What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
After what things had passed? What had passed was the whole, interesting story of his life up to this point. It has been said that to follow God Abraham gave up more than any other man. Now, at age 133, he is looking back on a lifetime of trials. Perhaps he thought that he had proved his faith and could relax a bit and enjoy his old age. God, however, had another test for him, the biggest yet. Though God does not tempt us (James 1:13), He does test us. Nevertheless, Abraham eagerly responds when God calls his name: "Here I am!" What tremendous humility this shows.
Abraham's One God
What does "greatpeace" mean? "Peace" automatically suggests an absence of war, no battling, no fighting. Under temptation, a battle always rages, even if we are winning. In such a case, no peace exists, much less "great peace." As an illustration, initially, the U.S. in Iraq won every battle handily, but it was still war. The spiritual war we fight is caused by temptation from Satan, our human nature, and the world. Remove temptation, and war stops. What remains is great peace.
How do we achieve not just peace, but "great peace"? The last half of Psalm 119:165 tells us: "nothing causes them to stumble." What causes a human to stumble? Temptation! This means that we have to be sheltered from it. The American Standard Version renders this phrase, "they have no occasion of stumbling," Young's Literal Translation puts it as "they have no stumbling-block," and the Rotherham's Emphasized Bible reads, "nothing to make them stumble." All of these renderings mean that not even the opportunity to stumble is presented. Other scriptures mention protection from stumbling:
Psalm 121:3 (NLT): He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.
I John 2:10: He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.
Jude 24: Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. . . .
God through the gift of His Holy Spirit is the only power in the universe that can accomplish such a feat. If God does not place that shield around us, we have no hope of success. Alone, we are powerless in the face of temptation. We overcome it not by our strength, but by God's power, the shield of faith (I John 5:4) given to us as His gift (Ephesians 2:8). It is our only sure defense.
To acknowledge God and to pray always are to be in alignment with one of Christ's most basic principles, a principle found in Matthew 6:33—to "seek first the kingdom of God" in all things. Praying always is stepping out in faith, believing that if we seek God first, He will add all the things we need (Philippians 4:19), including the strength to overcome, to finish this journey, and to enter His Kingdom.
When faced with the myriad decisions we have to make during each day, if we are not acknowledging God's presence, we have placed ourselves in the position of fighting our battles on our own. Israel made the same mistake, choosing the hard road in their fight, one littered with bodies. We probably all know of some bodies that now litter the spiritual road we have walked. We veterans carry scars from the battles we have lost.
Our battles to overcome are more like skirmishes than battles. In fact, we experience our most severe temptations and trials in everyday events like eating, conducting business affairs, or relating to others in the family or community. Luke 16:10 acknowledges this: "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in whatis least is unjust also in much."
What better way to win those little skirmishes than to have an invincible Champion, God, in the van of the battle? Because these skirmishes are in the myriad of details we deal with every day, only striving to pray always during the day gives us that unyielding first line of defense.
Our deceitful human nature has in its arsenal countless ways, reasons, and excuses to avoid confronting the real issue of life—overcoming and allowing God to form and shape us into His image. Just bringing God into the picture unleashes forces that will not only help us to overcome, but will also protect us from the pitfalls that litter our path (Psalm 91:12). It is this striving to pray always that a Laodicean naturally avoids because he feels no need.
Praying Always (Part Six)
The same thought is expressed in Genesis 6:5-7, when the Lord repented that He had made man to live on the earth. It never occurred to God that humans could become so wretched that every imagination, every thought that came to mind was only evil continually. The only thing He could think to do to preserve these people for their time of visitation (salvation) would be to wipe them out before their minds became so abominably corrupted, their conscience so defiled, their character so set, their heart, mind, and spirit so evil, that repentance would be impossible. The only thing to do would be to put them to death, to set them apart for a time when they would have an opportunity for salvation, when the kinds of temptations that were in the world at that time would not be present.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part Five)
Undoubtedly, the fount of Israel's despicable behavior is what Paul concludes in Hebrews 3:12: "Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God."
Israel, despite the fact that God voluntarily revealed much about Himself to her, simply does not believe what He says. The fruit of unbelief is betrayal expressed as departing from the relationship. However, an "evil heart of unbelief" is quite general. To begin, we need to explore one particular step in the process of sin beyond the "evil heart of unbelief."
In addition, we need to understand that our subject is not women who have been forced by their cultures into prostitution. Such a circumstance is far more understandable; women trapped in such a situation are truly victims and elicit our pity. We will be exploring those women who were free to pursue other courses in life yet deliberately chose to prostitute themselves, whether in service at a pagan temple as part of the worship of a god or in making a living. Israel deliberately chose to prostitute herself.
A prostitute is "a person, usually a woman, who provides sexual activity in exchange for material security." Dictionaries also define prostitution as "debasing oneself for personal gain," and this usage applies to either gender. Additionally, it is "a misuse of one's gifts, talents, or skills," and this too applies to either gender.
Because of these usages, in its broadest sense, prostitution is not confined either to sexual activity or to women alone. The selling of sex by a woman is only its best-known form. A prostitute is anybody who, as we would say today, "sells himself out" or makes compromises for personal gain. The gain does not have to be in the form of money. However, biblically, its descriptions and examples are confined to the illicit sexual activity of women because of Israel being symbolized as a woman.
