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Bible verses about Self Centeredness
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Worldliness: "the love of beauty—that which one finds attractive, appealing, or desirable—without a corresponding love of righteousness." The product of worldliness is that, rather than "tend and keep" as he was commanded by God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15), man will "use and abuse." Undoubtedly, Eden was gorgeous, the best and most magnificent environment anyone on earth has ever lived in. What did Adam and Eve do? They used and abused it until God was forced to banish them from it, placing cherubim with flaming swords to guard against their return (Genesis 3:24).

The general record of mankind is that wherever he has put his hand, man has not beautified but used and abused the earth. God is more concerned about man's spiritual beautification than He is about the physical earth, but He warns very clearly in Revelation 11:18 that He will "destroy those who destroy the earth." Man does not have the right concept of beauty. He has the wrong standards and ideals because Babylon impressed itself upon him. He uses and abuses virtually everything, and the results show everywhere on earth. This approach to life manifests Babylon's way and illustrates why God commands His people to come out of it.

God is most concerned about how we act toward other people, how we work within our relationships with our mates, our neighbors, and above all, our God. Do we use and abuse our relationships with God and other people? Do we do everything in our power to dress and keep? Do we have a love of beauty along with a love of righteousness? Although righteousness is indeed the keeping of God's commandments, God requires more of us in our lives. Unless we love the beauty of holiness, we will never become holy as God is holy (I Peter 1:13-16). The love of beauty must be encased in a love of righteousness.

The way of the world is 180 degrees removed from the love of beauty and righteousness. In I John 2, the apostle addresses this way of the world within the subject of love. Though keeping the commandments defines love, it includes a great deal more than that. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . ." (John 3:16). Jesus did not avoid suffering because suffering is an act of love. He loved beauty and righteousness so much that He was willing to follow the commands of God right to the cross. Beauty sustained Him, the beauty of holiness, the beauty of helping multitudes of sons and daughters to inherit the Kingdom of God.

Babylon would not do that. Those impressed by the way of Babylon will love beauty as much as we do, but they will not mix it with a love of righteousness. They will not "tend and keep" fellow man and God. The ever-repeating result is warfare on the field of battle, in the family, in the workplace, in society.

The reason for the state of this evil world is the lack of the love of beauty and the love of righteousness. It is simply a lack of the love of God. The love of God is a choice that is open to all Christians. If one does not choose to love, the only alternative is selfishness—self-concern. A selfish person will abuse. That is the worldly system. Worldliness is nothing more than self-centeredness. An individual chooses to be self-centered or show outgoing love—to be worldly or godly.

Laodiceanism is the most subtle form of self-centeredness or worldliness. It is so subtle that it escapes the detection of those who should be most able to see it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

The Pharisees substituted their ideas of how life should be lived in place of what God considers "weightier matters." They had perverted judgment by concentrating on self. My money, my house, my reputation, my power, my morals became their religion. Someone else's money, house, or reputation was only important to them as it affected their own standing. It was truly a "me" generation.

Staff
The Weightier Matters (Part 3): Mercy


 

The church did not literally go to sleep, but it was asleep spiritually. Here is what "sleep" indicates metaphorically: When we are asleep, what are we paying attention to? Nothing. If we are in a sound sleep, our minds are "dead to the world." We are not aware of anything that is going on, even of the passage of time.

We may have a dream or two, but that does not count. Usually, we pay such little attention when we wake up in the morning that we fail to remember what we dreamed, unless it is especially vivid. Still, the idea is this: that sleep indicates insensitivity to responsibility. If we were awake, we would pay attention to our responsibilities. We would do our work around the house or go earn our money at the office. But if we are asleep, we are insensitive to what is happening.

That is what occurred to the church. It was not literally asleep, but it became insensitive to its relationship with Jesus Christ. It became insensitive to its spiritual responsibilities. This do not mean that church members were out freely breaking the laws of God, but the relationship was still nonetheless deteriorating because of that lack of attention.

Another aspect of this is also very important: As the pressure increases from this world, it brings stress with it. From studying people closely, psychologists know that those who face frequent, stressful hardship become apathetic. In other words, a person reaches the point where finally he just rolls over, plays dead, and says, "Who cares?"

With that in mind, it is no wonder that Jesus says in Matthew 24:13, "He that endures to the end, the same will be saved." The end time will be stressful, whether or not we are being directly affected physically. The spirit of the age, the zeitgeist, will impact upon our minds, and it will tend to make us feel tired, weary of the whole thing, wishing that God would hurry up and get it over with.

That is, of course, understandable. It also helps us to understand why the Bible says some of the things it does regarding the church at the end time. A large portion of the church will be lulled into worldliness through being more concerned with ordinary, self-centered, secular pursuits than with the spiritual work of God. Jesus' warning in Luke 21:34-36—"take heed to yourselves" and "watch . . . and pray always"—is absolutely essential.


 

Genesis 2:18

Perhaps verse 18 could be rephrased as, "It is not good that man be independent." Our God establishes principles and patterns in His Word from which we can extract wisdom, the practical application of truth. Some of the most basic and fundamental patterns for His purpose are established very early in Genesis.

What is He showing here? That, in relation to God's purpose, the most and the best will not be produced in us if we are alone. If we are independent, we remove ourselves from the circumstances that will produce the most toward His purpose. In this specific context, God is not commanding everyone to marry, but He is clearly showing that marriage is better than remaining single.

Everyone understands from his own experiences that the more people who comprise a unit or community, the greater the number and intensity of problems. This occurs largely because our carnality drives us to compete rather than cooperate. Sometimes a person desires so strongly to be independent of this kind of community relationship that he separates himself in order to be completely free from the suspicions, distrust, offenses, and other hardships that occur within a group. To put it another way, it is very similar to a soldier running away from the battlefield to protect himself.

In its rawest form, it is selfishness and self-interest. It can be a self-serving avoidance of being useful, of contributing steadfast strength and encouragement, of being a right example to others or of being found wrong and corrected. If nothing else, we are detaching ourselves from the unit to which God intends we show allegiance and give service.

John W. Ritenbaugh
In the Grip of Distrust


 

Genesis 2:18

How can a person, independent from consistent fellowship with the body of Christ, the church, still be a part of it? A person thinking this way is sliding away from God's intention, as His Word clearly shows. He fully intends we be active members of a physical body as well as the spiritual organism. Is the church only a spiritual organism? If the spiritual organism is the only important aspect, why even have congregations? Could congregations play a major role in preparing us for God's Kingdom?

Let's look at this from another angle. God intends mankind to be an active and contributing part of a physical community. "And the LORD God said, 'It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.' . . . Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:18, 24).

Perhaps verse 18 could be rephrased as, "It is not good that man be independent." Our God establishes principles and patterns in His Word from which we can extract wisdom, the practical application of truth. Some of the most basic and fundamental patterns for His purpose are established very early in Genesis.

What is He showing here? That, in relation to God's purpose, the most and the best will not be produced in us if we are alone. If we are independent, we remove ourselves from the circumstances that will produce the most toward His purpose. In this specific context, God is not commanding everyone to marry, but He is clearly showing that marriage is generally better than remaining single.

Everyone understands from his own experiences that the more people who comprise a unit or community, the greater the number and intensity of problems. This occurs largely because our carnality drives us to compete rather than cooperate. Sometimes a person desires so strongly to be independent of this kind of community relationship that he separates himself in order to be completely free from the suspicions, distrust, offenses, and other hardships that occur within a group. To put it another way, it is similar to a soldier running away from the battlefield to protect himself.

In its rawest form, it is selfishness and self-interest. It can be self-serving avoidance of being useful, of contributing steadfast strength and encouragement, of being a right example to others, or of being found wrong and corrected. If nothing else, we are detaching ourselves from the unit to which God intends we show allegiance and service.

John W. Ritenbaugh
For the Perfecting of the Saints


 

Genesis 3:1-5

The word “shrewd” more closely captures Satan's character than "cunning." Shrewd means “sharp and clever in a selfish way.” Though “cunning” is not incorrect, “shrewd” has clearer connotation.

To be cunning and shrewd like Satan indicates malevolent brilliance—with the emphasis on malevolent. He is seeking to kill. His cunning is like that of a tiger, silently padding through the jungle with eyes malevolently seeking something to kill and eat.

Consider how clever his tactic was. He subtly made a suggestion rather than an argument to discredit God's authority, casting doubt about God's credibility. Satan asked, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?'"

Through the tone and inflection of his voice, Satan implied that there was doubt that God told them the truth. This is shown by the way Eve replied; she corrected him. She knew from the inflection of his voice that he was really asking a question and casting doubt. When she replied, she over-corrected.

Like a good salesman, the serpent got his victim to agree with him, getting the victim to say “Yes, yes, yes,” and then, "I'll buy it!" Eve was already influenced when she gave her reply because she over-corrected.

Satan successfully magnified God's strictness in her mind, reminding her that the way is narrow. She began to agree with him, thinking about God in terms the serpent wanted her to think. She began to agree, saying “Yes, yes, yes” to the salesman's ploys.

Satan immediately minimized the penalty, saying an outright lie, "You shall not die" (3:4). Then to clinch the sale, he offers her a reward: "You shall be like God" (3:5). What a price she paid! Satan offered a reward that must have seemed so big to Adam and Eve that they could not afford to reject it. What he offered was enough to reorient their lives.

They did not catch the complete significance of what he offered, but enough to know it was big. He offered the self to become the dominating focus of life; "You shall be God." He completely reoriented their lives by turning their focus away from obedience to God toward obedience to the self. He gave them the right to choose and to set the standards of right and wrong. They bought it hook, line, and sinker.

From that point on, mankind has viewed God as a rival and competitor rather than a friend—Someone with whom to compete and outwit rather than cooperate, for they were now gods too!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 2)


 

Genesis 4:1-15

In the well-known story of Cain and Abel, the first man born on the earth also becomes the first murderer. A few points in this account are significant:

  • Cain killed Abel after a quarrel over a sacrifice to God. Cain brought a sacrifice, but God would not accept it because it did not meet His standards. While Abel's offering showed his complete submission to God, Cain's hints at grudging worship of God - and that done in his own way.
  • Becoming angry and sullen over his rejection, he quarreled with and killed his brother. Then, he lied to God's face! He had no fear of God or the consequences of sin.
  • Cain's retort to God's inquiry as to Abel's whereabouts is also significant: "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain's attitude of indifference toward his fellow man greatly influenced later generations.
  • Coupled with his entirely selfish attitude, Cain tried to take advantage even of God's curse upon him. Using a "woe is me" ploy, he "convinced" God to guard his life from anyone avenging Abel's murder.

The way of Cain - idolatry, murder, deceit, selfishness, hypocrisy - saturated Pre-Flood society to the point that God, seeing the wickedness of man, regretted He had even created humanity (Genesis 6:5-7).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'As It Was In the Days of Noah'


 

Genesis 25:29-34

How did Esau come to be of a mind that he could sell his birthright so easily? Can we follow the same path but in a spiritual sense? What must we do to cherish rather than despise our far more glorious inheritance?

What Esau despised was no small thing. Even if we disregard the earlier promises given to Abraham and Isaac of descendants as numerous as the sand of the seashore, the Promised Land of Canaan, royal dynasties, and the gates of their enemies, Esau stood to inherit a literal fortune. As we have learned over the years, the birthright contained a two-fold promise: physical promises and spiritual promises. We can see this in summary in Genesis 12:1-3:

Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

What a wonderful inheritance for Abraham's descendants! God promises a national homeland, national greatness (power and prosperity), and national prestige. Abraham's descendants would ultimately be a force for good on the planet, especially because from Israel would come the Messiah.

If we consider just what Esau would inherit when Isaac died, it still was quite a huge amount of wealth. In Genesis 24:35, Abraham's servant says to Rebekah's family, "The LORD has blessed my master greatly, and he has become great; and He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys." Just a chapter later, Moses records, "And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac," except for "gifts" that he bestowed on his other sons by his concubines (Genesis 25:5-6).

The birthright was customarily passed down from father to eldest son. Being Isaac's eldest son (verse 25), Esau would have stood to gain quite a lot, at least in the way of wealth. A bowl of lentils hardly compares to "flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys"! How could he have despised his awesome inheritance so easily?

What was Esau's problem? He did not treasure his inheritance! Jesus tells us in His Sermon on the Mount, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). People usually only sell something when they value something else more. Esau did not place a high-enough value on the birthright, so he sold it for a pittance.

Staff
What Is Your Lentil Soup?


 

Numbers 11:4-6

A number of quite serious sins are exposed in this particular issue, perhaps the most serious being their lack of faith in God's providence. This sin is driven by an arrogant self-concern that forgets that God is working out a purpose and plan in us and overseeing everything in our lives. He bought and paid for us with Christ's sacrifice, and we vowed to submit to His authority when we gave Him our lives. What He provides to those of faith within that purpose is more than fair. In fact, it is usually quite generous.

He promises to supply the faithful with their every need, but in Israel's fearful and fickle discontentment, they did not seek Him to understand what He was doing. Instead, they sought something different from what He was providing in terms of experiences within the relationship. This drive for fulfillment in variety remains within the Israelitish people.

Though the emphasis under the New Covenant has shifted to the spiritual, God shows us in numerous ways that His desire is for His children to be unified in one system—His. The manna provided under the Old Covenant represents God's desire that we are to be strengthened in His way only through His Word.

Uniformity with His way is illustrated in several ways in the Old Testament. For example, the priests could use coals only from one particular fire for the incense offering. They had to be uniform in the clothing they wore when officiating at the one altar God permitted in only one place in Israel. In addition, Israel was allowed only one festival site, Jerusalem.

Consider how God concludes His instructions in Deuteronomy 12, which limited Israel's sacrifices to Him to one location:

When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, "How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise." You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. (verses 29-32)

This instruction is specifically aimed to stifle Israel's proclivity to look into foreign religions. The lesson is "curiosity killed the cat"! Deuteronomy 23:6 adds concerning the heathen, "You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all your days forever." In Ezra 9:12, where this also appears, God tells them to keep themselves so separated that they were never to make any kind of alliance with neighboring peoples!

As the Bible shows, Israel did not heed God's counsel. In stubbornness, she sought fulfillment in variety and became a great whore.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Six): The Woman's Character


 

Numbers 22:18

God continuously warns Balaam, "Do not go beyond what I tell you to do," and every time, Balaam tries to anyway. He fights God at every turn because He wants his own way. He wants the gold, the honor, and the reputation he would have by cursing Israel (who had defeated mighty Egypt and most of the nations they came in contact with). The true God was the "game in town," and if Balaam beat Him, he would be on the top of the pile. This is Balaam's plan; he was "working his magic," trying to move himself into first position among diviners.

This brings out his major flaw, one that many in the world also have. He believed that the end justifies the means. He was willing to set aside principle (if he had any) to achieve his goals. He functioned by self-interest rather than by belief or standards. His standard was "anything that is good for Balaam," which is self-righteousness and self-interest. These were the principles by which he felt he could live a successful life. He did not base them on anything godly or even ethical but strictly on human reason.

He was willing to do anything to get his way. By putting together different parts of the Bible on him, Balaam comes out smelling like manure, not roses.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

Numbers 22:28-30

It is incredible that Balaam even replies to the donkey. If an animal spoke to one of us, would we respond? Perhaps he thought, "Well, I've talked to her enough. She was bound to answer me sometime." This is obviously a miracle—there is only one other place in the Bible (Genesis 3, the serpent to Eve) where an animal speaks—yet Balaam acts as if it happens to him every day! The donkey asks him questions, and he answers!

