What the Bible says about
Responsibility, Sense of
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The Garden of Eden was the environment that God created for a relationship with Him to take place. Adam and Eve's responsibility was to dress and keep it. They were put there, not to do nothing, not just to pluck fruit off a tree, not even merely to receive eternal life, but to take care of the Garden.
Dress means "to embellish." This may seem a little strange, but Adam and Eve were to take care of it so well that it would become better than it was when God gave it to them. We like to think of the Garden as being a place of absolute and perfect beauty. Instead, since God told them to "dress and keep it," it seems that it was not complete. It had only been started. What He had done was certainly beautiful, but He wanted them to carry on and finish it.
Keep means "to guard" or "to preserve." If they did not work to dress the Garden, God is telling them, it would deteriorate. That is the way of all things physical, they degenerate if they are not maintained and taken care of.
There are spiritual lessons here. We have been invited into a relationship with God. Like any relationship, it must be worked on to make it increasingly tighter and more productive. We are to "dress and to keep" the relationship. We are not in the Garden, certainly, but we are in the relationship. To do this, we must use and grow in the Holy Spirit. The relationship is the key to accomplishing this. If there is no relationship, there is no Holy Spirit working in and with us, no chance that we will ever grow in the Spirit, and no way we can be close to God. The relationship is the key.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 7)
God will remember His covenant because He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5). Because He does not want His name to be profaned in any way, He is very concerned about those who bear it (Exodus 20:7). The covenant people, Israel, had profaned His name by their conduct among the other nations. Because God is holy and righteous, what He proclaimed to do against the heathen in the first chapter of Amos, He will also do to Israel—a people who had forsaken their covenant with Him.
Isaiah writes that Jerusalem, symbolizing all the tribes of Israel, will receive double for her sins because of her privileged position under the covenant (Isaiah 40:2). God will punish Israel for her failure to live up to her responsibilities within the covenant.
God's punishment, though, is never an end in itself, nor does He punish in wild anger or frustration. Rather, He punishes in the best way and at the best time to bring individuals to repentance. He has not forgotten His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but He will correct their descendants so that He can eventually save His people and give them the promises. The process will be painful but also effective; Israel will come to repentance (Romans 11:25-29).
Reflecting on the history of the British Commonwealth and America in the last two hundred years, we see two nations quickly rising to prominence along with unparalleled accomplishments. The British produced a great empire far out of proportion to their population, native wealth, and abilities. Through her commercial power, the United States became the single richest nation that has ever existed. American influence has since exceeded even that of Britain, making English the universal language of business and politics.
Thousands of academic, scientific, and engineering breakthroughs and inventions have sprung from British and American individuals, discoveries which greatly affected the rest of this world. Such power and influence have made both nations feel they have an unlimited reservoir of natural ability and wealth. They even feel a kind of invincibility.
Amos warns ancient Israel and her modern descendants, however, that no nation is so great that it can stand without God. He makes and unmakes nations (II Chronicles 20:6; Daniel 4:17; Acts 17:26). Their rise or fall is largely dependent upon His purpose for them and their significance in prophecy (e.g. Jeremiah 12:14-17; 25:15-32). If their moral and ethical foundation has eroded, the natural process of strong nations displacing weaker ones will take place (Leviticus 18:28; 20:22). It is this process that God often uses to punish His people for apostasy and immorality.
But though God punishes, there is always the hope of repentance and restitution:
"Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord, "when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them," says the Lord your God. (Amos 9:13-15)
Central to both the punishment and the restitution is loving and living the truth of God. This is the responsibility of those who have made a covenant with Him, whether the Old or the New Covenant. It is our part of the deal—a small part really but a difficult one that must be kept (Matthew 7:13-14). If we do not keep it, God must correct us.
But if we keep our part of the agreement, we will reap the benefits that flow with God keeping His. He promises good health (Exodus 15:26), prosperity (Malachi 3:8-12), children (Psalm 127:3-5), security (Psalm 46), and many other blessings besides His greatest gift, eternal life in His Kingdom (John 17:1-3; Romans 6:23)!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
If God repeats the same thing over and over again, it must be important. This is something God never got through Balaam's thick skull because throughout the entire account, he tries his best to curse Israel, to do more than God instructs, or to speak beyond what God put into his mouth. He keeps having to be restrained.
Why? Balaam wants the pot of gold and the honor! These are what are driving him.
God speaks to him time and again. He appears to him, visibly, as the Angel of the Lord. He speaks to him through a donkey! God changes Balaam's words in his mouth, causing him to speak blessings instead of curses. God puts His Spirit on him, and Balaam prophesies under the inspiration of the Spirit of God—and still Balaam tries to do his own will, not God's.
Balaam never really understood the connection between obedience and blessing, or, obedience and the relationship with God. Even the most easily understood command—"I will put a word in your mouth. Say that word, no more, and no less"—he fails to follow, though it is something a child could do. However, Balaam is being driven by gold, by pride, and who knows what else, so he constantly, consistently refuses to do what God tells him to do.
Balaam wanted to do all these things—to have a relationship with God, to be able to bless and curse, to be a real prophet—but he never wanted to obey. He wanted all the benefits and none of the responsibilities.
Balaam is an illustration of a person who has access to the truth—like a person who reads the Bible all the time—but never obeys it! Such a person is willing to cheat on his income tax, when he knows the eighth commandment says, "You shall not steal." There are "Christian" people who are willing to kill their unborn children, yet know that the sixth commandment says, "You shall not murder." There are "Christians" who lie all the time, knowing all the while that the ninth commandment says, "You shall not bear false witness." These people have access to the truth or have knowledge of the truth, but are never willing to put it into practice because they insist on doing what they want to do.
There are millions of people in the world like this. In fact, one branch of Christianity in particular—called Protestantism—was founded on this formula. One will not find more learned people than Protestant theologians; they know the Bible from cover to cover. Yet, they still keep and preach Sunday! They do more than this. They know—they admit—that God's law is "holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12), but they tell their congregations, "It is done away! We don't have the responsibility of keeping the law. Jesus kept it for us!"
Thus, they emphasize grace and make God's law of no effect because they want all the blessings of being a Christian but none of the responsibility. Just as Balaam did!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)
God set up a table of progression or priority. If there were no sons, the inheritance automatically went to the daughters. If there were no daughters, then the next step, then the third and fourth steps.
Why was God so concerned about land? There is a logical reason for it, as well as why He wanted the land to remain in the family. The principle, a very simple one, is shown in other parts of the Bible: Land is the source of wealth. If a person (male or female) has land, and he is able to work it, he will be able to produce a measure of income.
What a blessing that would be today, if every family owned land. This would solve one of our country's major problems! There would be almost no welfare because nobody would need to receive welfare from the State except in small amounts, since every family would be able to produce at least their own food (or some product by which they could buy food).
This principle within Israel kept a major welfare system from developing. In addition, there were the psychological benefits of owning land—because then a person has something tangible, something to which he can give himself, maintain, develop, use to create wealth and a sense of self-worth. Land gives a person a stake in the community, and with that comes a sense of responsibility to the entire community.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Seventeen)
Being chosen to be God's special treasure and become holy had nothing to do with any of our accomplishments, race, nationality, gender, IQ, or academic training. We are special and thus blessed because God loves us and because He is faithful to His promises to the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He reinforces these points by emphasizing that He is faithful, as well as by warning us that He is a God of justice.
Therefore, He is clearly stating that the foundation of this relationship is based completely in what He is within Himself, otherwise the relationship would have never gotten past the casual stage of mere acquaintance. The vast majority in the world who call themselves Christian are merely acquainted with God. By God's personal calling (John 6:44, 65), we have been made special—to have an intense and intimate relationship with Him. The very character of God, not any excellence in those He has chosen, is the basis for our being special.
