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Bible verses about Drifting Spiritually
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Exodus 32:1-6

In Exodus 32:1-6 is an example of what happens when a leader goes away and does not return within the expected time. It provides a clear-cut example of what was happening to the Ephesian church (Revelation 2:4-5).

Moses went up Mount Sinai; Christ went up to Mount Zion in heaven. "What has become of him?" the people asked. "We do not know what has happened to him! He is up there. He is supposed to return, but He has not returned according to our expectations."

What do the Israelites decide to do? They began looking to the world for a solution, in this case to Egypt. In the Ephesians' case, it was the world around Ephesus, the world of Asia Minor. They looked to the culture to gratify them, and they began to drift in that direction.

Moses' return was delayed longer than the people thought that he should have been gone, so their affections pulled their attention elsewhere. The same happened to the Ephesians, only it took a lot longer because of the Spirit of God in them. The people in Exodus did not have the Spirit of God, yet the people in Ephesus—in the church—did have God's Spirit, so what took place very quickly in the book of Exodus was dragged out over a much longer period in the first-century church. The Ephesian's affections were taking them back into the world, and they began to follow the world's ways once again.

John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ


 

Deuteronomy 12:32

These are strong warnings!

Mankind has an innate desire to worship God, but he wants to be free to do it according to the dictates of his own mind. The result is a wide variety of religions—in actuality, mass confusion as to which is the true religion—and a world in which true values are lost in an ocean of conflicting opinions about how to live. This, in turn, has helped persuade many people to reach the conclusion that all gods are equally good, or its counterpart, that everybody is worshipping the same god.

We all know God is not pleased with this situation, but He allows it to continue. However, even while allowing it to continue, He is calling people out of it. He has shown His called-out ones that they have been redeemed from the bondage to traditions, described in I Peter 1:18 as "vain," "aimless," or "futile," depending on the translation. However, in the vast majority of cases, someone, presumptuously taking it upon himself to inaugurate a tradition, began practicing them, sincerely thinking he was improving his life. We have all followed these traditions, but the Christian is responsible not to allow the world to squeeze him into its mold of conduct, character, and attitude.

Proverbs 21:16 describes the way many presumptuous sins begin: "A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the congregation of the dead." Like this man, most people do not deliberately set out to depart from God. Nevertheless, carelessness invariably enters the picture, and a person drifts from his former sure fix on his goal. Once his focus on the goal is blurred, he is more easily deceived into foolishly assuming certain things. An especially sad part of this is that the result is the same as if he were deliberately presumptuous.

The author of Hebrews uses a metaphor in Hebrews 2:1-3, portraying a boat slipping from its moorings and drifting away. A person "neglect[s] so great salvation" by allowing himself to be caught in the current of the world's attitudes and conduct. Presumption frequently begins with careless drifting, but the drifting quickly advances from neglect to presumption unless one carefully checks whether he actually has God's permission to behave as he does.

In Proverbs 8, wisdom is personified as a woman crying out to people along the way—to God's Kingdom?—to take heed to her instruction. In verse 36, she utters a profound warning: "But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death." None of us likes to think of himself as foolishly loving death. However, the Bible consistently shows that those who do not consciously, purposefully, and carefully direct their lives toward obedience to God do indeed love death rather than life! Such a person is in effect presuming that all is well with him in relation to God. God does not like being taken for granted—because it is bad for us!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Presumption and Divine Justice


 

Proverbs 12:24

On a national scale, we might say this contrasts those who diligently guard their freedoms and rule themselves to those who through laziness have been conquered and forced into slavery. Whatever scale we apply to this, Solomon reveals an ethical principal at work. Unless and until he changes his ways, a lazy person will descend to being a servant to others, while a diligent person will grow, prosper, and control his own life.

Spiritually, the stakes are far higher. Those who strive to master themselves—to exercise self-control to live God's way—will rule in the Kingdom of God (Revelation 3:21; 5:10), while those who slothfully neglect this task could possibly lose everything. Notice Paul's warning in Hebrews 2:1-3:

Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just 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 to us by those who heard Him . . . ?

John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Remaining Unleavened


 

Proverbs 21:16

Notice the use of the word "wanders." God's children do not ordinarily deliberately plan to go astray, but whether they do or do not, regardless of the intention, the result is the same.

Hebrews 2:1-3 provides an illustration in which there is no deliberate intention to sin:

Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him.

The metaphor in "lest we drift away" is of a boat slipping its moorings and drifting away, caught in the currents it was tied against. Paul makes clear that the spiritual drifting is the result of neglecting the priorities set by our calling into the Kingdom of God, just as a boat will drift away if it is not tied securely. Other parts of the book of Hebrews show that neglect becomes a factor when one is not consciously living a purposely directed life. The epistle's recipients were neglectfully drifting through life.

Hebrews 5:11-14 shows us the result:

. . . of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

These people had become "dull of hearing" and apparently were rapidly regressing toward unconversion. Neglect is particularly spiritually dangerous. Through neglect, they were seriously drifting into a lack of faith deep enough to have to relearn the fundamentals of this way of life. When dullness of hearing is tied to Romans 10:17—"faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God"—we can understand that, if one does not hear correctly, motivation to live by faith greatly diminishes.

Hebrews was written to encourage a congregation of neglectful and drifting people to repent, to get back on track toward the Kingdom. Considering their dullness of hearing, the book of Proverbs provides what might be a shocking reality, one we hope we will not have to face if we will repent.

Now therefore, listen to me, my children, for blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disdain it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord; but he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death. (Proverbs 8:32-36)

Bluntly stated, Wisdom's sage and exhortative counsel is, "Listen carefully and apply what I tell you diligently. If you do not, but instead live a life of sin, then the conclusion of the matter is that, in reality, you love death rather than life." Since our calling, have we ever pictured ourselves as loving death? Those who do not consciously and purposefully direct their lives by faith toward obedience to God in reality love death!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living by Faith and God's Justice


 

Jeremiah 48:11

Connect the thought in these two verses (Jeremiah 48:11; Zephaniah 1:12) with the Laodicean's evaluation of himself and what we know about his relationship with God. He says he needs nothing, and he has settled on his lees. We also see Christ's reaction: It angered Him greatly.