Balaam is totally, spiritually out of it. He has no thought for God or for spiritual things. He is so self-possessed, so full of self-interest that he cannot think beyond the end of his nose! All he is thinking about is, "What am I going to do when I get to Balak? He's going to pile all this money on me! How am I going to set up the sacrifices? What am I going to do? How am I going to say this? I know God will let me do it because I'm just a wonderful negotiator, and that's just the way it is. All the other gods have done exactly as I've bargained, so I think. . . ." As he travels, he talks to himself like this, thinking only about the wonderful job and the wealth he has ahead of him. He is heedless to anything else.

When these amazing things happen, they fail to faze him. They fail to make him wonder what is going on. He does not even ask why the donkey was treating him in a way she had never had before. She was totally out of character! She speaks, and he answers! It illustrates the depth of his spiritual blindness. He could not see God if He had bit him!

In today's lingo, we would call Balaam totally materialistic. Everything was based on what he could see, feel, hear, smell, and taste. He could not understand beyond that.

He was involved in spiritism, with augury, enchanting, and such, but there is nothing spiritual about him. He had no depth. And this made him thoroughly evil. He bore a nice façade that made him look spiritual, but in reality, there was nothing there. The donkey was more truly spiritual than he was!

He may have had some spiritual knowledge, but it did not work in him properly because he never put it into practice. He may have known about Israel, about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, perhaps even of some of God's instructions to Israel. He certainly knew God was, in all His power and sovereignty, working for them. But none of this knowledge that he may have had did him any good. He even talked to God, and God talked back to him! God was doing all these things in his life, and he was thoroughly blind to all of it.

The incredible thing here is that Balaam acted as if these things happened to him every day. But they did not! These were once-in-a-lifetime events, but he was so self-centered that he shrugged them off, ignoring them as if they did not matter. Here was the great sovereign God saying, "Wake up, Balaam! I'm here! Can't you see Me? Can't you see Me working?" But Balaam is blind to the true reality of Him. The "seer" can see nothing because he is so stuck on the here and now, on what he has in his hand and in his pocket.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

Job 20:5

Carnal joy is temporary because it is based in self-centeredness. By the lifestyles of the average, unconverted person, we can easily see that they live their lives according to the saying, "Ignorance is bliss!" But God tells His people not to rejoice like the world. It is better to have sorrow in humility than joy in pride.

Martin G. Collins
Joy


 

Psalm 10:4

This is of major concern because the first commandment is the most important. A proper understanding of—and thus obedience to—the other nine depends largely on this one.

This does not mean "the wicked" never thinks of God. He may even "belong" to a church and attend fairly regularly. He is not an atheist, but he does not fear God. He has no regard for Him and may in fact purposefully avoid Him. This person has conveniently chosen to live without God except to meet society's conventions. He is effectively worshipping himself.

This nation has more and more frequently been led by men and women answering to this description. They have been largely responsible for impressing their concepts upon society, which has been swept along in absorbing their ideas. People may still frequently talk about God, but He is not feared and obeyed. Idolatry is doing its damage, and reaping of the whirlwind is not far off.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment (1997)


 

Psalm 10:4

Pride resists God rather than seeking Him. How, then, can one be with God without seeking Him? It is an impossibility. This lays bare the central issue here.

An alternative translation of the last phrase is: "All his thoughts are that there is no God." This is interesting within the context because it begs the question: What does a person who is not mindful of God think about? What can he think about? He can only think about himself and those who are close or important to him?say, those who are part of his family. Nevertheless, they are not God. The person can see who they are and what they do. He looks around him and all that has been accomplished. His proud thoughts are of the greatness of man because he perceives that man has accomplished all of this, not God. In the minds of those who believe man is so great, considering all of his vaunted achievements, there is room for none greater, because that person cannot see anything greater.

We can see in this why God has such a strong issue with pride: because pride generates self-sufficiency, and self-sufficient people will not seek what they do not think they need and therefore do not want. They think they are all right the way they are. Pride blinds people to their needs. Of course, this is not realistic.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Pride, Humility, and Fasting


 

Psalm 133:1

Godly unity produces joy because it overcomes the sorrow of self-seeking and fulfills the true love of outgoing concern for others. Joy through unity comes when God's people have all things in common—the same beliefs and desires working toward a common goal.

Martin G. Collins
Joy


 

Ecclesiastes 7:15-18

We need to be as clear as we can be about what Solomon's paradoxical situation has the potential to produce in a person's life if it goes unrecognized and is allowed full freedom to take over and produce its fruits without resistance. The following is a worst-case scenario. Not everybody will end up this badly, but the potential exists, which is why God gives the warnings about its dangers. It tends to focus the individual entirely upon himself.

Paul writes in Acts 26:4-5:

My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.

The key phrase for our purposes here is “the strictest sect of our religion.” The history of the Pharisees shows that they had thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors that would fit well under the definition of super-righteousness. In fact, they established and built the Pharisees into what they were at the time of Christ.

Super-righteousness is a beginning step into Pharisaism, and we know well the relationship Jesus had with them, those who “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” Is it wisdom to become like the Pharisees, who, because they thought God was not strict enough, added their traditions to His laws?

The foul fruit of super-righteousness is pride, and that is why Solomon cautions us so strongly in Ecclesiastes 7. Pride destroys relationships, whether with God or man, because the proud person demands attention and submission that can never be satisfied. It is the height of self-centeredness. They are demanding, display various degrees of narcissism, and tend to be standoffish, considering themselves to be better than others.

In the case of the Pharisees, their narcissism drove them to their absolute failure: not to recognize God in the flesh through His teachings. Instead, they, like Satan, actively attacked Him and succeeded in manipulating political and religious pressures to the extent that they, with the help of the Romans and Sadducees, put Him to death.

Jesus' famous castigation of them in Matthew 23 reveals many of their characteristics: They made things hard on others but would not bend to help; they showboated their good works; they expected to be catered to, not to serve; they desired public praise; they loved to receive titles; they looked down on others as inferiors; they taught false doctrines; they heaped greater difficulties on those who already needed help; their sense of judgment was completely skewed; they pursued tiny points of law with great zeal while overlooking truly important things; they were outright hypocrites; they loved to say, “If I were in that position, I would never have done that”; and they were clever deceivers.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Twelve): Paradox, Conclusion


 

Isaiah 2:6-12

The same principle appears everywhere in the Bible: Pride has its roots in a feeling of wealth or accomplishment. "Wealth" does not necessarily mean money, although that is included. Remember Hillil and his intelligence, beauty, and power. But there are other things like position, skill, natural ability, social status, knowledge, strength - even hair, clothing, a house, or an automobile. The list of things that can motivate this elevated feeling is virtually endless.

In the New Testament, pride is in the Greek, huperephanos, which means "to show oneself above." It does not imply one that others look up to, but one who stands on his own self-created pedestal. Psychologists tell us that pride is actually a mark of inner inferiority and uncertainty, and such people compensate by over-emphasizing and flaunting the qualities they think they possess that will cause others to think well of them.

This feeling of wealth or strength in a given area is highly relative because each person can set his own standard of comparison, regardless of his real accomplishments. Like the sluggard who in his conceit is wiser than seven men to render a reason (Proverbs 26:16), we are able to promote ourselves in areas that we think we are good in.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 6)


 

Isaiah 3:1-5

The issue in this context concerns adults in positions of authority, but these adults never truly matured. When dishonoring parents is taken to an extreme, it produces an anarchy that will reach out to infect the community as well. "Anarchy" describes an absence of government; it defines general disorder, a time when each person does what is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).

Those trained in the home to dishonor parents will resist authority on every front, whether civic authorities, supervisors on the job, teachers in school, or coaches of a team. Self-centeredness stands at the foundation of this action. Those so created will pay little attention to honoring community standards because they do not respect them. Thus, they will not discipline themselves to submit to them. They always think that they know what is best for them—and for everybody else too. They will follow whatever impulse drives them, regardless of how it affects others.

This rebellious liberalism first produces an irritated grumbling in others, but it can soon build into general disorder and confusion. Ultimately, if unchecked, chaos results. In due course, a whole culture's energies are expended merely to survive, effectively destroying the development of spiritual, creative, and intellectual qualities essential to an individual's and to society's well-being. This is the very path America is following.

Immaturity is a direct result of not honoring parents. People of this mindset have a hard time cooperating because their minds are filled with insecurities, they feel they are being taken advantage of, or they feel driven to compete in everything. As they age, they feel put upon, and thus become quite defensive. Because such children are not made to respect their parents' advice, they grow up not understanding what truly works, so they lack wisdom. This failure reveals itself in self-will and self-indulgence that can be taken to the point of sheer rebellion. It condemns children to learning the lessons of life through the hard, harsh experiences of personal warfare.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment


 

Isaiah 3:4

In his day Isaiah prophesied of a worrisome circumstance that would befall Judah. This prophecy certainly seems as if it is being fulfilled in the United States and Canada today: "I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them" (Isaiah 3:4). He means that their leaders would be people of immature minds, people without wisdom, self-centered, concerned mostly with "looking good" and being acceptable to the right people. Furthermore, these leaders would not really be concerned with principles or long-range effects of policies and decisions but very willing to pass on to the next generation the problems their policies create. When God gave this prophecy to Isaiah, He had more than governmental leaders in mind. The same types of people are influential in business, education, religion, the professions, and science.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Scourge of AIDS and the Sacrifice of Christ


 

Isaiah 14:12-15

Probably all of us have thought that we know better than those in charge. Watch out! Thinking like this is not wrong in itself, but it is something that lodged itself in Lucifer's mind: "I know better than the one in charge," and in this case, it was God.

We can begin to see how his pride was beginning to exalt itself against God. It was moving to break the relationship between them. It was coming between Lucifer and God so that their relationship could not continue. Lucifer could not continue to serve God.

Most have felt that we have been overlooked, neglected, or abused. Most of us have felt rejected a time or two. Of and by themselves, these feelings are not wrong. But, again, we must beware, because these feelings can begin to generate pride. Such a thing fed Lucifer's feelings about himself. They simmered in him and made him angry, and he desired to assert his will to control the governance of all that was happening. "I will ascend to heaven," he said, and he tried to. We see the pattern here; we can see the process involved from beginning to end.

It ends in warfare against God, which is why a person of pride cannot have a good relationship with Him. A proud person cannot have faith in God, at least not very much. A small amount of faith can be there, but pride will definitely be a hindrance. This is why the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18:9-14 follows immediately after of the Parable of the Importunate Widow (Luke 18:1-8), which Jesus ends with, "When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on earth?"—because humility is essential to faith.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 6)


 

Isaiah 14:13

Biblically, God's throne is in the north—way in the north of heaven. What Lucifer or Hillel had decided to do (he was already in the attitude of Satan) was to exalt himself and his throne by attacking God and supplanting Him.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Countering Presumptuousness


 

Jeremiah 7:4-12

We can learn a great deal from the prophets' descriptions of conditions in Israel in the years just before God scattered them. Jeremiah 7 contains an especially vivid description, describing attitudes and conduct just before Babylon's invasion of Judah. Anybody who cares and diligently searches for the causes of our present scattered condition can easily find many of them.

Verse 4 reveals a casual, self-righteous, and presumptuous self-confidence that, since they were fellowshipping with the "church," everything would be fine! Nevertheless, the enemy conquered Judah and took the people into captivity, so membership in the church is no guarantee that judgment will not come on us individually or collectively. Jeremiah expresses the Jews' prideful assumption of being above correction, an attitude that has its basis in a confused understanding of God's love and the purity of His holiness.

We must be prepared for God's Kingdom. The attitudes and conduct of these people, expressed here but applied to us now, show that we were not living up to God's expectations. We can learn, though, that fellowshipping with the church without the right attitudes and conduct can easily foster a delusion that all is well, while by God's judgment all clearly is not well! Verses 5-6 illustrate that their judgment of how to apply God's Word in their lives was severely compromised. They definitely did not love their neighbor as themselves; they were unmistakably self-centered. Is there more evidence here that we may have been the same?

Verse 10 expresses the extent this delusion had permeated their lives. By ignoring God's moral and ethical demands, they were in effect telling God that attending services released them from the guilt accrued during the rest of their lives. It was as if God's judgments did not apply to them. They were after all "in the church," right? It reads almost as if they felt they were doing God a favor by showing up! What is more, while there, they heard insipid messages telling them, "Peace, peace. Everything is okay. God's grace covers all."

Though ceremonially going through the motions, they lacked thorough dedication and devotion to God's way in every aspect of life. Beginning in verse 12, God reminds them that they should remember the history of former generations and take warning because they are on track to experience the same calamities. Have we in our time repeated their assumptions that everything is fine when it is not? It seems so, since the Laodicean assumes he is rich and increased with goods and needs nothing. The reality is that he is blind to his true condition and not clothed with God's righteousness.

God has called us into a courtship relationship leading to marriage with Jesus Christ. He makes clear what He expects from us as our part in this relationship. Jesus says to His disciples, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). A love relationship requires each to sacrifice thoughtfully for the other. Keeping of the commandments does not "save" us, but it prepares us to live eternally with Him and shows our attitude of submission to Him.

Jeremiah 7:5-9 plainly portrays precious little concern for fellow man. In fact, most of the sins Jeremiah directly mentions are transgressions of the last five commandments. Only one sin, idolatry, focuses directly on the first four commandments. This suggests that a breakdown in human relationships quickly followed the disintegration of the relationship between God and Israel. Similarly, I John 4:20-21 calls upon those who say they love God and claim to be Christians to love the brethren. John goes so far as to say that, if we do not love the brethren, our claim to love God is a lie! This is another area in which many fell short, and it led to division, which continues to the present.

This indicates that self-absorbed people indulged themselves at others' expense. Self-absorption produces strained marital relationships (and ultimately divorce) and alienated children as they and their parents go in wildly different directions. Within congregations, it yields shallow and casual relationships that show little true concern. Its fruit are intolerance, impatience, strong opinions about trivial things, offense, harsh judging, and division.

It produces busy people who feel as if they are accomplishing a great deal because they seem to get many things done. The church member may even prosper more than at any other time in his life. However, the busy-ness is spent on things of minor spiritual importance. Meanwhile, the relationship with God, while existent, is allowed to be neglected. That is what Laodiceanism is. People bring it in from the world where God is a figurehead but with whom there is no relationship. It is a deceitful fruit of too much time, attention, and energy focused on the wrong things. Laodiceanism is deceitful because the Bible reveals that the person afflicted with it is unaware that he has it. He is blind to it, but God certainly is not because He is being neglected in this relationship. How can He possibly marry someone who will not draw close to Him because of involvement in so many other things?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Seven)


 

Jeremiah 17:9

A person breaks the second commandment when he exalts himself against God by trusting in his own or another's reasoning and lives that way rather than the way God ordained and commanded. Too often, the heart is easily led to satisfy its own desires rather than follow revealed knowledge. But God faithfully searches and tests our hearts to rid us of all idolatries so we will follow His way as closely as possible.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Second Commandment (1997)


 

Jeremiah 17:9

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)


 

Jeremiah 31:7-9

As these people come out of their captivity, they will have turned to God, a necessary and wonderful first step. They will have a frame of mind—renouncing self-will—where they can begin to be worked with. But this will not magically blow away their character and psychological problems. Even in our own lives since conversion, God has had to bring us face-to-face with weaknesses of character and attitude that we must overcome.

Think of the horrors these people will have witnessed: wholesale murder in death camps, perhaps the cold-blooded butchering of their children and other loved ones. They may have lived as slaves in great degradation, having no choices, separated from loved ones, always wondering what happened to them, fearful that they will never eat another meal, and always facing the betrayal of others seeking favor and trying to survive. What will these experiences have done to their minds? Because of the need to survive, such circumstances can cause a person to become wholly self-centered.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Preparing to Rule!


