What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
This proverb is the first of a set of three that runs through verse 14. The general theme concerns the integrity of government, while the middle proverb, verse 13, deals with the obvious fact that both ruler and ruled are equal in the sight of God. There is also a progression among the three verses from negative to positive, passing through the neutrality of verse 13. One can also see that wicked officials who become oppressors of the poor meet their match in a ruler who leads with integrity and truth.
Our concern, however, is with verse 12 specifically. A little understanding of the way a royal court works—in fact, any seat of leadership—will help explain how this happens. If the ruler bends an ear to gossip, insinuations, misrepresentations, unfounded assertions, manufactured "facts," or any other kind of falsehood, his administration will be founded on sand. His advisors and officials will soon learn that the easiest way to influence and power in the government is by telling the ruler what he wants to hear rather than what is actually true. That is how the game is played. In a very short time, the whole government will be corrupt. In other words, the underlings adjust themselves to their leader, and thus the Roman saying, Qualis rex, talis grex (“like king, like people”).
The New King James translates this verse as a conditional statement: "If . . . [then]." However, the Hebrew makes a plain statement of fact, as the Contemporary English Version renders it: “A ruler who listens to lies will have corrupt officials.” Wherever they are found, hierarchies have this property: The whole governmental structure reflects that character—or lack thereof—of the leader at the top. As American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it, "Every institution is but the lengthened shadow of some great man." This can be a wonderful asset when the man at the top possesses sterling character—and a terrible liability when he is corrupt, out of his depth, or a fool.
Parents need to be especially careful because of this fact of human nature. The children will not only reflect the attitudes, speech, and behaviors of their parents, but they will actively learn how to function under their parents' leadership and manipulate them to get what they want. And this happens much earlier in the children's lives than most parents realize; toddlers may not be able to articulate what they are doing, but they know when tears or smiles or some other trick will make mom or dad do their bidding. Many a mother has told a friend about an incident with her child, "The baby was just so cute that I had to give in!" The baby had won and learned how to make the mother dance to his/her tune.
The overall lesson is that a person in authority must lead by seeking the truth in all matters that come before him. It is foolish to decide a matter based on initial reports or only one side of a dispute, even if it sounds right. He should not act before taking the time and the effort to discover independently whether matters are as they have been presented. If a leader takes this prudent path, those under him will soon learn that it does not pay to tell falsehoods that will be found out, leading to their ouster. In an atmosphere of truth, corruption finds it much harder to gain a foothold, and everyone under such an administration of integrity has a greater opportunity to be satisfied.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Isaiah 1:21-26 is especially interesting because it describes the harlotry principle working within the social justice system. Judges were selling themselves out through accepting bribes or for personal advantage in some other area of life, and counselors—lawyers—were giving bad advice to tip the scales of "justice" favorably for their careers. Under such corruption, justice in Israel was difficult to find, so difficult that "the prudent keep silent at that time, for it is an evil time" (Amos 5:13).
God makes the contrast between harlotry and faithfulness clear. "Harlotry" is the Bible's code word for faithlessness to God regardless of the area of life in which the faithlessness occurs or of which gender is sinning.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Nine): Babylon the Great
This verse is among the best known of all verses in the Bible. Though we know the words, could we perhaps not grasp some of the depth of what Jeremiah is trying to convey, particularly its practical, everyday application?
It is interesting that the Hebrew word translated "deceitful" (Strong's #6121) comes from exactly the same root as the name "Jacob" (which gives a bit of insight into the mindset of that famous Bible character in his pre-conversion days - God has a habit of naming things what they are). This word is used only three times in the Old Testament. It indicates "a swelling," "a humping up," and thus a knoll or small hill.
When used in relation to traits of human personality, it describes an inflated, prideful vanity, a characteristic that is distastefully useless, corrupting, and intensely self-serving. According to Strong's, it also indicates something fraudulent or crooked. In other words, it suggests an intentional perversion of truth intended to induce another to surrender or give up something of value. What Jacob twice did to Esau gives a good idea of its practical meaning.