The lees are the sediment that forms during the fermentation of grapes. They eventually sink to the bottom where they harden. Metaphorically, "settled on their lees" indicates floating, taking it easy, and having a very leisurely, casual approach to life. In the actual wine vat, the lees harden in due course, and they then picture an unacceptable, "hardened" lifestyle. A person who is "settled on his lees" is one who, through spiritual idleness and ease, has gradually become morally indifferent, tolerant of his lack of spiritual drive, and ultimately hardened to God and sin. In the process, he becomes blind to his spiritual state.

Zephaniah 1:12 goes on to say that one who is settled on his lees has reasoned himself into what amounts to practical atheism. He is saying by his conduct that God is not really governing or judging and that there will be neither reward for obedience nor punishment from sin. How far from God this person is! Thus, he gives himself over to his pleasures.

A Laodicean is a person straddling the proverbial fence. He has saving knowledge of God, but he is attached to the world and afraid to let go. He has deceived himself into thinking that he has found the perfect balance. He is convinced that he has the best of both worlds.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Laodiceanism and Being There Next Year


 

Matthew 24:12

This is a warning to us—that the iniquity that is in the world will cause a loss of love in the church. If we understand the progression of events in Matthew 24, then verse 12 speaks of the time of the Tribulation. We are leading up to that, living in a period in which the stresses against the church—from the world—are increasing. As they increase, it can have the psychological effect—because we begin to get weary of dealing with it—of becoming apathetic, that is, without feeling for what we formerly loved so dearly.

So the iniquity is in the world, but resisting it is a constant stress because it exerts tremendous pressure through an appealing façade—to give in and go along with it. As we live with it and everybody else is doing it, the world's behavior gradually becomes acceptable to us, thus giving evidence that apathy is taking over.

We need to look at every aspect, even in areas we may consider "minor things." How do they dress? What kind of music do they listen to? What are the world's movies like? What are their attitudes in dealing with each other—in stores, on the street, in communities? In many places, we can hardly get anybody on the street to greet us! There are many little behaviors like this. The iniquity is in the world, but it pressures us into doing things as it does—and then it becomes our behavior.

This is just hypothetical, but what if we evaluated ourselves against the world ten years ago and judged that we were 50% more righteous than the world. Then today, we did exactly the same thing, and figured that we are at least 50% more righteous than the world. However, if the world had become more unrighteous during that same period, then, even though we may be 50% more righteous than the world now, we have actually gone backwards in those ten years—right along with the world!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Hebrews: A Message for Today


 

Matthew 25:5

They all—both wise and foolish—nodded off for a while. The wise, too, let down in their spiritual energies.

Staff
Y2K: You-2-the-Kingdom


 

Luke 9:62

This "looking back" is not merely reflecting to evaluate the progress made since one decided to leave the world. Instead, it is like Lot's wife, who looked back with a degree of longing to return to what she had left. Her life was literally on the line, and rather than being fully engaged in surviving, she placed a higher priority on life's lesser matters than on the greater one of preserving her life through God's gift of protection.

She looked back, revealing her heart still to be in Sodom, a type of the world. Her action indicates regret for having left. Success in God's way requires following an awesome vision of future glory with devoted conviction. Abraham is a primary example: He looked for a city built by God, apparently leaving his homeland without ever looking back (Hebrews 11:8-10, 13-16).

Once we commit to Christianity, God's calling becomes our vocation, which requires our concentrated attention going forward. A vocation is a person's regular occupation. What happens when a Christian looks back with a measure of longing is similar to someone talking on a cell phone while driving his car. He frequently drifts all over the road, swerving this way and that because, at best, his attention is split between conflicting priorities. He is setting himself up for trouble, and all too frequently, an accident occurs. A Christian cannot make a beeline for the Kingdom with his attention diverted elsewhere. We are not to be anything but altogether followers of the Son of God. The stakes are that high, for the fulfillment of His promise is so great.

Dramatic, sudden death, as happened to Lot's wife, will not likely happen to us if we gaze yearningly behind us. For this reason, a person who has begun to fall away will most likely take the second step backwards with hardly a pause. Hebrews 10:39 says, "But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul." Almost invariably, longing for the old life is followed by gradually and increasingly believing that God's requirements are too exacting and difficult.

In Jesus' parable in Luke 19:11-27, did not the man given one mina complain something similar to this when asked what he had gained with it? "Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief. For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow" (verses 20-21).

We must be prepared to put God first in all things. There will be times when this will be exceedingly difficult, especially if the surrender of a thing involves the sacrifice of someone or something deeply loved or desired. It can happen, but such occasions are quite rare.

It has been said that he who is unwilling to sacrifice everything for the cause of God is really willing to sacrifice nothing. Drawing back happens despite God's promise that every trial is measured to the exact specifications needed by the individual Christian. In I Corinthians 10:13, God promises to provide relief from every problem: "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." The word-picture in Hebrews 10:39 portrays a person shrinking back from following through on the demands of faith. He is looking for an easy way out of some distasteful thing he does not wish to face. This eventually happens to us all.

A major appeal of the world's way is that it seems to be broader and easier. As Jesus says in Matthew 7:13, the easier, broader way it probably is - for a while. That deceptively effortless way draws the person ever-further from salvation, and he grows steadily weaker as he loses contact with God. The one who apostatizes thus permits himself to be drawn back.

The third step is taken when a person actually turns away. John 6:65-66 records such an occasion in Jesus' ministry: "And He said, 'Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.' From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more." In this poignant scene, Jesus watched people who may have been friends leave His entourage because they could not comprehend His teaching. He undoubtedly had spoken of things of an order far higher than they were accustomed to hearing, but rather than patiently facing it, as the apostles did, they simply gave up, proving themselves unfit for the Kingdom of God. Their loyalty could not stand the strain of what may have been merely a temporary misunderstanding. They had been followers, but apparently, they were seeking for something else.

By this stage, it is still not too late for a person to grab hold of himself and move forward, but the world's appeal has become almost overpowering. Spiritual decline has reached the tipping point, and he is in serious peril.

The fourth and final step backward is illustrated by Isaiah in the Old Testament: "But the word of the LORD was to them, 'Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.' That they might go and fall backward, and be broken and snared and caught" (Isaiah 28:13).