 

Amos 2:6-8

The Israelites' immorality fell into three major areas:

1) Indifference to and oppression of the poor.
2) Covetousness displayed by placing primary importance on material possessions.
3) Unrestricted promotion of self-advantage—doing anything to anyone to get their way.

The Hebrew words for poor are very similar to our "underdog." Amos uses two different words, 'ebyôn and dal, to designate the poor (see Amos 4:1). 'Ebyôn usually designates the very poor, and dal describes the lowest social class. However, both words connote "wanting because of oppression or exploitation" and refer to the weaker members of society. To God the poor are those without the worldly resources or connections to defend themselves. As a result of their weakness, the wicked look upon the poor as fair game to exploit (Isaiah 10:1-2). Today, "poor" could refer to the small businessman or consumer at the mercy of the huge corporations, or the "little guy" under the thumb of "big" government.

One of the means of oppression was the courts, and Amos frequently shows how the poor "took it on the chin" within the "justice" system. In a lawsuit the guilty party, one of the "strong," bribed the judge, who found the innocent person—the weak—guilty (Isaiah 5:23). As so often happens today in America, the ancient Israelites shunned out-of-court settlements. They went to court even over minor matters because their chances for a larger settlement were better.

When a person was found guilty by the court, he, of course, had to pay a fine. If he did not have enough in his pocket to pay it, he could pay in produce. For example, a vintner could pay in wine. The victors then took their winnings—"the wine of the condemned"—and partied (Amos 2:8). They had turned into self-centered parasites who lived by the code, "get the other guy before he gets you." Israelites can be a mercenary, unmerciful lot of people.

Obviously, God was not happy with this system of justice, and it is even worse now. Today's "wine of the condemned" awarded to the injured party—reaching into the millions of dollars—goes mostly for exorbitant lawyer and court fees. Governments of all sizes include expected fines from lawbreakers in their budgets.

In addition, Israelites coveted real estate to the ridiculous extent that the buyer begrudged the small amount of dust the seller threw on his head to symbolize his grief over losing his ancestral properties (Amos 2:7). In a similar vein, God accuses the Jews of moving the boundaries between parcels of land (Hosea 5:10). In those days, instead of driving a stake into the ground to mark their property lines, landowners set up pillars of stones on the boundaries. God pictures the Jews kicking the boundary stones over a few feet when no one is looking. They may have justified it with, "Doesn't everybody do it?" but it was still outright theft.

Because the strong could so easily exploit the weak, land and wealth in Israel fell into fewer and fewer hands. God cries, "Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, till there is no place where they may dwell alone in the midst of the land!" (Isaiah 5:8).

It is no different than today's big international combines buying up farmland and displacing farmers, who must then find jobs, usually in urban areas. How soon we have forgotten that small family farms played a large role in keeping the United States economically and socially stable for generations! America's agrarian heartland was the backbone of the nation. We need to be aware that the resulting instability will lead us down the same path of destruction as it did Israel!

"They lie down by every altar on clothes taken in pledge" (Amos 2:8). Under the Old Covenant, a person's cloak could be taken as security for a loan, but Exodus 22:26-27 shows that it was to be returned every evening if it doubled as his blanket at night. God considers keeping a poor man's coat overnight as taking advantage of him.

Remember, our judgment from God largely depends on how we treat our fellow man (Matthew 25:33-46). Good relationships with others are vital to maintaining a good relationship with God (Matthew 5:23-24). This means we must always do the right things toward others no matter how much it hurts us (Psalm 15:4) or how they might react (Matthew 5:44-45).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)


 

Amos 3:9-11

In Amos 3:9-10, the prophet is told to proclaim the tumults, oppression, violence, and robbery in the nation. The man on the street was not too disturbed at the lack of law and order. He did not seem to realize that this cancerous immorality plaguing the country from within would result in her being crushed and destroyed from without.

However, when the time came to defend Israel from foreign invasion, Israel would have no strength (verse 11). God says, "They have blown the trumpet and made everyone ready, but no one goes to battle" (Ezekiel 7:14). Because the people were so preoccupied with their own self-interests, they did not respond to the external threat of invasion. As a result, the nation fell easily.

In our own generation, we have seen that our adversaries could not conquer us on the battlefield when our general level of morality was high. But as our moral fiber weakened between 1950 and today, they began to destroy us in the business world. Our foes in World War II, in becoming our allies during the Cold War, learned our ways and now rival or outpace us in most economic categories—not only in the area of heavy industry, but in highly technological matters as well.

As our economic power is being sapped by moral cancer, our fighting spirit is being drained too. We are no longer able to present a united front on any matter. In addition, as the United States takes on the role of sole superpower, as our troops are used to enforce United Nations policies, our military strength is exploited and thinned. In our moral and social malaise, we find rousing ourselves to action as a nation gets harder and harder to do. Our allies know we are a weak branch to lean on.

And behind all this is God, who sees our corruption and warns us that the time is near.

"Therefore thus says the Lord God: 'An adversary shall be all around the land; he shall sap your strength from you, and your palaces shall be plundered'" (Amos 3:11). "Therefore" connects the preceding verses with a conclusion or result. Tumult, oppression, violence, and robbery beget weakness and destruction. Sin is inherently self-destructive. It holds out such promise of pleasure and fulfillment, but contains within it the seeds of destruction. Whatever is sown is reaped.

Why does Amos depict Israel as a powerless nation while she was at the height of her economic, political, and military power? The nation's religion was a sham! Morality and righteousness make a nation strong, but immorality and unrighteousness will always bring it to ruin (Proverbs 14:34). Where religion is powerless, government, business, and community become ineffective because their moral undergirding is gone.

"'For they do not know to do right,' says the Lord" (Amos 3:10). Unable to tell the difference between good and evil, Israelites finally reached the point where they called evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). Not only is this in regard to spiritual truths but also to the marketplace. While they no doubt complained about the violence, they could not see that their own selfish ambitions actually produced the violence on the streets.

Evidently, even the religious people never made the connection between the moral and social breakdown in the nation and their own selfish ambitions. They may have been embezzling from their company or overcharging their customers, but they went to church every week! That is why God says He will destroy the religious system too (Amos 3:14).

Cold, calloused, indifferent, the common Israelite just did not care about the other guy. "So what if he suffers while I enrich myself—that's life in the big city, baby!" Whether politician or businessman or religious person, all Israelites, it seems, looked at life this way. It was a view of life almost totally devoid of a social conscience. Their lifestyle glorified amorality. But, most condemning of all, it was a lifestyle diametrically opposite to that revealed by God through Moses.

We, too, need to be careful of this attitude in our own self-absorbed culture. The media even calls the "baby boom" generation the "Me Generation," and a popular magazine found in supermarket checkout lines is boldly titled Self.

Notice the repetition of "palaces" and "houses" in verses 9-11 and 15. God instructs Amos to tell the kings of foreign nations (verse 9) about the Israelites' stockpiling "violence and robbery in their palaces" against themselves (verse 10). To paraphrase, He says, "Look, My people have weakened themselves through sin! They are ripe for destruction!" God empowers the heathen, so they, as His battle-ax, will punish His people. His ultimate aim, of course, is to bring them to repentance.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)


 

Amos 3:13-14

Israel's false religion, represented by the altars of Bethel, is at the root of her problems. The violence and injustice in Israelite society ultimately stemmed from the false teaching proclaimed from the pulpits.

For this reason, God shows that the preacher, not the civil authority, is the most vital part of the community. God set up the Levites within Israel to function as the teachers of His way of life, and He sent the prophets as watchdogs on the Levites and civil leaders. In many cases, when the king or the nation had wandered from the way, the prophets were sent to correct them (e.g., II Samuel 12:1-15; I Kings 18:17-19; II Kings 21:10-15).

At the foundation of every community is a way of life that its people live and teach their children. Does that way of life conform to the God of the Bible, or does it spring from the mind of men? If it is of men, it will not work very long. So it was in Israel. The religion of Israel began with a man, Jeroboam I, who changed the true worship of God (I Kings 12:26-33).

  • He established a feast in the eighth month to replace the true Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh.
  • He may have replaced the Sabbath with Sunday worship.
  • He replaced the Levitical priesthood with men of his own choosing.
  • Lastly, he replaced God with golden calves in Bethel and Dan.

A religion with such a beginning was doomed to fail, bringing the nation down with it.

When religion is ungodly, its power is destructive, and every institution in the nation suffers. For instance, Amos 2:7 describes a deliberate act of ritual prostitution in a pagan temple: "A man and his father go in to the same girl, to defile My holy name." What was the rationale behind this perverse, immoral act?

Because Baal was neither alive nor a moral force, his worshippers felt they could communicate with him only by ritual actions that portrayed what they were asking him to do. Since Baal was, like almost all ancient deities, a fertility god, the human act of intercourse demonstrated that they wanted Baal to prosper them. But what was its real effect on the participants and the nation? Ritual prostitution only served to erode the family, eventually leading to the destruction of the nation.

Baal was different from his adherents merely in that he was above them. God's difference from us is that He is holy; He is moral and we are immoral. After we accept His calling, He commands us to become moral as He is.

The basis of all immorality is selfishness, the exact opposite of what God is. God wants to transform us from people who are bent on pleasing ourselves to people who show concern for others. This is the crux of our salvation through Jesus Christ. In those God calls out—those who, by faith, will voluntarily yield to Him—He is building character based on outgoing love.

Immorality lies in the desire of men to live self-centered lives independent of God, as when Adam and Eve took of the forbidden tree (Genesis 3:1-19). To become moral, we must kill our selfish egos through the use and guidance of God's Holy Spirit. When we see that our thoughts and ways are not His, we should reform and repent. By submitting to Him, we take a small step in being transformed into what He is.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)


 

Amos 4:1-3

"Cows of Bashan" (Amos 4:1-4) is a figure or symbol for the Israelite women in Samaria. Amos implies that these women are the trendsetters and leaders in Israelite society, a course Judah also took before she fell (Isaiah 3:12). Apparently, when nations degenerate, leaders of society, who should be setting the standards, are replaced by women and children (or the immature), who, Isaiah says, "cause [them] to err, and destroy the way of [their] paths."

In the United States, women have traditionally been the guardians of moral standards. In general, women have had high standards, while many men have held double standards. Amos, however, shows that the women of his day had slipped so far that they were "leading the pack" in immorality. And in America, the same is true: Women are becoming just as immoral as men. Between 1990 and 1991, according to the Uniform Crime Reports for the United States, the female crime rate increased 15.2 percent while the male crime rate increased by 17.4 percent.

Apparently, God built safeguards into women to ensure that some measure of right ideals, standards, and practices are passed on to the next generation. This gives a measure of stability to a society. Men, with their mind-set of aggressive ambition and their desire to compete and conquer, tend to focus on achievement, often at the expense of morality and ethics. In general, women are not designed for this role, and when they begin to fill it, a nation is on its way down very rapidly.

Besides this, a growing number of women today pursue full-time career positions for reasons of "fulfillment," personal ambition, and social advancement, diminishing their high calling as wives and mothers. Womanhood, marriage, and homemaking (Titus 2:5) have become subservient to the selfish accumulation of things. Unfortunately, many women have to work these days just to make ends meet. Primarily, Amos is speaking to the selfish, power-hungry, ruthless women we often see portrayed on television and in movies.

Amos impolitely calls them a very demeaning name: a bunch of well-fed cows. Like cows, they are just following the herd. They are content with an animal existence; that is, they are completely carnal in their outlook (Romans 8:5-7). Their concern is only for the beautification, care, and satiation of their own bodies. They live only for themselves, not for God. Isaiah captures their attitude in a word—complacent (Isaiah 32:9-11).

Like their husbands, these cows of Bashan oppress the poor and crush the needy. By demanding more things, they push their husbands to succeed—at the expense of the weak. With the attitude shown in this passage, though, they probably did not care as long as their "needs" were met.

The word translated "fishhooks" (verse 2) is quite obscure in the Hebrew, but it suggests that these lazy women will be ignominiously herded into captivity. Some have suggested it means carried away on the shields of their enemies or pulled on a leash.

In any case, those who formerly lay on the beds of ivory and on plush couches, pandering to themselves, will be led in humiliation through Samaria and into slavery. Isaiah also describes the same scene in Isaiah 3:16-26. Because of their oppression and their haughty self-concern, their riches and beauty will be stripped away, and they will be left with nothing.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)


 

Amos 4:2

"The Lord God has sworn by His holiness" - Although not in the habit of swearing oaths—His Word is sufficient—God sometimes does so to focus on the seriousness of a pronouncement. As the writer of Hebrews says, "For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself" (Hebrews 6:13).

What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?

A simple illustration from the author's experience in visiting a family may help in understanding this point. Parents often show their pride by prominently displaying a photograph of their children, and these parents were no different. In this case, three of the four children bore a strong resemblance to their parents, but the fourth child was so noticeably different that it was obviously either an adopted child or the product of adultery.

God says, "I have children who bear no spiritual resemblance to me." He shows the cause to have been spiritual adultery—going after other gods and other ways of life.

"I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me; the ox knows its owner and the donkey its master's crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider." Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward. (Isaiah 1:2-4)

A dumb ox and donkey show more sense and appreciation to their masters than Israel did to her Father! Instead, she rebelled against Him!

God gave Israel many advantages—His law, His providence, His protection—to allow His people to live His way of life, but they turned their backs on Him and followed the ways of other gods. Paul shows how illogical this is:

For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. (I Corinthians 8:5-6)

Since we have complete dependence upon God for life as our Designer, Lifegiver, and Sustainer, He has complete authority over how we should live. Among the multiple pantheons of gods, only one God lives the way a God ought to live. This particular God—the God of Israel—is holy, that is, He alone is transcendentally different, superior, and separate. He has called His people to be holy (I Peter 1:15-16). It follows that a holy person must be different in the way that God is different.

From God's holiness flows His love—outgoing concern for others, His outstanding attribute. When God looked on Israel, however, He saw a whole nation, from her culture to her government to her religion, organized on the basis of human self-concern. God wanted to see clear evidence of godly living, by which He could verify their claims of being His people. In Israel, He saw no such evidence, but instead a people in opposition to Him in every area of life. Spiritual adultery had occurred.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)


 

Amos 6:4-6

Amos 6:4-6 mentions feasting, indulging in artificial stimulation, listening to unusual music, and taking excessive and vain measures in personal hygiene. The single idea behind these illustrations is that the excesses of powerful Israelites were possible because of their oppression of the weak and poor.

By contrast, verses 9-10 show ten common Israelites huddled together in one house in fear of the war-induced plagues. People will die so rapidly that the survivors, looking out for themselves, will not take the time to bury the bodies of their own families but burn them in huge funeral pyres. These survivors will eventually recognize that God has dissociated Himself from them, and they will consider it an evil thing even to mention His name! How very bitter! And how very far from God!

The people, whether rich and indulgent or poor and deprived, were self-concerned. Throughout chapter six, Amos balances complacency and disaster, boasting and fear, showing that they result from rejecting God and idolizing self. Inevitably, God will send judgment upon Israel.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)


 

Amos 7:10-17

Evidently, Amos' teaching was effective because the people responded - at least it caused a reaction. He was a good strategist; he preached at the shrines where the people were. His influence radiated out as the word spread that a prophet from Judah was proclaiming doom for the nation. The people listened and spoke to each other about his preaching. When Amos accused the religious leaders of Israel of failing to teach God's way of life, Amaziah, a high religious official of the shrine in Bethel, felt he needed to respond.

