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What the Bible says about Competition
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Compete is defined in Webster's Dictionary, Deluxe Encyclopedic Edition as "to try to get what others also seek and which all cannot have." Now we understand why the United States is full of violence! The dynamic of American capitalism is competition. We are told, "Be all that you can be!" From earliest childhood we are urged to strive, to compete against others, and these others rarely have any alternative but to compete in return. Guess whose spirit is driving America's way of life?

Competition makes it difficult for people to cooperate because it instills the concept of winning, of getting the prize, the honor, the acclaim, the satisfaction, for the self. Does pride play a part in this? You know it does! It is especially seen in athletics where pride is the driving force that propels the gifted on to victory.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Pride, Contention, and Unity

Related Topics: Competition | Pride


 

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 10:8-12

The name Nimrod means "rebellion" or "let us revolt." At the heart of a rebel or revolutionary—one who seeks to change the present order through his own means—is the desire to rule. Satan, the original rebel, was not merely displeased with God—he wanted to replace Him. A rebel is known for asserting his position, his displeasure, his ideas, and ultimately his own authority. He seeks preeminence. His trail is littered with division and destruction rather than peace and stability. Rather than allowing God to govern in His own creation—physical or spiritual—and direct events according to what He knows will be best, the rebel takes matters into his own hands with an unshakable faith in his own efforts and abilities.

Rebellion and revolution are not just about change, but change with an eye toward establishing a replacement leadership. Indeed, Nimrod was the leader of a revolt against God, not militarily, but culturally and spiritually through the Babylonian system that has its roots in him. The Bible says that rebellion, and all it implies, "is as the sin of witchcraft" (I Samuel 15:23). It also warns "not [to] associate with those given to change" (Proverbs 24:21), implying a change in leadership, and especially in circumstances that God has ordained, for "an evil man seeks only rebellion; therefore a cruel messenger will be sent against him" (Proverbs 17:11).

The fact that Nimrod was a "mighty hunter" against God (Genesis 10:9) could have two different meanings. On the one hand, some scholars postulate that Nimrod's skill in dealing with wild animals led to various peoples flocking to his banner. His promise of protection and security from harm persuaded the residents of the land to submit to him:

Nimrod, like other great kings of Mesopotamian lands, was a mighty hunter, possibly the mightiest and the prototype of them all, since to his name had attached itself the proverb: "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before Yahweh" (Genesis 10:9). In the primitive days of Mesopotamia, as also in Palestine, wild animals were so numerous that they became a menace to life and property (Exodus 23:29; Leviticus 26:22); therefore the king as benefactor and protector of his people hunted these wild beasts. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

A second possibility is that Nimrod did not hunt animals at all, but that his prey was other human beings. Genesis 10:9 makes no mention of animals, but instead deals with Nimrod's character and moral base—something about his character was very contrary to God! He may have been one of the nephilim, one of the cultural giants who were "men of renown" or "men of name," signifying reputation (Genesis 6:4). Unwilling to brook any opposition, the "mighty hunter" would have hunted the other leaders of his time who were influential or mighty.

A common element connects these two possibilities: Nimrod's narcissism. Whether he gained a following through promising protection and security or he aggressively hunted the competition, what is revealed is his striving to be on top. Sadly, most people went along with it. People like to be associated with success, with popular movements, with momentum. Nothing attracts people like the appearance of greatness and accomplishment.

Nimrod certainly accomplished a great deal, as he has the founding of at least eight cities to his credit (Genesis 10:10-12). Indeed, one of them, Babel, was the site of the infamous tower of the same name. The project began as a means to protect against calamity—specifically an act of God. Genesis 11:4 records that the people of Shinar built a tower to "make a name" for themselves. Their solution to the threat of being scattered was to band together in a grand project that would ensure their viability. This, too, was likely done under the premise of providing protection—from another flood, if nothing else. The construction was not done to honor or glorify God, but for their own indulgence.