In examining the context carefully, we see that the people being described have reached the critical point where God's Word is falling on deaf ears. It is to them just jumbled noise. In New Testament terms, they had backslid beyond the reach of repentance and forgiveness. Here, the apostate reaches the point of no return; he has earned the Lake of Fire.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Power: Our Shield Against Apostasy


 

Luke 21:34-36

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


 

Romans 10:14-17

The word of Christ is what brought us out of the world and that to which we were converted. When we drift away from it, we become confused, and we begin dividing, bickering and fighting among ourselves. The solution is given elsewhere in the Bible: Get back to what brought us together in the first place—the combination of the word of Christ and devotion to Him, to the love that we had at the beginning (Revelation 2:4-5).

Genuine ignorance may be a defense before God, but neglect never is. We need to remember Hebrews 2:3, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" God can forgive ignorance because we cannot believe what we did not know, and even though we may be punished in our ignorance, it is far different from being punished when we know better. Yet, "to whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12:48). We are not in ignorance. If we are slipping away, it is because of neglect.

One way we can be unworthy at Passover time (I Corinthians 11:27) is by neglecting or forgetting what we are now. We need to evaluate faith in light of the Passover and the state of our minds and our hearts as we approach it. Moffatt translates Romans 10:17 as, "Faith must come from what is heard, and what is heard comes from the word of Christ." We are saved by grace through faith, and faith comes from knowledge of God and His Word, so the importance of studying His Word, meditating on it, seeking practical applications for our life, cannot be overstated.

Along with obedience, practical application of God's Word is a must if we want to have saving faith. We must check ourselves before Passover to see whether we have passed up or neglected opportunities to make practical use of our faith. This means so much to our attitude, the way we approach life on a daily basis.

John W. Ritenbaugh
A Pre-Passover Look


 

Galatians 6:9

"Hope deferred," the proverb says, "makes the heart sick." Devotion to Christianity is not easy in this world because the pull to just slide is constantly present, and the Galatians were losing their attentiveness. A synonym for devotion is "attentiveness," and these people were becoming inattentive in their devotion to Christ.

They had lost sight of the real goal and entirely neglected what Christ was doing for them on a daily basis. He had not lost His attentiveness to them. Because they had allowed themselves to drift, they were not aware what Christ was doing for them out of His love for them.

If we can think of this in a human sense, it was as if He were being spurned, where one of the two parties involved in a loving relationship is doing all the good things and the other is passive. So, there was Christ, making the effort through His apostles—through the church and His ministry by means of the Spirit—to stir them up, but they were not paying a great deal of attention.

How quickly they forgot that without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5)! If they were going to have any spiritual growth and reward, it would be through their relationship with Christ. Yet, they were forgetting that their supply of the Spirit, as it were, was coming from Him. He is the main trunk of the tree—He is the vine, we are the branches—and so the relationship is all-important.

Daily, He prepares us for the Kingdom. "I go and prepare a place for you," He says in John 14:2. He is working with us on a daily basis, forgiving us, leading us, being patient with us, and providing for us. However, the Galatians were instead looking longingly at the world for gratification and relief.

If a person feels that his affections are abused by the one he loves, it impairs his power to grow because people tend to follow the lead of their emotions. Human beings are very emotional creatures. These Galatians felt that, because He had not returned according to their expectations, and because Christ and the Father had allowed them to go through persecutions—both economic and social—they were being neglected. They were feeling as though their affections for Christ were being abused. They thus allowed themselves to follow the lead of their emotions.

It is a principle that what we like to do, we gradually become. We then set our wills to do what we like to do. We must be very careful about what we set our emotions upon.

John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ


 

1 Thessalonians 5:6

These people were so far gone already in around AD 50 that they were being neglectful—they were going to sleep spiritually. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, they all slumbered and slept, and the Thessalonians were now going to sleep spiritually themselves.

John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ


 

2 Thessalonians 2:3

People fall away because they do not have the love of the truth. Consequently, they have nothing to pour out their energies on, and so they drift away. Anybody who is drifting will follow the current opinion within the body, whatever it happens to be.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Don't Be a Prudent Agnostic


 

2 Thessalonians 2:11

God is permitting a sifting to take place. Paul uses the word "delusion" here, indicating a "wandering out of the way." Does that not happen to people who are confused and have lost direction and motivation? They wander. They drift. They get tossed about in the winds and currents. But the love of the truth will keep a person clear-minded, focused on the right areas of life, and motivated to overcome. And this will lead God to save them.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Flood Is Upon Us!


 

2 Timothy 2:15-18

In this era of the church, the one that we are living in, we have our own problems with certain doctrinal matters. The first century also had problems with certain doctrines that they had to deal with. The very first bridge that they had to cross had to do with justification—justification by faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.

This was a new concept, which is why God commissioned the apostle Paul to write so much about justification by faith—not by works, not by earning justification, but by faith in what God said and what Jesus Christ did. This doctrinal instruction takes up much of the books of Romans and Galatians.

The second bridge they had to cross was law and grace. Even today, people like to separate the two, as if a Christian cannot believe in law and grace at the same time. The apostles had to convince the people that law and grace are not opposed to one another, but work in harmony to complete the process of justification and then sanctification. God not only forgives us, but He also gives us gifts by His Spirit by which we can be sanctified unto holiness, the middle part of the process of salvation, which absolutely cannot be left out.

The third thing is the second coming of Christ. As time passed, the pressure mounted and the return of Jesus Christ became increasingly important in the minds of people. It naturally led people to believe that they had plenty of time to overcome, and it seemed to work to cast them adrift. This is why Paul says that the Hebrews were neglecting their salvation.

In Matthew 24:42, we find that Jesus anticipated this. He really understood human nature. Incidentally, do you want to know what it is that causes people to go to sleep spiritually, so that you can be aware? It is not a hard principle at all to understand. It is having to face so many difficulties, so many pressures, that one becomes weary with facing them. This is a simplification, but it is true. When people have to face so many stresses, they become apathetic and say, "What's the use?" We need to stir ourselves up and recognize that this can happen to us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Don't Be a Prudent Agnostic


 

Hebrews 2:1-4

Paul's warning to the Hebrews here is a bit stronger than what he says in Philippians 1:27. He says there, "Let's all with one mind strive together to keep the faith of the gospel." Here he says, "Give earnest heed to the doctrine, to the gospel, to the things we heard, because we're in danger of losing it!" He feels he must frighten them, saying, "Don't you remember that under the Mosaic dispensation people were punished very severely for neglecting what they had heard? Every transgression and disobedience received a just reward. How much greater under the dispensation through Christ, the Son?" He is quite serious. Work hard. Be diligent. Make your calling sure!

