What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
We sometimes have division in the church for two reasons, but both of these are actually expressions of the same reason: Not everyone attending services is of the same spirit. This does not mean demon possession, but simply that, with God's permission, Satan has sown some unconverted tares within the congregation (Matthew 13:24-30). Paul makes it very clear in I Corinthians 3:3 that some of us having God's Spirit are still carnal! That is, we are very weak in the faith. As he points out in that same scripture, the result is "envy, strife, and divisions." Those three are sufficient to produce anything but oneness. Oneness will occur when each person chooses to act out of love and loyalty for Christ and within God's law to eliminate sins that separate them. This will allow us to achieve a true family relationship.
John W. Ritenbaugh
All in All
Only through pride does contention last. We primarily see the effects of pride because pride is frequently difficult to detect. God has shown in His Word how to detect it: by looking at the fruits. How do we know false prophets? By their fruits, by what they produce.
A quarrel that could be easily settled if both parties were humble continues indefinitely when parties are arrogant. Why? Because pride plows the way for contempt for the others opinion. Pride inflames passion and wounds feelings. Because of competitiveness, also an aspect of pride, a person feels he has to fight back. And so the argument goes back and forth.
If we are ever involved in a quarrel that seemingly will not end, we should be well-advised from God's Word that the problem is pride. It is somewhere in the picture in one or both who are participating in the conflict. The quarrel will never end until one person makes up his mind to stop it by refusing to argue back, suppressing the feeling that he must win.
One of the greatest spiritual advances that I ever made in my life was when it suddenly dawned on me one day that I did not have to win. God is on His throne, and because He loves me and the other person, God will make available to both of us what the right decision is. If we ask patiently, persevering without anger, and if we continue to meditate and search and counsel with Him, the answer will come. So, arguments stop.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Six)
Hostility seems to be a hallmark of this church age in a similar way that road-rage is to the world. It is alright for us to be righteously indignant as long as we do not sin. There is a place for righteous indignation, but God does not permit much anger because it is difficult not to sin when angry. That kind of anger is a "mark of the beast."
Frequently, hostility is simply a denial of reality. People do not have tempers born in them; angry tempers begin to be created in childhood. Parents allow tempers to burst forth, and each time it happens, it becomes easier—and the next time and the next and on and on until it is ingrained in the personality.
Anger is nothing more than a passionate response to some sort of stimuli, and it is almost always a self-centered response. It usually begins when we believe that what should or should not have happened either did or did not, and conflict arises. We can believe, either strongly or weakly, it should or should not have happened. Therefore, anger can be either strong or weak or anywhere in between.
The reality is this: What happened happened. How will anger help the problem? Satan believes that it does because he wants to control, to win, to compete, to devour, to get the upper hand, to triumph. Do we really need the anger to drive us to manipulate or to punish? Why not just start working on a solution without the anger, knowing full well that the anger will likely create sin and cause additional damage to the relationship? In a way, it is all very logical, but our feelings get in the way.
Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." The first clause can be paraphrased, "There is a way that man thinks things should be." This is where conflict arises: Two people see things differently. The question is, then, who is to say that it should be the way we see it?
Things happen because laws are broken, and whatever we sow we reap. Sometimes we get caught in other peoples' ignorance and stupidity. This is a fact of everybody's life, even to God in the flesh. He got caught in the ignorance and stupidity of His fellow Israelites in Judea, and it cost Him His life—yet He did not get angry. What an example! What an example of control. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus."
How far did He go to make peace? To the death. Even when the other person was totally, absolutely, completely wrong, He did not go to war against him.
The problem with anger arises when we turn our feelings and drives to set things right, as we see them, into absolute necessities. We feel it must be our way, but the reality is that others have the same rights from God that we have. Everyone has free moral agency. Anger arises because of the way we judge things: We apply the standard that we hold as being the right one.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Spiritual Mark of the Beast
Regarding pride, God gives some strong warnings. It must definitely be eradicated from our character. Pride has many manifestations, but it almost always starts when a person makes perverted comparisons, elevating one thing above another, making the self feel better or more deserving than another, and so forth. Pride may well be the father of other sins. God says that pride leads the way to destruction (Proverbs 11:2; 17:19; 18:12), which a product of sin.