As we see in Amos' case, a person can obey God and still receive public persecution. God will not protect us from all persecution, partly because it affords an opportunity to witness for and glorify Him. Amos' answer to Amaziah's charges makes this witness and enables him to prophesy further. Additionally, his response instructs us regarding the nature and function of a prophet.

This also shows a clear example of the biblical use of a plumb line, a building tool used to determine if an object is upright (verses 7-9). Does God hold the plumb line against Amaziah or Amos? Actually, He judges both. Amaziah represents the false religions, and Amos represents the true religion. The content of their conversation reveals how God would judge them. Primarily, though, God was evaluating Amos.

We need to apply the plumb line to ourselves. Are we taking the grace of God for granted? Could God be angry with some of us in His true church? Revelation 3:14-22 shows that the Laodiceans are sincere when they assert that they are spiritually complete, but God is ready to vomit them out! Obviously, the Laodiceans are not judging themselves against God's plumb line, or they would have known they were out of alignment with His will.

Because they feel so secure in their own spirituality, they probably think it incredible that God would single them out for punishment. It is clear, however, that God punishes those who forsake their part of the covenant with Him. Revelation 12:17 shows that, on the other hand, Satan persecutes those who keep the commandments of God and live godly lives.

God's religion is more than keeping the basic Ten Commandments. The Pharisees kept them, but our righteousness has to exceed theirs (Matthew 5:20). One difference between Christ and the Pharisees was that Christ's righteousness was positive while the Pharisees' was negative. Though both kept the commandments, the sincere Pharisee was righteous by avoiding sin, but Christ was righteous by always doing good as well.

The problem of the Laodicean is selfishness, self-concern. His opposite, the Philadelphian (which means "brotherly love"), is commended by God for his obedience and for doing good. His religion is outward in practice because he has prepared himself to give and serve through his relationship with God. The Laodicean is too busy gathering his wealth and indulging himself to give much thought to his fellow man.

Like the Laodiceans, the ancient Israelites concentrated on self-advantage, self-pleasing, and covetousness. This resulted in their being very hard on the needy and the poor. They ignored doing good works and serving their brothers. Amaziah apparently felt he needed to speak out and defend "that old-time religion."

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)


 

Amos 8:3

Now that He has announced Israel's imminent calamity, God begins to show how His punishment would alter the lives of the people. Notice the dramatic change of attitude in the people. The songs of His Temple would ordinarily be happy and joyous songs of praise to God, but He will turn the songs of their temple—sung to Baal in the name of the Lord—to wailing, for the numbers of the dead will be unimaginable.

Because of their self-absorption, God's "sudden" punishment will stun the people of the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, and the other nations of modern Israel, including some members of the true church. In their spiritually unaware state, they will be incredulous at God's punishment for "such a little bit of sin." But God has a different perspective; He says they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17).

Because of their self-procured wealth and affluence, they think they are being blessed with material things. They see themselves as following the way of God, but their religion has deceived them by failing to teach them His truth. They think that what they are doing is right, but they are deceived. However, God still holds them responsible because the truth is available. He views them as personally rejecting Him and His Word.

Today, some evangelicals attempt to prepare the people for what is to come, but their teaching is a mixture of right and wrong. Jesus says, "They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch" (Matthew 15:14). In their ignorance, the people do not realize the terrible calamity that is coming soon upon modern Israel. It will be far more terrible than anything ever seen on this earth!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)


 

Amos 8:4-6

To enlarge their coffers, merchants opened their shops for business the minute the Sabbath and holy days passed. They used nonstandard weights and measures to cheat their customers of a few ounces of grain. Some cheated the people to the point that they had to sell themselves into slavery to pay their debts! At the end of the day, the businessman would sweep up the bad wheat berries left on the floor, and sell them to the poor as first-quality wheat when business resumed in the morning!

Their problem lay in their personal attitude toward sin and holiness. God looked at their hearts and saw nothing of His righteousness and holiness. Whenever He finds a lack of these elements in His people, He becomes very concerned. The Israelites manifested their godless attitude in their domineering ways, their penchant to exploit, and their insatiable feeding of their own indulgences. Although God appears to attack mainly the rich and powerful throughout the book, the poor and needy probably had the same attitude but lacked the power to carry it out. Thus, God will punish both "the great house"—the rich—and "the little house"—the poor (Amos 6:11).

Israel's attitude toward the things of God was one of total disrespect and indifference. When Jesus cleansed the Temple (John 2:13-16), one thing that angered Him was how the priests disqualified the peoples' sacrifices without legitimate grounds, forcing them to buy animals far above fair market value. Sincere worshippers would have no choice but to pay fifteen or twenty times the normal price for another sacrificial animal that the priests had already proclaimed acceptable. The Israelites of Amos' day exhibited the same attitudes in their normal business practices.

The sin that underpinned these attitudes is covetousness, causing them to turn everything in life to self-advantage. As in America, competition was the lifeblood of the people, the vitality of the nation, and they felt they had no alternative but to lie, cheat, and steal to keep their "competitive edge." "The end justifies the means" was their motto. God says that they did not have to approach business this way. The nation was very wealthy—there was enough for everyone.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)


 

Zephaniah 1:12

Pictured as holding aloft a lamp as He walks, God searches through the city—Jerusalem, Zion—shining a light to reveal everyone to His judgment. No one escapes the judgment of God. Who is He looking for in particular? He looks for complacent men, like the Laodicean. Just as Hosea uses wine to illustrate the principle (Hosea 4:6, 11-12), Zephaniah also mentions wine though it is obscured in the translation: the words "settled in complacency" are literally "settled on their lees" like the dregs of wine (cf. the footnote on this verse, NKJV)!

Again, the prophet speaks of a prosperous people who had deluded themselves into believing that their physical wealth meant that they were equally rich spiritually. As the years passed, their relationship with God had diminished into lip service and complacency. When God describes them saying things "in their heart," He means a reasoning process that happens internally. A person could not see it with his eyes, but the attitude cannot be hidden from the Judge walking the city with the lamp of truth.

In today's parlance we call their problem "sins of omission." Like the Laodicean, the religious Jew of that day was not on the streets committing horrible crimes like murder or rape or armed robbery. These verses speak about the thousands and thousands of ordinary people who were stagnant and indifferent toward their relationship with God. Their problem was not what they did, but what they did not do.

Nor does God accuse the Laodicean of the more apparent sins in Revelation 3. He is angry with him because of what he is not doing! He is not a true and faithful witness, and indeed cannot be, because of his poor judgment in prioritizing his life. In focusing on his selfish pursuits and self-centeredness, he leaves God almost completely out of his life. Still, he bears the name of God, attends Sabbath services, and at least in a superficial way, worships God on the Sabbath. Yet the relationship is growing cold as he fails to seek Him earnestly as in courtship.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Matthew 4:8-9

Satan's power is over all the nations of the earth. That could be very frightening when we realize he can influence men in such a way that they are not even aware that they are being influenced toward evil. His power is so extensive that he is over all the nations of the earth. Jesus calls him the ruler of this world (John 14:30). He affects people's attitudes by moving our reasoning processes toward satisfaction of the self. He gives disinformation and stirs up our spirit.

Here is what is so perverse about this: It is not evil for one to take care of himself. What is evil is to make the satisfaction of the self more important than God or others. We are to serve God before all else (the great commandment), and the second is like it—we are on an equal par with others physically. Nowhere are we given the right or privilege by God to make ourselves greater than or more important than God or other human beings.

We can imagine the direction Satan is going to move us toward—to the point that satisfaction of the self becomes more important than conforming to what God says is the limit of our authority. In other words, he will push us toward making ourselves greater or more important than righteousness or truth.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 3)


 

Matthew 5:7

English language dictionaries are of limited help in understanding this mercy's biblical usage. In English "mercy" is normally used to mean showing compassion, forbearance, pity, sympathy, forgiveness, kindness, tenderheartedness, or liberality or refraining from harming or punishing offenders or enemies. These synonyms give us some insight on this word; they all express how a merciful person might act. However, none of them specifically pictures what biblical mercy is because the scriptural concept is virtually untranslatable into a single English word.

The Greek word used in Matthew 5:7, eleemon, means essentially the same as its English counterpart, "merciful." However, in all likelihood Jesus spoke in Aramaic, and the idea behind His statement about mercy come from Old Testament—that is, Hebrew—usage and teaching. The word He would have used is the Hebrew and Aramaic chesed.

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible commentary on Matthew states regarding this word:

It does not mean only to sympathize with a person in the popular sense of the term; it does not mean simply to feel sorry for some in trouble. Chesedh [sic], mercy, means the ability to get right inside the other person's skin until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things with his feelings.

Clearly this is much more than an emotional wave of pity; clearly this demands a quite deliberate effort of the mind and of the will. It denotes a sympathy which is not given, as it were, from outside, but which comes from a deliberate identification with the other person, until we see things as he sees them, and feel things as he feels them. This is sympathy in the literal sense of the word. Sympathy is derived from two Greek words, syn which means together with, and paschein which means to experience or to suffer. Sympathy means experiencing things together with the other person, literally going through what he is going through. (p. 103)

Much easier said than done! Having a sense of another's feelings to this degree is very difficult to do because we are normally so self-concerned, so aware of our own feelings, that sensitivity for others to this depth often requires a great effort of the will. Normally, when we feel sorry for someone, it is an exclusively external act because we do not make the effort to get inside another's mind and heart until we can see and feel things as he does. It is not easy to walk in another person's shoes.

The world, from which we have all come, is true to its nature; it is unmerciful. The world prefers to insulate itself against the pains and calamities of others. It finds revenge delicious and forgiveness tame and unsatisfying.

This is where we all begin. Indeed, all too often in the church, worldliness is hardly dormant, revealing itself in acts that show some degree of cruelty. Usually, these cruelties are delivered verbally, but all too frequently, brethren simply ignore the real needs of others.

The mercy Jesus teaches is not humanly derived. He says in Matthew 6:14, "If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you." This occurs, not because we can merit mercy by being merciful or forgiving of others, but because we cannot receive the mercy and forgiveness of God unless we repent. We cannot claim to have repented of our sins if we are unmerciful towards the sins of others.

The truly merciful are too aware of their own sins to deal with others in sharp condemnation, so they constrain themselves to deal humbly and kindly with those in need. Nothing moves us to forgive others like the amazing realization that God has forgiven our sins. Mercy in God's children begins by experiencing His forgiveness of them, and perhaps nothing proves more convincingly that we have been forgiven than our readiness to forgive.

Recognizing God's mercy is a key element in motivating our expressions of mercy. Too many people today, even in the church, possess a "welfare mentality." They go through life with little or no gratitude, thinking they deserve the handouts of governments or private citizens. Ingratitude is vital to understanding this because, as long as one is unthankful, his thoughts will center on himself. The merciful person is sensitive to others' needs and takes action to supply them. An ungrateful person, though, insulates himself from others' pains because he is too focused on his own perceived miseries.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 5: Blessed Are the Merciful


 

Matthew 7:11

This scripture succinctly state how God perceives all the world and its inhabitants, regardless of one's particular environmental factors. The context of Matthew 7 gives no indication that the people who comprised Jesus' audience were particularly evil; they were just normal human beings. Yet, compared to God's standards for His people, their natural self-centeredness was stressful, disruptive, destructive, and calamitous—not beneficial to any concerned. In a word, they were evil.

The people to whom Jesus spoke were normal, worldly people. They would not have considered themselves evil, but they were, as God judged them. So are we also evil unless we have been justified and are under the blood of Jesus Christ.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Two)


 

Matthew 18:33

In the New Testament, the Greek word eleeo occurs only once (Matthew 18:33, "pity"), and it means "to be kind," "tender." In contrast, self-pity is the opposite—not tenderness to oneself but an abusiveness that causes great stress and harm. It shows faithlessness by breaking the first commandment in placing oneself higher in importance than the Creator God. This obsession with self interferes with God's development of righteous character in us.

In essence, self-pity is excessive love of oneself. Thus, a simple cure for self-pity is caring for someone else's welfare more than self—in a word, selflessness. Outgoing concern, love toward others is outlined by the Ten Commandments, for they show love toward God and love toward neighbor. The saints who overcome Satan and the world are known by the trait that "they did not love their lives to the death." They are willing to lay down their lives for their friends (John 15:13).

Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 10): Self-Pity


 

Matthew 20:16

In a sense, everybody is called to recognize God through the natural world, but the word "chosen" shows that God must personally rescue us from our self-centered blindness. Using the term "elect," Titus 1:1 reinforces the idea that God separates some few from the many who are called: "Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect. . . ."

Romans 9:11, 14-16 confirms God's active participation in this process of separation:

. . . (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls). . . . What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion." So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.

Satan has done his work so well that even God declares that he "deceives the whole world" (Revelation 12:9). Thus, God mercifully separates some away from their blindness. He directly and personally favors a small number for His purposes. Jesus tells us in John 6:44 that no one can come to Him unless the Father draws him. Many other scriptures show that God personally separates a few from the masses of humanity for His purposes.

"Election" is the noun form of the verb "to elect." To elect means "to select, pick, choose, determine, or separate." Romans 9:11 tells us that God personally determines whom He will favor for His purposes. In the example Paul uses, He favored Jacob, but the same is true of all whom God calls.

Such people are named the "elect" in the Bible. Romans 11:5, 7, 28 clarifies this term further by revealing that "elect" becomes the title of a distinct people.

Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. . . . What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. . . . Concerning the gospel [Israelites] are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.

The "chosen" and "elect" are synonymous terms designating the group with whom God is personally working through Jesus Christ. In Matthew 24:24, the term "elect" appears, as it almost always does, as a favorable reference. However, we need to realize that elect does not mean "better than others," though it certainly implies one more blessed because of something for which God is completely responsible.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Six)


 

Matthew 23:23

The real problem with the scribes and Pharisees is that they were totally selfish. They weighted their judgment toward themselves, and so they had no room for mercy for others. Nothing about them resembled Christ—no fidelity. They did not see a need for faith in the forgiveness in Christ, for they felt they needed none.

Christ gave them the answer to their problem. If they would render proper judgment, without partiality, emphasis on self would diminish. Their mercy would allow people to make mistakes and have space to repent rather than fear being destroyed financially or otherwise. Finally, with true fidelity, they would treat everyone as Christ did. Their faith would increase, as would the faith of those under their influence.

Had they properly applied these three qualities—judgment, mercy, and faith—their attitudes would have turned from selfish carnal goals to outgoing concern for others. They would have begun displaying the real love of God. If we apply them, we will have the confidence and boldness of which Paul spoke—the kind of faith required for salvation. The scribes and Pharisees lacked it. Being alive, we still have the chance to obtain it.

Staff
The Weightier Matters (Part 4) : Faith and Fidelity


 

Matthew 23:25

Jesus declares the Pharisees "hypocrites" because they looked like they led "clean" lives, but inside they were greedy and self-indulgent. A person indulges himself by taking unrestrained pleasure in his pursuit of enjoyment and showing undue favor to his desires and feelings. By excessive compliance in gratifying our own desires, we pamper, humor, and spoil ourselves. Pamper implies inordinate gratification of desire for luxury and comfort with a consequent enervating effect. Humor indicates yielding to moods or whims. Spoil stresses the injurious effects on a person's character. Self-indulgence is excessive satisfaction of our sensual appetites and desires for the specific purpose of pleasing the self.

Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 8): Self-Indulgence


 

Matthew 24:38-39

In these verses, Jesus describes people involved in normal activities of life: eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. None of these activities are evil—in fact, they are necessary. He implies, however, that in focusing upon the everyday activities of their lives, they miss the signs, the evidence, which prove the imminence of Christ's return. The sad result is that they do not become aware until it is too late.

