of the surrounding environment to illustrate that those in the church of Laodicea are affected by the attitudes of the world. Without even realizing it, they behave exactly like their unconverted neighbors. They are worldly. Though they are not out on the streets robbing banks, raping, looting, murdering, mugging old grandmothers, or abusing children, in their hearts they have the same general approach to life as Babylon has. Theologically, spiritually, they hold the same values as Babylon, proved by their works. Spiritually, they become very adept in avoiding the sacrifices that might be necessary to overcome and grow in character, wisdom, and understanding. In other words, they are skilled in appeasing Satan and their own consciences.

Christ says He will spew, or vomit, the Laodicean from His mouth! That is how He views this attitude of compromise with principles, ideals, standards, and truth!

Some may expect Laodiceans to be lazy, but on the contrary they are often workaholics. Satan has foisted this false concept of Laodiceanism onto the church. One cannot become "rich and increased with goods" by being lazy! Their problem is a faulty setting of priorities. They are very vigorous people, but they are vigorous in areas that fail miserably to impress their Judge, Christ. Vigorous in conducting business and other carnal affairs, they are lackadaisical in pursuing the beauty of holiness, which is their calling. They are not vigorous or zealous in maintaining their prayer life with God or in studying. They are not energetic in making the sacrifices necessary to love their brethren or in developing their relationships with others. Nor are they enthusiastic about guarding the standards and principles of God. By erring in the setting of priorities, they victimize themselves.

Over the last fifteen years of his life, Herbert Armstrong expressed deep concern about the church becoming Laodicean. Because of the plethora of activities this world offers, he saw that ultimately they distract us, cause us to set wrong priorities, and keep us from putting our time, energy, and vigor into godly things. He often cited Daniel 12:4 as a telltale sign of the last days: "Seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase." Are we busy in this age? Satan is a slick strategist, and he really deceives anyone who allows himself to believe that busyness and prosperity are signs of righteousness.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church and Laodiceanism


 

Revelation 3:15-19   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Obviously, these people are not meeting the conditions of their relationship with God even though they are His children. Their lackadaisical, wishy-washy, self-righteous attitudes and self-absorbed, self-satisfied lives are totally unacceptable to Him. He casts them from His presence and commands them to change their ways. There is no covering for the conduct of their lives here.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Two): The Burnt Offering


 

Revelation 3:15-20   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We are, to a great measure, victims of an age that is certainly not apathetic to seeking its own pleasure but is apathetic about having a true relationship with God. Would anybody in all honesty not care to eat or to have fellowship with Jesus Christ? Yet, verse 20 says He is standing at the door and knocking, and He will come in and dine with them if they just open the door.

Many would like to eat and fellowship with Christ just to say that they had that novel experience. But the irony here is that God is seeking His people, and they are too uncaring to even rouse themselves to answer the door! The message to this church shows that the problem is that they are so far from Him they are not even aware of their spiritual need and thus have no desire to be near Him. No desire, no prayer. No prayer, no relationship. No relationship, no awareness of spiritual need. It goes in a vicious cycle.

God is hoping that He can stir us up enough to repent and to break out of the cycle. He says, "Repent. Be zealous." Zeal indicates heat, passion, and feeling. He is hoping to break us out of this circle by rekindling an awareness of our spiritual need.

An awareness of need resides in us because we are close enough to Him to see how holy, gracious, kind, merciful, and good He is and desire to be like Him. In other words, we admire Him so much and respect His personality and character so much that we want to be near Him—right across the table from Him, as it were. We do not want to be near Him just to have a novel experience but to exalt Him and honor Him by being like Him. Is not imitation the most sincere form of praise?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Seeking God


 

Revelation 3:17   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The Laodicean may not necessarily say these things consciously, but he shouts it for all to see by his works and way of life! He thinks he lives in his "golden years." Being blind to his own spiritual poverty, however, is the real tragedy of his situation. He thinks he is in good standing with God. Christ judges differently, very concerned that he cannot see his spiritual condition. He is spiritually bereft.

Christ describes the Laodicean as "poor." Biblically, "poor" does not mean the same as our normal English usage of the word. It indicates someone who is weak, with no consideration of how wealthy he may be. To God, the Laodicean is spiritually weak, when he thinks he is strong.

Next, he is "blind." Of course, this is not physical blindness but a lack of spiritual comprehension or judgment. Just as a blind person cannot use his eyes to judge a circumstance, the Laodicean is unaware, unknowing, unobservant, uncomprehending, and heedless.

Christ also judges him as "naked." Clothing—or its lack—illustrates a person's state of righteousness, and here it shows converted people who are still carnal, as Paul called the Corinthians (I Corinthians 3:3). The Laodicean is dominated by his fleshly attitudes. Physically oriented, he is governed by human nature, rather than by God.

"Wretched and miserable" together provide further descriptions of "poor, blind, and naked." Because they are poor, blind, and naked, they are wretched and miserable, even though they have not realized it. Miserable has been translated elsewhere as "pitiful" or "pitiable." Wretched is especially interesting. In other places in the New Testament, it indicates destitution because of war. God means that while they may be wealthy, they are losing the spiritual war against Satan and their carnal nature.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church and Laodiceanism


 

Revelation 3:17-19   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The wealth of the Laodicean is not the problem. His problem derives from allowing his wealth to lead him into self-satisfaction, self-sufficiency, and complacency. His heart is lifted up. These attitudes lead him to avoid self-sacrifice by which he could grow spiritually. People normally use wealth to avoid the hardships of life, and although there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, a person not spiritually astute will allow the comforts of wealth to erode his relationship with God. In his physical wealth, the Laodicean is poor in the things that really count and blind to his need. He no longer overcomes and grows. His witness is no good - and useless to Christ.