Name here means "an appellation, as a mark or memorial of individuality; by implication honor, authority, character." It contains the idea of a "definite and conspicuous position." They were not concerned about their standing with God, but only about their legacy! God's response to those who sought a name for themselves was the very thing they were trying to protect against: scattering (Genesis 11:8-9). God's scattering at Babel was so thorough that it exists to this day! "For who can make straight what He has made crooked?" (Ecclesiastes 7:13).

Nimrod's tale is one of arrogance and blindness. He did not use his leadership abilities and aptitudes constructively but for self-exaltation and the pursuit of preeminence. His competitiveness may have gained him subjects but always at the expense of someone else. He was not afraid to step on others as he fought his way to the top. His central thought was not what God was doing but what he was doing. He foolishly promised protection to those who would throw their lot in with him—something only God can guarantee! His "salvation through association," though it sounded nice, was deceptive and could only disappoint.

David C. Grabbe
Coattails

Judges 2:11-19

God has endowed His creation with a self-adjusting mechanism that, unless altered by cataclysmic forces, brings things back to a state of equilibrium. For instance, the South recently endured four years of significant drought until finally the skies darkened, the rains fell, gutters and drains filled, flashfloods came, creeks overflowed, and fender-benders increased. The drought was declared over, and the region is busily making up for the lack of precipitation. The natural balancing laws have worked again!

This is not only true over the short term but the long term as well. What environmentalists gloomily call "global warming" is nothing more than the planet's built-in mechanism to bring temperatures back to a mean. Several hundred years ago, the earth endured a "mini ice age," and since then, global temperatures have been rising ever so slightly to balance matters. We can expect these temperatures to rise and fall by a few tenths of a degree over our lifetimes, with more drastic changes of climate occurring only once or twice in a millennium.

This kind of equilibrium also occurs in other areas of nature. For example, in any ecosystem the ratio of predators to prey remains relatively constant. If in a bountiful year prey species multiply rapidly, predator births also increase. However, once the prey population declines to a point that it cannot support the large number of predators, competition increases and deaths of predators also increase, establishing equilibrium once again.

The law also functions among human activities, though the relationships may be harder to spot and substantiate. However, we can perhaps see this best in economic patterns. We have all heard of economic cycles or stock-market cycles. Generally, free markets are self-correcting. Booms are followed by busts, bulls by bears.

A nation also has a moral cycle that maintains equilibrium so that things infrequently get so bad that God must intervene directly and spectacularly. This may be most easily seen in God's record of the Israelites during the period of the judges. After Joshua died, a cycle began that lasted for about four hundred years, as described in Judges 2:11-19.

This cycle of idolatry-subjection-deliverance-prosperity is still at work today, though it may be more difficult to see in our modern world. Were it not, mankind would never have lasted this long; he would have committed genocide long ago. We can be thankful that God has included this self-correcting mechanism within His creation so that there is a promise of a brighter tomorrow.

However, a time is coming—and maybe soon—that the natural cycle will not be enough to bring humanity back to equilibrium. Jesus Christ will have to step into world affairs to stop mankind from killing all life on earth (Matthew 24:21-22, 29-31). He warns us, "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him" (verse 44). The question is, then, have we stepped outside the natural cycle of moral equilibrium and committed ourselves totally to righteousness?

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Equilibrium

Related Topics: Balance | Competition | Drought


 

Job 41:34

This verse portrays God speaking of Leviathan, which clearly represents a being of awesome power and influence over mankind. God's description of Leviathan must not be misunderstood by focusing merely on its monstrous physical appearance, but rather on its reality as a living being, possessing strong leadership qualities and powerful influence.

Leviathan strikes fear into men to bring about submission to him and thus control of them. He is the king of pride, and he rules "the children of pride," who are the overwhelming masses of unconverted people, those not submissive to God. They, like their king and spiritual father, are enemies of God. Whether his mass of followers is aware of it or not, they have been forcibly inducted into his service. This is the same being of which Jesus informed the Jews in John 8:44:

You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.