It is about this same time that Peter and Jude add their voices to his. The brethren were undergoing a rough time because false ministers and false teachers were in the church, and like us, they also had to fight off the pressures from the world to conform. It takes great effort to resist both in the church and out in the world. When there are problems among us, it is tough. When we must also resist all the downward pulls outside in society, it is a difficult, sore trial. Thus, Paul uses particularly strong language to motivate them to stand up, face the problem, give it their all, and vanquish it.

Are we in a similar circumstance? Perhaps some of the details are different; the deception has taken a somewhat different form (this time we do not have to contend with Gnosticism, per se). However, there is enough similarity that warnings here, as well as in the books of Peter, John, and Jude, make a lot of sense. Certainly the results, the fruit of false teaching, are the same: apostasy, falling away, confusion, distrust (especially of those who have been given a measure of authority, the ministry), scattering, and disunity. The apostles, then, are speaking to us.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jude


 

Hebrews 2:1-3

Jesus Christ, the living Head of His church, here warns against neglect—drifting away. Neglect is not deliberate. It is not willful. It is not intentional sin. It is something that happens because of familiarity, or distraction, caused by one having too many things going in one's life.

It says that we are to "give the more earnest heed." We are warned not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). In the message to the Hebrews, the Sabbath plays a central role. We can already begin to see in chapter 2 that part of the problem these people had was that they were neglecting the things they had heard.

It was not deliberate or willful. But they were people who were drifting away. They were not making the effort towards perfection. God noticed this because it was His church, His sons and daughters, and He cares! So He sent them perhaps the strongest message in the entire Bible. Hebrews 10 is arguably the most powerful chapter in God's Word. From what we see, the Sabbath was being neglected. We have to "give the more earnest heed" so that we do not lose sight of the things that were given to us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 4)


 

Hebrews 2:1

They were slipping away, and God was putting them through a discipline to get their attention so that they would use their free moral agency to turn themselves away from whatever it was that they were doing.

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 2)


 

Hebrews 2:1-3

These verses are similar to Proverbs 21:16. The person who is neglecting his salvation is not deliberately setting his mind to turn away from God or His way of life. He is simply, through neglect, allowing himself to drift in that direction. He does not plan to go that way. He gets distracted by things in his life—by hobbies, work, rearing children, and a great many other things. No matter what it is, he allows himself to neglect what has been given to him.

The metaphor used here is of a boat that has slipped its mooring and is drifting within the harbor. Just drifting with the current.

Both of these verses point to a major problem we see in the end-time church of God. We may call it Laodiceanism, and that is a very nice "tag" to put on it. We can comfortably say the word, but are we aware that a Laodicean is a drifter? A Laodicean is somebody who is hanging on to the best of both possible worlds as he sees it. He has one foot in the church and one foot in the world, and he does not realize that he is drifting.

This is the kind of person that God says He finds unpalatable—one He will spit out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Examples of Divine Justice


 

Hebrews 2:1-3

Because God has spoken to us by His Son, and because His Son is so great and so glorious, and because the subject which is addressed is of such infinite importance to us and to our welfare, He says we ought to give the more earnest heed to it.

Earnest is an important word. It means "abundantly," "more exceedingly," "much more frequently," or "more super-abundant" heed. Paul is saying to pay attention intensely to what God is doing in our lives!

We should pray and study with great care and concern lest we should let God's Word slip, which means to "let it [God's Word] run out"—to leak out like a barrel with a cracked plug. The barrel is full, and it very slowly starts to leak.

Another analogy would be to "drift away." Envision a rowboat tied to a pier, but the rope loosens and falls into the water. Someone on hand could reach down, grab the rope, and retie it. But if this simple task is neglected, then the boat, which had been floating right next to the piling, slowly drifts away. Soon it will be ten feet away, then fifty feet, and in time it is on the horizon where the water is rough. Paul instructs us not to let that happen. Do not let it drift away! Pay attention! If we become superficial in our prayer and study, then our once keen vision of God will begin to blur.

If those without God's Spirit who heard God's Word died in the wilderness as punishment for disobeying God, how much greater will be our punishment for drifting away? To us, God says, "Pay attention!" Our chance for salvation is now! If we are not successful, then our hope is lost! Paul advises us to see the scope of what God is doing in our lives. We must constantly remind ourselves of His purpose for our calling. We must pray and study with that purpose at the forefront of our minds.

John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Don't Take God for Granted


 

Hebrews 2:1

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 2:1-4

These Hebrew Christians were neglecting what they were given. William Barclay's translation of the first clause of verse 1 reads, "We must, therefore, with very special intensity [the opposite of "apathy"] pay attention to what we have heard" (our emphasis). The wonderful message that these people had heard was drifting from their minds.

This word "drift" (or "slip" as translated in the King James Version) is used of a thing that is negligently, carelessly, or thoughtlessly lost: of a ring that slips from one's finger; a thought that is slipped into a conversation; or a boat that drifts away from the dock because the knot in the rope securing it slips. In Greek literature it is used of an idea that slips from one's mind. In this word picture is a major warning for us today—as we enter the most distracting, enervating, and fearful time in man's history.

There is another illustration here that is equally compelling. It is of a man on a long journey who is carrying over his shoulder a goatskin, which was used in ancient time to carry water. He intends to use the water in that bag to refresh and reenergize himself, whenever he needs it. However, the goatskin is cracked, and the water is slowly dripping out unobserved by the traveler. The water is "slipping away." When he becomes thirsty and reaches for the goatskin to take a drink to refresh himself, he finds that his bag is empty. Nothing remains.

It is reminscent of the Ten Virgins and their oil (Matthew 25:1-13). Half have none when they need it, for it has run out. They have been negligent in buying it from the sources that they could have gotten it from, whenever they had the time. But now the Bridegroom approaches, and they have no oil, a kind of oil that cannot be transferred from one person to another. So, they must go out in desperation to find some on their own—but it is too late.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Hebrews: A Message for Today


 

Hebrews 2:3

What had happened to the people to whom the book of Hebrews was written? They were losing—indeed, had already lost—much of their former conviction. Though they had plenty to believe in relation to God, as Paul shows within the epistle, their conviction was dissipating through neglect. They were not working out their salvation (Philippians 2:12); thus, they were losing it!