The natural corollary of pride is prejudice, which is all about perverse comparisons. Jane Austen wrote a popular novel a couple of centuries ago entitled Pride and Open-mindedness. I jest. The title is Pride and Prejudice. Prejudice falls on the heels of pride because of the perverted judgment that is a part of it.
Pride begets numerous emotional disorders because it brings people into conflict either openly or internally. Whenever mental discord is held within, its outbreak will likely manifest as some sort of emotional disorder. We call the people unbalanced or even mentally ill, but churning away inside this person is a perverted comparison. Pride is present, bringing them into conflict with another, and they never resolve the conflict. Most frequently, the conflict occurs within the home, usually with someone close. Sometimes, it can be on the job. Wherever it may occur, good personal relationships are almost impossible where pride and its firstborn, prejudice, exist.
Another of the more damaging children of pride is intellectual arrogance. It produces an inability to learn either from one's own experiences or those of others. It also spawns a hatred of criticism and disdain for others.
The greater the pride, the more dangerous the consequences to the relationship, whether in a marriage, a partnership, or politics. It is a major cause of war between couples, within companies, or between nations.
Have we ever considered that America offers few rewards for modesty and moderation? The big rewards in the United States go to the arrogant, and we have thus produced a competitive and violent society that rides on the coattails of this proud attitude.
This is illustrated in no better place than in entertainment, especially in the movies. At one time, the heroes in the movies were almost always valiant and modest men or women. The actors like Jimmy Stewart, Alan Ladd, Spencer Tracy, or Gary Cooper usually portrayed them with an understated strength. It is difficult to remember them ever playing somebody arrogant. Today, the heroes are often proud and vain, reflecting the general attitude that has changed in that direction over the decades. Now the icons of the entertainment world are the arrogant, the smug, the aggressive, the abusers.
Pride has its roots in a sense or feeling of strength, wealth, prosperity, or accomplishment. Sometimes these things are imagined, and sometimes they are real, but whatever the case, misplaced confidence in self arises, producing a "better than" feeling. The perverted comparison emerges.
There is nothing wrong with having confidence in one's ability to perform something. However, an ability to do something does not make a person intrinsically better than another. All the individual has done is to develop a skill that he already had a latent ability to perform. In the eyes of God, that talent does not make one better than another. Skill is good, even great. We should strive to develop them but always understanding that they do not intrinsically equate with "better than." If we fail to understand this, our comparisons are on their way to becoming perverted.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Seven)
Matthew 18:15 instructs us to deal honestly with a brother over an offense, and not to tell it to others. This is also a great challenge. When irritated or offended, the first thing we want to do is to talk about it! We want to receive encouragement, comfort, understanding, or just get it off our chests. It is critical, though, for us to temper our honesty with the loving attributes of God's Spirit, and solve our differences with words that heal, encourage, and enable greater affection to grow. Honesty may at times require forgiveness and forbearance that neglect and lying might let slide by.
Are You Sharp-Tongued? (Part Two)
Mark well that Jesus says, "If your brother sins against you. . . ." The Greek word for "sins" is hamartano, which can also be translated as "trespass," "commit a fault," or "offend."
Hamartano can also imply the making of a mistake, and this is important to note. The offense might be the result of an innocent mistake by the offender—or the offended person might be mistaken in feeling offended. The discovery of a mistake or misunderstanding by either party can come out in Step Number One, the private communication between the offending and the offended parties.
Please notice that Jesus wants us to resolve such problems at the simplest possible level, if at all possible, before taking it to other people and definitely before taking it to the ministry. It should almost go without saying that we must pray about it in advance. If it is a major problem, we might also want to fast about it in order to draw close to God.
But what if the offender will not discuss the problem in a reasonable manner? What if he will not admit that he has done anything offensive? And worst case, what if he "blows a gasket" and yells at us for even bringing it to him—even in this proper, Christ-sanctioned way?
Then we must go on to the next step (Matthew 18:16).
