What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
To environmentalists, letting man have dominion over the animals and being told to subdue the earth means that God gives man free rein to do anything he wants to the planet—bend it to his uses and abuses, rape it of all its beauty and diversity—for his own benefit. "Does not the land have any rights?" they cry. "What about the plants and animals, birds and fish? What gives us the right to mine and burn and kill without care for nature?"
Certainly, God did not give man the authority to degrade and destroy His earth. Environmentalists are correct in saying that mankind should consider and address environmental concerns. They are quite wrong, however, to blame God for the earth's ecological problems; He is not responsible for man's destruction of the natural world.
To think that God gave man carte blanche to plunder and destroy the earth is simply ludicrous. He is its Creator! Why would He immediately command Adam to ruin it? Would any woodworker, upon just finishing a beautifully stained piece of furniture, tell his son to break it up for firewood? No! Just as God desires for His creation, the woodworker would put his handiwork to use and also care for it by keeping it waxed and dusted to prolong its life.
This is exactly what God told Adam. Genesis 2 contains a parallel account of creation, adding detail to certain parts of the narrative of the first chapter. Notice God's expanded instruction: "Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend [dress, KJV] and keep it" (verse 15). This greatly modifies the force of "have dominion" and "subdue it" from Genesis 1:26, 28!
Tend (Hebrew 'abad) means "to work or serve," and thus referring to the ground or a garden, it can be defined as "to till or cultivate." It possesses the nuance seen in the KJV's choice in its translation: "dress," implying adornment, embellishment, and improvement.
Keep (Hebrew shamar) means "to exercise great care over." In the context of Genesis 2:15, it expresses God's wish that mankind, in the person of Adam, "take care of," "guard," or "watch over" the garden. A caretaker maintains and protects his charge so that he can return it to its owner in as good or better condition than when he received it.
To Noah, God gives a similar command after the Flood:
So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. (Genesis 9:1-2)
Once again God gives man dominion over all other life on the earth, and with this renewed authority comes the implicit responsibility to tend and keep what was explicitly given to Adam. In this post-Flood world, God gives mankind a second chance to use and preserve the resources He had so abundantly provided. To that end Noah, after 120 years as a preacher and shipwright, took up farming and planted a vineyard (verse 20). We can assume, from what we know of human nature, that this attitude of stewardship did not pass to very many of his descendants.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Bible and the Environment
In verse 15, God clarifies why he gave man powers. At first glance, it only appears to cover what is physical and material, but with God's spiritual revelation and other scriptures, it carries far greater implication.
In the King James Version, the word meaning "tend" or "cultivate" is dress. The Hebrew means "to work at." In 1611, when the King James was translated, the word dress meant "to set in order," but gradually, it was applied to applying decorative details, "to embellish."
Today, when we say that we are going to dress, we include both parts of that definition. We put ourselves in order and embellish how we look.
In modern Bibles, “dress” has been translated "tend" or "cultivate." They have subtle meanings that are slightly different from "dress." Tend means "to pay attention to" or "to serve." For example, “I am going to tend to the dishes.” It means "to apply oneself to the care of" or "to manage the operations of."
Cultivate, which is the best of the three definitions, means "to put through a finishing process," "to foster the growth of," or "to further or encourage." Neither "dress" or "tend" is wrong, but "cultivate" most accurately applies the Hebrew meaning of the original word.
There is the word "keep" as well. We are to "dress and keep." Keep means to "guard," "preserve," "be faithful to," and "maintain."
God has given man powers to carry out the responsibility that has been given into his hands: to have dominion. Man must do the following: Put what has been placed into his hands through a finishing process, watch over it, guard it, protect it, and preserve its beauty.
This was all given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a beautiful place. God let them and us know that, as beautiful as the Garden was, it would not stay that way. It was subject to natural law and would degenerate. The Garden would need to be maintained, cultivated, dressed, and kept, requiring a great deal of work. Man was not only to preserve, control, and direct it, but also to strive even to ennoble the Garden of Eden through work.
It begins to become clear that God intends mankind to make more of his environment than he has been given. God has given the powers to do that. We are to understand this not only physically, but more importantly, spiritually.
