What the Bible says about
Love for God
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Is there such a zealous fervency like this in the church today? Is it burning in us individually? Is there such a hatred of evil and a love for God and His Family within us that we will not permit even one iota of idolatry within ourselves? Or, are we tolerant of its existence within ourselves and within the church, convincing ourselves that it really does not matter? These verses show that it matters very much to God!
Beginning in Deuteronomy 7, He is systematically defining their relationship to Him and the terms of faithfulness. God is to be our God—exclusively. Please understand that we cannot literally conform to some of these details today because we have no civil authority. Nevertheless, His stern commands illustrate how serious God is about idolatry—faithlessness to Him and the covenant. He charged them with this because He loved them, because faithfulness would be good for them and would bless them within the relationship, whereas faithlessness would bring curses on them, just as it does in human marriages.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Priceless Gift
Verses 23-26 contains admonitions to go to the place God chooses, turn the increase into money if needed, and to spend it on whatever the heart desires, rejoicing with each other before God. However, the chapter's theme remains as a vital component of the instruction. God wants us to enjoy the fruit of our labors, as He also does when we obey Him. He also wants our relationship to be many-layered. Our focus, of course, should be off the self, centered on God, and extending outward toward others.
The rest of the chapter addresses this outward orientation with teaching to share with those who are less fortunate. It tells us to make sure that the needy are also able to rejoice and enjoy this time of fellowship and prosperity. The chapter ends by telling us that when we do these things, we give God good reason to bless us in whatever we set out to do.
Throughout these verses, we see God, very active in the lives of His people, admonishing His people to follow His lead. God is quite concerned about His people and His spiritual body. He cares what we do to ourselves both inwardly and outwardly, physically and spiritually (I Corinthians 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:18-22), and He cares how we treat each other as members of "the body of Christ" (I Corinthians 12:27).
While He allows us to partake of things we desire, Deuteronomy 14 shows that God does impose limits; He wants us to exercise self-control. He expects us to be givers and not just takers. This applies to sharing our money, food, drink, activities, and fellowship with others, and we should make special effort to share ourselves with Him in prayer, study, meditation, and church services during this time of plenty. After all, one of the purposes of going to the Feast is to learn how to fear God, and we do this by spending time with Him.
Whatever Your Heart Desires
This is a prophecy, but it is also a typical human reaction to God. It is not just an Israelite peculiarity or weakness. God reveals Himself, and mankind loves it—at first. Then the relationship begins to deteriorate for a variety of reasons. Some become bored, while others grow impatient, wanting things to move faster. Some refuse to conform, not realizing how much the relationship would demand of them. Some lose interest as other things gradually become more important to them. Some become frustrated because they expected a free ride from an indulgent "sugar daddy." Some lose sight of how much more wonderful, powerful, and brilliant the relationship will be in the future. Many forget their obligation to Him for what He has done for them.
Whatever the reason, it is mankind that finds a reason to destroy the relationship because it is not in his nature to have one of the quality that God desires! Human nature will not remain constant in its affections for God. From the time of a person's birth until God finally calls him, the impressionable mind develops an enmity that he cannot completely control (Romans 8:6). The history of God's contact with humanity proves this—even with converted people.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 11)
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)
Here is a summary of the lessons in this amazing psalm:
Verse 1: Do I really recognize God's right to me? Do I respond to His management?
Verse 2: Sheep must be free from tension within the flock, fear from the outside (e.g., pests, predators), and not hungry.
Verse 3: Though we may become cast down, our Shepherd will seek us out to save us from ourselves.
- Instead of loving myself most, I am willing to love Christ best and others at least as much as myself.
- Instead of being one of the crowd, I am willing to be singled out and set apart from it.
- Instead of insisting on my own rights, I am willing to forgo them in favor of others.
- Instead of being boss, I am willing to be at the bottom of the heap and to eliminate the drive for self-assertion, self-determination, and self-pleasing.
- Instead of finding fault with life and always asking why, I am willing to accept every circumstance in life in an attitude of gratitude.
- Instead of asserting my will, I am willing to learn to cooperate with God's wishes.
Verse 5: The only way to the tablelands (our goal) is through testing and trial, but we learn through these that He is with us. His rod denotes correction and His staff denotes guidance.
