What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
We are not helpless against the evil desires of our human nature. We can do several things:
1. Recognize that human beings have an unstable, insatiable nature. Ecclesiastes 1:8 says, "All things are full of labor; man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing." Being aware of this biblical truth can give us a better grasp of what we are dealing with. Do not be deceived; happiness is a fruit of true spirituality. God has not put the power into anything material to satisfy man's spiritual needs.
2. Seek God first. Our Savior advises in Luke 12:15, 31: "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. . . . But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you." Paul adds in Colossians 3:1-2: "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth."
We must purposely and deliberately study, pray, fast, and meditate. Further, we must consciously practice God's way of life. This takes sacrifice and discipline, but it fills the mind with the kind of thoughts that will eventually make it impossible to sin.
3. Hate covetousness, not things. Proverbs 28:15-16 states, "Like a roaring lion and a charging bear is a wicked ruler over poor people. A ruler who lacks understanding is a great oppressor, but he who hates covetousness will prolong his days."
It is very helpful to observe what covetousness produces. Some sins are clearly understood, but covetousness is generally less easily observed, requiring careful attention to comprehend the very beginning of many sins. Making such observations is helpful in evaluating the self. We need to remember that coveting violates the basic principle of God's way of outgoing concern. It also keeps us from listening to God, so we must be attuned to detect its presence.
4. Learn to be cheerfully generous. Luke records Paul saying in Acts 20:35, "I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" The apostle adds to this thought in II Corinthians 9:6-7: "But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver."
We need to keep in mind that we have such an abundance of self-concern mixed with a natural fear that, if we give things away, we will not have enough. God intends that we overcome these fears. Self-centeredness must be excised from our character. Working on it is an excellent discipline.
5. Learn thoroughly what grace teaches. Titus 2:11-14 tells us what this is:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
Isaiah 1:16-17 adds, "Cease to do evil, learn to do good."
Jesus Christ has redeemed us from the power that motivates us to sin. He gives His power to those who strive to overcome the remnants of their old nature. Certainly, it is a tough and in many cases a long process, but with God's help, if we make the efforts, we can overcome it.
The dynamic of this new life is the coming of Jesus Christ first to us by His Spirit and then to this earth to rule it. When royalty is coming, everything is made spit-and-polish clean and decorated for the royal eyes to see. That is what we are doing: The Christian is one who is steadfastly making himself ready for the arrival of his King.
To this end, let us strive consistently and mightily to think the right thoughts that produce right conduct.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment
If a child is "left to himself," where is his training coming from? Obviously, in this case, mom and dad are not having a great impact on their child. The training must then be coming from society, most likely from the child's peers. Because "foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child" (Proverbs 22:15), a child left to himself brings shame—he is bound to get into trouble if his training is haphazard or undirected, or if he is not drilled or disciplined. The flipside of this verse says, "But the rod of correction will drive it far from him." The rod symbolizes that someone has taken an interest in the outcome of this child's life. He is giving direction, correction, instruction, to steer this child where he is to go. The training, the teaching, makes all the difference in the world.
An example from the life of David illustrates this proverb. "And [Adonijah's] father had not rebuked him at any time by saying, 'Why have you done so?' He was also a very good-looking man. His mother had borne him after Absalom" (I Kings 1:6). David was very old and was very shortly to die. His family and his close advisors probably knew that he intended to pass his crown to Solomon. But Adonijah tried to prevent that. He made a political move to grab the throne before Solomon had a secure grip on it. His ploy failed because Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, and David's faithful advisors appealed to the king, and he made it very clear whom he had chosen to succeed him.
David, though a man after God's own heart, did not take an active hand in teaching Adonijah. In this verse God states why Adonijah rebelled. In essence, David actually encouraged his son to rebel by not taking an interest in rearing him. David failed to train him in the way he should go, so that he would not depart from it. Instead, David trained him in a way that was bound to produce rebellion. This flaw of David's shows up in others of his children: Absalom, Amnon, and others. It does not matter whether one is a child of God having His Spirit or not. If a parent does not carry through with the right kind of training, then the results will surface in his children.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
There is an over-arching subject that Jesus never directly mentions in the context of Matthew 6:19-21, but He was undoubtedly concerned about it. No one ever had a clearer understanding of human realities than Jesus. This subject concerns two levels of diversion from what is proper within achieving a desire, the first being minor compared to the second.
