What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
One of this world's evangelists said, "It takes five percent effort to win a person to Christ and ninety-five percent effort to keep him in Christ and growing to maturity." There are two closely related reasons for this. First, the convert fails initially to count the cost so that he truly understands commitment to Christ (Luke 14:26-33). Second, once committed, he fails to think about events and attitudes in his life in relation to the Kingdom of God. Without this, a Christian never gets past the surface of the teachings.
This results in a person with so many interests in life that the most important one is crowded out. Or, conversely, he is consumed with a single interest other than seeking the Kingdom of God, and it is crowded out. If a Christian fails to prioritize properly, he neglects the most important one. That is a choice. Most of us tend to fall into the first category where everything is the same size and importance. We have no single great priority.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Preparing for the Feast
"Lot lingered." This statement does not describe his whole life, of course, but it seems to catch the essence of a dominant characteristic. He was not really focused on the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33). Lot was not focused as his uncle, Abraham, was. If a person who was truly focused on the Kingdom of God yet who lived in Sodom had two angels come to saying, "Get out!" would he flee or would he linger? This tells us something about Lot: He was a man who was distracted by other interests that caught his eye and thus his attention.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Three)
This generation has a particularly difficult time adjusting from a workday mode to a Sabbath-keeping mode for a number of reasons. One is that life is so fast paced, with so many ways and activities to give our time, our energies, our minds, and our attention to.
This can be seen in the parable of the Sower and Seed in Matthew 13, where the seed falls on stony places. With people whose minds are focused on too many things, the Word of God does not take very deep root. And so, as Jesus says, when persecution or trouble arises as a result of this way of life, then they very quickly turn aside. They have nothing really rooted very deeply in them. They have been giving their time, energy, and all of their talents to something else entirely.
Another thing that we can extract from this same parable is that we have never, in any generation of man, been so close to the creations of man and so distant from the creations of God. We are surrounded by concrete, steel, glass, plastic, rubber, and all of the things that man makes. And we are very rapidly losing touch with the things that God has made.
Our mind tends to focus automatically on what we are surrounded by. Today, we are not walking behind a mule, plowing the ground, and listening to the birds as we plow; or putting seeds in the ground, watching them come up, and eating the products of what God has made possible by His laws and by the fact that He continues to provide for His Creation. He sends the rain, and He brings forth the fruit. If we do not have contact with God's creation, we very quickly begin to have our minds surrounded by other things, and we are then cast adrift because of paying attention to those things.
In addition to that, we have been spiritually trained by this Protestant society not to regard a day as belonging to God, but rather to use time for our own pleasure as though it all belonged to us. And if we have been taught at all, we have been taught the wrong day.
It seems that we do not have enough time for God, even though we literally have just as much time as Peter, James, John, Philip, and all of the ancients besides them. How much time does a working mother have today for a good spiritual life after giving her time and energies to her employer and then returning home and doing her responsibilities there? How much time does a father holding two jobs, or working as much overtime as he can, or working plus going to school at night in order to get ahead (in order to afford all of the finer things of life) have for God? How much energy does this mother and father have at the end of the week?
All of us are pressured and victimized by this insane system that Satan has put together. But few of us have much excuse for not using Sabbath time in the way that God intended that it be used.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 4)
Jeshurun is a code name for Israel. It literally means "the upright one." The word may have been written with a certain measure of sarcasm. Or, it may have been written as a warning to this "upright one"—Jeshurun or Israel—about when he was most likely to fall to the enemy.
This is an interesting warning from God of the power of affluence to turn a person away. It is such a subtle form of persecution that we bask in it. It does not have to be a form of persecution or trial; it depends on our mindset. However, we must realize the power that it has. God is prophesying that the affluent's lack of character to handle the wealth is really what destroys them.
According to John Wesley—the founder of Methodism—wealth has destroyed the godliness of more people than any other thing. One might think, "I am not wealthy," but Wesley defined a wealthy person as anyone who had food, clothing, a place to sleep, and just a little bit left over each day. According to this definition, nearly every one of us qualifies as being wealthy. The problem with wealth is that it demands that we manage it and that we take care of what it provides. If we are not careful, it can be a consuming distraction. This is what John Wesley means.
It does not have to be that way. This is obvious from the fact that the Bible reports to us that Abraham was very wealthy. He was not just rich—he was very rich. David, too, was very rich. These were two great men in the eyes of God. The problem is that hardly anybody can use wealth in the right way, that is, manage it without it becoming a consuming occupation in itself. Yet, of and by itself, wealth is a neutral.
Most of us do not have the mindset of wealth's neutrality, which is a defense, because we have been reared in a culture that is wealthy, and it keeps prodding us to become wealthier and wealthier. It promotes the idea that we are nobody unless we possess wealth. This tends to work against us, making wealth difficult for us to control.
The Bible and the church are not against wealth, but we have to be aware of what the Bible says about it—that it can be one of the greatest deterrents to spirituality that we could possibly be given. Maybe God is blessing us when he does not prosper us so much. . . .
John W. Ritenbaugh
Endure as a Good Soldier
1 Kings 3:5-10
Did anyone ever have such a good start as Solomon? Perhaps the outstanding thing was his attitude when he asked this of God. Commentators feel that he was somewhere around twenty years old when this occurred. His youthfulness shows in what he felt about himself in relation to what had become his responsibility. He says, "I am a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in." In other words, "I don't know how to conduct the affairs of office. I feel that I am not adequate to do the job that has been given to me."
He began with such promise, and maybe most of all was that wonderful attitude. It was childlike. He was humble, willing to listen, willing to be admonished and commanded by God. This is why God responded as He did.
Jesus Christ said, "To whom much is given, from him much will be required." Very few have ever been given as much as Solomon had. So, he is an excellent study case of one who neglected his gifts in favor of something of lesser value. The cause of his fall is here summarized in I Kings 11:1-10.
Solomon had very special evidence of God's love. There are four examples of this:
- He was chosen king contrary to the normal custom. He was hand-picked to do the job. Had the normal custom been followed, Adonijah would have been made king, but it fell to Solomon instead. Of course, God is the one who sets kings up and puts them down, and He chose Solomon to succeed David.