Verse 6: He has gone on before us to prepare the tableland. He thoroughly identifies with us and ensures that we can make it. He anoints us, cares for us continually, and promises that we will be in His flock.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 23 (Part 3)
This verse is among the best known of all verses in the Bible. Though we know the words, could we perhaps not grasp some of the depth of what Jeremiah is trying to convey, particularly its practical, everyday application?
It is interesting that the Hebrew word translated "deceitful" (Strong's #6121) comes from exactly the same root as the name "Jacob" (which gives a bit of insight into the mindset of that famous Bible character in his pre-conversion days - God has a habit of naming things what they are). This word is used only three times in the Old Testament. It indicates "a swelling," "a humping up," and thus a knoll or small hill.
When used in relation to traits of human personality, it describes an inflated, prideful vanity, a characteristic that is distastefully useless, corrupting, and intensely self-serving. According to Strong's, it also indicates something fraudulent or crooked. In other words, it suggests an intentional perversion of truth intended to induce another to surrender or give up something of value. What Jacob twice did to Esau gives a good idea of its practical meaning.
Today, we might say our heart is always attempting to "con" us into something that is not good for us in any way. Its inducements may indeed appear attractive on the surface, but further examination would reveal that its appeals are fraudulent and risky. In fact, its appeals are not only downright dangerous, it is incurably set in this way.
In Jeremiah 17:9, the Hebrew word is translated "deceitful," but in the other two usages, it is translated "corrupted" and "polluted." This word should give us a clear indication of what God thinks of this mind that is generating our slippery, self-serving conduct and attitudes. In His judgment, it is foul in every sense, to be considered as belonging in a moral sewer or septic tank.
The King James translators chose to use "deceitful," and since it is a good synonym, just about every modern translation has followed its lead. Deceit is a cognate of deceive, which means "to mislead," "to cheat," "to give a false appearance or impression," "to lead astray," "to impose a false idea," and finally, "to obscure the truth." "Deceitful" thus indicates the heart to be brim-full of these horrible activities.
The term "desperately" (Strong's #605) also needs definition. It indicates something so weak, feeble, and frail as to be at the point of death. Thus, most modern translations, including the KJV margin, have opted for "incurable." Elsewhere, God calls it "a heart of stone," as if rigor mortis has already set in despite it still being alive. In other words, nothing can be done about it, as it is set in a pattern of influence that cannot be changed for the better. God promises, then, that He will give those He calls a new heart, a heart of flesh, one that will yield to Him and His way of life.
It is good to understand all these descriptors, but they only give us what amounts to book-learning on this vital topic. It is what its problems are in everday, practical situations that makes God so dead set against it that He declares it "incurable." It cannot be fixed to His satisfaction and is therefore unacceptable for His Family Kingdom.
We can understand why from this brief illustration: What are the two great commandments of the law? First: We are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-38). In other words, we are to love Him above all other things. We are to respond to God's wonderful, generous love toward us with a love that employs all of our faculties to match His love toward us.
Jesus says in Luke 14:26, "If any one comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." Do we grasp the practical application of this? He means that we are to make whatever sacrifice is necessary, even to giving up our lives, to submit in obedience to any, even the least, of God's commands. If at any time we put ourselves on equal footing to Him, we have actually elevated ourselves over Him and have committed idolatry.
The second great commandment is to love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Though not quite as stringent as the first, it still is a very high standard. Jesus says that on these two commandments everything else in our response to God hangs (verse 40). Love and law are inextricably bound together in our relationship with God.
Yet, herein lies the problem. Keeping them is impossible for man as he now is, encumbered with this deceitful heart. Our heart will not permit us to do this because it is so self-centered it absolutely cannot consistently obey either of these commandments. Thus, no character of any value to God's Kingdom can be created in one with a heart as deceitful and out of control as an unconverted person. It is incurably self-centered, self-absorbed, and narcissistic in its concerns about life's activities.
This deceit has many avenues of expression, but none is more effective than to convince us we are far better than we actually are - but far better as compared to what or whom? Our hearts have an incredible ability to hide us from the reality of what we are spiritually and morally. It does this so effectively that it can harden us to the extent that we can be blinded to any and every failing in our character! It lures us into sin, hiding its seriousness from us and making us believe it to be a rather minor affair. It convinces us that "nobody got hurt" or "everybody's doing it."