Today, we might say our heart is always attempting to "con" us into something that is not good for us in any way. Its inducements may indeed appear attractive on the surface, but further examination would reveal that its appeals are fraudulent and risky. In fact, its appeals are not only downright dangerous, it is incurably set in this way.
In Jeremiah 17:9, the Hebrew word is translated "deceitful," but in the other two usages, it is translated "corrupted" and "polluted." This word should give us a clear indication of what God thinks of this mind that is generating our slippery, self-serving conduct and attitudes. In His judgment, it is foul in every sense, to be considered as belonging in a moral sewer or septic tank.
The King James translators chose to use "deceitful," and since it is a good synonym, just about every modern translation has followed its lead. Deceit is a cognate of deceive, which means "to mislead," "to cheat," "to give a false appearance or impression," "to lead astray," "to impose a false idea," and finally, "to obscure the truth." "Deceitful" thus indicates the heart to be brim-full of these horrible activities.
The term "desperately" (Strong's #605) also needs definition. It indicates something so weak, feeble, and frail as to be at the point of death. Thus, most modern translations, including the KJV margin, have opted for "incurable." Elsewhere, God calls it "a heart of stone," as if rigor mortis has already set in despite it still being alive. In other words, nothing can be done about it, as it is set in a pattern of influence that cannot be changed for the better. God promises, then, that He will give those He calls a new heart, a heart of flesh, one that will yield to Him and His way of life.
It is good to understand all these descriptors, but they only give us what amounts to book-learning on this vital topic. It is what its problems are in everday, practical situations that makes God so dead set against it that He declares it "incurable." It cannot be fixed to His satisfaction and is therefore unacceptable for His Family Kingdom.
We can understand why from this brief illustration: What are the two great commandments of the law? First: We are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-38). In other words, we are to love Him above all other things. We are to respond to God's wonderful, generous love toward us with a love that employs all of our faculties to match His love toward us.
Jesus says in Luke 14:26, "If any one 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." Do we grasp the practical application of this? He means that we are to make whatever sacrifice is necessary, even to giving up our lives, to submit in obedience to any, even the least, of God's commands. If at any time we put ourselves on equal footing to Him, we have actually elevated ourselves over Him and have committed idolatry.
The second great commandment is to love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Though not quite as stringent as the first, it still is a very high standard. Jesus says that on these two commandments everything else in our response to God hangs (verse 40). Love and law are inextricably bound together in our relationship with God.
Yet, herein lies the problem. Keeping them is impossible for man as he now is, encumbered with this deceitful heart. Our heart will not permit us to do this because it is so self-centered it absolutely cannot consistently obey either of these commandments. Thus, no character of any value to God's Kingdom can be created in one with a heart as deceitful and out of control as an unconverted person. It is incurably self-centered, self-absorbed, and narcissistic in its concerns about life's activities.
This deceit has many avenues of expression, but none is more effective than to convince us we are far better than we actually are - but far better as compared to what or whom? Our hearts have an incredible ability to hide us from the reality of what we are spiritually and morally. It does this so effectively that it can harden us to the extent that we can be blinded to any and every failing in our character! It lures us into sin, hiding its seriousness from us and making us believe it to be a rather minor affair. It convinces us that "nobody got hurt" or "everybody's doing it."
In Hebrews 3:12-13, Paul issues a warning just as applicable today as it was in the first century: "Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.'" Sin promises more than it can deliver. It assures us of pleasures it never imparts. Sometimes it does deliver some pleasure, but it conceals the boomerang effect that will surely come. It also obscures its addictive power, invariably leading us beyond our original limits. When we first sin a specific sin, we are under delusion, and it will lead us step by step until we are enslaved to it.
It can put on plausible appearances, even the mantle of virtue, convincing us we are doing ourselves and others a favor. Sin deludes us with hope of happiness, but what does the gambler feel when he loses his bankroll, or the drunkard after he is burdened with a death caused by his drunk driving, or the fornicator who discovers he has AIDS, or the adulterer who must live with the fact that he has destroyed a marriage and family?