Conviction is the opposite of superficiality. This does not mean a superficial person cannot be religious. Rather, he may appear religious outwardly, but in terms of a true, inward transformation of the heart, he is lacking, as seen in the absence of zeal in seeking change or in real application of righteousness.

In Paul's judgment, the Hebrews had lost the internal certainty that what they believed was right, trustworthy, and so important that they should willingly give their lives to it. They were allowing other concerns like business, social, and entertainment matters too much time and attention. In the world, the forces of hostile skepticism are everywhere and constantly pressuring a Christian from every angle. The Hebrews' works showed that they were steadily retreating before that pressure.

This world is the Christian's largest, broadest field of battle, and nearly constant influences designed to drive a wedge into our carnality emanate from it. What happens if we neglect the right use of God's gift of faith? Hebrews shows us that a Christian does not immediately "lose it," but as he slowly spirals downward, spiritual life becomes merely an intellectual position to be held, not a striving after righteousness. God becomes merely an object of intellectual thought, not a motivation for change of behavior and attitude to imitate Him. Church attendance and religion become intellectualized but not experiential. That is how Laodiceanism (Revelation 3:14-22) becomes a reality in a Christian's life. This is especially likely to occur when a Christian group is economically comfortable.

God's gift of faith is intended by Him to be intellectual, practical, and motivational. This brings us back to the many examples Paul uses in Hebrews 11 to illustrate how faith is most profitably used. He provides an orderly arrangement of instruction from basic definitions and builds toward the more difficult principles.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)


 

Hebrews 3:14

"To the end": The Hebrews were neglecting things. They were not holding steadfast to the end but drifting away. Paul begins, then, to show that the quotation from Psalms 95:7 has never been fulfilled. So, who would be the first ones to fulfill it? The first ones, you would think, would be the ones God called out of Egypt. They would be the first ones that could fulfill it, but they did not, as chapter 4 shows.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 4)


 

Hebrews 4:1-2

Perhaps the hardest thing for us to do is to keep on track spiritually. Deviating from the path to God's Kingdom is not that difficult, making it a constant peril. God's experience with Israel demonstrates that an entire generation died in the wilderness, a stunning witness! A review of the Israelites' conduct shows that, though they initially promised to obey all God commanded, their faith wavered over time, and they chose not to go into the Promised Land.

What a powerful warning this is to us, who have our eyes open and take God's Word seriously! One can make a case from the New Testament that many of us will not enter God's Kingdom because, like Israel, we will fritter away our chance. Does not Jesus warn that only those who endure to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13)? Does not Peter warn that even the righteous are scarcely saved (I Peter 4:18)? Does not Jesus also warn that the broad way leads to destruction and many take it (Matthew 7:13)?

Rather than frighten us, this should stir us to push on! God has not left us alone. He who releases us from our bondage and sets us on the path to His Kingdom also empowers us to make it. He gives us gifts (I Corinthians 12:1-11) and access to Him to receive help in time of need (Romans 5:1-2). This access, through prayer, is without doubt one of the greatest gifts that He can give a human being. He allows us into the very presence of the sovereign Creator and Lord of all, in whom is all wisdom, power, and love. He can do far more for us than we can even think to ask.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Eight


 

Hebrews 4:1

The Hebrews did not fulfill the promise. It is still open. Paul then goes on into Joshua and the people who entered the Land, which should have been the fulfillment but was not. After Joshua died, the whole nation went down spiritually until everybody (as it says in the last verse of Judges) was doing what was right in his own eyes. There was no king. There was no central authority. There was nobody to point these people in the right direction. They did not enter into the "rest."

Psalm 95 is generally conceded to be a psalm of David or of Asaph, who was looking back in time. David lived roughly 300 years after Joshua, and the promise of entering God's rest had not been fulfilled in David's time either. Was it fulfilled in any other historical time? No. That is why the apostle is writing this: It still remains! God's promise has not been fulfilled.

Who will it be fulfilled by? Paul is hoping it will be fulfilled by these people who were drifting away, that is, the church. The promise of entering into that Sabbath rest has not yet been fulfilled.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 4)


 

Hebrews 4:1-2

The gospel's sure promise of an endless life in glory in the Kingdom of God as the Father's spirit-composed children and Jesus Christ's brothers and companions seems so appealing and captivating that one wonders why we would need more motivation than the anticipation of its fulfillment. History and even our own reflections on our personal experiences prove that we need additional stimulation.

The Israelites' forty-year trek through the wilderness after their release from Egyptian slavery also provides a persuasive record. Of the over two million or so Israelites age twenty and above who left Egypt, only two men, Joshua and Caleb, are named as entering into the Promised Land! The Israelites were burying the bodies of those who failed until the time they crossed the Jordan River. Hebrews 4:1-2 admonishes us not to fall into the same manner of living.

The struggle to achieve some noteworthy goal is a popular theme for many inspirational biographies, novels, articles, and movies. In the late 1800s, Horatio Alger became famous by authoring a string of "rags to riches" stories that featured characters who, through pluck, grit, ingenuity, and seemingly tireless energy, overcame multitudes of problems to achieve success in the end. The characters in his stories never resorted to deceit or thievery, even though they confronted such vices. They always made their way in a righteous manner. Many inspired readers used them as role models for what they hoped to achieve. Not much has changed in the intervening time. People still find hope and inspiration in hearing the success stories of others, especially if they are dealing with true-to-life issues. One can buy "success" manuals in virtually any bookstore. Lecture circuits teem with those who are willing to sell their formulas to those who want to hear their testimonies.

Obviously, motivation is a very common human problem, one that the Bible also addresses. The Bible contains many passages intended to prod us to keep moving in the proper direction. Nevertheless, the condition posed earlier remains unresolved. If what God offers is so awesome, why do we need to be prodded with exhortation, encouragement, and correction?

It is because God has demanded that we live by faith (Hebrews 10:38-39). Thus, the "out of sight, out of mind" principle provides an almost constant resistance, testing whether we have a proper and purposeful direction to our life.

It is also because human nature is so attracted to the cultures it has created that it loves them almost desperately. Sometimes it is only with great difficulty that one can turn from them (I John 2:15-16). Even though we know intellectually that these cultures are evil, we are attracted to them and diverted away from the path of godly success (Galatians 1:4).