- He was given a change of name. Just like Abram's name was changed to Abraham, Jacob's name was changed to Israel, and Saul's name was changed to Paul, people who went through unusual experiences sometimes receive a name change to reflect the change that had occurred in their lives. Solomon's name was "Jedidiah," which means "beloved of the LORD." His name was a special assignment to him—someone that God really smiled upon.
- He received every benefit imaginable: understanding, wisdom, wealth, and power. Of course, the Bible indicates that these things flowed from God—for his benefit and the nation's.
- Twice he was visited by God—for encouragement and admonishment.
In addition, he had clear evidence of God's power working directly for him. Solomon was put on the throne in the face of the entrenched political power of the day, represented by Adonijah and particularly Joab. When David died, the most influential person in the nation was not a member of David's immediate family. It was Joab. In the face of Joab's support of Adonijah, however, Solomon still became king. Obviously, God manipulated things to put him on the throne.
He was also granted unparalleled, unchallenged power and prestige as a king. People came from all the nations to admire Solomon, his wisdom, his building projects, and his wealth. All these visitors gave all the credit to Solomon. In reality, the Bible shows that God's power was working on Solomon's behalf to produce these things.
He was given success in all of his endeavors beyond what anyone could normally expect. Whether it was in botany, biology, building projects, wine, women, and song, Solomon hit the top of the charts in everything he did.
But Solomon also had a problem. He was distracted by his interest in women. He was a great man, but he had feet of clay and succumbed to idolatry. Now, this did not happen overnight but by degrees. He never openly renounced God, but neither was he ever very devoted either.
It is reminiscent of II Thessalonians 2 and the man of sin. Apostasy is taking place, and God says that He was going to allow delusion to come upon people, a "blindness" to occur. A similar thing happened to Solomon. When we add what is taught in II Thessalonians, we find that the blindness is, in reality, self-imposed.
God did not make Solomon blind, and He will not make the people spoken of in II Thessalonians 2 blind either. But, because of their behavior, neither will He stop their progression towards it. It is not that the people utterly refuse to accept truth—just as Solomon never renounced God. The problem is that they do not love it!
The problem is one of dedication. What was Solomon dedicated to? He was not dedicated to God for very long after his good beginning. He was dedicated to his projects—to building Jerusalem, the Temple, his home, botanical gardens—things that only expanded his overwhelming vanity.
He ignored the laws God gave for kings (Deuteronomy 17:14-20), and that was sin. Unfortunately, unlike David, Solomon did not have the spiritual resources to recover from what he did. David recovered when he sinned because he had a relationship with God. Even though he sinned, he would bounce back from it in repentance.
I Kings 11:4 says that Solomon "clung to" his wives. Normally, that would be good. A man should cling or cleave to his wife. Solomon, though, cleaved to the wrong women, and his attachment to them led him astray. As he tolerated their worship of other gods right in his home, his resistance wore down, and he became increasingly vulnerable. Before long, he was participating in the worship of their gods. Once he was accustomed to it, it wore away his loyalty as each compromise made the next step easier. His vanity deceived him into feeling that his strength and resolve were so great that he would not fall. But he did, and he paid a bitter price.
One of the deceptive aspects to what Solomon did is something that any of us could fall prey to. It does not have to be foreign women or something like an all-consuming hobby. Religion, however, especially entrapped him through his wives.
Virtually every religion uses similar terminology. Every Christian sect uses the terms "born again," "salvation," "saved," and "redemption." We could add "justification," "mercy," "kindness," "forgiveness," and "grace." All Western religions (and maybe now even some of these New Age religions) share some of the same terminology, butthe theology behind the terms is radically different.
In Solomon's day, the religions of Ashtoreth, Molech, Baal, Chemosh, and the other false gods used terminology very similar to what was being used in Israel, but the theology was vastly different. This is what trapped Solomon. Once a comfortable syncretism is accepted, God is gradually neglected and idolatry is adopted. Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." This is just as true in regard to religion as it is to civil liberty under a government.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 5)
Basically, God says here, "Go to bat for the disadvantaged." However, He admonishes us to judge righteously.
We know that there are people in the world who, perhaps because they have too much time, money, or guilt on their hands, make it their duty to become advocates for various causes, often doing it without regard for the possible consequences. They may think they are supporting something that is good, but they sometimes never think through what their support might mean and what will result from it. If many of the causes out there were actually followed through to the end, we would be living in a socialist or communist state, and no one would like it. Nobody would be free.
Jesus says, "The poor you will always have with you." Because that is the case, the question then becomes, "How best can we help them?" Remember Martha and Mary and what Jesus had to say to Martha? "Martha, you are getting overwrought about all this. But Mary has chosen the better thing" (Luke 10:38-42 paraphrased). Jesus is teaching that there is a point at which service and good works become a distraction and a worry, crowding out the higher duties of listening to Him.
Thus, we need to remember that, even though we want to do good works, they will never save us. They are a fruit of righteousness. They are not the ultimate goal or the end. They just show that we have inculcated into us part of God's character, and the natural outgrowth of that is good works (see Ephesians 2:10).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
"If I Have Not Charity"
In order to fit within the context of the preceding verses, “dreams” in verse 7 does not mean the random mental activity a person has while sleeping and over which he has little or no control. Rather, it indicates the wanderings of a person's mind while seemingly fully awake—in other words, daydreams. For the most part, daydreams are nothing but sheer vanity, time-wasting drifts of the mind that lead nowhere positive. While daydreaming, we are not focused and disciplined, which is the opposite of what God desires of us.
Something else is of interest here. This verse contains both the major concepts that the book begins with, that is, vanity, and the thought or goal the book ends with, “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Halfway through the book, Solomon is directly declaring what the urgent aim of every life needs to be. We need to proceed from the meaninglessness of an under-the-sun life to the fulfillment of life's purpose through fearing God, as shown in living an over-the-sun life.