Human nature will generate any number of excuses - self-justifications, really - to avoid any sacrifice, no matter how small, or to admit any guilt that might damage its self-assessment of its value. It sometimes manages to produce narcissism so strong that all activity must have it as the center of the universe, and it will work hard to make sure it controls virtually everything. Pride and self-gratification are its driving impulses.
By insisting on "tolerance" over the last several decades, human nature has deceitfully managed to produce an open-minded acceptance of what was once commonly known to be sinful behavior. It has succeeded by maintaining that no absolutes exist regarding conduct, thus one morality is just as good as another. The nation has been bulldozed into accepting this deceitful concept by cooperative media, good-looking celebrities, savvy politicians, and liberal judges.
Thus, a polite, secular paganism has overtaken our nation, and many have become convinced that the gods and ways of the Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, occultists, or whatever religionists are all the same. In one way, they are correct. They all do have the same god, but it is not the God of the true Christian religion and the Bible, One who adamantly insists on purity, chastity, and integrity of life in harmony with His commands.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Two)
Historical evidence identifies the man referred to as "he" as Antiochus Epiphanes. Because the record of his activities against the Jews parallels many of the activities prophesied about the end-time Beast of Revelation, many believe he is a symbolic forerunner of that one to come. This verse prophesies three things of the coming Beast:
First, we normally and correctly associate the Beast with great, though evil, power. However, among other things he will also be a flatterer. He will not only be a person of great political wisdom, but he will be personally persuasive and charming. Proverbs 31:30 warns us, "Charm is deceitful"—all too frequently, it is nothing more than a social and public relations skill used for personal gain. It can be nothing more than a dishonest puffery displayed to get another's cooperation to achieve an ulterior motive. Practically, it can easily become manipulation and control by a skilled person using honeyed words. David's experience with a charming betrayer is recorded in Psalm 55:21: "The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords." Politically, this activity is defined as treachery.
Second, this verse also tells us he will corrupt or seduce some of those who have made the covenant with God. At first, we might think that these are the unconverted, but that is not so. This refers to the last phrase of verse 30, where the Beast "shows regard for those who forsake the holy covenant." These are people who apostatize. A person cannot forsake an agreement he has never made. Some of the converted will be seduced by manipulative flatteries and corrupted into cooperation. At the end time, that means some of us! Reader's Digest Encyclopedic Dictionary lists some of the definitions of corrupt: "to pervert the fidelity or integrity of as by bribing; to destroy morally; pervert, ruin, change from the original, debase, contaminate."
Putting these two factors together, we ought to imagine God waving a yellow caution flag before us, revealing an area of danger that we should mark well. It is highly unlikely that any of us will move in the same political, social, and military circles as the Beast. Thus, his personal charm or flatteries will not be used to deceive us in an intimate, personal circumstance. Therefore, his political wisdom and flatteries will be exhibited in his public policies. We must never forget that this man will be of the world and as unconverted as a man can be.
Therefore the political strategies he will use will essentially be appeals to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (I John 2:15-17). He will appeal to us to abandon our faith and give our cooperation, trust, and loyalty to him by submitting to political programs and public policies that offer us physical well-being, peace, and safety under his umbrella. It will seem advantageous for us, at least on a short-term basis, to support his programs. He will make glowing promises of preferment, reward, and peace. But never forget, when seduction and subversion through flatteries fail, the reign of terror by persecution begins.
Third and finally, the verse prophesies that those who know their God shall be strong, or stand firm, and do exploits. God inserts this to show us how not to be deceived by flatteries. Jesus says in John 17:3, "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." Knowing God is the key to seeing through and rejecting the seductive flatteries of the Beast because it is the foundation of faith. We know God gives truths that are eternal.
The Beast will deceive through a combination of outright lies, partial truths, and temporary truths. The people who see through his devious words will do so because they know and believe God and His truth. They will therefore be strong in giving glory to Him. These people will prefer to risk their lives rather than betray God's honor. By believing God, they will be prepared for the Beast's onslaught, and this will give them strength because it produces firm resolve and sense of purpose. Though these prophecies are not yet fulfilled, evidence is accumulating that they are just over the horizon, and thus something we may soon face.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Three
It has become axiomatic that American politics is corrupt. Elected leaders from dog catcher to President have used their positions to influence decisions, get rich, and stifle the competition. This is hardly new, but recent political corruption has taken a new twist that should be highly alarming. This twist is the claim that illegal actions are not wrong, just indictable.
