What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The Keil-Delitzsch Commentary says in reference to verse 1:
The idea is this, "Bezaleel, Aholiab, and the other men who understand, into whom [Yahweh] has infused wisdom and understanding [there is no way around it: God gave to them the ability to do this from His mind to their minds], that they may know how to do, shall do every work for the holy service (worship) with regard to all that [Yahweh] has commanded."
Let us make this personal. He shows this in the context of building the Tabernacle, which, like the Temple, is a type of the church. In His creative efforts, He adds what we lack to carry out His will. God transferred to them some of the Spirit of His mind. God favored them in this: It was a gift of grace to enable them to build the "church."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part Six)
Ecclesiastes 2:26 says that God gives gifts. We need to consider another wonderful gift He has given, not to His children only, but to all mankind, named in Ecclesiastes 3:11: “He has put eternity in their hearts.” This wonderful gift contains an aspect that can work against us if we are not careful.
Unlike animals, we have thoughts of immortality. We normally do not want to die; we want to live forever. Yet, we also know that we are caught between time as it is for us right now and eternity. As God reveals Himself to us, to live eternally with Him and to be like Him become major desires for us.
The filmmaker Woody Allen, an atheist and without revelation from God, nonetheless makes an insightful observation about mankind, which he learned at least partly from his occupation as a writer and movie-maker:
The universe is indifferent, so we create a fake world for ourselves, and we exist within that fake world, a world that, in fact means nothing at all, when you step back. It is meaningless. But it's important that we create some sense of meaning, because no perceptible meaning exists for anybody.
Why is it "important that we create some sense of meaning”? Our thinking is what creates a sense of purpose for our existence and therefore gives direction for our use of life. Will our conclusions be true or false? Our minds can only work with what they already have, which accrues as we move through life's events.
Allen observes that the universe tells us nothing about the purpose for life. While not entirely correct, it is close enough for the unconverted. How much spiritual truth does the unconverted mind really have to work with? Therefore, humanly, we attempt to create our own meaning and purpose, fitting ourselves into what we have imagined. What are the odds that a person will come up with exactly the same purpose and meaning that the Creator has planned for us?
In addition—and this is essential—what are the chances that a person will fit himself into that divine plan on his own? The correct answer is zilch, nada, nothing. Therefore, since the universe tells us nothing, the true purpose of life must be revealed through God's calling.
Of supreme importance to us, then, is whether our thinking creates a sense of meaning and purpose for our lives from what God has revealed in His Word. Ecclesiastes 3:11 reveals that God has given mankind thoughts of eternity, that is, of time both backward and forward endlessly. However, He has not yet given mankind His truth about eternity. Consequently, most of mankind believes that they already have immortality within them! In this way, their false thinking becomes their enemy!
Understanding and fully accepting what He has given to us are not always easy because our former, carnal experiences make us susceptible to the pulls of the world. We become sluggish in living by faith because we allow our former education from the world to lure us into self-centeredness. Our challenge is to focus on the purpose of life that God has revealed to us, not on what we have imagined for ourselves.
When we add other truths gleaned from other passages of God's Word, we realize that verse 11 implies that we are being created for another world, an entirely different one within the realm of eternity. God's gift of His Holy Spirit has given us an ability to transcend mankind's fixation on the present and the material. We are being created for the spirit world of the Father and the Son and of the angels (which were made to be ministering spirits for our benefit). We are being created for the Kingdom of God.
To find satisfaction and fulfillment, Solomon attempted many different avenues and thought deeply about life as he saw it. However, we must come to understand that God has ordained that we must live by faith while awaiting our change. That time must be spent within a relationship with Him so that we come to know Him and His way ever more fully. Now is the testing time, the time for trials to prepare us. We must learn that our satisfaction in life must come from an “over the sun” spiritual relationship lived by faith.
Those who pursue this relationship with God will be given eternal life because they know Him and He knows them. This is the task to which Ecclesiastes 3:10 alludes. God has given us this task to accomplish to be prepared for living in His Kingdom. To fulfill it, we must live by faith, trusting His sovereignty in every situation. That means being at peace, content, comforting ourselves with the truth that God is fully aware of what is happening in our lives and is in control of the big picture.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Three): Time
"Grace, grace" - In the Hebrew, this is literally "favor, favor." Perhaps more literally, it should be rendered "beauty, beauty." In the Psalms, there is a concept called "the beauty of holiness" (see Psalm 29:2; 96:9; 110:3), which is connected to this "grace, grace." However, this instance is a reiteration of what is said in verse 6, that it is only by God's gifts and favor that the work will be accomplished.
