What the Bible says about
Fellowship with God
(From Forerunner Commentary)
How can a person, independent from consistent fellowship with the body of Christ, the church, still be a part of it? A person thinking this way is sliding away from God's intention, as His Word clearly shows. He fully intends we be active members of a physical body as well as the spiritual organism. Is the church only a spiritual organism? If the spiritual organism is the only important aspect, why even have congregations? Could congregations play a major role in preparing us for God's Kingdom?
Let's look at this from another angle. God intends mankind to be an active and contributing part of a physical community. "And the LORD God said, 'It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.' . . . Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:18, 24).
Perhaps verse 18 could be rephrased as, "It is not good that man be independent." Our God establishes principles and patterns in His Word from which we can extract wisdom, the practical application of truth. Some of the most basic and fundamental patterns for His purpose are established very early in Genesis.
What is He showing here? That, in relation to God's purpose, the most and the best will not be produced in us if we are alone. If we are independent, we remove ourselves from the circumstances that will produce the most toward His purpose. In this specific context, God is not commanding everyone to marry, but He is clearly showing that marriage is generally better than remaining single.
Everyone understands from his own experiences that the more people who comprise a unit or community, the greater the number and intensity of problems. This occurs largely because our carnality drives us to compete rather than cooperate. Sometimes a person desires so strongly to be independent of this kind of community relationship that he separates himself in order to be completely free from the suspicions, distrust, offenses, and other hardships that occur within a group. To put it another way, it is similar to a soldier running away from the battlefield to protect himself.
In its rawest form, it is selfishness and self-interest. It can be self-serving avoidance of being useful, of contributing steadfast strength and encouragement, of being a right example to others, or of being found wrong and corrected. If nothing else, we are detaching ourselves from the unit to which God intends we show allegiance and service.
John W. Ritenbaugh
For the Perfecting of the Saints
Sin was introduced and destroyed man's relationship with God, so God drove man out of the Garden. Practically every picture or painting of this scene shows God leading them out. But this is incorrect! He “drove them out,” implying a punishing anger. Their relationship was broken. A major principle is shown at the very beginning of the Bible: Sin destroys relationships and produces separation.
To understand this further, it is good to understand that at the heart of sin is the concept of failure. It is a specific kind of failure, producing a specific result and a specific fruit. Genesis 2 and 3 teach that sin is the failure to maintain a relationship, first with God, and secondly with man. Sin produces separation, first with God, and secondly with man. Eventually, sin produces death—the first death—and then the ultimate separation from which there can never be another relationship, the second death.
In addition to being separated from fellowship with God, Adam and Eve were also separated from the Tree of Life and access to the Holy Spirit.
A very clear progression is shown in the breaking of Adam and Eve's relationship with God:
1. They became convinced that their way was better than God's.
2. They became self-conscious, and they hid from God.
3. They tried to justify and defend what they did.
In order to build a relationship with God, those steps must be reversed:
1. We must drop every excuse and every justification.
2. We must drop our pride and stop hiding from God, thinking He is unaware of what is going on.
3. We must become convinced that God's way is better than ours.
Genesis 3:24 says that the Tree of Life is guarded. The Holy Spirit is guarded. We understand this symbolically, making it clear that our way back to the Tree of Life and access to the Holy Spirit is not going to be easy. In fact, it is impossible! No human being is going to get past a cherub.
There is no relationship possible with God until He removes the barrier. He then personally and individually invites us to come back. But how do we "come back" when we never had a relationship with Him before? We were separated from Him through the sin of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve had a relationship with Him, and Adam and Eve represent all of mankind. Therefore, in God's mind, we had a relationship, but we wrecked it in the persons of Adam and Eve. God invites us back into a relationship with Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 6)
This is the fourth of the Ten Commandments and is the last of the four commandments which show love towards God. It is quite a simple statement and yet causes so much controversy. Some say that the Ten Commandments were given to and meant only for the Israelites—not for the rest of mankind—and that they were part of the Old Covenant between God and Israel which was nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ. God answers this opinion through Jesus Christ in Mark 2:27, and through the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 20:11-21, where He clearly puts the emphasis on the fact that they are HIS statutes, HIS judgments, and HIS Sabbaths. The prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 56:2 also shows that the Sabbath blessing is available to any man—not just the Israelites.
The original giving of God's Sabbath commandment to Adam and Eve at Eden (and from them to all the nations to whom that first couple gave birth) preceded the giving of the Sabbath commandment to the Israelites at Sinai. At that time (man's beginning), God made the Sabbath for man (not for the Israelites who did not yet exist as a nation), and it was therefore to be kept by all nations (see Genesis 2:2-3; Mark 2:27). The Sabbath command, already in existence, is here repeated and included in the Ten Commandments. Even though the Old Covenant with Israel has become obsolete, the original sanctification of the Sabbath Day, made holy for all mankind at creation, still remains!
There is absolutely no scripture in the entire Bible that tells of God "de-sanctifying" His Sabbath Day! In fact, both Isaiah and Ezekiel give very strong indications that the Sabbath will be kept in the World Tomorrow (see Isaiah 66:22-23 and Ezekiel 44:24; 45:17; 46:1-12).
Some say that the Sabbath was changed from the seventh day of the week to the first. Most Bible experts and scholars agree that there is no biblical support for this idea at all and that such changes were made much later by (human) church leaders.
