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Bible verses about Relationships
(From Forerunner Commentary)

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

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

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

John W. Ritenbaugh
Five Teachings of Grace


 

We could easily think of integrity ("righteously" in NKJV) strictly in terms of law and pursue it no further. But when we see how this word is translated elsewhere, we add a dimension that helps us better understand how we should act toward our fellowman.

In Luke 23:41 and I Thessalonians 2:10, the same word is rendered "justly," meaning right, proper, or fair. This is the adverbial form of the Greek dikaios, meaning "to be conformed to that which is right," which Plato said is inseparably bound to the word translated "sober" above. A person who is dikaios neither selfishly nor forgetfully transgresses the bounds of what is right. He gives everyone his due.

To Christianity, this translates into "my duty is my right." This concept branches out into areas of life like civility, consideration, concern, and respect and has little or nothing to do with what we normally consider as "law." I Corinthians 13:4-7 is a clear example of such instruction.

The grace of God obligates us to these duties in our relationships with others. To conform to them fulfills what Paul means by living with integrity in Titus 2:12. It encompasses keeping the commandments, of course, but it also involves such virtues as probity, honesty, goodness, irreproachability, fairness, nobility, and being just and sensitive to another's needs, including giving correction in kindness and mercy (Galatians 6:1-2).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Five Teachings of Grace


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

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

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

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

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

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Genesis 2:18

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

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

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

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

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

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

John W. Ritenbaugh
For the Perfecting of the Saints


 

Exodus 20:17

Even when coveting falls short of directly breaking another commandment, it can damage both persons and principles. When a person covets what is another's, even though he may not actually lift a hand to take it, he robs virtue of its real meaning and makes obedience a hollow, mechanical activity. Any wife who has caught her husband gazing lustfully on another woman knows what this means. It kills trust in the relationship. At such a point, lust is already destroying.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment (1998)


 

Exodus 20:17

Covetousness is an insatiable desire for worldly gain and lies at the heart of where most sin originates. Of all the commandments, the tenth especially emphasizes man's relationship to man, which is readily seen in the repeated phrase "your neighbor's." It protects the interests of others in seven major areas listed individually within the commandment.

Martin G. Collins
The Tenth Commandment


 

2 Chronicles 15:1-4

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

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

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

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


 

Psalm 133:1

This first verse expresses the goal, the hope, the prayer of all Christians. What a great thing it would be if all the people could live together harmoniously! What things we could accomplish! What great pleasure we would have! How attractive that would be.

This verse certainly expresses the joy that results in brethren being united, when they have unanimity, when they are "at one." An irony of this "psalm of unity," however, is that the word "unity" does not literally appear in it. The literal translation of the last phrase is "when brethren dwell also together." The idea of unity is obviously there, but the final Hebrew word is yachad, meaning "together," "both," "joined." The phrase can be translated, then, "when brethren are joined in dwelling" or "when brethren dwell together." "In unity" is the translator's interpretation, not a direct translation.

The word "good" here is a fairly general rendering, but the psalmist's idea is "proper": "How proper it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" "How fitting, how right it is for God's people to be one."

Pleasant has the sense of "attractive": "How attractive [charming, lovely] it is when God's people dwell as one." And since we are God's dwelling, we could say, "How wonderful it is when God's dwelling, the Temple of the living God, is one building and not scattered pieces all over the place."

In God's sight, unity or togetherness among His people is proper, and it pleases Him to no end. It has the same effect on us. Brethren who are thus joined together receive the benefits of the goodness and pleasantness unity produces. That is why we should yearn for this unity, because it is right, good, and fitting and because it is lovely, attractive, and appealing.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 133


 

Isaiah 66:1-2

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

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

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


 

Hosea 4:11-12

A major key to understanding the application of both Hosea and Amos to us is that both prophets prophesied in Israel, the ten northern tribes, in an era similar to that in which we live, that is, in a last generation before a major national calamity. In their case, it was just before the people of Israel fell to the invading Assyrian armies, were removed from their homeland, and scattered to the four winds, never to return.

Historical records and archeological findings show that Israel was quite prosperous at the time, a major power in the world. Simultaneously, the nation was morally rotten to the core, and social injustice was the order of the day throughout the land. The Israelites of that time were literally getting drunk, as Amos reports them drinking wine by the bowlful (Amos 6:6). Yet a far more spiritual drunkenness guided their conduct. In addition, they practiced the ritual harlotry of the pagan religions they had adopted.

However, the lesson for us is spiritual. God is saying that at the end time, it will be as if a demonic power has seized the nation, destroying loyalty to God in a spiritual drunken frenzy, during which the people will think themselves totally in control.

Even as drugs destroy a person's capacity to think clearly, break down resistance to evil, and so becloud the mind that he becomes morally stupid, so does the spiritual drunkenness that results from a person allowing himself to drink in this world's ways. Escape into the fantasies of this world's attitudes and conduct deprives a person of his understanding, removes inhibitions, inspires false confidence - even bravado, plays havoc with modesty and restraint, and destroys loyalty within relationships.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Be There Next Year


 

Amos 2:6-8

The Israelites' immorality fell into three major areas:

1) Indifference to and oppression of the poor.
2) Covetousness displayed by placing primary importance on material possessions.
3) Unrestricted promotion of self-advantage—doing anything to anyone to get their way.

The Hebrew words for poor are very similar to our "underdog." Amos uses two different words, 'ebyôn and dal, to designate the poor (see Amos 4:1). 'Ebyôn usually designates the very poor, and dal describes the lowest social class. However, both words connote "wanting because of oppression or exploitation" and refer to the weaker members of society. To God the poor are those without the worldly resources or connections to defend themselves. As a result of their weakness, the wicked look upon the poor as fair game to exploit (Isaiah 10:1-2). Today, "poor" could refer to the small businessman or consumer at the mercy of the huge corporations, or the "little guy" under the thumb of "big" government.