Here in Genesis, God has shown the fact that a person works, the reason why he works, and the way he works all have a great deal to do with his spiritual development. It is important to note the difference between "salvation" and "development." We are saved by grace. But if there is going to be development from where God begins whenever we first receive His Spirit, then it requires something on our part to enable the fullness of development to take place. That involves work.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Right Use of Power
Some commentators cannot understand why Jesus places this example with the other three, as it does not seem to show having a good attitude under trial. However, having a godly attitude in parting with what we hold dear can be a test for us as well. The parallel scripture in Luke 6:30 shows that it follows the pattern of the previous illustrations: "Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back."
Many believe that what Jesus requires here is foolish, that is, to give to everyone who asks of us and to allow our goods to be plundered without objection. Perhaps Luke 6:34-35 helps to clarify what Jesus intends:
And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Highest. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.
His illustration in Matthew 5:42 deals with borrowing and lending, not with allowing oneself to be plundered. As in the other illustrations, His primary point is that it is preferable to suffer loss or harm than to retaliate or worsen the situation. When we give to someone in need, we should not expect to be repaid for our generosity, and we should certainly not take steps to force reimbursement. Christian charity should be done without expectation of gain. Yet, God sees, and He will show us favor: "He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given" (Proverbs 19:17).
If a person asks for a loan of money or goods, we should approach the request assuming that he makes it in good faith, if there are no extenuating reasons to doubt his sincerity. We should, however, keep in mind other principles from God's Word, such as being good stewards of what God has given us, taking care of our own, not encouraging laziness or sustaining the idle, not supporting vices (alcohol, drugs, or other addictions), and not being a party to shady or dubious get-rich-quick schemes. Jesus' suggestion is that, if we do lend to others, we might as well consider that money to be gone forever. The struggle to regain it will probably not be worth the effort, not to mention the damage it could do to relationships and one's character.
In short, what does His final illustration require of us? It asks of us, not only that we should lend without suspicion and with no eye to profit, but that we also should have a generous spirit of outgoing concern for a brother or sister in need.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Go the Extra Mile
"The kingdom of God" in Matthew 21:43 refers not to the future establishment of Christ's Kingdom on earth, but to a dominion then in existence.
The context of this parable begins in Matthew 21:23, indicating that its audience was “the chief priests and the elders of the people.” Verses 45-46 show their reaction:
Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet. (Emphasis ours throughout.)
Even though God had not given the religious leaders the means to understand all the mysteries of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:11), they could still perceive that Jesus aimed several of His teachings directly at them.
The chapter break obscures that Jesus continued speaking to the same leaders in the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14), another parable of “the kingdom of heaven” (verse 2). The king sends out invitations to the feast in batches. The first two sets are declined, signifying the response of the physical nation of Israel. Only after the “king . . . sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (verse 7)—foreshadowing Jerusalem's destruction forty years after they rejected the gospel of the Kingdom—does a third call go out, and his servants find suitable guests for the wedding.
This third group of guests represents those whom Christ later gave, not only entrance to the wedding feast, but also authority to rule. As He had earlier told Peter, a representative of the spiritual nation, “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom” (Matthew 16:19). The stewardship of the Kingdom would be transferred.
Likewise, Jesus foretold of a future time when His followers would receive greatly increased authority: “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Even as Jacob supplanted Esau, so God would make certain that Jacob's descendants would likewise be supplanted (though not forgotten) because of their unfaithfulness.
In these two parables, we can see a critical facet of God's dominion. Jesus considered the chief priests, the elders, and the Pharisees part of God's Kingdom, and also certified that they would have the Kingdom taken from them. They, like tenant-farmers, had a measure of responsibility over that national Kingdom because of their leadership positions within it. They wielded religious power that Jesus acknowledged (Matthew 23:2-3), which had its source in God (Romans 13:1).
In the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers, the vineyard is the Kingdom of God, and the vinedressers are those tasked with attending to it. Jesus prophesied that stewardship would be transferred because the original caretakers had proven themselves unfaithful. Psalm 80:8-19 also represents the Kingdom of Israel as a vineyard (as does Isaiah 5:1-7), and the shared symbol confirms that the Kingdom of Israel was the Kingdom of God at that time, though not in its fullness.
