What the Bible says about
Overcome Evil with Good
(From Forerunner Commentary)
After reading this, some carelessly assume that, if Israel had just obeyed God, they would have taken over the Promised Land without having to confront the people already there. This is most assuredly untrue. The blessings and cursings establish a biblical principle for God's people:
If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. . . . But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I will also do this to you. . . . (Leviticus 26:3-4, 14-16)
In a similar way, the promises of Exodus 23 are conditional. The bestowal of blessings depends upon obedience to the covenant. In covenantal matters like this with God, a Christian must expect reciprocity.
Notice this principle spoken by the prophet Azariah in II Chronicles 15:2: "The LORD is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you." Will God bless rebellion by His people? Absolutely not! He answers rebellion by removing His protection.
Consider: Does God make growth and overcoming easy for us, even though He promises salvation? Are there no battles to fight while overcoming? If God completely smoothed the way for us, what would we have to overcome? If He smoothed our way, how would He test our loyalty? Would we be prepared for His Kingdom? Of course, He does not make it easy for us. Each of our paths is designed and tempered to test us on the level of our natural abilities and gifts (I Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, each Christian's way will be difficult; each will have to fight many battles at his or her level.
If God completely smoothed the way, it would create a walk-in-the-park scenario, eliminating the possibility of God's law being written in our hearts. When other biblical information is added to God's promise in Exodus 23, we see that what He guarantees is that He will drive out the people of the land, making it far easier for the Israelites than if He were not involved at all. God is comparing situations with and without His intervention.
In the analogy, the people of the land are symbolic of human nature, which cannot be made subject to God and His law, according to Romans 8:7. Like human nature, the people of the land could not be driven out without God's help. We can conclude that Israel would have been totally unable to accomplish even what they did had not God been with them.
How can we know that Exodus 23 is not an outright promise that Israel would not have go to war at some point in the conquest of the land? Seeing several scriptures together will make this clear. First, notice Deuteronomy 8:1-3. Clearly, God tests us to see where we stand, revealing to us at the same time where our weaknesses lie. Our standing must be revealed to both God and us because His work in us is a cooperative effort with us. Tests are not normally easy; tests are often clarifying experiences, exposing our strengths and weaknesses. They are designed to reveal spiritual and moral progress or lack thereof, and in so doing should motivate growth in areas of weakness and produce confidence in areas of strength.
We can now add I Corinthians 10:11-13 to our understanding:
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
An admonition is an instructive warning. It is not a "chewing-out" but a sobering, thought-provoking prod. Overall, Paul is encouraging us that God is carefully monitoring the tests we experience so that we do not get in over our heads. The sanctification process requires our cooperation with God, and He does not want to lose us through extreme discouragement.
Though He manages the operations of His creative process, His work definitely does not eliminate our involvement. Knowing that God carefully monitors each of us helps us to understand why the Bible cautions us to be careful in how we evaluate each other. God knows, but we certainly do not know all the factors working in other Christians' tests.
In Exodus 23:22-31, God makes six promises and gives one command to the Israelites regarding their conquest of the Promised Land:
1. I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.
2. I will cut them off.
3. I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.
4. I will send hornets before you.
5. Little by little I will drive them out from before you.
6. I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand.
His one command, in verse 31, is, "You shall drive them out before you."
Consider what these seven statements reveal. The entire context suggests confrontation between God and the people of the land. However, the command, "You shall drive them out before you," should give us pause. There is more to this than a first glance might indicate. The easy assumption that God would remove every impediment upon Israel's entrance into the Promised Land proves false; that is not how it worked out in history. In addition, the Israelites knew for a certainty that they would have to face the people of the land in multiple confrontations.
In addition, they had already experienced a strong indicator of God's will for them regarding warfare when He permitted the Amalekites to attack the rear of Israel's column (see Exodus 17:8-13). That clash was only the first of an intense spate of battles in which the outcome hung in the balance on occasion. They knew that further warfare was a strong possibility.
Exodus 23:32 adds another factor that strongly hints that God would not simply drive the inhabitants from Canaan: "You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods." If He were going to drive the Canaanites completely out of the land before the Israelites, why would He need to make this warning? There would have been no people to make a covenant with!
Exodus 34:11-12, 15 repeats this command even more forcefully. If we take Exodus 23 and 34 at face value, the Israelites would have no opportunity to make a covenant with the people of the land because they would never encounter them to be tempted to make a covenant with them.