The one who became Satan is a powerful and dominating creation of Almighty God. He was created, not as an enemy of God and His purpose, but as a powerful cherub to serve Him in His purpose by leading other angels in their service to God. Jude 6 discloses that the place of their service was on Planet Earth before mankind was created. But, as Ezekiel 28:14-17 shows, he turned his heart against God to become an enemy, influencing the angels under his charge to rebel with him to fight against God (Revelation 12:9; Isaiah 14:12-14).

God defeated them, and they were cast back to earth. Satan and his minions are still here, continuing their war against God and His creation—man. Ephesians 2:1-3 informs us about how this warfare is being carried out:

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

Satan's influence is worldwide: "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (I John 5:19). His ultimate object is to destroy God, but along the way he also strives to destroy any aspect of God's creation, most especially man. He is doing this through inducing human beings to sin in order to bring upon them the wages of sin—death.

His basic tool for accomplishing this is by means of his spirit. The driving forces of his prideful, deceitful mind and those of his demon companions are deceit, hatred, anger, competition, and destruction, all encompassed within an overweening pride. People absorb them into their thinking processes, becoming like him in attitude and conduct. These characteristics lodge into human hearts and generate resistance to God, His law, and His purpose.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and Human Pride

Proverbs 13:10

Only through pride does contention last. We primarily see the effects of pride because pride is frequently difficult to detect. God has shown in His Word how to detect it: by looking at the fruits. How do we know false prophets? By their fruits, by what they produce.

A quarrel that could be easily settled if both parties were humble continues indefinitely when parties are arrogant. Why? Because pride plows the way for contempt for the others opinion. Pride inflames passion and wounds feelings. Because of competitiveness, also an aspect of pride, a person feels he has to fight back. And so the argument goes back and forth.

If we are ever involved in a quarrel that seemingly will not end, we should be well-advised from God's Word that the problem is pride. It is somewhere in the picture in one or both who are participating in the conflict. The quarrel will never end until one person makes up his mind to stop it by refusing to argue back, suppressing the feeling that he must win.

One of the greatest spiritual advances that I ever made in my life was when it suddenly dawned on me one day that I did not have to win. God is on His throne, and because He loves me and the other person, God will make available to both of us what the right decision is. If we ask patiently, persevering without anger, and if we continue to meditate and search and counsel with Him, the answer will come. So, arguments stop.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Six)

Proverbs 16:16-19

Regarding pride, God gives some strong warnings. It must definitely be eradicated from our character. Pride has many manifestations, but it almost always starts when a person makes perverted comparisons, elevating one thing above another, making the self feel better or more deserving than another, and so forth. Pride may well be the father of other sins. God says that pride leads the way to destruction (Proverbs 11:2; 17:19; 18:12), which a product of sin.

The natural corollary of pride is prejudice, which is all about perverse comparisons. Jane Austen wrote a popular novel a couple of centuries ago entitled Pride and Open-mindedness. I jest. The title is Pride and Prejudice. Prejudice falls on the heels of pride because of the perverted judgment that is a part of it.

Pride begets numerous emotional disorders because it brings people into conflict either openly or internally. Whenever mental discord is held within, its outbreak will likely manifest as some sort of emotional disorder. We call the people unbalanced or even mentally ill, but churning away inside this person is a perverted comparison. Pride is present, bringing them into conflict with another, and they never resolve the conflict. Most frequently, the conflict occurs within the home, usually with someone close. Sometimes, it can be on the job. Wherever it may occur, good personal relationships are almost impossible where pride and its firstborn, prejudice, exist.

Another of the more damaging children of pride is intellectual arrogance. It produces an inability to learn either from one's own experiences or those of others. It also spawns a hatred of criticism and disdain for others.

The greater the pride, the more dangerous the consequences to the relationship, whether in a marriage, a partnership, or politics. It is a major cause of war between couples, within companies, or between nations.

Have we ever considered that America offers few rewards for modesty and moderation? The big rewards in the United States go to the arrogant, and we have thus produced a competitive and violent society that rides on the coattails of this proud attitude.