One of the means of oppression was the courts, and Amos frequently shows how the poor "took it on the chin" within the "justice" system. In a lawsuit the guilty party, one of the "strong," bribed the judge, who found the innocent person—the weak—guilty (Isaiah 5:23). As so often happens today in America, the ancient Israelites shunned out-of-court settlements. They went to court even over minor matters because their chances for a larger settlement were better.

When a person was found guilty by the court, he, of course, had to pay a fine. If he did not have enough in his pocket to pay it, he could pay in produce. For example, a vintner could pay in wine. The victors then took their winnings—"the wine of the condemned"—and partied (Amos 2:8). They had turned into self-centered parasites who lived by the code, "get the other guy before he gets you." Israelites can be a mercenary, unmerciful lot of people.

Obviously, God was not happy with this system of justice, and it is even worse now. Today's "wine of the condemned" awarded to the injured party—reaching into the millions of dollars—goes mostly for exorbitant lawyer and court fees. Governments of all sizes include expected fines from lawbreakers in their budgets.

In addition, Israelites coveted real estate to the ridiculous extent that the buyer begrudged the small amount of dust the seller threw on his head to symbolize his grief over losing his ancestral properties (Amos 2:7). In a similar vein, God accuses the Jews of moving the boundaries between parcels of land (Hosea 5:10). In those days, instead of driving a stake into the ground to mark their property lines, landowners set up pillars of stones on the boundaries. God pictures the Jews kicking the boundary stones over a few feet when no one is looking. They may have justified it with, "Doesn't everybody do it?" but it was still outright theft.

Because the strong could so easily exploit the weak, land and wealth in Israel fell into fewer and fewer hands. God cries, "Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, till there is no place where they may dwell alone in the midst of the land!" (Isaiah 5:8).

It is no different than today's big international combines buying up farmland and displacing farmers, who must then find jobs, usually in urban areas. How soon we have forgotten that small family farms played a large role in keeping the United States economically and socially stable for generations! America's agrarian heartland was the backbone of the nation. We need to be aware that the resulting instability will lead us down the same path of destruction as it did Israel!

"They lie down by every altar on clothes taken in pledge" (Amos 2:8). Under the Old Covenant, a person's cloak could be taken as security for a loan, but Exodus 22:26-27 shows that it was to be returned every evening if it doubled as his blanket at night. God considers keeping a poor man's coat overnight as taking advantage of him.

Remember, our judgment from God largely depends on how we treat our fellow man (Matthew 25:33-46). Good relationships with others are vital to maintaining a good relationship with God (Matthew 5:23-24). This means we must always do the right things toward others no matter how much it hurts us (Psalm 15:4) or how they might react (Matthew 5:44-45).

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


 

Obadiah 1:3-4

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Haggai 2:11-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

John W. Ritenbaugh
Be There Next Year


 

Matthew 5:43-48

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

Martin G. Collins
Basic Doctrines: Going On to Perfection


 

Matthew 7:1-5

God will often see to it that we are treated the same way we treat others.

Jacob was a talented young man with great ability, but he had a serious fault: As a young man, he would lie, connive, and scheme to get his own way, without a thought for other people's feelings. He deceived his father Isaac into blessing him, instead of his brother Esau, with the birthright, an incident that split the family and caused much suffering and ill will, as Genesis 27 records.

God, of course, fully intended Jacob to have the birthright and could have worked it out in a way in which nobody got hurt. But this was not the first time that Jacob had used shrewdness to get his own way. Earlier, when Esau was about to collapse from lack of nourishment, Jacob gave Esau bread, a stew of lentils, and a drink in exchange for his birthright. Jacob had a secret sin and needed to be taught a lesson. He could not look at himself and see that he had this sin. He probably looked at himself as many today in business look at themselves; he probably thought he was being clever and wise.

During the next few years, Jacob reaped what he had sowed. His employer and future father-in-law, Laban, tricked him out of his wages and the wife for whom he had labored seven years. In addition, toward the end of his life, Jacob was also deceived by the use of a dead goat, just as he had deceived his father Isaac. Jacob's sons dipped Joseph's coat of many colors in the blood of a goat to convince their father that his favorite son, whom they had sold, was dead. Jacob spent many years in grief, deceived as he had deceived others.

Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent


 

Matthew 18:20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John W. Ritenbaugh
For the Perfecting of the Saints


 

Matthew 22:36-40

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

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

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

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment (1997)


 

Matthew 24:45-51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Matthew 25:31-46

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

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

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

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

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

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

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Luke 11:33-36

If we indeed allow God's light (John 8:12) to be placed within the lamp, us, and then do nothing with it, it is like hiding it in a secret place. This is true in our everyday experiences and within the church. This hiding of God's light is another form of spiritual myopia, and perhaps surprisingly, it concerns our relationships with and how we view others. If we become shortsighted in our relations with other people—seeing only what we want to see and not all that we should see—we can become judgmental and critical or patronizing and denigrating to others. In effect, we become the standard, the barometer, that only we know and by which we judge all others.

A common problem with the church today is this lack of light and focus on truly godly issues rather than trivial ones. Seeing only one's personal point of view has caused a general blindness within the church, spawning many of the current issues and problems. Too many members can focus only on their ideas and viewpoints, lacking the insight to see beyond the comfort of their own secret places. Even when the points such people espouse are true, their demeanor toward their brethren is often hostile and their efforts to overcome are lackluster or not based on godly principles.

We can also see elements of spiritual myopia in the independent mindset that many within the church embrace today. Looking exclusively inward, some see themselves as the only viable holders and/or purveyors of God's truth. Though they may attend with a larger group, they see themselves as independent thinkers or needing only themselves and God. Some have taken this independent spirit to the extreme of forsaking others in service and church attendance (Hebrews 10:25). They can even become quite comfortable in their own shortsighted way, wanting little or no interaction with any others who might not see things exactly as they do.

One interesting facet of Luke 11:33-36 is that Jesus alludes to the fact that not everything is distinctly black or white. Verse 35 implies that there are varying degrees of light: "Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness." All light we see is not at the same level of brightness, so some may see part of the truth but not its fullness. It can also suggest that each person may be "in the dark" on any given matter at any point in their relationship with God and others, while being "in the light" on other matters. Similarly, this can illustrate our relative levels of conversion as well.