Islands and Offenses
The wording implies an expected increase in conflicts due to the stresses of the time leading up to the end. In other words, amplified contention is a precursor of the end time. His comments specify wars between nations and kingdoms, but John's description in Revelation 6:3-4 expands this out to "people . . . kill[ing] one another." This suggests that this horseman not only deals in mass destruction in civil, border, and world wars, but also in smaller conflicts down to individual murders. Thus, the second seal also covers rising violent crime, gang activity, mob hits, assassinations, family feuds of the Hatfield-McCoy variety, and personal disputes that turn violent.
In saying "wars and rumors of wars," Jesus seems to be saying that some wars will be threatened yet not fought. This is not the sense of the Greek, however. The word translated "rumors" (akoé) is the common Greek word for "sense of hearing" (in the active sense) or "report" (in the passive sense). Jesus really means that we will hear the noise of war with our own ears and we will also hear reports of wars occurring elsewhere. In other words, wars will be taking place all over the world!
Immediately, He cautions us not to let such reports trouble us; that is, He tells us not to let the constant wars cause us to panic. Typically, if a person becomes panicky, his fight-or-flight response kicks in, and his brain shuts down. Our Savior wants us to keep our wits about us because "the end is not yet." Regrettably, war is a natural, human activity, so an abundance of war and violence is not by itself a definitive sign of the end. Certainly, the end time will be one of terrible warfare, but many other factors must fall into place before we conclude that we are living at the close of the age.
Jesus then specifies that "nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." Looking at this from today's perspective, we might think He is repeating Himself, but He actually makes a distinction between ethnic warfare ("nation" = éthnos)—wars between different peoples—and political warfare ("kingdom" = basileia)—wars between realms or nation-states. Oftentimes, the former are civil wars within a nation comprised of various ethnic groups, such as the former Yugoslavia. The latter, then, are what we call international conflicts like the recent Gulf Wars. Jesus' distinction tells us that war is the norm both within nations and between them.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Four Horsemen (Part Three): The Red Horse
Every genuine believer in Jesus Christ will have conflict at times, and in one form or another, every Christian will be opposed for the sake of God's truth. The apostle Paul alerts us that "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (II Timothy 3:12), and that "it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29).
God will not abandon us in the conflict any more than He abandoned the once-blind man. When challenged about his opinion of Jesus, he bravely answered, "He is a prophet" (John 9:17). God has His purposes in allowing persecution, and among them are at least two seen in John 9: Opposition will 1) sharpen our testimony and 2) deepen our understanding of God's purpose and way of life. No less than the man born blind, we should be humbly bold in our testimony. If the blind man, who had merely met Jesus and knew little about Him, could be so, why should we Christians not be also in our defense of God's way of life?
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Man Born Blind (Part Two)
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
Was Paul a novice in the faith when he wrote the book of Romans? God would hardly allow a novice to write Scripture. The apostle Paul was one of the most mature Christians who ever walked the face of the earth. But he saw himself being torn—the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. Paul was in the middle, having to make the choice. If he had not grown spiritually, he would never have seen the conflict; his mind would have passed right over it. Thus, on the one hand, Paul delighted in his understanding of the purpose and perfection of God's law, yet on the other, that insight produced much dismay in him because he could see how far short he fell, from time to time, of its perfection.
The existence of this inward conflict is not a sign that the person is not sanctified. As long as we are in the flesh, we will never be entirely free of this struggle. Human nature does not go down without a fight. It must be overcome! In a way, this evil entity within us actually becomes part of the means of our perfection.
Overcoming is a long process, and it requires diligent and humbling effort to subdue our human nature. However, we must never allow ourselves to fall into the attitude that all of our effort is somehow justifying us before God—even though it pleases God and gratifies us. The holiest of our actions, the holiest of the actions of the holiest saints, are still full of imperfections and defects. Even some of these are done from the wrong motive. They could even qualify as being nothing more than a splendid sin in God's sight. Nevertheless, we are saved by grace through faith. Even with that, God requires that we make an effort to do what we can on our part.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Nine)
This seems so obvious that it need not be said, but God includes it in His Word because Christians within the church do not hold in check some of the very things that cause so much disunity in this world. The apostle entreats us to lay aside the causes of contention so we can live in harmony.
