What the Bible says about
Relationship with Christ
(From Forerunner Commentary)
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
Sons and daughters indicate the family of the priest. It surely included his wife as well, but this was all God needed to say to make His intention clear. Spiritually, the altar represents God's table, and the sons and daughters are the brethren in the church, the Family of our High Priest. Since we are eating from God's table, this shows us in communion with God. It also shows us doing or having a portion in the work of the priest and as having a claim on the sacrifice.
All who have communion or fellowship with God must share that communion with His priests and His children, the rest of the church, our brothers and sisters. If one brings an offering, he shares in it. There is an interesting example of this in Acts 2:41-42, beginning on the Day of Pentecost and continuing for an unknown time thereafter: "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." The sharing with brothers and sisters is plainly expressed in the words "fellowship," "breaking of bread," and "prayers."
Verses 43-45 add, "Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need." It almost seems as if the godly fear, wonders, and signs sprang directly from the sharing spirit and the sacrifices made by those who gave.
Can we feast with God and ignore His other guests? A person in communion with God must be in communion with all who are in communion with Him. Do we see the oneness this implies? We are all eating of the same sacrifice, the same meal. We are all being fed and strengthened by the same Spirit, and God expects that we share what we have with our brothers and sisters.
This era of the church has never experienced anything similar to the first era, but before the end time is over, we may. In the meanwhile, we should open our homes in hospitality, sharing our experiences in life with one another. We should be praying with and for each other to assist in drawing us together in unity.
Christ is our supreme example in all things pertaining to life. What did Christ do to bring us into oneness with the Father? Whatever He did we must, in principle, also do as burnt and meal offerings, keeping the commands of God with all our heart in complete devotion. In His final teaching before His crucifixion, He sets a very high standard: "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). As means "equal to."
He also says in verse 13, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." Jesus laid down His life step by step and then concluded it by submitting to crucifixion for our well-being. Those sacrifices produce peace and unity with God for those who accept His sacrifice and submit to the burden of bearing one's responsibilities before God.
The conclusion is inescapable: The peace that God gives is directly linked to sacrifice and love. Our Father began the process by so loving the world that He sacrificed His only begotten Son for its sins. The Son followed the Father by magnanimously allowing Himself to be crucified in sublime submission to the Father's will. He did this after laying down His life for mankind, day by day, as a living sacrifice.
All of this begins the process for us so that we can have peace with God and that His Spirit can shed His love abroad in our hearts. The process of producing peace, harmony, and unity is thus also directly linked as a result of our sacrifices in devoted obedience to His commands.
The burnt, meal, and peace offerings are meaningful illustrations of what is necessary within our relationships to produce peaceful and edifying fellowship that truly honors and glorifies God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Five): The Peace Offering, Sacrifice, and Love
Since God is holy, the people He chooses for Himself must also be holy, a principle that continues under the New Covenant. As God lives by high standards, so must His people keep those same high standards as an example to the rest of the world. Just as a human government sends out ambassadors to other nations to represent it in its affairs within those nations, God chose Israel to represent Him. What were His reasons?
» He chose Israel to be His own people, a special treasure for His own purposes.
» He chose them to demonstrate His love for them. He simply loved them. When God loves someone, He puts a great deal of responsibility on him.
» He chose them to keep His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with whom He also had a special relationship.
» He chose them to make a covenant with them, under which they were to keep His commandments and obey Him in everything. In return, He would bless them immensely.
God's choice of Israel was an act of love for them, even though He knew from the start that they would ultimately fail. God knew from the foundation of the world that all mankind would need a Savior (I Peter 1:19-20; Revelation 13:8), including Israelites. Yet, if any people were to succeed as God's model nation, it would be the children of Abraham. This is not because they were better, but because they of all people had a relationship with God, which had begun with Abraham. They had examples in their own ancestry that they could study to see that it could be done if they remained close to God.
To help them to succeed, God gave them His laws, another act of love. Moses writes:
Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people." For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)
Even in their laws they were to be a model nation for the rest of the world, not just for the Gentiles to notice, but to emulate. The Israelites should have made a great impression on the Canaanites, Philistines, Edomites, and all the nearby nations. This respect and admiration should have then spread beyond them to other nations.
Yet, because they failed to live by those good and righteous laws and to take advantage of God's nearness to them - in reality, they failed in just about everything He asked of them - their influence as a model nation rarely stretched beyond their borders. Too often, Israel was instead outright pagan!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Why Israel? (Part Two)
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)
This psalm began with the sheep, as it were, bragging across the fence to his neighbor. Through the course of the psalm, we went through the cycle of a year, and in this last verse, we find ourselves back again at the home ranch. The sheep is speaking about his shepherd's house, which is not up on the high tableland but down where the home ranch is.
The psalm began with a buoyant, "The LORD is my shepherd!" and it closes with an equally buoyant, positive note. The sheep is utterly satisfied. He is saying, "Boy, I love it here! Nothing will get me out of this outfit! You see, I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever."
We have come full circle with the sheep giving a statement of composure and contentment. In Ephesians 2:19, the house is defined as the family of God, of which Jesus is the Head.
Do our neighbors see us as being contented, happy, at peace? Do they see the effects of our intimate relationships with God in our lives? Are we good witnesses for His way? That is the question we are to ask ourselves as the psalm ends.
The sheep proclaims, "I will dwell in the presence of the LORD forever," concluding this poem of praise and thanksgiving of the sheep for his shepherd. The sheep had experienced life in the shepherd's care, and he wanted more of it! That thought should be a guiding beacon for us the remainder of our lives, as long as they might be—that it is our fervent desire to dwell in the presence of the Lord always.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 23 (Part 3)
Song of Solomon 3:1-5
This first dream sequence shows the Shulamite in bed, and even in her dreams she seeks the Beloved (verse 1). Her love for him is so consuming that she constantly looks for him everywhere. When she awakens in the dead of night, she goes out into the city to look for him (verse 2). She goes down every street, into every square, without finding him. She asks the policemen strolling their beats if they have seen him (verse 5), but when they give her no help, she continues her search and immediately finds him (verse 4). She is so overjoyed—and so fearful of losing him again—that she clutches him tightly and refuses to let him go until she brings him back to her mother's house where they will be married. Since her relationship with the Beloved is so wonderful, she advises the other young women to make certain they are truly ready for the experience before they commit to a relationship of their own (verse 5; see Luke 14:26-33).
What an incredible prophecy of the church of God today! Part of the church woke up from slumber with the strength and commitment to seek the Bridegroom high and low. These people were strong enough to overcome and pass by the problems they encountered out in the world. Before He had to knock on the door in judgment, these Christians have found Christ again and refuse to let Him go! They will not allow a separation to occur again!
Unfortunately, others have awakened more slowly, with much less strength and resolve.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy in Song
Song of Solomon 5:1-10
Verse 2 begins a dream sequence. The woman is not really sure what is happening. Is it really happening? Many of us have experienced a simlar thing while in bed and dreaming, but the dream seemed so real that we wondered whether it was reality.
What is real when one is half asleep? The mind is still fogged by a state of drowsiness; it is simply not focused. Solomon presents this "dream" like this because many times, when we are fully alert and focused on what we are doing, much of what we are or think about is restrained or contained. But when we go to sleep, the mind begins to release the things the will has kept submersed. The subconscious begins to express itself when nothing restrains it.
This young lady is finding out that her love is not as deep and true as it needs to be for a successful marriage. She lies unclothed on her bed, which is reminiscent of the Laodicean: "wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked" (Revelation 3:17). Her feet are washed; her work for the day is over, she thinks. She will not stir herself to do what is disagreeable to her at this most inconvenient time, even though her lover is standing at the door, knocking (Revelation 3:20). She delays responding to him, unsure if she is dreaming or not.
She finally begins to respond positively in verse 5, but it is too late. This is reminscent of the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-12). The cry of the bridegroom goes out, but some do not have enough oil, causing them to respond too late to the bridegroom's voice. It is very interesting that oil of myrrh is mentioned both here and in Matthew 25.
In verse 6, she is struck with guilt and remorse for not having responded to his offer of love. She begins calling out for him and seeking to find him in the city.
The watchmen patrol the city, which represents the world. What is happening in the city, out in the world? The Tribulation! "The watchmen that went about the city found me. They struck me, and they wounded me: the keepers of the walls took my veil away from me." The stolen veil is a symbol of being shamed.