Since we know that the true light comes only from God, any variance in intensity must come from how we see or not see something. While verse 34 treats the extremes of how we view things, whether optimistically or pessimistically, many of God's people are somewhere in the middle, like the Laodiceans "neither cold nor hot" (Revelation 3:15). Christ's wish is that we are one or the other!

Of course, the most obvious lesson of these verses is that we should desire Christ's light as our light, seeing and doing things as He would. When we fail in this, Satan's influence and dark ways can become our ways over time. We can totally lose the proper vision and allow his deceptions to blind us. We are all part way down this path; we all have our spiritual blind spots, seeing life and the church through unfocused eyes. Unfortunately, too many of us are not using the aids that would remedy our myopia and put us back on track.

Staff
Christian Myopia


 

Luke 16:10-13

Jesus Christ does not need to see us in action administering a great city to know how we will govern in His Kingdom. He can see how we solve our problems in our own little life, whether we humble ourselves to be faithful by submitting to His way. Or do we "solve" our relationship problems with others by shouting, punching, hating, crawling into a shell, refusing to fellowship, going on strike, spreading gossip, seeking others to take our side, or running down another's reputation?

He can tell by the way we manage our own or our company's money; how we maintain our property; and how we dress. Christ can even judge our abilities by how we drive our car! Some people turn into aggressive, lead-footed monsters behind the wheel. Are we so vain to think the road belongs to us? Would He entrust a city to such an obnoxious person?

A woman once asked Mr. Armstrong what she had to do to worship God and prepare for the Kingdom. Who knows what she expected, but he advised her to begin in her bedroom! No one knows whether he meant that she should work on her prayers, keep the room neat and clean, or improve her relationship with her husband—maybe all three. The principle is that preparation for the Kingdom is achieved by working on the little things of life God's way.

Matthew 25:21 illustrates this clearly. "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'" In this parable, the servant who misused his position was disqualified because the lord could not trust him to use what was given him in a godly way.

Can we see this, brethren? The very elements involved in the process of sanctification are the ones that prepare and qualify us to rule!

What kind of decisions do we make in the everyday things of life? The choices required to live God's way are really very simple. Basically, they are a matter of saying, "Yes" or "No" to God's law. It does not have to be complicated for God to judge where we stand. He did not give Adam and Eve some long, complex mathematical, engineering, or political test. It was a simple test of obedience involving one of the most basic areas of life—food. You can eat this but not that.

We do not have to be an Adolf Hitler to prove ourselves unsuitable to rule over others. How we treat our spouse, children, or friends will provide ample evidence. Do we carefully think through what we say? Do we keep our word? Are we short-tempered, hard to get along with, stubborn, and uncooperative unless things are done our way? Are we quick to judge, impatient, malicious, foul-mouthed, or rebellious? Do we seek preferential treatment or position?

Christ needs to know if we will live His way now, before He entrusts us with the power of office in His Kingdom. The leaders of this world are not interested in the Way (see Acts 9:2; 16:17; 18:25-26; 19:9). They consider it foolish, unrealistic, impractical, and simplistic. So they make treaties and break them, and the wonderful advances of technology continue to prove useless in things that matter. The Kingdom of God, however, will produce all the good things written in the prophecies because the government itself reflects them. They are in its character, and they have already manifested themselves in each ruler's life.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Preparing to Rule!


 

John 13:27

We find Judas at this time in perfect union with Satan to do the Devil's bidding to betray Christ, something that is not very pleasant to consider. How can people turn their backs on the truth, on God Himself?

We can discern a logical progression because as union with one strengthens, union with the other weakens. In Judas' case, the union with God weakened. Why? He was entertaining thoughts that were in opposition to the spirit, to the mind, to the words of God. He allowed these ideas to grow through circumstances that arose in his life, and they kept getting stronger. His union with Satan, who was undoubtedly pumping these ideas into him or putting perverse twists on what he heard so that he began to feel alienated and separated from Christ, became stronger. At the same time, his union with God decayed until he betrayed Jesus.

This can happen to us, so we must fight against it. Married people ought to be able to understand how this works, as it is what happens when a divorce occurs. Usually, a married couple begin their union feeling as though they will never separate; they feel an intense bond with one another. But because their union is not worked at, gradually one or the other begins to be attracted to union with another. Everybody has to be on guard against this.

When the Bible speaks about guarding, keeping, preserving, and enduring, it is referring to this possibility. We must work to endure and preserve our union with God - and keep working at it to make it strong. How do we make a strong relationship? In the same way a couple works at it before they are married. In their dating and courtship, they do everything they can to please the other so that a union occurs. It is simple to grasp in principle but sometimes hard to do.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part 4)


 

Acts 17:22

If we were to read between the lines, Paul might be saying, "You Athenians are to be commended for your devotion to spiritual things." The King James' rendering of "religious" as "superstitious" exposes the latter word as having undergone what linguists call semantic drift. In Shakespeare's day and King James' time, this word did not have the negative connotation as it does now.

From the context of this account, it is plain that the apostle Paul was not, as some theologians like to characterize him, a feisty, wrangling, argumentative hothead. The men of Athens, who vastly outnumbered Paul and loved a good philosophical debate, could have made short work out of any know-it-all smart aleck. The apostle Paul was thus lavish in his compliments.

Throughout his ministry, he frequently resorted to diplomatic language. At one point, he acknowledged a cultural debt both to the Greeks and to barbarians (Romans 1:14). In addition to complimenting strangers, Paul continually sought out similarities he shared between him and other groups. In a conflict in which both the Sadducees and the Pharisees were breathing fire down his neck, Paul masterfully ingratiated himself to the Pharisees, reminding them that he and they shared the same view on the resurrection (Acts 23:6-8). Paul, to the right people, let it be known that he was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37-39; 22:25-29).

We also need to find common ground, not only with people in the other groups of the church of God, but with the world at large, emphasizing (like mountains) the things we agree upon and de-emphasizing (like molehills) the things we disagree upon.