Sometimes we do not understand how competitive human nature is. It is proud. It feels it has to win, be vindicated, and if possible, elevated over others. These attitudes do not make peace. Rather than pursuing the things that cause contention, Paul says, pursue the things that cause peace. It is a Christian's responsibility, part of his vocation. Emphasizing the positive is an incomplete, but nonetheless fairly accurate, description of what can be done.
Solomon writes in Proverbs 13:10, "By pride comes only contention, but with the well-advised is wisdom." Contention divides. Much of the strife and disunity in the church is promoted by those who seem bent on "majoring in the minors." This is the overall subject of Romans 14. Church members were becoming "bent out of shape" over things that irritated them but had little or nothing to do with salvation. They blew these irritants out of proportion to their real importance, creating disruption in the congregation.
Essentially, Paul tells these people to change their focus, to turn the direction of their thinking, because we agree on far more that is of real, major importance to salvation than what we disagree on. If we will cooperate on these major things rather than on private ends and prejudices, peace and unity will tend to emerge rather than strife and disunity. Paul further admonishes the irritated members to have faith in God's power to change the other: "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4).
Why can we not cultivate a spirit of peace by striving for holiness? Holiness is a major issue leading to preparation for God's Kingdom and salvation. Peace is one of its fruits. Why can we not show love for the brethren and strive to do good for them "as we have opportunity, . . . especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10)? Why can we not spend more serious time studying God's Word, getting to know Him? These admirable pursuits are humbling and serving. They produce peace and put other, less important matters into a proper perspective and priority. If pursued sincerely, they keep the "minors" right where they belong because they tend to erode one's pride.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 7: Blessed Are the Peacemakers
2 Corinthians 10:1
Godly meekness cannot be divorced from its association with gentleness. However, this gentleness is not usually seen in the situations where the Bible's writers use meekness. Here, meekness appears with gentleness, as though a similarity exists alongside a specific difference.
The reason for this is that Paul is dealing with conflict. In II Corinthians 10, Paul begins a defense of his apostolic authority, showing that he had a right to regard himself as sent from God. He begins his argument by appealing to the gentleness and meekness of Christ to vindicate his own evenhanded approach, entreating them not to give him occasion to display the boldness and severity that he could also use. He had no wish to be so bold and severe in his discipline of them. The contrast between meekness and severity shows starkly here. Meekness is a specific virtue, tool, way or fruit that is excellent in dealing with conflict or potential conflict within relationships.
Some, who had invaded the congregation and claimed to be apostles, accused Paul of being courageous and bold when writing letters from a distance, but timid and weak-kneed when personally present. They were, in effect, accusing him of being all bark and no bite. They had badly misjudged him through a combination of his gentle and reasoned approach when founding the congregation and, apparently, what they considered his weak physical appearance and plain, uncultured speaking. But Paul, though he may have appeared weak to them, was in reality meek, not weak. He was prepared to fight this poisonous, destructive evil within the congregation with all his spiritual power—which was, as the Bible shows, considerable.
Paul did not seek to show himself to the congregation as a flamboyant, charismatic personality. He was not there to showcase himself. He and his presentation were not the centerpiece and spiritual strength of the church. The Father, Jesus Christ, and the gospel of the Kingdom were Paul's focus, and he wanted the people to focus their lives there as well. Thus, he presented them in the manner he did.
He is a sterling example of a truly meek Christian. The meek person has ceased to think or care about himself. His pride and self-will have been crucified. He does not measure the importance of events by their relation to his personal comfort or what he will gain from them. He sees everything from God's perspective, seeking only to serve His purpose in the situations life imposes.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Meekness
The context in which these verses appear is important to understanding the production of the fruit of the Spirit. This immediately precedes the listing of the fruit of the Spirit, showing that Paul means that they will be produced through much internal conflict.
This is true because obedience to God's Word is required to produce the Spirit's fruit, and the Christian is being pulled or led in two directions. The one tries to make us satisfy the desires of our old nature, and the other leads us toward producing the fruit of the new. Paul expresses his experience with this in Romans 7:15-19.
For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.