This is illustrated in no better place than in entertainment, especially in the movies. At one time, the heroes in the movies were almost always valiant and modest men or women. The actors like Jimmy Stewart, Alan Ladd, Spencer Tracy, or Gary Cooper usually portrayed them with an understated strength. It is difficult to remember them ever playing somebody arrogant. Today, the heroes are often proud and vain, reflecting the general attitude that has changed in that direction over the decades. Now the icons of the entertainment world are the arrogant, the smug, the aggressive, the abusers.

Pride has its roots in a sense or feeling of strength, wealth, prosperity, or accomplishment. Sometimes these things are imagined, and sometimes they are real, but whatever the case, misplaced confidence in self arises, producing a "better than" feeling. The perverted comparison emerges.

There is nothing wrong with having confidence in one's ability to perform something. However, an ability to do something does not make a person intrinsically better than another. All the individual has done is to develop a skill that he already had a latent ability to perform. In the eyes of God, that talent does not make one better than another. Skill is good, even great. We should strive to develop them but always understanding that they do not intrinsically equate with "better than." If we fail to understand this, our comparisons are on their way to becoming perverted.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Seven)

Ecclesiastes 4:4-7

The major reason for hard work among men is rivalry, competition. Someone is trying to outdo somebody else, and success breeds envy in neighbors. So a person engages in hard work to outclass somebody else.

Solomon, however, reaches the conclusion that rivalry does not produce lasting companionship. What do rivalry and competition produce? Enemies. He then concludes that contentment is two times better than the futility of pursuing after gain, that is, keeping up with the Joneses is a futile thing for a person to do.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)

Ecclesiastes 4:4-8

Ecclesiastes 4:4-8 records Solomon's analysis of four types of workers. He appears to have disgustedly turned his attention from the corrupted halls of justice to the marketplace, watching and analyzing as people worked. Recall how those who work diligently are lauded throughout Proverbs and how Ecclesiastes 2 and 3 both extol work as a major gift of God. Solomon came away from this experience with assessments of four different kinds of workers. Understand that God chooses to illustrate His counsel by showing extremes; not everybody will fit one of them exactly. At the same time, we should be able to use the information to make necessary modifications to our approach to our own work.

The first he simply labels the “skillful” worker. This worker has not only mastered the techniques of his trade, but he is also unusually industrious in performing it. We might better call this person a skillful workaholic. The man's skill is laudable, but his productivity motivates others to envy rather than to admiration. Knowing human nature well, Solomon is motivated to think more deeply about what drives such a person to apply himself so intensely. This may be especially useful for us because it seems to apply well to life in an Israelite culture.

Verse 4 is translated to make it appear as though those watching this skillful worker envy his diligence. However, other versions change the direction of the translation, instead saying that the diligent worker labors as he does because he is driven by his own attitude. The Jewish Publication Society, the New American Bible, and the Revised English Bible all change the word “envy” to “rivalry.” That is, people of this mindset perfect their skills and work industriously because of their competitive nature gone overboard.

They want to have more wealth as well as a greater reputation than others in their field of endeavor. This type is especially strongly driven to stay ahead of the competition. Some have analyzed that such workaholics see themselves in what may be called a “battle for bread”; their purpose in being skillful is less to produce a truly quality product than it is to get rich. Thus, the hands are truly capable, which is admirable, but the heart is out of alignment with God. Solomon describes a law of nature, the survival-of-the-fittest attitude, applied to a person's trade. He concludes that this is detrimental, literally a sheer vanity that makes life meaningless.

He is describing something similar to American capitalism, which is productive but not perfect. This competitive approach to work was not part of God's original creation of mankind but a twist Satan has inserted as part of human nature. It is unbalanced in a number of ways, one of the more obvious being that such driven people ignore or submerge other important aspects of life like marriage and family. The worker may feel good about himself because he is providing well for his family, but he is blind to the fact that others are paying a severe price.