In the process of finding common ground, we dare not compromise our core values or syncretize them with the world. We should instead practice more of what one late church of God minister counseled, "You don't have to tell all you know." Oftentimes, keeping our traps shut is the most diplomatic behavior of all (Ecclesiastes 3:7; Lamentations 3:28-29; Amos 5:13).

David F. Maas
How to Conduct Ourselves as Ambassadors for Christ


 

Romans 12:1

This verse provides the primary key to how to be unified: We must sacrifice ourselves for one another. Sacrifice is the essence of godly love. If we are not willing to sacrifice, we are not showing love. It is as plain as that. The attitude of godly love—being willing to sacrifice—must be the underlying attitude as we interact with each other. "Service" is the last word in the verse, and sacrifice is our reasonable, logical, rational, spiritual service. It is the way we minister to one another and exhibit godly love.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 133


 

2 Corinthians 5:11

When God summoned us to His way of life, He persuaded us with various proofs that He exists, desires a relationship with us, and rules not just the universe but also the affairs of men. As often happens during our first love (Revelation 2:4-5), we desire to share our joy and newfound truth with others. Most of the time, our early evangelistic efforts fail to produce any new converts to the faith - instead, our efforts usually cause problems in our relationships.

Most lay-members, after one or two failures of this sort, get smart and desist in trying to convert their relatives and friends. They realize that nothing will ever happen without God first calling the other individual and changing his heart by His Spirit to accept the truth (John 6:44; Romans 2:4-5; 8:7; I Corinthians 2:10-14; Hebrews 8:10; Ezekiel 11:19). All our preaching and cajoling will accomplish nothing unless God moves to initiate a personal relationship with him.

Ministers do not have such an easy out. Certainly, in their personal relationships they can quit trying to "save" those unconverted members of their families, but in their professional capacity, their job is to "persuade men." In personal conduct, counsel, sermons, and articles, they must devote their energies to showing and explaining why God's way is true and will lead to eternal life in God's Kingdom.

Today, that is not an easy task. It has never been easy, really, but the current environment makes it harder than it has been historically. For starters, though a high percentage of people say they believe in God, most people are no longer religious but secular. Religion is not a high-ranking concern, and because of this, religious issues fly under their radar and over their heads. They just do not care, and even when they inquire about them, they do not understand them because they lack the background and education necessary to evaluate them properly.

Another problem is competition. It used to be that most people at least treated Sunday, "the Lord's day," as a Sabbath and devoted most or all of that time to religious pursuits. No longer. Sunday, though it is not God's Sabbath day, is used just like any other day: for work and entertainment. If God receives a few hours on Sunday morning for worship services, most Americans - and Europeans to an even greater degree - think He should feel satisfied that they could spare Him even that much!

Yet a third hindrance is the way moderns think. Too many people, especially younger adults, have absorbed the postmodern, values-neutral approach. This way of thinking considers every idea and belief as equally valid, neither right nor wrong. A person can believe anything he likes - even that the moon is made of green cheese - and he should not be judged as right or wrong. Any god one worships, or for that matter, if one chooses to worship no god, is fine, and no one god or belief system is better than any other.

In such an environment, how can we persuade anyone of the truth? Our success certainly looks bleak.

The answer lies in what Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:9-11: "We make it our aim . . . to be well pleasing to Him." Our judgment does not rest on how many men we persuade but on whether we do the job. We are called to make the witness for God and Christ to the best of our ability and strength. Christ will judge us "according to what [we have] done, whether good or bad." How others react to us and what we say or write matters little; it is "God who gives the increase" (I Corinthians 3:5-8). As Paul says, one plants and another waters, but what happens to the sprout is not under their control but God's.

Thus, we cannot quantify the results of our persuasion as others can. We cannot see the growth of our "business" in statistical form. The true measure of our success will be revealed in God's Kingdom, and even then, we will be unable to claim the glory for it. For in persuading men, we "do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh


 

2 Corinthians 6:14

This verse means, drawing on Deuteronomy 22:10, do not get doubly harnessed with unbelievers. A farmer is in trouble if he yokes an ox and an ass together. These animals pull differently; they do not work well together. Here, the illustration is a believer with an unbeliever, and they also will not pull together because their minds do not work in the same way.

The advice is do not rush into just any relationship because one's faith is weak or self-esteem is low - maybe so low that one would be willing to marry just about anybody. If one does, he will very likely do what the Israelites did in Numbers 25: make a compromise that lowers his Christian standards.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Passover and I Corinthians 10


 

Ephesians 2:1-3

From the time we were born, Satan began to inject us with his mind, thoughts, ways, attitudes, and purposes, so by the time that God gets to us—but in God's good time He calls us and begins to convert us—we are in union with Satan. All our lives, he has been broadcasting, and we are in agreement with him. This is what has to be overcome.

Satan is with us always. But we have to understand that nobody, not even God, can take away our right of choice of whom we want to be in union with. When God begins to convert us, He makes us well aware that we have a choice and that we can resist and determine who we want to be united with—God or Satan—just as we can determine in our own lives who we want to be friends with.

We can choose our friends. We can choose, then, the kind of relationships we have with them. We can walk away from them, if they are pulling us down—away from union with God.

Unfortunately, that has to be done sometimes so that we be in union, at one with, the Father. We hope that does not happen very often. Parents know that at times they have tell their children, "We don't want you to hang out with him or her." Why? Because they know that that other kid will pull their children down, so they do not want them in union with him. It is a simple principle.

God has put us into the position where we have the opportunity to use our time and energy to make the choice of whether we will be in union with Him. He leaves the choice to us. It is a tremendous thing that He does this because it produces wonderful effects.

So we are juxtaposed between, on the one hand, God, and on the other hand, Satan. But we are free from Satan because we have the choice of whom we want to be in union with.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part 4)


 

Ephesians 4:1-6

The part we have to play is to walk worthy of our calling, and as the apostle goes on to say, our calling is to be one: one body, one spirit, one faith, one baptism, one hope, just as we have one Lord and one Father. We are to be one bride of Christ. He is not a polygamist; He will not marry many brides but one united bride.