In Hebrews 3:12-13, Paul issues a warning just as applicable today as it was in the first century: "Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.'" Sin promises more than it can deliver. It assures us of pleasures it never imparts. Sometimes it does deliver some pleasure, but it conceals the boomerang effect that will surely come. It also obscures its addictive power, invariably leading us beyond our original limits. When we first sin a specific sin, we are under delusion, and it will lead us step by step until we are enslaved to it.
It can put on plausible appearances, even the mantle of virtue, convincing us we are doing ourselves and others a favor. Sin deludes us with hope of happiness, but what does the gambler feel when he loses his bankroll, or the drunkard after he is burdened with a death caused by his drunk driving, or the fornicator who discovers he has AIDS, or the adulterer who must live with the fact that he has destroyed a marriage and family?
Human nature will generate any number of excuses - self-justifications, really - to avoid any sacrifice, no matter how small, or to admit any guilt that might damage its self-assessment of its value. It sometimes manages to produce narcissism so strong that all activity must have it as the center of the universe, and it will work hard to make sure it controls virtually everything. Pride and self-gratification are its driving impulses.
By insisting on "tolerance" over the last several decades, human nature has deceitfully managed to produce an open-minded acceptance of what was once commonly known to be sinful behavior. It has succeeded by maintaining that no absolutes exist regarding conduct, thus one morality is just as good as another. The nation has been bulldozed into accepting this deceitful concept by cooperative media, good-looking celebrities, savvy politicians, and liberal judges.
Thus, a polite, secular paganism has overtaken our nation, and many have become convinced that the gods and ways of the Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, occultists, or whatever religionists are all the same. In one way, they are correct. They all do have the same god, but it is not the God of the true Christian religion and the Bible, One who adamantly insists on purity, chastity, and integrity of life in harmony with His commands.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Two)
If a person does right, people will begin to persecute him. It may, very sadly, even happen right inside the church.
Amos confirms that the first thing that occurs if we really are undergoing transformation—if we have had an encounter with God—is that we will turn to God's truth. Our attitude will change toward God's truth. The author of Psalm 119:97 says, "O, how I love Your law!" He was in love with it. To him, it was so good to be able to look into God's Word. If a person loves something, what does he want to do with it? Talk about it! Share it with other people. Is that not what happens to the newly converted person? Indeed, it is. One can almost guage a person's conversion by how he loves the Word of God, for "out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks."
Amos states these truths so succinctly. All we need to do to understand it positively is turn what he says around backward. If we really do seek God, we are going to love His Word. We will hang on everything that comes out of His mouth—because we will see it for what it is. The most valuable thing a person can possess is the Word of God.
These people in Amos showed every evidence of a refusal to be governed by truth in their lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Seeking God
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
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) differs from most other parables in that it is so simple and concrete that a child can understand its basic point. However, it is also an insightful and memorable exposition of practical moral principles. That so many religious and secular people understand it shows the effectiveness of its simplicity and depth. Unlike other parables, each figure in the story does not necessarily represent a spiritual equivalent. The whole narrative describes working compassion as contrasted to selfishness, of hate compared with love.
In the parable's introduction (Luke 10:26), Jesus uses a technical term regularly used by the scribes or lawyers when consulting one another about a matter of the law: "What is your reading of it?" The lawyer gives the only right answer—the necessity of loving God and his neighbor (verse 27). He then asks the question—"Who is my neighbor?" (verse 29)—that prompts Jesus into giving His parable. The lawyer believes that no Gentile is his neighbor, although it seems he suspects they really are. This parable makes clear who is our neighbor and how we should respond to his needs.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Good Samaritan
These verses give us a formula for entering the Kingdom of God. It is just that simple—or is it?
We should love the Lord our God more than anything else. Nothing is to take precedence over Him, not our desires, our will, nor anything else. God is always first. We are to love God with all of our soul. We are to be ready to give up our lives to honor God, if it is required. We are to endure all types of ridicule and torment for His sake, if it falls our lot. That is part of loving God.
It is our loving God with all of our strength. Whatever we possess has come from God. If we do something to physically serve God, or if we have to give our substance as living sacrifice, this, too, is just part of loving God with all of our strength.
Adam Clarke summed up the first part of verse 28:
In a word, he [one thinking with and using the mind of Christ] sees God in all things; thinks of Him at all times; has his mind continually fixed upon God; acknowledges Him in all his ways. He begins, continues, and ends all his thoughts, words and works, to the glory of His name. This is the person who loves God with all of his heart, his might, and strength and his intellect.