The watchmen are worldly people. They see only with their eyes, and thus they cannot see the deep and earnest repentance and yearning that is now within her. They do not see her as the bride, but as a woman—a common woman of the streets, which is why they beat her. They see her as a prostitute. So, without even bothering to find out who she is, they persecute her, tearing some of her clothing from her. Remember that clothing symbolizes righteousness in the Bible.
In verse 8, she turns away from the people who are persecuting her, represented by the watchmen, to the daughters of Jerusalem, from whom she would expect to receive sympathy. She hopes that they might relate to what she is going through. She asks them in her agony to try to help her to find her love, Christ, but we know that He will be gone for the 3 1/2 years of the Tribulation.
The daughters of Jerusalem respond with a question, "What is he like? Tell us about him, we don't know who he is." She begins in verse 10 to describe him. What she is doing, of course, is making her witness before the world. The Protestant Evangelical churches would say that she is giving her testimony of her beloved, of what he is like. She describes him in the most glowing of terms. Here, because of the theme, it has to be done in physical terms, but we understand that He is not just physically attractive. She also describes what He is spiritually to these people. She is complementing the preaching of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:3-12), through her own personal witness, while she is in tribulation.
The point of all this is that it will be this way for some, but it does not have to be this way for anyone. If she had given of herself to him when he was courting her, this would never have happened. We are being courted by Jesus Christ right now. We are being led toward a marriage—the marriage of the Lamb to the church of God.
If she had really been working on yielding to Him—developing her relationship with Him—she would have known His love for her and would have made any sacrifice for Him, no matter how inconvenient. This is what Jesus teaches in the series of parables beginning in Matthew 24 after the Olivet Prophecy.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 3)
Song of Solomon 5:2-8
This second dream sequence is more tragic. Again, the Shulamite sleeps, but she is still somewhat aware of her surroundings (verse 2). The Beloved knocks on the door and beckons her to let him in. She, however, complains that she has just bathed and undressed for bed (see Revelation 3:17), and she does not want to dirty herself again (verse 3). When she sees him trying to open the door himself, though it is locked from inside (verse 4), she relents and gets out of bed (verse 5). When she finally unbolts and opens the door, the Beloved is gone (verse 6)! Due to her lethargy and unwillingness, he had turned away in disappointment to feed his flock (see Song 6:2).
Distraught, she belatedly rushes out to find him. She calls his name, but he does not hear or respond. Again, she encounters the policemen, but instead of helping her in her search, they beat her, wound her, and take her veil (verse 7). Forlorn, the Shulamite pleads with the other young women to tell her Beloved, if they find him first, to return to her and heal her lovesickness (verse 8).
What an incredible prophecy of the church of God today! Part of the church awakened slowly, with little strength and resolve. Though Christ knocks at the door, they have made excuses for refusing to invite Him in (see Revelation 3:20). Our Savior struggles to force the door, but it must be opened from inside. Disappointed, He must turn away and sustain those who have already responded.
Even in the last hour, however, a chance to repent still remains, but the return to God will be frightening and painful. This evil world will attack with bloodthirsty cruelty any weakness it sees. Rent, spent, and defiled, these Christians who must endure the Tribulation—and possibly martyrdom—can rekindle their love for Christ. But, oh, at what a price!
Let this be a warning! The time for our Lord and Savior's return is close, and we cannot afford to ignore the knock at the door! We must cast off the comfortable, clean and secure bedclothes of our cozy lifestyles and gird ourselves to "seek the LORD while He may be found" (Isaiah 55:6)!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy in Song
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
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)
In Matthew 9:28, Jesus asks the two blind men seeking healing, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" Christ's challenge concerns their faith. If faith is present, miraculous healing will occur according to God's will. If it is absent, God will grant no healing. A person of faith receives preferential treatment, and in fact, faith is so important to God that His Word declares, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
The blind men answer Christ's challenge with outstanding, genuine faith, saying, "Yes, Lord." In the Greek, this is a strong affirmation, carrying a tone of certainty. The men had no doubt that Christ could heal them, unlike many people today. They believed Jesus was the son of David, indicating that, though they were blind, God had begun to open their minds.
These men faced many disadvantages that worked against producing faith, but they still trusted Christ in impressive ways. Those who—unjustifiably—excuse their lack of faith because of life's difficulties hinder their spiritual growth. Many with handicaps and weaknesses have come to have faithful relationships with Christ.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing Two Blind Men (Part Two)
These verses show how easily a disciple of Christ can become the means of communication from demons. Peter did the speaking, but Jesus spoke to Satan, attributing the source of the disciple's action. His verbal outburst was against God's will that Jesus suffer and die. Without recognizing it, Peter permitted himself to be a willing conduit for Satan's will!
Several years ago, I clipped an abstract of a book, Wrestling with Dark Angels, which was advertised in a book catalog. The abstract reads:
They're those inner "voices of reason" that try to convince you that wrong is right, that evil is good. They're Satan's dark angels, and you fight them every day. Some of today's most respected theologians help you better understand these supernatural forces so you can combat them effectively—and win the war for your mind.
There is a time coming, represented by the Feast of Tabernacles and Last Great Day, when these dark forces of reason will no longer be free to influence mankind as they can now. Those who are now facing them without understanding what is happening will have died, been resurrected, and will live again with the knowledge of why life was so difficult before. God will not make them face these dark angels' subtle but powerful influence again. It will have had its effect, which will still have to be overcome. However, the possibility of that influence being refreshed each day will not exist.
The solution for us today is to combat that influence by means of the continuous influence of God's Holy Spirit flowing from our relationship with God through Bible study, prayer, meditation, occasional fasting, and obedience. Being in the spiritual presence of God and His Son Jesus Christ is the antidote. It is our shield and the means to flee Babylon.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part One)
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 understoodthis,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).
For the Perfecting of the Saints
The Ten Commandments can be summarized in two overall principles: love toward God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love toward neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God, and the last six commandments expound on our relationship with fellow man.
What does it mean to have a relationship with God? An analogy is frequently used to describe the relationship between Christ and the church is that of a groom and a bride (Revelation 21:1-4). Likewise, Paul writes in II Corinthians 11:2: "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." The word "betrothed" seems somewhat archaic; today, we would say the church is "engaged" to Christ. By making the New Covenant with Him, we have agreed to spend all eternity with Him, but at present, we are within the period preceding the marriage described in Revelation 19:7-9. Following the analogy, we are to be preparing ourselves for this future relationship. During this preparation time, the parties involved are getting to know each other. God the Father has handpicked us for this relationship, and now is the time we need to make ourselves ready.
How does this fit into the Sabbath and the concept of ownership? God has already established a regular meeting time with us—a "date," as it were. Every week, that part of our schedule is already determined. Amos 3:3 asks, "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" In other words, can a person meet with another if they have not determined a meeting time?
Sabbath time has been specially designated as the Bride's time with Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we should restrict our interaction with Him to this day; on the contrary, part of each day should be devoted to prayer and Bible study. Nevertheless, this is a primary reason the seventh day has been set apart and made holy.
What does this mean practically? Imagine a couple planning to marry. Being devoted to one another, they have set their wedding date and have agreed to meet on a weekly basis. It is easy to see that, if the young man shows up at the designated time, but the young woman suddenly decides that there is a more convenient time, a rift is going to develop in the relationship. Obviously, the correct day is vitally important. God has already established that day.
Suppose the couple gets the day right, and they meet and spend time together. What if the young lady, in the midst of this quality time she is supposed to be spending with the one she loves, pulls out a cellphone and begins talking to her friends, as if her fiancé does not even exist? What if the topic of conversation, either between her and her friends or between her and her fiancé, is little more than gossip or what she is planning on doing as soon as her weekly date with her alleged beloved is over? Or, what if their date, which her betrothed had made special for them, has become a mere ceremony to her? What if she just goes through the motions, doing the things required of her, showing little or no feeling about what this relationship really means to her?
On a spiritual level, we are commanded to assemble, if possible, and part of our Sabbath is intended to be for fellowshipping. What are the topics of our conversation? Do sports, entertainment, shopping, or business advance our relationship with God? Is catching up on the latest gossip and social news appropriate for this time that does not belong to us? During this weekly appointment, where do our thoughts wander? Do we think about our business interests or financial concerns? Do we think about or make plans for what we are going to do as soon as the sun sets? Do we esteem Saturday night more than the time God has set apart for us to meet with Him? Are our Sabbath services mere ceremonies? Are we demonstrating to God by our actions on this day that we are eagerly looking forward to spending eternity with Him?