Similarly, the Parable of the Wedding Feast, though a parable of the “kingdom of heaven,” deals at length with Israel, specifically Judah. It illustrates the physical descendants of Abraham as not acting like Abraham at all (see John 8:30-38). God told Israel even before she made the covenant, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), revealing that His original intent for Israel was to be a Kingdom.
Israel's first human king, Saul, was unfaithful, and the Kingdom was taken from him and given to David. After the people contributed for the Temple, David praised God, saying, “For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and You are exalted as head over all” (I Chronicles 29:11). Similarly, Abijah refers to the house of David as “the Kingdom of the LORD” (II Chronicles 13:8). Both Asaph and Isaiah proclaim that God was still Israel's King, even though earlier the nation had requested a king “like all the other nations,” rejecting God (Psalm 74:12; Isaiah 33:22; see I Samuel 8:4-8; Deuteronomy 17:14). The Kingdom of Israel was an aspect of the basileia—the sovereign dominion—of God. It was a Kingdom with its origin and authority in heaven.
David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part One)
Thematically, the parable of the talents goes beyond the earlier ones. Not only does Christ expect faithfulness in duty and preparedness even through a long delay, but He also expects an improvement upon what He initially bestowed. More than that, He expects improvement from bestowal to the day of reckoning.
A logical sequence of lessons develops through these parables. The middle parable is the parable of the ten virgins, illustrating the disciple's inner state. The parables before and after it show the disciple working, an external activity. The preceding parable indicates faithfulness, the following one indicates improvement. He may be telling us that the basis of a profitable external activity is diligent internal, spiritual maintenance. Out of the heart comes what a person is (Matthew 15:18-19; Luke 6:45).
In the ancient Middle East, a talent was a unit of weight and later of money. Jesus probably meant to convey nothing more than quantity, a measurable amount, from which we could draw a lesson. We thus need to improve or grow in areas that can be measured. Talents, therefore, should best be equated with spiritual gifts.
Jesus also illustrates the varying levels of responsibility and the differing amounts of gifts. In the parable, the gifts are given according to natural ability, but all who increase equally are rewarded equally. Their trading of the talents signifies the faithful use that one should make of gifts and opportunities of service to God.
In the natural world, talents differ. One man may design a church building, a cathedral. Another has the talent to craft the woodwork or cut and lay the stone. Another person has the talent to speak from its pulpit. Still another has the talent to write music that is played on its organ or piano. Each has talents which differ from his fellows', yet they are dependent on each other for the building and right use of that cathedral.
Thus, one person is no better or more important than the other, though one may have greater natural ability. God clearly shows that the greater the capacity, the greater the responsibility. But we also find that though there is an equality in opportunity, there are differences in talent.
With God's gifts it is the same. It is not how much talent one has, but how one uses it that is important to God. It is not how many gifts that God gives to a person, it is what one does with them. That is why Christ shows an equality between the person with five talents and the one with two. Both increased an equal amount, 100%, and they were rewarded, as it were, equally. This is an important point in this parable.
In the first place, all of the talents belong to God. They are His to bestow on whomever He wills. These talents, gifts, are not things we possess by nature but are Christ's assets, abilities, which He lends to us to use. Talents can be truly understood as things like God's Word, the gospel of the Kingdom of God, the forgiveness of sin, His Holy Spirit, etc.
The apostle Paul mentions quite a few of them in I Corinthians 12: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues and the interpretation of tongues. They are not natural endowments. Some receive more than others, and the vast majority of us are most likely among those who receive one or two. But despite whether we have one, two or five, everyone is responsible for using these gifts which belong to Christ, lent to us to serve Him. And we have to grow.
And in this I give my advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. (II Corinthians 8:10-12)
God judges according to what we have. Since He is a perfect judge, He is the only one qualified to measure whether we are using and increasing our gifts, or whether we are hiding and squandering what He made available to us.