Laodiceanism is not a matter of laziness, but of spiritual indifference caused by giving attention to the wrong things. A Laodicean commits a subtle form of idolatry, paying undue attention to self-centered interests rather than the interests of our Lord. Setting aside those responsibilities to which he has been called, he favors activities and interests that Jesus simply describes as eating and drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage. He has chosen carnal priorities over spiritual ones.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Matthew 24:45-51

The parable of the faithful and evil servants admonishes us to be faithful and wise in carrying out responsibilities and relationships with our fellow servants, our brothers in the body of Christ.

A faithful person is trustworthy, scrupulous, honest, upright, and truthful. Without specifically stating it, Christ is saying that we have to be keeping the first of the two great commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37).

In this context "wise" means judicious, prudent, sensible, showing sound judgment. It suggests an understanding of people and situations, showing unusual discernment and judgment in dealing with them. Just as Paul writes in I Thessalonians 5:6 about being self-controlled, Christ's use of "wise" indicates an exercising of restraint, using sound, practical wisdom and discretion, and acting in good sense and godly rationality. In short, Christ means exercising love. He tells us that we should be faithful in keeping the second of the two great commandments: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39).

Since this parable applies to everyone, Christ admonishes us to lead in a way that unites and inspires others to be faithful. We do this by giving them the truth, a good example, and encouragement. In this way, we become wise and faithful stewards of the trust God has given us.

In these verses, Christ strongly links belief with behavior in both examples. If we believe in His return, we will not live as we would like carnally. It is as simple as that. If we really believe He will return soon, this parable shows that our belief will regulate our lives, keeping us from extremes of conduct.

This faithful attitude is opposed to that of the scornful servant, who says his master delays His coming and beats his fellows. His conduct turns for the worse as he eats and drinks with the drunkards. From the description Christ provides, the evil servant's attitude is arrogant, violent, self-indulgent, gluttonous, and hypocritical. Because he believes he has plenty of time to square his relationship with God, his conduct becomes evil.

In summary, whoever is entrusted with duties must perform them faithfully, prepared at all times to account for what he has done. The key words in this parable are faithful, wise, and ready.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Mark 8:34-38

Why does Christ have to say things like this? Because human nature is driven by the impulse that the only way to the things a person deeply desires is through self-centered, assertive, competitive concentration on getting what it wants. We all have this drive; however, individuals differ in the strength of human nature in them and the methods they employ to achieve their goals. Jesus says the self must be denied because human nature is driven by pride and covetousness.

Of course, the Bible is not urging us to court martyrdom. It is speaking of a general approach to life, of crucifying the self-centered impulses of human nature. This means subordinating a clamoring ego with its preoccupation with "I," "me," and "mine"; its concern for self-assertion; and its insistence on comfort and prestige. It is denying the self for the sake of embracing Christ's cause. To be ashamed to live this way of life is equivalent to being ashamed of Christ Himself.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Six): Eternal Life


 

Luke 7:36-47

This woman perceived and appreciated a greatness in Jesus that motivated her to so abase herself as to weep, cleanse His feet with her tears, kiss, and anoint them! Notice her emotion, courage, devotion (oblivious of public opinion), and humility (in performing the task of a slave). We can safely guess that Jesus had turned this woman from a life of sin. She may have been among the crowds who were convicted by His messages. When she heard He was nearby, she rushed to Simon's home, ignoring the scorn of others to express her gratitude to the One who had set her aright.

Her deed expressed her love and gratitude, springing from her recognition of or faith in His greatness as contrasted to her unworthiness. She felt obligated to respond in a way so memorable that God recorded it for all humanity for all time to witness. Note that the Bible shows human lips touching Jesus only twice: here and Judas' kiss of betrayal.

In contrast, Simon the Pharisee, evidently a man of some substance and ambition, was moved to invite the popular Jesus to his home. Self-concerned and inhospitable, he did not offer Jesus even the customary services a host normally provided visitors to his home.

From the context we can assume that he felt himself to be at least Jesus' equal. His conclusion that Jesus was no prophet probably suggests he felt superior to Him, that He was no more than an interesting celebrity. This biased self-evaluation in relation to Jesus produced in him no sense of obligation and thus no corresponding gratitude, humility, or act of love—let alone common courtesies.

Had he a heart at all? The scene unfolding at his respectable table scandalized him, but God thought it so inspiring, He recorded it for our benefit. Simon judged, "She is a sinner." "No, Simon," Jesus replied, "she was a sinner." In this lies a major clue to the difference between the two people.

Simon and the woman had something in common, according to the parable: Both were debtors to the same creditor, and neither could meet His obligation.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Passover, Obligation, and Love


 

Luke 7:36-38

This episode demonstrates a contrast between two attitudes of mind and heart. Simon, conscious of no need, had neither love toward Christ nor a desire for forgiveness. His impression of himself was that he was a good man in the sight of God and men. The woman, on the other hand, seems aware of nothing except her sinfulness and her great need of forgiveness. This resulted in mournful weeping over her destitution and love for the One who could fill her need.

Perhaps nothing shuts us off from God more firmly than human self-sufficiency (Revelation 3:17). It is a strange phenomenon that the more clearly we see our sins the better person we are. Perhaps the most damaging of all sins is to be conscious of no sin. The supreme lesson in this vignette is that the woman's attitude not only resulted in forgiveness but also played a major role in producing gratitude and loving devotion for Christ in her.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Three: Mourning


 

Luke 7:36-50

The setting of the Parable of the Two Debtors is the house of Simon, a Pharisee, who had invited Jesus to eat with him. To show respect for Jesus, a woman stops in uninvited, but Simon calls her a sinner, one notoriously wicked, a prostitute (Luke 7:36-39). These three real people are reflected in the three fictitious characters of Jesus' parable (verses 41-42): a creditor, a debtor who owes 500 denarii, and another who owes 50.

The forgiving creditor represents Jesus Christ. The professedly righteous man owing 50 denarii represents Simon. The person in debt for 500 denarii represents the woman sinner.

Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Two Debtors


 

Luke 7:36-50

Simon's pharisaic sensibilities were shocked by the sinner's action (Proverbs 26:12)—and even more by Christ's attitude toward her. He was complacent and self-absorbed, and his self-righteousness manifested itself in pleasure with his own "goodness" and "importance" (Isaiah 65:5; II Corinthians 10:12). Although he invited Jesus to eat at his house, it was not to learn from Jesus or to honor Him, as his lack of effort to supply the traditional courtesy of water to wash His feet shows. Jesus could have regarded this serious breach of etiquette as a direct insult.

Simon also shows Jesus no warmth or concern when He arrives at his house; in that day's culture, a polite kiss was appropriate in greeting. Neither does he pour oil on Jesus' head, another widespread custom among the Jews. The oil was a sweet or olive oil prepared to give off a pleasant smell, as well as to render the hair more smooth and elegant. His negligence of concern toward Jesus exposed Simon's true spiritual bankruptcy.

Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Two Debtors


 

Luke 14:19

Unlike the first excuse, this one seems to be an unnecessary act. However, the man's tone is definite and final, even unapologetic in refusing the invitation. He never doubts the validity of his excuse, putting his work first and assuring himself that he has no responsibility to the host (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23; 12:14; I Corinthians 3:9-13). The oxen he wants to test can represent technology. Many falsely believe that advancement in technology equates to human improvement and progress.

This man's conduct shows his inclination to satisfy himself before accepting a friend's invitation. Like all sinners, he was selfish, justifying his own worldliness and sins and refusing to accept God's offer of salvation. He represents those who are so absorbed in their work or hobbies that they set aside no time for prayer, meditation, or the weightier matters of life (Matthew 6:24). What a catastrophe it is when a job, finances, entertainment, or self-centeredness leave us no time for God and self-examination!

Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Great Supper


 

Luke 15:11-16

The younger son shows a lack of respect for authority and deference to his elders. His central problem is pride, just as it was the root of Satan's failure (Isaiah 14:13). He finds out that shame and destruction follow pride (Proverbs 11:2; 16:18). In his disrespect for authority, he thinks primarily of himself, totally disregarding how it affects others. His request for his inheritance is not to benefit others but to pursue pleasure—especially entertainment (Proverbs 21:17). As a result, his unwise actions bring him to the point of despair and a re-evaluation of his life.

By demanding his share of his inheritance before his parents' deaths, he shows that he looks upon God's gifts as debts rightfully owed to him. Impatiently, he demands his share immediately. People today constantly, selfishly, and arrogantly press their rights rather than fulfill responsibilities. Many will not wait until marriage for sex but seek it now. They do not want to work for wealth but gamble to get it immediately. Sadly, they will also wait a long time before taking care of their spiritual needs—and then only when brought to despair (II Corinthians 6:2; Ecclesiastes 7:8).

Martin G. Collins
Parables of Luke 15 (Part Three)


 

Luke 18:9-14

Notice Jesus' teaching in verse 9: "Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others." This specific problem is religious egotism; the Pharisee despised others. Despised means "to count as nothing" or "to be contemptuous of." Can one have a good relationship with someone he despises? Pride finds fertile ground in our process of evaluation and begins to produce corrupt fruit.

This parable reveals the Pharisee to possess a misguided confidence that caused him to magnify himself by comparing himself against someone he felt to be inferior. It fed his own opinion of himself, causing separation from his fellow man. While that was happening, it also brought him into war with God! The Pharisee became separated from God because, as the parable says, he was not justified.

We need to take warning because, if we begin to feel contaminated in the presence of a brother—if we begin to withdraw from him or are constantly finding fault with him and being offended by almost everything he does—we may well be in very great trouble! The sin of pride may be producing its evil fruit, and the division is strong evidence of it.

This parable features a self-applauding lawkeeper and an abased publican. One is not simply good and the other evil; both are equally sinners but in different areas. Both had sinned, but the outward form of their sins differed. Paul taught Timothy that some men's sins precede them and others follow later (I Timothy 5:24). The publican's sins were obvious, the Pharisee's generally better hidden.

The Pharisee's pride deluded him into thinking he had a righteousness he did not really possess. His prayer is full of self-congratulation, and like a circle, it keeps him firmly at its center (notice all the I's in Luke 18:11-12). He makes no lowly expression of obligation to God; he voices no thanksgiving for what God had given him; he gives no praise to God's glory. He asks for nothing, confesses nothing, and receives nothing! But very pronouncedly, he compares himself with others. He is filled with conceit and is totally unaware of it because his pride has deceived him into concentrating his judgment on the publicans—sinners who were contaminating his world!

The humble publican did not delude himself into thinking he was righteous. What made the difference? It was a true evaluation and recognition of the self in relation to God, not other men. The basis of their evaluations—pride or humility—made a startling difference in their conclusions, revealing each man's attitudes about himself and his motivations.

The one finds himself only good, the other only lacking. One flatters himself, full of self-commendation. The other seeks mercy, full of self-condemnation. Their approach and attitude toward God and self are poles apart! One stands apart because he is not the kind of man to mingle with inferiors. The other stands apart because he considers himself unworthy to associate himself with others. One haughtily lifts his eyes to heaven; the other will not even look up! How different their spirits! Anyone who, like the Pharisee, thinks he can supply anything of great worth to the salvation process is deluding himself!

Against whom do we evaluate ourselves? Pride usually chooses to evaluate the self against those considered inferior. It must do this so as not to lose its sense of worth. To preserve itself, it will search until it finds a flaw.

If it chooses to evaluate the self against a superior, its own quality diminishes because the result of the evaluation changes markedly. In such a case, pride will often drive the person to compete against—and attempt to defeat—the superior one to preserve his status (Proverbs 13:10). Pride's power is in deceit, and the ground it plows to produce evil is in faulty evaluation.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Pride, Humility, and the Day of Atonement


 

Luke 21:34

Of itself, having a party is not wrong. But what happens when Babylon reaches the apex of its influence on men's lives? People fall into dissipation, into abuse of their God-given responsibilities. Christ worries that although we intellectually say the world is full of self-centeredness and excess, we will still find it attractive. Thus, He warns us to be careful because, if not, the consequence is that the Day will come on us unexpectedly. This is sobering!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

John 12:20-26

This catches the essence of what Christian life and overcoming are all about. Notice the setting here. A small group of Gentiles ask Philip for an audience with Jesus. John does not record one word of what they said, and the context distinctly suggests that Jesus speaks before they ever say a word. He responds to the fact that they want to see Him.

Two thoughts must have exploded into His mind simultaneously. He first recognized that the people who wanted to see Him were Gentiles. He must have envisioned across the expanse of time the huge multitudes of their populations being converted, growing, overcoming, and entering the Kingdom of God.

At the same time, He anticipated their questions. "What must I do to be saved? What must I do to have eternal life? What must I do to be in Your Kingdom?" How does He answer them? He tells them, "You must quit living your life the way you do." He was not, on this occasion, concerned about specific behaviors but rather the overall principle—the force that drives carnal human life: self-centeredness. So important is what Jesus says that God's voice thunders in agreement out of the heavens:

Then a voice came from heaven, saying, "I have glorified [My name] and will glorify it again." Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to Him." Jesus answered and said, "This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake." (verses 28-30)

Notice, beginning in verse 24, how Jesus' response unfolds. He uses a simple, understandable illustration: Unless a seed is planted in the ground and dies, it bears no fruit. Only when its life is sacrificed does it bear any fruit. This applies both to Jesus and to any of His followers. He sacrificed His life, and its fruit until now is the church, but multitudes more will be added as God's plan unfolds.

The same principle holds true in our lives. The fruit that leads to eternal life is produced when the individual sacrifices himself in service to others, God and man. In verse 25, Jesus teaches that the person who attempts to preserve rather than sacrifice will end up losing what he spent his lifetime attempting to preserve. Meanwhile, those who readily sacrifice their lives keep living right on into the Kingdom of God.

It is interesting to note that John uses two different words, both of which are translated as "life." The first is psuche, usually translated "soul," which simply means physical life. The second is zoe, and John usually attaches it to the adjective "eternal," causing it to mean the spiritual vitality of God.

In verse 26, He reinforces His instruction regarding sacrifice by commanding us to do as He does. In this case, this is what "follow Me" means. It is not merely walking behind on the same general course but completely "aping" or imitating Him—doing exactly what He is doing. In this particular teaching, it points to the sacrifice of our lives. He was already living this way, and He would complete His life of selfless service by sacrificing it in death. "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13). However, we must understand that laying down one's life is a continuous process. He expects us to follow in His steps, do what He does, bear what He bears, love what He loves.

To most of those who call themselves "Christian," Christianity is a theory to be accepted rather than a life to be actively and daily lived out. Many apparently have the vague idea that what Christ does for us and offers to us enables us, while remaining what we are, to evade the consequences of being what we are and to reap a destiny that is not naturally ours. If we believe this, we must seriously consider II Corinthians 5:10: "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." At the end of our lives, we will receive from God what we are living! God wants to see us living like Him, and He will honor those who do.

However, making the sacrifices to live His way is costly to human nature, which resists strongly. Jesus says in Mark 8:34-38:

Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.

Why does Christ have to say things like this? Because human nature is driven by the impulse that the only way to the things a person deeply desires is through self-centered, assertive, competitive concentration on getting what it wants. We all have this drive; however, individuals differ in the strength of human nature in them and the methods they employ to achieve their goals. Jesus says the self must be denied because human nature is driven by pride and covetousness.