That is a tall order, but it is exactly what God wants from us. He wants us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is self-explanatory.
If we are in trouble, do we want someone to come and help us? Of course! Do we want someone to listen to us when we need someone's ear? Of course! Do we want someone to rescue us when we find ourselves in financial difficulties? Certainly! Likewise, we should be concerned for others, as we are concerned for ourselves.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Don't Take God for Granted
Self-renunciation is an indispensable condition of following Christ, required for accurately counting the true cost of allegiance to Him. This condition of full and selfless service to God demands our hearts and minds, not just our bodies. In Luke 14:25-33, two parables and an exhortation urge us to forsake all that we have as a mandatory condition to becoming Christ's disciples. One main lesson is emphasized in these scriptures: the nature and influence of true discipleship.
Three times (verses 26, 27, 33) the commanding assertion is "cannot be My disciple." One who faithfully follows Christ must be prepared to hate—or more accurately, "love less"—his father, mother, wife, and children, as well as his own life. Loyalty to Jesus Christ and God the Father must be above even the highest loyalties of earthly love, that is, all our love of self must be subordinate to our love for God, who must be first in our life.
Martin G. Collins
Parables of Counting the Cost
The word "hate" is not an absolute term but a relative one. He is establishing a comparison: "You have to love Me more than mother, father, wife, children, brother, sister." We have to put Christ first; we have to love Him more than the others. Recall what He said to Peter after His resurrection. What was the first question? "Do you love [agape] Me more than these?" Who were the "these"? It was very likely the other disciples who were with Him. "Do you love Me more than your friends?"
What Christ said to Peter He is also saying to us! The standard is exactly the same. Though we may not have the responsibility of feeding the sheep, Christ must still be our first concern in life, and God expects us not only to be concerned, but to love Him with deep, family affection.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Loving Christ and Revelation 2:1-7
Jesus pointedly asks Peter three times whether he loved Him. The first time He asks whether he loved Him "more than these," referring either to his fellow apostles or the tools of his fishing trade. The inference is inescapable: Jesus wanted Peter to hold Him of greater importance than anything on earth. Considering Peter's weighty responsibility, he could not be faithful to Jesus without the staunchest commitment to Him as most important of all in his life.
The meaning to us is clear. We must love Christ supremely, or we do not love Him much if at all. If we are not willing to give up all earthly possessions, forsake all earthly friends, and obey Him above all others—including our own carnal desires—to be faithful to Him, our attachment to Him is tenuous at best. Is such a proposition too much? Does not marriage require a similar faithfulness from each spouse? Without it, it is no wonder there is so much adultery and divorce.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness
In verse 1, Paul says that anybody participating even in some of the more easily mastered practices of human nature is putting himself on dangerous spiritual quicksand. Today, in the wake of the breakup of the Worldwide Church of God, a common judgment is to call Herbert Armstrong into account yet say at the end, "But I loved him." Those who do this have overlooked how vulnerable and subject to God's judgment this makes them.
Verse 2 carries Paul's warning a step further by reminding us that God judges according to truth. Those who judge and act as Paul describes in verse 1 have precious little truth. However, this major element gives God the right to judge. He alone knows all the facts and can arrange them all in the light of perfect righteousness.
He reveals in verse 3 the weak position of those judging: They are guilty of committing the same sins, or ones just as bad, as those they are judging! Paul is saying that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones! In fact, their judgment of others may be one of those sins! In verse 4, he counsels them to lay aside their pride and concentrate on making the best use of God's patience by repenting of their sins.
In verse 5, the apostle plays on the word "riches" in the previous verse. Physical wealth is something one normally sets aside and treasures, but those who persist in evil works are "treasuring up" judgment for themselves! Verses 6 through 11 are a classic argument for the doing of good works after justification from the mind and pen of the very man most often accused of saying no works are necessary.
Within the context of the entire book, Paul is saying here that, while a person is justified by grace through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, establishing a relationship with God that because of sin never before existed, good works should result from justification. Good works are the concrete, open, and public expression of the reality of our relationship with God. They are its witness.
Just as surely as day follows night, if our faith truly is in God, the works that follow will be according to God's will. Living by God's will should be the natural consequence of faith in God. Though we are justified by faith, II Corinthians 5:10 spells out that we are judged according to our works. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." Is it not logical, then, for a person, knowing he will be judged according to his works, to want at least some clearly stated absolutes to show him what is expected of him rather than a fuzzy and vague statement about loving one another? Would not such a person want to know more specifically what constitutes love?