God reveals His love for the Laodicean when, rather than giving up on him, He gives him a punishing trial. He allows him to go through the fire, the Great Tribulation, to chasten him for his idolatry, to remind him of his true priorities, and to give him the opportunity to repent.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church and Laodiceanism


 

Revelation 3:18-20   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Christians are the victims of an age that is apathetic to a true relationship with God. Would anybody in all honesty admit that he would not care to eat a meal with and fellowship with Jesus Christ? Yet, He is reporting that in His own church there are some who know that He is at the door, yet will not rouse themselves to answer it and fellowship with Him! They are refusing to fellowship with Him. They are so far from Him that they do not even see their need. If there is no awareness of need, there is no desire; no desire, no prayer; no prayer, no relationship, and back to no awareness of need. It runs in a vicious circle.

God is hoping that He can stir us up enough to repent and break out of the cycle—by rekindling an awareness of need. Awareness of need is in us because we are close enough to Him to see clearly how holy, gracious, kind, merciful, and good He is, and then we will want to be like He is. In other words, we so admire and respect Him and His qualities that we want to be near Him and will chase after Him, diligently seeking after Him like a lover seeking after his love. We will exalt Him and seek to honor Him by being like Him. This is what happens when two people are in love. That is why God uses the Bridegroom/Bride and wedding analogy. It is our responsibility to seek Him with all our might—with everything in us.

John W. Ritenbaugh


 

Revelation 3:20   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Do we really want fellowship with God? Our frequent contact with God, or lack of it, is an easy, concrete measurement for both God and ourselves to know the true answer.

A Laodicean's central characteristic is an aversion to God's presence. He does not gladly throw open the doors to let Christ in. Instead, he wants his privacy to pursue his own interests, unimpeded by the constraints God's presence would impose.

Striving to pray always throws open the door of our minds to God, and just as Luke 21:36 indicates, by vigilant watching we can spot our Laodicean tendencies, overcome them, and avoid tribulation. Commentator Albert Barnes makes some interesting points on Revelation 3:20:

The act of knocking implies two things:

(a) that we desire admittance; and

(b) that we recognise the right of him who dwells in the house to open the door to us or not, as he shall please. We would not obtrude upon him; we would not force his door; and if, after we are sure that we are heard, we are not admitted, we turn quietly away. Both of these things are implied here by the language used by the Saviour when he approaches man as represented under the image of knocking at the door: that he desires to be admitted to our friendship; and that he recognises our freedom in the matter. He does not obtrude himself upon us, nor does he employ force to find admission to the heart. If admitted, he comes and dwells with us; if rejected, he turns quietly away—perhaps to return and knock again, perhaps never to come back.

Striving to pray always is our conscious choice to let God in. Psalm 4:4 (Contemporary English Version, CEV) emphasizes the seriousness of examining ourselves: "But each of you had better tremble and turn from your sins. Silently search your heart as you lie in bed."

Every night, at the end of another busy day, provides us—and God—an opportunity to evaluate the true intent of our hearts. We can ask ourselves: How much and how often did we acknowledge God throughout our day? How much did we talk to Him and fellowship with Him today? Where did we miss opportunities to do it? Why?

Perhaps the biggest question to ask is this: When did we hear the "still small voice" today and hide from God's presence? Our daily answers to these self-examination questions and our practical responses could in a large measure determine where we spend both the Tribulation and eternity (Luke 21:36).

Pat Higgins
Praying Always (Part Five)


 

Revelation 11:18   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

We need to expand our thinking on the word "earth" and understand that it figuratively, metaphorically, represents all of creation. It is not just the earth, the orb that is spinning around through space on its appointed path, but all of the things that are on the earth. Above all, it refers to mankind, which lives on the earth.

God says He will destroy those who destroy the creation, and that includes themselves. When man does that, he is telling God that we do not appreciate what He has given us. We have a love of beauty without the love of doing what is right in order to maintain correctly what He has given to us.

By far and away, the most important abuse in all of creation deals with man's relationships with God and fellow man. We abuse our relationships because we do not love righteousness along with beauty. Rather than dressing and keeping the relationships through a love of righteousness, we use and abuse them, too.

We can see this in the divorce rate. People do not get divorces because they love one another. It is because one or the other spouse, or both, have abused the relationship. So the marriage, which was created by God to be the environment in which His spiritual creation would be carried out, is destroyed! Again, God is going to destroy those who destroy the earth, His creation.

The basic reason this occurs is addressed in I John. It is the lack of love for God and of God that is causing this. Loving God is a choice that is open to all Christians. If one does not consider God beautiful and choose to love Him, the only alternative is self-centeredness.

We turn our love in on ourselves, and instead of seeking to please God within a relationship with Him, we instead choose unrighteousness or sin, abusing the relationship between Him and us. All love for fellow man begins first with the love for God. This is why I John tells us it is impossible to love man without loving God first.

We must start thinking about what are we doing in our lives to build our relationship with God, because that relationship is salvation! Is God beautiful to us? Is God's way beautiful to us? If it is not, the self-centeredness will lead to abuse. Self-centeredness is the hallmark of worldliness.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Laodiceanism


 

 




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