Covetousness, competition, envy, and jealousy are often linked. Competition is not evil in itself, but when being first is pursued at the expense of honesty, trouble will also be produced. We see this when some athletes break the rules by using drugs or when manufacturers cut back on the quality of a product. The world is full of Joneses to keep up with or excel.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Five): Comparisons

Isaiah 14:13

Biblically, God's throne is in the north—way in the north of heaven. What Helel 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

Ezekiel 28:16

"By the abundance of your trading you became filled with violence within" is difficult to understand in terms of angelic beings, but it shows a measure of competition. He certainly began to be in competition with God. Not being content with his position, he began to compete with God, and it filled him with violence and sin.

The attitude of competition, once it is taken too far, becomes violent. The only way a person can win is by beating down his adversary.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Countering Presumptuousness

Ezekiel 28:16-17

God had made him perfect in wisdom, had He not? But Helel, who became Satan, corrupted that wisdom. In biblical terms, wisdom is the actual doing of righteousness. What happened in this situation was that Helel's doings, actions, behaviors, became corrupted. He should have known better because God had given him that wisdom. Early on, he had acted in wisdom, but his competitive attitude, his discontent, his pride, caused him to pervert his way of life.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Countering Presumptuousness

Amos 5:11

Amos says that another change will be in a person's relationships with people. In the church, we call this "fellowship." The untransformed attitude toward people to use people to promote personal interests. People are objects to be used by the unconverted.

Consider Christ's words in Luke 22:24-27:

Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.' But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves." (Our emphasis.)

We have a strong tendency to apply these verses only to those in authority, but it applies to everybody, regardless of status. The carnal-minded take advantage of every opportunity to promote themselves and their interests. The carnal will lie, scheme, steal, twist the truth, deceive, slander, dishonor their parents, and even murder to get their own way, to come out on top, to win, to look good, to get acclaim, or to get rich.

We have clichés like, "Winning is the only thing" or "If you've got it, flaunt it." Those are extremes, but the carnal mind thinks in that direction and attitude. The unconverted use people and situations for their advantage.

A converted person, one whom God is transforming, will not do that. He will put himself, humbly and willingly as Christ did, in the position of a servant. He will not misuse others. At times, he will allow himself to be used—evidence of his transformation into the image of Christ—to make a proper witness for God.

The attitude we see out in the world is especially important to those of us reared under the pervasive influence of American capitalism. Its attitude of intense competition is the driver, the motivation, behind almost everything going on in this country. So, what we witness out in public is an excess of virtually everything except genuine love for one another. It is a major reason divorce is so prevalent today. Vanity and pride are driving husband and wife to compete rather than cooperate.

Truly, coming into contact with God is a humbling experience because now we can start to see ourselves as we should. What happens then is transformation, and true fellowship begins when we seek Him.

Jesus brought this up for at least three reasons: One, to show what God is like in His attitude toward His creation. Two, to show us what we should try to emulate. Three, to help us see evidence of conversion in ourselves.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Seeking God

Matthew 20:20-28

Here, the disciples show they understood what Christ was doing, but they immediately let the idea of such awesome power go to their heads by vying for the very top positions. Christ explains that His disciples must use authority in a godly fashion, not for self-aggrandizement as the Gentiles had used it.

Staff
Who Are the 'Guests at the Wedding'?

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

John 13:34-35

God is showing through the church that all the prejudices against God and man can be dissolved and overcome through Christ. "New" here implies freshness, rather than from the point of time. It is part of the different perspective one receives upon conversion. Doing what He says to do is new for a convert because it means operating from the perspective of cooperation rather than competition. It is a new thing for a convert to show love, which is the exercising or the application of God's Word.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Reconciliation and the Day of Atonement

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

Romans 12:3

This is not meant either as a put down in any way, or that one is better than another. But not everyone is the same. God gives gifts to each to fulfill his position in the body. Another may not be as well-equipped to do a particular job because He has given other gifts for him to fulfill his function. He gives these diverse gifts so we can cooperate for the well-being of the body, not compete to its destruction. If offense and division among brethren are occurring regularly, we can be certain that the king of pride is stirring up pride in them to compete for something all cannot have.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Pride, Contention, and Unity

Romans 14:19

This seems so obvious that it need not be said, but God includes it in His Word because Christians within the church do not hold in check some of the very things that cause so much disunity in this world. The apostle entreats us to lay aside the causes of contention so we can live in harmony.