A female prostitute is generally distinguished from an adulterer due to her lack of discrimination in choosing her partners. This lack of discrimination is important because it reveals a mindset, an attitude, that approaches what we today might call an "airhead," one who seriously ignores the harsh realities of sin. The attitude also exposes a stubborn addiction to gambling on sin's outcome. The prostitute usually justifies the sin because of her immediate needs.
All sin follows a pattern. The actual act is the next to the last step in a process that, once it starts, often does not take a great deal of time to complete. James 1:13-15 shows:
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
Here, simply stated, is the process of sin:
1. Temptation triggers desire.
2. Desire stirs the yearning for gratification.
3. Failure to consider the end and to discipline oneself prompt the sinful act.
4. The sinful act brings forth death.
Repeated frequently enough, this process becomes habitual. The Bible pinpoints the source of sin in another way in Matthew 15:18-20:
But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.
This is another way of saying that it is within mankind's nature to sin. However, this does not justify sin because man's nature can be disciplined far better than mankind exhibits.
If sin is to be stopped, these two areas simply must be dealt with, or sin will continue unabated. The carnal mind—man's normal nature—is at war with God (Romans 8:7), and it is not subject to God's law because, out of sheer unbelieving stubbornness, it will not permit itself to submit completely. This is why God says that He will give us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26).
The Bible uses the word heart to represent all the internal intangibles of human personality. Today, we might say this heart is what makes us "tick." It is the spirit in that heart that lures us—indeed, drives us—to conduct ourselves in a way that is hostile to God. The Bible shows the prostitute having a specific spirit or heart driving her.
God says in Hosea 4:12: "My people ask counsel from their wooden idols, and their staff informs them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, and they have played the harlot against their God." He adds in Hosea 5:4, "They do not direct their deeds toward turning to their God, for the spirit of harlotry is in their midst, and they do not know the LORD." In a context like this, the Bible uses spirit to indicate an immaterial force or power, an attitude, leaning, inclination, outlook, position, propensity, or proclivity to move, act, or conduct oneself in a certain manner or direction.
In Hosea 5:4, the conjunction "for" shows the direct connection between the people's sinful, idol-worshipping conduct and "the spirit of harlotry." This spirit is one of the intangibles that comprise human nature, and its direction of conduct is to be disloyal and unfaithful to Israel's commitment to God ratified in the Old Covenant, in which she vowed, "All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient" (Exodus 24:7).
Remember, what we are considering is something the entire nation is guilty of, both men and women. We are looking at the streetwalker-type of prostitute only because the Bible provides a clear picture of what motivates her. Once we grasp her motivations, we can extrapolate them to illustrate the whole nation—and ourselves individually because we have participated in the same system, and its drives linger in us.
This, of course, is not to accuse anyone of being a streetwalker. Recall that two of the definitions of prostitution are "abasing oneself for personal gain" and "abusing one's gifts, talents, and skills" for the same. For instance, biographers of famous personalities, especially of artists, occasionally write that their subjects felt they had prostituted their gifts to become wealthy.
This is what God implies in Amos 3:2: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." He expected more and better from them than from any other nation. In terms of the knowledge of God and their access to instruction in the way of life that would produce the most and best toward physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, no other nation came even close to what Israel had because God had chosen them to be His people. Nevertheless, in following the examples of pagan nations who did not know God, Israel frivolously prostituted herself for what she considered personal gain.
Have we not all debased ourselves by indiscriminately accepting the personal gain of the immediate gratification of an unlawful desire, and in the same process, ignored or consciously shoved aside our knowledge of the truth of God? Once we have knowledge of the truth, thus removing our ignorance of God, His way, and His law, if we did not prostitute ourselves, there would be no sin in our lives. The sad truth is that we do not discipline or control ourselves, but instead, we indulge ourselves, and sin occurs. We have prostituted ourselves. We must do better.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Nine): Babylon the Great
Even when Satan says truth, even when he quotes Scripture, he puts a perverse twist to it. How did our Lord fight Satan? With truth! That is how one defeats Satan: being confident that Jesus Christ has already secured the victory and that God has put a hedge around us so that we will not fall into a situation confronting Satan that is beyond us, and being absolutely reliant upon the truth of God! Even though we may not be able to see how it is worked out, even though we may feel that following the truth of God is going to require a considerable sacrifice on our part, we have the example of Jesus Himself fighting Satan by relying upon the truth of God. He trusted what God said.
One might wonder why Satan used "if." He did not use "if" to get Jesus to doubt His Sonship. Jesus knew who He was. Rather, he was trying to get Him to reflect on the meaning of "if." Satan seems to be saying, "Surely, if You are the Son of God, You have the right to expect Your needs at the moment to be satisfied."
Jesus did not fall for it. As hungry as He was, He knew it was a trap. He knew He did not have to be concerned about supplying His material needs because God would do it for Him. Did He not later say, "If God so feeds the birds of the field"?