Christians, as Martin Luther stated, "are not stocks and stones." As humans, we are creatures of desires, drives, and emotions. Certainly, as we learn to walk in the Spirit, we increasingly subdue our flesh. But flesh and Spirit remain, and the conflict between them is fierce and unremitting.
We need not become discouraged over this conflict, though, because Paul also gives us a very hopeful solution. In Romans 7:24-25, he exclaims: "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin."
Every Christian striving to produce the fruit of God will experience this combination of lamentation over sinfulness and joyous expression of gratitude over the certainty of deliverance. The unconverted do not feel the agonizing struggle against sin with the same intensity as the converted. The converted have their peace disturbed and can feel wretched in their conscience.
But this has a good side to it as well. We know it is degrading to the divine nature, and it humbles us to know full well that we have succumbed to evil passions. We then realize more fully that the law cannot come to our aid, neither can other men, and our strength has already betrayed us. Therefore, if we really desire to glorify God and produce spiritual fruit, this conflict will drive us to God in heartfelt prayer for the strength only He can give. God's Word and eventually our experience prove that without Christ, we can do nothing!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit
Contrary to popular belief, the meek (gentle, NKJV) do not take everything "lying down." Notice Moses, who was the meekest man of his time (see Numbers 12:3). He did not hesitate to order the execution of about three thousand of the idolaters who worshipped the Golden Calf while he was with God on the mountain (Exodus 32:25-28). Against evil this meek man was as stern as steel. How a meek man reacts depends upon what he discerns God's will is for him within the circumstance. Because the meek man sets his mind on God's purpose and not his own comfort, ambition, or reputation, he will offer implacable resistance to evil in defense of God yet react with patience, kindness, and gentleness when others attack him.
Jesus set a clear example of this pattern of reaction too. He made a whip of rope, and with stern and vehement energy, overturned the tables and drove the livestock, their sellers, and moneychangers from the Temple compound because they had turned God's house into a common bazaar by their sacrilege. With simple, forthright, firm, instructive answers and incisive questions, He met the twisted, intellectual, carnal reasoning of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. Yet as Matthew 12:19-20 reads, "He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench." Peter adds:
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: "who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth"; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously. (I Peter 2:21-23)
A meek person will feel the wrong done against him and feel it bitterly. But because he is not thinking of himself, his meekness does not allow his spirit to give vent to a hateful, savage, and vindictive anger that seeks to "get even." He will instead be full of pity for the damaged character, attitudes, and blindness of the perpetrator. From the stake Jesus uttered, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). This virtue is a strong bulwark against self-righteousness and intolerant and critical judgment of others. Yet neither does it excuse or condone sin. Rather, a meek person understands it more clearly, thus his judgment is tempered, avoiding reacting more harshly than is necessary.
Paul writes in Titus 3:1-2, "Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility [meekness, KJV] to all men." The possibility of conflict is inherent where the subject includes our relationship with governments; it is quite easy to have conflict with those in authority over us. Some in positions of authority take pleasure in wielding their power, as Jesus notes in Matthew 20:25: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them."
On the flip side are those under authority, and this is where Paul's main emphasis is in Titus 3. Humans, by nature, tend to be very sensitive, critical, and harsh in their judgments of those over them. It frequently results in slanderous attacks and quarrels against those in authority—sometimes even in revolutions. Paul advises us to be non-belligerent, considerate, unassertive, and meek. If the fruit of meekness has been produced in either or both parties, peace and unity are more possible because a major tool is in place to allow both to perform their responsibilities within the relationship correctly.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Meekness
Why is submitting so difficult? There are two basic reasons: education and attitudes. The one occurs because we all want to be free. Everyone wants to have more liberty than he has right now. Liberty is a major theme in the Bible, but we have a problem: We have been mis-educated.
Because of this mis-education, each of us puts a different spin on what it means to be free. Being free does not mean the same thing to every person because the same things are not equally important to everybody. Some people have placed their spin on freedom, because of their circumstances, as a need for more food. Other people want to be free to exercise their sexual passions with a great deal more liberty. Everybody puts a little bit different twist on what he or she would like to be free to do. Why? Peter writes,
. . . knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct [conduct going nowhere] received by tradition from your fathers. . . . (I Peter 1:18)
Tradition is that cultural way, method, or outlook that is imposed on us from birth. The influences of our culture are layered on us like an onion. What layers of culture and therefore, traditions, heaped on us?