Sometimes we do not understand how competitive human nature is. It is proud. It feels it has to win, be vindicated, and if possible, elevated over others. These attitudes do not make peace. Rather than pursuing the things that cause contention, Paul says, pursue the things that cause peace. It is a Christian's responsibility, part of his vocation. Emphasizing the positive is an incomplete, but nonetheless fairly accurate, description of what can be done.

Solomon writes in Proverbs 13:10, "By pride comes only contention, but with the well-advised is wisdom." Contention divides. Much of the strife and disunity in the church is promoted by those who seem bent on "majoring in the minors." This is the overall subject of Romans 14. Church members were becoming "bent out of shape" over things that irritated them but had little or nothing to do with salvation. They blew these irritants out of proportion to their real importance, creating disruption in the congregation.

Essentially, Paul tells these people to change their focus, to turn the direction of their thinking, because we agree on far more that is of real, major importance to salvation than what we disagree on. If we will cooperate on these major things rather than on private ends and prejudices, peace and unity will tend to emerge rather than strife and disunity. Paul further admonishes the irritated members to have faith in God's power to change the other: "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4).

Why can we not cultivate a spirit of peace by striving for holiness? Holiness is a major issue leading to preparation for God's Kingdom and salvation. Peace is one of its fruits. Why can we not show love for the brethren and strive to do good for them "as we have opportunity, . . . especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10)? Why can we not spend more serious time studying God's Word, getting to know Him? These admirable pursuits are humbling and serving. They produce peace and put other, less important matters into a proper perspective and priority. If pursued sincerely, they keep the "minors" right where they belong because they tend to erode one's pride.

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

1 Corinthians 11:18-19

Contrasting the unity that Christ died to establish is the division sown by the Adversary as part of his “divide and conquer” strategy. Paul writes of factions (or divisions) in relation to the members of the Corinthian church of God:

For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions [schisma] among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions [hairesis] among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. (I Corinthians 11:18-19)

In general, the nouns schisma and (to a lesser extent) hairesis receive pejorative treatment in the New Testament. The thrust of the apostle's comments on the topic of church factions is that they showcase the presence of human nature at work in Christians. Schisms are the result of carnality alive-and-kicking in the church. They emerge where God's people are not fully committed to living His way of life, where they deny God His rightful place as Sovereign Ruler of their lives. Axiomatically, the lack of unity in a congregation reflects a proportional lack of repentance on the part of its members.

Paul introduces the concept of division, using the same Greek word as he does in I Corinthians 11:18, schisma, in the book's first chapter:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions [schisma] among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. (I Corinthians 1:10-11)

Quarreling is a manifestation of the unity-dissolving “friction or competition.”

Charles Whitaker (1944-2021)
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part One)

2 Corinthians 5:9-11

When God summoned us to His way of life, He persuaded us with various proofs that He exists, desires a relationship with us, and rules not just the universe but also the affairs of men. As often happens during our first love (Revelation 2:4-5), we desire to share our joy and newfound truth with others. Most of the time, our early evangelistic efforts fail to produce any new converts to the faith—instead, our efforts usually cause problems in our relationships.

Most lay-members, after one or two failures of this sort, get smart and desist in trying to convert their relatives and friends. They realize that nothing will ever happen without God first calling the other individual and changing his heart by His Spirit to accept the truth (John 6:44; Romans 2:4-5; 8:7; I Corinthians 2:10-14; Hebrews 8:10; Ezekiel 11:19). All our preaching and cajoling will accomplish nothing unless God moves to initiate a personal relationship with him.

Ministers do not have such an easy out. Certainly, in their personal relationships they can quit trying to "save" those unconverted members of their families, but in their professional capacity, their job is to "persuade men." In personal conduct, counsel, sermons, and articles, they must devote their energies to showing and explaining why God's way is true and will lead to eternal life in His Kingdom.