These are points to ponder.
David C. Grabbe
It's Not Our Time
Consider the general layout of the Tabernacle in the wilderness as well as the Temple in Jerusalem. Both basically were the same. As one approached its front, the first object encountered would be the altar of sacrifice, the brazen alter by which atonement was made. The Hebrew word translated as atonement means "by which we draw near." In other words, by sacrifice, represented by the brazen altar, we draw near to God, seeking Him.
After the brazen altar comes the laver. It could be described as being like a big bathtub. Here a person was to wash himself before proceeding any farther.
Once inside the sanctuary, light came from the candelabra, representing Christ as the Light of the World, as well as the light of God's truth spread from activity of the seven churches.
On the table was the shewbread, representing Christ as the Bread of Life. Directly in front of one who entered the Holy Place, past the table of shewbread, stood the altar of incense, representing the prayers of the saints. Barring one's way into the Holy of Holies, into the very presence of God, was the veil. Once behind it, a person would be before the Mercy Seat, in the very presence of God.
The veil being torn apart at Christ's death symbolizes that a personal relationship with God can be established. The way had been opened by the sacrificial death of our Savior. This intimate relationship with God is the key to our being transformed from glory to glory (II Corinthians 3:18).
If we cannot enter God's presence, if we are far away, there is not much hope of transformation. This is why the Bible so frequently urges us to seek God. Seeking God is part of "dressing and keeping" the relationship, helping it to grow. This close relationship is vital to increasing the Holy Spirit in us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 7)
Jesus Christ's declaration is interesting because the subject directly involves a resurrection, and it is also tied to a vital process that sets the elect apart. The key words in this verse are "hear" and "dead."
We need to add a thought from Ephesians 2:1: "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins." Before God's calling, even though we were physically alive, we were spiritually dead because of sin. However, John 5:25 says that the dead "hear" His voice. Similarly, those who are spiritually dead cannot "hear" God's Word until they are called, made part of the elect, and enabled by God to hear and thus understand His Word clearly.
Another important factor appears in Hebrews 10:38: "The just shall live by faith." Also, Ephesians 2:8 says that we are "saved by grace through faith." Romans 10:17 adds, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Finally, in John 6:63, Jesus clinches the point: "The words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life."
This linkage of truths makes vitally clear the importance of the calling and election by God. His enabling of us to "hear" is what begins to sweep away the spiritual blindness that has kept us ignorant of the purpose He is working out here below. This miracle of hearing gives rise to truly effective faith. It makes God's Word truly logical and believable, making commitment in obedience to His purpose possible.
Yet, what if a person cannot "hear" what God is saying? None of these saving elements comes to pass in life because no faith is produced!
Jesus utters another awesome, humbling truth in John 10:3-4, 6, 16:
"To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." . . . Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them. . . . "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd."
He describes our calling and relationship with our Shepherd—Himself—in intimate and personal terms. "He calls them by name." He personally leads them out of their pen, a symbol of the world in which we are held captive, enslaved, and spiritually dead. Conversely, verse 6 plainly depicts the spiritual condition of the uncalled: They did not understand. God had not enabled them because He was not calling them to be a part of His purpose at that time. Thus, the miracle that opens our minds so we could "hear" was not performed on them.
Romans 8:30 adds another startling truth: "Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and who He justified, these He also glorified." Only the called are justified! Justification through repentance and the atoning blood of Jesus Christ is what permits us into the presence of God, enabling further growth to glorification in God's Kingdom!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Six)
Our calling, our life in Christ, begins when the Father directly interfaces with our mind for the purpose of revealing Himself, His ways, His purpose, His plan, His mind, His attitude, His perspective, His character, His love, His power, His mercy, His forgiveness, and on and on, that we might use our life and free-moral agency to choose life
But most important is that the Father Himself does this. God miraculously joins His own mind to ours! There is nothing mysterious about this at all. He begins to transfer His thoughts, His attitudes, His character—the Spirit of His mind—into our minds. When it tells us, "Grieve not the Spirit of God," he means, "Don't grieve the Father by resisting Him." He is transferring the invisible essence of His mind through the access that we have to Him by means of the death of Jesus Christ. He is by no means kidding about the importance of this process. He is helping us to understand that, even as we are influenced by those around us, unless we are in the presence of God, we will not be influenced by Him. This is why it is so vital for us to share life with Him.
This is where prayer and Bible study become important because we are literally in His presence and He can transfer the essence of His mind into ours. Nobody sees it. When we obey, we are giving Him permission to do this. We submit, using our free moral agency. There is nothing magical about this at all. It occurs when we respond to the influence of the interface that He creates between us when we believe His Word and submit, and when we strengthen the relationship through prayer, Bible study, and meditation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 1)
It is the work of God to open our minds to enable us to respond in a godly way - that is, by faith - to the manifestation of Himself through His Word, the manifestation of Christ through His Word, the manifestation of God's works through His Word. He does this so that we can see the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, which means that God has given to each one of us the capacity to do what Moses did (Hebrews 11:26-27). Maybe not as well, not having to trust in exactly the same way or to the same degree, but nonetheless, we can follow the same principle.
So, even though we have a spiritual capacity by nature because of the spirit in man within us - all of mankind has this spiritual capacity - a true spiritual relationship can really be made only by those whom God calls. We have been given a gift of God that enables us to have the kind of faith that Moses and the apostle Paul had.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 3)
Christ came to this earth as THE BRANCH and fulfilled all righteousness, qualifying to replace Satan and rule as King over all the earth. He proved His worthiness by remaining in full accord with His heavenly Father, and bearing the spiritual fruit that makes redemption and salvation possible.
Likewise, we - whether natural or grafted in (Romans 11:17-24) - are also branches attached to the solid trunk of the tree, Christ. It is only by our abiding in Him - our attachment to Him - our close relationship with Him - that we produce any growth or godly works. As Paul writes in Romans 11:16, "If the root is holy, so are the branches." Our righteousness, works, and holiness come to us only because of our connection to Him.
Jesus says that God, in love, prunes us, chastens us, tries us, so that we become more profitable (see also Hebrews 12:3-11). He will do what He must to make us yield. But if we resist and eventually sever our connection with Him, we are fit only to be burned. God has no use for dead wood.
God wants us to use this connection to His Son to "bear much fruit," just as Jesus Christ did. Doing so proves to Him, to ourselves, and to everyone else that we are true Christians, disciples of His Son, the Branch. By this, we will glorify God and secure our place in His Kingdom.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
John 15:13-15 presents us with an interesting and exciting expansion of our place within our relationship with Christ. Redemption, at first glance, elevates us from being a slave of unrighteousness and Satan to being a slave of righteousness and Jesus Christ. Yet, here Christ elevates our calling to an almost unimaginable height—intimate friendship with Him and the Father.
In many cases, our understanding and therefore our appreciation of this falls short of what it should be. Few or none of us have known either the depths of actual, physical slavery to another individual or the heights of walking the halls of power. In ancient Rome, the friends of the Caesar had greater access to him than his governmental counselors and military advisors. History says they had access to him at all times, even into his bedchambers.
A slave would never know such a relationship. A slave never receives a reason for the work assigned him; he simply must do it because he has no other choice. However, a friend of Christ is a confidant of the One in power, who shares the knowledge of His purpose with him. Then the friend voluntarily adopts it as his own, perhaps for no other reason than the basis of their friendship.
We do not follow Christ simply because of some chance impulse. We have been specifically chosen, summoned by Him to be His friend! Here is our obligation set boldly and clearly before us: "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give it you" (John 15:16). We have been specifically appointed, ordained, placed in this unique relationship that we may produce the right things in life.
At first, our obligation rests upon the fact of Jesus giving Himself as the price of our spiritual redemption from slavery and death. If we have any sense at all—any discernment of what He has rescued us from and what He has given us the opportunity to possess—our sense of gratitude should explode in zeal and motivate us to loyalty because we owe Him so much!
Our sense of obligation is further built and strengthened by the knowledge that we have been specifically summoned and appointed to share in an intimate, loving, family relationship and friendship that He sustains through His office as High Priest. If we have any sense of gratitude for His work in intervening, leading, guiding, correcting, and perfecting our character so that we produce much fruit and love one another, our sense of obligation will be further stirred to ensure that we do not let Him down in any area of life. We will always strive to glorify Him.