Moreover, the unseen spirit world lures us through lying persuasions away from the right goal (Ephesians 6:10-12). Sometimes we need motivation because of traits such as apathy and procrastination that dwell to some degree in all of us (Hebrews 2:1-3; 12:12-13). Finally, sometimes our pride self-righteously and presumptuously persuades us into thinking that we already have it made (Revelation 3:16-18).

Overall, a great many factors work against us. When we seriously consider the example of the extremely high failure rate of the Israelites in the wilderness, it may seem as though far more of these factors work against us than work to insure our success. The Israelites, however, operated with little faith. In addition, the Scriptures indicate that God gave very few of them His Holy Spirit, and therefore the love of God was not working in them. God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32), and the record of the Israelites is one of almost constant disobedience.

Since Jesus Christ was not in them, they did not have the faith of Christ, but our God is able to "supply all [our] need according to His riches in glory by Jesus Christ" (Philippians 4:19). The reality is that we have far more working in our behalf than they. We have no valid reason to fail.

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


 

Hebrews 4:1-2

The Israelites would not use their faith; they would not step out. They held back because the bottom line was that they did not really believe it.

Do we believe what we are hearing from the Word of God? If we do not believe it, we will do nothing. We only do what we believe.

Everybody in the world operates by this principle—they do what they believe! But do they believe God? No. We are in God's church because we believe, and because we believe in the right way, we obey God. In Hebrews 3, Paul equates "belief" and "obedience." It makes for an interesting study. Despite being significantly different, the effect of one should be the product of the other.

This is why one can find words like "belief" or "unbelief" in Scripture, and see in the margin that "obedience" or "disobedience" can be an alternate translation. The words can be taken either way.

We do what we believe. The real problem is becoming apparent. The reason the Hebrews were apathetic—the reason they were neglecting their spiritual priorities—was because their belief system had undergone a serious change since the time that they had first heard.

When Satan wants to divide or destroy a church, he often does so through inspiring changes in the doctrines. When the doctrines change, the belief system changes accordingly. And when the belief system changes, those who believe the same basic way will flock together, and those who believe a different way will coalesce into another group.

When a belief changes, a change in conduct must follow. This is what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness. They did not believe God, and they failed. They all died. That whole first generation died as a result of their disbelief.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Hebrews: A Message for Today


 

Hebrews 5:12-14

In using milk as a metaphor in I Peter 2:2, Peter is in no way chiding people as Paul does in Hebrews 5:12-14. The former uses milk simply as a nourishing food because his emphasis is on desire, not depth. Paul uses milk as a metaphor for elementary because he wants to shock the Hebrews into comprehending how far they had slipped from their former state of conversion.

Paul also uses milk as a metaphor for weak or elementary in I Corinthians 3:1-2: "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able." Paul judges the Corinthians as weak based upon their behaviors and attitudes, which reflected no spiritual progress. So he "fed" these immature Christians elementary knowledge because things of greater depth would have gone unappreciated, misunderstood, and unused. These references directly tie spiritual diet to growth in understanding, behavior, and attitude.

Paul's milk metaphors are scathing put-downs! Undoubtedly, he seriously hurt the feelings of many in the congregation, yet he is free and clear before God of any charge of offense. He does not question their conversion, but he certainly rebukes their lack of growth. He rightly judges that they need to have their feelings hurt so they could salvage what remained of their conversion.

In I Corinthians 3, the embarrassing immaturity that required him to feed the people like babies also produced strife and factions in the congregation, proving that the people were far more carnal than converted. The Hebrews account is more complex: The people had once been more mature but had regressed. It is a situation vaguely similar to elderly people becoming afflicted with dementia, except that faith, love, character, conduct, and attitude were being lost rather than mental faculties. This resulted in the people drifting aimlessly.

An additional insight regarding an insufficient spiritual diet appears in the next chapter. Paul tells them that their problems are directly related to being lazy. Dull in the phrase "dull of hearing" in Hebrews 5:11 is more closely related to "sluggish" or "slothful." It is translated as such in Hebrews 6:12, ". . . that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises."

Paul charges them with being lazy listeners; they are not putting forth the effort to meditate and apply what is taught them. They are, at best, merely accepting. That they are not using what they hear is proof enough for Paul to understand that they are not thinking through the seriousness or the practical applications of the teachings. In other words, they are not assimilating what they hear, and the result is a lack of faith and a consequent faithlessness. His rebuke is far more serious than the one in I Corinthians 3 because these people are older in the faith. They have frittered away a large amount of time that would have been far better spent on spiritual growth.

Paul attempts to shame and shock them into realizing how far they had slipped by calling these grown people—some of them undoubtedly elderly—infants. He goes so far as to tell them that they are unacquainted with and unskilled in the teaching on righteousness. In other words, he attributes to them the one particular trait of infants: that they do not understand the difference between right and wrong, a characteristic that defines immaturity. A parent must instruct and chasten a child until it understands.

The Bible provides ample evidence that a poor spiritual diet results in a spiritually weak and diseased person, just as a poor physical diet works to erode and eventually destroy a person's physical vitality. Similarly, we can see that a person can be in good spiritual health but lose it through laziness or another form of neglect. Just as a mature adult needs good, solid nourishment to maintain his vitality and remain free of disease, the spiritual parallel follows. For one to grow to spiritual maturity and vitality, a mature Christian needs solid, spiritual nourishment, assimilated and actively applied, to continue growing and prevent regressing, as opposed to the Hebrews sluggish spiritual deterioration.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Eight): Conclusion (Part One)


 

Hebrews 10:19-20

Hebrews 10:19 begins the verbal bridge that transitions from the doctrinal material to its practical application. This latter section contains arguably the most powerful exhortations in the entire Bible for us to get up and get going. If these Hebrews were not Laodicean as a whole, they were very close to it.

Overall, God is saying through the apostle, "Don't you realize your danger? Being justified and sanctified, you absolutely cannot allow yourselves to continue in your neglectful ways. You have powerful help available through Christ, yet you are drifting away! Don't you realize what you are giving up by your slow but steady drift into apostasy?" He had already warned them as chapter 2 opened that their neglect of their privileges and responsibilities was allowing this great salvation to slip away.