We in the church can be disunified if we fail to practice verses 2 and 3: Without lowliness (humility), without gentleness (meekness), without longsuffering (forebearance or patient endurance), without love and peace, we will never have unity. As long as we are proud, easily angered and offended, jump on every little thing, lack patience, and treat each other hatefully—as long as we cause strife—there will never be unity. Even with all that God does (I Corinthians 1:4-9), it will not happen. He will not force unity upon us if we show that we do not want it. The natural order of things is that we will disunify further if we fail to show Him that we are working toward it. So, without these virtues, even with God deluging us with His Spirit, we will not have unity.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 133


 

Ephesians 4:1-3

Notice carefully what Paul names as the reason for making unity and peace: the value we place on our calling. If, in our heart of hearts, we consider it of small value, our conduct, especially toward our brethren, will reveal it and work to produce contention and disunity. Thus John writes, "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" (I John 4:20).

Paul next counsels us to choose to conduct ourselves humbly. Humility is pride's opposite. If pride only produces contention, it follows that humility will work to soothe, calm, heal, and unify. He advises us to cultivate meekness or gentleness, the opposite of the self-assertiveness that our contemporary culture promotes so strongly. Self-assertiveness is competitive determination to press one's will at all costs. This approach may indeed "win" battles over other brethren, but it might be helpful to remember God's counsel in Proverbs 15:1, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." James declares that godly wisdom is "gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy" (James 3:17).

Then Paul counsels that we be patient; likewise, James counsels us to "let patience have its perfect work" (James 1:4). We often want quick resolutions to the irritations between us, which is certainly understandable since we want to get rid of the burden those differences impose. But we must understand that speedy solutions are not always possible. Interestingly, in Paul's letter to the Philippians, he does not use his apostolic authority to drive the two feuding women into a forced solution (Philippians 4:1). Some problems are deeply buried within both sides of the contention, so finally Paul admonishes us to forbear with each other in love. Essentially, he says to "put up with it" or endure it, doing nothing to bring the other party down in the eyes of others and vainly elevate the self. This is peacemaking through living by godly character.

Yet another aspect to the Christian duty of peacemaking is our privilege by prayer to invoke God's mercy upon the world, the church, and individuals we know are having difficulties or whom we perceive God may be punishing. This is one of the sacrifices of righteousness mentioned in relation to Psalm 4:5. The Bible provides many examples of godly people doing this. Abraham prayed for Sodom, Gomorrah, and probably Lot too, when the division between them and God was so great that He had to destroy the cities (Genesis 18:16-33). Moses interceded for Israel before God following the Golden Calf incident (Exodus 33:11-14). Aaron ran through the camp of Israel with a smoking censer (a symbol of the prayers of the saints) following another of Israel's rebellions that greatly disturbed the peace between them and God (Numbers 16:44-50). In each case, God relented to some degree. We will probably never know in this life how much our prayers affect the course of division or how much others—even the wicked—gained as a result of our intercession, but we should find comfort knowing that we have done at least this much toward making peace.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 7: Blessed Are the Peacemakers


 

Ephesians 4:2-3

With admonitions like these, we step into the intimate personal relationships within a congregation or family. They show that unity depends more upon the exercise of the members' moral qualities than the structure of the institution. Paul shows in Ephesians that the life we are called to live is characterized by five qualities: humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, and love, the last of which embraces the preceding four and is the crown of all virtues. Each of these qualities enables us to act in mercy and live at peace. God's Spirit empowers us to use these qualities to overcome the ill will and the bitter, passionate rages that lead to clamorous slander, destroying reputations.

Such ill will and rage hardly promote kindness, compassion, and acting in grace toward each other. "Acting in grace" is an acceptable translation of the Greek word, charizomai, rendered "forgiving" in Ephesians 4:32. Acting in grace catches the essence of how God has acted toward us and our sin against Him. And because He has forgiven us, we are commanded to forgive each other (Colossians 3:13).

Mercy begins with the way we feel about or toward each other and moves toward merciful acts. God loves us and has an outgoing concern for us. If God so loves us, then we ought to love each other (I John 4:11). Thus, we are bound to forbear with one another and act kindly, in mercy. Anybody focused on himself as the center of the universe will have a difficult time thinking kindly of others, and unity will be difficult, if not impossible. It is no wonder, then, why so much divorce occurs, as well as division in other areas of life. A focus on the self does not allow much room for humble, kind, and compassionate thoughts of service for others.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 5: Blessed Are the Merciful


 

Ephesians 4:16

Notice, Paul does not say, "by what every part or member supplies," but "every joint." For example, a rickety table, feeble in its loose-fitting joints, becomes too wobbly once more than two legs are loose. There may be nothing wrong with the table's legs and the table top. But a table's stability is provided, not by its individual parts, but by the quality of its joints. Unless the legs are affixed securely to the table top, the table is useless.

Staff
'By What Every Joint Supplies'


 

Philippians 2:1-2

Consolation is better as "encouragement." That you be likeminded is Paul's way of saying, "Resolve these differences." It is easy to see that this places the responsibility on each person to do what they need to do to heal the fractured relationship.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 7): Ephesians 4 (D)


 

Philippians 2:19-20

Paul knew Timothy would regard the Philippians' interests with the same sincere tenderness and patient concern as Paul would if he were there.

Timothy followed Paul's example, Paul followed Christ's example, and Christ was One with the Father in His example. An unbroken chain of patience appears, beginning with the Father, continuing through His agent, Christ Jesus, then to His agent, the apostle Paul, and finally to his agent, Timothy. How are we doing in continuing the chain unbroken in our relationships with others?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Patience


 

Colossians 3:10-15

When Paul speaks of putting on the new man here, he gives us several attitudes we need to emulate as followers of Christ. Most of them involve the way we deal with each other because a major part of what God is teaching us has to do with building and solidifying our relationships. As we see in the next few verses, he comments specifically on the husband-wife, parent-child and employer-employee relationships.