This motivational factor is largely dependent upon feeling—but not the sickeningly sweet sentimentality of some of this world's Christianity. This feeling is derived from a clear understanding of what has been done and continues to be done in our behalf. This deep, heartfelt, and comprehending feeling arises in the minds of people who have had firsthand experience with the suffering that sin and death bring. They know in their heart of hearts that they are guilty of rebellion against this wonderful Personality who created us, died for us, and continues to be our friend through thick and thin. They know He greatly desires that friendship to continue for all eternity because He is changing us to be like Him and be one with Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Four): Obligation
Because of our relationship to Jesus Christ, persecution becomes our lot in life. Luke movingly describes this sense of solidarity and union with Christ during Paul's experience on the road to Damascus. Christ calls out, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4). Just three verses earlier, he writes, "Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest." Paul had physically and psychologically abused the members of the church, but Christ considers any attack against His church to be an attack against Himself personally.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 8: Blessed Are the Persecuted
When Adam and Eve sinned, they, representing all mankind, were expelled by God from the Garden of Eden. The Garden represents being in God's presence and thereby having easy access and communication with Him. In Genesis 2:17, God had warned Adam and Eve that in the day they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would die. Once they sinned, it became evident that God did not mean they would die immediately, but that, if they ate of that tree, they were as good as dead.
Their human life went on, but God, to emphasize the serious effect of their sin to later generations, placed a flaming sword to guard the Garden's borders. This portrayed that mankind, though still alive, was cut off from any relationship with Him. Thus, sin, which demonstrates a lack of love and fidelity for our Creator, not only seals the death penalty on each sinner, but it also denies an individual access to and thus communication with God while he lives on under Satan's continuing influence.
When Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and we, by faith in that sacrifice, became justified, God legally cleared us of guilt before Him. It is as though the barrier of the flaming sword between us and Him were removed, opening the way for communication with Him and for the growth of a relationship with Him that never before existed for us.
The relationship we have with the Father and the Son through the work of Jesus Christ, both as the payment for our sins and as our High Priest, is everything in terms of salvation. Why is this true? Because we can now communicate with Them! Having access to God furnishes an opportunity for a relationship with the Father and the Son. The relationship is the medium of communication - holy, righteous, spiritual communication.
This communication is more than a mere counterbalance to the evil spiritual influence of this world. It decidedly tips the scales in our favor in this war for our spiritual survival, if we will but continue to believe and trust Them by taking advantage of the contact, communication, and influence freely given to us. What Jesus does ever so briefly in John 17:3 is to tie quality of life, called "eternal life," to a person's relationship with God.
Even though many in it may be religious, the world does not have a relationship with God. There is no communication from Him to them. Undoubtedly, a lot of people know many things about God, but they cannot actually know Him without access to Him. It is like a person knowing of someone from across town by reputation but really knowing nothing about him through personal contact.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part Three)
Notice how many time He says "may be." The English word "may" implies possibilities—permission for a thing to occur, not its certainty.
In other words, Jesus' prayer shows that those in a covenant with God will have to desire unity in the same way that God does. It is a possibility that we can have it. We have permission to have it, but it is not certain yet. That unity hangs in the balance, depending on the way that we react within the relationship. Thus, He is praying that it will happen, but it is a "maybe."
The reason we need to desire unity in the same way God does is so that we can prepare for it by doing God's will, by exercising faith. Then we will be prepared to live in the same way that He does for all eternity with Him.
A husband and wife cannot be one unless they are both prepared to live the same way as the other and to make any sacrifices that might be necessary to blend the lives together. So when they marry, their union is a "maybe." The possibility exists if the two will make the efforts to make the "maybe" absolute. As Christians, we must desire this unity enough to make the right choices and sacrifices to marry Jesus Christ in His Kingdom. It is not a "done deal" yet!
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 3)
Paul said this when making his last goodbye to the Ephesian elders on his way to Jerusalem. Eventually, from there, he went to Rome to face the authorities there. He had spent many years in his journeys crisscrossing the area of what is today western Turkey, preaching the gospel to them, as well as to the world. In making this statement, he is saying, in effect, that a disciple is not made merely by preaching the gospel to him as a witness. There is a vast difference between the two. A disciple of Christ is created through preaching, personal study, prayer, meditation, fellowship, and experience in a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the church. Jesus clearly says in Matthew 28:20 that the disciples were to be taught "all things whatsoever I have commanded you."
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 2)
The word "with" will be the focus of our attention as we seek to understand more thoroughly our identification with Christ. The scripture says we were buried "with" Christ. Jesus was literally buried in the heart of the earth in a tomb because He was dead. The apostle Paul states in Romans 7:9, "For I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died." Like Paul, we are buried "with" Him by means of baptism.
We tend to take the word "with" for granted because we use it so commonly; it is a little preposition we stick in front of another word and hardly notice. But what does it mean? It means "in the company of." Every time we see the word "with" preceding Christ in a context that includes us, we are "in the company of" Him. According to the American Heritage College Dictionary, the preposition "with" has 27 other usages, among which are "a member or associate of," "characterized by" and "possessed of."
Romans 6:6 adds to being baptized with Christ, "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin." We are not only baptized with Him, we are also crucified with Him. Christ became sin to pay for our sins, suffered crucifixion, and died. We die when God reveals to us the knowledge of sin and we repent, accept the blood of Christ, and commit ourselves to be His disciples.
Our relationship with Christ is so close that we are perceived as sharing with Him His experiences. His experiences were literal and physical, and ours are every bit as literal and individually meaningful to our fulfilling God's will but are spiritual. Each "with Him" statement shows we are on the same path in His company.
The relationship is of such closeness that Paul describes it in Galatians 2:20 as, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."
Paul expands further on this in Colossians 2:12-13:
[You were] buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.
Thus, resurrection with Him is added to the experiences we share as members of Christ.
However, all of this places us under certain obligations. Paul continues with this theme in Colossians 3:1, "If you then were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God." Becoming new men in and through Christ, we are charged with making the Kingdom of God our top priority in life. Even in this, though, we seek the Kingdom in His company.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Eight): Conclusion (Part One)
To grasp this properly, one must understand these two verses against the background of the book of Romans. The preceding eleven chapters contain the doctrinal foundation and prelude to the last four chapters of practical Christian living. These two verses bridge the gap between the doctrinal foundation and the practical, daily applications. In these two verses, he is essentially saying, "In light of what I have told you, this is what you are obligated to do in order to serve—that is, to love—Christ."
First, we must operate by these two principles and give up our whole being constantly to these pursuits. Second, we must yield ourselves so that we are not merely avoiding conformity to this world but being transformed into a new being, proving to ourselves the benefits of this way of life. Thus, we are to apply these two principles to the subject of the rest of chapter 12, which primarily concerns relationships with the brethren within the church, and secondarily, with those in the world.
John W. Ritenbaugh
An Unpayable Debt and Obligation
1 Corinthians 1:9
This particular verse is written in such a way as to be translated either "with" or "in": Our fellowship is with Christ, or our fellowship is in Christ. It can go either way. The case is both subjective and objective in I Corinthians 1:9.
Fellowship means "sharing," "communion with," "companionship with," or "association with." We have been called into an association—a companionship, a fellowship, a communion—with Christ. All these words are synonyms. The only difference might be the degree of the intimacy that is expressed. In addition, fellowship indicates people having things in common—they do things together because they share common interests. What we have in common is our love for Christ.
We are drawn to the brethren because of the common tie—the common love for the same Person. Even when we meet people in the church for the very first time, we do not feel as though they are perfect strangers to us because of that commonality. We recognize the spirit or attitude that emanates from them. It is almost something that we can feel or see because our senses seem to be attuned to it. This is why world travelers with the church say that they can go into another congregation and know that it is of the same Spirit as the one that they traveled from.
There is a bond or union between us because we love the same Person. To the Christian, then, Christ's friend is our friend. We are members of the same body. We are children in the same Family. We are soldiers in the same army. We are pilgrims on the same road. These same analogies are used many places in the Bible.