Since these gifts are not ours to begin with, we must adjust our thinking. We have to accept our limitations as part of God's divine purpose and not struggle against them. He wants us simply to use what we have been given. And the proper use of our gifts will cause them to increase. Paul declares, "But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased" (I Corinthians 12:18).
He examines the question of God's fairness in Romans 9:14-21. Is there any unfairness with God, to love one, as it were, and not the other? Recall the analogy of building a cathedral. God is building a great temple (cf. I Peter 2:4-10; I Corinthians 3:5-17). His temple is His Family, and He knows whether a person, using his natural abilities plus His gifts, will be a woodcarver, a stonemason, a preacher, a musician or whatever in it. God knows. He wants us to fill the role He has given us wherever we are.
We should not forget that God will reward us equal to our growth. He holds us responsible only for what we have been given, and this fact inclines us to approach our gifts with the "doorkeeper attitude." "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness" (Psalm 84:10). If God gave us one gift, whatever it is, we should strive to double it. Doing that, we will succeed just as the person who was given five and doubles them. He has more to answer for, but the burden on him is actually just as great as it is on the person who has one. There is no difference in God's judgment.
What does God commend? What does He say pleases Him? Is it genius? No, He says knowledge puffs up (I Corinthians 8:1). Is it speaking ability? No, God made a dumb ass speak (Numbers 22:28-30). Is it singing ability? Or writing ability? It is none of those things. He is looking for someone who is faithful. A person can be faithful with one talent, two, five or ten. It does not matter because God gives gifts according to natural ability. And it is very likely that if God gave more or greater gifts to those who have less natural ability, they would fail because they could not maintain them. So God in His mercy judges what a person can handle.
The translators of the New King James Version misplace the word "immediately" in verse 15. The way they translate it gives the impression that the master of the house left immediately, but the word does not apply to the master. "Immediately" applies to the person who had five talents (cf. Matthew 25:15-16 in the Revised Standard Version, New International Version or Revised English Bible). Not indulging in any daydreams or fears, he immediately went out and worked. Believing that work was good for him, he got right down to business.
The tragedy of the story and the focus of the parable is the man who hid his talent. From him we probably learn the most. First, the talent was not his in the first place; it was on loan. Second, Christ shows that people bury their gifts primarily out of fear. Third, the whole parable illustrates that regarding spiritual gifts, one never loses what he uses. That is a powerful lesson: if we use the gifts that God gives us, we cannot lose! The one who was punished never even tried, so God called him wicked and lazy. His passivity regarding spiritual things doomed him.
Comparing this parable to the parable of the ten virgins, we see a few interesting contrasts. The five foolish virgins suffered because they let what they had run out. This servant with one talent apparently never even used what he had. The virgins failed because they thought their job was too easy, while this servant failed because he thought it was too hard. On many fronts they seem to be opposites.
The servant's true character comes out in his defense before the master and in the master's condemnation. In verse 24 he claims, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed." That is a lie! Not having this belief, the other two servants immediately go to work, never suggesting that they think their master is harsh and greedy. The wicked servant justifies his lack of growth by blaming it on God. "It was too hard, Lord." He accuses God of an insensitive and demanding evaluation. That is why Christ calls him wicked. He calls God a liar and accuses the master of exploitation and avarice. If he did work, he says, he would see little or none of the profit, and if he failed, he would get nothing but the master's wrath. The master then asks, "Why didn't you at least invest my money so that I could receive interest?" The servant, in his justification and fear, overlooks his responsibility to discharge his duty in even the smallest areas.
Blaming his master and excusing himself, this servant with one talent fell to the temptations of resentment and fear. Together, the two are a deadly combination. The church needs people with one talent as much as the person who has many talents. To illustrate this, William Shakespeare was very talented with words, considered by most to be the greatest writer of the English language. Very few people have had Shakespeare's gifts. But where would Shakespeare be without the printers, the bookbinders, the teachers, the actors, and the like who bring his works to the public? From this we see the interdependence of gifts. Even those who may appear to have few talents are just as needed in the body as those who have many.