The way to get and stay right with God is encapsulated in these seven verses. It can be stated in three simple principles:
1. Do not just hear God; listen to Him carefully with focused attention.
2. Speak with a matching level of focused attention.
3. Follow through in obedience to what we vowed when we committed ourselves to making the New Covenant.
A tension exists in what Solomon counsels us regarding our relationship with God. Though we may not think of it all the time, we understand that, for our own good, God demands our highest allegiance. We willingly accept that because we believe the gospel, knowing who He is and what He offers us. However, being human, we are sometimes easily distracted. There are times that we would rather do almost anything else short of an outright sin than to listen attentively to what God says.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Six): Listening
Matthew 19:21-24 adds an important truth to help us understand these verses:
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
First, the rich young man was so preoccupied by his material wealth that he really did not hear that Christ was offering him eternal life. Second, anything of this earth that we truly treasure can potentially influence us to so increase our fear of losing it as to cause us to choose not to hear Christ. The treasure does not have to be money. Third, no matter how great the distractive power of what we consider valuable, God stands ready to save us from it. Jesus did not say it was impossible.
No doubt, Solomon wants to help us with this spiritual struggle. He uses money as his main illustration because everybody easily relates to it. However, he does not introduce the subject of money until Ecclesiastes 5:10. Instead, he writes of social injustice within the worldly system we live and function in. Why? Because the system itself is a constant source of distraction through its constant barrage of news reports in which we hear of social injustice. Most often, the poor are its targets.
He cautions us not to be astonished by the vanity of all this injustice, but at the same time, he wants us to be aware of it. He does this in verse 8 by mentioning “a high official watches over a high official, and higher officials are over them.” He seems to be saying that from bottom to top, the entire system is corrupt; every stratum of the culture struggles to make its way by taking advantage of others. Nevertheless, none of this injustice is an excuse for us to involve ourselves in the “everybody's doing it” routine and sin too.
A key to understanding what Solomon is driving at is the word translated “watches.” In Hebrew, the term can be used either positively or negatively. Positively, a person watches to protect or help, and negatively, he may have circumstances under surveillance to gain personal advantage from them. The present context is definitely negative. Solomon is still describing the self-centered attitudes of those “working” the system. Like their political leaders, ordinary citizens also greedily watch to gain the best and most for themselves. Their approach is not to serve and share. Verse 9 confirms that this self-centered attitude goes all the way to the top—to the king. He, too, is served by the corrupt system.
God has deemed it our responsibility to prepare for His Kingdom by overcoming, growing, and being loyal to Him and His way within such a circumstance as Solomon describes in these last few verses. Our hope is promised in Isaiah 9:6-7:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
The solution to this present evil world is on the horizon, but it will not come until Jesus Christ is here with us on earth. Thus, God has willed that we must deal with the corrupt and unjust system that now is, looking forward in hope to the relief of Christ's return.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Six): Listening
Unlike the judgments of the Gentiles (Amos 1:3-15; 2:1-3), Amos indicts Judah for breaking His commandments, specifically lying.
Judah's despising of God's law and Israel's commanding the prophets to stop preaching His Word (Amos 2:12) reflect exactly the same moral condition: Both refused the voice of God as spoken through His prophets. What God intended to be their privilege through revelation of Himself and His law had turned out to be their central peril. It is another way of saying, "To whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12:48).
Despising truth is an inward attitude that outwardly reveals itself in immorality, and this is the condition God found in ancient Israel. The people had become complacent about His revelation to them. They zealously sought after knowledge—even religious knowledge—but they did not really love the truth (Romans 10:2-3). This was reflected in their immorality; if they had loved God's truth, they would have been living it, and God would have had no cause for judgment.
In this information age, we accumulate mounds of data—regarding ethics, solutions to social ills, and the like—yet our morals decline. Intelligent, educated individuals have written many Bible commentaries, but they still refuse to keep the Sabbath or holy days. They write that Christmas and Easter have pagan origins and are not commanded in the Bible, but they still observe them. They do not love God's truth enough to change. This was Israel's problem, and it could be ours if we are not careful.
Because God has revealed His truth to us, each individual Christian has a responsibility to conform to it and grow. A greater diversity of distractions compete for our time and attention than at any other time in the history of mankind. If we are not extremely careful, and if we lose our sense of urgency, we will gradually lose our understanding of what is true and what is not. Our ability to distinguish between right and wrong will become blurred. We must make sure that God, His Word, and His way are always first in our lives.
Christ said that if we keep the truth, the truth in turn will keep us free (John 8:31-36). If we live it, the revealed truth of God will protect us from sinking back into slavery to sin. But first we must love the truth we have been given. Humanly, we pursue what we love. God wants a father-child or teacher-student relationship with us. If we do not love truth, and if we do not pursue it and God Himself, we will seriously undermine our relationship with Him, and He could interpret our attitude as despising His truth.
Love of the truth comes from God through His Holy Spirit and must be nourished through our response to it. We must not only learn it but also apply it in our lives. This will make the difference between being saved and perishing (II Thessalonians 2:9-12).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
What was the first of the Seven Laws of Success? Set the right goal! Jesus clearly established the highest-priority goal for His disciples in this verse. He did this because He knows that the main goal, our highest priority, determines the preparations, efforts, and zeal for reaching it.
Suppose someone offered us a tremendous sum of money, perhaps billions of dollars, but the exact amount would be determined by how well we could learn to speak German in two month's time. We would embark on the most intense crash-course program of learning in our life! We would study from morning to night, burn the midnight oil, listen to language tapes, carry flash cards wherever we went, and seek out fluent German-speakers so we could practice with them.
During those two months, no one could drag us near a time-wasting television program. We would probably allow nothing to interfere other than necessary physical activities to sustain life itself. All for money!
Notice what Jesus says earlier in Matthew 6:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (verses 19-21)
Consider these scriptures in the context of what Jesus says in verse 33. Our hearts are in the things to which we devote ourselves, the things we spend our time pursuing. He is helping us prioritize by stating and illustrating principles that will help us make right choices in managing time.
Every day another 24 hours or 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds is credited to our account, and we have to spend them. Whether we are a billionaire or a dirt farmer, except for those who die that day, all have the same amount of time. Jesus says how we spend it shows where our heart is.
Of course, Bible Study and prayer are very high priority activities. But Satan also knows this! He also knows it would be very difficult to change our minds regarding their value if he confronted us directly. So he makes use of subtle, indirect approaches, and all too often he succeeds in diverting our attention from these high priority concerns.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Simplify Your Life!