John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ
1 Corinthians 1:19-21
God has purposely chosen this means to put proud and stiff-necked man totally in debt to Him for the most important achievement in all of life. Men have accomplished much and will continue to do many great things. However, verses 19-21 expose why the wise of this world will not submit to God. The reason becomes clear in the phrase, "the foolishness of preaching" (verse 21, King James Version [KJV]). This translation is somewhat misleading in the King James; it should read "the foolishness of the message preached," as in the New King James Version (NKJV). Paul is not saying that the wise of this world reject the act of preaching but that they consider the content of the message preached to be foolish. In other words, the wise will not believe the gospel, most specifically that God in the flesh has died for the sins of the world.
It cannot be overestimated how important humility expressed by faith before God is to the overall spiritual purpose of God for each individual! Each person must know as fully as possible that Christ died for him, that his own works do not provide forgiveness, and that he has not created himself in Christ Jesus. Nobody evolves into a godly person on the strength of his own will. It is God who works in us both to will and to do (Philippians 2:13). No new creation creates itself. So, by and large, God calls the undignified, base, weak, and foolish of this world, people whom the unbelieving wise consider to be insignificant and of no account. He does this so that no human will glory in His presence. On this, a German commentator, Johann Albrecht Bengel, clarifies, "We have permission to glory, not before God, but in God."
The term "in Christ Jesus" (I Corinthians 1:30) indicates that we are in an intimate relationship with Him. Paul then details—through the terms "wisdom," "righteousness," "sanctification," and "redemption"—that God, using our believing, humble, submissive cooperation, will be responsible for all things accomplished in and through us. Some modern commentators believe that, because "wise" and "wisdom" appear so many times earlier in this chapter, the terms "righteousness," "sanctification," and "redemption" should be in parentheses because Paul intends them to define what he means by true wisdom in this context.
God, then, is pleased to save those who believe and to do a mighty work in them. This set Abel apart from, as far as we know, every other person living on earth at that time. What he did by faith pictures what everyone who receives salvation must also do to begin his walk toward the Kingdom of God. Everyone must be called of God; believe enough of His Word to know that he is a sinner who needs the blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins; repent, that is, undergo a change of mind toward God; and be justified, made legally righteous by having Jesus Christ's righteousness imputed to him. This enables a relationship with God to begin, and sanctification unto glorification can proceed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)
2 Corinthians 5:17
Christians are to be in union with Christ. This explains why it is so important to study the Bible, to meditate on it, to spend time trying to understand it, to communicate with one another with the Word and with the Father. What are we doing as we absorb God's Word? God's Word is part of His mind, His personality, His character. It is the way He thinks.
We cannot be in union with someone we do not know or who we have no relationship with. We cannot be in union with someone we never think about.
The more we think about Him, the more we carry His word in our mind. The more experiences that we have with Him, the deeper, stronger, sharper, clearer, and more real the union becomes. It all pivots around the Word of God. Jesus says, "The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63).
They are an invisible force and power because, if we believe His words, they begin to work in our lives because we use them. They begin to produce what God intends them to produce. As we use them, we become more one with Him because we are becoming like Him. Our lives begin to be operated by His mind expressed in His Word. The more we use them, the more we become like Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part 4)
The apostle directs our understanding of Abraham's offspring away from the usual biological definition and toward one pivoting around a relationship with Christ. A few verses earlier, he shows that faith is the crucial substance (see Hebrews 11:1) of that relationship: "Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham" (Galatians 3:7).
Operatively, then, "the faith of Christ" (Galatians 2:16, KJV), not a faith we inflame within ourselves, is the source—we could even say, the functional cause—of our spiritual kinship with Abraham. Through our exercise of Christ's faith in us, we become Abraham's children. Regardless of lineage, we are not his spiritual children by birth. For the purposes of spiritual salvation, reconciliation with God by the faith of Jesus Christ renders irrelevant the genetic, national, social, and gender differences among Homo sapiens (see Galatians 3:26-29).
Thus, the apostle stresses the importance of faith over genealogy. Israel, from God's viewpoint, is first and foremost a spiritual entity, a nation and people (I Peter 2:9) of faith, and only secondarily—subordinately—a physical or natural entity.
Servant of God, Act II: God's Gift of Faith
Abraham is the father of the physical nation God elected to work in and through, and he is also the father of those He calls to be part of His forming spiritual nation. Appreciating Abraham as the father of the physical nation is easy, but seeing him as father of the spiritual nation is not so simple, as we are more apt to think that, because God begets us, He is our spiritual Father. We must therefore see Abraham's spiritual fatherhood in a different light.
The Jews of Jesus' day did not grasp Abraham's spiritual fatherhood correctly. Jesus gives the answer to this perplexing title in John 8, where a great deal of the dialogue involves ancestry.
"And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me. . . . I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me." They said to Him, 'Where is Your Father?" Jesus answered, "You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also." . . . Then Jesus said to them, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him." (verses 16, 18-19, 28-29)
Abraham's spiritual fatherhood soon becomes the focus of Jesus' instruction:
They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, 'You will be made free'?" . . . "I know that you are Abraham's descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father." They answered and said to Him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this." (John 8:33, 37-40)
Members of the same family bear a likeness to one another. It is this principle that designates who is a spiritual child of Abraham. It is not a matter of physical resemblance but a similarity of moral and spiritual attitude and behavior. Christ designates that resemblance to be believing God as Abraham did, as well as doing the works that he did. In the larger picture, a spiritual descendant of Abraham will grow and overcome, gradually changing into the spiritual image of Jesus Christ.
The factor that set Abraham apart above all others was that faith drove, motivated, inspired, and guided—sometimes dramatically—what he did with his life. Thus, Abraham is not only the physical progenitor of Israelites but also the spiritual, moral pattern that his descendants are to conform to.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Six)
Sometimes we seem to consist of a whole clamorous mob of desires, like week-old kittens, blind of eye with mouths wide open, mewing to be satisfied. It is as if two voices are in us, arguing, "You shall, you shall not. You ought, you ought not." Does not God want us to set a will above these appetites that cannot be bribed, a reason that cannot be deceived, and a conscience that will be true to God and His standards? We must either control ourselves using the courage, power, and love of God's Spirit, or we will fall to pieces.
Adam and Eve established the pattern for mankind in the Garden of Eden. All of us have followed it, and then, conscience-smitten, we rankle under feelings of weakness. They were tempted by the subtle persuasions of Satan and the appeals of their own appetites for forbidden fruit that looked so good. To this they succumbed, and they sinned, bringing upon themselves the death penalty and much more evil besides. What is the use of appealing to men who cannot govern themselves, whose very disease is that they cannot, whose conscience cries out often both before and after they have done wrong, "Who shall deliver me from this body of death?" It is useless to tell a king whose subjects have overthrown him to rule his kingdom. His kingdom is in full revolt, and he has no soldiers behind him. He is a monarch with no power.
A certain Bishop Butler said, "If conscience had power, as it has authority, it would govern the world." Authority without power is nothing but vanity. Conscience has the authority to guide or accuse, but what good is it if the will is so enfeebled that the passions and desires get the bit between their teeth, trample the conscience, and gallop headlong to the inevitable collision with the ditch?
The solution to this lies in our relationship with Christ:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
This is the only thing that will give us complete self-control, and it will not fail.
In Luke 11:13, Jesus makes this wonderful promise of strength to those who trust Him:
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!
Trust Jesus Christ, and ask Him to govern. Ask Him for more of God's Holy Spirit, and He will help you to control yourself. Remember, II Timothy 1:7 says this is a major reason that He gives us His Spirit. He will not fail in what He has promised because the request fits perfectly into God's purpose of creating sons in His image.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control
"Hope deferred," the proverb says, "makes the heart sick." Devotion to Christianity is not easy in this world because the pull to just slide is constantly present, and the Galatians were losing their attentiveness. A synonym for devotion is "attentiveness," and these people were becoming inattentive in their devotion to Christ.
They had lost sight of the real goal and entirely neglected what Christ was doing for them on a daily basis. He had not lost His attentiveness to them. Because they had allowed themselves to drift, they were not aware what Christ was doing for them out of His love for them.
If we can think of this in a human sense, it was as if He were being spurned, where one of the two parties involved in a loving relationship is doing all the good things and the other is passive. So, there was Christ, making the effort through His apostles—through the church and His ministry by means of the Spirit—to stir them up, but they were not paying a great deal of attention.
