What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Do we live in a spiritual Sodom and Gomorrah? Is the end coming? Is Christ returning? Is the Kingdom of God fairly close? Are we lingering in the worldliness that surrounds us? It will take faith to walk away. Lot believed to such depth that he urged his sons-in-law, and yet he lingered. Lot knew the angels were there, standing by and waiting for him and his family. Even they tried to hasten him out, and yet Lot lingered.
He was slow when he should have been quick. He was backward when he should have been forward. He was trifling when he should have been hasty. He was cold when he should have been hot. He was loitering when he should have been hurrying. We might say today, "Was this man out of it, or what?" In a major sense, he was, yet he was a converted man.
The world around us is smoldering embers that will soon burst into the flames of the greatest tribulation that has ever hit the entirety of the earth. Unfortunately, many linger while the world is getting ready to burn. Lot is an example of a true Christian, who appears to know far more than he lives up to; he can see and understand far more than he practices.
Such people are thrilled to hear good, sound preaching. They believe in the doctrines of God, and yet they are constantly doing things that disappoint others around them. They believe in the Kingdom of God, and even seem to yearn for it. They hate Satan, believe in the Lake of Fire, yet it seems as if they do things to tempt Satan into testing them, putting the screws to them. They believe that time is short, but they act as though they wish it were long. They know that holiness is a beautiful thing—they like to read about it in books and love to see it in others—but they have the notion that it is impossible for them to be that holy and spiritual.
Lot represents those who dread personal sacrifice and shrink from self-denial. They have a horror of being considered narrow-minded, and so they tend to go to the opposite extreme, becoming so tolerant that they try to please everybody. They forget that they should first please God. These people are trying to keep up with the world. They are ingenious at discovering reasons for not separating from it, giving themselves all kinds of justifications for attending questionable amusements; wild, violent, sexual movies; or holding on to questionable relationships. They persuade themselves that it does good to mix a little with the world.
They cannot find it in themselves to do battle with their besetting sin, whether it be laziness, a bad temper, pride, excessive self-concern, vanity, or impatience. They allow it to remain in their mind, justifying it by thinking, "Well, that's just the way I am. My daddy before me was the same way, and that's the way mama was, and I guess that's the way I'll always be." They are lingering while the world is beginning to burn. These people are not really happy, for they know too much and are conscience-stricken. They are not really committed and they know it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Three)
At this point, the Israelites wanted to make the covenant and to be married to God. But when the reality hit them—the reality of what it was going to cost them in the conduct of their lives—they no longer wanted it except on their terms. Thus, when food became scarce, they wanted to back out. When water was in short supply, they grumbled. Then what did they do? They started accusing Moses and Aaron and God because, after all, they were their leaders.
Unfortunately, this is what happens in many marriages. Two people start off in love. Then the realities of the marriage begin to arise, and one or both of them are unwilling to make the sacrifices to continue the relationship and grow in unity. They begin to want the marriage on their own terms: "Well, I'll continue this IF...."
There are many examples of the Israelites wanting to back out. So God, in a sense, offered them concessions. He gave them meat for their lust. He caused water to gush out of the rock. He gave them manna. He bent over backward to meet their demands. But later on, when their descendants were in the Land of Promise, they too were unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to make the marriage successful. We know what happened then.
Conclusion: We do not want to repeat the same mistakes that they made. We have to learn to accept and adapt to what God provides, both as individuals, and as a body (i.e., the church).
The hardships of their pilgrimage in the wilderness were a consequence of a choice that they made to enter into the agreement with God. They did not have to agree with it; they could have returned to Egypt right away. Yet, they chose to enter into the agreement, and thus committed themselves to God's leadership. So running out of food and water, being attacked, enduring the sun above and the sand beneath—all those things represent the hardships of their entering into this agreement. They were consequences.
For this reason, before someone is baptized, he is advised to count the cost. The ministry has this responsibility, not to try to stop the person from being baptized, but to help clarify that he will have to bear the consequences of his decision. Neither the ministry nor the candidate for baptism can know all that lies ahead. In principle, he declares himself willing to accept the consequences of his decision, just as Israel agreed to the covenant before knowing every detail of what would come.
The consequences of our choices are all too frequently things that we do not want to consider. In regard to sin, we either ignore the consequences and take our chances, or we simply go into denial that the consequences are a reality that we must deal with. If we are that way, it reveals quite a lack of faith and a great deal of immaturity.