The initial layer is impressed on us by the home, the family—or the lack thereof. It begins to set our minds about what is important in life. Then there is a slightly larger segment—the neighborhood. At first, the neighborhood does not have a great deal of influence, but once we begin to expand our lives outside of the home, mother's and dad's influence slowly begin to wane. Our peers in our neighborhood begin to impress upon us a little bit broader cultural layer because we have escaped, as it were, from the home and have now gone out into the neighborhood. We keep layering it out: The city has an impact on us, the state, the region, and then the nation.
Peter said that we have been redeemed from tradition. In the United States, this thing about tradition has become crazy. One of the buzzwords of our time is multiculturalism. We have people in the United States who want to make sure that English is not the official language of the nation because they want to hang on to another culture. It used to be that, when people immigrated to our nation, they strove to conform to the American culture and tradition. They wanted to become full-fledged Americans. So what did they have to do in order to do that? They had to submit to the customs and traditions of their new homeland.
But today there is a powerful drive to get people to do just the opposite, to hold on to the customs and traditions of their former homelands. This process is helping to tear the nation apart! We are slowly being driven toward an absolute confusion of ideas because these cultures cannot agree. We have an environment ready-made for conflict—unless someone submits.
The world is the way it is because Adam and Eve took of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which indicates knowledge from many sources. This was sort of a preview of multiculturalism—knowledge from many sources without the spiritual guidance of God. We have to get God into the picture.
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (II Thessalonians 2:15)
God has His traditions too! On the one hand, we have the traditions that God is teaching us through His Word, through His ministers. He has traditions to which He wants His Family to conform. But we have brought traditions with us out of the world. It sets the stage for conflict! The traditions of God and the traditions that we have from the world will not mesh! When we add to this our desire to be free, it makes an interesting mess!
But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. (II Thessalonians 3:6)
The major difference is that His traditions are right and true, and they work! However, because conversion is a process, and because we do not instantly and magically know all of God's traditions, we all bring our former traditions into the church with us. Thus, the church is set up for conflict, which is a major reason why Paul wrote the book of Ephesians. It shows that for there to be unity, both Israelite and Gentile have to submit to Christ because both of their cultures and traditions are wrong!
Again, we have been mis-educated by the traditions of family, society, region, state, and nation. We carry those characteristics with us. Not every one of them is wrong, but they do set us up for conflict with God and with each other. Only the traditions of God are completely right and true and will produce the right things. When there is conflict between the traditions that we have brought in to the church and God's traditions, we have to submit to God because we are not free to do as we please. If we do as we please because we put our own particular spin on what we think liberty is, it will bring us into conflict with God—and that is not nice! It is detrimental to one's spiritual health and one's relationship with God!
The second reason we have trouble is because our attitudes are perverted.
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh [notice what drives human beings: This wicked spirit is motivating the lusts of our flesh], fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
There is a spirit characterized by desire—lust—to have it our way. Mis-education combined with negative attitudes equals conflict. Human nature is a package of attitudes dominated by the desire to gratify the self. That is why there is so much conflict (see James 4:1-3).
Our desires—whether it is husband and wife in marriage, or in business, or in politics among nations—keep crashing into one another. Conflict will never end until everyone is keeping the traditions of God. That is why we are in the process of conversion. It is our responsibility to convert over to God's traditions so that we stop crashing into one another. We have to overcome this mis-education and this attitude to gratify the self.
Satan is ultimately the source of both of these. We have to recognize that we are still influenced and that we pick up on his broadcasts. It makes submitting so difficult. The adversary is still working and bringing about conflict. Anywhere Satan goes, conflict erupts. He is a master at producing it.
Liberty without guidelines (like laws, principles, doctrines, policies, or even the example of another person) to which one submits (meaning we as individuals submit through self-control or self-governing) will turn into chaos because of the desire for the power to control. The desire to control is what we would call freedom—liberty. That is why there are so many horrible divorces and re-marriages. Submission, whether accepted willingly or grudgingly, is a necessity. It is better to accept it and do it grudgingly than not to do it at all.