How quickly they forgot that without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5)! If they were going to have any spiritual growth and reward, it would be through their relationship with Christ. Yet, they were forgetting that their supply of the Spirit, as it were, was coming from Him. He is the main trunk of the tree—He is the vine, we are the branches—and so the relationship is all-important.
Daily, He prepares us for the Kingdom. "I go and prepare a place for you," He says in John 14:2. He is working with us on a daily basis, forgiving us, leading us, being patient with us, and providing for us. However, the Galatians were instead looking longingly at the world for gratification and relief.
If a person feels that his affections are abused by the one he loves, it impairs his power to grow because people tend to follow the lead of their emotions. Human beings are very emotional creatures. These Galatians felt that, because He had not returned according to their expectations, and because Christ and the Father had allowed them to go through persecutions—both economic and social—they were being neglected. They were feeling as though their affections for Christ were being abused. They thus allowed themselves to follow the lead of their emotions.
It is a principle that what we like to do, we gradually become. We then set our wills to do what we like to do. We must be very careful about what we set our emotions upon.
John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ
Most of us realize that the unity of the church of God courses through the book of Ephesians as a general theme. Paul illustrates the church as a complete body of which Jesus, though in heaven, is the Head, and the elect here on earth comprise the rest of it. Early on, Paul declares how God has planned the organization of His purpose from the very beginning, determining whom He would call, give His Spirit to, and perfect as His children.
In Ephesians 4, the apostle begins to clarify our Christian responsibilities regarding works. He appeals to us in verse 1 to make every effort to live a manner of life that measures up to the magnificence of our high calling. He then makes sure we understand that we must carry out our responsibilities in humility, kindness, and forbearance as we strive to maintain doctrinal accord in purity.
He explains that Christ has given each of us gifts to meet our responsibilities in maintaining the unity of God's church. Foremost among these gifts are teachers who will work to equip us for service in the church and eventually in the Kingdom. This same process will enable us to grow to completion, to mature, no longer wavering in our loyalties, certain in the direction of our lives, and not deceived by the craftiness of men.
With that foundation, the "therefore" in verse 17 draws our focus to the practical applications necessary to meet the standards of the preceding spiritual concepts. We must not conduct our lives as the unconverted do. They are blinded to these spiritual realities and so conduct life in ignorance, following the lusts of darkened minds.
Because we are being educated by God, the standards of conduct are established by His truths and are therefore exceedingly higher. We must make every effort to throw off the works of carnality and strive to acquire a renewed mind through diligent, continuous effort so that we can be created in the image of God in true righteousness and holiness (verse 24).
In verses 25-29, Paul moves even further from generalities to clear, specific works that we must do. We must speak truth so that we do not injure another through lies, as well as to maintain unity. Because deceit produces distrust, unity cannot be maintained if lying occurs. We must not allow our tempers to flare out of control, for they serve as an open door for Satan to create havoc.
We must be honest, earning our way so that we are prepared to give to others who are in need. We must be careful that what we speak is not only true but also edifying, imparting encouragement, empathy, sympathy, exhortation, and even gentle correction when needed.
In verse 30 is a brief and kind reminder that, in doing our works we must never forget that we owe everything to our indwelling Lord and Master. We must make every effort to be thankful, acknowledging Him as the Source of all gifts and strengths, enabling us to glorify Him through our works.
In the final two verses of the chapter, Paul delineates specific responsibilities concerning our attitudes toward fellow Christians within personal relationships.
This brief overview of just one chapter shows clearly how much works enter into a Christian's life as practical requirements that cannot be passed off as unnecessary. How else will a Christian glorify God? How else will he grow to reflect the image of God? How else will he fulfill God's command to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19) except by faithfully doing those works that lead to life?
Through the whole process of sanctification, the Christian will make constant use of two additional works: daily prayer and Bible study, which must be combined with his efforts to obey God. No one who is careless about performing these works can expect to make progress growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ during sanctification.
Why? Without them, he will have no relationship with either the Father or the Son, and thus will not be enabled to achieve the required works. They are the Source of the powers that make it possible for us to do the works God has ordained. If we do not follow through on these two works, we will surely hear ourselves called "wicked and lazy" and be cast into "outer darkness" where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:24-30).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Four)
A baby is not born evil. It is most certainly born with a measure of self-centeredness that God pronounced as very good in Genesis 1:31, for some small measure of self-centeredness enables a person to take care of the self.
Understood and controlled, a right measure of self-love provides a foundation for the love of others, which proves beneficial for the giver as well as the receiver. This is especially true in marriage because husband and wife become one flesh; to love one's spouse is to love the self because of this oneness.
It is at least equally true, if not more so, in our relationship with Christ. He is our example. Because of our spiritual oneness with Him, and because we are His body, His loving service of us is the same as loving Himself. This principle works both ways. Our loving service of Him is also the same as loving ourselves. What we see in these two intimate relationships is a practical application and benefit of the Golden Rule—"Do unto others as you would have them do to you"—in operation, with the added benefit to the giver.
The problem with self-love is that, without contact with God throughout life, an individual's innate self-centeredness can easily develop into an extreme and sharply honed sinfulness and evil. Such an egotist gives little thought to loving others as a way of life; he shows little care for others and rarely looks for ways to serve. Without God, life becomes all about the self. The world, established by and built upon selfish human nature, continues to feed its self-absorbed inclinations and cravings.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Two)
Be aware, be warned, and be exhorted that, if we have any desire to overcome faults, if we sincerely desire to be in God's Kingdom, if we desire to be like God and glorify Him, we need to protect our relationship with Him. He is the Source of the power to do all things, even to grow while also enduring these intense times. Paul is saying that he knows how to discipline himself and thus keep on track in every circumstance of life. By this time in Paul's life, he had the skills required for making the best of every situation.
He is not suggesting that he did this alone through mere human discipline and skill that anybody can achieve, but that he was enabled because of his faithful relationship with Christ. The real dynamic is that Christ has the power, and it was He who faithfully enabled Paul. The apostle's skills, which enabled him to accomplish things that pleased God, were spiritual.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Power Belongs to God (Part One)
Is God involved in our lives? Paul is bringing the example of Christ, and His attitude toward those who were in authority, all the way down to an employment level. In Ephesians 5:21, he brought it down to a relationship within a congregation. But in both cases, the submitting was done out of respect for God—not because the authority was great, not because the person was a better man or woman—in fact, it had nothing whatever to do with the character of the person in authority.
Our submission has everything to do with our relationship to God, what we know of Him, and the purpose He is working out. The biblical definition of submission is clear. This instruction is in perfect harmony with Romans 12 where he says, "Live with all men in peace," as well as, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay!"
Submission is an act of faith. It has nothing at all to do with the quality of character of the person to whom we are submitting. It does not matter whether he is a good or a bad guy. It does not matter whether or not we feel what he is doing is unjust. It may be very unjust—as the taking of Christ's life was very unjust. But Christ submitted to whatever God permitted—out of fear, out of respect, out of faith that God had Him in His hands and nothing would happen before its time. He knew God was concerned about the outcome of His life.
So then, biblical submission is respecting divinely appointed authority out of respect for Christ.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Submitting (Part 1)
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
First, notice that the "eternal trinity of virtues" is mentioned here: faith, hope, and love. Second, notice that the word endurance (translated in the King James as "patience") should be translated either as "endurance" or "perseverance." Third, the grammatical structure of the sentence in the Greek makes Jesus the object of our faith, hope, and love—not the promises.
The Person of Christ is the object of our faith, hope, and love. In other words, our faith, our trust, is in Jesus. Our love is because of Him and toward Him, and we persevere in hope toward Him. All of these spiritual qualities exist in us and are profitable for us because of a Person.
This is an important distinction. Our relationship is with a Being, not a book, not words on the page—a Person. We can have enduring hope, not only because of what He has done in the past when He died for our sins as our Savior, but because of what He is doing in the present as our High Priest—and what He will do in the future because of His promises and His character.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Perseverance and Hope
1 Timothy 2:1
"Intercession" is exactly the same Greek word as is translated "prayer" in I Timothy 4:5. It has an interesting etymology that instructs us on an important aspect of prayer. The word, a verb, is entugchanein.
It began to appear in Greek centuries before Christ, meaning simply "to meet a person," as if a person would meet another along the way. However, through the centuries, the word took on a somewhat different meaning. Eventually, it meant, not just "to meet," but "to meet and converse." This is natural because, if a person falls in with another along the way, he usually does not ignore the other but strikes up a conversation.