This parable insists that watchfulness must not lead to passivity, but to doing one's God-given duties. We must be learning, growing, carrying out our responsibilities and developing the resources that God entrusts to us until He returns and settles accounts. As in the other parables, we see a progression in the theme of being prepared for Christ's return, with each parable having a different nuance in its lesson.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
Since the servants did not know how long their master would be gone, they began trading without delay. The one with five talents increased his by 100%, as did the servant with two talents. In each case, their original assets were doubled. If the servant with one talent had just worked by trading with it, his reward would have been the same.
The motivation for service and producing good fruit should be love for the Master, a virtue the servant with one talent lacked. Sadly, he failed to trade with his talent and multiply it. Fearing his master's severity, he wrapped his lord's asset in a handkerchief and hid it in a hole in the earth. Fear is a sad thing when a person dreads losing something valuable so much that he hoards it instead of putting it to good use. So it is with a spiritual gift also.
While his fellow-servants were actively trading their talents, the third servant was idle. He was neither actively obedient nor disobedient, but passively disobedient. He did not intend to hurt his master's property; he simply failed to improve it. Similar to the foolish virgins suffering because they neglected to prepare, the third servant in this parable suffers because he did nothing with his talent. We must not hide our light under a basket (Matthew 5:14-16). Spiritual talents must be used in service to Christ for the glory of God - for the joy and honor of Him who is the Giver of every good gift (I Corinthians 10:31; James 1:17).
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Talents (Part Two)
The master never sets a time for his return, indicating he could return at any time. However, we know that his return does not occur before his servants have time to increase their talents. The first and second servants cheerfully relate their success in trading, giving their master his property with double interest. Both are rewarded the same, receiving the praise, "Well done!" Both receive the promise, "I will make you ruler." Both receive glory, "Enter into the joy of your lord." Though these two servants differ in the talents they receive, they are the same in obedience, diligence, and faithfulness to their master, and so receive the same reward.
The master passes a serious judgment on the burier of the talent: condemnation for neglecting his trust. This servant's true character reveals itself in his reply. His flawed view of his master's intentions leads him to excuse his own failure to the point of flagrant disrespect. To his idleness, he adds injustice, so his lord sees him as lazy and wicked (Matthew 25:26).
We must always appreciate all of Christ's gifts. "For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have" (II Corinthians 8:12). The true Christian's attitude is contentment with what he has and making the very best use of it. It is better to have a low position in God's service with faithfulness than a high position with unfaithfulness. Our limitation should be an incentive to spiritual and moral action and persistence. In the end, what God commends and rewards is not brilliance, popularity, or cleverness, but faithfulness and obedience to Him regardless of human recognition or praise.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Talents (Part Two)
Though many today conclude that the essence of Christianity is the forgiveness of sins or the wonder of God's love, a considered reading of the gospels reveals that Christ's message centered on the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven). His ministry began with preaching repentance and the good news of the Kingdom (Matthew 4:17, 23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; 9:11; Acts 1:3).
His forerunner, John the Baptist, preached the same basic message (Matthew 3:1-2), as did the apostles (Matthew 10:7; Luke 9:2, 60; Acts 8:12). The Kingdom theme accompanied Paul on his travels (Acts 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31) and lights up his epistles (Romans 14:17; I Corinthians 4:20; 6:9-10; 15:50; Colossians 4:11; I Thessalonians 2:12). Though Christianity comprises many principles, the essence of Christ's message is the Kingdom of God. Grasping God's purpose for humanity begins with comprehending the Kingdom.
The same Greek word for “kingdom,” basileia, is used in all these references, and its basic meaning is “dominion.” However, the Bible's writers do not always speak of the divine Kingdom in the same way, so understanding the Kingdom of God depends on recognizing its different applications.
A common usage of basileia is future-oriented: The great hope of true Christians is Christ's return to bear rule over the earth (Revelation 11:15; Daniel 2:44).
The Kingdom of God is also a present spiritual reality, such that those God calls in this age are figuratively translated into that Kingdom (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 1:13), even as they live out their lives in, but not of, the world. God has dominion over the church, making it a component—though not the fullness—of the Kingdom of God now.
A third usage of basileia refers to Christ Himself as the King of His Kingdom, such as when He told the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God was in their midst (see Luke 17:21).