The Hebrew language repeats itself a great deal—putting ideas in a slightly different way, in parallel, so that we can understand just how things are to be understood. What this means is that it is by God's grace—by His Spirit, by His favor, by His gifts, that the Temple will be completed and ready for God to inhabit. Zerubbabel should not fear anything. It will be done through God's help.
However, we have to link this with the lamps around the central pillar, which is the passage's main theme. The prophecy goes beyond Zerubbabel to the New Testament church—specifically, down to the end-time church. The passage progresses toward the Two Witnesses—the two anointed ones—at the end of this chapter. And much like Revelation 10 and 11, it starts out with an early work and ends with their worldwide work. The early work has to do with completing the Temple, and the later work has to do with a witness for God before the whole world.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Two Witnesses (Part Four)
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
This passage is devoted to one major objective: to instruct us concerning our perception of God the Father.
- He is not a reluctant stranger who can be bullied into bestowing His many gifts simply because of our many words. That is not the issue for being persistent.
- He is not a malicious tyrant who takes vicious glee in the tricks that He plays on His subjects—by giving a scorpion rather than an egg.
- He is not an indulgent grandfather who provides everything that is requested of Him. He does not spoil His children.
- He is our heavenly Father who graciously and willingly bestows good gifts when they are needed in answer to prayer.
The key is "good gifts when they are needed." God's good gifts may come a little bit at a time. Sometimes, we are not even aware that it is occurring, yet He has been supplying the very thing that we asked for. Somehow or another, we are not sharp enough spiritually to see it.
The parable clarifies one aspect of why we must be persistent in prayer, but there is another that deals with our perceptions of God's power and His purpose and how our requests fit into them. Unfortunately, we often misunderstand God's role as Creator and tend to think of Him narrowly as being our Benefactor. He is both Benefactor and Creator. However, we tend to emphasize the Benefactor aspect, while He tends to emphasize the Creator aspect. So when we feel a need, and our desire is great because we feel that the need is urgent, we want our desire filled immediately because we see it as the answer.
We may be absolutely correct that it is the answer and that what we are asking for is good in God's eyes—it is according to His will. However, there is more to our request from God's point of view. He lives in a different timeframe than we do; time does not mean the same thing to Him as it does to us. In addition, His perception of our request is different because He is looking at it from the vantage point of His purpose rather than from our limited goals, which are often to have relief, strength, a gift, or power so that we might be able to serve Him better. The request may be good and entirely justified, but God is still looking at it differently than we are.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Persistence
Jacob had God's election, selection, or calling, thus giving him a very decided advantage withheld from Esau by God, who did not choose to call him. God's election of Jacob and rejection of Esau had nothing to do with anything genetically inherent within them. It had nothing to do with what either of them had done. It had everything to do with what God chose to do and did: He gave Jacob the edge. Jacob eventually responded correctly, but the sovereign God exercised His right to make moves and use people as He designs. This is Paul's main point.
God's decisions—what He elects to do—are not matters of emotion but of will. Whether we think they are right or wrong, fair or unfair, means nothing. Isaiah 55 makes plain we do not think as He does. Our thinking on these issues does not matter because, first, God is Creator and can do as He pleases. Second, what He does is always right anyway. That we are not completely masters of our own destinies and that free moral agency has its limits are sometimes humbling and difficult to accept. God, of His own volition, can and does treat some with what we might deem as favoritism, as though some are better than others.
Notice John the Baptist's reaction to a situation in which something like this is involved:
And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!" John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. . . . He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:26-27, 30)
John had come to grips with this concept. He understood that his role in the vast scope of God's purpose was limited by the overruling wisdom of the Creator as He carried out His purpose. This is a reason why salvation is spoken of as "free"—because God is not bound to show mercy to anybody since all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All too often, we forget that the invisible God is working things out according to His purpose, not ours. God is free to do as He pleases. He owes no one anything.
I Corinthians 4:6-7 adds:
Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
Do we have grounds for being puffed up or jealous? John the Baptist did not think so, and what he declared is truth. I Corinthians 12 makes clear that God places people in the church as it pleases Him, and He gives gifts to them so they can be responsible for a function. The gifts do not make them "better," just prepared by the Creator to serve in a specialized way.