Kids are like this. Children, the immature, often do not think about the consequences of an act. They just do it. They act or react, thinking that parents are "old fogies" because we say, "No, you can't do that." They say, "Why not?" "Because," we often reply. "You can't do it because I'm the parent, and that's good enough." It should be, but kids do not consider their parents' wisdom, honed by years of experience, to be valuable. When they are sixteen years old, they do not consider that what they are doing might affect them when they are 55 or 60 years old. They are just passionate about the things that they do, but they rarely stop to think of consequences.
When we do not stop to consider spiritual consequences of the things that we do, it indicates that we are spiritually immature. God just is not real to us, or we would be taking His Fatherly advice about what to do.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part Three)
Here is a call to faith. Solomon advises us that the use of faith will always contain an element of risk of loss because we do not know the end from the beginning. We can only vaguely conceive the future. We have a desire for eternity within us. We wish to have insight into how our present situations will be resolved, but we do not know the complete answer.
Therefore, Solomon says it will never work out right unless we decisively commit ourselves to live by faith: "Cast your bread upon the water." Cast your lot with God; take the risk.
If we do this, it will demand commitment in the same way a businessman must commit to his investment if he wants to make a profit. What if a businessman commits his capital to some investment and fails to ensure the business makes a profit by devoting his time and energies to it's success? The endeavor will fail.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)
Whereas chapter 11 concentrated on exhorting us to be enthusiastically committed, the beginning of chapter 12 exhorts us not to forget God in our enthusiasm. It is easy to do.
Rejoice, he says—but do not forget God! God intends life to be good, but do not forget Him. This means, then, that if we enjoy life yet remember God, we will enjoy the things that He allows us to have, but we will never allow them to control us and will always keep our appetites in check because we fear God, want to impress Him, and want to do right and good. In this way, we will truly enjoy what God has given.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)
Song of Solomon 3:1-5
This first dream sequence shows the Shulamite in bed, and even in her dreams she seeks the Beloved (verse 1). Her love for him is so consuming that she constantly looks for him everywhere. When she awakens in the dead of night, she goes out into the city to look for him (verse 2). She goes down every street, into every square, without finding him. She asks the policemen strolling their beats if they have seen him (verse 5), but when they give her no help, she continues her search and immediately finds him (verse 4). She is so overjoyed—and so fearful of losing him again—that she clutches him tightly and refuses to let him go until she brings him back to her mother's house where they will be married. Since her relationship with the Beloved is so wonderful, she advises the other young women to make certain they are truly ready for the experience before they commit to a relationship of their own (verse 5; see Luke 14:26-33).
What an incredible prophecy of the church of God today! Part of the church woke up from slumber with the strength and commitment to seek the Bridegroom high and low. These people were strong enough to overcome and pass by the problems they encountered out in the world. Before He had to knock on the door in judgment, these Christians have found Christ again and refuse to let Him go! They will not allow a separation to occur again!
Unfortunately, others have awakened more slowly, with much less strength and resolve.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy in Song
God's description of Greece, their army and the manner in which they fought is instructive. Greece's army was invincible in its time. Nobody ever fought with the lightning ferocity and cunning of Greece before this time or perhaps since. They created "blitzkrieg" warfare, which Adolph Hitler openly admitted that he copied from the ancient Greeks.
One historian speculated that the ferocity of the Greek army was produced by their approach to life and especially politics. Even though the Greek system had people filling governing offices such as mayor or burgess, they did not have a representative system like ours. Their society was close to a pure democracy. Each Greek male was taught that he was responsible to participate and contribute to the governing of the community. One result of this was that individual citizens felt responsible to the community, and leadership qualities were produced in them that made each Greek male feel as though he was the leader of his community even though he really was not.
These qualities carried through into their warfare. The individual soldier not only took orders from his captain, he also thought independently to act for the benefit of the regiment. This frequently became necessary in the heat of battle when the leader was incapacitated by wounds or other distractions. Another quickly assumed his role, and there was no loss of leadership.
Thus, a factor that made the Greek fighting machine so invincible was that when their "shepherd" was smitten, the "sheep" did not scatter. The individual Greek soldier would not run off to protect himself from the confusion and danger of the battle when his commander fell. Instead, he helped his unit regroup because he was responsibly committed to its well-being and the accomplishment of its goals rather than his personal well-being.
There are times when it is necessary to flee or withdraw for a while. Jesus said to flee persecution (Matthew 10:23). It is obvious that, on occasion, discretion is the better part of valor. But such times should be only a brief interval during the time of God's working with a person or with His church.