Jesus is not saying that the cares of this life and riches are intrinsically evil; they are neutral. However, involvement in or pursuit of them may be easily overdone and cause great spiritual loss. He is warning people with too many interests. The most important interests, the spiritual ones, almost invariably get crowded out.
Even a person heavily involved in charitable works may be misusing time (Luke 10:40-42). Another may be so intent on his business that he is too tired to study or pray effectively, or for that matter, to think of anything else. Such a person—one who should heed Jesus' warning—has allowed other things to control his life.
In many cases, our worst enemies are not the obviously bad things, but the necessary and even the good things which we allow to be overdone. In athletics, is not the second best athlete always the strongest enemy of the first? So it is in prioritizing. Much of the time, our chief problem is a lack of commitment to the highest priority; we allow the secondary priorities to steal time from the primary one.
Consider the man in the parable of Luke 12:20-21:
But God said to him, "You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?" So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
He was a fool because he did not have enough understanding and character to know when enough is enough. In his lust for more, he burned up his time on lower priority concerns and neglected building character.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Simplify Your Life!
The thorny ground symbolizes those who become consumed by the anxieties of this physical life and the deceitful enticement of wealth. The constant pressures of everyday life?providing sustenance, maintaining employment, seeking education, performing social duties, etc.?can be distracting, causing Christians to ignore God and spiritual growth.
The desire for wealth magnifies this distraction. It is enticing but yields the expected rewards: It promises to make us happy, but when gained, leaves us spiritually empty (I Timothy 6:7-10). The temptation and pursuit of wealth produces bad fruit: dishonesty, stealing, oppression of the poor, and taking advantage of others.
The good ground corresponds to those whose hearts and minds are softened by God's calling and receive it genuinely. They are a rich and fine soil?a mind that submits itself to the full influence of God's truth (Acts 22:14; Ephesians 4:1-6). The called of God not only accept His Word?the message of Jesus Christ?as rich soil accepts a seed for growth, they also bear much fruit (John 15:5, 8).
Martin G. Collins
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part Two): The Parable of the Sower
In Matthew 13:22-23, the only difference between the seed sown among weeds and the seed sown on good soil is in the action of the hearer. Both heard the Word, but only one acts on what he hears. Think about this. The seed sown on good soil could easily be overcome and choked out by weeds if action were to become inaction. What if spiritual laziness sets in?
What would happen if, say, a man has a vegetable garden and next to this garden is a small patch of kudzu? He cannot spray it with a herbicide because of the danger of it drifting onto his plants. What should he do? He must go out every day to monitor the situation and take whatever action is appropriate. Perhaps he needs to cut the kudzu back, or maybe it will be okay for another day.
The point is that the gardener must stir himself to be diligent. What happens if he tries to manage the kudzu from his bed or from the easy chair in front of his television? In a few weeks, he would go out to pick some red, ripe, juicy tomatoes and find that, not only does he not have any tomatoes, but he does not even have a garden!
The biblical term for someone who is spiritually inactive, or even asleep, is Laodicean! What Revelation 3:14-18 describes as a Laodicean is nothing more than a Christian choked by weeds. The Laodicean knows that kudzu is out there, but his attitude is lethargic. "I'll get to it later," he says. "My favorite show is coming on!" The Laodicean says in verse 17, "I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing." What did Christ say the weeds were? The cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of this life!
Every day we have to "hoe" our spiritual garden. Prayer and Bible study we all understand about—we know how necessary they are to Christian growth. But we need to go even further and fight, root out, the weeds. Is that television show, novel, movie, or sportscast an entanglement? Are we spending too much time trying to "make it" or "get ahead" or "keep up with the Joneses"? Do we allow ourselves to become easily sidetracked by "little things"? While sleeping late instead of getting up early to pray, is kudzu creeping over our fruit?
Ask yourself, "Am I asleep?" If you know you are not asleep, ask, "Am I coasting?" You may find that you have allowed other pursuits to crowd out higher, spiritual priorities. If so, you need to wade into your overgrown garden and begin pulling out weeds by the fistful.
Some feel we have reached a time in history that parallels the period just before the Flood. God recorded what conditions were like as Noah was building the ark: "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). What a horrifying thought! What danger and oppression must have lurked at every turn!
Yet Jesus predicts in a prophecy regarding the time of the end—the time we live in today, "But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be." In a larger, more general context, Jesus meant that, despite the dangerous, portentous events occurring all around them, people will be going about their normal routines without seriously considering the meaning of these events (Matthew 24:38-39). They will not take the time to wonder if these cataclysmic events are affecting them personally.
How about you? Even though we are living in momentous times, we are easily distracted from their importance by our high standard of living and convenient access to just about anything we desire. The nations of western Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States are, for the most part, wallowing in unprecedented technological luxury. Much to our spiritual detriment, our lives are caught up in our possessions and keeping our noses above water economically.
But we must not allow this to happen any longer! Time and prophecy are relentlessly marching on. The book of Amos records an almost exact parallel account to what is happening in our day. It chronicles the social, political, economic, military, and religious conditions and attitudes prevalent in ancient Israel in about 760 BC. This was about forty years before Assyria invaded and completely devastated the nation. So awesome was Israel's defeat that, as far as the world is concerned, her people disappeared from history! They are known as the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel today.
Amos is not a happy book to read. It does not contain the encouraging, soaring, and hope-inspiring prophecies of Isaiah. No, Amos speaks of almost unending gloom and doom. This presents an interesting contrast when seen against Israel's surging power, wealth, and influence. During the days of Amos' ministry, the nation was undergoing a burst of prosperity second only to Solomon's time. On the surface, it appeared that Israel's prosperity indicated God's pleasure, but Amos' words prove beyond any doubt that God was not pleased at all! He was deadly serious! If the people would not repent, they were doomed!
The Israelites did not repent. They suffered war, famine, pestilence, and captivity as a result. Tens of thousands died. They learned the hard way that God means exactly what He says through His prophets (Amos 3:7).
Though Amos describes what was literally happening in ancient Israel, God intended the message for us, the physical and/or spiritual descendants of Israel. It was written to stir us to action, seeing that the times indicate Jesus Christ will return soon.