This gives us no room for pride. He was not somehow attracted to us because we had been seeking Him all our lives, were so attractive, or had done so many good things. On the other hand, this blessing gives cause for a great deal of gratitude, and just as in a marriage, this specialness brings responsibilities.
God proclaims Himself to be the faithful God, and in Deuteronomy 7:11, He broadly states the means by which we are expected to prove our faithfulness in return: We are responsible to keep His commandments, statutes, and judgments. As in a marriage, because the parties have become special to each other, they are responsible to be faithful to each other above all others. A covenant made before God binds us to this intense, marital faithfulness.
I Peter 2:9 states this responsibility in a somewhat different manner: "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him, who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." Notice his sentence begins with "but," introducing an explanation of why the chosen are to be different from the disobedient of verses 7-8, and of what they are obligated to do.
As stated here, the responsibility of God's own special people is to proclaim—to show forth (KJV)—the praises of Him who has called us. The proclaiming is accomplished through speech and conduct. We show forth His praises in our witness through faithful obedience, just as is commanded in Deuteronomy 7:11.
I Peter 1:13-16 shows that being a special treasure and holiness are inextricably linked:
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."
God emphasizes "special treasure" to impress us with the magnitude of His blessing in making us special and the critical importance of our difference from others expressed through holy conduct.
It is important to consider our calling as God's peculiar treasure a tremendous blessing that we never allow to slip from our minds. It opens the door to the knowledge of God, faith, forgiveness, His Holy Spirit, access to Him, transformation to be like Him, and an endless supply of other things He provides, besides everlasting life. However, there are specific things we must do and cannot do because we are special.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Priceless Gift
God Almighty has given man the power to make choices regarding his ultimate destiny. As a free moral agent, man has the awesome responsibility to choose between a hapless, physio-chemical existence with a dead end or a rich and rewarding eternity as a member of God's Family. Though the choice appears easy, the challenging road to the Kingdom of God dismays many because they are unwilling to undergo the rigors of the journey.
God has set before us the choice to obey or disobey, hoping we will choose obedience and giving us reasons and promises that persuade us to that end, but He wants us to make sure that it is our intention, without coercion or brainwashing on His part. It takes a free moral agent, making the right choices, to create the mind of Christ in us. Though He has a good idea how we will choose, God ultimately does not know what we will decide when given the choice. He will do all He can—short of rescinding our freedom to choose—to convince us to choose Him.
David F. Maas
Fasting: Building Spiritual Muscle
1 Kings 3:5-10
Did anyone ever have such a good start as Solomon? Perhaps the outstanding thing was his attitude when he asked this of God. Commentators feel that he was somewhere around twenty years old when this occurred. His youthfulness shows in what he felt about himself in relation to what had become his responsibility. He says, "I am a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in." In other words, "I don't know how to conduct the affairs of office. I feel that I am not adequate to do the job that has been given to me."
He began with such promise, and maybe most of all was that wonderful attitude. It was childlike. He was humble, willing to listen, willing to be admonished and commanded by God. This is why God responded as He did.
Jesus Christ said, "To whom much is given, from him much will be required." Very few have ever been given as much as Solomon had. So, he is an excellent study case of one who neglected his gifts in favor of something of lesser value. The cause of his fall is here summarized in I Kings 11:1-10.
Solomon had very special evidence of God's love. There are four examples of this:
- He was chosen king contrary to the normal custom. He was hand-picked to do the job. Had the normal custom been followed, Adonijah would have been made king, but it fell to Solomon instead. Of course, God is the one who sets kings up and puts them down, and He chose Solomon to succeed David.
- He was given a change of name. Just like Abram's name was changed to Abraham, Jacob's name was changed to Israel, and Saul's name was changed to Paul, people who went through unusual experiences sometimes receive a name change to reflect the change that had occurred in their lives. Solomon's name was "Jedidiah," which means "beloved of the LORD." His name was a special assignment to him—someone that God really smiled upon.
- He received every benefit imaginable: understanding, wisdom, wealth, and power. Of course, the Bible indicates that these things flowed from God—for his benefit and the nation's.
- Twice he was visited by God—for encouragement and admonishment.
In addition, he had clear evidence of God's power working directly for him. Solomon was put on the throne in the face of the entrenched political power of the day, represented by Adonijah and particularly Joab. When David died, the most influential person in the nation was not a member of David's immediate family. It was Joab. In the face of Joab's support of Adonijah, however, Solomon still became king. Obviously, God manipulated things to put him on the throne.
He was also granted unparalleled, unchallenged power and prestige as a king. People came from all the nations to admire Solomon, his wisdom, his building projects, and his wealth. All these visitors gave all the credit to Solomon. In reality, the Bible shows that God's power was working on Solomon's behalf to produce these things.
He was given success in all of his endeavors beyond what anyone could normally expect. Whether it was in botany, biology, building projects, wine, women, and song, Solomon hit the top of the charts in everything he did.
But Solomon also had a problem. He was distracted by his interest in women. He was a great man, but he had feet of clay and succumbed to idolatry. Now, this did not happen overnight but by degrees. He never openly renounced God, but neither was he ever very devoted either.
It is reminiscent of II Thessalonians 2 and the man of sin. Apostasy is taking place, and God says that He was going to allow delusion to come upon people, a "blindness" to occur. A similar thing happened to Solomon. When we add what is taught in II Thessalonians, we find that the blindness is, in reality, self-imposed.
God did not make Solomon blind, and He will not make the people spoken of in II Thessalonians 2 blind either. But, because of their behavior, neither will He stop their progression towards it. It is not that the people utterly refuse to accept truth—just as Solomon never renounced God. The problem is that they do not love it!
The problem is one of dedication. What was Solomon dedicated to? He was not dedicated to God for very long after his good beginning. He was dedicated to his projects—to building Jerusalem, the Temple, his home, botanical gardens—things that only expanded his overwhelming vanity.
He ignored the laws God gave for kings (Deuteronomy 17:14-20), and that was sin. Unfortunately, unlike David, Solomon did not have the spiritual resources to recover from what he did. David recovered when he sinned because he had a relationship with God. Even though he sinned, he would bounce back from it in repentance.
I Kings 11:4 says that Solomon "clung to" his wives. Normally, that would be good. A man should cling or cleave to his wife. Solomon, though, cleaved to the wrong women, and his attachment to them led him astray. As he tolerated their worship of other gods right in his home, his resistance wore down, and he became increasingly vulnerable. Before long, he was participating in the worship of their gods. Once he was accustomed to it, it wore away his loyalty as each compromise made the next step easier. His vanity deceived him into feeling that his strength and resolve were so great that he would not fall. But he did, and he paid a bitter price.
One of the deceptive aspects to what Solomon did is something that any of us could fall prey to. It does not have to be foreign women or something like an all-consuming hobby. Religion, however, especially entrapped him through his wives.
Virtually every religion uses similar terminology. Every Christian sect uses the terms "born again," "salvation," "saved," and "redemption." We could add "justification," "mercy," "kindness," "forgiveness," and "grace." All Western religions (and maybe now even some of these New Age religions) share some of the same terminology, butthe theology behind the terms is radically different.
In Solomon's day, the religions of Ashtoreth, Molech, Baal, Chemosh, and the other false gods used terminology very similar to what was being used in Israel, but the theology was vastly different. This is what trapped Solomon. Once a comfortable syncretism is accepted, God is gradually neglected and idolatry is adopted. Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." This is just as true in regard to religion as it is to civil liberty under a government.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 5)
One who perceives the truth has a force, a beauty of character, which creates a favorable impression that opens doors and accomplishes things. Would we not rather loan money to a person we know works hard and pays his debts than a person with poor work habits who defaults on his obligations?
A wise person is one who recognizes truth, understands that he must meet his obligations and submits to it. This process produces a good witness whether the obligation to truth is met verbally or behaviorally. If a person will not do this, he deceives himself that he can somehow "get away with it," and his witness and name will demonstrate his poor character.