Basileia is used in yet another, often-overlooked way that is necessary to understand a large measure of Christ's ministry. This disregarded usage appears most clearly in the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-44). At the end of the parable, Jesus says, “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (verse 43; emphasis ours). This refers not to the future establishment of Christ's Kingdom on earth, but to a dominion then in existence.
Jesus considered the chief priests, the elders, and the Pharisees part of God's Kingdom, and also certified that they would have the Kingdom taken from them. They, like tenant-farmers, had a measure of responsibility over that national Kingdom because of their leadership positions within it. They wielded religious power that Jesus acknowledged (Matthew 23:2-3), which had its source in God (Romans 13:1).
In the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers, the vineyard is the Kingdom of God, and the vinedressers are those tasked with attending to it. Jesus prophesied that stewardship would be transferred because the original caretakers had proven themselves unfaithful. Psalm 80:8-19 also represents the Kingdom of Israel as a vineyard (as does Isaiah 5:1-7), and the shared symbol confirms that the Kingdom of Israel was the Kingdom of God at that time, though not in its fullness. This fourth usage of basileia is found in a number of Christ's least understood parables, particularly those in Matthew 13.
David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part One)
Here, Christ's instruction to watch continues. However, this time Jesus focuses specifically on the responsibility of the steward—the one given authority over the household while the Master is away. His theme is preparation and faithful continuance of duty. He tasks the steward—a type of the ministry—with giving the household "food in due season."
Similarly, Paul outlines the responsibilities of church leadership in his letter to the Ephesians. Notice that the focus is on the church, not on the world: "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry [service], for the edifying of the body of Christ. . ." (Ephesians 4:11-13). Church leaders are responsible for feeding and preparing God's household and encouraging them to watch themselves.
If the steward does not properly watch, however, the human proclivity is to let down—and abuse. The steward in Luke 12:45 is focused on the Master's return—or lack thereof—rather than on his own alertness and attention to his duties. As a result, he falls into excesses of eating and drinking (rather than providing food for the household). He ends up beating those he was supposed to watch over, as if he thought they belonged to him. Clearly, those who have stewardship responsibilities in the church have an added weight to "take heed to themselves" lest they neglect or even damage those for whom they are supposed to be providing spiritual food.
David C. Grabbe
'As a Thief in the Night'
Our bodies belong to God, but He has bestowed their care on us as a stewardship responsibility to glorify God in our body as well as our spirit. In the parable, Jesus mentions "unrighteous mammon" (verses 9, 11), which He also terms "what is least" (verse 10) and "what is another man's" (verse 12). Each term is synonymous with the other two.
Jesus does not say to ignore these. He simply points out that they are secondary to the "true riches" (verse 11), "what is your own" (verse 12), and "[what] is much" (verse 10). Similarly, each of these is synonymous with the other two. He points to a direct connection between the two levels of responsibility by saying, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much" (verse 10). Care of our body falls within the parameters of unrighteous mammon, what is least and what is another man's.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part One)
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Suppose you lived during the time that the Temple in Jerusalem was in operation. As a faithful Levite, you were given stewardship to maintain the Temple and its grounds. How would you take care of that responsibility, knowing it was God's earthly dwelling place? Would you approach it in an irreverent, slap-dash, careless, lackadaisical, "I am too busy with other things" manner? Or would you be highly respectful and orderly and do whatever your hand found to do with all your might?
Spiritually, God has already given us this responsibility. In fact, it is a double-edged responsibility, both personal and corporate. In I Corinthians 3:16-17, Paul uses "temple" as a synonym for "church," referring to the whole body of believers. This is clearly an extension of his earlier use of the building metaphor. By it, he illustrates that each person, as part of the building, has some effect on the quality of the whole building by how he conducts his life. This metaphor ties all of us together as a team with the specific responsibility of doing all we can to build up and strengthen the church. Undoubtedly, the ministry bears the greater burden, but every member is involved.