If the Israelites came into the land and began tearing down altars, would the people of the land have just stood around and let their revered high places be destroyed without resistance? No way! We can compare this to the confrontations many of us faced when we came to believe God, causing us to stop observing Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and Sunday worship and to begin keeping the Sabbath and God's holy days instead. Did our families, friends, and employers give us no resistance to these changes, which severely disturbed these relationships? Did they not defend their lifelong practices?
Because they would have close contact with the land's inhabitants, the Israelites had a choice to make: They could either compromise with the inhabitants regarding their cultures or follow God's commands. The latter choice entailed doing things like destroying altars, which would produce intense confrontations—warfare. The evidence indicates that the Israelites expected that they would have to go to war.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part One)
1 Corinthians 10:13
Demons can entice action and attitudes that will take us into sin, but God is holy. He never plays dirty; everything He does is fair. His actions are just, pure, right, and done in love. He does not tempt people to sin. If a person feels as if he is caught between conflicting pressures, impulses, and one of them is drawing him toward sin, it is certainly not from God. This is why John says what he does in I John 4:1-6. God's Spirit in us gives us the power to recognize truth, so we follow it.
A trial could come upon us not necessarily because of anything that we did or because something is wrong with us, but one could come upon us from this world or from Satan. God promises flat out He will never allow us to be tempted above what we are able to handle, and that He will always provide a way of escape (I Corinthians 10:13). We are not without resources. We can recognize truth, and the trials that we fall into can and will be overcome with His help.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 3)
2 Corinthians 6:1-2
The church developed, under the inspiration of Jesus Christ, an overall concept of time management unique to church members. It has its roots in the Old Testament: Isaiah 55:6 urges us to "seek the LORD while He may be found."
Why should we seek Him? Because He has the power and the willingness, if we will trust Him, to give us a completely new nature, breaking the vain, frustrating, repetitious cycle. Isaiah 61:1-2 adds helpful understanding:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God.
This is a prophecy that Jesus partially quoted as He began His ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth where He grew up (Luke 4:18-19). These passages suggest an element of movement toward something soon to happen. Isaiah 55:6 suggests we seek Him urgently because the Lord is moving on, and if we do not seek Him now, it will be too late. Time and events within it are moving. Isaiah 61:1-2 is similar: Now is an acceptable day for those called of God. If we wait, the acceptable day will pass, and the day of vengeance, even now moving toward us, will be here. It will be too late to avoid its destructive powers!
In Solomon's complaint about time (Ecclesiastes 1:3-11), God was nowhere mentioned. Events just go around and around endlessly, effectively describing Solomon's frustration. However, in the prophet Isaiah's description, God is involved in the movement of events that impact directly on His people's lives.
II Corinthians 5:20-21; 6:1-2 from the Revised English Bible helps us to see the sense of urgency in a New Testament setting:
We are therefore Christ's ambassadors. It is as if God were appealing to you through us: we implore you in Christ's name, be reconciled to God! Christ was innocent of sin, and yet for our sake God made him one with human sinfulness, so that in him we might be made one with the righteousness of God. Sharing in God's work, we make this appeal: you have received the grace of God; do not let it come to nothing. He has said: "In the hour of my favor I answered you; on the day of deliverance I came to your aid." This is the hour of favor, this the day of deliverance.
These admonitions to "seek God now," "now is an acceptable time," and "do not let it come to nothing," all indicate a passing opportunity. The Christian is dealing with a specific period during which events are working toward the culmination of some process, and if he does not take advantage of the present opportunity, it will never come again. The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins in Matthew 25:6-13 illustrates our need to make the most of this opportunity now. This parable's major lesson is that both life and time are moving. The precise time of Christ's return is unknown, so He urges us to take advantage of the knowledge and time we already have in hand. Those who reject His advice will find their way into the Kingdom blocked.
Recall that II Corinthians is written to Christians. Paul's message is a call to strike while the iron is hot! Both Jesus and Paul remind us that our calling is rife with possibilities, so much so that we can consider each moment as big as eternity. That is how important this "day of salvation" is to us! The New Testament's instruction to Christians is, "Now is the time!" Everything is in readiness for success. It is as though the New Testament writers are saying, "Don't be like the slave who refuses when presented with freedom, or the diseased person who rejects help when offered healing. God's door is open to us! Charge through it by cooperating with Him!"