This principle holds true in every area of life upon which a name is built, whether in marriage, child training, employment, or health. Many run from the truth about themselves. Nothing destroys a reputation quicker and more permanently than for a person to be known as a liar or a hypocrite.
Therefore, the ninth commandment covers not only making a false witness about another or an event with the tongue, but also not bearing false witness about God by our conduct.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Ninth Commandment (1997)
Each of these illustrations describes people unprepared for their new status. We can be certain that God will not allow this to happen in His Family Kingdom. Those who are in it will be prepared to live, work, and rule at the level He assigns to them. Their responsibilities will be challenging, but they will not be constantly frustrated due to being in over their heads. Nor will their offices go to their heads. Despite having great power, they will humbly serve, exhibiting no abusive authority in the conduct of their responsibilities. They will be balanced in all areas of life.
Most dynastic rulers, like the monarchs of Europe, understand this concept well. Recently, Smithsonian Magazine ran a long article about Marie Antoinette. Her Austrian Hapsburg parents arranged her marriage while she was very young, promising her to the Bourbon family who ruled France. She was to become the wife of the future Louis XVI, also quite young at the time.
Within a year of this arrangement, the Bourbons sent a tutor to Austria to school Marie to become France's queen. The tutor remained her almost constant companion until Marie was married when she was fifteen years old. Prince Charles of England experienced a similar rigorous education. He has been trained since birth to sit on the throne of England. In one sense, especially in his pre-adult years, he had little time for himself.
We might think that this practice has not worked well, but we must not forget that these monarchs lacked the ability from God to discipline their human natures. Nevertheless, God follows the same principle of preparation, and our lives must be devoted to these operations. Thus, we must follow the same basic program laid down for Prince Charles except that our preparations are for the Kingdom of God. Just as Charles must devote himself to learning all the particulars of his kingdom's operations, so must we devote ourselves to learning the ways of God's Kingdom because we, too, are to be kings (Revelation 5:10). God will not allow us to escape these responsibilities.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Seeking God (Part Two): A Foundation
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)
How can he prophesy something like this when we have churches on every corner? The reality is that they do not know God. They know about God. They believe in the existence of a god, but they are not really acquainted with God. They do not really love God or fear Him because, if they did, the sins we see occurring so rampantly in our society would not be happening. If they truly feared Him, they would have enough respect to restrain themselves, regardless of what anybody else did.
And that is the solution to the problem! Each individual must restrain himself regardless of whether he sits on the throne, is in Parliament or Congress, is on the Supreme Court, is a doctor or nurse, a policeman, athlete, entertainer, or whatever. Everyone's responsibility is to restrain himself. It is not the responsibility of the police but of the individual. We will never live in a society without violence, corruption, thievery, rape, without illegitimacy until individuals take it upon themselves to restrain themselves and live within the limits of the law of God because they fear God.
The problem is right here—the problem is with me and you, the individual. The problem is not Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler. People have to begin to look to themselves for the solution. As the song says, "Let it begin with me," and then it will begin to stop.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Handwriting Is on the Wall (1995)
Before Amos gives specific reasons for God's judgment on Israel, he explains His judgment on the surrounding nations in Amos 1:3—2:3. Some may question God's punishment of nations to whom He has not revealed Himself. But God's response is that every human being knows—to one degree or another—what is moral and immoral (Romans 2:14-15). Abimelech, a pagan king of the Philistines, knew that it was wrong to commit sexual immorality (Genesis 26:10). In like manner, God holds these surrounding nations guilty.
Man has learned to silence the voice of his conscience (Romans 1:18), which has led to his sinking into total depravity (verses 20-32). Though God does not hold man accountable for understanding every detail of Him and His way, God does judge him for suppressing the knowledge of Him that he does have.
God does not unfairly accuse anyone. When He judges the Gentile nations as guilty, He does it with good cause. David writes poetically in Psalm 19:1-4 that man has ample evidence in the creation to conclude that a great and awesome Creator God exists. In Lystra, Paul and Barnabas preached that God witnesses to the Gentiles through the many things He provides for them (Acts 14:12-17). Paul writes similarly in Romans 1:19: "What may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them." If he follows his conscience, man should bow down in reverence and awe to his Maker. Instead, mankind has worshipped things that God has made.
God's impartial judgment is important to this book. The nations around Israel in 760 BC had one negative common denominator: They had no revelation of God or His law, no priests or prophets from God. Yet Amos shows them as nations under judgment. Even without special revelation, they had a moral responsibility to God and to one another.
They were accountable to God to be good men, not depraved animals. He does not hold them responsible for their horrible and erroneous religious ideas, but He judges them for what they did or failed to do to other men. No human being can escape the obligation to be humanly moral as God intended, not even the Gentiles. Though God has never dealt directly with them, they know enough of His moral standards to be accountable to God.
If God requires this of men who have no revelation of Him, what does He require of us as Christians? The sobering fact is that we are held accountable for our relationship with both God and man. This underlines our need to listen to Amos.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
In one way or another, these Gentile nations took vengeance in retaliation for injustices that they believed other nations committed against them. God promises to judge their barbarity, but He does not say when. Many years may pass before He takes action because His overriding goal is repentance and a change in character.
He will execute proper judgment—true justice, and it is our responsibility to have faith in that. Fifty years passed before God avenged the depredating acts of Hazael, king of Syria, against Gilead (Amos 1:3; II Kings 10:32-33). God waited for the right time and place to act. But He did act with a punishment from which He will not turn back (II Kings 13:22-25). When He decides to act, He acts!
When He says that He knows our sitting down and rising up (Psalm 139:2), He is not speaking metaphorically. He is involved with His people. We must learn that sometimes God may not take action within our lifetime, but when He says, "I will repay" (Romans 12:19; Deuteronomy 32:35), He means it!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
Here God exposes the root cause of Israel's problems: Pride brought forth their self-pleasing religion, their overconfidence in their strength and their self-indulgent lifestyles. Where were their trust and faith in God? Pride causes people to resist and reject Him.
God saw this unwarranted pride most acutely in Israel's leadership. Most of this chapter is aimed directly at the leaders, upon whose conduct the nation's destiny is largely dependent. God shows in the Bible that the leader of any institution—nation, church, business, family—can make or break it. If a leader because of righteousness comes under the blessing of God, then the people are also blessed. But if the leader is cursed by God because of his wickedness, his people likewise come under the curse.
When Judah had a good and righteous king like Josiah (I Chronicles 34-35), the nation prospered, but under evil Manasseh (I Chronicles 33), the nation declined. In this century, England experienced a year of turmoil in 1936 over the determination of Edward VIII to marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Yet, his brother, George VI, refusing to leave London during World War II, rallied the nation during its darkest hour. This principle of leadership holds true in any enterprise from large to small.
We can also see this in the second commandment: "You shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children" (Exodus 20:5). The fathers—the leaders—and the children both suffer. When the fathers are blessed or cursed by God, so are the children. The difference is only in the measure of responsibility that each bears.
In life, everyone is a leader as well as a follower, depending on the circumstance. Amos shows that a leader should never be complacent and content with the way things are because pride follows—and shortly after it, a fall (Proverbs 16:18). Leaders of nations bear a great responsibility because, if they allow morals to collapse, all their military prowess and vaunted technology will not save them. Above all else, the first consideration of a leader is to be moral.
But the Israelite leaders of Amos' day were people who first considered their own reputation and condition. They compared themselves with others instead of God (II Corinthians 10:12). In ignoring their spiritual health, they could neither lead and guide the nation, nor help and counsel others. Since they had failed so horribly in their duty, God says the leadership would be among the first to be led away as captives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
In the first chapter, the prophet Habakkuk was upset with God because He had made prophecies regarding where Judah's punishment would come from—from the Chaldeans. Habakkuk was irritated by this because he considered the Chaldeans to be worse than the Judeans. His questions run: "God, why are you doing this? Why don't you at least punish us by a righteous nation instead of sending upon us a nation far worse than we are?"