Paul begins in verse 6 by giving himself and Apollos as examples. The King James Version makes the first part of verse 8 unclear: "Now he who plants [Paul] and he who waters [Apollos] are one." The Revised Standard Version clarifies this: "He who plants and he who waters are equal." They are not one as if they are identical or bound together like a set of Siamese twins. He means that they are equally important to the result.
Paul frequently emphasizes the team aspect. He writes in verse 9, "We are God's fellow workers." In verses 10-15, 17, he refers to "each one" and "anyone" frequently. No one has any room to think that it does not matter what he or she does or fails to do to make the body spiritually healthy. A great, dominant theme of Paul's teaching is the individual's personal responsibility for his life and that—somehow, somewhere, sometime—each will have to give account to God for what he has done.
How can Paul say the various parts of the body bear equal responsibility? This thought hearkens back to the Parable of the Talents. The master does not expect his three servants to produce the same quantity, but he expects each to be equally faithful in what he entrusted to their stewardship.
In verse 17, Paul uses "destroy" twice (see margin). It is a strong warning to those committing the sins named in other parts of the epistle—advocating false doctrine, strife, jealousy, sexual immorality, and other permissive compromises—that God would hold them responsible despite how matters appeared at the time. He would destroy them because the church is holy because it belongs to God, and He has separated it from the world. Through their false doctrines or sinful conduct, whether they were aware or not, they were seeking or being used to destroy the spiritual health of the church. Each member bears responsibility for keeping himself holy and therefore spiritually healthy.
To understand this, perhaps we need nothing more than a deeper awareness that, despite the way things may presently look on the surface, our worldview—how we look at life and all its jumble of events—is quite narrow compared to God's. Once we see things from His perspective, we can see we bear a major responsibility to the body of Christ because God has included us in His great purpose.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part One)
1 Corinthians 6:13-15
Maintaining good physical health is a stewardship responsibility that comes with our calling. We owe this obligation to our Creator God just as surely as we have spiritual responsibilities toward Him. We may deem these physical responsibilities as less important, but that does not nullify them.
Paul uses "body" in a dual sense, as both the spiritual body—the church—and the physical body of each member. Sin works to destroy both, and God did not create us to sin.
The sin here is fornication, porneia, which includes a broad range of sexual sins that pervert the right, godly use of sex. Paul uses it to illustrate sin's destructiveness. Sin is somewhat like junk food: It may "taste" good to the senses for a while, but before it is through, it will come back and harm us with its destructive properties. Junk food may taste good going down, but all the while, it is depriving the body of life-giving nutrients it needs to be truly strong.
In Genesis 1:28, God gave mankind dominion and responsibility to rule over His creation. Our own lives and bodies are the closest and most specific areas of God's creation over which we are to rule. In Genesis 2:15, God commands us to dress and keep His creation, giving us more specific direction in this obligation. To dress and keep means we are to beautify, enhance, embellish, and improve the raw product, along with maintaining it and inhibiting its decay and degeneration. In Genesis 4:7, God admonishes Cain—and us in principle—that a desire to go contrary to God's desires will always be part of this mix. Sin lies at the door, He warns, but we must master it. In essence, we must stir up the spirit in us to discipline ourselves. In combining these major principles, we can see that God means our major areas of operation in His purpose are those closest to us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Five)
2 Corinthians 6:16-18
This principle clearly covers the care of our bodies. In an overall sense, our stewardship is not merely to labor not to destroy the established relationship but to improve it. Good health is extremely valuable. Even though one can overcome poor health in one's vanity, of greater importance is that good health promotes the strengthening of the relationship. This is so because it is bound within the sanctification process. It is tied directly to growing, overcoming, purifying one's life, avoiding the pitfalls of life, living the abundant life, as well as to our witness before the world in glorifying God.
We can undertake a great deal of serious effort in keeping ourselves from committing sins like idolatry, fornication, adultery, lying, or stealing, while virtually ignoring the physical care of the body itself. Oftentimes, we do this by being ignorant of the responsibility or foolishly thinking that maintaining or improving our health is of little concern. The younger among us may find it helpful to ask someone older—one whose health is deteriorating or who has had to deal with poor health much of his life—how important having good health throughout life is. In no way should this reduce our efforts to overcome spiritual weaknesses, but it should encourage us to add another area of overcoming that will glorify God.