Today, that is not an easy task. It has never been easy, really, but the current environment makes it harder than it has been historically. For starters, though a high percentage of people say they believe in God, most people are no longer religious but secular. Religion is not a high-ranking concern, and because of this, religious issues fly under their radar and over their heads. They just do not care, and even when they inquire about them, they do not understand them because they lack the background and education necessary to evaluate them properly.

Another problem is competition. It used to be that most people at least treated Sunday, the so-called "Lord's day," as a Sabbath and devoted most or all of that time to religious pursuits. No longer. Sunday, though it is not God's Sabbath day, is used just like any other day: for work and entertainment. If God receives a few hours on Sunday morning for worship services, most Americans—and Europeans to an even greater degree—think He should feel satisfied that they could spare Him even that much!

Yet a third hindrance is the way moderns think. Too many people, especially younger adults, have absorbed the postmodern, values-neutral approach. This way of thinking considers every idea and belief as equally valid, neither right nor wrong. A person can believe anything he likes—even that the moon is made of green cheese—and he should not be judged as right or wrong. Any god one worships, or for that matter, if one chooses to worship no god, is fine, and no one god or belief system is better than any other.

In such an environment, how can we persuade anyone of the truth? Our success certainly looks bleak.

The answer lies in what Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:9-11: "We make it our aim . . . to be well pleasing to Him." Our judgment does not rest on how many men we persuade but on whether we do the job. We are called to make the witness for God and Christ to the best of our ability and strength. Christ will judge us "according to what [we have] done, whether good or bad." How others react to us and what we say or write matters little; it is "God who gives the increase" (I Corinthians 3:5-8). As Paul says, one plants and another waters, but what happens to the sprout is not under their control but God's.

Thus, we cannot quantify the results of our persuasion as others can. We cannot see the growth of our "business" in statistical form. The true measure of our success will be revealed in God's Kingdom, and even then, we will be unable to claim the glory for it. For in persuading men, we "do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
We Persuade Men

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

1 Peter 3:9

Peter is talking about turning the other cheek. Satan is always trying to move, motivate, guide, lead us toward self-satisfaction in every circumstance. If we are in a position or situation in which we are trying to defeat another, it is probable that he has a hold of us. Satan is competitive.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 4)

1 John 2:15-16

These verses are a basic guideline to the alluring heart of the Babylonish system. This system has its basis in human nature. It feeds right into our desire for frequent change and variety of experience as the answer to fulfillment in life, but the Bible clearly reveals God drawing His children into His oneness.

Babylon promotes fulfillment in material things, excitement and gratification of the flesh, and variety of experience. These major fruits are easily seen in the world around us as confusion of purpose. People do not know where they are going. They are bouncing in every different direction. There is competition, hitting heads with one another. There is disunity and diversity everywhere. There is disharmony, fighting with one's neighbor. There is separation from each other and eventually from God and ultimately the separation of death. The result is that the world is not a happy place to live in.

None of these factors that are part of the allurement of Babylon can give a lasting sense of peace, fulfillment, abundant living, and purpose in life because none of them is in constant harmony with the purpose of God. Each of these things, though they may not be sin of and by themselves, can only produce a temporary burst of well-being.

Many, many times, God instructed Israel against this proclivity. They were to seek out only Him in His only habitation in Jerusalem. But Israel is disastrously curious and terribly smitten with the discontented, unsettled, impatient "grass is always greener" disease.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part Seven)

1 John 2:15-16

These verses provide a basic guideline for avoiding entrapment by this alluring heart of the Babylonish system. Since this system has its basis in human nature, it feeds right into the desires for frequent change and variety of experience as the answers to fulfillment in life. The Bible, however, clearly reveals God drawing His children into His oneness, which is diametrically opposed to the world's system. It promotes fulfillment in material things, excitement, gratification of the flesh, and variety of religious experience. Its major fruits are easily seen in the world around us as confusion of purpose, competition, disharmony, disunity, separation from each other and God, and death.

The result is that this world is not a happy place to live in. None of these factors can give a lasting sense of peace, fulfillment, and abundant living because none of them harmonizes with the purpose of God. They can only produce a temporary burst of emotional well-being or satisfaction.