That was the way Habakkuk looked at it. God did not look at it that way because He would not have sent the Chaldeans if He did not think it was the right thing for Him to do. Maybe they were worse in an overall sense, but who was more responsible for what they were—the Chaldeans or the Jews? Had the Chaldeans had God's way revealed to them as the Judeans had? Of course not. Maybe the Judeans were not as bad on paper, maybe statistically, but they were more responsible. To whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48).
God would punish them with a hasty nation, He says, a nation violent and rapacious in the way it did things. Habakkuk did not like that one bit, so he appealed to God, and his appeal was hotly delivered.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Two)
Some may have taken the Old Testament guideline (see Exodus 21:23-25) in a literal fashion. At first glance, it seems that, if a person's tooth or eye were lost in a scuffle or accident, the one who caused the loss to happen would be required to forfeit his own tooth or eye. Though some may have demanded this in times past, it is clearly not God's intent for the law. Instead, it is a principle, given in concrete, understandable terms, that damage is to be justly compensated.
According to commentator Adam Clarke, the Jews of Christ's day abused this law to extract every last penny from another, and in the majority of cases, there was no mercy shown. Human nature being what it was then, and still is now, they insisted that the one who caused the problem receive every bit of punishment coming to him. In short, they wanted and exacted revenge! Jesus wants us to understand that His disciples are not to act this way.
In countering the faulty understanding of this Old Testament law, Jesus teaches, "But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also" (Matthew 5:39). He begins by instructing us not to escalate the situation by stubborn resistance or, worse still, by perpetrating an additional offense. Elsewhere, Paul writes, "Repay no one evil for evil" (Romans 12:17). If offended, do not offend in return. If injured, do not inflict an injury in payment. In other words, retaliation is not the answer.
Note that Jesus is not speaking of dangerous situations, like facing a robber with murderous intent or a rapist on a dark street. On His mind are circumstances of daily life that are insulting, bothersome, or even mildly injurious, but not life-threatening. The Interpreter's Bible comments on the latter half of the verse: "A blow with the back of the hand to the right cheek was an insult, thus the palm of the hand was now poised to bring a blow to the left cheek." The blow is struck contemptuously rather than homicidally.
In a situation like this, the first thing that comes to most minds is revenge. Jesus desires that, rather than avenging oneself and acting with the same attitude of hatred as the aggressor, we reflect our calling and suppress the urge to seek vengeance. We should even be willing to take a second slap, this one from the other's open hand, without retaliation. Such pacifism usually pours cold water on the situation, avoiding further tit-for-tat retribution.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Go the Extra Mile
God told Noah that He would destroy the earth by a flood, and He gave him instructions on how to be prepared so he and his family could survive. God told him what He would do but not when. What did Noah do? He prepared, though nobody else did. Noah believed God and acted according to his belief. When the Flood came, he was ready, even though he did not know when it would come.
The parallel to today is astounding. Noah's actions define a Christian's responsibilities. Putting the lesson into his life, one can also "[b]y faith . . . being divinely warned of things not yet seen, [move] with godly fear . . . and [become] heir of the righteousness which is according to faith" (Hebrews 11:7). Not putting this lesson to work is the attitude that leads to spiritual disaster, saying by one's conduct that there is plenty of time.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
Thematically, the parable of the talents goes beyond the earlier ones. Not only does Christ expect faithfulness in duty and preparedness even through a long delay, but He also expects an improvement upon what He initially bestowed. More than that, He expects improvement from bestowal to the day of reckoning.
A logical sequence of lessons develops through these parables. The middle parable is the parable of the ten virgins, illustrating the disciple's inner state. The parables before and after it show the disciple working, an external activity. The preceding parable indicates faithfulness, the following one indicates improvement. He may be telling us that the basis of a profitable external activity is diligent internal, spiritual maintenance. Out of the heart comes what a person is (Matthew 15:18-19; Luke 6:45).
In the ancient Middle East, a talent was a unit of weight and later of money. Jesus probably meant to convey nothing more than quantity, a measurable amount, from which we could draw a lesson. We thus need to improve or grow in areas that can be measured. Talents, therefore, should best be equated with spiritual gifts.
Jesus also illustrates the varying levels of responsibility and the differing amounts of gifts. In the parable, the gifts are given according to natural ability, but all who increase equally are rewarded equally. Their trading of the talents signifies the faithful use that one should make of gifts and opportunities of service to God.
In the natural world, talents differ. One man may design a church building, a cathedral. Another has the talent to craft the woodwork or cut and lay the stone. Another person has the talent to speak from its pulpit. Still another has the talent to write music that is played on its organ or piano. Each has talents which differ from his fellows', yet they are dependent on each other for the building and right use of that cathedral.
Thus, one person is no better or more important than the other, though one may have greater natural ability. God clearly shows that the greater the capacity, the greater the responsibility. But we also find that though there is an equality in opportunity, there are differences in talent.
With God's gifts it is the same. It is not how much talent one has, but how one uses it that is important to God. It is not how many gifts that God gives to a person, it is what one does with them. That is why Christ shows an equality between the person with five talents and the one with two. Both increased an equal amount, 100%, and they were rewarded, as it were, equally. This is an important point in this parable.
In the first place, all of the talents belong to God. They are His to bestow on whomever He wills. These talents, gifts, are not things we possess by nature but are Christ's assets, abilities, which He lends to us to use. Talents can be truly understood as things like God's Word, the gospel of the Kingdom of God, the forgiveness of sin, His Holy Spirit, etc.
The apostle Paul mentions quite a few of them in I Corinthians 12: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues and the interpretation of tongues. They are not natural endowments. Some receive more than others, and the vast majority of us are most likely among those who receive one or two. But despite whether we have one, two or five, everyone is responsible for using these gifts which belong to Christ, lent to us to serve Him. And we have to grow.
And in this I give my advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. (II Corinthians 8:10-12)
God judges according to what we have. Since He is a perfect judge, He is the only one qualified to measure whether we are using and increasing our gifts, or whether we are hiding and squandering what He made available to us.
Since these gifts are not ours to begin with, we must adjust our thinking. We have to accept our limitations as part of God's divine purpose and not struggle against them. He wants us simply to use what we have been given. And the proper use of our gifts will cause them to increase. Paul declares, "But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased" (I Corinthians 12:18).
He examines the question of God's fairness in Romans 9:14-21. Is there any unfairness with God, to love one, as it were, and not the other? Recall the analogy of building a cathedral. God is building a great temple (cf. I Peter 2:4-10; I Corinthians 3:5-17). His temple is His Family, and He knows whether a person, using his natural abilities plus His gifts, will be a woodcarver, a stonemason, a preacher, a musician or whatever in it. God knows. He wants us to fill the role He has given us wherever we are.
We should not forget that God will reward us equal to our growth. He holds us responsible only for what we have been given, and this fact inclines us to approach our gifts with the "doorkeeper attitude." "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness" (Psalm 84:10). If God gave us one gift, whatever it is, we should strive to double it. Doing that, we will succeed just as the person who was given five and doubles them. He has more to answer for, but the burden on him is actually just as great as it is on the person who has one. There is no difference in God's judgment.
What does God commend? What does He say pleases Him? Is it genius? No, He says knowledge puffs up (I Corinthians 8:1). Is it speaking ability? No, God made a dumb ass speak (Numbers 22:28-30). Is it singing ability? Or writing ability? It is none of those things. He is looking for someone who is faithful. A person can be faithful with one talent, two, five or ten. It does not matter because God gives gifts according to natural ability. And it is very likely that if God gave more or greater gifts to those who have less natural ability, they would fail because they could not maintain them. So God in His mercy judges what a person can handle.