First, then, is that, humanly, we can become so deeply involved in achieving an especially desired goal that we become inattentive to virtually everything else, including God. Some refer to it as “losing oneself in the moment.” We can be thankful that these kinds of diversions generally do not last long. We usually “catch” ourselves within them and redirect our efforts accordingly. How many serious accidents have been caused by this type of distraction is beyond knowing.
The second concern is far more damaging to our calling: We allow our human nature to re-enslave us to this world. This return to carnality happens when we fail to discipline ourselves daily. We fail to maintain our focus on the absolute fact that what really matters in our lives are glorifying God and attaining spiritual value in our character. We must put everything else in second, third, or fourth place in order of importance. No one can do this for us; we must do it ourselves.
Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” His counsel, valuable within its context, applies in spades to our calling. The context does not delve into the fact that not all things a person desires and works for are of equal value. Herein lies another reality that we must resolve because heavenly treasure and earthly treasure are not equally important, especially after God calls us.
The proper balance of the time and effort we give to seeking treasure must be an important companion to determining our priorities in what treasures we seek. Once God calls a person is called, a new effort with far greater, more important goals has entered his life. The called-out individual must never allow himself to forget that the Creator God personally and specifically called him; he is not among the elect by accident or stroke of luck.
We must add to this astounding truth what Jesus says in Matthew 6:33 to those God calls: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” This burning dedication to the same goals that God has called us to must accompany the called-out person's efforts to be a profitable servant. Without this characteristic, we can be quite busy accomplishing, but unless we are also deeply committed to what God is focused on for us to achieve, we will merely burn time without achieving much of value in terms of God's spiritual purpose.
God wants us to give our time and life purposefully over to attaining His Kingdom. Merely being busy and productive are not the only issues. Being focused on what God assigns works hand in glove with what one's treasure is. Matthew 6:24, just a few verses later, gives us a significant reason why: “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
The reason may escape the reasoning of many, but Jesus clearly warns that giving our lives over to the achievement of the things of this world is blatant idolatry for a Christian! Do we truly want to place ourselves in the position of hating God—or even loving Him less than something else? The things of this world are those things God has not assigned to the Christian life.
Unlike those in the world, few called-out ones fall into such calamity, but some do and find themselves re-enslaved to the world by it. Such a person will be so preoccupied with gathering his worldly treasure that his skewed focus will confuse his values. His achievement in that area of life will obscure the goal God has established for our spiritual existence. The human heart will follow the carnal influence rather than the godly one. We must make diligent efforts to avoid this trap because the world acts like a magnet, always trying to recapture what has been pulled from it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Five)
1 Corinthians 11:31-32
Verse 31 teaches that God allows us the opportunity to exercise self-discipline and avoid His judgment by watching—searchingly examining ourselves, detecting our shortcomings, and recognizing our own condition. Yet, if we fail to exercise discipline, He will not. As in the example of Jonah, He is faithful and will complete His purpose (Philippians 1:6). If we fall short, He will discipline and chasten us because He does not want to see us destroyed. God's purpose—our salvation—does not change. Again, the only variable is how much we choose to suffer before He accomplishes His purpose. We choose whether we will be humble or be humbled.
In many cases, not necessarily all, we choose our trials. It is the same in any family. If one son is dutiful and obedient, and the other is rebellious, pushing the envelope at every opportunity, it would come as no surprise which son suffers the greater trials (or receives the most discipline) in both number and severity. Each child has a choice. We also have a choice—to exercise the discipline now, or to receive it from God at some time in the future.
So, how do we searchingly examine ourselves, detect our shortcomings, and recognize our own condition? How do we find the path we should be taking? God promises us in Proverbs 3:6, "In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." The Message, a paraphrase, renders this verse as, "Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track."
When we acknowledge His presence—which striving to pray always does—He shines His light on the decision or thought. Consciously including God in the process makes the right choice more obvious. It also makes the choice a conscious one of obeying or disobeying God, rather than relegating it to habit or impulse.