Amos clearly shows that our nations are headed along the same path to destruction as ancient Israel. There is still hope that we will turn around and avoid the wrath of God, but as each day passes, it becomes more unlikely. We have many lessons to learn, and we seem determined to learn them the hard way.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
For the word "careful" (KJV) in verse 40, the margin reads "distracted," which is also how the NKJV translates it. In the Greek, it is the same word translated as "anxious" in Matthew 6. Anxiety distracts.
Consider doing a job under distracting conditions, when several things are competing for attention at the same time. Jesus says that no man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). What will happen when a person's mind has two or more issues simultaneously vying for attention? Eventually, the person will dismiss one of them in order to pay attention to the one he chooses to give his attention to. That is the principle here. It is that simple.
If two matters work on the mind, they cannot be given equal time. The mind will shift gears so that one gets the priority over the other. We need to see this principle in relation to the Kingdom of God. By making the Kingdom of God our treasure and having a clear understanding that this principle is at work, Jesus wants us, by faith, to choose to set our will to make God's Kingdom our first priority. It is something that we must make the choice to do.
So Jesus says to Martha , "You are distracted [troubled, worried, anxious] about many things." There is nothing wrong with serving, but Jesus is showing that service has to give way to worship. Even if we understand that worship is a form of submissive service, it is ratcheted up several notches higher because it is service given directly to God. This is a gentle rebuke by Jesus urging Martha to leave her housework for the time and concentrate on the more urgent responsibility, because Christ would be living among them only a little while longer. Under this situation, Mary had made the right choice. She had a clearer understanding of the circumstance and made the better choice of the use of her time.
His words do not mean that Mary was any better than Martha, but in this case Martha had made the wrong choice. God thought this was important enough to inspire Luke to put it into His Word so that we could understand this principle. Jesus is not saying that one should do no housework, but rather, that Martha's failure to follow the higher priority was doing damage to her character. There is a time to set aside the service of others in order to serve God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian and the World (Part Eight)
"Not lose heart" or "faint" (KJV) means to grow weary, to give in to evil, to turn coward. We must resist the human tendency of growing weary in prayer. We have a duty as the elect of God to pray. There are several major causes of losing heart: defilement, doubt, danger, distractions, and delay.
» The defilement of sin kills interest in spiritual exercises like prayer. Sin does not promote a good prayer life—in fact, it will stop it dead. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Psalm 66:18).
» Praying with doubt is faithless, making the prayer useless. Doubting the inspiration of Scripture and the power of God hinders prayer (I Timothy 2:8). As prayer and faith go hand in hand, so do unbelief and not praying.
» Prayer must sometimes be done at dangerous times. Danger weeds out the coward from the courageous. Daniel faced real danger in praying, but kept on praying, even though it led to the lion's den (Daniel 6). Today, our dangers are varied, but the danger of embarrassment often affects people more than danger of physical harm.
» Satan is a master of causing distractions, especially during prayer time. Probably every saint has experienced his mind wandering, causing him to think about everything except what he should be praying about.
» Few things cause us to lose heart in praying more than delays in answers to our requests. Jesus uses the Parable of the Persistent Widow to teach us that, though answers often appear to take a long time in coming, we should persevere and not grow weary in praying to God.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Persistent Widow
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
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Paul uses runners in the Greek games as examples of how we are to live as Christians. The first thing to notice is the utmost tension, energy, and strenuous effort pictured by athletes straining for the finish line in hope of the glory of winning. "This is the way to run," says Paul, "if we want to attain our potential."
This requires steady, intense concentration or focus of the runners. They cannot afford to become distracted by things off to the side of their course. If they do, their effectiveness in running will surely diminish. Keeping focused requires control—not allowing distractions to interfere with the responsibility at hand. "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness," says Jesus (Matthew 6:33). Here, the issue is single-mindedness. James writes, "[H]e who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. . . . [H]e is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:6, 8). Controlling our focus can go a long way toward making the run successful.
Paul then says the victorious runner sets Christians an example of rigid self-control: "Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things." It is not only a matter of concentrating while he is racing, but in all areas of life because his whole life impacts on the race. The runner religiously follows a rigorous program within a rigid schedule each day: He rises at a certain hour, eats a breakfast of certain foods, fills his morning with exercises, and works on his technique. After a planned lunch, he continues training, eats a third planned meal, and goes to bed at a specified hour. Throughout, he not only avoids sensuous indulgences, he must also abstain from many perfectly legitimate things that simply do not fit into his program. An athlete who is serious about excelling in his chosen sport must live this way, or he will not succeed except against inferior competitors. He will suffer defeat by those who do follow them.
We can learn a great deal here about self-indulgence and self-control. It is not enough for us to say, "I draw the line there, at this or that vice, and I will have nothing to do with these." We will have a very difficult time growing under such an approach, as Paul shows in Hebrews 12:1:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Many unsinful things are "weights" simply because they are so time- and mind-consuming. Because we do not want to fail in accomplishing the highest purposes for which we were called, we must run light to endure the length of our course successfully.
On the surface, being a Christian appears easy to do, in as much as a Christian is basically a man that trusts in Jesus Christ. No one is more worthy of our trust, and He is fully able to bring us into the Kingdom of God. But this is a mere surface observation. The truth is that being a Christian can be very difficult because the real Christian is one who, because he trusts Christ, must set his heel upon human nature within him and subordinate the appetites of his flesh and the desires of his mind to the aim of pleasing Him. No wishy-washy, irresolute, vacillating, lukewarm, disorderly, and unrestrained Christian will please his Master and glorify our Father.
Jesus says, "[N]arrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:14). Paul writes, "You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier" (II Timothy 2:3-4). The Christian is exhorted to control himself and run to win.
In I Corinthians 9, Paul illustrates self-control in its positive aspects by showing what it produces along the way and—most importantly—in the end. Jesus makes it clear in Revelation 2 and 3 that the overcomers (conquerors, victors) will go into the Kingdom of God. Self-control plays a major role in bringing victory through our trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. Andrew MacLaren, a Protestant commentator, states, "There are few things more lacking in the average Christian life of today than resolute, conscious concentration upon an aim which is clearly and always before us." Self-control is not the only factor we need to do this, but it is a very necessary one. Its fruit, good beyond measure, is worth every effort and sacrifice we must make.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control
2 Corinthians 2:6-8
When put together with II Corinthians 2:11, Paul is saying that a godly sorrow unto repentance can actually give Satan the opportunity to turn a person's feelings about his sin into an abnormal self-pity, which will destroy that despairing person's relationship with the church and with God. He can turn such a person into a bitter cynic. The Devil is that clever.