Of course, the Bible is not urging us to court martyrdom. It is speaking of a general approach to life, of crucifying the self-centered impulses of human nature. This means subordinating a clamoring ego with its preoccupation with "I," "me," and "mine"; its concern for self-assertion; and its insistence on comfort and prestige. It is denying the self for the sake of embracing Christ's cause. To be ashamed to live this way of life is equivalent to being ashamed of Christ Himself.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Six): Eternal Life


 

John 17:14

Jesus addresses the source of the more personal persecutions that threaten our peace. The carnal mind is enmity against God (Romans 8:7), and we can feel this hatred to a potentially terrifying degree when it is aimed directly at us. Throughout history, this sort of peace-shattering disturbance has produced job losses, divided families, uprooted lives in fleeing, imprisonment for those caught (Acts 9:1-2; 12:3-4), and for some martyrdom (Acts 7:54-60; 12:1-2).

Jesus says we can have peace through these kinds of experiences because He can give it to us. When He said this, He was not introducing a new idea. As part of the "blessings and curses chapter," Leviticus 26:6 shows that God is the ultimate source of peace, and He will give it upon our meeting the condition of obeying His commandments:

I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none will make you afraid; I will rid the land of evil beasts, and the sword will not go through your land.

Here, peace is a quality of life He can give even as he gives rain in due season. Leviticus 26 emphasizes material prosperity as God's blessing to Israel. Peace is necessary for the material prosperity of a nation. War may be the ultimate distraction from accomplishing anything positive; it is catastrophically debilitating to every area of life. Not only can it break a nation economically, but also warp its people psychologically and destroy its social structure, infrastructure, and spirit.

Should we think that peace is no less necessary to spiritual prosperity? Is it possible for us to grow into the image of God when distracted by conflict and the anxieties and troubles it produces? Even if the conflict is not directly ours, it adversely affects our ability to live God's way of life. This is why the apostle Paul counsels us as he does in I Timothy 2:1-2:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.

Conflict promotes self-centeredness, virtually forcing us to flee, defend ourselves or attack the other to maintain or establish a measure of control. It can also cause us to detour permanently from what we were trying to accomplish.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Peace


 

Acts 5:1-5

These two church members apparently did not take Satan into consideration. They listened to a lie and were divided, first, from God's church and then from life itself. What did Satan do? He moved them toward self-satisfaction to the point (the actual sin) that they lied to take credit for a greater sacrifice than they actually made.

The sad part of this is that no one asked them to donate the entire sale price of the piece of land. What happened was they committed themselves to it and then undoubtedly began to feel put on. "Hey, Sapphira, that's too much money." Maybe they began to think, "We didn't expect we'd get so much money from the sale of this, and it is too much to donate." They began to think, undoubtedly, of other uses that they could put the money to. "We could buy new clothes. We could improve the house. We could buy another piece of land as an investment and make even more from it."

They had apparently already told those who were in charge of the collection that they would contribute the entire amount of the sale, and when the time came to give the contribution, they gave only a part of it but let on as if it was the entire sale price. They kept the difference for themselves.

Who led them to dare to lie? Satan has a modus operandi. He will always move us in the direction of self-satisfaction at the expense of obedience to God, service to God, or service to others, so that we elevate ourselves over the others.

Is that not what Satan did originally? In his own mind, his vanity elevated him higher than the position God had given to him, and it then began to work on his mind so that he had to do something about it. This process repeats itself over and over again.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 4)


 

Romans 1:22-23

These verses show that pride motivates us to do things that make no sense in the light of God's truth. It motivates us to exalt ourselves above others, to compete against others, and to reject truth to continue the exaltation and promotion of the self. We will take this to such an extent that we will gamble—even with our own and other's lives—to bring that result about.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Pride, Contention, and Unity


 

1 Corinthians 3:1-4

Obviously, Paul expected much better of them. When he calls them "carnal," he does not mean they are unconverted but acting as if they were unconverted. He is strongly implying they had either regressed from earlier maturity or barely left the starting blocks in growing into mature Christians. Paul uses "carnal" as a synonym of "immature" or "incomplete." Their conduct and attitude were consistent with spiritual babes. From other parts of the epistle, we know they did not have their emotions under control and went pell-mell from one trouble to another, creating division in the congregation through their lack of knowledge, experience, and character. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, they, in their almost complete self-centeredness, apparently did not know how to do things the right way.

We might say they had no common sense or wisdom. Their discernment of situations and their evaluation of what to do did not originate in a godly perspective. Consequently, they were motivated to conduct themselves in ways unbecoming of God, Christianity, and the Kingdom of God. The American Heritage College Dictionary defines wisdom as "understanding of what is true, right or lasting; insight." God's revelation provides us these very qualities and more if we follow His counsel.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Two): Vision


 

1 Corinthians 10:31

In all our activities, our emphasis should be on honoring God, rather than ourselves.

Since birthday celebrations encourage the glorification of the self and promote "self-centeredness" rather than "God-centeredness," birthday celebrations transgress this principle. If we are truly striving to instill godly character into our children, birthday parties are not a good option.

In a radio interview with a former Satan worshipper, the interviewer asked, "What is the most important day after Halloween to a Satan worshipper?" The answer is eye-opening! He said, "Your own birthday!" We know that everything Satan does is contrary to God's way. Satan opposes God in every thought and despises all godly things. If he initiates something, the result is wickedness. By promoting birthday celebrations, Satan, the Great Deceiver (Revelation 12:9), deceives people into exalting themselves so he can de-emphasize the great God.

Birthdays promote the idea that we have achieved something worthwhile, when in fact life is a gift from God. King Solomon, speaking of man in general, writes of "the days of his life which God gives him under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 8:15). A birthday celebration takes credit away from God, redirecting it to a physical human being. Birthday celebrations rob God of the honor and glory He is due as Creator and Sustainer of life.

Moses records:

The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).

Man made no effort in his creation; he is the creation. Nevertheless, human beings redirect the credit and glory to themselves, which is simply a form of idolatry. We have been called and set apart to worship the Creator, but those who are still carnal worship the creation (Romans 1:25).

Martin G. Collins
Celebrating Birthdays


 

2 Corinthians 3:12-16

The veil Paul speaks of is the carnality of a deceived mind formed and shaped in the world's Satan-manipulated cultures. It is so antagonistic to the true God and His Word (Romans 8:7) that it fights the very approach of God to heal them through a great, freely given gift, just as the first-century Jews opposed and rejected Christ.

However, be aware that the miraculous removal of this veil of blindness by God, through the wonderful gifts of His Spirit and of a great hope, also places an obligation on us. With the blindness gone, we are granted the ability to choose between God's way and the world's way for the first time in our lives. Choosing to submit to God provides our witness of God, as well as being the means of building the character God greatly desires to create within us.

However, the effects of the self-centered way of life we have absorbed through the course of this world remain in our attitudes and characters, becoming what must be overcome. It will dog us all our converted lives as a means of testing our determination to be in God's Kingdom, as well as our love and loyalty to our God and Savior.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part Three)


 

Ephesians 2:2

A major characteristic of the human spirit is that it is habitually self-centered rather than God-centered. A simple example illustrates how it became this way. In Genesis 1:31 God takes satisfaction in all He had made, declaring it "very good." Included in this is Adam and Eve's nature, as they were already created by this time.

Thus, at the beginning, mankind's nature was not corrupted by contact with this world. Genesis 3 records the episode of their confrontation with Satan that began the evil transformation of their basic nature. God did not create their nature as evil, but it became evil through the influence of another spirit that they chose to follow without any intervention from their Creator.

The same process continues to this day, as each of us is born into this world and comes under the influence of the same spirit that influenced Adam and Eve to turn from God. We are all born with a slight pull toward self, but not with the evil that eventually develops and manifests itself in our conduct. Evil is not - cannot be - passed on through procreation, but it is fashioned anew by the spirit of the age into which each person is born. It is a converted parent's responsibility to God and to his children to ensure the right spirit dominates his home so the children can be properly nurtured.

People in the world understand this to some extent when they observe with maxims like, "The apple doesn't fall very far from the tree," "Like father, like son," or "Like mother, like daughter." This world's Christians, to avoid responsibility for their evil, have blamed God for creating us this way. But God did not make us this way. Mankind, represented by Adam and Eve, chose to become this way, and all of their descendants, including us, have chosen the same path under the influence of the same evil spirit who offered Adam and Eve the choice. This accounts for the course of this world.

Jeremiah 17:9 shows us how evil God judges the source of our unconverted motivations to be: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" The Revised Standard Version translates this as, "The natural heart of man is desperately corrupt; incurably sick." It is so bad, so evil, it cannot be salvaged by repairing it! It must be completely replaced. This is what the conversion process - our calling, repentance, justification, and sanctification - accomplishes.

We need to understand more completely why this aspect of God's command to flee Babylon is so important. We can be easily deceived about it, misunderstanding why God says the human heart is incurably sick. In Luke 11:13, Jesus makes an easily overlooked comment: "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" The way He says this implies that those before Him were thoroughly, not partly, evil.

He flat out calls them evil! There is no equivocation, no modification of this verse in the heart of the sermon on the mount. Jesus Himself was called "good" in Matthew 19:16, but He immediately corrects the speaker, saying, "No one is good but One, that is, God." This is God's assessment of human nature, not man's.

Jesus is saying that, just because human nature knows how to and actually does some good things, it does not alter the fact that it is still incurably evil. Our pride tends to blunt God's assessment, rising to defend us from the condemnation of what we are compared to, the standard - God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part One)


 

Ephesians 2:2

The Bible uses spirit to designate an invisible, immaterial, powerful influence whose characteristics are absorbed and then exhibited in the attitudes and conduct of the general population of a given people.

Course is an influence of which we can be much more aware. We can compare it to a path, riverbed, or highway, suggesting a way by which or in which something flows. It is a means to an end, a result, which may be a destination or an action. Course, under the heading "tendency" in Roget's International Thesaurus, has synonyms such as "thoughts," "disposition," "character," "nature," "makeup," "bent," "slant," "frame of mind," "attitude," "inclination," "drift," "mindset," and "perspective." It is helpful to understand "the course of this world" by rephrasing it as "the disposition of this world," "the character of this world," "the nature of this world," or "the makeup [mindset, attitude, perspective, etc.] of this world."

In the apostle Paul's usage of this word, "course" is the whole mass of elements that encompass the conduct and attitudes of the times, the zeitgeist. It would not be the same all over the world because its expression in people would differ depending upon many factors. However, in Paul's writings, its elements will invariably be carnal and evil because the spiritual source, Satan, is always evil.

We can begin to understand this more practically by realizing that someone from France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, or Iraq, though carnal, would not be as inclined to see, understand, and react to a given situation exactly as an American would. The specifics of what affects their minds will differ. Though all are of the world, the things that make up one nation's course will impress themselves on other nationalities somewhat differently.

Regardless of nationality, the course of this world greatly enhances the self-centered pull that we are born with, and becomes our nature. It is from this that we must be converted, the largely unrecognized foundation of our pre-conversion attitudes and conduct, and it is the same force still motivating us when we behave carnally. Despite conversion, it remains within us, compressed like a spring ready to leap into action and reveal itself in carnality once again.

A prime characteristic of this world's course - exhibited worldwide, regardless of culture - is that it is habitually self-centered rather than God-centered. This is due to the underlying spirit beings who are its heart and soul, the key elements in communicating the course of this world into humanity. Through a simple illustration, we can perceive how it became this way. Genesis 1:31 reads, "Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day." God's statement of satisfaction in all He had made at the end of the sixth day of creation includes Adam and Eve's nature, as by this time they were already created.

Thus, in the beginning, mankind's nature is designated by our Creator as, "very good." Genesis 3 records the episode that began the transformation of their basic nature to the extremes of self-centeredness we witness today. Man's nature was not created evil, but it became evil through the influence of another spirit - besides God - that Adam and Eve chose to follow without any interference from their Creator.

Once they committed to that initial step, the course of this world began. By the second generation, murder had occurred (Genesis 4:8), and by the Flood, men were so evil that they were "only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). It is this same peak of evil toward which this world and its multiple courses are being driven. All of this takes place because of the communication, reception, and acceptance of evil concepts from an evil source.

II Timothy 3:13 reveals a general principle still working as we "progress" toward the return of Jesus Christ: "But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." Improving character and conduct in any given culture are temporary, indeed very brief, when observed within a survey of all of man's history.

The same process of moral deterioration that concluded with the Flood was quickly restarted shortly after its waters receded, and it persists to this day, as each person is born into this world and exposed to the same spirit and to the variety of courses that influenced Adam and Eve and all their progeny. Because we are made of flesh, we are born with a slight pull toward self, but not with the corruption that later develops and reveals itself in our conduct. Contrary to Catholic Church teaching, evil is not passed on through procreation, but by the spirit of the age through the course of this evil world. It is transferred to us primarily through the cultures into which we are born, all of which are carnal to the core.

It is the responsibility of converted parents to God and to their children to ensure that the right spirit prevails in their homes so their children can be properly nurtured. People grasp this to some degree when they observe that, "The apple doesn't fall very far from the tree," or "Like father, like son." Unless parents make a concerted, persistent effort to change and live as God commands, they will succeed only in passing on copies of themselves.

This world's Christians, in an effort to evade responsibility for the evil in them, have instead blamed God for creating man this way. God is responsible to a degree, in that He has not yet chosen to halt Satan's deceptions. Nevertheless, God did not make us this way. Mankind, represented by Adam and Eve, chose to submit to Satan, and all of their descendants, including us, have also chosen to become evil under the sway of the same evil spirit that offered our first parents the choice. This creates and accounts for "the course of this world."

John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part Two)


 

Ephesians 4:1-6

The part we have to play is to walk worthy of our calling, and as the apostle goes on to say, our calling is to be one: one body, one spirit, one faith, one baptism, one hope, just as we have one Lord and one Father. We are to be one bride of Christ. He is not a polygamist; He will not marry many brides but one united bride.

We in the church can be disunified if we fail to practice verses 2 and 3: Without lowliness (humility), without gentleness (meekness), without longsuffering (forebearance or patient endurance), without love and peace, we will never have unity. As long as we are proud, easily angered and offended, jump on every little thing, lack patience, and treat each other hatefully—as long as we cause strife—there will never be unity. Even with all that God does (I Corinthians 1:4-9), it will not happen. He will not force unity upon us if we show that we do not want it. The natural order of things is that we will disunify further if we fail to show Him that we are working toward it. So, without these virtues, even with God deluging us with His Spirit, we will not have unity.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 133


 

Ephesians 4:1-3

Notice carefully what Paul names as the reason for making unity and peace: the value we place on our calling. If, in our heart of hearts, we consider it of small value, our conduct, especially toward our brethren, will reveal it and work to produce contention and disunity. Thus John writes, "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 4:20).

Paul next counsels us to choose to conduct ourselves humbly. Humility is pride's opposite. If pride only produces contention, it follows that humility will work to soothe, calm, heal, and unify. He advises us to cultivate meekness or gentleness, the opposite of the self-assertiveness that our contemporary culture promotes so strongly. Self-assertiveness is competitive determination to press one's will at all costs. This approach may indeed "win" battles over other brethren, but it might be helpful to remember God's counsel in Proverbs 15:1, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." James declares that godly wisdom is "gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy" (James 3:17).

Then Paul counsels that we be patient; likewise, James counsels us to "let patience have its perfect work" (James 1:4). We often want quick resolutions to the irritations between us, which is certainly understandable since we want to get rid of the burden those differences impose. But we must understand that speedy solutions are not always possible. Interestingly, in Paul's letter to the Philippians, he does not use his apostolic authority to drive the two feuding women into a forced solution (Philippians 4:1). Some problems are deeply buried within both sides of the contention, so finally Paul admonishes us to forbear with each other in love. Essentially, he says to "put up with it" or endure it, doing nothing to bring the other party down in the eyes of others and vainly elevate the self. This is peacemaking through living by godly character.