Too often, we are not exercising self-control because we are hiding from God's presence, just as Adam and Eve did (Genesis 3:8). We may hear that "still small voice" (I Kings 19:12), but we turn off our minds and just go with the flow, unresistingly following the dictates of our human nature, which has been under Satan's influence since our births.
This tendency makes striving to pray always, being in constant contact with God, the best way to accomplish effective self-examination. By communicating with God before every decision, even before every thought (II Corinthians 10:5), we invite God into the situation, putting the spotlight of truth on our thinking and motivations—human nature's worst nightmare.
With God's presence through His Holy Spirit, we are able to recognize our shame and our helplessness before God, helping to create a stronger awareness of sin that we cannot easily evade by rationalizing it. When face to face with the holy God, we cannot easily say that our sin is only a little thing. Nor can we use others as examples, saying, "They are doing it, so what is the big deal?" With God there, right in front of us, all our excuses fail.
Once we bring God into the picture, the right way is more obvious, removing the many excuses our human nature concocts to allow disobedience. Then, the stark choice of obedience or blatant rejection of God faces us. When this occurs, it is a good time to pray for the will and power to do the right thing (Philippians 2:13).
Praying Always (Part Five)
Just because he says "fathers," he does not exclude mothers. Paul simply addresses the party with the overall responsibility.
Even though it is not directly stated, we must remember that God consistently teaches that the strong are responsible to care for the weak. In this context, the parents are strong, the children are weak. However, parents must not depend upon their size and strength to demand respect, but should strive to earn it through strength of character, wisdom, and clearly expressed love.
The Greek word translated "bring them up" at first meant merely providing bodily nourishment. Through time its usage extended to include education in its entirety since bringing up children obviously is more than just feeding a child food. "Training" is more correct than the weak "nurture" used in the KJV. The Greek word means "to train or discipline by repeated and narrow exercises in a matter." It implies action more than intellectual thought and corresponds to the word "train" in Proverbs 22:6, which means "to hedge" or "narrow in." Thus God expects parents to train their children to walk the straight and narrow way rather than allowing them to wander aimlessly about on the broad way.
Paul adds in Colossians 3:21, "Fathers, do not provoke your children lest they become discouraged." To some degree, all children resist their parents and what they represent and teach. How parents overcome it is Paul's concern. These verses testify that many parents strive to elicit their children's obedience and respect in the wrong manner.
The wrong way provokes embittered, fretful, defensive, listless, resentful, moody, angry, or sullen children. Paul counsels not to challenge the child's resistance with an unreasonable exercise of authority. Correction is necessary, but a parent must administer it in the right spirit, counterbalanced by lavish affection and acceptance. A twig should be bent with caution.
Firmness does not need to be harsh nor cruel. Punishment should never be revenge nor dispensed just because the parent is irritated. Severity only hardens the child and makes him more desperate. If a parent does not use his authority justly, he cannot expect a child to be respectful. It does not happen automatically.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment (1997)
The English word "nurture" (KJV) or "training" (NKJV) indicates caring for and providing supportive instruction. The underlying Greek word more specifically involves educational feeding or instruction, as if in school or for the purpose of learning a discipline. The word thus covers verbal instruction, chastening, and the use of drills needed to produce Christian character. It does not at all indicate that any of these approaches is even harsh, let alone cruel. However, it suggests that parents follow an organized and consistent plan.
The term "admonition" or "instruction" (NIV) means a warning, drawing specific attention to verbal instruction. In summary, Paul touches on three areas vital to child-training so that children keep the fifth commandment properly. "Of the Lord" touches on the standard or quality one is to strive for. "Nurture" indicates what is physically done to and with the child in terms of consistent, regimented training, including discipline. "Admonition" draws attention to what is said and how it is said to the child.
Taken together, then, Paul clearly teaches that child-training is something that can neither be left to chance nor sloughed off with a careless, resigned attitude, as if it were merely a necessary evil. The parents' vision must be long-range. From parents applying right principles consistently will come the gradual development of understanding and wisdom in the children. These are precursors that help produce the promised long life and prosperity in the Fifth Commandment (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3).