It does not end there. In addition, he can turn the righteous indignation of those who are offended by another's sin into bitter self-righteousness if they do not forgive and forget and move on. He gets people going and coming unless they are aware that he can turn something good into a ploy to destroy a person's relationship with God and the church.
These are not the only weapons that Satan has in his arsenal. Remember, we are involved in a war, and a general will employ every kind of ploy, device, tool, or contrivance to rout the enemy. He will use decoys, infiltration, subversion, propaganda, rumors, misleading leaks of information, and sometimes a frontal attack with diversions on the flanks.
Satan is no different. However, God makes sure to warn us of his subtlety. The Devil creates distractions and illusions to deflect us from reaching our goal. He has the ability to make things that are in God's purpose unimportant (for instance, material things or vanity) seem important, while eternal, spiritual things he makes seem unimportant, unnecessary, and unrealistic.
Knowledge of what he is like would be unnecessary if he could not affect us after baptism. Despite his earlier defeat at the hand of God as well as his defeat by our David, Jesus Christ, he is still seeking to destroy God. Even when he fails at that, he still wants to destroy God's purpose of having us inherit His Kingdom.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 2)
Faithfulness hinges upon what we value as important combined with commitment. Humans have a powerful tendency to be faithful to what they think is truly important, be it a family name, spouse, friendship, employer, school, athletic team, or even certain things like a make of automobile.
This tendency was an issue when the disciples decided to follow Peter's lead and return to their fishing trade after Jesus' death and resurrection. In John 21:15-17, Jesus pointedly asks Peter three times whether he loved Him. The first time He asks whether he loved Him "more than these," referring either to his fellow apostles or the tools of his fishing trade. The implication is inescapable: Jesus wanted Peter to hold Him of greater importance than anything on earth. Considering Peter's weighty responsibility, he could not be faithful to Jesus without the staunchest commitment to Him as most important of all in his life.
The meaning to us is clear. We must love Christ supremely, or we do not love Him much if at all. If we are not willing to give up all earthly possessions, forsake all earthly friends, and obey Him above all others—including our own carnal desires—to be faithful to Him, our attachment to Him is tenuous at best. Is such a proposition too much? Does not marriage require a similar faithfulness from each spouse? Without it, it is no wonder there is so much adultery and divorce.
Holding true to the course God has laid before us is difficult amid this world's many alluring distractions clamoring for our time and attention. This world is attractive to human nature and bids us to expend our energies in self-satisfaction. Jesus warns all who take up their cross that the way is difficult and narrow, requiring a great deal of vision and discipline to be faithful to His cause. Some have completed the course. Those who held God and His way in the highest esteem in their lives are awaiting those of us traveling the path now. Will we be faithful as they were?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness
Paul is referring to a process of spiritual maturity that will keep us solidly grounded and on a steady course to the Kingdom of God.
Two of the phrases Paul uses in this passage deserve expounding by commentator Albert Barnes:
[That we henceforth be no more children] . . . children have other characteristics besides simplicity and docility. They are often changeable (Matt 11:17); they are credulous, and are influenced easily by others, and led astray. In these respects, Paul exhorts the Ephesians to be no longer children but urges them to put on the characteristics of [adulthood]; and especially to put on the firmness in religious opinion which became maturity of life. . . .
[And carried about with every wind of doctrine] With no firmness; no settled course; no helm. The idea is that of a vessel on the restless ocean, that is tossed about with every varying wind, and that has no settled line of sailing.
As we know, children have short attention spans; they change directions seemingly in an instant. They will begin to play with one toy only to be distracted by another a moment later. A parent will tell them to do something, and the intention to obey escapes them as soon as something else comes up.
While Jesus tells us that, in our conversion, we are to "become as little children" (Matthew 18:3), He is not referring to this kind of simplicity, changeability, and distractibility. Putting these two admonitions together, Christians are to be mature in their convictions and faith, yet open and humble as little children. In this way, they are receptive to God's truth and the guidance of His Spirit, yet sure and uncompromising in their beliefs.
Redeem means "to buy up for oneself" or "buy up an opportunity." When connected to "time," it means "to buy or take advantage of an opportunity." Since we are dealing with time, and it inexorably passes on, we must make the most of each opportunity. If an opportunity is missed, it cannot be recalled.
Paul might as well be saying, "God's way is not just for a few hours on a Sabbath, but the will of the Lord applies in every situation in life." He is urging us to take advantage of every situation to imitate God. Every second of our lives is precious in the building of godly character.
This has nothing to do with literally gaining time. It may be illustrated, though, with the example of the savvy merchant who takes advantage of every opportunity to make a profit. Businessmen often say, "Strike while the iron is hot." Or, in our consumer culture, we watch the advertisements to take advantage of a sale.
How can we determine how to take advantage of time? In much the same way we take advantage of a sale. We decide what we want and then we watch carefully. If we want to buy a product, we will generally survey the market and then decide which particular brand and model we want to buy. Then we keep a careful watch until the sale of our choice occurs.
Likewise, we must survey what is controlling our time and we must decide what is important to us. Is it our relationship with God, family, job, socializing, recreation, or entertainments? In what order of priority would we put these and other interests? Next, we must survey each of the major categories more specifically and insert particular activities into them. This is very important because the "small" activities drain most of our time away almost unnoticed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Simplify Your Life!
2 Timothy 2:15-18
In this era of the church, the one that we are living in, we have our own problems with certain doctrinal matters. The first century also had problems with certain doctrines that they had to deal with. The very first bridge that they had to cross had to do with justification—justification by faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.
This was a new concept, which is why God commissioned the apostle Paul to write so much about justification by faith—not by works, not by earning justification, but by faith in what God said and what Jesus Christ did. This doctrinal instruction takes up much of the books of Romans and Galatians.