We have to understand, then, that there is authority. It may be God, another human being, a law, a precedent, etc., but there will be an authority. It is an unavoidable fact of life. We face it all the time. Everybody lives under authority, and everybody must submit, even if it is only to the laws of nature—there is hardly a person who will not submit to the law of gravity while standing on the edge of a thousand-foot drop. It is that simple. Thus, because we step away from the cliff and not over it, we have submitted to a law. Why? Because we want to preserve our liberty, our desire to live. We know if we break that law—if we do not submit to it—it will break us to bits at the bottom of the cliff.
Notice that this subject has a broad application. Submission does not involve only relationships with God or relationships with other people. Submission occurs in almost every area of life, even in submitting to things we would call common sense or the laws of nature. Anybody who has the mind of God will be looking for every opportunity to submit because that is, paradoxically, where true freedom lies.
Recall John 8:32, where Jesus says, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Is not His implication that one shall be free only if he submits to the truth? Knowing the truth is not enough; liberty comes to those who submit to the truth. If one is standing on the edge of a thousand-foot drop, common sense and the truth of God say that one should obey the law of gravity—unless one desires to give up his freedom to live. True liberty consists of submitting to truth. It is the liberty God wants us to have.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Submitting (Part 1)
The Philippian congregation was generally a wonderful group of people. Many different commentaries state that of all the groups that Paul wrote to, Phillipi was probably the best of them all. However, Paul was writing to these people with some measure of sadness because two ladies were feuding, and it was inexorably dividing the group into rival camps. In this section, the apostle is spelling out our Christian responsibility.
Notice that nowhere in the entire epistle to the Phillipians does Paul tell them, "Don't come to church." He did not say, "Split away by yourself." That is what is happening in the greater church. Paul did not say, "Just go sit in your living room." That is not an option with God. He tells us here that we have to look to and seek higher things. He says to let our conduct be worthy of the gospel that we say that we believe.
How far did Jesus Christ go to make peace? To the death! He did not allow the hostility of the world against Him to justify hostility against those who were mistreating Him.
We should not be misled by the word "if" in verse 1. Paul is not stating a "maybe." He is stating an absolute fact. That word "if" is better understood as "since": "Since there are these things in you because of God's Spirit, sacrifice yourself. Make my joy complete and use them." What are we to use? Love, fellowship of the spirit, bowels and mercies. "Fulfil you my joy, that you be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind."
Because of God's calling, because He granted us repentance and gave us His Spirit, we have already been enabled by His Spirit to use these things to make peace, to be of one accord, to be of one mind. "The mark of the beast" can be overcome by God's Spirit in us, but we must sacrifice ourselves to use it. It is already there. Thus, Paul is saying, "Use God's love in you, and be of one mind. Quit fighting with each other to gain the upper hand. Consider the other person better than you, and serve him by looking out for his interest."
When he says, "Let this mind be in you," what he literally says in the Greek is, "Keep thinking like this." How? As Jesus Christ has already shown us. He is saying, "Don't let your mind be drawn toward what you consider to be the cause of the offense." Or, "Don't dwell upon those things."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Spiritual Mark of the Beast
2 Timothy 3:1
Notice how many of these characteristics are traits of the mercenary. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary Tenth Edition defines mercenary as "serving merely for pay or sordid advantage: venal; also: greedy." Synonyms for the noun form of the word include "hireling," "hired hand," and "hired gun." Adjectival synonyms are "bribable," "corruptible," "purchasable," "venal," "greedy," "avaricious," "voracious," "rapacious," "grasping," "covetous," and "money-hungry."
One of these traits of people in the last days, "unforgiving," is particularly appropriate. The margin of the New King James Version reads "irreconcilable," but the Greek word, aspondoi, literally means "without a treaty or covenant." It means they function as though they have no contract! They have no loyalty to a team, a political ideal, a company, or anything! If they have no loyalties, how can they be reconciled to anyone?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
America's Mercenary Culture
These two verses give direct and specific reasons why peace is such a great benefit toward spiritual prosperity.
