What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
In the introduction, we see revealed important characteristics about the two groups that obviously describe two different types of attitudes. These traits make the two groups' approaches to the wedding celebration predictable, summarized by the contrasting behaviors of sincerity and superficiality. The two have some interesting similarities that cause them to appear the same outwardly.
Both groups were in the same place going to meet the bridegroom (verse 1). The spiritually unprepared Christian may sit right beside the spiritually prepared Christian in Sabbath services, similar to the state of the tares and wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). They both seem interested in the same things and seem to have the same character. Both may diligently give tithes and offerings and serve their brethren. It may only be in a crisis that the real differences show up, and then attendance may begin to wane, and their monetary support of the church may slow or even stop.
Both groups were carrying lamps (verse 1), so these vessels are not a sign of who had prepared. Similarly, a person carrying a Bible to church does not show that that person has prepared by study and prayer during the previous week to overcome sin and produce spiritual fruit. Neither does it show that the Holy Spirit exists within a person.
Both groups slumbered and slept (verse 5). Even the most dedicated and sincere saints may temporarily become spiritually lethargic. The fact that the Bridegroom delayed His coming is one of Jesus' many hints that His return may be much later than expected. From the perspective of the first-century church, Christ has delayed for almost 2,000 years! Nevertheless, we should not allow ourselves to become lethargic about His eventual return (Habakkuk 2:3). The word "slumbered" is actually nod, a transient act, whereas "slept" should be sleeping, a continuous act. Thus, we see the progression of lethargy. First, the virgins nodded their heads as if napping, and later, they slept continuously and deeply. Initial weariness is the first step to further spiritual decay. It is vital to catch temporary apathy early to prevent permanent disillusionment.
The ten virgins' service and reverence to God is done perfunctorily. It is more of a habit than a sincere zeal, and this is seen in Christians' routine attendance at Sabbath services. They obey God almost mindlessly, developing it into a routine over time. Their lack of emotional maturity and forethought carries them through life in lightheaded bliss, and so they remain with the church, just filling a seat or attending only occasionally.
Moses had placed Aaron in charge while he received instruction from God on Mount Sinai. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, Aaron probably lacked the conviction or courage to fill Moses' shoes adequately in his absence. To stall for time, he asked the people to contribute to the cause, hoping to deter them. Understanding the principle of "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21), he asked them to donate some of their jewelry.
His plan failed. They eagerly gave of their treasure, showing where their heart really was. Now Aaron had to go through with it, and he did.
A major motivator in the process of apostasy is contained within the words, "Moses delayed his coming." Impatience, weariness with the way, and the constant struggle without any indication of relief are all included. God repeats this in the New Testament, when Christ warns that the evil servant says, "My master is delaying His coming" (Matthew 24:48; Luke 12:45). God emphasizes it just in case His children's endurance begins to lag. He does not want anyone to turn aside to some exciting distraction in the surrounding culture.
Unfortunately, that is what occurred here. The impatience and the weariness of their struggle moved the Israelites to take their eyes off the Promised Land, their goal. Instead they focused on a more exciting and stimulating practice from the world they had just left.
The key to this process is found in verses 4 and 5, in the words, "This is your god, O Israel" and "Aaron made a proclamation and said, 'Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.'" Can God be worshipped in any form as long as it is dedicated to the Lord? Does that please God? Did this celebration become a feast to the Lord because a man in authority like Aaron proclaimed it? Is God pleased when His people worship Him in ways other than what He has prescribed? God's reaction to their idolatrous festivities plainly shows they had turned aside from what He had delivered to them through Moses (Exodus 32:10).
The world's theologians call this process syncretism, which means "the combination of different forms of belief or practice; the fusion of two or more original forms." The incident of the Golden Calf blends the worship of the true God with the worship of false gods, and the result is proclaimed to be worship of which the true God approves.
Predictably, God was indignant with the people for defining for themselves the nature of the god they wanted to serve. They were preventing the God of heaven from defining His own nature as revealed in His laws, His way, and His actions for and against them. Their experience with these things would teach them about Him. Instead, they decided to define that nature, and chose the form of a bull, a god commonly worshipped in Egypt.