At this juncture, we can draw a major lesson from the Parable of the Talents and fit it into this picture:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. . . . So he who had received five talents, came and brought five other talents, saying, "Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them." . . . He also who had received two talents came and said, "Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them." . . . Then he who had received the one talent came and said, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed." (Matthew 25:14, 20, 22, 24)
Not all are expected to produce the same results, but all are expected to be equally faithful to the gifts God entrusted to them. Interestingly, the one who was unfaithful to what God gave him failed to produce based on his reasoning that God is unfair. Like so many people today, he felt victimized.
We see, then, that Jacob was not inherently a better person than Esau was. He was simply gifted in a way Esau was not. God probably chose to use twins to illustrate this vitally important lesson to draw attention to how He works and to His grace. In this way, God is never indebted to man.
What makes this so important to us? We have the same advantage over those not called as Jacob had over Esau. We also learn that those who judge themselves among themselves are not wise because not everyone is gifted in exactly the same way. Finally, we learn that each bears his own responsibility to edify the body according the measure of what God has given him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Two)
Most successful televangelists preach what is called "the Prosperity Gospel." Using select Scriptures, they teach that if one gives his life to Jesus, and if he follows certain biblical principles, God is obligated to fulfill His promises of wealth, health, and well-being. In the end, God becomes little more than a genie-in-a-bottle, granting wishes out of sheer compulsion. To these preachers, this is the abundant life God promises, and hundreds of thousands of people agree with them.
It is true that the Bible is full of promises. It is also true that Jesus tells us several times in John 14-16, "If you ask anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:14; see also 14:13; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24, 26). Psalm 37:4 pledges, "Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." These sound like absolute promises, and if God is to be true to His Word, He must fulfill them, right?
This is what the televangelists have concluded, but in the end, it is a facile conclusion. Very few of God's promises in the Bible are absolute in nature; they are, instead, conditional promises, governed not only by our responses to God, fulfilling certain requirements, but also by the perfect judgment of God. As James 1:17 says, He gives only good and perfect gifts; He will never give one of His children a "blessing" that would ultimately derail His purpose for him or that would be too much for him to handle.
It works similarly among mere mortals. A human parent would not send his son to vocational school if he really wanted him to be a doctor, even though tuition to the vocational school would be a "good thing." Likewise, the same parent would not entrust his child with thousands of dollars in cash at Toys 'R Us, despite the fact that such sums of money would be considered a wonderful gift. If human parents have enough wisdom to give goal- and maturity-dependent gifts to their children, how much more does God (Romans 11:33)?
The faithful Abraham and Sarah are good examples of this aspect of God's promises. In Genesis 12:2, God tells Abraham, age 75 at the time (verse 4), that He would make of him "a great nation," implying that he would have children. God makes this promise again in verse 7: "The LORD appeared to Abram and said, 'To your descendants I will give this land.'" Yet, He does not give Abraham the promised child when he is 76 or 78 or 80!
After his rescue of Lot from the confederation of kings, Abraham pleads with God in Genesis 15:2-3—he is now 80 years old—for an heir. God repeats the promise, and Abraham believes Him (verses 4-6), yet Sarah does not become pregnant any time soon. Later, after Ishmael is born of Hagar when Abraham is 86 years old (Genesis 16:16), the patriarch wonders if this is the promised seed, but when the boy is thirteen—Abraham is now 99!—God reiterates, "No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son" (Genesis 17:19).
. . . the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. . . . Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. (Genesis 21:1-2, 5)
Evidently, a great deal had to happen in the lives of Abraham and Sarah—predominantly in terms of spiritual maturity—before God felt the right time had come to give them their promised baby boy. Twenty-five years passed before God fulfilled His promise. Notice that Scripture itself informs us that God performed the miracle to allow Sarah to conceive "at the set time." There was one perfect time for this promise to be fulfilled, and God fulfilled it when all the conditions were right.
And we can thank Him profusely for doing the same for us (II Corinthians 4:15).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Are You Living the Abundant Life?