Why? Largely, our judgment by our Savior hangs on the quality of our relationships. We should never forget the principle found in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats: "Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40, 45).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Road Less Traveled


 

Colossians 3:22-25

Is God involved in our lives? Paul is bringing the example of Christ, and His attitude toward those who were in authority, all the way down to an employment level. In Ephesians 5:21, he brought it down to a relationship within a congregation. But in both cases, the submitting was done out of respect for God—not because the authority was great, not because the person was a better man or woman—in fact, it had nothing whatever to do with the character of the person in authority.

Our submission has everything to do with our relationship to God, what we know of Him, and the purpose He is working out. The biblical definition of submission is clear. This instruction is in perfect harmony with Romans 12 where he says, "Live with all men in peace," as well as, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay!"

Submission is an act of faith. It has nothing at all to do with the quality of character of the person to whom we are submitting. It does not matter whether he is a good or a bad guy. It does not matter whether or not we feel what he is doing is unjust. It may be very unjust—as the taking of Christ's life was very unjust. But Christ submitted to whatever God permitted—out of fear, out of respect, out of faith that God had Him in His hands and nothing would happen before its time. He knew God was concerned about the outcome of His life.

So then, biblical submission is respecting divinely appointed authority out of respect for Christ.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Submitting (Part 1)


 

2 Timothy 1:6-7

It takes the Spirit of God to produce a truly sound mind. This verse also implies that, as long as the mind is devoid of God's Spirit, it cannot be considered to be truly healthy. Any mind that lacks the Holy Spirit will, like Esau's, be limited in its outlook, unstable to some degree, and focused on itself. It may be very sharp regarding material things, but it will be deficient in the ability to cope with life in a godly manner because it cannot see things in a proper, righteous-or-unrighteous context. Instead, it will have a strong tendency to twist situations toward its own self-centered perspective. This does not make for good relationships.

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


 

2 Timothy 2:14-17

Renouncing ungodliness appears here in an interesting context. People in the congregation were getting into heated discussions about genealogies, meanings of words, and technicalities of law. Paul called this "ungodliness" (or irreligion) and instructed Timothy to shun such things. These brethren had missed the point of God's way of life, which Paul says is righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Being technically correct about a minor point is not as important as building right relationships through kindness, forgiveness, service, and sensitive concern for others.

The word also appears in Romans 1:18-32 within a broad denunciation of obvious ungodliness, shown as the fruit of an unholy marriage of idolatry and immorality. When grace truly comes into a person's life, he must consciously repudiate and utterly reject ungodliness. That is, he must rid himself of the leaven of those sins. It will not happen all at once, but one must make consistent effort in that direction.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Five Teachings of Grace


 

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 10:24-25

The New Testament stresses that Christians need the fellowship of others of like mind. An identifying mark of the true church is that the members have love for one another (John 13:35). Indeed, one of the criteria by which Christ will judge us is how we treat our brethren in the church (Matthew 25:31-46). How can we love and serve one another if we do not fellowship with and get to know each other?

God has given us ample instruction regarding how we should relate to other Christians. It is His purpose to teach us how to get along with each other so we can teach others about these things in the Millennium. We are to be unselfish and concerned for the needs of others (Philippians 2:4). God wants us to learn patience and forgiveness (Colossians 3:13), striving to be "kindly affectionate," humble, and self-effacing in our dealings with one another (Romans 12:10). We should be giving and hospitable to our brethren (verse 13).

The New Testament is replete with various admonitions on how we should interact with our brothers and sisters in the church. Obviously, God views our interaction with other Christians as vital to our training to become members of the God Family and qualifying for a position in His Kingdom. He wants us to develop interpersonal skills that equip us to deal with occasional differences of opinion and offenses.

Our fellowship should be a source of encouragement to one another. We should use this time to show love to our brethren and to motivate them to perform acts of kindness and service for others. All of these exhortations show a clear need for us to be part of an organization of God's people. God's Sabbath service is like a weekly training school for Christians. The spiritual food that God's true ministers prepare for us is vitally important for our spiritual growth and development. In discussing the relationship of the ministry to the church member, Paul explains that the ministry is given

for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-13)

The interaction that we have with one another when we fellowship at church services helps us to develop the fruit of God's Spirit—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Paul shows that the church is truly Christ's body, and like the human body, each part depends upon the other parts.

John W. Ritenbaugh
For the Perfecting of the Saints


 

Hebrews 10:25

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together - The Revised English Bible renders this verse: "We should not stay away from our meetings, as some do, but rather encourage one another, all the more because we see the day of the Lord drawing near." Since the New Testament church observed the Sabbath, it is evident that Paul is saying, "We need to be attending church services, especially since the end is coming soon!"

A good friend of mine and I were talking about how the church keeps the Sabbath. He commented that, generally, church members baptized before the mid-1970s seem to have a greater zeal for making sure they always get to services on the Sabbath than those baptized later.

This may or may not be true, but there does seem to be a trend not to consider assembling on the Sabbath as important as it used to be. In the past, we would never think of missing church services to attend a wedding or visit with family coming into town. We would never stay home because we were tired. When someone became ill, the whole family did not stay at home; we thought that everyone else should still go or at the very least one of us should represent the family at church. Since it was the most important event of the week, we would always plan to be at services, even if we "ruffled the feathers" of relatives or neighbors.

We obediently honor God in coming before Him at services. Each Sabbath is to be "a holy convocation" (Leviticus 23:3), meaning we are "called together" to worship Him. In a way, it is like a weekly Family reunion to pay homage to our Father, and in turn, He instructs us further in His way of life.

In addition, we partially fulfill some of the elements discussed in Hebrews 10:22-24. The Sabbath allows us to draw near to God and strengthen our faith. It helps us to hold fast our belief in doctrine through the messages we hear. And through fellowship with the brethren, assembling on the Sabbath enables us to know and consider others' needs, showing us how we may aid them.

Are there reasons to stay home on the Sabbath? Of course. Personal or family sickness, as when a child is ill. Business trips and family vacations will interfere occasionally with attending services, but we can still livestream services. We may have put in an especially difficult, exhausting week, but even here, we can plan and prioritize to avoid these situations so we can attend services. In fact, having a difficult week is all the more reason to make sure we make it to Sabbath services.