Is God a bull? Of course not! Is God confined to what a bull can do? Of course not! To modern thought worshipping a bull seems silly and foolish, but the spiritual lesson involved is serious. The essence of idolatry is defining the nature of God, not according to His Word, but according to human experience and ideas.
What is the effect of man defining God according to his own ideals? His god determines his standards. These standards are immediately perceived in his conduct, which can rise only as high as his god, as exemplified in Exodus 32:6: "Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings [a form of worship], and brought peace offerings [indicating fellowship between God, the priest and offerer]; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play."
As one might imagine, they were not engaging in ordinary eating and drinking and playing. They were not throwing a ball around, they were not shooting a ball through a hoop, nor were they kicking a ball around a field. They were playing! These people were involved in a gluttonous, drunken debauchery! "Play" suggests conjugal caresses—fornication and adultery!
The symbolism is obvious. When the nature of the true God is falsely defined, the effect will be spiritual adultery. There will be a deterioration, a degeneration, of society expressed in peoples' conduct. Plummeting standards and moral laxity are the fruit produced. Writing of Christianity in the second century, historian Will Durant observes, "Much of this difficult code [of conduct, as practiced by the apostolic church] was predicated on the early return of Christ. As that hope faded, the voice of the flesh rose again, and Christian morals were relaxed" (Caesar and Christ, p. 599).
God handled Israel's debauchery at Sinai severely, but unfortunately, Israel failed to learn the lesson. They never understood the principle of worshipping God as He instructed. In fact, it led to their eventual destruction and captivity.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
"Not lose heart" or "faint" (KJV) means to grow weary, to give in to evil, to turn coward. We must resist the human tendency of growing weary in prayer. We have a duty as the elect of God to pray. There are several major causes of losing heart: defilement, doubt, danger, distractions, and delay.
» The defilement of sin kills interest in spiritual exercises like prayer. Sin does not promote a good prayer life—in fact, it will stop it dead. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Psalm 66:18).
» Praying with doubt is faithless, making the prayer useless. Doubting the inspiration of Scripture and the power of God hinders prayer (I Timothy 2:8). As prayer and faith go hand in hand, so do unbelief and not praying.
» Prayer must sometimes be done at dangerous times. Danger weeds out the coward from the courageous. Daniel faced real danger in praying, but kept on praying, even though it led to the lion's den (Daniel 6). Today, our dangers are varied, but the danger of embarrassment often affects people more than danger of physical harm.
» Satan is a master of causing distractions, especially during prayer time. Probably every saint has experienced his mind wandering, causing him to think about everything except what he should be praying about.
» Few things cause us to lose heart in praying more than delays in answers to our requests. Jesus uses the Parable of the Persistent Widow to teach us that, though answers often appear to take a long time in coming, we should persevere and not grow weary in praying to God.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Persistent Widow
If somebody who was known to you—maybe even somebody who was close to you—came up to you, and seemingly with no provocation whatsoever, punched you right in the nose and you fell on your backside—of course, wondering "What in the world is going on?"—the chances are that the very first emotion that would hit you would be one of surprise. "What did I do to deserve this?" You would be ready to gather yourself together, and get up on your knees. As one foot is pushing you up off the ground, and just as you get up again—wham!, right in the ol' kisser. By now, the attitude is beginning to change. It is no longer surprise. You begin to feel the color coming up in your neck, and maybe the hair standing on the back of your head. Anger is beginning to surge into you.
Nonetheless, you get up again. Just as you get on your feet—wham!, right in the nose again. By this time the anger is giving way to rage. Still, you gather yourself together and stand up again, and, wham!—you get hit right in the kisser again, and down you go. Now the rage is beginning to give way to another reaction. Another emotion is beginning to enter your mind, and you are beginning to think, "When is he going to quit? When will this end? I can't stand it much longer."
But you drag yourself again, just as you confront the problems that hit your life. You gather yourself and you get up. Just about the time that you get steady on your feet, whoop!—right in the kisser you get hit with another one, and down you go. Eventually, brethren, you are going to come to the place where you think, "I don't care what he does any more. I just wish he would stop." You will have reached the point of apathy. You no longer care.
That was described by Abraham Maslow, and it is a true cycle. It is a series of emotions that we go through when we are hit by a seemingly unending set of pressures. We eventually become apathetic to what is going on around us, and we stop caring.