The second bridge they had to cross was law and grace. Even today, people like to separate the two, as if a Christian cannot believe in law and grace at the same time. The apostles had to convince the people that law and grace are not opposed to one another, but work in harmony to complete the process of justification and then sanctification. God not only forgives us, but He also gives us gifts by His Spirit by which we can be sanctified unto holiness, the middle part of the process of salvation, which absolutely cannot be left out.
The third thing is the second coming of Christ. As time passed, the pressure mounted and the return of Jesus Christ became increasingly important in the minds of people. It naturally led people to believe that they had plenty of time to overcome, and it seemed to work to cast them adrift. This is why Paul says that the Hebrews were neglecting their salvation.
In Matthew 24:42, we find that Jesus anticipated this. He really understood human nature. Incidentally, do you want to know what it is that causes people to go to sleep spiritually, so that you can be aware? It is not a hard principle at all to understand. It is having to face so many difficulties, so many pressures, that one becomes weary with facing them. This is a simplification, but it is true. When people have to face so many stresses, they become apathetic and say, "What's the use?" We need to stir ourselves up and recognize that this can happen to us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Don't Be a Prudent Agnostic
2 Timothy 3:1
For us, a great deal of that peril exists in the multitude of visible, emotional, and audible distractions that occupy minds nurtured by television, movies, and radio. Through these mediums we invite the world and much of its appeal directly into our homes. We have come to tolerate television's intrusion into our lives. By means of the Internet, some of us have become information junkies, and others can hardly go anywhere without being accompanied by a playing radio. We need to honestly examine ourselves as to whether we are showing God that what this world bombards our minds with through these mediums is really what we hunger and thirst for. How are they preparing us for the Kingdom of God?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Four: Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness
Jesus Christ, the living Head of His church, here warns against neglect—drifting away. Neglect is not deliberate. It is not willful. It is not intentional sin. It is something that happens because of familiarity, or distraction, caused by one having too many things going in one's life.
It says that we are to "give the more earnest heed." We are warned not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). In the message to the Hebrews, the Sabbath plays a central role. We can already begin to see in chapter 2 that part of the problem these people had was that they were neglecting the things they had heard.
It was not deliberate or willful. But they were people who were drifting away. They were not making the effort towards perfection. God noticed this because it was His church, His sons and daughters, and He cares! So He sent them perhaps the strongest message in the entire Bible. Hebrews 10 is arguably the most powerful chapter in God's Word. From what we see, the Sabbath was being neglected. We have to "give the more earnest heed" so that we do not lose sight of the things that were given to us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 4)
These verses are similar to Proverbs 21:16: "A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead." The person who is neglecting his salvation is not deliberately setting his mind to turn away from God or His way of life. He is simply, through neglect, allowing himself to drift in that direction. He does not plan to go that way; he gets distracted by things in his life—by hobbies, work, rearing children, and a great many other things. No matter what it is, he allows himself to neglect what has been given to him.
The metaphor used here is of a boat that has slipped its mooring and is drifting within the harbor. Just drifting with the current.
Both of these verses point to a major problem we see in the end-time church of God. We may call it Laodiceanism, and that is a very nice "tag" to put on it. We can comfortably say the word, but are we aware that a Laodicean is a drifter? A Laodicean is somebody who is hanging on to the best of both possible worlds, as he sees it. He has one foot in the church and one foot in the world, and he does not realize that he is drifting.
This is the kind of person that God says He finds unpalatable—one He will spit out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Examples of Divine Justice
The gospel's sure promise of an endless life in glory in the Kingdom of God as the Father's spirit-composed children and Jesus Christ's brothers and companions seems so appealing and captivating that one wonders why we would need more motivation than the anticipation of its fulfillment. History and even our own reflections on our personal experiences prove that we need additional stimulation.
The Israelites' forty-year trek through the wilderness after their release from Egyptian slavery also provides a persuasive record. Of the over two million or so Israelites age twenty and above who left Egypt, only two men, Joshua and Caleb, are named as entering into the Promised Land! The Israelites were burying the bodies of those who failed until the time they crossed the Jordan River. Hebrews 4:1-2 admonishes us not to fall into the same manner of living.
The struggle to achieve some noteworthy goal is a popular theme for many inspirational biographies, novels, articles, and movies. In the late 1800s, Horatio Alger became famous by authoring a string of "rags to riches" stories that featured characters who, through pluck, grit, ingenuity, and seemingly tireless energy, overcame multitudes of problems to achieve success in the end. The characters in his stories never resorted to deceit or thievery, even though they confronted such vices. They always made their way in a righteous manner. Many inspired readers used them as role models for what they hoped to achieve. Not much has changed in the intervening time. People still find hope and inspiration in hearing the success stories of others, especially if they are dealing with true-to-life issues. One can buy "success" manuals in virtually any bookstore. Lecture circuits teem with those who are willing to sell their formulas to those who want to hear their testimonies.
Obviously, motivation is a very common human problem, one that the Bible also addresses. The Bible contains many passages intended to prod us to keep moving in the proper direction. Nevertheless, the condition posed earlier remains unresolved. If what God offers is so awesome, why do we need to be prodded with exhortation, encouragement, and correction?
It is because God has demanded that we live by faith (Hebrews 10:38-39). Thus, the "out of sight, out of mind" principle provides an almost constant resistance, testing whether we have a proper and purposeful direction to our life.
It is also because human nature is so attracted to the cultures it has created that it loves them almost desperately. Sometimes it is only with great difficulty that one can turn from them (I John 2:15-16). Even though we know intellectually that these cultures are evil, we are attracted to them and diverted away from the path of godly success (Galatians 1:4).
Moreover, the unseen spirit world lures us through lying persuasions away from the right goal (Ephesians 6:10-12). Sometimes we need motivation because of traits such as apathy and procrastination that dwell to some degree in all of us (Hebrews 2:1-3; 12:12-13). Finally, sometimes our pride self-righteously and presumptuously persuades us into thinking that we already have it made (Revelation 3:16-18).
Overall, a great many factors work against us. When we seriously consider the example of the extremely high failure rate of the Israelites in the wilderness, it may seem as though far more of these factors work against us than work to insure our success. The Israelites, however, operated with little faith. In addition, the Scriptures indicate that God gave very few of them His Holy Spirit, and therefore the love of God was not working in them. God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32), and the record of the Israelites is one of almost constant disobedience.