Many consider that keeping the seventh-day Sabbath is just a tradition, not a law. It is interesting that the only part of the Bible that God did not inspire to be written by a human being is the Ten Commandments. God wrote them Himself with His own finger. He did this because the commandments are His mind, the foundation upon which everything else stands. Thus, the keeping of the Sabbath is not a "tradition." It is a direct, eternally binding command of God, and thus we should do all we can never to forsake the assembling of ourselves on it.

John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Contend Earnestly


 

James 3:18

For the seed which one day produces the reward which righteousness brings can only be sown when personal relationships are right and by those whose conduct produces such relationships. (James 3:18; William Barclay's Daily Bible Study)

In this verse, James is talking about a social situation. God's purpose - the fruit that He wants from His way of life, the kind of character that He wants in us - has to be produced in peace. It cannot be produced in war.

Why it cannot be produced in war is obvious. When one is involved in war, he is thinking only of himself, which runs 180 degrees counter to God's nature. God's nature is outgoing. When one is engaged in war, all one is seeking to do is to preserve the self. For God's purpose to be fulfilled to the very best degree, peace is required.

The seed, which one day produces the reward that righteousness brings, can only be sown when personal relationships are right, and by those whose conduct will produce such relationships.

Jesus says that peacemakers will be the children of God, not those who butt others aside, aggressively trying to get to the top, asserting themselves, their will, and their ideas in every circumstance, angling to be the big shot. "Out of my way, buddy. That is my beat." Those people, by implication, will not see God.

This is why God will permit a divorce. Does He not say through Paul in I Corinthians 7:15, "If the unbeliever departs, let him depart"? The believer "is not under bondage in such cases" because "God has called us to peace." God will permit a divorce so that a person can be saved due to the subsequent peace. In a family in which a war rages between a husband and wife, it is possible that God may lose both of them.

When those who butt and disturb the flock are present, the flock will not prosper. The shepherd has to ensure that there is peace, freedom from fear from the outside, freedom from tension within, and freedom from aggravation. (We even use the term "bug," which is what insects do to sheep: They irritate them to no end so they cannot gain weight and are discontented.) The shepherd must also make sure there is freedom from hunger - a congregation, a flock, will prosper if it is being well-fed.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 23 (Part 1)


 

James 4:1-3

When we think of nations at war, do we also think of what a happy situation it is that people are being killed, families separated, property destroyed or confiscated, hopes and dreams shattered, and futures ended? War produces terror, fear, pain, anger, uncertainty, guilt and - if it could be weighed - tons of heartache. War, God's Word informs us, is a fruit of coveting.

Apply these thoughts to a microcosm of national wars, family wars, that so often end in divorce. What causes these family wars? They frequently erupt for the same basic reason as national wars. Somebody is coveting, and though the scale is smaller, the results are the same.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment (1998)


 

1 John 1:3

We have fellowship with God, with Jesus Christ, and with one another—all in the same context. This fellowship hinges upon each of us striving to be good as God is good, that is, walking in the light (verse 7).

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 12)


 

1 John 1:3

We have been called into a fellowship—both with Christ and with those who make up His church—to be with Him and in Him, indicating in the church, the Body of Christ.

Physically, we may not have a great deal in common. We may be different nationalities, we may even speak different languages, we may come from somewhat different cultures, but spiritually, we have the same Father and Christ. This unity in God in no way automatically removes the reality of our differences, but because of that commonality—because we agree on the most important things of life—we can walk together and overcome the differences because we love Christ.

John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ


 

1 John 2:10-17

Remember that John's epistle is written to church members. Therefore, he frames matters in absolute terms, offering no middle ground regarding sin and one's relationships with God and fellow man. It must be this way because this is our one and only opportunity for salvation, and sin was what cut us off from God in the first place, causing us to need salvation. We do not want to fall into that position again. Sin is serious business!

Regarding our moral and spiritual conduct, we must recognize that there is no twilight zone, especially in our relationship with God. A Christian cannot muddle around morally or spiritually, thinking that sin is a rather minor affair. It cost Jesus His life! In this relationship, which is in reality preparation for a marriage, love and loyalty are extremely important.

John spells matters out as either light or darkness, love or hatred, all absolutes. Where love is absent, hatred rules in darkness. Where love prevails, there is light. Through the word "darkness," John is disclosing that, because of the sin or hatred, a lack of love for a brother, the relationship with God declines. Notice in verse 11 that the sin John mentions is against a brother, meaning a fellow church member. Hatred is not a trifling matter! Later, in I John 3:15, John says that one who hates his brother is a murderer. What is the result? A relationship is broken, and communication with the brother ends.

Even more serious, we find that the sin also involves one's relationship with God because the effect of that sin is a measure of spiritual blindness. The hater grows insensitive to or hardened against spiritual truth.

Paul reinforces what John teaches, writing in Hebrews 3:12-13, "Beware brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." He warns that sin has a deceptive quality. It promises so much even before it actually becomes an act of conduct, but it delivers far short of its promise. Its truly sneaky aspect is its powerful tendency to lure us into further sin, enslaving us and hardening our minds against righteousness. In other words, it shares characteristics with drugs in that it is addictive or enslaving, destroying one's well-being.

Herein lies the cause of the apostle John's concern in I John 2. God is the source of spiritual truth (light), and we are sanctified as His children and to His service by it because we believe it. However, under the sin of hating, communication with God begins to break down, and consequently, the sinner puts himself in peril of falling completely away. Notice in I John 2:13-14, John mentions that the fathers - those in the congregation older in the faith - have known the Father. He appeals to them to exercise their longstanding, mature leadership within the congregation in a right manner.

The word "known" ties John's thoughts directly with Jesus' words in John 17:3. Knowing God, having an intimate relationship with Him, is the key to living a life - called "eternal life" - which will be acceptable for living in the Kingdom of God. Hating a brother actually cuts the sinner off from the Source of the gifts and strengths necessary to live that quality of life. In other words, the sinner is not properly using what God has already given him and is showing disloyalty both to God and to another member of the Family.