In Romans 2:7, Paul is not saying using one's faith will be easy, but that those who have that faith will use it to work. "Patient continuance" presupposes a measure of hardship, and "seek" implies pursuing something not yet attained. Together, they indicate a persistent quest of God's righteousness. In verse 10, the apostle uses the phrase "to everyone who works what is good." He does not define what "good" is at this point, but whatever it is, work is necessary to accomplish it. In verses 11-12, he reiterates that we will be judged, introducing a word that many seem to find so repulsive: law!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Four): Obligation
The walk (verse 4) is sometimes quite difficult, but Paul provides encouragement and hope in Romans 6:5-6. As difficult as our march from slavery might be at times, the glory of the resurrection and the complete putting off of the flesh lies before us.
The word "united" ("planted" in the King James) in verse 5 draws our attention because it is elsewhere translated "grafted" or "engrafted." In John 15, Christ describes Himself as a vine, and we are its branches. In Romans 9, Paul compares converted Israelites to natural branches and Gentiles as unnatural branches grafted into the same vine. Union is achieved with all sharing a part. All are receiving of the same source, and all are striving to produce the same fruit.
But how do we know we are attached to that Vine?
Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. (I John 2:3-5)
There must be something that proves we are united with the Father and the Son, engrafted as part of Them and in union with Them. That something is the manner in which we conduct our life.
Language identifies people and so does the clothing they wear. A person's name is probably the most common of all identifiers. But the sons of God, those in union with the Father and the Son, are identified by commandment-keeping. It verifies that we are united with Christ. Commandment-keeping is love. Biblical love is an action, not merely a feeling. It may contain a positive feeling, even outright affection and passion for the one or ones who are the recipients of the act of love, but its foundation lies in the act rather than the emotion.
Acts of love without emotion can be entirely sterile. This extreme is not biblical love. At the other extreme are those who emotionally say they love Christ. What they say is probably true - as far as their understanding of love goes. Their declaration of love for Him may be motivated by feeling awe and gratitude springing from a recognition that He is indeed Creator, Savior, and High Priest, and that this awesome Being actually humbly sacrificed His life for them personally. Often, such people will then proceed to break His commandments, proving they do not know what love is.
In that kind of relationship, feelings eventually run dry, and the relationship and therefore the union ends. The love of the Bible is always first moral. This morality verifies we are yielding to Him. John commands us in I John 2:6 to walk as Jesus walked, and Jesus walked morally. The only way we can be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ is to walk as He walked.
This is the reason for our standing with God. We stand before Him as Jesus Christ for the very purpose of living life as He did as closely as possible. We cannot say we do this perfectly because our actions and reactions, our tempers and feelings, our sins of omission and commission betray us, revealing our continual need for the application of Christ's blood to restore our standing to the pristine standard of our Savior, even if for only a short time. Our gratitude to God for His thoughtful foresight and merciful patience is thus renewed in the acknowledgement of our sin.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Eight): Conclusion (Part One)
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
2 Corinthians 5:10
It does not matter how much prophecy we know, whether we can recite from memory large portions of Scripture, or know perfectly every doctrine's technicalities (I Corinthians 13:1-3). In terms of judgment, what matters is whether we are striving to live what we know to be the way God lives because it is how those in His Kingdom will live. His way is the way of love, and love is something we do.
Humanly, the opposite of love is hate. This is because we judge things largely according to the senses. Love, therefore, is a strong feeling for a person or thing; hate is a strong feeling against. However, this definition is not biblical. Biblically, the opposite of love is sin. Like love, sin is also something we do. According to I John 5:3, love is keeping God's commandments, and sin, then, is the breaking of His commandments. Though feeling is certainly involved in biblical love, the will of God and truth play a far larger part.
Seriously consider this: If we sin, then biblically, we do not love God, our fellow man, or for that matter, ourselves, because sinning means we have taken steps toward committing spiritual suicide! If we do this, it also means that we do not appreciate that God has given us life and has given His life so that we can claim His awesome promise of living eternally with Him.
Stripped of all possible nuances that might affect God's judgment, this is the stark reality of what faces us once God has opened our eyes and revealed His purpose to us. It brings to the fore that, if we love what He has revealed, then we must hate sin because it destroys everything God's wonderful revelation stands for.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Seven): Fear of Judgment
These verses pair groupings or concepts that separate people and keep them divided and sometimes at war with each other. Paul shows racial differences (Greek and Jew); religious differences (circumcised and uncircumcised); cultural differences (barbarian and Scythian); social differences (slave and free); and finally sexual difference (male and female).