John W. Ritenbaugh
Seeking God (Part Two): A Foundation
Notice the encouraging reason Paul gives to wake up and carefully mind how we live: "Christ will give you light." This is an outright promise that He will give us the help to do what we must do. Backed by this promise, we are to redeem the time "because the days are evil." If his days were evil, what would Paul think of ours?
This passage reveals how the early church regarded time as it applies to a Christian. For us, all days - every period in which God's people have had to live their lives by their God-given understanding, thus by faith - are evil. God's truth has always run counter to the course of this world. Thus, the truth adds a peculiar, stressful difficulty to life regardless of when it is lived. Moreover, since each called-out individual has only one opportunity to lay hold on eternal life, and must overcome, grow, and prove his loyalty to God during that time, he must make use of every experience.
Galatians 1:3-4 confirms this perspective: "Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father." In terms of growing and overcoming, living in a particular period in history gives a Christian no advantage. Every era, every age, is against him, and within it, he must make the most of his calling. The times have always been evil.
To the church, then, because it must operate responsibly toward God within a highly specialized understanding of life and its purpose, every age is full of the cyclical, frustrating, repetitious events that Solomon called futile vanities. Such events lead nowhere and produce a discouraging fatalism.
However, a Christian also knows that God is directing time and events to His desired end. Thus, the church's view of time is an elegant combination of both realities, realizing that it has a work to accomplish as an organization and that each individual Christian must grow and overcome within it. So, as Christians, we must face the evil of repetitious vanity produced by sin, which history clearly records, with faith in the hope of a glorious victory for God's called-out ones, which God's Word prophesies.
Thus, Paul advises in Ephesians 5:17, "Therefore . . . understand what the will of the Lord is." As we live our lives each day, we should never let what God says slip from our minds. His point is that we need to make the most of every opportunity because time is inexorably moving toward God's desired end, and it will not stop and wait for us. We do not want to be left behind! No occasion is too insignificant to do the right thing. Time is precious! We, like God, must take it very seriously.
We must not make the mistake of relegating Christian living to a mere couple of hours on the Sabbath. Christianity involves every aspect of life. Personal study and prayer are times of clarifying God's will. But we must not neglect the doing of His will as occasions arise - and they will arise every day. Woe to us if we disregard them, for they comprise the very circumstances that challenge us to overcome and grow in our seeking of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Seeking God (Part Two): A Foundation
Notice how many active words Paul uses in Colossians 3:1-17 to describe what a Christian must be doing:
- "Seek those things which are above" (verse 1).
- "Set your mind on things above" (verse 2).
- "Put to death your members" (verse 5).
- "Put off all these" (verse 8).
- "Do not lie to one another" (verse 9).
- "Put on tender mercies" (verse 12).
- "Bearing with one another, and forgiving" (verse 13).
- "Put on love" (verse 14).
- "Let the peace of God rule . . . and be thankful" (verse 15).
- "Let the word of Christ dwell in you" (verse 16).
- "Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (verse 17).
Paul makes sure we understand that we must actively participate in order to grow. When God talks about growth, He means increasing in His attributes, the qualities that will conform us to His image.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Five Teachings of Grace
1 Peter 2:21-23
This shows shows Christ's example, even when He had the love, wisdom, and discernment to judge righteous judgment and correctly put His enemies in their place. So strong was Jesus' commitment to these principles that, even when His life was on the line, and His enemies reviled Him intensely, He did not respond in kind. He set us an example to do likewise.
Perhaps the key statement is He "committed Himself to Him who judges rightly." His response was an act of faith in God's awareness of His situation and God's perfect ability not merely to act but to act in exactly the right way for the good of all. The reality of God's sovereignty over His creation led to Jesus' minute-by-minute faithful submission.
If vengeance belongs to God, then men, especially those who have pledged their lives to be subject to His government, have no right to take it to themselves. Very frequently, it takes real strength of character, bolstered by faith, to help and serve someone who has directly tried to harm us. God's instructions to us are clear: "'Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:20-21).
"Enemy" does not mean one we hate, but one who is bitter toward us. If we hate others, we are right back in the spirit of murder. Paul is stating a critical universal principle: Over time, kindness removes enmity, but seeking revenge increases it. Booker T. Washington said, "The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part One) (1997)
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