God instructed Israel often and in many ways against this proclivity. They were to seek only Him in His only habitation in Jerusalem. Israel, though, is disastrously curious and incautious and filled with discontented, unsettled, impatient, "grass is always greener" yearnings.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Seven): How Can Israel Be the Great Whore?

Revelation 3:7-8

What is this open door? The conventional interpretation among those who have come out of the Worldwide Church of God is that Christ has given the Philadelphians an open door to preach the gospel, an idea that is not without merit. In three of Paul's epistles, he uses an open door as a metaphor for an opportunity to preach (I Corinthians 16:9; II Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3). But this metaphor has no connection at all to Christ's quotation of Isaiah 22:22. Moreover, the fruit of this interpretation has been exclusivity, comparing ourselves among ourselves, division, competition, and a pitiful supply of love—works of the flesh rather than fruit of the Spirit. This occurs largely because people keep pushing God and all He is doing out of the picture and focusing on the works of men.

When we understand Christ's reference to Eliakim, that He is now fulfilling that role, we can understand the open door without having to force anything. Consider the access He grants, saying in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Through Christ's blood, we have access to the Almighty, the Most High God.

After the seven letters, in Revelation 4:1, John is shown an open door in heaven. To see what is behind the open door, we must read and meditate on the rest of the chapter. It is profound, describing where we approach in spirit when we pray. Far from suggesting that the Philadelphians are going to heaven, the chapter reiterates the fact of their access to the One in heaven. Through Christ, we have entrance into the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of the Great God, which we may enter with boldness (Hebrews 10:19).

Notice what Jesus says in Luke 11:9-10, 13:

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. . . . 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!

If we knock and keep knocking (as the Greek indicates), God opens the door. The Philadelphians have had to knock because they have only a little strength, and they know it. But they also know that the only way to endure courageously (Revelation 3:10) is to seek the strength of God. Thus, the One they seek responds, giving more of His Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the means by which the Father and the Son dwell within the adopted sons of God. By giving the Spirit, He gives more of Himself. No one can shut that open door, though we can certainly ignore it and “neglect so great a salvation” (Hebrews 2:3).

The letter to Philadelphia is not about the mighty works of powerful men. It begins with the tremendous help available to those who are weak, but who keep God's Word, who do not deny His name, and who persevere in faith. Because they consistently knock, Christ reminds them of His pivotal position as second-in-command to the Absolute Deity and that through Him as Steward, they have access to the throne of God.

The Philadelphians' strength is small, but God's is without limit. They are not those who seek after earthly glory, like Shebna, but they are faithful in their responsibilities to the Most High God, like Eliakim—and like Jesus Christ.

David C. Grabbe
The 'Open Door' of Philadelphia

Revelation 17:16

The woman and the beast represent political power with somewhat diverse and competing application of the same Babylonish system. The competition, according to this principle in Mark 3:24-26, will eventually escalate into war between them. Each is competing for world domination, and just as surely as Satan's house cannot stand, the Babylonish system cannot stand.

We see where the competition will go between these two. At the beginning of Revelation 17, the woman is sitting on the beast, but by the end, the woman has been gobbled up by the super-powerful beast. It does not happen until God puts it into the heart of the kings, who make up the beast, to do so. We can begin to see that up until that point, God is intervening on the behalf of the woman who would seem to be weaker than this wild beast, but she is actually controlling it much of the time.

Competition may appear on the surface to be good, producing better quality and better value, but it ultimately destroys. That is God's point. It ultimately destroys.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part Four)

Revelation 17:16-17

Within the practical realities of international political, economic, and military affairs, the Beast may be resentful and unwilling to do as the Woman directs. As a wild animal would, it will undoubtedly buck and resist, but until God is ready, it ends up most of the time doing what the Woman wants. The Beast submits to the Woman because she possesses power greater in certain areas than the Beast, a power the Beast resents, envies, and plots to have for itself.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Eight): God, Israel, and the Bible


 




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