This was a temptation for Christ to use His Sonship in a way other than its God-ordained purpose. What is the God-ordained purpose of our calling? "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). That is the truth of God. God will supply what we need. So Jesus' answer was, "Thank you, but I'll just wait for God to supply My need."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 5)
The person condemned by Jesus here deliberately uses his eyes to awaken and stimulate his lust. It is difficult enough to avoid lusting after natural things, but many things in this world are deliberately designed to awaken wrong desires. If certain books, pictures, magazines, movies, places, activities, or people tempt us to lust, we must avoid them, regardless of the cost. Not sinning is that important!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment (1998)
What do we actually do to "seek first the Kingdom of God"? How do we in our daily actions put God first? How do we take Christ's abstract statement and turn it into concrete steps that we can employ in our lives? One answer is Luke 21:36. Seeking God—is the solution to all our problems. Luke 21:36 gives us the first step in implementing that solution—praying always. This is a foundation on which to build eternal life.
By being in conscious and constant communication, we are acknowledging God. We are bringing Him into the picture, obeying Matthew 6:33 by seeking Him first. When we do that, we create the opportunity to put some interesting dynamics into action that will facilitate overcoming.
Could we have any better companion than God? With no other could we possibly find better fellowship. God designed prayer to be an act by a free-moral agent who consciously chooses to be with Him to develop their relationship. When we pray, we acknowledge that we are in the presence of God, giving Him the opportunity to rub off on us, like iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17).
When person A rubs off on person B, it implies that B becomes a little more like A—he begins to take on the other's characteristics. The same holds true with the relationship between God and us. Who has the easier time dealing with temptation—God or us? Of course, God does (James 1:13)! It follows, then, that if the more God rubs off on us, the more we become like Him—the more successful our battle against temptation becomes. The more God rubs off on us, the more the battle becomes God's, not ours.
To have the right kind of fellowship and relationship with God, we have to be aware of the reality that we are always in His presence; He is "a God near at hand" (Jeremiah 23:23). Because God has promised never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and since we are the Temple where His Spirit dwells (I Corinthians 3:16), God is constantly with us. For His children, the question is never whether He is present, but whether we acknowledge His presence. Praying always accomplishes this.
If being in the presence of a friend of fine character improves us on a human level (Proverbs 13:20), how much more true is this when we are in the presence of God Himself, the very definition of character and wisdom? That is how He can rub off on us: We are with Him, in His fellowship, in His presence, through prayer. When it comes to His children, He is never way off somewhere, if we would but acknowledge this fact.
God designed human beings to adapt to their environment. Before conversion, this world and its influences were molding us into an anti-God form. Acknowledging God's presence is the antidote that counteracts the influence under which we have lived since birth.
God's calling is an invitation to fellowship with Him, and getting to know Him is our salvation (John 17:3). If this is so, then the means—prayer—is a vital part of the foundation on which we need to build. That is the message of Luke 21:36. Praying always leads to overcoming, and both will lead to an escape from God's wrath and fellowship with Christ on into God's Kingdom.
Notice another illustration of the power of presence. What happens to us when we are around people who are pessimistic, angry, fearful, whining? Compare that to our reaction when around those who are positive and enthusiastic, facing life with gentle humor, determination, and energy. The former can quickly drain and depress us, while the latter can energize and enthuse us. In these situations, a literal transference of a spiritual attitude takes place. However, as we increase our physical distance from either of these examples, their power to influence erodes.
What happens on the human plane is no different from what happens spiritually. The spirit—good or bad—of people radiates out from them. It can affect, even change our spirit. Likewise, Satan's spirit permeates our environment, influencing us unless we choose to counteract it.
That choice is praying at every opportunity, willingly submitting ourselves to the persuasion of the most positive, righteous, and unchanging attitudes that exist in the entire universe! This is why after prayer, after spending time in the presence of God, people can feel peace, joy, or confidence. On the other hand, they can also feel humbled and chastened because God has led them to remorse and repentance. Prayer changes things—us.
Praying Always (Part Four)
Jesus tells us to deny ourselves.This means we must disown and renounce ourselves and subjugate everything—all our works, interests, and enjoyments—to the standards set by God. Paul commands us to bring under our control every thought that opposes God and His way (II Corinthians 10:5).
Jesus also instructs us to bear our cross. We need to embrace the situations God has set us in, and with faith in Him to bring us through them, bear the troubles and difficulties that come upon us. Just as Jesus accepted His role, even to "the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8), we need to be content with what God gives us to do (Philippians 4:11). As Paul says in I Timothy 6:6, "Godliness with contentment is great gain." What an achievement it is not to be driven by evil hungers!
God has called us to lay down our lives in subjection to Him. The supreme object of our lives is not our personal happiness or fulfilling our every desire. Our goal is God's kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), but notice what Jesus says next: "And all these things shall be added to you." If we yield ourselves to God's instruction and grow and overcome, He will fulfill our legitimate desires!
Matthew 16:25 shows us the two sides of this issue. Jesus says that if we insist on preserving our way of life, with all its wrong hungers and desires, we will lose it eternally!But if we take control of our mind and emotions and destroy our way of life—ridding ourselves of all the wrong hungers and desires that are against God—then God will save it eternally! The better option is obvious.