The Clinton White House, including the President, Vice President, and First Lady, have all made this claim during their scandals. Former President Clinton says that requesting political contributions on federal property may be contrary to the 1883 law prohibiting it, but since other Presidents have done it, he has really done nothing wrong. It is just the way things are done and have always been done. Al Gore made a similar statement in defense of his taking large, second-party contributions from Buddhist nuns during a campaign fund-raiser. It is not wrong to take such donations of foreign money, he claims, though it may be against campaign fund-raising rules. Hillary Clinton also played this game during the White House Travel Office scandal. Without an indictment, she considered herself guilty of no wrongdoing.
They could make these claims all day, but they would not be taken seriously unless others in political leadership gave them credence. As the many investigations, inquiries, hearings, independent counsels, and special prosecutors indicate, official Washington has not fought this trend. Political commentators, such as Washington Post editor Meg Greenfield, are beginning to take note of it:
Everything is illegal; but nothing is wrong. In fact, there is no wrong. To great numbers of people the very concept appears to sound antiquated, simplistic, even repressive. There is only being indictable or subject to fines or penalties under law, raps you can beat as distinct from the kind with moral force that you cannot beat no matter what the jury says about the relevance of some obscure section of the law. . . . The silence from all our leaders on this subject—the moral rights and wrongs of what has been going on—has been total and chilling. . . . Right? Wrong? What's that? (Washington Post, September 29, 1997)
What makes this especially revealing is that these elected leaders have little or no concept of right and wrong. They are not merely proclaiming their innocence; they sincerely have no basis for determining right from wrong! Having rejected traditional, biblical moral standards, many of our leaders have no stable moral code to fall back on. They handle each situation based on its own merits, historical precedent, and their own experiences, feelings, desires, and needs.
Seeing the examples of the "leadership" in the highest offices of the land, the general populace has begun to embrace a similar moral ambiguity. Polling data shows Clinton and Gore suffered very little in terms of popularity and approval during and after recent scandals. This indicates that Americans basically agree with their leaders' actions. This "trickle-down" morality is having and will continue to have a disastrous effect on American society.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The prophet Amos describes three major sins: the sins of covetousness (verse 6); indifference and oppression of the poor, the needy and the weak (verse 7); and unrestricted promotion of self-advantage (verse 8). These are the effects of rejecting the Teacher, the Instructor.
As Israel's destruction neared, conditions worsened drastically. The courts were totally corrupt with the judges in collusion with the lawyers, selling their verdicts to the highest bidder! Amos says, "Therefore the prudent keep silent at that time, for it is an evil time" (Amos 5:13). God advises that the best thing to do was to remain silent and go on with one's life because one could not get a good judgment from the judges! The best thing to do was to settle out of court, if possible.
All the while this corruption ran rampant in Israel, people were worshipping God in droves! A high percentage of the people attended services and kept the festivals. They pilgrimaged to the centers of religion in Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba where the people kept the feasts. The commentators concede Israel may still have been keeping some of the holy days of God.
Notice what God says:
I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings [worship] and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. (Amos 5:21-23)
God hated their feasts, their offerings, and their singing in His name. The wording indicates nausea! Compare this to Revelation 3:16.
Most likely Israel blended the worship of the true God with the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth and other local deities. Despite their worship, this syncretism caused a separation from God. They were at odds with Him, even though, in their minds, they worshipped Him. Society immediately degenerated because the people's love waxed cold. Their worship produced no good effect because it came from an unrighteous source.
When one studies the New Testament, the pattern unfortunately continues. The history of the true church has been one of waxing and waning purity as well. Generally, brief periods of unity and growth precede longer periods of disunity and stagnation. Small, scattered congregations barely hold themselves together during these times and do no active work.