The translators of the New King James Version misplace the word "immediately" in verse 15. The way they translate it gives the impression that the master of the house left immediately, but the word does not apply to the master. "Immediately" applies to the person who had five talents (cf. Matthew 25:15-16 in the Revised Standard Version, New International Version or Revised English Bible). Not indulging in any daydreams or fears, he immediately went out and worked. Believing that work was good for him, he got right down to business.
The tragedy of the story and the focus of the parable is the man who hid his talent. From him we probably learn the most. First, the talent was not his in the first place; it was on loan. Second, Christ shows that people bury their gifts primarily out of fear. Third, the whole parable illustrates that regarding spiritual gifts, one never loses what he uses. That is a powerful lesson: if we use the gifts that God gives us, we cannot lose! The one who was punished never even tried, so God called him wicked and lazy. His passivity regarding spiritual things doomed him.
Comparing this parable to the parable of the ten virgins, we see a few interesting contrasts. The five foolish virgins suffered because they let what they had run out. This servant with one talent apparently never even used what he had. The virgins failed because they thought their job was too easy, while this servant failed because he thought it was too hard. On many fronts they seem to be opposites.
The servant's true character comes out in his defense before the master and in the master's condemnation. In verse 24 he claims, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed." That is a lie! Not having this belief, the other two servants immediately go to work, never suggesting that they think their master is harsh and greedy. The wicked servant justifies his lack of growth by blaming it on God. "It was too hard, Lord." He accuses God of an insensitive and demanding evaluation. That is why Christ calls him wicked. He calls God a liar and accuses the master of exploitation and avarice. If he did work, he says, he would see little or none of the profit, and if he failed, he would get nothing but the master's wrath. The master then asks, "Why didn't you at least invest my money so that I could receive interest?" The servant, in his justification and fear, overlooks his responsibility to discharge his duty in even the smallest areas.
Blaming his master and excusing himself, this servant with one talent fell to the temptations of resentment and fear. Together, the two are a deadly combination. The church needs people with one talent as much as the person who has many talents. To illustrate this, William Shakespeare was very talented with words, considered by most to be the greatest writer of the English language. Very few people have had Shakespeare's gifts. But where would Shakespeare be without the printers, the bookbinders, the teachers, the actors, and the like who bring his works to the public? From this we see the interdependence of gifts. Even those who may appear to have few talents are just as needed in the body as those who have many.
This parable insists that watchfulness must not lead to passivity, but to doing one's God-given duties. We must be learning, growing, carrying out our responsibilities and developing the resources that God entrusts to us until He returns and settles accounts. As in the other parables, we see a progression in the theme of being prepared for Christ's return, with each parable having a different nuance in its lesson.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
The talent was not a coin but a weight, and so its value obviously depended on whether the coinage involved was copper, silver, or gold. The most common metal was silver. The original Greek word for "talent" is talantos, which refers to quantity. As Jesus uses it, a talent is not something we possess, but which He possesses and loans to His servants. In the parable, all talents belonged to the lord, who entrusted them to his servants for use in trade.
Spiritually, the talents represent the gift of the complete revelation of God as given in the Bible, including the knowledge of His plan of salvation and the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God. It also includes His spiritual gifts to the church, such as speaking and understanding languages, preaching, teaching, discernment, knowledge, and wisdom, among many others (Romans 11:29; 12:6-8; I Corinthians 12:1-11).
What we "trade" with while He is absent belongs to Him. Our natural abilities are comparatively insignificant and of little value, but God has given us spiritual wealth to use by investing it in supporting the work of God. These talents, then, are not a matter of things we own or of strengths we have, but are part of the grace of God, provided for the church's benefit.
God's gifts accomplish much more through some people than they do through others, as is seen in how much the lord bestows on each servant. Every true servant of Christ receives the Holy Spirit, but different servants receive differing amounts of spiritual understanding from God. We do not receive more from Him than we can understand and use. Because God's servants differ in aptitude, He accordingly bestows His gifts to each servant as He pleases (I Corinthians 12:11).
The lord knew the trading ability of his chosen servants, and he distributed his talents accordingly. Talent and ability are two different things. Talents are the spiritual gifts of the Master, while ability is power from our natural fitness and skill. A person may have great natural ability, yet no spiritual gifts. Natural ability, however, one of God's physical gifts, is often necessary for the reception of spiritual gifts. This was no reflection on the third servant because he only received one talent; he could not handle more. Each servant of Christ receives for his service all that he needs and can use (Romans 12:4-9; I Corinthians 12:4-30).
This parable teaches us several things. God gives people differing gifts. Work well done is rewarded with still more work to do. The person who uses his gifts will be given more, while the person who does not will lose even what he has. If a person uses a gift, he is increasingly able to do more with it, and a person who does not try is punished. The only way to keep a spiritual gift is to use it in the service of God and one another.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Talents (Part One)
The tragedy of the story and the focus of the parable is the man who hid his talent. From him we probably learn the most. First, the talent was not his in the first place; it was on loan. Second, Christ shows that people bury their gifts primarily out of fear. Third, the whole parable illustrates that regarding spiritual gifts, one never loses what he uses. That is a powerful lesson: If we use the gifts that God gives us, we cannot lose! The one who was punished never even tried, so God called him wicked and lazy. His passivity regarding spiritual things doomed him.
Comparing this parable to the Parable of the Ten Virgins, we see a few interesting contrasts. The five foolish virgins suffered because they let what they had run out. This servant with one talent apparently never even used what he had. The virgins failed because they thought their job was too easy, while this servant failed because he thought it was too hard. On many fronts they seem to be opposites.
The servant's true character comes out in his defense before the master and in the master's condemnation. In verse 24 he claims, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed." That is a lie! Not having this belief, the other two servants immediately go to work, never suggesting that they think their master is harsh and greedy.
The wicked servant justifies his lack of growth by blaming it on God. "It was too hard, Lord." He accuses God of an insensitive and demanding evaluation. That is why Christ calls him wicked. He calls God a liar and accuses the master of exploitation and avarice. If he did work, he says, he would see little or none of the profit, and if he failed, he would get nothing but the master's wrath.
The master then asks, "Why didn't you at least invest my money so that I could receive interest?" The servant, in his justification and fear, overlooks his responsibility to discharge his duty in even the smallest areas. Blaming his master and excusing himself, this servant with one talent fell to the temptations of resentment and fear. Together, the two are a deadly combination.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
Many people were putting great sums of money into the treasury. Christ does not condemn them for giving so much, but He makes an insightful observation on the human condition. These people gave much because they had much from which they could give. Note that He is not even saying that they gave their donations in a wrong attitude. Their effort, however, was probably not very great, especially since they were not experiencing financial hardship.
Nevertheless, He makes the point that the widow gave all that she had. Whether from the perspective of the size of her gift, the attitude behind it, or even how insignificant the amount might seem, the widow took her responsibility very seriously. Actually, she was putting her life on the line! It takes tremendous effort to trust God's promises to provide for one's needs.
We should compare this to our situation in the church. We were once part of a work that we could readily see as being viable, sizeable, and economically sound. We could see just how much we were accomplishing from the size of our holy day offerings and number of television and radio stations the church's program played on. Yet, if we look at what has occurred, we quickly realize how money alone did not solve our problems. All the money and effort we expended, while not totally for naught, did not produce the spiritual results God is looking for. God is the One who determines the success of His people, not us or our money or our efforts. Our part is to strive to follow His lead.
How many people consider a smaller group to be a viable product of God's efforts? Can we see that, even though we may be a "widow's mite" size group, the approach and the results are what really matter to God? God is working with us individually to help us grow in grace, knowledge, and truth. A large group with a visible, potent work is not necessary for that goal. In fact, it may be subtly detrimental. It may be good to see ourselves as a group like Gideon's army, which needed a great deal of help from God to succeed.