Yet another aspect to the Christian duty of peacemaking is our privilege by prayer to invoke God's mercy upon the world, the church, and individuals we know are having difficulties or whom we perceive God may be punishing. This is one of the sacrifices of righteousness mentioned in relation to Psalm 4:5. The Bible provides many examples of godly people doing this. Abraham prayed for Sodom, Gomorrah, and probably Lot too, when the division between them and God was so great that He had to destroy the cities (Genesis 18:16-33). Moses interceded for Israel before God following the Golden Calf incident (Exodus 33:11-14). Aaron ran through the camp of Israel with a smoking censer (a symbol of the prayers of the saints) following another of Israel's rebellions that greatly disturbed the peace between them and God (Numbers 16:44-50). In each case, God relented to some degree. We will probably never know in this life how much our prayers affect the course of division or how much others—even the wicked—gained as a result of our intercession, but we should find comfort knowing that we have done at least this much toward making peace.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 7: Blessed Are the Peacemakers


 

Ephesians 5:15-20

"Joy" does not appear in this passage, but Paul's purpose is to instruct us how to produce the sustained sense of well-being that should mark a Christian's life. When a person feels good about life, about who and what he is, what he is doing with his life, and where it is headed, a sense of joy is always present. Paul's instructions are timeless in producing this.

"Walk circumspectly" indicates keeping the commandments. Paul advises us to make the most profitable use of our time, considering the state of this world. He warns us not to be foolish, and always to consider, search for, and focus upon the purpose God is working out. Then in verse 18 he makes an interesting contrast that directly involves producing the joy that should accompany the life of anyone heeding these instructions.

The verse contains a play on words. It is no accident that alcohol is associated with "Spirit." Paul's counsel is not to seek joy in the sensuous, self-centered, worldly ways that produce dissipation or debauchery, but rather to be filled with the Spirit, singing and meditating on God's Word as we give thanks in all circumstances. This formula is guaranteed to produce a sustained sense of well-being because it removes the natural self-seeking from our lives and replaces it with a God-centered way of glorifying Him. This allows joy to be the fruit, the blessing of the Almighty, rather than the direct object of our pursuit.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Joy


 

Ephesians 5:28-33

A baby is not born evil. It is most certainly born with a measure of self-centeredness that God pronounced as very good in Genesis 1:31, for some small measure of self-centeredness enables a person to take care of the self.

Understood and controlled, a right measure of self-love provides a foundation for the love of others, which proves beneficial for the giver as well as the receiver. This is especially true in marriage because husband and wife become one flesh; to love one's spouse is to love the self because of this oneness.

It is at least equally true, if not more so, in our relationship with Christ. He is our example. Because of our spiritual oneness with Him, and because we are His body, His loving service of us is the same as loving Himself. This principle works both ways. Our loving service of Him is also the same as loving ourselves. What we see in these two intimate relationships is a practical application and benefit of the Golden Rule—"Do unto others as you would have them do to you"—in operation, with the added benefit to the giver.

The problem with self-love is that, without contact with God throughout life, an individual's innate self-centeredness can easily develop into an extreme and sharply honed sinfulness and evil. Such an egotist gives little thought to loving others as a way of life; he shows little care for others and rarely looks for ways to serve. Without God, life becomes all about the self. The world, established by and built upon selfish human nature, continues to feed its self-absorbed inclinations and cravings.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Two)


 

Colossians 3:5

The word translated "covetousness" here is the Greek word pleonexia. It is an ugly word describing an ugly sin. It is ugly because it is idolatry and destructive. Lexicons describe pleonexia as "the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others." It suggests ruthless self-seeking and an arrogant assumption that others and things exist for one's own benefit.

Covetousness is idolatry because it puts self-interest and things in the place of God. A man sets up an idol because he desires to get some pleasure or satisfaction from it. So he serves to get, which is idolatry. The essence of idolatry, then, is to get for the self. Christians, though, must give themselves to God, and we do it by yielding to Him in obedience to whatever He says.

Colossians 3:5 says we are to "mortify therefore [our] members which are on the earth" (KJV). This does not mean merely to practice an ascetic self-discipline. It is a very strong word, meaning "to kill." The Christian must kill self-centeredness. He must radically transform his life, shifting the focus from himself to God. This is exactly what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:29-30. Everything that keeps us from fully obeying God and surrendering to Jesus Christ must be spiritually excised. The tenth commandment, like the first, serves as a governor, controlling whether we keep the others.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment (1998)


 

2 Thessalonians 2:9-12

Every day information concerning politics, economics, social issues, psychology, religion, conspiracy theories, foreign affairs, entertainment and education issues inundates us. How much of it is actually true? How much do we truly need to pay attention to?

The man of sin opposes Christ. He will even claim to be God, and Satan will enable him to work miracles. Just before Christ's return, he will lead evil's greatest challenge ever against all that is good. The focus of the attack will be the destruction of truth. Only those who "receive the love of the truth" will be spared. If one does not have it, he will be deceived, believe the lie, and be condemned. In this context, the lie is probably that this man is God or His main representative on earth, and that they should worship the beast and receive his mark at his word (Revelation 13:11-18).

Before the man of sin appears, Satan must lay some groundwork to prepare for his acceptance. What better way than to throw the world into quarreling and divisive and wearying confusion? People then yearn for some strong and seemingly wise hands to set things straight, so the nations can "catch their breath" and have a span of peaceful calm. In its wake, confusion creates directionless people, with little desire to change the status quo, whose minds are turned in upon themselves in an attempt to keep what they have.

Right now, humanity is being bombarded by religious disinformation ranging from bizarre, do-gooding New Age cults to the militant homosexual, lesbian and feminist attacks aimed at changing old-line Protestant and Catholic groups. Mainly within Protestant circles, the New World Order and other conspiracy theories abound, sometimes tenuously mixed with true prophecies of the Bible. Everywhere there are cries for tolerance of beliefs of every stripe, and in some sectors there are attempts to merge all religions into one.

Within God's church, we have seen a multitude of doctrinal changes alter one large group to the point that it is barely recognizable except by name. Other, smaller groups are badgered by peripheral issues like the calendar, sacred names and conspiracy theories. What we are witnessing are people subtly persuaded into an excessive concern for themselves. This distracts them from the focus God clearly states in Jesus' end-time message: Get ready for the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

Every message to every church group in Revelation 2 and 3 concludes with "To him who overcomes." Christ's intent is clear. Our judgment is based upon growth in overcoming flaws involving character defects, evil self-centered attitudes and relationship problems with fellow man.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Flood Is Upon Us!


 

2 Timothy 1:6-7

It takes the Spirit of God to produce a truly sound mind. This verse also implies that, as long as the mind is devoid of God's Spirit, it cannot be considered to be truly healthy. Any mind that lacks the Holy Spirit will, like Esau's, be limited in its outlook, unstable to some degree, and focused on itself. It may be very sharp regarding material things, but it will be deficient in the ability to cope with life in a godly manner because it cannot see things in a proper, righteous-or-unrighteous context. Instead, it will have a strong tendency to twist situations toward its own self-centered perspective. This does not make for good relationships.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Three)


 

2 Timothy 2:13

A somewhat different use of the concept deny oneself occurs in II Timothy 2:13. God is faithful and cannot deny His character or His promises (Romans 3:3). However, a comparison of Paul's statement with Jesus' call to self-denial is enlightening. God, being so different from self-centered men, has nothing in His perfect character that needs to be denied. In His perfect goodness, God can only affirm Himself.

Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 5): Self-Denial


 

2 Timothy 3:1-5

Self-centeredness will produce the crisis at the close of this age. Its evils will reach a climax that can be compared to the time just before the Flood or to Sodom and Gomorrah. Self-centeredness, everyone having his own perception of beauty and pursuing it to the nth degree, is the driving force behind the perilous time of the end. It will be a time that fits the description in Judges 21:25 when "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." During the period of the judges no one could provide central leadership because people said, "This is what I believe; this is what I'm going to follow."

So it will be at the end. People will abuse one another to possess the things they hold to be beautiful, like money or power. "[Men will be] . . . lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good" (II Timothy 3:2-3).

The concept of "men will be lovers of themselves" (verse 2) continues in verse 5: "[H]aving a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!" Verse 7 identifies them further: these people are "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."

Within God's warning of what it will be like at the end, He lists the traits that Christians must fight against when self-centeredness reaches its peak. But the Laodicean does not resist as he should, and that is his problem! Though converted, he has an attitude of self-centeredness, strong enough that his mind is diverted from more important spiritual concerns!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

2 Timothy 3:1-5

The apostle Paul writes that "evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (II Timothy 3:13). People today are no different from when Moses wrote the Pentateuch or Paul his epistles, but the occasion to sin, the incentive to do so and thus sin's frequency and intensity are at their highest levels since just before the Flood. In other words, the environment to commit sin more easily grows ever more amenable, and human nature is taking advantage of it. We have been born into—indeed have unwittingly contributed to creating—an environment in which it is exceedingly difficult to remain faithful.

We live in a world in which self-centeredness is being promoted to its greatest extent in human history. Appealing advertising hammers away at us to gratify ourselves: Why wait, why deny ourselves, why sacrifice, why not go along with everyone else? Constantly we hear, "Indulge yourself because you deserve it."

This world always appeals to moral and ethical standards lower than those of the great God and His way of life. In Technicolor with emotion-stirring music, Hollywood "sells" adultery and fornication as acceptable as long as the couple involved are attractive and somehow oppressed—thus "deserving" of a "better" relationship.

War, murder, lying, stealing, coveting, Sabbath-breaking, and idolatry are acts that almost everyone in the world would claim as being wrong, yet most unwittingly commit them to some degree and promote them in our culture. They justify their sin because everybody else is doing it, and they see no good reason why they should not just go along. If they try to swim against the tide, they think they will be taken advantage of.

Not too long ago, a person's word was his bond, and mere handshakes sealed major business agreements. Tales of Abraham Lincoln's honesty over pennies are an almost legendary part of our nation's history. Historians say that faithfulness was such a hallmark of the Roman Republic that not one divorce occurred in its first seven hundred years! But in the last fifty years this nation has seen a calamitous, family-destroying rise in the divorce rate that threatens the very stability of society.

Faithlessness is playing a major role in this destruction. People are without natural affection and traitors to their marital contract. Child abuse is becoming ever more prevalent. Athletes seem to break contracts almost at will. Manufacturers lie about the quality of their products, and workers fudge in the quality of their work.

Faithlessness is rising to its peak because self-centeredness, the father of irresponsibility, is being promoted to its utmost. It is the spirit of this age, but we have cause to resist it by what God has offered us in His revelation. God-centeredness in our lives is the answer to faithlessness and irresponsibility. But God-centeredness is not cheap, and few are willing to pay the price: their lives!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness


 

2 Timothy 3:1-5

Just as the signs of Matthew 24 give us indications of the last days, so do the attitudes listed here by Paul. He says, "Know this!" because it is important in identifying the signs of the times. When he finishes with his litany, he writes, "Have nothing to do with such attitudes!"

Unfortunately, we can see these attitudes in today's youth. This discourse does not intend to ridicule but to analyze them. Nor does it intend to paint everyone between 15 and 35 with the same brush. Many do not fit the general type, but it may be surprising to learn how many of this world's attitudes have rubbed off on us and our families.

According to the authors of the book, 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, everyone born between 1961-1981 belongs to the 13th Generation, the thirteenth since the birth of the eldest of America's Founding Fathers (e.g., Benjamin Franklin). The authors, Neil Howe and Bill Strauss, admit that their findings are generalities. Not every person fits the mold of a 13er, as they call members of this generation, but 13ers typically follow certain trends, attitudes and ways of thinking.

Sadly, II Timothy 3 lists many of them. Here are some examples of how these attitudes appear in society today:

Lovers of Themselves

This attitude heads the list because it is the root cause of all the others. We could also use the terms "selfish," "self-centered," and "self-absorbed." These are the young people of "Beverly Hills, 90210," "The Cosby Show," and "The Simpsons." Their selfishness has many different facets:

Clothing: the grunge look, the 70's-retro look, the designer-GQ-Mademoiselle look.
Body Sculpting: steroids for bulking up and anorexia/bulimia for slimming down.
Body Accessories: rings in the ears, nose, navel, nipples, tongue, lips, eyebrows, and other places; tattooing.
A Soaring Suicide Rate: Suicide is a totally self-centered act. Tragically, 10% of adolescent boys and 18% of adolescent girls admit they have attempted suicide, and one million of them succeeded. In the 13er movie Heathers, a teacher says, "Whether to kill yourself or not is one of the most important decisions a teenager can make."

Lovers of Money

David Leavitt, a 13er writing in Esquire, reasons, "It's okay to be selfish, as long as you're up front about it. . . . We trust ourselves, and money. Period." Their greed has put many of them into debt. Two 13ers, Anne Gowen and Sean Piccoli, write about their contemporaries in a Washington Times article, "A Generation Lost in Time":

They are little Drexel Burnhams, little S&Ls: free-spending in the '80s, when they got their first taste of plastic; broke now. . . . Their parents are like ATMs, hit up regularly to pay for plane tickets and help tame credit-card debt.

Boasters, Proud

Daniel Smith-Rowsey, a 13er, brags in Newsweek:

We're street smart, David Letterman clever, whizzes at Nintendo. We can name more beers than Presidents. Pop culture is, to us, more attractive than education.

In fact, the authors of 13th Gen say that 13ers proudly think of themselves as the "clean up" generation, out to right the wrongs and clean up the messes of their elders. "We're not trying to change things. We're trying to fix things. We are the generation that is going to renovate America. We are going to be its carpenters and janitors," says 21-year-old Anne McCord of Portland, Oregon.

Blasphemers

Modern Bible translations render this word as "railers," "defamers," "abusive," "contemptuous," and "given to bitter words." Who do 13ers rail against, defame, and abuse? Baby Boomers, who, they say, ruined everything for them. One 13er vents:

Drugs, crime, sexual diseases and family stress is all stuff you [Baby Boomers] blame us for, when you are the ones that raised them all to an art form. You blame young folks for having no concept of the higher ideals in life, when you're the ones who trashed most of them. . . . Your gnatlike attention span has produced a culture of ideas that is far junkier than any video game we could ever waste an hour playing.

Disobedient to Parents

Some translations read, "disrespectful to parents." Growing up, this generation faced the highest divorce and abortion rates ever in America. They were the latchkey kids whom the television baby-sat. Their parents indulged them with expensive clothes, cars, stereos, and games because they felt guilty for spending so little time with them. As a result, most 13ers have no respect for parents, and many feel they know more and are more mature.

Unthankful

13ers appreciate neither what their parents have provided for them nor the tried-and-true methods for prosperity that have a long and successful history. Howe and Strauss write:

Twenty years ago, the biggest fights between adolescents and their parents were over global "values" involving politics, war, and religion. Today, surveys show their biggest quarrels are over "how they spend their money" and "what they do with their leisure time." . . . 13ers collectively lack that strong attachment to the familial, educational, and economic institutions that once helped move older generations from here to there on the ladder of adult success.

Unholy

Other translations have, "without piety," "irreverent," "having no religion," "irreligious," "wicked." Pollster George H. Gallup reports, "Religion ranks behind friends, home, school, music, and TV as factors teens believe are having the greatest influence on their generation."

13ers make up a large portion of those who are fleeing churches and taking up witchcraft, New Age religions, or becoming totally secular. A professor at Cal-Berkeley says, "TV is their collective dream machine, their temple." An ethics report reads: "An unprecedented proportion of today's youth lack commitment to core moral values like honesty, personal responsibility, respect for others and civic duty."

