What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The modern-day descendants of Israel seem to exhibit an especially high degree of idealism and perfectionism. These are not inherently bad traits, because God indeed requires us to strive to be perfect and to live according to His ideals. Sometimes, though, we can create stress for ourselves when we have expectations of perfection because, as Solomon teaches, our world is not perfect.
God has blessed the nations of Israel tremendously, and with those blessings comes the ability to overcome many obstacles. Yet there are aspects of our surroundings that are simply broken—words cannot be unsaid, deeds cannot be undone, and crookedness cannot be straightened.
This axiom in Ecclesiastes 1:15 is connected to the previous verse, which speaks of “all the works that are done under the sun,” giving verse 15 its context. All the works of man—everything in this kosmos, this world apart from God—include a crookedness that cannot be rectified. The number of things lacking in all of man's works is so great as to be uncountable.
By way of definition, the Hebrew word translated as “crooked,” 'avath (Strong's #5791), is used less than a dozen times in the rest of the Old Testament. Its basic meaning is “to wrest,” which is “to forcibly pull something from a person's grasp” or “to obtain by wrenching with violent, twisting movements.” In essence, it is the assertion of one person's will against another's, and the result is damage that can never truly be repaired.
In other places, 'avath is linked with the perversion of justice (Job 8:3; 34:12). It can mean wronging someone or dealing perversely with someone (Psalm 119:78). It indicates turning things upside down or upsetting the natural order of things (Job 19:6; Psalm 146:9). Finally, it can refer to subverting someone in his cause and falsifying the scales (Lamentations 3:36; Amos 8:5).
Solomon is saying that, once the natural order of things has been upset by this willfulness, it is essentially impossible to make those things right again. The order of things cannot be equalized (which is what the word translated as “straight” means), even though there may be a salve that can be applied. When something has been wrested from another—when one person's will has been asserted at the expense of someone else's—it sets things into motion that cannot be equalized. A measure of crookedness will always remain in man's works.
Thus, because of human nature and willfulness, anywhere we find human actions, we also find disorder and incompleteness. We see irregularity and deficiency. Not only that, but we also discover mankind's utter inability to truly fix them or fill in what is lacking.
David C. Grabbe
It is common for people to take the easy way, the path of least resistance. They allow themselves to be blown along with the prevailing cultural wind, whether in fashion, sports, art, music, politics, or sadly, ethics and morals. Taking no thought to their course or direction, they follow along with the current trends because it is easier to "go with the flow."
When bad things happen or when they realize that they have ended up somewhere that they never imagined they would be, instead of deeply considering the course of their lives, many merely shrug their shoulders and call it "fate" or "circumstance." In doing this, they show that they are ruled by the swirling winds of society around them. Rather than exercising control over their lives, they allow those trends to direct their journeys through life. They simply refuse to set a course, man the tiller, and make for a set destination.
At one time or another, we, too, have been affected by what is happening in the world. We have allowed ourselves to be driven by the prevailing winds of this society and its standards. Whether we admit it or not, we have been affected by our culture's television, movies, fashion, politics, and even religion.
We have been called to come out of this world (Revelation 18:4). God wants us to find a course contrary to the prevailing and normal way of life that seems right to those in the world. As Proverbs 14:12 tells us, "There is a way which seems right to a man and appears straight before him, but at the end of it is the way of death" (The Amplified Bible). History is strewn with examples of human ideas that did not end well.
The prevailing winds of this Satan-inspired world (II Corinthians 4:4) sweep millions along in its intense velocity. It is beating against us all the time, and the struggle to resist is wearying. Out of sheer exhaustion, some give in to these winds and conform to their whispered suggestions. It is especially easy to succumb to them when surrounded by peers, employers, friends, and neighbors who want us to follow them and their way of thinking. It is just far less stressful to go along.
However, we are not to conform to the course that the world takes (Romans 12:2). Instead, we are to set our sails to follow a different line, obeying God and rejecting the popular trends of this world when they disregard His way of life. This means that we must take the time to consider and decide where we want to end up. What is our destination? Where is our home port? Then, we have to learn to make right choices so that we will one day arrive there.
The force that is in the world—dominant, popular, and widespread—is contrary to God. If we desire to obey God, we must face it and overcome it, having enough strength to endure its ceaseless, insistent pressure to return to its easy lifestyle.
We need to pay careful attention to this sequence of instructions because it contains much that can help us attain both good spiritual and physical health. In the past fifty years, men have come to understand how deteriorating and destructive stress is to life. Paul's counsel, written nearly two thousand years ago, tells us not to be driven by anxiety or fearfulness about life. Even earlier, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus admonishes us to "take no anxious thought." The stress of anxiety is wearying, setting us up for multiple afflictions. If we really "see" God, we should know that He is with us. Should we not feel great assurance in His promise never to allow us to be tempted above what we can bear? Faith is a prime solution for anxiety.
Paul continues, urging us to let God know our needs in every matter of life. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, He already knows our needs, but He wants us to recognize, evaluate, and communicate them to Him, accompanied by thoughtful expressions of thanksgiving for what He has already given, as well as His promises of blessings in the future. Do we see what this process achieves? It disciplines us to think within certain well-defined parameters that have Him and His way at the center of our life.
Paul then asserts that one benefit of this is tranquility of mind, respite from the restlessness so common to the carnal mind, which is constantly searching for new stimulation to satisfy its insatiable longings. This peace of God will stand guard over our minds like a sentinel, allowing us to meet and cope with the problems of life.
Verse 8 begins with the word "finally." While not technically wrong, it does not adequately convey Paul's intent. We can understand it better as "in this connection" or "in this regard as I close this letter." In relation to anxiety, the peace of God, and coping with the problems of life, our minds should be occupied with things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. Through this discipline, we program our minds with the right things; what goes into the mind determines what comes out in words, actions, and attitudes.
This is a biblical version of the "garbage in, garbage out; wholesome in, wholesome out" cliché. It specifically expands on Jesus' statement, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34). We could take this further and say that out of the abundance of the heart the mind thinks and feels, and the body acts.
In verse 9, Paul defines what is wholesome specifically as what they had learned, received, heard, and seen in him. He is indirectly telling them to eat Jesus Christ because he, Paul, as His apostle to the Gentiles, was His agent to them and their teacher of His way of life.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Five)
2 Thessalonians 3:10-13
This was a primary problem in the first century church—growing weary in doing well.
The foundation of this problem was the people's perception that the return of Jesus Christ was being delayed. They were weary from suffering, persecution, and other hardships associated with being a Christian. These hardships were social, because their friends, relatives, and others who were not Christians ostracized them. Their persecution was economic as well, in that it was difficult for them to get jobs, just as it is today because of Sabbath and holy day obligations. The combination of these trials brought to them to the point that they were tired of doing well.
We are close to the return of Jesus Christ; the world is filled with all kinds of signs of the end. They wear at us and worry us. We see them on television and hear them on the radio—everywhere we look, we see signs of the times. It is a stressful situation to be in, and still, Christ does not come. We say, "How long, Lord, will it be 'til You come?"
We can become neglectful. We can let our focus slip. We need to be exhorted and stirred.
Christ gives the first-century church a warning in Revelation 2:1-7, His message to the Ephesian church. He points out their problem. He gives them advice as to what they should do, and then at the end, He provides incentive for them to correct the situation that they had allowed themselves to deteriorate into.
John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ
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