These are in no way all the differences that divide humanity, but they give enough of a representation for God to make His point. He makes it clear that we cannot be united to Him and separated from our brother at the same time. To do something for or against a brother is to do it to Christ (Matthew 25:31-46). Because we, as brethren, are "in" Christ and He "in" us, we are one organism. John says if a man does not love his brother, he does not love God (I John 4:20)! This is serious business. We must be one with both.
The person who is truly converted is motivated, guided, inspired, led by, yielding to, and empowered by the radiant energy flowing from Christ, who lives and works in Him. It is almost as if Christ and His converted brethren are driven together because they share the same nature.
John W. Ritenbaugh
All in All
The right works do not earn us salvation, yet we are created for good works. God ordained this from the very beginning. It is the right works that make life worth living, that prove to God our understanding of His purpose, and show His love in us. That love is then shown to the world and ensures that the proper witness is made for Him.
It is incredible but true that people worry and argue whether keeping the commandments of God are required as works. Of course they are! Remember, "By grace are you saved," as well as that we have been created for good works.
The book of Ephesians is about unity, about diverse people—the Gentiles on the one hand and the Jews, primarily the Israelites, on the other—living together as part of a common body. What we have in common is Jesus Christ; He is the Savior of both. What do we have to do so that we can live together? What will make life worthwhile? The right kind of works, righteous deeds and acts.
It is the same principle as in marriage. What enables two different people to live together in marriage? The right kind of works, that is, how they conduct themselves.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love and Works
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
1 John 4:15-17
In I John 4, John makes a rather startling statement regarding our union with Christ. It is puzzling in that its practical application is vague to us because we are unfamiliar with the possibilities. Readers usually take a glimpse of it then move on, wondering about its meaning. The words themselves are simple enough, but their very simplicity adds to its confounding nature because, if it truly means what it appears to say, it is too good to be true! Lacking biblical evidence and a logical explanation for reaching such a wonderful conclusion, we pass on.
I John 4:15 says, "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God." The context is obviously our union with God, as the words "abide" and "in" confirm. Verse 16 continues the thought: "And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him." Abide means "to live," "to continue with," or "to go on with." By substituting these synonyms, the last phrase reads, "He who continues or lives in love, continues or lives in God, and God in him."
The verse emphasizes an ongoing, unbroken, intimate relationship. Nothing can be closer than for one to be in another! Since John defines love in I John 5:3 as keeping the commandments, the word "love" in this verse indicates that it is being reciprocated between God and us, and it is what facilitates the continuance of the union and relationship. These verses in fact confirm what Jesus said on the eve of His crucifixion:
If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever. The Spirit of truth, which the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17)
In verse 23, Jesus drops the term "Helper," showing more specifically who would be living in us: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him." "Keep" indicates that the love of which Jesus speaks is not merely an affection, as keep means "to maintain, continue or carry on." It is therefore active and dynamic.
Has that wondrous promise actually taken place? Are we so united with God, so at one with Him, that Jesus Christ, our Creator, Savior, Redeemer, and High Priest has made us the place of His abode? If so, do our lives reflect that He is there? Are we giving evidence of His presence?
I John 4:17 contains the astounding statement: "Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world."
Peter announces in I Peter 4:17, "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begin with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?" For those of us "in the church," our judgment began with God's calling and our conversion, and it continues to this very moment. Judgment will come to those living following Christ's return during the Millennium and to those in the second resurrection during the Great White Throne period.
Are we experiencing boldness or confidence (the Greek word can be translated either way; see Hebrews 3:6), or are we ashamed of Jesus Christ? Do we hide what we are? John suggests that we should be living boldly because we have a foundation of confidence that we are under the blood of Jesus Christ and have begun to keep His commandments. Are we ashamed about talking about our baptism into the church of God, His Family? Are we fearful about talking about specific doctrines, not to convert others, but simply to state our beliefs?
It is interesting that the Greek word translated "boldness" literally means "freedom of speech." It implies that nothing hinders a person. Love is being perfected in us so that we may be unhindered in our submission to God while under judgment. I John 4:17 then goes on to say, "As He is, so are we in this world." "He" is capitalized. The publishers have done this to draw attention to the fact that this pronoun refers to Christ Himself.