The pattern is very similar to that established in ancient Israel. God would raise up a man, and he would lead a Work and establish what would be orthodox. As time went by, two groups would emerge. One group would be more conservative, disposed to maintain orthodox doctrine and to hold on to their traditions. The other element would be broader-minded, not bound by orthodox or traditional forms.
The appearance of these two groups presents a Christian with a complex question: "I see it, but what do I do?" Christ answers: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:15-16).
Such fruit as an increase in marital and relationship problems, uncertain judgment regarding what is right and wrong, a lack of discussion of God and His Word, indifference toward prayer and Bible study, relaxation toward making an effective and powerful work, and similar attitudes are ones of which to be wary. In such an atmosphere, if a Christian is not careful, he can take on the enveloping and smothering attitude that invariably arises, which will eventually snuff out his spiritual life.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
In Amos 3:9-10, the prophet is told to proclaim the tumults, oppression, violence, and robbery in the nation. The man on the street was not too disturbed at the lack of law and order. He did not seem to realize that this cancerous immorality plaguing the country from within would result in her being crushed and destroyed from without.
However, when the time came to defend Israel from foreign invasion, Israel would have no strength (verse 11). God says, "They have blown the trumpet and made everyone ready, but no one goes to battle" (Ezekiel 7:14). Because the people were so preoccupied with their own self-interests, they did not respond to the external threat of invasion. As a result, the nation fell easily.
In our own generation, we have seen that our adversaries could not conquer us on the battlefield when our general level of morality was high. But as our moral fiber weakened between 1950 and today, they began to destroy us in the business world. Our foes in World War II, in becoming our allies during the Cold War, learned our ways and now rival or outpace us in most economic categories—not only in the area of heavy industry, but in highly technological matters as well.
As our economic power is being sapped by moral cancer, our fighting spirit is being drained too. We are no longer able to present a united front on any matter. In addition, as the United States takes on the role of sole superpower, as our troops are used to enforce United Nations policies, our military strength is exploited and thinned. In our moral and social malaise, we find rousing ourselves to action as a nation gets harder and harder to do. Our allies know we are a weak branch to lean on.
And behind all this is God, who sees our corruption and warns us that the time is near.
"Therefore thus says the Lord God: 'An adversary shall be all around the land; he shall sap your strength from you, and your palaces shall be plundered'" (Amos 3:11). "Therefore" connects the preceding verses with a conclusion or result. Tumult, oppression, violence, and robbery beget weakness and destruction. Sin is inherently self-destructive. It holds out such promise of pleasure and fulfillment, but contains within it the seeds of destruction. Whatever is sown is reaped.
Why does Amos depict Israel as a powerless nation while she was at the height of her economic, political, and military power? The nation's religion was a sham! Morality and righteousness make a nation strong, but immorality and unrighteousness will always bring it to ruin (Proverbs 14:34). Where religion is powerless, government, business, and community become ineffective because their moral undergirding is gone.
"'For they do not know to do right,' says the Lord" (Amos 3:10). Unable to tell the difference between good and evil, Israelites finally reached the point where they called evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). Not only is this in regard to spiritual truths but also to the marketplace. While they no doubt complained about the violence, they could not see that their own selfish ambitions actually produced the violence on the streets.
Evidently, even the religious people never made the connection between the moral and social breakdown in the nation and their own selfish ambitions. They may have been embezzling from their company or overcharging their customers, but they went to church every week! That is why God says He will destroy the religious system too (Amos 3:14).
Cold, calloused, indifferent, the common Israelite just did not care about the other guy. "So what if he suffers while I enrich myself—that's life in the big city, baby!" Whether politician or businessman or religious person, all Israelites, it seems, looked at life this way. It was a view of life almost totally devoid of a social conscience. Their lifestyle glorified amorality. But, most condemning of all, it was a lifestyle diametrically opposite to that revealed by God through Moses.
We, too, need to be careful of this attitude in our own self-absorbed culture. The media even calls the "baby boom" generation the "Me Generation," and a popular magazine found in supermarket checkout lines is boldly titled Self.