Satan has filled this world with hungers of every sort to tempt men, including the people of God. Hungers of lust, power, money, and fame seem inviting after the monotony of day-to-day living, but Satan's way is a trap, though an enticing one. It always looks good on the outside, but inside is sin, destruction, and ultimately death, eternal death.
God allows us to make decisions. He allows us to learn from the decisions we make—both right and wrong. The right decision to make about the wonderful calling and opportunity He has given to us is to yield ourselves under the mighty hand of God in faith that He will work in us. His work is always wonderful and good. Once we yield, we can set our mind to overcome, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. And God will satisfy us!
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Do You Have 'the Hunger'?
The word skandalon, translated "offenses" or "offense," is used by Jesus three times in this verse. Skandalon is the trigger of a trap on which bait is placed. When an animal touches the trigger to eat the bait, the trap springs shut, and the animal is caught. When used in a moral context, skandalon indicates the enticement to conduct which will ruin the person in question.
Obviously, the verse's context is moral. Jesus' concern is the sin of being the temptation or enticement that causes others to sin. He does not stipulate whether one is the direct cause through persuasion or flaunted worldliness, or indirectly through one's manner of life. Hypocrisy may very well tempt others to sin more than outright atheism!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Defense Against Offense
In Luke 4:4, Jesus tells the Devil, in response to the first of his temptations, "It is written: 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'" This is not some general statement that allows us to choose what we will and will not obey, but a requirement for each of us, to the best of our ability, to follow every word of God in living our lives before Him. To do this takes real faith. God has given us "the way of righteousness," a revelation this world just cannot comprehend, and He is looking for evidence that we not only assent to it but are also living it.
It is the works of obedience that change us, that reflect that we are striving to live as God lives. This is what God counts as proper evidence of our faith. In James 2:17, 20, 26, the apostle informs us that, without works, our faith is dead, and these works are defined as putting into practice the instructions of God in our lives, just as Abraham did on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:2-12).
When God saw Abraham's obedience to His instructions, He said, "Now I know that you fear Me!" As hard as it is for us to measure up to what Abraham did in being willing to sacrifice his only son in obedience to God's command, God should be able to say this about each one of us. Do we have the faith to live by every word of God?
Humbling ourselves in obedience—especially when it hurts—makes a powerful statement to God.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Will Christ Find Faith?
1 Corinthians 10:13
When we are tempted, God will help. He will provide a way out, not to avoid temptation, but to meet it successfully and to stand firm under it. This is testing as permitted and controlled by God to produce sterling character that is a reflection of His own.
God is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear and successfully conquer. He challenges us to meet the temptations that spring up before us on the road of life, beat them down, learn the lessons, and move on to receive the crown of life. He promises to be with us every step of the way. We can be
... confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ... (Philippians 1:6),
when He will give us our reward (Revelation 22:12).
Martin G. Collins
How Does Temptation Relate to Sin?
1 Corinthians 10:13
"Common to man" means that the trials that come upon Christians are the same as occur to all men. As we live life, we find that in most cases these trials are unavoidable. They just happen. If it happens in the world, we are part of what is going on in the world, and these things affect us unavoidably. God says that He will provide "the way of escape," implying that there is one right way out of each trial. There may be other optional ways, but Paul is stressing that there is "a way" and "the way." We want "the way," the one that God provides for us. The imagery is of an army trapped during a battle, but suddenly a mountain pass opens up before them to provide them a way out of their dilemma. This illustrates how Christians escape trials.
There is a reason for the Christian going through his trial. The trial God provides is good for him to experience. God wants to see what his reaction will be. Will he avail himself of "a way of escape" that he or the world might provide - or will he submit to "the way of escape" God makes available to him? Certainly, "the way of escape" will always involve the use of faith. God is testing the Christian's response to His declarations and His promises of faithfulness, and He wants to see if he will respond because God is faithful. Which way will he choose?
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 1)
1 Corinthians 10:13
Demons can entice action and attitudes that will take us into sin, but God is holy. He never plays dirty; everything He does is fair. His actions are just, pure, right, and done in love. He does not tempt people to sin. If a person feels as if he is caught between conflicting pressures, impulses, and one of them is drawing him toward sin, it is certainly not from God. This is why John says what he does in I John 4:1-6. God's Spirit in us gives us the power to recognize truth, so we follow it.
A trial could come upon us not necessarily because of anything that we did or because something is wrong with us, but one could come upon us from this world or from Satan. God promises flat out He will never allow us to be tempted above what we are able to handle, and that He will always provide a way of escape (I Corinthians 10:13). We are not without resources. We can recognize truth, and the trials that we fall into can and will be overcome with His help.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part Three)
1 Corinthians 16:13-14
As Paul writes this, these were not to be momentary attitudes but continuous states. This is what is developed and produced in us by God's Spirit because of the relationship with Christ. Thus, when he says "watch," he is not speaking about an occasional absence of sleep but a determined effort at vigilance so that our spiritual liberty will not be endangered by compromise with anything in our environment.