Then, as time went by, it began to take on yet a different meaning: "to have intimate fellowship with the person." To this point, the word describes how to have a right approach to God. In practical fact, it illustrates that we are not conversing with God from a distance. We are so intimately associated with Him that we are His children. This word is describing an intimate family relationship. God is not way off on the top of a mountain somewhere. Even as early as Deuteronomy 30:14, He says, "The word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart"!
If we are going to have the right kind of fellowship and relationship with God in prayer, we have to understand that we are in His very presence. Looking at this humanly and physically, this is how He can rub off on us. We are in His fellowship, in His presence. He is not far off. When Christ gave His life for us, the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom, symbolizing that access to God was completely open to Him, and now we have this same access to the Father through Christ. We are right before His throne when we are talking to Him.
However, entugchanein continued to change. The change shows up in the noun form of the word, enteuxis, meaning "a petition to a king." It can be used in the sense of the king summoning someone into his presence or of someone presenting a request to the king. Putting these together, it suggests that we have "intimate access to petition the king." We do not have intimate fellowship with just anybody, but to the King of all the universe!
We have both privilege and power in prayer. This is where the concept "the power of prayer" comes from. Because we have the privilege to come before the King in intimate fellowship, we have access to His power. It is not that prayer itself has the power, but that we have access to the One who has the power.
This means we have to be extra careful what we ask God: He may give us what we ask, and we will be sorry. Mighty forces can be unleashed when we ask God for things. God's people have a responsibility to ask of Him things that are according to His will.
As a tool, prayer is to be used to accomplish a wide variety of things within God's purpose. It is to be used in regard to the things of this life. God wants us to pray about this life, as in supplying our daily need. However, He will primarily use it, not for this life, but for His eternal purpose, reproducing Himself and creating His holiness in us. His purpose is in preparing us for the Kingdom of God.
So be warned that His purpose will supersede ours when we pray.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is Prayer?
The New Testament stresses that Christians need the fellowship of others of like mind. An identifying mark of the true church is that the members have love for one another (John 13:35). Indeed, one of the criteria by which Christ will judge us is how we treat our brethren in the church (Matthew 25:31-46). How can we love and serve one another if we do not fellowship with and get to know each other?
God has given us ample instruction regarding how we should relate to other Christians. It is His purpose to teach us how to get along with each other so we can teach others about these things in the Millennium. We are to be unselfish and concerned for the needs of others (Philippians 2:4). God wants us to learn patience and forgiveness (Colossians 3:13), striving to be "kindly affectionate," humble, and self-effacing in our dealings with one another (Romans 12:10). We should be giving and hospitable to our brethren (verse 13).
The New Testament is replete with various admonitions on how we should interact with our brothers and sisters in the church. Obviously, God views our interaction with other Christians as vital to our training to become members of the God Family and qualifying for a position in His Kingdom. He wants us to develop interpersonal skills that equip us to deal with occasional differences of opinion and offenses.
Our fellowship should be a source of encouragement to one another. We should use this time to show love to our brethren and to motivate them to perform acts of kindness and service for others. All of these exhortations show a clear need for us to be part of an organization of God's people. God's Sabbath service is like a weekly training school for Christians. The spiritual food that God's true ministers prepare for us is vitally important for our spiritual growth and development. In discussing the relationship of the ministry to the church member, Paul explains that the ministry is given
for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-13)
The interaction that we have with one another when we fellowship at church services helps us to develop the fruit of God's Spirit—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Paul shows that the church is truly Christ's body, and like the human body, each part depends upon the other parts.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
For the Perfecting of the Saints
We are responsible for maintaining our fellowship with Him by doing the works that He has appointed for us to do. For instance, there must be continuous exercise of prayer, study into His Word, and seeking to be like Him. We seek Him because we grow to admire—indeed respect—His love and character, appreciate the purpose He has brought into our lives, desire His merciful forgiveness, and realize He is our Benefactor in every aspect of life. However, we must do all of these things in faith.
Notice Paul's counsel in II Corinthians 5:7: "For we walk by faith, not by sight." Like life, walking is a continuous process. Thus, when Hebrews 11:6 says, "He who comes to Him must believe that He is," it means far more than just assenting to a vague idea of a "First Cause." Under the New Covenant, we are dealing with a living Personality working within His creation.
To walk by faith is a practical responsibility. It results from believing in His character and His works as revealed in His Word to the extent that we trust Him and submit to His commands in every area of life. His character is a major reason why we must continue to seek Him: so that our knowledge of Him is continually sharpened and refined to inform our imitation of Him in our lives. Otherwise, we will be pursuing a phantom designed by our own imaginations. We need to grasp as much of His transcendent holiness, supreme sovereignty, almighty power, and perfect justice, as well as His abundant mercy and wonderful grace.
Hebrews 11:6 emphasizes that He is a Rewarder, a Benefactor to those who come to Him and consistently walk with Him by faith. He rewards those who, as a way of life, seek Him in anticipation of His treating them with patient, respectful kindness, even abundance, as He works to create us in the image of Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 11:5-7 balances reward with duty. Together, these verses show that, to be rewarded, we must walk with Him and seek Him. Walking and seeking are where "works" come into play, troubling those who believe in the incomplete Eternal Security doctrine.
In summary, walking with God and seeking Him by faith require keeping God in mind combined with making the efforts of obedience and any sacrifices of time, energy, and rejection by worldly family, friends, and business associates. Nevertheless, these result in being rewarded by God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
Because faith is indispensable to a good relationship with God, its importance cannot be overemphasized. But notice the condition in this verse. It does not say that God is the rewarder of everyone but "of those who diligently seek Him." Living faith is direct; it has its foundation in diligently, actively, consistently, zealously seeking Him in study and prayer and in conforming to His will. Those who are doing these things are encouraged that they will be rewarded. The reward is to find Him. This, in turn, increases faith.
The biblical word "faith" is most synonymous with the English word "trust." "Faith" can be a mere agreement with a cold, hard fact. This is fine as far as it goes, but it loses a great deal of meaning when we consider that this One with whom we are dealing is a warm, dynamic, powerful, loving Personality. Biblical faith, trust, is firm. It is faith in full flower, acting consciously and with agreeable feeling - we might call it "conviction."
This faith is not done coldly and calculatedly - simply because a thing is right. It is not done with a "perhaps" or a "maybe," but with joy and with firm conviction, with a consciousness that one is in agreement with this dynamic and loving personality. We should be aware of our unity with Him just as we are aware of our sense of touch - our strongest sense in terms of evoking emotion: consider a punch in the nose compared to a kiss. But faith, trust, is sensitive in the same way. It is conscious of the things of God; it sees God. In addition, faith not only evokes the hard, cold facts (it has "a remembrance of truth"), but also responds emotionally to a wonderful, dynamic, gracious, and powerful Personality, who is our Friend.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Fervency
Notice our example of faith, Abraham, the "Father of the Faithful." As Abraham had the knife raised to sacrifice his son, the only evidence he had was the words of God. Abraham could believe God—take Him at His word—or believe all the evidence he could see that the son of promise would die before God fulfilled His promises. Abraham could not "see" what God was going to do. As far as Abraham was concerned, Isaac was dead. The only "evidence" he had that it all would work out was God's words—the promises God made to him.
God also needed evidence. God did not know for sure what was in Abraham's heart (Genesis 22:12) until Abraham made the decision to trust God rather than all the physical evidence around him. The patriarch's actions proved he would walk by faith and not by sight.
To walk is an action. So even the phrase "walk by faith" demonstrates that living faith requires action. Our evidence is God's words. God's evidence is our actions.
We are in the same boat as Abraham. So says Galatians 3:6: "You have exactly the same experience as Abraham. Abraham took God at his word, and that act of faith was accepted as putting him into a right relationship with God" (William Barclay). Just as Abraham had to choose between believing God and believing the circumstances he could see, God also has to put us into exactly the same position. He must find out what is the true intent of our hearts—the depth of our faith. God needs to "know" that we will trust Him, no matter what, before He commits to a permanent, eternal relationship with us.
Faith—What Is It?
With Ephesus, we are looking at a people who had not so much drifted from the doctrines but had changed in the way that they respected and applied them. The book of Hebrews was written to the Hebrew people in the first century who were drifting. The Ephesus letter applies directly to them.