Notice the repetition of "palaces" and "houses" in verses 9-11 and 15. God instructs Amos to tell the kings of foreign nations (verse 9) about the Israelites' stockpiling "violence and robbery in their palaces" against themselves (verse 10). To paraphrase, He says, "Look, My people have weakened themselves through sin! They are ripe for destruction!" God empowers the heathen, so they, as His battle-ax, will punish His people. His ultimate aim, of course, is to bring them to repentance.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
When Amos answers, "I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a herdsman and a tender of sycamore fruit" (Amos 7:14), he contends that God Himself commissioned him to "prophesy to My people Israel" (verse 15). Amos was simply a faithful servant of God, with no formal training for the job God sent him to do. "So," he says, "don't tell me not to prophesy when God tells me to!" The apostles said much the same to the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:29).
Then he utters his prophetic denunciation of Amaziah (Amos 7:17). Amaziah's wife and children are included in the curse for two reasons. First, as shown earlier, a leader determines the course of those under him. Any curse that fell on Amaziah would also, to one degree or another, affect his family.
Second, it is a biblical principle that families are often unified in belief. The saying, "Blood is thicker than water," concedes that family ties often prove stronger than the influence of God's Holy Spirit. Frequently, if one leaves the church, others in the family will leave too.
As one member of the family rises or falls, so do the others. Because of his bold denunciation of God's prophet, Amaziah would suffer, and his family would suffer with him. God would see to it that this priest of Bethel would witness in a personal way the coming destruction of the nation as it fell upon his family with a vengeance.
This example, the only narrative section in the entire book, graphically illustrates the fruits of complacency and pride. God sends His prophets to ring as many warning bells as they can to wake His people up to the urgency of the times. The window of opportunity to avert the prophesied disaster is a small one, and God wants His people to use that time to seek Him and change their ways.
The prophet depicts a Laodicean society, like the United States today, from the top echelons to the lowest of beggars (Isaiah 1:5-6). Such a nation prefers form over substance, words over deeds, and tolerance over righteousness.
A sober glance around this nation speaks volumes about the downward spiral already in progress. Crime is rampant on our streets and in our homes. Government scandal and corruption are common news items. Our families are falling apart while we make speeches about "family values."
We also see Laodiceanism creeping into the church as the people begin adopting the lifestyles and attitudes of the world. When they equate material prosperity with spiritual acceptance, they become satisfied with themselves and their spiritual progress (Revelation 3:17). Seeing what Laodiceanism produces, we should never let ourselves become spiritually complacent.
The signs of the times are all around (Luke 12:54-56). It is not good enough just to see them, though. We must act upon this knowledge and truly seek God. Isaiah writes,
Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)
Now is the time!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
God's whole creation is enslaved in grievous bondage! This slavery, called by Paul "the bondage of corruption," is subjection to decay, devastation, disease, destruction, and degradation because of sin—mankind's sin. The earth and all its creatures are expectantly waiting for the time when God's sinless children will take over the rule of this world and deliver creation from the curse of sin! And like a human birth, the worst pains—in this case, the worst ecological devastation—will occur just before and at the delivery of the new life. This explains the earth's groaning and laboring as the end nears.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Bible and the Environment
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
In I Corinthians 13, the Bible reveals love's supreme importance to life. Paul directly compares love's value to faith, hope, prophecy, sacrifice, knowledge, and the gift of tongues and indirectly with all other gifts of God mentioned in chapter 12. He in no way denigrates the others' usefulness to life and God's purpose, but none can compare in importance to love.
The Corinthians took great pleasure in their gifts, just as we would, but a gift's relative importance is shown in its temporal quality. That is, there are times when a gift is of no use. But love will never end; it will always be of use.