Since Jesus Christ was not in them, they did not have the faith of Christ, but our God is able to "supply all [our] need according to His riches in glory by Jesus Christ" (Philippians 4:19). The reality is that we have far more working in our behalf than they. We have no valid reason to fail.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part One): Fear
Exhorting one another - Exhort means "to aid, help, comfort, encourage, and beseech." In the Babylon of this world—with all its pulls and distractions to neglect our calling—every one of us needs exhortation to strive harder to stand.
We live in what can best be described as a Laodicean environment, just as did the Hebrews to whom Paul wrote. Many today challenge the foundation laid by God through His leaders, and sadly, many call into question even the commandments of God. In such an atmosphere of doubt and distrust, we all need exhortation to be faithful in all we have learned.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Consider the last phrase in this verse: "I will never leave you, nor forsake you." According to Adam Clarke, this verse is peculiarly emphatic in that this short sentence contains five negatives, making a literal translation scarcely possible. However, it would run something like this: "No, I will not leave you. No, neither will I not utterly forsake you." If we had to write that into English, it says: "I will never, never, never, never, NEVER leave you." What an exhortation! What a promise from the great God! "I will NEVER leave you!"
"Get off your duff," God is telling these people, "and get to work! Throw off your apathy. Do the things that need to be done." With all the bad things going on in the church and the world, some of us may feel "punch drunk"—having to hang on, just keep on going. However, God wants us to take the time to somehow readjust our focus. This is no time to drop the ball. We have a wonderful promise that He will never leave us. Christ is alive, and He loves us. It is His will that we be in His Kingdom. He wants to make the most of us that He possibly can.
So be patient! Guard against being emotionally drawn to insignificant things. Every single one of us has a part in this drama unfolding on earth. Men come and go, but Jesus Christ is the real Leader, and He is "the same yesterday, today, and forever." He is permanent. His preeminence and leadership are forever. What is more, He is faithful in following the patterns that He has established in His Word.
Take heart! Fight the problems that arise. Do not give into the apathy that the world induces. Do not accept the easy deliverance, which the carnal mind and this world offer. God will help, as only He can. And when one's problems are over, we can say, "I didn't do it. The Lord is my Helper."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Hebrews: A Message for Today
Our Creator promises us wisdom—but only under the condition that we do not waver or be double-minded. I have sweat plenty over these verses through the years, having had to battle indecision. Likewise, when I pray, I have problems concentrating. I have battled doubts and fears when I have asked to be anointed.
But is simple mind-wandering or normal doubts the subject of James' reprimand? Or is it something else? Perhaps mind-wandering, indecisiveness, and doubting are more symptomatic than the actual causes of double-mindedness.
The apostle Paul writes that anyone who comes to God must believe that He is and diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). If we are in a conference with a human being, it is rude to tune him out, fall asleep on him, or become distracted. Some of my students have done that to me—giving me an insight on how God must feel when our minds wander when we pray, study, or meditate. Inattention and mind-wandering, although they are related to double-mindedness, do not seem to be what James had in mind.
The anguished father in Mark 9:24, who says, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" might be accused of being double-minded, but he is not. He desperately wants to believe, and he asks for help. He is not of two opinions.
The Greek word translated "double-minded" in James 1:8, dipsuchos,in its literal sense means "double-souled," like having two independent wills. The words "with no doubting" in verse 6 are translated from the Greek words meedén diakrinómenos,which describes one divided in mind, who wavers between two opinions.
Some may wonder whether the apostle Paul, when he complains, "For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice" (Romans 7:19), was exercising double-mindedness. This state of struggle that goes on in all of us is not the same as double-mindedness. Paul's mind, he goes on to explain, is focused one way, in one direction (verse 22), but inherent in the flesh of every human being is an innate enmity toward God and His law (Romans 7:23; 8:7). Just like Paul, we also fail to keep God's law perfectly because we have human nature in us that is perpetually at war with God's Holy Spirit in us.
All of us have a deep-seated desire to be at one with ourselves. We will not realize this desire until we are totally composed of spirit. Until then, we can expect a spiritual tug of war to go on perpetually. As more of God's Spirit flows through us, renewing our minds and displacing our carnality, we will find it easier to keep our carnal nature in check. All of us, I trust, can point to certain areas in our lives that are now under control—but which at one time were not under control. The spiritual struggle occurring in all of us between our spiritual and carnal natures is not double-mindedness.
Double-mindedness is literally having two separate minds holding contradictory thoughts. Double-mindedness occurs in a church member when he has an implicit or explicit knowledge of God's law, yet deliberately harbors a sin, choosing to conceal it, repress it, or ignore it.
James supports this explanation of double-mindedness in James 4:8: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts you double-minded." Anything one willingly does or does not do that is contrary to God's law (verse 17) makes one guilty of double-mindedness. Double-mindedness depends on a knowledge of and a willful intent to reject God's law, as the psalmist writes in Psalm 119:113: "I hate the double-minded, but I love your law." On the other side, being synchronized with God's law is equated with singleness of purpose and leads to peace of mind and a feeling of wholeness. The same psalmist writes, "Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble" (Psalm 119:165).
God's law itself is the vehicle of wisdom that the petitioner requests in James 1:5. It would be absurd for someone to ask to be filled with the spirit of the law and simultaneously be determined not to keep it. Sometimes we inadvertently do this when we ask a minister or counselor for advice on a problem—but have already purposed in our minds to do it our own way. Then when the minister tells us something that goes against what we have purposed to do in our inner being, a highly uncomfortable state of dissonance emerges.
Harboring any secret sin puts a tremendous strain on the nervous system. Psychologists have a name for this emotional/psychological turmoil: cognitive dissonance, literally "inharmonious thought."
People who have left the truth often report that they feel more at peace with themselves now than at any time they were in the church. This should not surprise us. When someone tries to submit to God's law with a carnal mind, unbearable cognitive dissonance occurs. The nervous system plunges into a tailspin until it achieves a sense of equilibrium or wholeness. Carnal nature does not feel comfortable in the light of God's law: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). The easiest way to find equilibrium is to reject the beliefs that send them into a spiritual dither.
David F. Maas
Spiritual Double Agents
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