In Hebrews 10:19, He reminds them that they already have access to God, so they should come before Him with eager boldness. This is one of our great privileges. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden and God's presence, but through Christ, God's regenerated children are now invited into His presence in spirit. Because the way has been prepared for us to do this, we are able to come to know God up close and personal. This is among the greatest of all blessings afforded to everyone who makes the New Covenant.

In other words, He meets with us, not outside the back or front door, but inside the house! And not merely inside the house but inside the second room beyond the veil—the Holy of Holies—where formerly only the High Priest was welcome once a year! The veil separating the rooms in the Temple was torn asunder at Christ's death (Matthew 27:51). Nothing hinders our liberty to go boldly into God's very throne room.

Jesus Christ Himself is "the Way" to the Father (John 14:6). As High Priest, Jesus has dedicated Himself to intercede on behalf of us sinners in our relations with God. In John 17:19, in His prayer the night before His crucifixion, He says, ". . . for their [His disciples'] sakes, I sanctify Myself." He set Himself apart to the shedding of His blood for us and to His position as our High Priest.

The phrase in Hebrews 10:20, "through the veil, that is, His flesh," refers to what He did as a human to make this access to God possible. When He was flesh and blood, He died for us so that we, like Him, could go directly into the Holy of Holies. Spiritually, His death pierced the veil.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Power: Our Shield Against Apostasy


 

Hebrews 10:32

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 12:7

God Himself is educating His children. The people to whom Hebrews was written had a history of making light of His working with them, and the result was that they neglected it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 2)


 

2 Peter 3:1-4

In our day, such scoffers have indeed arisen, both inside and outside the church, spreading their ideas that the return of Jesus Christ as King of kings is many decades away. As happened in the first century, members who hear these prognostications begin to wonder if they are true, and sadly, some come to believe them, put down their guard, and begin to drift away. Agreement with any form of "the Lord delays His coming" will take a heavy, spiritual toll on those who accept it as true, as it eliminates their motivation to overcome their sinful human nature and to prepare for God's Kingdom.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Promise of His Coming?


 

2 Peter 3:3-4

Things are not continuing as they were, and the reason we know this is because God has given us discernment of the times and seasons in which we are living. Life is not going to continue the way it is: It will get worse before it gets better. So Peter is reminding us.

By the time Peter wrote this (scholars date II Peter in 64 AD), the world is in real turmoil. The world seemed to be falling apart. Jerusalem, especially, is a powderkeg. Christians are being blamed for the trouble being incited in Rome.

However, the New Testament writers reveal to us that they saw the church going to sleep. We can imagine such a thing because many of us have experienced this in our own time. At the most critical juncture of history for the church, Matthew 25 in the Parable of the Ten Virgins shows the church asleep—all ten were asleep, not just five of them. The parable specifically spotlights the virgins slumbering and sleeping at the time of the end, and it happened in the first century too, just before the destruction of the Temple, which was "an end."

It is an incongruity that seems almost impossible to believe. With all this excitement going on, instead of being stirred up to press on toward the Kingdom of God, the church instead—many of them anyway—were doing what the Thessalonians were doing, just waiting it out. Not everybody did that, and it is a good thing or Christianity would have died out.

The apostles were certainly stirred up. There is no doubt about it because they wrote about it. These people were doing exactly what the apostles were warning them of: They were walking after their own lusts or desires.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Don't Be a Prudent Agnostic


 

1 John 4:20

What concerns God is whether a person is actually and practically following Him with his mind, actions, words, time and energy. This proves to Him whether one sincerely loves the truth or merely sees his religion as an intellectual profession or social occasion.

Our deceitful mind can find multitudes of ways, reasons and excuses to avoid confronting the real issue of life—overcoming, allowing God to form and shape us into His image. Knowing this very well, Satan works to involve the intellectually inclined among us in pursuits that though they may involve religion and are stimulating and challenging, have little or nothing to do with overcoming. The issue, however, becomes so "big" that God's focus is lost under the ever-growing mounds of research.

He distracts others through conspiracy theories. Though these things may be occurring at least to some extent, and though people reason they are "watching world news," it is not preparing for God's Kingdom. It becomes so "big" in their minds that they are nearly consumed by it—it is all they can talk about!

Jesus said what is in the heart comes out the mouth. Where is there room for God in the heart when this other pursuit is crowding Him out? Are these people in danger of being swept away by the flood? I have noticed that people involved in this gradually become very suspicious and cynical of others, especially those with some authority. Satan subtly destroys the fabric of trust that any institution—be it a relationship, family, church or nation—must have to function.

The Day of the Lord is not yet upon us, but we are in the headwaters of the flood that is swiftly approaching. The flood of deception is a precursor of more physically persuasive tactics designed to deceive the whole world into accepting the lie. But for now, Satan is surely concentrating primarily on God's called-out ones.

God is permitting a sifting to take place. Paul uses the word "delusion" in II Thessalonians 2:11, indicating a "wandering out of the way." Does that not happen to people who are confused and have lost direction and motivation? They wander. They drift. They get tossed about in the winds and currents. But the love of the truth will keep a person clear-minded, focused on the right areas of life and motivated to overcome. And this will lead God to save them.

We need to examine honestly what receives our time and attention. We need to evaluate truthfully what is the focus of our lives. This will reveal whether we love the truth or merely profess to. Those who only profess to love it will be the ones sifted by the flood now swirling around us.

Jesus cried out in John 7:37, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink." Brethren, this is our salvation. He says He is the way, the truth and the life. Now is the time to dig deeply into His Word to make that foundation sure. And let's truly live and build upon what we find there!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Flood Is Upon Us!


 

Revelation 2:1-7

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

The Ephesian church did have a problem. It was not in holding false teachers at arm's length, but in tending to become lax, to "drift with the tide," as it were, and this made them an easy target for false teachers. In this way, their weakness was, in a way, connected to their strength. They approached matters somewhat lackadaisically when times were fairly good, but when times became bad, they seemed to be able to stand up for the truth.

At certain times, their devotion to God's way left a lot to be desired. Just before the apostle John died in about AD 100, this was very much the case, and he really had to rouse them to get them back. From what we know from church history, by this time the membership of the true church was small and concentrated mostly around John in the church at Ephesus and some of the nearby towns in Asia Minor that he directly pastored.