It means not playing with temptations. He is telling us to be stable, not to be flitting from one fad and fashion to another like the people in this book were doing. He tells them, "Be like men," meaning, "Be mature, stable, responsible to duty." He wants us to understand that nothing fine and good can be built if it is treated in a casual, informal, easygoing manner.
Paul wants us to understand that being strong in God is not something inherent within us. It does not come naturally. Human nature is at war against God. It resists seeking Him. Being strong in God is derived from the relationship with Him, and this relationship must be worked on, even as a good relationship with another human being must be worked on.
Finally, he speaks of love, the love of God. This is not a syrupy affection with a lot of hugs, charm, or social graces, though it may include those things. The Bible, in fact, says that "charm is deceitful and beauty is vain." He is not saying that they are evil but that they have the power to deceive people into thinking that, because one is charming or beautiful, he is somehow converted. He is warning us that those things might be nothing more than a carnal façade.
What is love? Love is doing what is right from God's perspective. Remember, this is the same apostle who admonishes Timothy to rebuke people before all—even right before the entire congregation. If that is what it took to turn a person back to God, that was what was to be done, and it was an act of love. Love is being responsible, honest, loyal, trustworthy, faithful. Love is being zealous toward God, and it is many other things as well.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 5)
When writing about putting on "the whole armor of God" in Ephesians 6, Paul begins to conclude the passage by repeating the concepts in Luke 21:36—praying always and watching (verse 18). He says in verse 16: ". . . above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one."
Albert Barnes' New Testament Commentary explains these fiery darts:
Paul here refers, probably, to the temptations of the great adversary, which are like fiery darts; or those furious suggestions of evil, and excitements to sin, which he may throw into the mind like fiery darts. They are blasphemous thoughts, unbelief, sudden temptation to do wrong, or thoughts that wound and torment the soul. In regard to them, we may observe:
(1) that they come suddenly, like arrows sped from a bow;
(2) they come from unexpected quarters, like arrows shot suddenly from an enemy in ambush;
(3) they pierce, and penetrate, and torment the soul, as arrows would that are on fire;
(4) they set the soul on fire, and enkindle the worst passions, as fiery darts do a ship or camp against which they are sent.
What happens when these fiery darts hit their target? The answer appears in James 1:13-15 (Contemporary English Version, CEV):
Don't blame God when you are tempted! God cannot be tempted by evil, and he doesn't use evil to tempt others. We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us. Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead.
As Barnes says, these darts "enkindle the worst passions," or as James says, "our desires." Actually, these darts have been flying since the day we were born, doing their damage. Where is it better for us to deal with these darts: at the point of the shield or after they have hit their mark? Of course, at the shield!
II Samuel 22:31 tells us what our shield is: "As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him" (see also Genesis 15:1; Psalm 33:20; Proverbs 2:7). We are not the shield. Our faith is not the shield. God is the shield, using the same faith Jesus Christ had. If we let Him, God will protect us in our battles.
How do we erect this "shield of faith?" Notice these verses:
Matthew 17:19-21: Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not cast it out?" So Jesus said to them, "Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting."
Psalm 18:30 (CEV): Your way is perfect, Lord, and your word is correct. You are a shield for those who run to you for help.
Along with fasting, Christ gives prayer as one of the antidotes to unbelief. David says that running to God for help, of which striving to pray always is the essence, will allow Him to be our shield, our source of power and strength (II Corinthians 3:5; 4:7).
Notice the first part of Matthew 26:41 from the New Life Bible: "Watch and pray so that you will not be tempted. . . ." Jesus repeats the instruction in Luke 21:36 but shows that the same process will build the shield of faith to protect us from the fiery darts of temptation.
Notice that the shield mentioned in Ephesians 6:16 can quench all the fiery darts—not some, not most, but all. Consider the great peace we would have if none of Satan's fiery darts ever reached their intended target! This sheds light on why Christ says in Matthew 11:30: "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." We know He used every spiritual tool God makes available.
Praying Always (Part Six)
God says through the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 10:13, "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." God does not want to lose us. Yet, He is creating His holy, righteous character in us. For that to be done, He must put us through tests and, in a sense, take the risk that He will lose us in one of them. He also lets the leash out, as it were, little by little, increasing the intensity of the tests as years go by. In this way, we experience life together with Him.
Herein is exposed the weakness of the Old Covenant. Romans 8:3 tells us that the law "was weak through the flesh." The marriage covenant between God and Israel was entered into before the qualities necessary for a successful union were ever developed in the Israelites. God called the children of Israel out of Egypt, took them to Mount Sinai, and then He proposed to them. In three days, the marriage was entered into, and Israel became God's (see Exodus 19-24). It was a marriage doomed to divorce from the very beginning, illustrating that no person—even one as great as God—can create a successful marriage if the other party does not agree, refusing to walk with them or to conform to recognized standards. Despite God's lovingkindness and patience, Israel never trusted Him! That is what Hebrews 4:2 says.