Beginning in verse 15, John pens three of the more notable verses in his writings. When considered in context, they should be scary stuff for a Christian. Why does he command us not to love the world? Because the sinner's conduct exhibited in his hatred of his brother reveals the source of communication prompting his sin! John exposes the communication to which the hater is responding.

Under no circumstance would God ever communicate the sin of hatred toward a brother. Besides, James confirms that God tempts no one (James 1:13). John is warning that the person's affections are drawing him away from God and toward the world, and he had better do something about it before he slips completely back into the world.

This also connects to John 1:5. "And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." Darkness symbolizes the spiritual blindness of Satan's unconverted world. In the book of Revelation, this blindness is represented by Babylon the Great. Satan's world simply does not get it, that is, spiritual truth. Because it cannot grasp God's truths, the only spirituality the world can ultimately communicate is inducement to sin, which it does insistently and attractively.

This leads us back to God's illustration regarding Adam, Eve, and Satan. Satan is the god of this world (II Corinthians 4:4), and thus its spiritual leader and governing principle. He persuaded Adam and Eve to sin. So the only way we can come out of the world is to reverse the process that placed us in the world in the first place: to stop sinning. One can phrase it more positively as to yield to God's will rather than Satan's or to God's communication rather than this world's.

We could never leave the world on our own. God must mercifully deliver us by calling us. We do not understand the mechanics of what He actually does in our minds, but in calling us, He miraculously does something to begin leading us to think of matters in relation to God with a clarity of understanding and intensity that we never before experienced. It is almost as if we suddenly understood a foreign language.

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


 

1 John 4:20

We cannot be right with God unless we are also right with men. Make peace quickly; do not let the sun go down on your wrath (Ephesians 4:26). Hatred is sin, and sin separates us from God.

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


 

Revelation 3:15-16

Christ admits the truth about them. "I know your works [obedience and service], that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot" (Revelation 3:15). Why does He wish this? Because if they were either cold or hot, they would be useful to Him. Lukewarm Christians send confusing messages. In this state, being useless to Him, He spews them out of His mouth. All the messages to these seven churches highlight works because they are evidence of how Christians conduct their relationships with God. Works reveal the heart. They are a gauge of one's witness and spiritual state.

Metaphorically, what does lukewarmness signify here? To define it to this point, a rough definition might be "that which gives no refreshment, or that which has neither the cleansing properties of hot water nor the refreshing properties of cold." Modern synonyms of the word "lukewarm" give illuminating insights into its use in this letter: lacking ardor, enthusiasm or conviction; moderate; mild; unemotional; halfhearted; hesitant; indecisive; irresolute; uncertain; uncommitted; unresponsive; indifferent; impassive; languid; phlegmatic; apathetic; nonchalant; lackadaisical.

Recall the hallmarks of Babylon: pride, self-glorification, reliance on wealth, satiety, complacency, avoidance of suffering. Although he has the abilities and resources to be a great witness, the Laodicean is complacent, self-satisfied, bored with or indifferent to the real issues of life. For a Christian, the real issues are faith in Christ and our Christian responsibility. And to do the work Christ has called us to, our loyalty and devotion must be to Him, first and foremost!

A problem arises, however, in "spotting" a Laodicean—these qualities do not necessarily show on the outside. Why? Remember Christ describes a spiritual condition. This is a matter of the heart. What does He want to see in him? He wants the Laodicean to get off the fence—to be one way or the other, cold or hot. Conversely, the Laodicean judges that he is balanced, right in the middle. But his concept of balance is skewed. Why will he not move off the middle? He feels he has it good there! If he moves left or right, he fears that he will suffer! Thus, he has no desire to move.

Then what happens? The Laodicean must compromise. This is interesting in light of what the history books record. Ancient Laodicea's main line of defense was conciliation and compromise! Why? Again, the answer lies in the city's inadequate water supply, making it very susceptible to the siege of an invading army. By having its tenuous water supply cut off, the city was at the mercy of its attacker. With no water, it could hold out for only a short while. The Laodicean solution? They became masters of appeasement, accommodation, conciliation, and diplomacy. Peace at any cost! How did they appease? They bought their enemies off! Laodicea used its wealth to conciliate and compromise.

Christ uses the attitude of the surrounding environment to illustrate that those in the church of Laodicea are affected by the attitudes of the world. Without even realizing it, they behave exactly like their unconverted neighbors. They are worldly. Though they are not out on the streets robbing banks, raping, looting, murdering, mugging old grandmothers, or abusing children, in their hearts they have the same general approach to life as Babylon has. Theologically, spiritually, they hold the same values as Babylon, proved by their works. Spiritually, they become very adept in avoiding the sacrifices that might be necessary to overcome and grow in character, wisdom, and understanding. In other words, they are skilled in appeasing Satan and their own consciences.

Christ says He will spew, or vomit, the Laodicean from His mouth! That is how He views this attitude of compromise with principles, ideals, standards, and truth!

Some may expect Laodiceans to be lazy, but on the contrary they are often workaholics. Satan has foisted this false concept of Laodiceanism onto the church. One cannot become "rich and increased with goods" by being lazy! Their problem is a faulty setting of priorities. They are very vigorous people, but they are vigorous in areas that fail miserably to impress their Judge, Christ. Vigorous in conducting business and other carnal affairs, they are lackadaisical in pursuing the beauty of holiness, which is their calling. They are not vigorous or zealous in maintaining their prayer life with God or in studying. They are not energetic in making the sacrifices necessary to love their brethren or in developing their relationships with others. Nor are they enthusiastic about guarding the standards and principles of God. By erring in the setting of priorities, they victimize themselves.

Over the last fifteen years of his life, Herbert Armstrong expressed deep concern about the church becoming Laodicean. Because of the plethora of activities this world offers, he saw that ultimately they distract us, cause us to set wrong priorities, and keep us from putting our time, energy, and vigor into godly things. He often cited Daniel 12:4 as a telltale sign of the last days: "Seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase." Are we busy in this age? Satan is a slick strategist, and he really deceives anyone who allows himself to believe that busyness and prosperity are signs of righteousness.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

 




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