If this is the case, we need to have the Luke 12:48 approach: "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more." Undoubtedly, God has given us much, more than we ever deserved. What we must ask ourselves is, "What are we doing with it, and what is our attitude in doing it?"
Small, But Significant
In verses 37-38, Jesus pronounces a blessing on those whom the Master finds watching when He returns. It is not that they have their noses pressed to the glass, watching for His return. Instead, those who are vigilant and careful in their responsibilities will be blessed. They are watching over the Master's house, ensuring that all is in order, even if it means sleepless nights. "Be ready" in verse 40 is a simple summation of the "watching" He desires.
Verse 38 warns that He might return in the second watch or in the third. Regardless of whether the Master returns early or late (from our perspective), He wants His servants to be ready and His household in order. He wants them to be maintaining the house, diligent in their duties, so that all is prepared for His return. If they spend their days staring out the window, watching the road for His return rather than fulfilling their duties, they will be neglecting what He has charged them to do.
The duties of a typical servant include many mundane, monotonous, and repetitive chores. It is easy for a servant to think, "What is the use? Do I really have to do this right now? Since there is no sign of the Master right now, perhaps I can just relax, and prepare quickly when His return seems near." Such a servant would be inclined to spend more time watching from the window for the Master's return than he would be performing his assigned tasks. Yet, a servant's responsibility is to be prepared and to make sure the household (the church) is prepared, not to anticipate the timing of the Master's return.
Jesus says repeatedly that we will not know. If we believe Him, our focus will be on being faithful and vigilant in the things He has given us to do. His return will take the household by surprise—there is no other way to understand His many statements. The critical point is the state of readiness and the usefulness of the household and the servants when He returns. If the household is not ready, or if the servants have been sleeping rather than working, they will face His wrath.
David C. Grabbe
'As a Thief in the Night'
The evil servants fail in their responsibility because they are not looking faithfully to Christ and hopefully toward the Kingdom. The penalty tells us that Jesus is speaking about Christians who are not ready either because they ignore their calling or because they neglect to produce fruit worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8). Faithless Christians will be judged more strictly than those who, though wicked, do not understand about the coming of the Son of Man. Professing Christians with knowledge of God's revelation will have to answer for their lack of response to God.
Their punishment seems severe until we realize that the servant who knew his master's will represents those who sin arrogantly or presumptuously (Psalm 19:12-13). Even though the servant who was ignorant of his master's will sins unwittingly, it was his business to know his master's will. In either case, each holds personal responsibility for his actions and therefore comes under judgment. All have some knowledge of God (Romans 1:20-23), and He judges according to the individual's level of responsibility.
The parable finishes with the warning that knowledge and privilege always bring responsibility. Sin is doubly sinful to the person who knows better (Numbers 15:27-31). We who know better would like God to find us with our work completed upon His return, just as Jesus was able to say to His Father, "I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do" (John 17:4-5). It would be wonderful for God to find us glorifying Him and at peace with our brethren when Christ comes.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Faithful and Evil Servants
The younger son shows a lack of respect for authority and deference to his elders. His central problem is pride, just as it was the root of Satan's failure (Isaiah 14:13). He finds out that shame and destruction follow pride (Proverbs 11:2; 16:18). In his disrespect for authority, he thinks primarily of himself, totally disregarding how it affects others. His request for his inheritance is not to benefit others but to pursue pleasure—especially entertainment (Proverbs 21:17). As a result, his unwise actions bring him to the point of despair and a re-evaluation of his life.
By demanding his share of his inheritance before his parents' deaths, he shows that he looks upon God's gifts as debts rightfully owed to him. Impatiently, he demands his share immediately. People today constantly, selfishly, and arrogantly press their rights rather than fulfill responsibilities. Many will not wait until marriage for sex but seek it now. They do not want to work for wealth but gamble to get it immediately. Sadly, they will also wait a long time before taking care of their spiritual needs—and then only when brought to despair (II Corinthians 6:2; Ecclesiastes 7:8).
Martin G. Collins
Parables of Luke 15 (Part Three)
Our bodies belong to God, but He has bestowed their care on us as a stewardship responsibility to glorify God in our body as well as our spirit. In the parable, Jesus mentions "unrighteous mammon" (verses 9, 11), which He also terms "what is least" (verse 10) and "what is another man's" (verse 12). Each term is synonymous with the other two.
Jesus does not say to ignore these. He simply points out that they are secondary to the "true riches" (verse 11), "what is your own" (verse 12), and "[what] is much" (verse 10). Similarly, each of these is synonymous with the other two. He points to a direct connection between the two levels of responsibility by saying, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much" (verse 10). Care of our body falls within the parameters of unrighteous mammon, what is least and what is another man's.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part One)
Traditionally, rich noblemen had a retinue of servants or bond-slaves, among whom were those who, because of their integrity and resourcefulness, could be trusted to care for their master's interests while he was away. Upon his return, the parable's nobleman commanded his servants to account for their business done on his behalf in his absence. The ten servants (verse 13) represent not only the disciples of Jesus' time, who served during His earthly ministry and in the early church, but all the saints, whom He expects to serve Him faithfully until He returns.
The first servant's mina gained him ten minas for which he humbly took no credit. He had faithfully fulfilled his responsibility in trading with the mina. Taking advantage of every opportunity, he increased his master's investment tenfold, and he was rewarded with rule over ten cities.
The second servant had not been as diligent and ambitious, his mina increasing fivefold. Nevertheless, he still received increased responsibility in proportion to his trustworthiness and capability. The God we serve notices both the quality and quantity of what we do for Him (Luke 19:15; I Corinthians 3:13).
The third servant was not diligent enough to increase his mina at all. His excuse revealed his twisted opinion of his master and his expectations of his servants.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Minas
This does not exclude our responsibility to work for the purpose of sanctification. Works are not for justification but for sanctification. Works do not save us, but they are essential for transformation! To put it bluntly, we have to practice being God; we have to learn to live as God lives. Is that not how one becomes proficient at something?
God shows in many places in the Bible that He is pleased with our obedience. Our works do not save us, but they please Him (see Hebrews 13:16; Colossians 3:20; I John 3:22; etc.). He is so happy when we work at sanctification because they assist in the transformation process.
Parents ought to understand this. We are pleased by the stumbling efforts of our child to please us. So is God! He looks on our motives, intentions, and the principles involved in what His child is doing. He does not just look at the quantity or the quality—He looks at us as His children, who are trying to imitate Him.
Sanctification is absolutely necessary to prove to God our righteous character and belief in Jesus Christ.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 9)
We are to prefer others over ourselves. We, in humility, ought to abase ourselves and let him do his job, because in the scheme of things, we are to consider him as over us. Say, he is the knee, and we are the toe. The knee has a function, and when the knee needs to perform its function, the toe must follow. However, when the toe must do its job, the knee should take orders from the toe. We each have our areas of responsibility, and if we leave each other alone to do our jobs and give the other precedence in doing his job, then maybe we will all get the work done. We will not be stepping on his job, and he will not stepping on ours. When we need his cooperation, he follows us, and when he needs our cooperation, we follow him. There is no need to fight. Everyone just does his job. When we must follow, follow, and when we must lead, lead. That is how it works. We have no need to worry about other people's jobs. They will get done. If they are doing theirs well, and we are doing ours well, then the whole body, the church, moves forward.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
1 Corinthians 3:9-10
If God places us within an office in the church—as an elder or a deacon—it must be looked upon as a blessing that is a responsibility, not a reward! It is given for God's purposes. Paul even had his office as apostle because it was given to him. It is implied that all the powers to perform it were also given. He used them to lay the foundation.