In I Thessalonians 2:7-8, Paul uses himself and his relationship with the Thessalonian congregation as an example:
But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.
He says he treated them with the tender affection of a nursing mother, striving hard so that no one could honestly charge him with taking anything from them. They personally witnessed how gently and consistently he dealt with them as a father does his children by appealing and encouraging them to live their lives to glorify God in their conduct.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment
2 Timothy 1:6-7
According to Strong's Concordance, the final word of verse 7 is a noun meaning "discipline" or "self-control." Most modern translations render it as "self-control," but "sensible," "sobriety," "self-discipline," "self-restraint," "wise discretion," and "sound judgment" are also used.
God gives His Spirit to us to begin the spiritual creation that will bring us into His very image. Here, Paul ranks self-control right beside seemingly more "important" attributes of our Creator, such as courage, power, and love. Remember, however, that the "fruit" of God's Spirit is written in the singular; it is one fruit, a balanced package needed to make a son of God whole.
These verses tell us what kind of men God is creating. Men of courage, power, and love - and men who are self-governing, sensible, sober, restrained, and disciplined in their manner of life. These qualities are products of God's Spirit in us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control
These verses give great difficulty to those who believe in an unconditional salvation. It is very clear that anyone who fits this description will not be in God's Kingdom.
If it were not possible for us to fall away, why would Paul even write as he did in I Corinthians 9:27? "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified [castaway, KJV]." He also warns in Colossians 1:22-23:
In the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and irreproachable in His sight - if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
John W. Ritenbaugh
After Pentecost, Then What?
Hebrews was written to a group of people who were fading away in their walk toward salvation. They were going through some pretty difficult trials, but they were not facing up to them. The underlying theme here is chastening. Many modern translations will use the word "discipline," and technically, it is closer in meaning to the Greek word.
Discipline covers formal instruction, but it also includes drill. Drill is associated with learning something repetitively—over and over again till we get it.
Discipline also includes punishment: spanking, rebuke, stern correction. Paul is saying that the sons of God should expect correction and rebuke. God has a way of starting off easy, but the punishment, the rebuke, the discipline become more stern as we fail to respond until He finally gets our attention. This could go so far as the Tribulation.
God's discipline is always corrective. He is not a sadist; He does not discipline for the fun of it. He disciplines us because we need to be turned in another direction. He is removing impediments to our spiritual development, so we do not need to become discouraged.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part Two)
Jesus Christ encourages each of the churches to overcome, clearly implying that success within God's purpose is tied to it. God did not create us and call us into His purpose for failure. The Greek term for "overcome" here is nikáo (Strong's #3528), which means "to subdue, to conquer, to prevail, to get the victory."
Jesus indicates that Christian life is challenging. The Bible does not view the worship of God as a passing activity on which a person spends a few hours one day a week. Rather, it shows the worship of God to be a full-time responsibility, a work requiring dedication and discipline. God calls upon each of us to be "a worker who does not need to be ashamed" (II Timothy 2:15). Sin impedes proper worship.
The reasons for the use of such strong terms does not become directly apparent until the New Testament, where Jesus and the apostles give specific instructions to individual Christians on avoiding sin at all costs. The Bible's writers see us in a battle for our very lives! In whatever context it appears throughout Scripture, sin is viewed as failure—as succumbing, not overcoming. Each time we sin, we suffer a defeat in life's overall purpose.
Besides defeat, Isaiah 59:1-2 provides us with another reason why sin is perceived so dreadfully: "Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear."
This second reason is in no way secondary in importance; it is in every way equal to or greater than the sense of failure. Sin creates estrangement from God. This is extremely important because our relationship with Him is the source of our power to succeed. He created us to have an everlasting relationship with Him in peaceful and productive harmony.
God does not sin because sin destroys relationships. As sinners, we would not fit within a non-sinning relationship. Despite human reasoning to the contrary, whether the relationship is with fellow humans or with God, sin always works to produce separation. A continuing life of sin destroys any hope of oneness. It never makes matters better; it never heals. Lasting success and sound relationships are never achieved through sin.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sin, Christians, and the Fear of God
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