However, the New Covenant solves this problem! These matters will be ironed out before the covenant is completed, which will not happen until the Marriage Supper of the Lamb—not until the children of God are resurrected. Then two who are "on equal footing," let us say, will marry. They will have experienced life together over long periods of time and will have come to know and trust one another. They will know each other's actions and reactions—the other's mind and heart—and a trust will have been built that will enable the marriage to succeed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Emotional Dimension
1. Trials should produce growth. Just as we prune a shrub or tree to force it to grow into a more perfect form, so God does with us. William Barclay makes an excellent comment on this:
. . . these tests or trials are not meant to make us fall, they are meant to make us soar. They are not meant to defeat us; they are meant to be defeated. They are not meant to make us weaker; they are meant to make us stronger. Therefore we should not bemoan them; we should rejoice in them.
Notice that trials should produce growth, rather than that they will produce it. Sometimes, we just do not learn the lesson; we fail; we regress; we sink into self-pity. This leads me to another lesson learned.
2. The fruit we produce depends on our outlook. This does not imply that anger and depression are not normal human emotions. They are. With any trial, you wonder why. You evaluate your actions, your mistakes, your sins. You repent, fast, and pray. You cry out to God with more emotion than you knew you possessed. If you are normal, you have moments of anger, perhaps even doubt.
Here is where we can produce fruit or destroy it. With God's help, we must forcibly evict these carnal thoughts from our minds. We cannot allow seeds of doubt to germinate, and if they do, they cannot be allowed to grow. We must look forward and deal with the situation.
. . . we know for certain that He who raised the Lord Jesus from death shall also raise us with Jesus. We shall all stand together before Him. All this is indeed working out for your benefit, for as more grace is given to more and more people so will the thanksgiving to the glory of God be increased. This is the reason why we never lose heart. The outward man does indeed suffer wear and tear, but every day the inward man receives fresh strength. These little troubles (which are really so transitory) are winning for us a permanent, glorious and solid reward out of all proportion to our pain. (II Corinthians 4:14-17, Phillips)
So it is good advice that we not resent our trials or bemoan our fate or the state in which we find ourselves. As James says, "Count it all joy," which brings us to the next lesson.
3. Joy comes after, not before, the trial—and often not during it. No sane person sits around, wishing he had a trial. That is absurd. No one is ecstatic to find himself encompassed in pain. Only when you have faced your troubles and started to fight can you begin to see even a glimmer of a positive result at its conclusion.
James' advice is to count or consider our trials joyfully. The Phillips' version continues, "Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce endurance" (James 1:3). These words reflect a passage of time. Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus endured the cross "for the joy that was set before Him." He thought nothing of the pain and shame because of the joy He knew would follow His suffering. Joy came afterward.
Verse 11 says, "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." Here is convincing proof that joy is primarily post-trial.
Yet even this joy is not the ecstatic, "Hallelujah!" kind of joy. Chara means "cheerfulness" or "calm delight." God's Spirit does not produce in us a gloating, "I did it!" kind of emotion, but a cheerful peace of mind, an awareness that we survived and grew. We feel a kind of satisfaction that God has pruned us so that we might become more like Him. This process helps us to appreciate our lives more, and to be more thankful, understanding, and sympathetic to the plight of others.
A lady with a long-term illness once wrote to us about her trials. As she came slowly out of her personal struggle, she passed on to us several things that we found to be true. One line she wrote is very true: "I never realized how wonderful it is to be able to do ordinary things until I couldn't do them." She had "never realized." Yet now, because of her trial, she counted or considered her situation and found joy in a simple act.
By sharing this with us, she gave us hope and encouragement. We saw this new perspective as positive. This is fruit borne through testing. It is God's refining process at work. He is removing impurities.
As hard as it seemed, after giving them much prayer and thought, we found that each trial was specific to us. It was what we needed to make us more like God. We did not see this initially, but through perseverance and growth, it became clear.
This is why we are happy that God has chosen us to suffer whatever trials He may allow. As James goes on to write:
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12).
Joy and Trial
James 1:12-16 lists the steps leading to sin, beginning with temptation. People rarely stop at just one sin, however, and it is often not long before they add another and another to the chain. Jeremiah describes this course of sin in his day—the same process that is likely to occur in anyone's life: "'And like their bow they have bent their tongues for lies. They are not valiant for the truth on the earth. For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,' says the LORD" (Jeremiah 9:3). This is a major reason why God uses leaven to symbolize sin. As leaven spreads and does its work in flour, so sin spreads and corrupts the lives of all it touches.
For example, a tragic sequence of events begins in Genesis 37 with one sin whose impact reverberates to this day! Jacob's favoritism (respect of persons) for Joseph irritated his brothers. Their irritation grew to jealousy and flared into hatred. They conspired to commit murder, sold Joseph into slavery, and deceived Jacob to hide their complicity and guilt. What happened to their relationship with their father after this? Did they live in fear that one of the brothers would "squeal" on the others? Did they ever feel guilty for the pain they brought upon Jacob? Did their actions honor him? Did these events intensify his over-protectiveness of Benjamin and, in reality, make things worse for them than when Joseph was with them? Sin produces more sin unless someone stops it by repenting.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Sin Is & What Sin Does
One might say, "There are so many temptations out there. The whole world is evil. How do we avoid them?" James gives us some ideas, hints, clues, and instruction. First, he tells us that we will face temptation. We cannot avoid it because deception, evil, will come looking for us and especially because we are God's children. Satan is looking to devour us (I Peter 5:8). We will be the targets of his onslaughts of temptation throughout our Christian lives, and we must be ready to face them! But, if we get through them, then we reach our goal—the Kingdom of God, where we have a crown of life waiting for us. We have that assurance and faith in what God has promised us.