The subject here is not another human being but the Deity, and John is saying we can be bold because we share a commonality with Him. What did He accomplish? Where does He stand in relation to God and to us? How did He live His life? Jesus Christ lived His life confidently and boldly. The apostle is essentially saying that, when God looks at us, He sees us as though we were Jesus Christ! Has anybody ever lived life closer to God than Jesus?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Eight): Conclusion (Part One)
1 John 5:1-3
God intends the love of Him and the love of man to be inseparable parts of the same experience. John explains this by saying that if we love the Father, we also love the child. If we love the Father who begot the children, we must love the children, otherwise we do not have God's love. In I John 4:20, he amplifies this: "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?"
I John 5:3 is the Bible's basic definition of love. The commandments define, make clear, what the basic elements of love are and what direction our actions should take if we would show love. This means that obedience to God is the proof of love. Obedience is an action that submits to a command of God, a principle revealed in His Word and/or an example of God or the godly.
In a sense, this is where godly love begins in a human being. Obeying God's commands is love because God is love. Because His very nature is love, it is impossible for Him to sin. Thus He gives us commands in love, and they will produce right and good results. Any command of God reflects what He Himself would do were He in the same situation.
Jesus says in John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." Keeping the commandments is how one expresses love. He adds in John 15:10, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love."
A person may have a thought to do good or to refrain from evil. He may have a feeling of compassion, pity, or mercy. One may feel revulsion about doing an evil action. But none of these become love until the thought or feeling motivates one to act. In the biblical sense, love is an action.
Love has yet another aspect, however. We can show love coldly, reluctantly, in "dutiful obedience." We can also show it in joyous, wholehearted enthusiasm or warmhearted, thankful devotion. Which is more attractive to God or man as a witness?
Regardless of the attitude, it is far better to obey than not at all (Matthew 21:28-31). If we cannot get beyond doing what is right, the proper feelings will never be formed. Experience is largely responsible for training attitude and emotion (Psalm 111:10). We will never form proper emotions without first performing the right actions with the right spirit, God's Holy Spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
1 John 5:3
Romans 3 teaches us that law tells us our duty, that is, what we are obliged to do. It defines right and wrong. Combined with this is the wonderful Personality behind it: We find that the keeping these commands—His law—teaches us God's greatest attribute. The law does two things: It shows negative things and positive things. The negative is what sin—wrongdoing—is. The positive is love—the love of God.
His law is a reflection of His character in words. It points the way toward what we are to become. Answer this simple question: Does God call people to salvation and then throw away the road map? It is ridiculous to think such a thing.
The law has a Personality behind it—in terms of love. The law provides the basic outline, and then, when combined with the examples of God's living and acting in both Testaments, it presents a full picture of love. God's actions and Christ's example amplify and make practical what the law says in words.
One has to begin somewhere, and this the law does in providing us with its letter. Then there is its spirit, which is the magnification of the letter, but it does not do away with the law. The law, then, is not only the guideline to what is right and wrong, but the law is also the guideline—in words—to what love is.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 17)
The implication from Revelation 2:2, 7 is that the works of which Christ is concerned are the works of overcoming—overcoming human nature or, as in I John 2:15-17, overcoming "the lust of the flesh, the lust of eyes, and the pride of life." In addition, we must work to overcome the persecutions, deceits, and persuasions of Satan and the influences of the world.
Using God's love is hard work because there is a constant downward pull in these three areas: the self, the world, and Satan. The influence to go that way is always there. It is constant.
It was no accident, no coincidence, that Christ places the message to Ephesus first in order, and that its subject is love in context with overcoming. Christ says in John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." It takes the love of God to keep the commandments in the spirit—in their intent—and it is love working and active when they are kept. I John 5:3 says, "This is the love of God, that you keep His commandments." So, when we keep His commandments, we are expressing love. It is working, in action.
If a person's love for Christ—keeping the commandments—diminishes, what happens? If the love for Christ diminishes, does that not imply the keeping the commandments will be less frequent? Doing the right works will begin to diminish. Here is the connection between love and right works. If the love is present, the right works will be produced.
If a person loses his love for Christ altogether, he is in bad trouble—"Goodbye, Christianity! Sayonara!" That is the end.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Loving Christ and Revelation 2:1-7
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
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