Indeed, the receiving of gifts from God - unless accompanied by and used with love - have the potential to corrupt the one receiving them. God's gifts are powers given to enhance a person's ability to serve God in the church. However, we have all heard the cliché, "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." If gifts are not received and used with love, they will play a part in corrupting the recipient, just as they were corrupting the Corinthians. Love is the attribute of God that enables us to receive and use His gifts without corruption.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
A series of scriptures will highlight the world's danger to us. The apostle James writes: "Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). This epistle is written to a Christian congregation. Even as the Old Testament shows Israel to be a spiritual adulteress to God through the people's disobedience following the making of the Old Covenant, so are Christians—as part of the bride of Christ, having made the New Covenant—spiritual adulterers when they unfaithfully disobey.
James is not saying these people are lost. He is warning them that they are heading in that direction because they were backsliding, having already been unfaithful. The unstated, yet clear cause of their being drawn back is the world, as if it were the seductive temptress of Proverbs 7.
James' counsel is that we cannot straddle the fence between God and the world. He is expounding the "no man can serve two masters" principle. These two relationships—God and the world—frame a black-and-white issue; this war has no neutral zone. A person cannot pursue his self-centered, worldly ambitions and still remain loyal to God.
The apostle uses the word philos, indicating something dear, which the New King James Version translates as "friend." He is stressing an affectionate, emotional attachment. Interestingly, The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips (1959) renders the warning as, "You are like unfaithful wives, flirting with the glamour of this world, and never realizing that to be the world's lover means becoming the enemy of God!" Seen this way, James describes them as silly, immature children, thoughtlessly gambling away their futures in the Kingdom of God.
I John 2:15 adds a refinement to James' warning: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." The Greek word translated as "love" is agapao, which suggests a reasoned, determined love. Thus, John's counsel stresses willfulness rather than mere affectionate attachment. In comparison, one could even describe philos as an unbidden "puppy love," but agapao—never.
John is saying that we should not have intimate fellowship combined with loyal devotion to the world. Our relationship to it must be a more distant, hands-off one. We certainly must live and do business within it, but we have to fight to keep it from becoming the focus of our way of life. The spiritual reality is that, as we might say today, "The world stands ready to eat us alive." It chews Christians up and spits them out. If permitted, it can trash spiritual realities that may once have been cherished hopes and dreams.
Galatians 6:14 provides another guiding principle to hold dear: "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." This is an example of Paul's spiritual outlook and maturity regarding his relationship with the world. As far as any relationship between him and the world is concerned, the world is dead and crucified, and so is he to it. It is vivid imagery. How much willful devotion can a person have in a relationship going nowhere because both parties are "dead" to each other?
John 15:18-23 adds more about why the world is dangerous to a Christian:
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, "A servant is not greater than his master." If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also.
This is the fruit of the carnal mind's persistently disobedient attitude shown in Romans 8:7. The whole worldly system is anti-God. Even though the Christian world patronizes Him, in reality, it hates Jesus Christ, and therefore it hates those who truly follow Him. There is a simple reason why this continual reality exists.
Paul had renounced the whole worldly system. It no longer had any appeal to him; he was, in effect, dead in relation to it. However, the world's pressure never ends, which Paul notes in Romans 12:2, "Do not be conformed to this world." The Greek more correctly reads, "Stop allowing yourself to be fashioned to the pattern of this age," or as the J.B. Phillips translation puts it, "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold."
This is the danger we face when we allow the world to become too important. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. The world subtly but inexorably manipulates us into conformity with its thinking, its value systems, and therefore its attitudes and conduct. If we are alert and truly guarding against an invasion of worldly attitudes and practices, we will soon be able to notice when others relapse into following the course of the world.
The persistent influence of the world is a reality because Satan, the god of this world, is its driving force (II Corinthians 4:4). The world is Satan's medium, through which he broadcasts his propaganda and disinformation. By confusing people about what to believe, he intends to manipulate humanity. Satan's pitch to mankind is aimed directly at exciting human nature's self-indulgent cravings.
Due to this Satanic effort, even though we are converted, we are apt to become misinformed, lackadaisical, disinterested, and discouraged. We must be aware of it and absolutely resist it. The apostles' advice about avoiding intimacy with the world is a form of the proverb, "Evil company corrupts good habits" (I Corinthians 15:33). Friendship with the world corrupts.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Two)
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