"Wisdom" indicates influence of heavenly origin, that is, from God. Its effect on the mind is to make it pure and chaste, not more imaginative or intelligent. Its purpose is to make the person upright, inoffensive, and good, then peaceable, etc. It disposes a person to live at peace with others. By itself, it corroborates Jesus' statement that He is willing and able to give a peace unlike the world's, a state of being not native to man.
If a person is of a pure spirit, then peace tends to follow. First, this occurs because a pure-hearted person is at peace within himself. He is therefore not self-righteously, self-centeredly, and discontentedly seeking to impose his will and way on others to control their lives. Such a person will not induce conflict.
Second, the pure-hearted person will follow Paul's advice, which he gave in two places. Romans 14:19 says, "Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another." Hebrews 12:14 adds, "Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord." It is very difficult for people to have conflict with others who will not fight! This does not mean that we should make peace at any cost by denying truth. We can remain faithful to truth without going to war, though it might appear costly at the moment. Jesus—and many others—did it.
James goes on to say that this approach to life's relationships produces the fruit of righteousness. This phrase could mean that what is produced as a fruit is righteousness, but it can also mean the fruit that righteousness produces. The latter is preferable. The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit the Spirit produces. The fruit of repentance is the change repentance produces in one's manner of living and attitude. Some of the fruit of righteousness are the qualities James mentions in James 3:17. Righteousness is therefore the seed from which these things grow.
But a seed needs the proper conditions to germinate, grow, and produce fruit. Regardless of how good a seed is, if the conditions are not right, this process will be hindered, and it will bear poorly. The Parable of the Sower and Seed in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 shows this clearly. Peace is the proper condition for the fruit of righteousness, and peacemakers are the green-thumbed gardeners. Growing a good crop demands the right conditions for good seed.
So important is peace to the Christian's spiritual prosperity that God will permit a marriage to be broken by divorce where there cannot be peace. I Corinthians 7:15 says: "But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace."
Divorce is usually preceded by a fairly long period of contention. It is warfare on a small scale. Living in an environment of warfare right in the home contributes little to growing in the image of the loving God of peace. It forces one to focus on himself, and at worst, it is entirely possible God will lose the person involved in such a contentious circumstance. At the very least, growth will be slow and minimal.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Peace
This is vital because we find ourselves living in a culture that is coming apart at the seams because each individual wants to execute his desires. James tells us what happens when individuals begin to do this.
His basic question to the Christian is, "Are we going to submit to God or to our desires for pleasure?" Pleasure here does not mean "fun," as when one goes to an amusement park. James is talking about the desire that normally arises within an individual, who must make the choice of whether or not he is going to follow through and gratify himself by fulfilling that desire. So pleasure here means "that which gratifies."
He is saying to us that, if we seek our desires, then we had better understand that life will be filled with conflict. Why? Because everybody else is doing the same thing. Their desires are likely different from ours, and so our desires runs headlong into their desires, producing arguments, struggle, strife, and war over whose desire is going to be fulfilled. When people do what is right in their own eyes, rather than submit to the central authority, desires will crash into each other, creating conflict. It does not matter whether that central authority is the family, the culture, or God's Word!
This is happening constantly, but God has a solution. It is not easy. The solution is that each son of God bears the responsibility to govern himself, by faith, within the framework of His laws, His principles, His traditions, and the examples that He gives in His Word. We have to submit to these things.
John 8:32 declares that the truth sets us free, but it will never set anyone free unless it is submitted to. Truth is good only as it is used, so a person must submit to it. Inevitably, differences will arise on what things should be done or how they should be done. But God has a way of resolving these problems if we will submit and not succumb to impatience—if we do not force our will and thus force conflict.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Submitting (Part 2)
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
Sign up for the Berean: Daily Verse and Comment, and have Biblical truth delivered to your inbox. This daily newsletter provides a starting point for personal study, and gives valuable insight into the verses that make up the Word of God. See what over 150,000 subscribers are already receiving each day.
We respect your privacy. Your email address will not be sold, distributed, rented, or in any way given out to a third party. We have nothing to sell. You may easily unsubscribe at any time.