Then James says, "God does not tempt us." The apostle says that we are tempted when our desires lure us away. The process can then intensify if we are not strong enough, leading to sin and ultimately to death—the second death, not just physical death. We can be deceived right out of our crown if we are not careful, if we are not strong. (This process of temptation is similar to modern advertising. It works the same way because the same "spirit" is behind it.)
Then James says, in verse 16, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren." This is a hint that what he has just said tells us something important about not being deceived. He has just told us that God never entices—tempts—us to accept His way by promising to satisfy our desires. Instead, we are enticed when our desires lead us to sin. God never tempts us to follow our physical desires for self-gratification.
One might argue: "Wait a second. Doesn't He promise us long life? Isn't that a physical desire? Doesn't He promise us health? Doesn't He promise us prosperity? And that our enemies won't overtake us? Doesn't He promise us all of these things?"
But what does He also say when He makes those promises? In almost every occasion, He says, "If you will keep My commandments, then I will. . . ." He always puts a condition on His promises. "If you keep My commandments," then such-and-such will happen. Many of these blessings or fulfillments of His promises—if not all of them—happen because that is how God designed them to happen. Sure, God intervenes to a certain extent in order to work out His purpose, but, like a spiritual law of the universe, if we keep God's commandments, certain things are bound to result.
If we keep God's commandments, we will probably be healthy. If we keep God's commandments, we will live long lives. What does the first commandment with promise say? If we honor our fathers and mothers, then we will live long in the land that the LORD gives us. It is A + B = C. What does the Bible call it? A person will reap what he has sown (Galatians 6:7)! It is cause and effect. So, if we keep the commandments, then there are certain blessings that just automatically accrue to us.
Oftentimes, because God is working with us so closely, He does not fulfill these physical promises to their extremes. He will give them to us as much as we need them or as much as is within His purpose at the time. He is working something greater for us than just satisfying our physical wants or even needs.
What does James say next? The next two verses key us in on the thrust of James' thought. He says, 1) God gives good gifts, and He never changes. So His good gifts are always the same. Next, he says, 2) that He has made us a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. We must put those two ideas together. Why does God give good gifts? To make us His children! This is what He is always thinking about. His purpose is focused on reproducing Himself!
He calls us and converts us by His truth for the purpose of making us His children. All of His gifts are good, and they never change. They are always geared towards His godly ends. All of His gifts are for our ultimate, spiritual good—to make us like Him. Blessings, then, are a byproduct of His way. His good gifts are all leading us toward our entrance into the Kingdom of God and not the satisfying of our physical desires.
How can we apply this? If we understand that God will give us what is good for us, what will advance us towards the Kingdom of God, then what does this say about false teachers? How can we avoid the deception? The clue is that if anyone tries to sell us a belief in which our physical desires are going to be met, then we have a strong reason to believe that the teaching is false.
God will not use that tactic. He will not say, "Follow Me, and you will have a good life. Everything is going to come up roses for you." Instead, He often tells us such things as, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12). Does that sound like "the good life"?
How do we get through this life? By lurching from one trial to the next! Is that not how we are refined? By fire! By trial! By going from one problem to the next and overcoming it. That is just how God's way works because He knows that the best way to produce sons of God is the same way the Son of God achieved His glory. Hebrews 2:10 says that Jesus Christ was made "perfect through suffering."
God is not interested in this life except for what it will produce in the next. This life is a training ground. When, say, a soldier trains, he goes through the paces at boot camp. He is made to follow a regimen. He works hard until he hurts. This life is God's boot camp. Right now, we are in training like an athlete. And no athlete worth his salt lounges, plays, and lives the good life while he is in training.
So James gives us good instruction on how to avoid being deceived. When something is "too good to be true," it is probably not true.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
In The Living Bible this passage reads:
And remember, when someone wants to do wrong it is never God who is tempting him, for God never wants to do wrong and never tempts anyone else to do it. Temptation is the pull of man's own evil thoughts and wishes. These evil thoughts lead to evil actions and afterwards to the death penalty from God. So don't be misled, dear brothers.
In many, desire arises to use the Sabbath in a way that is beyond God's simple directives. The temptation arises, perhaps in part motivated by a demon, and our heart follows after it rather than God's simple commands, just as Adam and Eve did in the Gard. Keeping the Sabbath is not complicated.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 2)
Temptation is an appeal to think or do something contrary to God's law. We are drawn away from truth, virtue, and God's standard of righteousness.
In this context, desires are forces of attraction in the wrong direction: We long for it, crave it, covet it, want it. We are enticed or attracted when we are offered hope of reward or pleasure (e.g., food, drink, sex, money, drugs, entertainment).