John W. Ritenbaugh
In the Grip of Distrust
Faithlessness, when it has infected every area of a culture, blurs the distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, morality and immorality. Without truth, there is no reliable ethical basis for government, commerce, or social relationships. There are no solid standards. Without virtues upon which a majority agree, one can never be quite sure how another will conduct himself, and so everyone becomes untrustworthy.
In the context of Hosea's comments, mercy connotes steadfast love rather than a singular act of kindness toward somebody in need. Hosea is saying, then, that people waver in their loyalties. They pursue whatever fad comes along. We might say today that they "blow hot and cold." When they are "hot" they are "hot," but they can never seem to sustain it because, when their eyes are lured by some new, exciting interest, they are off in that direction until yet something else catches their imagination.
The "knowledge of God" includes two elements: First is the knowledge about God, of His existence, Word, and way. The second is acknowledging Him. This denotes commitment, a steady loyalty to Him personally and to His way of life as a pattern of living. The context demands the second element, since God would have no reason to accuse people who were not aware of Him and His way of life. Because He is addressing those who have that basic knowledge, His complaints are directed at faithless, uncommitted people. In America, it is becoming almost impossible to find responsible and trustworthy people.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Seventh Commandment (1997)
The warning has gone out to the church. God has said, "Get ready! Prepare for the worst." We are right on the threshold of the greatest period of testing and trial ever to come on mankind, and we must have something to sustain us if we are to endure it.
Jesus said to His disciples that love will wax cold (Matthew 24:12). But "he that endures to the end, the same shall be saved" (verse 13). He hints that some of His brethren will go through that terrible time. If God permits us to escape it, then great. This is why Joel 2:14 says, "Who knows? Maybe He will leave a blessing behind." We do not know for sure if that will be the case with us.
In the past, many in the church of God played an incredible game of being prudent agnostics, of believing but not being truly committed, as shown by their conduct. They were acquainted with God, but not really seeking to know Him. They were just hanging loose, hedging their bets, floating around, ready to go in any direction that offered the most comfortable, non-sacrificial solution. In that circumstance, the church often merely became nothing more than a fraternal organization.
But this is reality: Jesus Christ is our Lord and Master. He owns us. He redeemed us, bought us with a price, and He can do whatever He wants to do with us—and we committed ourselves to Him. Wholehearted commitment is part of the deal. We do not want to be like the Israelites who prostituted themselves in faithlessness, forsaking their covenant with the government of Almighty God.
We in the church are not without warning. God expects us to use the warning to be both comforted and prepared.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Trumpets Is a Day of Hope
Evaluate yourself against these pressures:
Teens tend to be idealistic, and this is good. They often resolve to be serious, "hit the books" and spurn the drugs, sex, smoking, drinking and "hanging out" that they have seen others doing. But if the "right" fellow or girl appears, or if the teen is recognized by the "right" clique, his desire to be accepted by them pressures him to adjust his ideals to conform to them. His ideals or convictions are merely preferences.
A minister may search the Bible for truth and find something interesting that he believes and resolves to do and teach. When he tells his fellow ministers about what he has found, they may say to him, "I don't say you're wrong in this, but don't you think you should tone it down a bit? Make it less offensive, and then maybe we can cooperate with you and work on some of your objectives."
At first he may strongly defend his belief, but little by little, as he sees the reaction of his peers, he may begin to bend. He believes it and resolves to do it, but if he changes, his belief is a preference.
If the Word of God tells us to change something, we must change it! But we must be very careful about things previously proved from God's Word, believed, put into practice and then changed when some form of pressure is brought to bear!
This is perhaps the strongest pressure. When Jesus advises His disciples about counting the cost of commitment to Him, every person He mentions is a family member. "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26).
Usually no one can motivate you like a deeply loved mate. A husband may resolve to commit himself to a strong belief, but on telling his wife, she replies, "Please don't, honey. Do you realize what this will do to us and our family?" His resolve begins to melt because he knows he will feel responsible if, because of his belief, he inflicts discomfort or pain on an innocent bystander.
Fear of Lawsuits
Living in perhaps the most litigious society ever on the face of the earth, we are aware of the expense and hassle of going to court, even for the innocent. We may say, "I'm all for this, but I'm not going to get sued over it! You can't ask me to be sued—that's going too far! The news media will make me out to be a villain. They'll publicly hang me! At the very least I'll lose my hard-earned reputation, maybe my job and all my property because of attorney and court costs." This daunting pressure causes many to change their beliefs.