Everybody else is the same way. The important thing is that each one of us must use our gifts to build. Paul says, "Be careful how you build." The foundation that was laid is Jesus Christ. When we begin to expand on it, it consists of the apostles and the prophets as well—the things that they wrote and the examples that they set. Everybody is to build on the same foundation! God gives everybody the gifts to enable them to do so.
To some, God gives gifts to be apostles; to others, He gives gifts to be an evangelist, pastor, teacher, or whatever. They are given, though, and every time God gives an office, He gives all that is needed for the person to fulfill that office—including overcoming sin.
The Bible consistently teaches that an office is not a place from which to exercise power, but a position from which to exercise service. The authority is certainly there, since God gives it. He always gives the authority to go with the office, but having it means that the elder or deacon must also have the right perspective on how to use the office God has given him. The office is given, not earned.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace
1 Corinthians 7:14
The children of believing parents are "holy," meaning "set apart." God considers such a child to be "clean." That does not mean "sinless," but they are still legally clean in His sight. They are therefore acceptable in His presence and have the opportunity to have true success in life as a result. They have the chance to believe God, to cast their lot with Him, and to be spared the horror of having to face many of the evils in this world.
But, just as parents can lose their sanctification, so children who are set apart can also lose their status. Law plays no favorites. It does not care whether one is male or female, or thirteen, nineteen, or ninety-three. If a ninety-three year old male jumps off the 80th floor of the Empire State Building, which direction will he go? What if a 16-year old girl does the same thing? The law of gravity does not play favorites.
Law does not care what one's race, sex, or age are. If parents who are sanctified break the laws of God persistently, they will lose their sanctification. If a seventeen-year-old does the same thing, even though his parents are sanctified and a child is held to be clean because of God's judgment, he can lose his too.
For a child who is sanctified, even though unconverted, there is still a great deal that he will be held accountable for. "To whom much is given, much is also required." Jesus does not say that this only applies to converted parents.
The child's sanctification gives him the advantage of access to God. Because of that access, he has the guidance of God available to him, and from that guidance he can form a proper vision of what he wants to do with his life (Proverbs 29:18). This allows him to see what he wants to do in terms of conduct—what he wants to pursue, the way he wants to do work, the attitude he has toward other people, parents, neighbors, fellow-employees, etc.
We can tell from the conduct of people in this world that they do not have this guidance. But a sanctifed child has access to the knowledge of what God expects, and from that he can make it his goal in life to act that way. He can set his will to do the right thing. He is sanctified, and divine guidance is what he gains from it.
He has access to truth. Even if his parents fail to give it to him directly, every Sabbath that he attends church services he is receiving it through one of God's ministers. It is available, but he still must make choices. He must discipline himself to follow the information, the true knowledge, given to him. The advantage lies in the fact that he has access to truth about the way life is to be conducted and how he can please God. He can do it because he is not cut off from God. His lamp is not put out (Proverbs 20:20).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sanctification and the Teens
2 Corinthians 6:16-18
This principle clearly covers the care of our bodies. In an overall sense, our stewardship is not merely to labor not to destroy the established relationship but to improve it. Good health is extremely valuable. Even though one can overcome poor health in one's vanity, of greater importance is that good health promotes the strengthening of the relationship. This is so because it is bound within the sanctification process. It is tied directly to growing, overcoming, purifying one's life, avoiding the pitfalls of life, living the abundant life, as well as to our witness before the world in glorifying God.
We can undertake a great deal of serious effort in keeping ourselves from committing sins like idolatry, fornication, adultery, lying, or stealing, while virtually ignoring the physical care of the body itself. Oftentimes, we do this by being ignorant of the responsibility or foolishly thinking that maintaining or improving our health is of little concern. The younger among us may find it helpful to ask someone older—one whose health is deteriorating or who has had to deal with poor health much of his life—how important having good health throughout life is. In no way should this reduce our efforts to overcome spiritual weaknesses, but it should encourage us to add another area of overcoming that will glorify God.
Genesis 2:15 says, "Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend [dress, KJV] and keep it." Dressing and keeping is an overall responsibility for everyone in what we are to do with life. It applies to life's spiritual and physical aspects. We are to begin where we are and cultivate, embellish, and encourage growth, while at the same time preserving, guarding, and protecting through maintenance from decay and deterioration.
A direct line connects this concept and Jesus' instruction in the Parable of the Unjust Steward. The spiritual level is more important, but God wants faithfulness in the physical level also because both are inextricably bound in yielding to Him in the building of character. Both require study, meditation, and setting goals, as well as consistent, faithful application. We do both to glorify Him.
Unfortunately, some will not do what is necessary for success, perhaps because of ignorance of their responsibility. Others know but lack the character or the sense of responsibility. Some spend their time rationalizing and justifying the way they are or proclaim to themselves and others that they are victims of the system and have no way out. Nevertheless, God is in heaven, and He is the way out.
Eating is a major part of life, as substantiated by the Bible's 700 references to it. The abundant life that Jesus proclaims He wants all to lead hinges upon what we eat spiritually and physically. We must make a major effort to feed our minds and bodies with the best nutrition available, if we desire good spiritual and physical health.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part One)
2 Corinthians 7:9-11
There is nothing difficult to understand about what repent means. It simply means "to change one's mind." In biblical usage, it implies changing one's mind in relation to God and His way of life. Repentance, though, is invariably preceded by something else, usually a deeply felt sense of concern, arising from guilt that one has done wrong. It can also be fear for one's life or reputation, or it may be sorrow over the horrible mess one has created.
We must understand that concern, unease, guilt, fear, or sorrow is not repentance. However, these feelings can lead to repentance, the change of mind that contains the resolve never to repeat whatever made us feel uncomfortable about our relationship with God.
Paul had, in effect, chewed them out in a previous letter, and it set off a chain of reactions: It produced the sorrow that leads to repentance, the change of mind in relation to God. That, in turn, produced a change of conduct because they set their wills never to allow their unrighteousness to be the cause of breaking their relationship with Him again. If a person changes his mind in relation to God rather than merely because of the pain that his conduct caused himself and others, it opens the door to making real change in attitude and conduct.
A number of factors always work to keep us from admitting responsibility for the destructive conditions surrounding us. First, sometimes we simply do not "get" it! It sometimes takes a while to understand that, by our own conduct, we are shooting ourselves in the foot and hurting our loved ones besides. In human nature, the tendency always exists to blame others before ourselves.
Second, sometimes we are so unfeeling, so unconcerned, and so self-centered that we just do not care! This attitude is dangerously destructive—in fact, biblically suicidal. This attitude is similar to what occurs to people in the grip of a drug, whether it is alcohol, a chemical like heroin, cocaine, or the nicotine in a cigarette.
The third reason is more subtle and difficult to grasp, and it resides at the foundation of a great deal of our failure to repent and change. Because of our tendency to think we are nothing, we cannot seem to get it through our minds that what we do matters! Are we not only one of billions of people on earth? Or, are we not only an insignificant member of community, family, club, or church?
It is a careless but nonetheless strong inclination to believe that nothing we do has any effect whatever on the improvement of life for anybody else. Do we realize that almost everybody else also carelessly feels the same way? Thus, the whole family or nation continues its violent, heartbreaking, pell-mell rush into the pit and on to oblivion!
The same beliefs confronted Amos as he preached to the people of Israel more than seven hundred years before Christ was born. They also confronted Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the other prophets, as well as Jesus and the apostles! Isaiah lamented with all his heart, "Lord, who has believed our report?" (Isaiah 53:1). They are the ministry's challenge to this very day.
It is also where our relationship with God becomes so vital to the quality of our lives. We cannot afford to let ourselves be lulled into thinking that our attitudes and our conduct do not matter—that they do not contribute to the disaster that is this world.
The drought that the Charlotte area endured in the past provides an interesting illustration in this regard. In 2001, voluntary water-use restrictions were imposed, producing a 23 percent water savings. in 2007, in the second-worst drought in Charlotte history, mandatory restrictions produced 30 percent savings, a modest seven-point increase. Why was a higher percentage of water not saved during a far more serious drought?