The verbs "drawn away" and "enticed" derive from the activities of fishing and hunting. "Enticed" usually describes the drawing of fish out of their original retreat. We are tantalized, as fish are with bait. What is on the end of a fishing line? A LURE! James pictures man's desire first attracting his attention and persuading him to approach the forbidden thing, and second, luring him by means of bait to yield to the temptation.
Another analogy that illustrates the force of enticement is that of a magnet. If one places a small piece of iron close to a magnet, invisible forces reach out from the magnet to attract the iron. By moving the piece of iron a little closer, the attraction intensifies. Nudge the iron still closer, and the magnet will draw it all the way to itself. The closer one moves to a desired thing or the more one's interest grows, the greater and greater the pull becomes.
Who does the luring and enticing? Who does the tempting? Paul calls Satan "the Tempter" in I Thessalonians 3:5: "The tempter had tempted you." "Tempter" is the present participle of the Greek word peirazo, which basically means "to tempt." When preceded by an article, it literally means "the (one) tempting." Satan uses temptation to entice us into sin (Matthew 4:1). James 4:7 says, "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you." Following Christ's example in Matthew 4:1-11, we should strongly resist the temptations of Satan, causing him to flee from us.
Martin G. Collins
How Does Temptation Relate to Sin?
In James 1:15, the apostle changes his description from a snare to conception and birth. Notice the reference to the growth of a person from fetus to adult—from complete innocence to corruption by the world.
First, temptation comes when desire, like a mother, conceives and "gives birth to sin." Then sin, the child of desire, develops until it is full-grown. When sin is full-grown, it becomes a way of life that without repentance ends in death. Paul concurs in Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death." God says through the prophet Ezekiel:
The soul who sins shall die. . . . When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies in it, it is because of the iniquity which he has done that he dies. (Ezekiel 18:4, 26)
"Brings forth" in James 1:15 is a phrase Greeks used to refer to an animal giving birth. It means that sin "spawns" death. This suggests that man, once conquered by desire, becomes less than human, sinking to the level of a beast. He has not progressed to be more like God but has regressed to the moral level of animals.
To summarize, temptation begins the process to sin and ends in death. God plays no part in tempting us; to the contrary, we are either drawn away by our own desires or enticed by Satan. Illicit desire begets sin, which in turn spawns tremendous destruction and—eventually—death.
Martin G. Collins
How Does Temptation Relate to Sin?
1 Peter 1:18-20
Our Savior Jesus Christ was appointed in advance, predestined before the foundation of the world to die for the sins of men. This strongly indicates that God had no doubt that men would sin, so He was prepared. After He created Adam and Eve, He put them in the Garden of Eden and instructed them. Shortly thereafter, Satan came along to make his pitch for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Persuaded, Adam and Eve snapped at the bait of immediate gratification, broke four commandments, and brought the death penalty on themselves. Thus, God set the stage that would create a monumental calamity that reverberates through the millennia, claiming even the life of God in the flesh.
Why did God not step in and stop the sins from occurring? Why did He not restrain Satan or speak out saying, "This is the way. Walk in it"? He could have at any time. He was not distracted elsewhere, and no one could restrain His hand. Further, we must understand that God did not make them sin or force them into it. He did allow them to do it if they so chose. He did nothing to stop them from being seduced by the temptation.
God's awareness of what is happening in His creation and His power over every aspect of it are so complete that, if something happens to us, He has willed it. This does not necessarily mean He plans every occurrence, but He does will it to happen simply by doing nothing to stop it. The actions of Satan, Adam, and Eve in no way caught God by surprise; He knew they were going to sin. There was no "Plan B." Because God is never surprised, He does not get frustrated. He always has things under control, so He does not get fearful and nervous as we do.
John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part Two)
As the head of gold, Babylon's alluring qualities are manifest in the world, and we must avoid these to keep from being ensnared. These traits are clearly delineated in Revelation 17 and 18, and they are these broad areas of possible temptation or trial for us: idolatry, prostitution, self-sufficiency, self-glorification, pride, complacency, reliance on luxury and wealth, avoidance of suffering, and violence against life.
Especially emphasized in these chapters is pride ("she glorified herself"), and the second is satiety, to seek the fullness of everything. It is especially used in regard to seeking food—to become full and then go beyond that. It is to become over-full in everything. However, satiety can apply to other things as well. Some people lose themselves in entertainment: A little bit of entertainment is not enough—their whole lives must consist of entertainment, practically from morning to night. Revelation 18:7 says that the great harlot lived luxuriously. Then there is the avoidance of suffering, seen where she says in the same verse, "I shall see no sorrow."
These three are interrelated, and when combined with the other attitudinal factors, they become the perfect matrix for producing Laodiceanism in the careless Christian. The world is already largely caught up in these things, but they are a temptation to us.
A matrix is described in the dictionary as "the environment in which something is developed." In some cases, it is synonymous with another better known and more frequently used word, "womb." The womb is the perfect matrix for the development of a baby. We in this society are living right in the midst of the perfect environment for developing Laodiceanism, which is why it is so important that we understand the origin, nature, and fruit of the Israelitish culture that has become the very epitome of the Babylonish system.
John W. Ritenbaugh
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