Jude recognized the beginning of this drifting when he wrote in the mid-60s. All the apostles wrote similar things in their epistles: that the members of the church needed to get on the stick because false doctrines and false teachers were already in evidence among them and beginning to cause problems. If they did not root them out quickly, destruction would follow. The brethren were far too tolerant of divergent beliefs and practices, and Jude, especially, makes this point rather bluntly. He basically yells at them. Those who know Greek intimately say his language is very terse and sharp, and with it he lays in to them for being too tolerant of untruth.

His brother, Jesus, is more circumspect in His wording in Revelation 2:5. To paraphrase, he says, "I would rather that you were strong all the time. You need to go back and do the first works and remain strong so that these false teachers do not get a foothold in the church in the first place."

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jude


 

Revelation 2:4-5

To paraphrase Christ's advice to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2, He says, "Renew your devotion to Me. Go back to the first works. You have left your first love. Renew your earlier devotion to Me."

Devotion is the sense in which the word "love" (agape) is being used. Devotion literally means "to vow completely." Baptism is the outward show that one has vowed to give his life to God, and so "devotion" implies complete dedication, total surrender. This hints at the Ephesians' problem: Their devotion—their complete dedication—was slipping away.

Devotion is a deep and ardent affection, a feeling. Its synonym are "attentiveness," "dedication," "commitment," "earnestness," but all with a feeling of affection. Devotion is not given out of a sense of obligation only, but with a warm feeling or a passionate desire. Jesus' charge to the Ephesians to return to their earlier devotion is not something that He is asking to be done merely as a duty. Some antonyms of "devotion" can help us see it from another angle: indifference, negligent, unconcerned, disregard, infidelity, and faithlessness.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Loving Christ and Revelation 2:1-7


 

Revelation 2:25

One can hold fast only to what one has previously been given. They had been given something in the past. They had drifted away into a relationship with the world. Idolatry was present in their character. But Christ says, "Hold fast to that which remains"—something that had previously been given—so that they would not drift any further.

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


 

Revelation 3:2-3

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

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 3:4

A few names in Sardis are still alive spiritually. One might judge himself of another group entirely if he judges himself alive, but God says some are living among the dead. Are any of us really willing to call ourselves dead? We all judge ourselves as part of any group but Sardis! Yet God says Sardis exists, maybe not "alive and well" but it exists nonetheless. We all need to examine ourselves. Would God judge our works as lively, our faith as living? Are we slowly losing what we originally received and heard?

Staff
The Seven Churches: Sardis


 

Revelation 3:15-17

Sadly, this is the direction that the church is prophesied to move as the end approaches. A fairly close parallel exists between the Laodicean and Ephesian conditions. Laodiceans are essentially without a proper feeling for God and His truths, and it has reached the point where they feel as though they no longer need them.

None of this means, though, that Laodiceans are lazy people. They are rich and increased with goods, and people do not become wealthy by sitting on their duffs. Revelation 3 suggests that their strong feelings and vigor are for the wrong things, and certainly not godly things. Therefore, they are without proper convictions concerning the things of God. They are apathetic, drifting, and spiritually blind. How difficult is it for a blind person to navigate through a world loaded with obstacles of all kinds? They must step very gingerly for fear of running into things, and undoubtedly, they would run into things.

The Laodicean is not making progress toward the Kingdom of God. He has stopped and in many cases—just like the Ephesians—he is sliding backwards. He must overcome his apathy for the things of God and begin to care deeply for the things he claims to believe.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Hebrews: A Message for Today


 

Revelation 3:16-18

The drifting of the Laodicean happens so subtly that he is unaware of the decline of his spiritual perception and vigor. What happens when a person begins drifting is that human nature deceives him to judge two things wrongly: 1) the quality of his own spirituality and therefore, 2) the use of his time.

Consider the process of the Laodicean's decline: Does he stop to consider himself as loving death? On the contrary, his nature is selling him on what it calls "enjoying life." However, the reality is that because he enjoys it so much, he thinks that he is fine the way he is. He, though, is guilty of a very serious sin: presumption. This is a sin in which ignorance frequently plays only a small part. When someone is presumptuous, knowledge of what is right is usually available, but he does not think his intent and conduct through to a right conclusion.

On the other hand, carelessness plays a large role in presumption. The Laodiceans should have known better than what their actions reveal. Their lackadaisical approach to spiritual matters, to their Savior who died for them, has earned His stinging rebuke.

Leviticus 4:2 zeroes in on this sin, revealing that it may be more serious than one might suppose. The word "unintentionally" includes more than simply lack of intention, as when a person sins and says, "I really didn't mean it." That is not wrong, but it misses some of the point because that conclusion is shallow and broad. In spite of the sinner's feelings about his intent as he actually committed the act, the term "sin" still appears in God's charge, and he continues to turn aside, wander, err, make a mistake, miss the mark, and go off the path. Though unintentional, the act is still a sin.

Consider the possible effects of such a sin. How many deaths have occurred where a person did something seriously wrong yet claims, "I didn't mean for that to happen"? What could happen if someone is cruising along, not concentrating on his driving, and drifts into oncoming traffic, smashing into another car and killing its occupants? How many people have been killed because a driver's attention was diverted by a cell phone? Just because a sin is unintentional does not mean it is not serious. Such a sin is often one of careless, impatient, lackadaisical neglect. It is the ignoring of a higher priority.

It is in reality often a sin of presumption, an ignoring of God and His law. It includes sins done with a degree of consciousness, a level of awareness of what one's responsibilities are. Even though not arrogantly and deliberately done, they are in reality done willingly.

These can be quite serious. Exodus 20:7, the third commandment, reads, "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain." Because we have been baptized and have received God's Spirit, we have taken on the name "Christian." We are children of God, followers of Christ, and as such, we bear the Family name, an honor not lightly bestowed. Recall again that to whom much is given, the more shall be required.

God warns that we must not bear that holy name carelessly, that is, to no good purpose. He will not hold us guiltless. That name must be borne responsibly in dignified honor to Him, to His Family, and to its operations and purposes. Can we afford to be presumptuously negligent in this privileged responsibility? It is right here that knowledge of God's justice should come to a Christian's mind. It does this because the Christian "sees" God—not literally, of course, but spiritually, in his mind's eye, because he knows Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living by Faith and God's Justice


 

 




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