You may have never really been in a jail, but they are not pleasant places. Most prisoners want to get out as quickly as they can. In fact, some will risk life and limb to escape, knowing they will probably be unsuccessful. If they do make it out, they will most likely be apprehended and returned to "serve" even longer sentences. Jail is very damaging to a person's liberty and reputation.
Most people who go to jails never get past the visitor's area. I have been into the deepest bowels of several maximum security prisons to visit violent inmates on death row. They are horrible places.
In contemplating what it would be like to be in prison, remember that virtually every move an inmate makes is programmed by his captors. You would be isolated from your dearest family members and friends. You are told when to get up, when to eat, when to exercise, when you can read, watch TV, bathe or shower, and occasionally even when you can talk, go to the bathroom or sleep.
Additionally, the people around you have made a living of not playing by the rules. You would be stuck on their turf. Some are quite violent. It is a crazy, frightening environment for one accustomed to the comforts and control of home.
Would you really be willing to go to jail for your faith? Even when no one seems to understand why you would do such a thing? Would the pressure of facing jail make you change your beliefs? If so, your beliefs are preferences.
Maybe some of you men are saying to yourself, "Yes, I'd go to jail." But would you be willing to stand by and watch your wife go to jail? Some have faced that. Would you then pressure her to change her mind?
Do your beliefs mean so much to you that both you and your wife would go to jail, knowing your children would be taken by the state and raised by foster parents you do not even know?
The Pressure of Death
This final test is obvious, yet some have learned through experience that there is a fate worse than death. When a person's resolve over a belief fails, his guilt can be crushing. Luke 22:34, 59-62 shows Peter in such a circumstance.
Do you see the common factor in these? What does your belief mean to YOU? What are you willing to sacrifice in exercising your belief? If you feel you should do something but have the right not to do it, it is merely a preference.
A belief that is God-ordered is a conviction. It is not merely a matter of resolve or dedication, but a matter of believing with all our heart that God requires it of us. If we hold our beliefs as God-ordered, we will withstand all the above tests.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Are Your Beliefs Preferences or Convictions?
In verse 18, the emphasis is on the word "all." His authority is no longer as it was when He was a man preaching in Galilee and Judea but is once again universal. It is "as it was when He was with the Father" before. He has died and been resurrected, and all authority is once again His. Therefore, His disciples are to understand that wherever they go, everything is subject to His authority. This is a good thing to remember: Everything is subject to Christ's authority.
As they go, they are to make disciples. Teaching and baptizing do not make a person a disciple, though they play a part. Just because a person is baptized does not mean he is converted. Nor does it mean he is a member of the church of God or part of the Family of God. Just because he has been taught the way of God does not mean that he has fully accepted and committed himself to what has been taught.
This is why the emphasis must be on "making disciples." Baptism and obedience to instruction will be a response a person will make who is being made a disciple.
The preaching of the gospel brings a person to faith, repentance, baptism, and seeking further instruction. These are outward responses.
At this point, baptism is very important because it is the outward sign of something exceedingly more important than the fact that one has been "dunked." Baptism is the outward sign of commitment—of coming under the authority of the Father and the Son. Disciples are baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is only when a person comes under or is committed to the authority of the Family of God that he is truly a disciple. This marks the difference between one who is truly a disciple and another who has only been dunked.
Once a person has been truly baptized and has truly committed himself to be under the authority of the Family of God, the issue for the disciple is continued learning as a student and loyalty as a member of the Family—as a new creation to the One he has committed himself to.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works
The parable of a king going to war continues the theme of the previous parable: Both must count the cost. The king has to estimate men's lives, as well as money and equipment. He knows he must have resolve and fortitude to enter the battle. The king represents Jesus, who has already counted and paid the cost in His flesh, setting us an example. As King, Jesus must choose just the right people for the battle—those who will listen and obey with determination. He must test the quality of His potential soldiers to determine whether they can be used for such an important task.
The king also represents the saints battling against spiritual enemies (Ephesians 6:12). In preparation to be kings in the Kingdom, the saints must also count the cost of their lives. Solomon says, "By wise counsel wage war" (Proverbs 20:18), so with good advice we must enter upon religious dedication. We must be willing to be driven to triumph over Satan, the world, and our own human nature. Perseverance, endurance, willpower, and willingness to sacrifice are all traits of a king in time of crisis.