That is what happened to the people in the book of Hebrews. It was not a bloody persecution. It was constant pressures being applied to the mind: Economic pressures, health pressures, persecution on the church pressures, social pressures, family pressures—you name it—one coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end. We need to confront this because things are not going to get any better! The pressures are going to continue to build. We had better have aResource that we can go to in order to weather the storms of psychological damage that might be inflicted upon us because we have nothing to resist the tribulations (pressures) that are coming upon us.
Apathy has an effect: we not only no longer care about life itself, but we no longer care about God. It begins to wane.
Apathy makes a person feel tired, like not doing anything. But there comes a time when we have to 'buck it up', and sacrifice ourselves, and push ourselves, and do right things that we do not want to do, and not allow the weariness to overtake us. That kind of psychological weariness can make us sick of body, so that we will not be able to do anything.
Doing good is a witness that God wants from us. He knows how much we can bear, and He wants to prepare us for the things that are coming. So trial upon trial upon trial is going to come upon us. It is part of the preparation that we have to go through, to see whether or not we are going to endure to the end (Matthew 24:13).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Hebrews: A Message for Today
2 Thessalonians 3:10-13
This was a primary problem in the first century church—growing weary in doing well.
The foundation of this problem was the people's perception that the return of Jesus Christ was being delayed. They were weary from suffering, persecution, and other hardships associated with being a Christian. These hardships were social, because their friends, relatives, and others who were not Christians ostracized them. Their persecution was economic as well, in that it was difficult for them to get jobs, just as it is today because of Sabbath and holy day obligations. The combination of these trials brought to them to the point that they were tired of doing well.
We are close to the return of Jesus Christ; the world is filled with all kinds of signs of the end. They wear at us and worry us. We see them on television and hear them on the radio—everywhere we look, we see signs of the times. It is a stressful situation to be in, and still, Christ does not come. We say, "How long, Lord, will it be 'til You come?"
We can become neglectful. We can let our focus slip. We need to be exhorted and stirred.
Christ gives the first-century church a warning in Revelation 2:1-7, His message to the Ephesian church. He points out their problem. He gives them advice as to what they should do, and then at the end, He provides incentive for them to correct the situation that they had allowed themselves to deteriorate into.
John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ
After identifying Himself to the Ephesians, Jesus begins His letter by informing the church that He knew their works, both collectively and individually (Revelation 2:2-3). He knew their attitudes, thoughts, desires, goals - everything about them! He knew their hearts better than they did, just as He knows ours today.
He tells them He was aware of everything they had gone through - how they had endured much persecution, suffering, and agony because of apostasy and intolerance. He knew of their fortitude in standing for the truth and what a labor it was to persevere, though they never gave in to weariness.
He then mentions how they had rejected false leaders and their subversions. They would not listen to those who tried to pervert the truth and change doctrine, and they stood fast in opposing them once they found such to be liars. He knew how hard they tried to keep the laws and principles of the truth the true apostles had taught them.
In this description, as well as from the history of the first-century church from the book of Acts and the epistles of the apostles, we see a church that had fallen apart despite the strenuous efforts of some members to hang on to the truth. It was a church that had let something vital slip out of its grasp amidst the mounting trials and persecutions of the times.
Christ brings to their attention that they had lost their first love, the ardent desire to please God (verse 4). Their focus had shifted from where it should have been to the problems and the events happening around them. The strife generated by angry words, bad attitudes, friends and family leaving their fellowship, and teachings being changed took its toll on everyone. The byproducts that such turmoil produced were mistrust and suspicion.
As Matthew 24:12 says prophetically, "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold."
Humanly, we might think that God would consider the Ephesians' efforts to hang on to the truth against the apostasy as sufficient, but it is obvious that He does not. For our eternal good, He expects more of us. However, He does not leave us without guidance about how to recapture what we have lost.
Why is first love so important to God? First love is the purest kind of spiritual love we as humans can demonstrate. It is a love that truly shows one's heart is completely given to God. What does first love produce? Paul answers in II Thessalonians 1:3:
We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other.
He also writes in Hebrews 6:10,
For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
True love of God always promotes love of the brethren and love toward fellow man.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Recapture Your First Love!
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