1 Corinthians 4:6-7
This reaches right down to all of us. What room is there for either boasting or envy? There is room for nothing but to face humbly what the Bible tells us. In Romans 12:3, Paul makes a similar statement and adds a warning: "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." Who among us clay vessels can rightfully ask God who has made us, "Why have you made me thus?" or look with disregard or envy at another, knowing God is also measuring out to him the gifts that please Him?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Two
1 Corinthians 4:6-7
These people were using the gifts that God gave to them to divide the church. They were separating themselves into cliques, getting people in the congregation to say, "I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Peter," and so forth because "Peter represents this, Paul represents this other thing, and what Paul has is better," and "Peter is not teaching this, and Paul is teaching it," etc. They were using such arguments to divide the congregation.
In argument to this, the apostle is saying, "Look, we all have our gifts. There is not one of us that did not receive what we have." Consider this within the framework of I Corinthians 1:29-31. Paul is hammering away at them because they were so proud, so puffed up, about what God had given them, as if it belonged to themselves, as if they had acquired their gifts without God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace
Notice first how this chapter begins: He has made us alive (Ephesians 2:1). Paul makes sure that we understand that it is God who gives what we spiritually possess. As for verse 8, it does not matter whether we believe that the pronoun "it" refers to grace or faith; both are gifts of God.
Grace is God's kindness to us, shown or demonstrated by His revealing Himself to us. It might help to think of this in reference to God revealing Himself to Moses in the burning bush before He sent him to Egypt. If God did not freely purpose on the strength of His own sovereign will to reveal Himself, neither Moses nor we would ever find Him. If a person cannot find God on his own, how could he possibly have faith in Him? Satan has deceived us so well that men have only the foggiest idea of what to look for.
Faith—with God as its object—begins and continues as part of His gift of kindness. The gift includes His calling, the granting of repentance, the sacrifice of Christ for our forgiveness, and His giving of His Spirit. It is a complete package of many individual gifts. The gospel is the medium that provides knowledge of the objects of the faith He gives, that is, what we believe and trust in. Paul, perceiving these gifts as a package, uses "grace" as its label. In verses 9-10, he advances to the logical "next step" in God's purpose.
Our works in no way jump-start the process of justification, sanctification, and glorification. All our works, beginning with repentance and continuing through our period of sanctification, depend directly on the freely given kindness and faith God provides. Our God-ordained good works are the result of our response to the gift of faith that God gives. Works, then, are the external evidence of the unseen, internal faith that motivates them. A person could not do them unless God had given the gift of faith beforehand. Good works follow, they do not precede.
II Corinthians 5:17-18 confirms this: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation." This corroborates that it is God working in the person. His work is termed a "new creation." Since nothing new creates itself, we are the workmanship of another. We are God's workmanship. In sum, because of what God does, we cooperate and produce works that He ordains.
The apostle Paul adds to our understanding in Philippians 2:12-13: "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." He is not saying that we should work in order to obtain salvation. These verses indicate the continuing use of something one already possesses. They suggest carrying something to its logical conclusion, which is for us to live lives worthy of the gospel, doing the works God ordained, as in Ephesians 2:10.
In Romans 9:9-19, Paul, using Jacob and Esau's pre-birth circumstances as a foundation, provides a clear illustration to show that from beginning to end, the whole salvation process depends upon God's involvement. Jacob, representing those called into the church, received God's love in the form of gifts designed to prepare him for the Kingdom of God. From Esau, representing the uncalled, God has simply withheld His love for the time being.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)
2 Timothy 1:7
An indication of Timothy's personality comes through in this verse. Apparently, Timothy was an introverted, retiring personality who of himself would not do what he would be called upon to do. By the end of the book, Paul knows that he is going to die. From all indications, Timothy would bear the weight of responsibility for preaching the gospel after Paul's death. Paul knows what Timothy is like because he had spent years with him, travelling around the Mediterranean region. The apostle, concerned about Timothy having the mind, the personality, the will, to carry out his responsibilities, reminds him that God's Spirit is one of power and of love and of soundmindedness.
And so it is with each person God calls. He gives whatever gifts one needs to carry out his responsibility within the body. Most will find certain parts of the Christian life uncomfortable or the requirements that God has established difficult to meet. But there is no need to fear, for the power is available, or God is not God. He has promised that He will finish what He starts (Philippians 1:6). We can do whatever He asks because He does not require more than can be accomplished with the gifts we already have. He always works within the framework of His knowledge of each Christian.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
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