Martin G. Collins
Parables of Counting the Cost
He understands that those standing before Him and listening to the very words of life do not have this kind of faith. Thus, they have no commitment. However, verse 37 makes a first encouraging step, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out." He is speaking of those whom the Father would give Him as disciples from that time forward, including us, and all these can have this faith and commitment. The Father Himself elects, chooses, each one, giving each the necessary gift of faith, as Ephesians 2:8 shows.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Four)
The church is under attack. A powerful persecution is under way, and many sheep have been scattered. But what is often heard among "independent Christians" are cries such as, "I'll never follow another man!" or "No man is going to tell me what to do!" or "Beware of any group that has a hierarchical governmental structure."
While a limited amount of wisdom may be in such thinking, these independents may be failing to see a very real problem because they are looking in only one direction. While they critically examine others, problems of equal or greater magnitude in the areas of ignorance of God's Word, of respect for government, or gross intolerance for another's weaknesses may be in them.
They have reacted by divorcing themselves from any group and "floating" among many groups. Their attitude is such that, even when they do attend, they are in reality just passing through. It is very much like the modern practice of a man and woman living together without commitment. Each "takes" what they can get from the relationship, but one is always free to leave if things do not go quite as planned.
Then I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever, that it shall be for a time, times, and half a time; and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered [scattered, KJV], all these things shall be finished. (Daniel 12:7)
Surely the enemy has attacked, and the sheep are scattered! Jesus says,
And when he [the true shepherd] brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. (John 10:4-5)
We had good reason to flee our former association: The voice of a stranger was heard within it, and we could not follow him. But is it possible that the "independents" still do not hear the True Shepherd's voice? Could they have fled for different reasons? This is why these people may be in very real danger. They cannot come to any shepherd because their confusion and governmental problems are preventing it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
In the Grip of Distrust
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
Here is a person who is going only halfway, hearing God's Word but doing nothing with it. How often do we hear a message, seeing it only as it applies to others, not to ourselves? Such a person may be able to hear the truth but filters it only through his clouded eyes, or worse, never sees how it relates to him at all.
We see these extremes in God's church today. Some people spend endless hours studying and conveying their discoveries to others, yet hypocritically do not follow their own advice or God's. They may even have understanding that could help others, but potential hearers see only the problems that drown out what they may be trying to say. As the saying goes, "Your actions speak so loudly that I can't hear a word you say." God wants well-rounded individuals in His Family, those who understand His way of life and cooperate with the rest of His family—not extremists who may be right in their knowledge but wrong in their overall viewpoint, including proper interaction with others.
Another extreme exists in those who are mere spectators, allowing others to preach at them without doing anything about it or even proving or disproving it for themselves. They take a "nothing ventured, nothing compromised" stance, which, though it may be technically correct, reveals a person who will not venture outside his "comfort zone." It is a stance guaranteed to produce no growth whatsoever, either in doctrine or in personal relationships. All this person sees is his own little world, a perspective that runs contrary to what God purposes for us. He is preparing us to be kings and priests in the world to come, both of which demand an outward, growth-oriented attitude.
Still another extreme behavior occurs in those who believe because they are told to, not because of their own involvement with God and His Word. They see what others tell them to see, not what they should see aided by God's Spirit. While it is good to be submissive, God wants us to seek Him (Deuteronomy 4:29; Isaiah 55:6; Amos 5:4; etc.) and prove all things (I Thessalonians 5:21; I John 4:1). A true Christian must be actively involved in pursuing God's way of life.
All these positions show an inability or lack of desire to see and respond to God's truth as we should. This is true physically. A myopic person cannot see things clearly enough to react properly. For instance, a nearsighted baseball player cannot see a pitch clearly enough to take an effective swing at the ball. A myopic Christian cannot see the truth clearly enough to use it in his life.
To paraphrase Christ's advice to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2, He says, "Renew your devotion to Me. Go back to the first works. You have left your first love. Renew your earlier devotion to Me."
Devotion is the sense in which the word "love" (agape) is being used. Devotion literally means "to vow completely." Baptism is the outward show that one has vowed to give his life to God, and so "devotion" implies complete dedication, total surrender. This hints at the Ephesians' problem: Their devotion—their complete dedication—was slipping away.
Devotion is a deep and ardent affection, a feeling. Its synonym are "attentiveness," "dedication," "commitment," "earnestness," but all with a feeling of affection. Devotion is not given out of a sense of obligation only, but with a warm feeling or a passionate desire. Jesus' charge to the Ephesians to return to their earlier devotion is not something that He is asking to be done merely as a duty. Some antonyms of "devotion" can help us see it from another angle: indifference, negligent, unconcerned, disregard, infidelity, and faithlessness.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Loving Christ and Revelation 2:1-7
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