Measurements reveal that 50 percent of the water drawn from Charlotte's reservoirs goes to home consumption. The reason for the modest increase, then, largely comes down to the attitude in each individual's human nature that says, "What I do doesn't matter."
But to the Christian, it does matter! Why? Because watching our response to governments and circumstances that God has established is, in an overall sense, what He is judging most closely. In each of His regenerated children, He wants to see whether we really do perceive Him to be sovereign over His creation and will submit to Him by faith. He wants to see whether we will look to Him beyond the human government He ultimately installed; beyond what everybody else is doing; beyond our cynicism, distrust, and skepticism; and beyond our feelings of being of no consequence.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity and Personal Responsibility
These four verses admonish us on what God expects of us as the child in our relationship with Him. It is important for us to understand that "work out your salvation" does not mean work for salvation. It means we must take what God has given us to its logical conclusion. God liberated Israel from Egyptian slavery, but His purpose was not complete until they trekked across the wilderness and possessed the Promised Land. Their liberty came as an act of God's grace, but that same grace required them to meet responsibilities and carry them to their conclusion.
Verse 13 explains that God's grace did not end at the borders of Egypt for them, nor does it end for us once we are justified. He gives us both the motivation and the power to accomplish what His pleasure is for us. But we should understand that He gives us the desire and power to accomplish His will, not our pleasures. This is an excellent principle for parents to apply in motivating their children to respond positively. Children are largely the creations of their parents. If parents expect their children to reach certain goals, they must equip them with the attitudes, skills, and tools necessary to accomplish those aims.
"Fear and trembling" indicates both a deep respect for the Almighty who has called us, as well as a healthy measure of concern for uncertainties about what will be required of us as we proceed along this way. As we spiritually mature, the trials we must work through generally become more difficult, not easier. When the Philippians took up their cross, they did not know for sure what lay ahead, nor do we. For them, it was conflict (Philippians 1:29-30); for Jesus, death (Philippians 2:8); for Paul, martyrdom (Philippians 2:17); for Timothy, costly sacrificial service to the church (Philippians 2:20); and for Epaphroditus, physical illness nearly to death (Philippians 2:27).
Of course, these things are far more serious than a child's responsibility to put his room in order, but we must consider if God is fair in His dealings with man. Is a parent fair in charging his children with responsibilities to carry out around the house?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Seven
These instructions are an overall exhortation for the various age groups to hold to a sense of duty with regard to their conduct. But none of the instructions given here should be ignored simply because they are not addressed directly to an individual's sex or age group. For example, Paul says "girls should be discreet and modest." Does this mean, then, because it is addressed to girls that a fellow may be as indiscreet and immodest as he wants because he is male? Simply because the fellows are not mentioned does not excuse them from being discreet and modest as well. In an overall sense, God is telling all of us—parents, young people, male, female—to be sane, sober-thinking, serious about our responsibilities, exercising self-control, curbing our passions, and aiming for self-mastery.
There is a proverb that teaches: "He that rules his spirit is better than he who takes a city." Ruling one's spirit involves self-discipline. Self-discipline is willing yourself to do the right, regardless of feelings. It may not be glamorous, but it is the stuff of life.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sanctification and the Teens
Because God has spoken to us by His Son, and because His Son is so great and so glorious, and because the subject which is addressed is of such infinite importance to us and to our welfare, He says we ought to give the more earnest heed to it.
Earnest is an important word. It means "abundantly," "more exceedingly," "much more frequently," or "more super-abundant" heed. Paul is saying to pay attention intensely to what God is doing in our lives!
We should pray and study with great care and concern lest we should let God's Word slip, which means to "let it [God's Word] run out"—to leak out like a barrel with a cracked plug. The barrel is full, and it very slowly starts to leak.
Another analogy would be to "drift away." Envision a rowboat tied to a pier, but the rope loosens and falls into the water. Someone on hand could reach down, grab the rope, and retie it. But if this simple task is neglected, then the boat, which had been floating right next to the piling, slowly drifts away. Soon it will be ten feet away, then fifty feet, and in time it is on the horizon where the water is rough. Paul instructs us not to let that happen. Do not let it drift away! Pay attention! If we become superficial in our prayer and study, then our once keen vision of God will begin to blur.
If those without God's Spirit who heard God's Word died in the wilderness as punishment for disobeying God, how much greater will be our punishment for drifting away? To us, God says, "Pay attention!" Our chance for salvation is now! If we are not successful, then our hope is lost! Paul advises us to see the scope of what God is doing in our lives. We must constantly remind ourselves of His purpose for our calling. We must pray and study with that purpose at the forefront of our minds.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Don't Take God for Granted
Noah accomplished a significant witness, persevering for a very long time under horrific conditions. His witness was of sterling quality and worthy of emulation.
These two verses appear quite innocuous. We read them and consider their teaching a matter of course regarding Christian life and salvation. However, for this world's Christianity, they pose a dilemma for those more deeply aware of the intricacies of Christian responsibility.
Calvinist theologian Arthur Pink (1886-1952) says in his exposition of this passage, "The verses which are now to engage our attention are by no means free of difficulty, especially unto those who have sat under a ministry which has failed to preserve the balance between Divine grace and Divine righteousness." Why would he say this? These two verses, almost single-handedly, nearly destroy one of the most treasured teachings of this world's Christianity—the Doctrine of Eternal Security, the "once saved, always saved" or "no works required" doctrine.
Note the end of the quotation: Some ministries have "failed to preserve the balance between Divine grace and Divine righteousness." Preachers who fail to maintain this balance strongly emphasize God's favor while neglecting or ignoring His claims on our lives—our duties and responsibilities to Him—because He owns us! We are His slaves!
To any thinking person, these verses severely undercut those preachers' claims that appear to guarantee grace, that is, to assure salvation. How? Verse 6 clearly states that God rewards those who live by faith, and verse 7 illustrates that, in Noah's case, the reward was that Noah and his house were saved because of what they did.
What did Noah do that was so important to his and his family's salvation? His works produced the ark, the means of escaping death from the Flood. Noah's works were rewarded. Where, then, is grace?
Note that I wrote that these verses "nearly destroy" this concept, not "totally destroy." They do not contain the entire story, but they are very troublesome, to say the least, to those of the no-works stripe. If they do not bother a nominal Christian, he is clearly ignoring what the verses really say, that a person's works play a large part in his salvation. What would have happened to Noah and his family had they convinced themselves that, since God had given Noah grace, no ark needed to be built because God would save them anyway?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
2 Peter 3:17-18
Verse 18 makes it clear that there is a contrast. Peter says, ". . . but grow." Verse 17 is a warning: ". . . beware lest you also fall . . . being led away with the error of the wicked."
The command is to grow, so if the contrast that he is establishing in our minds is to be met, the positive part of the instruction is that effort has to be made in order to grow. If we are not making an effort to grow, the only alternative is to go in reverse. We begin to degenerate if we do not make an effort to grow.
II Peter 3:17 (Moffatt) Now, beloved, you are forewarned: mind you that you are not carried away by the error of the lawless and so lose your proper footing;
My attention is on this verse 17 where he says, "mind you," rather than "beware." He turns it into something that is positive. "Beware" could mean to just look around to make sure that one is safe. But "mind you" says, "Hey, turn your attention to focus on this!"
We can see from the combination of these two verses that effort must be made to produce growth or we will likely fall into the error of the wicked. In other words, doing nothing regarding our spiritual responsibilities is akin to doing nothing regarding our physical responsibilities pertaining to our physical health.
So we are faced with a choice. We are forewarned. Something has to be done; we cannot just stand still. Nor can we just drift. Some effort has to be made to ensure growth takes place.
John W. Ritenbaugh
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