This is the generation most heavily influenced by the baby boom idea that "God is dead." They do believe in sound bites, rap lyrics, and advertising slogans that become their mottoes: "Just do it." "Do the Dew." "Life is short. Play hard." "All the sugar, twice the caffeine." "Life is a sport. Drink it up." "Image is everything." "Why ask why?"

Unloving

Other translations read, "callous," "inhuman," "without natural affection," "hard-hearted." This is the generation of inner-city gangs, Neo-Nazis, carjackings, and Lyle and Eric Menendez. They were raised on Dirty Harry, Rambo, and the Terminator. Syndicated columnist William Raspberry writes:

Their casual acceptance of violence, the attitude (often reinforced by their parents) that any means is okay to get what you want, and the fatalism that kills their hope of the future is turning them into a generation of animals.

Quotations and statistics can easily be found to support the ten other attitudes Paul lists in II Timothy 3. For now, it will suffice to read what 13ers say about themselves:

» We are clueless yet wizened, too unopinionated to voice concern, purposefully enigmatic, and indecisive.
» Mine is a generation perfectly willing to admit its contemptible qualities.
» We are an impatient, quick-and-dirty generation.
» Our generation is probably the worst since the Protestant Reformation. It's barbaric.
» It's only wrong if you get caught.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Are These the Last Days? (Part 2)


 

2 Timothy 3:1-5

These verses give us a concise but graphic overview of powerful and evil attitudes driving this world toward the brink of annihilation. We have all been victims to some degree of these ungodly attitudes. We cannot escape being affected by them, and even after conversion, it is difficult to fend them off. This overriding way of life has an invasive way of forcing one to concentrate attention on self-satisfaction. It leads one to believe that life, government, employer, or society owes him a living. A strong sense of obligation to serve others, especially freely given service, and loyalty are major victims of its onslaught because it produces the attitude that one is owed rather than that one owes.

Notice how many of the descriptors given in these verses directly relate to focusing on the self. Self-satisfaction is the foundation, the launching pad, and driving force that motivates sin. It is sin's very essence. We should not be deceived into thinking that God does not want us to have any satisfaction in life, but we should rather understand that human nature, aided by Satan, easily allows conduct to get out of control and finds satisfaction beyond the bounds of righteous standards. God wants satisfaction to be produced differently in us.

Sex is an area in which we can see this principle quite easily. God created and pronounced it very good as He stopped His work during Creation week. The Bible shows it is to be used for reproduction and binding a marriage ever more closely in an intimate, loving, pleasurable, and satisfying way as each partner gives and serves the other. God intends it for use within marriage only.

However, as we can see by observing the world, if a person lacks a strong sense of obligation to his mate or to God due to taking wedding vows, to God's laws, or to his personal relationship with Christ, its use can get out of control when one seeks only to please himself. Self-satisfaction then becomes a destroyer of marriage and family life. The stability of the community is disturbed, and above all, one's relationship with God can be shattered by means of something He intended for our good. A deep sense of obligation motivates us toward the vital virtue of faithfulness.

The Bible uses several metaphors to teach the result of human nature's perverse longing for self-satisfaction. Paul notes in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Sin indebts us to death to an amount that, if we paid it, cuts off all hope of eternal life. Proverbs 22:7 adds important understanding to the spiritual principle involved here: "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender." Sin put us in debt to the one we obeyed in sinning. Once we sin, we are living on borrowed time, and we, the borrowers, the debtors, lose our independence. In terms of sin, we owe our lives to someone else. A sinner is no longer his own man!

The idea of "servant" becomes clearer when we understand it as "slave." Slavery is another metaphor for what self-satisfaction produces. Sin puts us in bondage to the cruelest taskmaster in the universe, Satan, the one who generates this host of self-centered attitudes. We are completely unable to break free from this bondage without supernatural help, as Hebrews 2:14-15 says:

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Four): Obligation


 

2 Timothy 3:1-2

Self-love is the very hallmark of this age, and all the others that follow are results of it. It is this selfishness, broadcast at us incessantly, that causes men to be proud and blasphemers, traitors and boasters, unthankful, and unholy, because everything is inward. "Me first, and if I have time, maybe I'll think about seeing to your needs" is the credo of most.

But Christians are supposed to have a different hallmark (John 13:34-35; 15:12-13). A Christian's attitude, his outlook, the way he approaches life, is 180-degrees away from the way society has been set up to function by Satan the Devil. We are not to be lovers of ourselves, but we are to love one another as Christ has loved us - totally opposite to the way we would naturally want to go.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
It Takes a Church


 

James 3:14

Self-Seeking - A speaker once said, "Young people feel like they have to 'find themselves,' so they search this and that, here and there, all in an effort to 'find themselves.' So, what if you spend all this time and energy to find yourself, and in the end you discover nobody's home?"

Humorous but so true! The loneliest people on the planet are those focused on themselves. If I am brutally honest in recalling the lonelier times of my life, I was lonely mostly because I was focused too much on myself. We learn to recognize self-focused people by their constant talking about themselves, their achievements, their experiences, their things, their opinions. They drone on endlessly.

One author writes, "People sometimes talk about themselves because there is nothing else rattling around in their heads." Such people usually have a better way of doing almost everything, yet one often wonders why they are not more successful in life. They ache to express an opinion and believe in their abilities so wholeheartedly that they must be restrained from taking charge. One learns that, when around them, a person's value is significant only in regard to their personal plans, and they will seldom alter their course to fit another in.

Test: How much of our needs and desires fills our agenda each day? Conversely, how much room do we make for others? I used to say with pride, "I usually don't do anything I don't want to do." I meant that I was master of my choices and in control of my life, but I was actually saying, "My plans, ideas, and schedule are far more important than anyone else's."

Staff
Are You Sharp-Tongued? (Part Two)


 

James 3:18

For the seed which one day produces the reward which righteousness brings can only be sown when personal relationships are right and by those whose conduct produces such relationships. (James 3:18; William Barclay's Daily Bible Study)

In this verse, James is talking about a social situation. God's purpose - the fruit that He wants from His way of life, the kind of character that He wants in us - has to be produced in peace. It cannot be produced in war.

Why it cannot be produced in war is obvious. When one is involved in war, he is thinking only of himself, which runs 180 degrees counter to God's nature. God's nature is outgoing. When one is engaged in war, all one is seeking to do is to preserve the self. For God's purpose to be fulfilled to the very best degree, peace is required.

The seed, which one day produces the reward that righteousness brings, can only be sown when personal relationships are right, and by those whose conduct will produce such relationships.

Jesus says that peacemakers will be the children of God, not those who butt others aside, aggressively trying to get to the top, asserting themselves, their will, and their ideas in every circumstance, angling to be the big shot. "Out of my way, buddy. That is my beat." Those people, by implication, will not see God.

This is why God will permit a divorce. Does He not say through Paul in I Corinthians 7:15, "If the unbeliever departs, let him depart"? The believer "is not under bondage in such cases" because "God has called us to peace." God will permit a divorce so that a person can be saved due to the subsequent peace. In a family in which a war rages between a husband and wife, it is possible that God may lose both of them.

When those who butt and disturb the flock are present, the flock will not prosper. The shepherd has to ensure that there is peace, freedom from fear from the outside, freedom from tension within, and freedom from aggravation. (We even use the term "bug," which is what insects do to sheep: They irritate them to no end so they cannot gain weight and are discontented.) The shepherd must also make sure there is freedom from hunger - a congregation, a flock, will prosper if it is being well-fed.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 23 (Part 1)


 

2 Peter 2:10

The Greek word Peter uses literally means "self-pleasing." It denotes the person who, dominated by self-interest and inconsiderate of others, arrogantly asserts his own will. The self-willed person so overvalues any decision he makes that he cannot be dissuaded.

Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 4): Self-Will


 

1 John 2:17

If any New Testament verse summarizes the theme of Ecclesiastes, it is I John 2:17. God calls things that are not as though they are. To God, the world is already dead, so He says, "Love not the world, for it is passing away." "Passing away" is a euphemism of dying. To God, the world is a putrefying corpse, but it has not yet been buried. It is a system in the process of self-destructing as a result of the course of vanity and meaningless self-centeredness, and it cannot be any other way because men and demons are operating it.

Think of this in terms of the main conclusion of the book of Ecclesiastes, of the priority that a person ought to set in his life, which is to fear God and keep His commandments.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 1)


 

1 John 3:16-24

In verse 16, John teaches that we can know love by observing the way Jesus lived His life. He sacrificed His life for us by laying it down each day, as well as in death, setting us an example to follow in our relations with the brethren. In verse 17, he provides a practical illustration of a way we can lay down our life in love. Then, in verse 18, he encourages us not merely to agree with truth but to take action to meet a brother's need.

Verse 19 begins to show the effect of devoted sacrifice to this way of life. The persuasive power of knowing we are doing the right things inspires assurance, confidence, and satisfaction; we feel a positive sense that we are right with God. He then explains that, when these are not produced—but instead we feel guilt and condemnation because we know we are not doing well, and our concern for not being perfect overwhelms us—we need to go to God for forgiveness because He will forgive.

Verse 21 is a subtle encouragement to repent, to turn from our self-centeredness so we can be at peace with God and within ourselves. Verse 22 discloses the positive effect of laying down our lives in sacrifice for our brethren by devotedly keeping the commandments: answered prayers. Living by faith and displaying it through a life of sacrificial love is the theme of verse 23, and finally, in verse 24, he reveals another positive effect: to know absolutely that He lives in us and we in Him. Our lives revolve around faith in this knowledge.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Four): The Peace Offering


 

3 John 1:9-11

Who is this Diotrephes? Perhaps a better question is, "Who does this Diotrephes think he is?" Was he an apostle? Was he an evangelist? Was he a pastor? Was he a leading man in the congregation? Was he an "ordinary" member? John does not say, but it is interesting that John mentions that Diotrephes just loved to have the preeminence among them. It almost sounds as if he was only a member of the church or perhaps an elder. We do not know.

One of his most marked characteristics is he liked to be "Number One." He had to be the important guy, the one everybody came to for answers to their questions, the one to make the big decisions. He even went so far as to say malicious things against John - one of the original twelve apostles. He prated against him with malicious words. He spoke down on him.

John was the disciple that Jesus loved, and here some little man, probably in the church at Ephesus, was talking against the apostle who had put his life on the line for the church many times, who had spent years in exile on the Isle of Patmos, who (tradition says) was put in a vat of boiling oil and was not harmed a bit, a man whom God was obviously with - and this Diotrephes thought he was so important that he could point out John's flaws to the rest of the congregation.

Then he started disfellowshipping people because they did not agree with him. He kicked people out of the church who wanted to fellowship with their brethren whom he had put out. John promised, "When I get there, I'm going to take care of this. I will call to mind all these things and make what this man is apparent."

Given the way he treated the congregation, Diotrephes was a "Satan in the flesh." What he did was evil, which is what John writes in verse 11: "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil." He is warning, "Do not imitate the actions of this man, Diotrephes. He is doing exactly what Satan did."

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Countering Presumptuousness


 

Jude 1:15-19

Verse 15 emphasizes ungodliness. These false ministers are the total opposite of what God is, and if we know what God is—what godliness is—then we can identify and avoid them.

Jude then gives four more descriptors to help us identify false teachers: 1) They are discontented murmurers and complainers. They always have something to gripe about. Discontent with their lot in life, they find fault with everything. Nothing is ever right for them. 2) They live to satisfy their every desire, a trait Jude has already explained thoroughly. 3) They speak bombastic bragging words, and 4) they are respecters of persons, if it will benefit them. They will do anything to get ahead.

In verse 17, we were warned that such people will enter the church and try to ruin it, so we have no excuse. They are here already, and we need to make sure they do not stay here by keeping an eye out for them and giving no quarter to them when they begin their ungodly work.

Jude then gives three final descriptions of them in verse 19. He calls them 1) "sensual" or worldly. They are based totally in this world, in the realm of the five senses. They have no connection to the heavenly. 2) They "cause divisions," meaning when they appear, the congregation begins taking sides. 3) He ends his description with the opposite of his description of true church members in verse 1: False teachers do not have God's Spirit. They are not of us. They may be among us, but they are not God's spiritual children (Romans 8:9-17). We can see from their fruits that the spirit they have is not God's.

With these descriptions of false teachers, we can be more confident in testing the spirits (I John 3:24; 4:1-6).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jude


 

Revelation 3:17

From the beginning to the end of its history, Israel's great sin was trying to get the best of both worlds. They professed that God was their god, but they proved their insincerity by not honoring Him with their attention, their time, their energy. He was low on their list of priorities. God was always on the back burner, so to speak. This is idolatry.

In regard to Laodiceanism, we have to be concerned about the same sin. Laodiceanism is the most subtle form of idolatry. A Laodicean is a Christian who has turned inward. Though he is a part of the church of God, his worship is self-centered. He worships himself and his interests in God's name, while going through the motions of worshipping God. Such is idolatry. What sin is the most distasteful to God? Undoubtedly, it is idolatry! And seeing that sin so skillfully embedded in the Laodicean, He spews them out of His mouth!

Laodiceanism is also the most refined form of worldliness. That worries God. Beginning with an attraction to the world, and building through self-concern that overpowers spiritual concerns, the Laodicean unwittingly worships himself in the place of God. The Laodicean has misjudged what is important in life, and therefore he prioritizes wrongly. He gives his attention to pursuits that are not intrinsically evil, things God desires to bless His people with, but because his priorities are wrong, he merits God's scathing condemnation.

Probably all of us have slumped into Laodiceanism somewhat. Because it is so prevalent in the world, it is almost impossible to avoid. But it can be resisted! We still have time for repentance. Each of us can make a greater effort to study, pray, fast, grow in love for each other, unselfishly help our neighbors, and follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit while we have the time and opportunity. We must not allow this opportunity to slip away.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Revelation 11:18

We need to expand our thinking on the word "earth" and understand that it figuratively, metaphorically, represents all of creation. It is not just the earth, the orb that is spinning around through space on its appointed path, but all of the things that are on the earth. Above all, it refers to mankind, which lives on the earth.

God says He will destroy those who destroy the creation, and that includes themselves. When man does that, he is telling God that we do not appreciate what He has given us. We have a love of beauty without the love of doing what is right in order to maintain correctly what He has given to us.

By far and away, the most important abuse in all of creation deals with man's relationships with God and fellow man. We abuse our relationships because we do not love righteousness along with beauty. Rather than dressing and keeping the relationships through a love of righteousness, we use and abuse them, too.

We can see this in the divorce rate. People do not get divorces because they love one another. It is because one or the other spouse, or both, have abused the relationship. So the marriage, which was created by God to be the environment in which His spiritual creation would be carried out, is destroyed! Again, God is going to destroy those who destroy the earth, His creation.

The basic reason this occurs is addressed in I John. It is the lack of love for God and of God that is causing this. Loving God is a choice that is open to all Christians. If one does not consider God beautiful and choose to love Him, the only alternative is self-centeredness.

We turn our love in on ourselves, and instead of seeking to please God within a relationship with Him, we instead choose unrighteousness or sin, abusing the relationship between Him and us. All love for fellow man begins first with the love for God. This is why I John tells us it is impossible to love man without loving God first.

We must start thinking about what are we doing in our lives to build our relationship with God, because that relationship is salvation! Is God beautiful to us? Is God's way beautiful to us? If it is not, the self-centeredness will lead to abuse. Self-centeredness is the hallmark of worldliness.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Laodiceanism


 

 




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