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip away. (Hebrews 2:1)
The letter to Ephesus shows that they had let them slip or were in the process of doing so.
For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him. (Hebrews 2:2-3)
The Ephesians had become neglectful losing their devotion to this way of life. This is a very stern warning: "I will remove your candlestick." He advises them, "Repent. Go back."
One cannot go back to something that he did not previously have. This is a key to our separation from God. It will be a major key in re-unifying us-going back to what we had before: repenting, turning, going back. We must never forget that we are involved in a relationship with a real live Being, and He is not just any being but the One that we are to marry.
Would we want to marry someone who could take us or leave us? That is what happened to these people: They had lost their devotion to the relationship. They still had the doctrines, but their devotion was gone. They did not cherish Him anymore. They did not cherish the relationship, even though they had not walked away from the doctrines. So He says, "Turn. Go back."
It is good to recognize a hopeful sign-that it does not say that they had "lost" their first love but that they had "left" it. The power to love was still residing in them, but they would have to stir themselves up and use it. Love is what one does out of consideration for making the relationship better than it had ever been before. They needed to stir up the Spirit within them and return to the same zeal and devotion that they had shown at the beginning of their conversion.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 4)
If we love a person, we are glad to be able to consult with him, to seek his tastes and opinions. Why? So we can please him. We act on his advice; we do the things that he approves of. In fact, we will even deny ourselves to meet his wishes and abstain from the things that we know that he dislikes.
Anybody who has gone through a courtship understands this. If we find that the object of our affection does not like the way we do certain things, the colors that we wear in our clothing, the style of our dress, the car we drive, or the same foods we like, what will we do? We will try to conform to him or her as long as it is lawful. If we love that person, we will try to please him or her in any way that we possibly can. But, if we are indifferent to the person, who cares what he or she thinks?
It is easy to see why this love is so important, for love is the mainspring of the right kind of works.
The people who do not love Christ are working, active, expending their energies on things that they love, but what they love is not Christ. And because it is not Christ, they do the wrong works.
When we are in love, we will even learn things that we are not naturally inclined toward because we think it will give the other person pleasure. Some guys are nuts over baseball, golf, or whatever sport—perhaps hunting or fishing—and the poor girl will put herself through agony to watch a boring baseball game with him or go golfing, hunting, or fishing with him just to please him because she loves him.
Are we that way with Christ? Do we do what we can, everything we can, denying ourselves or learning new things because we want to please Him? We want to please Him because we love Him. These are areas that we must evaluate ourselves on.
John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ
We are, to a great measure, victims of an age that is certainly not apathetic to seeking its own pleasure but is apathetic about having a true relationship with God. Would anybody in all honesty not care to eat or to have fellowship with Jesus Christ? Yet, verse 20 says He is standing at the door and knocking, and He will come in and dine with them if they just open the door.
Many would like to eat and fellowship with Christ just to say that they had that novel experience. But the irony here is that God is seeking His people, and they are too uncaring to even rouse themselves to answer the door! The message to this church shows that the problem is that they are so far from Him they are not even aware of their spiritual need and thus have no desire to be near Him. No desire, no prayer. No prayer, no relationship. No relationship, no awareness of spiritual need. It goes in a vicious cycle.
God is hoping that He can stir us up enough to repent and to break out of the cycle. He says, "Repent. Be zealous." Zeal indicates heat, passion, and feeling. He is hoping to break us out of this circle by rekindling an awareness of our spiritual need.
An awareness of need resides in us because we are close enough to Him to see how holy, gracious, kind, merciful, and good He is and desire to be like Him. In other words, we admire Him so much and respect His personality and character so much that we want to be near Him—right across the table from Him, as it were. We do not want to be near Him just to have a novel experience but to exalt Him and honor Him by being like Him. Is not imitation the most sincere form of praise?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Seeking God
Christians are the victims of an age that is apathetic to a true relationship with God. Would anybody in all honesty admit that he would not care to eat a meal with and fellowship with Jesus Christ? Yet, He is reporting that in His own church there are some who know that He is at the door, yet will not rouse themselves to answer it and fellowship with Him! They are refusing to fellowship with Him. They are so far from Him that they do not even see their need. If there is no awareness of need, there is no desire; no desire, no prayer; no prayer, no relationship, and back to no awareness of need. It runs in a vicious circle.
God is hoping that He can stir us up enough to repent and break out of the cycle—by rekindling an awareness of need. Awareness of need is in us because we are close enough to Him to see clearly how holy, gracious, kind, merciful, and good He is, and then we will want to be like He is. In other words, we so admire and respect Him and His qualities that we want to be near Him and will chase after Him, diligently seeking after Him like a lover seeking after his love. We will exalt Him and seek to honor Him by being like Him. This is what happens when two people are in love. That is why God uses the Bridegroom/Bride and wedding analogies. It is our responsibility to seek Him with all our might—with everything in us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Fervency
Here, Christ is reporting that—in His own church—some know that He is at the door, but they will not rouse themselves from their spiritual lethargy to open it. By implication, they will not invite Him into their lives. As unbelievable as it sounds, there are those in His church who will keep Him on the outside looking in (see Song of Solomon 5:2-3)!
But there is hope. In Revelation 3:20, that word "if" holds out hope—hope that a Laodicean can repent, can change, can choose to open the door to Christ rather than ignore Him. Are we opening the door? Are we opening ourselves up to Christ to build the kind of relationship that will lead to eternal life (John 17:3)?
Our calling is irrevocable (Romans 11:29), and it is God's will that we succeed (John 6:39-40). And when a thing is God's will, Isaiah 14:24 says, "Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, and as I have purposed, so it shall stand." God has given us everything we need to succeed; we just have to open the door.
Are we opening the door? There are some easy tests:
» Are we diligently praying, studying, meditating, fasting, and not allowing our deceitful and sleepy natures to accept excuses for failure?
» Are we opening our minds and hearts during services by being alert and eager?
» Are we wise or foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-12)? Have we been lulled to sleep and see no need for urgency (II Peter 3:4)?
God knows the true answers to each one of these questions. Do we?
These relationship-building tools are our Christian responsibilities. They are the daily, little things given to us that, in a large measure, tell God the real intentions of our hearts. Failure to handle these "trifles" proves us as unfaithful servants (Luke 16:10-13).
One who gives careless attention to his responsibilities is a Laodicean. We need to open our doors to Christ as never before because, as Romans 13:11 says, "And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed."
Are We Opening the Door?
Do we really want fellowship with God? Our frequent contact with God, or lack of it, is an easy, concrete measurement for both God and ourselves to know the true answer.
A Laodicean's central characteristic is an aversion to God's presence. He does not gladly throw open the doors to let Christ in. Instead, he wants his privacy to pursue his own interests, unimpeded by the constraints God's presence would impose.
Striving to pray always throws open the door of our minds to God, and just as Luke 21:36 indicates, by vigilant watching we can spot our Laodicean tendencies, overcome them, and avoid tribulation. Commentator Albert Barnes makes some interesting points on Revelation 3:20:
The act of knocking implies two things:
(a) that we desire admittance; and
(b) that we recognise the right of him who dwells in the house to open the door to us or not, as he shall please. We would not obtrude upon him; we would not force his door; and if, after we are sure that we are heard, we are not admitted, we turn quietly away. Both of these things are implied here by the language used by the Saviour when he approaches man as represented under the image of knocking at the door: that he desires to be admitted to our friendship; and that he recognises our freedom in the matter. He does not obtrude himself upon us, nor does he employ force to find admission to the heart. If admitted, he comes and dwells with us; if rejected, he turns quietly away—perhaps to return and knock again, perhaps never to come back.
Striving to pray always is our conscious choice to let God in. Psalm 4:4 (Contemporary English Version,CEV) emphasizes the seriousness of examining ourselves: "But each of you had better tremble and turn from your sins. Silently search your heart as you lie in bed."
Every night, at the end of another busy day, provides us—and God—an opportunity to evaluate the true intent of our hearts. We can ask ourselves: How much and how often did we acknowledge God throughout our day? How much did we talk to Him and fellowship with Him today? Where did we miss opportunities to do it? Why?
Perhaps the biggest question to ask is this: When did we hear the "still small voice" today and hide from God's presence? Our daily answers to these self-examination questions and our practical responses could in a large measure determine where we spend both the Tribulation and eternity (Luke 21:36).
Praying Always (Part Five)
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