Genesis 2:15 says, "Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend [dress, KJV] and keep it." Dressing and keeping is an overall responsibility for everyone in what we are to do with life. It applies to life's spiritual and physical aspects. We are to begin where we are and cultivate, embellish, and encourage growth, while at the same time preserving, guarding, and protecting through maintenance from decay and deterioration.
A direct line connects this concept and Jesus' instruction in the Parable of the Unjust Steward. The spiritual level is more important, but God wants faithfulness in the physical level also because both are inextricably bound in yielding to Him in the building of character. Both require study, meditation, and setting goals, as well as consistent, faithful application. We do both to glorify Him.
Unfortunately, some will not do what is necessary for success, perhaps because of ignorance of their responsibility. Others know but lack the character or the sense of responsibility. Some spend their time rationalizing and justifying the way they are or proclaim to themselves and others that they are victims of the system and have no way out. Nevertheless, God is in heaven, and He is the way out.
Eating is a major part of life, as substantiated by the Bible's 700 references to it. The abundant life that Jesus proclaims He wants all to lead hinges upon what we eat spiritually and physically. We must make a major effort to feed our minds and bodies with the best nutrition available, if we desire good spiritual and physical health.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part One)
1 Peter 4:11
In verse 7, Peter tells us to be sober and to watch, for "the end of all things is at hand." In this section on Christian living, the apostle says that the Christian "no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God" (verse 2). In verse 10, he says we must use whatever gift God has given us (see also Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:7) "as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." As an example, he mentions that those speaking (and writing) must do so according to God's oracles-His revelation to man.
The Oracles of God
After essentially calling the members of the church in Sardis the "church of the mostly dead," Jesus Christ instructs them to "be watchful." He complements this with, "strengthen the things which remain," which qualifies the meaning of "watch." There is still a glimmer of life within this church, but the letter gives the impression that they have relaxed in their spiritual responsibilities so much that they are nearly comatose. They have not been vigilant in their core responsibilities or on guard against deception, apathy, or neglect. They have not had sleepless nights over their standing with God.
Interestingly, in the Bible's first mention of the Day of the Lord (Isaiah 2:12), it says that it "shall come upon everything proud and lofty, upon everything lifted up—and it shall be brought low." The primary target is the proud—the self-assured. The ironic thing is that this state of spiritual near-death could easily come about even while they are avidly watching world events. They could be quite adept at following the news reports and may know better than anyone what is really going on in the world and how it fits with prophecy.
But that does not fulfill Christ's and the apostle's commands to watch! It is not that it is wrong to keep tabs on world news, but watching world news is chiefly about observing. True watching emphasizes diligence; it is being alert to spiritual dangers more than physical ones. It is about faithfully carrying out our God-given responsibilities, like a servant in the Master's house. None of that results from simply being a news- or prophecy-addict.
In verse 3, He tells them to call to mind the previous lessons and instructions they have heard. He tells them to repent and to guard and maintain their position so they backslide no further. As before, His description gives little indication of spiritual vibrancy or zeal. There probably is a great deal of activity, since He says that they have a name—or reputation—for being alive. Yet, in the areas that truly matter—like growth, faith, seeking God, and overcoming—not much is happening.
He also warns them that, if they will not watch themselves and their covenant responsibilities to their Master, He will come upon them like a thief. He implies that they will not be counted worthy to escape. They may not be appointed to wrath as the world is, but they certainly are not immune to it. In fact, they stand a good chance of experiencing some of it, having not been vigilant and alert in watching over the things that God has given them.
Plainly, Christ will return when we do not expect Him. We may be able to observe some general indicators when key prophecies are fulfilled, but the overall timing will be a mystery. His coming will be like a thief in the night, purposefully hidden from all. Rather than trying to discern the timing, we are instructed to "watch"—not world events, but to watch over all that God has given to us, so that when that Day arrives, we are ready. He knows that if we are faithful in little—in the mundane, the monotonous, the unexciting—we will also be faithful in the truly great things that lie ahead.
David C. Grabbe
'As a Thief in the Night'
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