The Hebrew word translated here into the English "remember" is zakar (Strongs 2142). As well as "to remember" and "to recall," the word zakar can mean "to think about," "to bring to mind," "to mention," "to record," and "to make a memorial of." These meanings show the special status of the Sabbath.
Many scriptures show that the Sabbath Day should be a day of rest from work (see Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 16:23; 20:10-11; 31:15; 35:2; Leviticus 23:3, Deuteronomy 5:14; Luke 23:56; Hebrews 4:9). Isaiah tells us that we should not do our own pleasure on the Sabbath, but rather that we should do God's pleasure (see Isaiah 58:13).
In the gospel accounts, Jesus shows us (by word and example) that:
- The Sabbath Day of rest should be a pleasure, and not a day of bondage to a list of pharisaical "do's and don'ts" (See Matthew 12:1-12; Mark 2:23-28; 3:2-4, Luke 6:1-9; 13:10-16; 14:1-5; John 5:9-18; 7:22-23; 9:14-16).
- The Sabbath is a day on which we should, if possible, attend church services. Jesus attended synagogue services, as He was a practicing Jew, illustrating the need for us to assemble together (see Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 12:9; 13:54; Mark 1:21; 6:2; Luke 4:16; 4:31; 13:10; John 6:59; 18:20).
Sons and daughters indicate the family of the priest. It surely included his wife as well, but this was all God needed to say to make His intention clear. Spiritually, the altar represents God's table, and the sons and daughters are the brethren in the church, the Family of our High Priest. Since we are eating from God's table, this shows us in communion with God. It also shows us doing or having a portion in the work of the priest and as having a claim on the sacrifice.
All who have communion or fellowship with God must share that communion with His priests and His children, the rest of the church, our brothers and sisters. If one brings an offering, he shares in it. There is an interesting example of this in Acts 2:41-42, beginning on the Day of Pentecost and continuing for an unknown time thereafter: "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." The sharing with brothers and sisters is plainly expressed in the words "fellowship," "breaking of bread," and "prayers."
Verses 43-45 add, "Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need." It almost seems as if the godly fear, wonders, and signs sprang directly from the sharing spirit and the sacrifices made by those who gave.
Can we feast with God and ignore His other guests? A person in communion with God must be in communion with all who are in communion with Him. Do we see the oneness this implies? We are all eating of the same sacrifice, the same meal. We are all being fed and strengthened by the same Spirit, and God expects that we share what we have with our brothers and sisters.
This era of the church has never experienced anything similar to the first era, but before the end time is over, we may. In the meanwhile, we should open our homes in hospitality, sharing our experiences in life with one another. We should be praying with and for each other to assist in drawing us together in unity.
Christ is our supreme example in all things pertaining to life. What did Christ do to bring us into oneness with the Father? Whatever He did we must, in principle, also do as burnt and meal offerings, keeping the commands of God with all our heart in complete devotion. In His final teaching before His crucifixion, He sets a very high standard: "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). As means "equal to."
He also says in verse 13, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." Jesus laid down His life step by step and then concluded it by submitting to crucifixion for our well-being. Those sacrifices produce peace and unity with God for those who accept His sacrifice and submit to the burden of bearing one's responsibilities before God.
The conclusion is inescapable: The peace that God gives is directly linked to sacrifice and love. Our Father began the process by so loving the world that He sacrificed His only begotten Son for its sins. The Son followed the Father by magnanimously allowing Himself to be crucified in sublime submission to the Father's will. He did this after laying down His life for mankind, day by day, as a living sacrifice.
All of this begins the process for us so that we can have peace with God and that His Spirit can shed His love abroad in our hearts. The process of producing peace, harmony, and unity is thus also directly linked as a result of our sacrifices in devoted obedience to His commands.
The burnt, meal, and peace offerings are meaningful illustrations of what is necessary within our relationships to produce peaceful and edifying fellowship that truly honors and glorifies God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Five): The Peace Offering, Sacrifice, and Love
Verses 23-26 contains admonitions to go to the place God chooses, turn the increase into money if needed, and to spend it on whatever the heart desires, rejoicing with each other before God. However, the chapter's theme remains as a vital component of the instruction. God wants us to enjoy the fruit of our labors, as He also does when we obey Him. He also wants our relationship to be many-layered. Our focus, of course, should be off the self, centered on God, and extending outward toward others.
The rest of the chapter addresses this outward orientation with teaching to share with those who are less fortunate. It tells us to make sure that the needy are also able to rejoice and enjoy this time of fellowship and prosperity. The chapter ends by telling us that when we do these things, we give God good reason to bless us in whatever we set out to do.
Throughout these verses, we see God, very active in the lives of His people, admonishing His people to follow His lead. God is quite concerned about His people and His spiritual body. He cares what we do to ourselves both inwardly and outwardly, physically and spiritually (I Corinthians 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:18-22), and He cares how we treat each other as members of "the body of Christ" (I Corinthians 12:27).
While He allows us to partake of things we desire, Deuteronomy 14 shows that God does impose limits; He wants us to exercise self-control. He expects us to be givers and not just takers. This applies to sharing our money, food, drink, activities, and fellowship with others, and we should make special effort to share ourselves with Him in prayer, study, meditation, and church services during this time of plenty. After all, one of the purposes of going to the Feast is to learn how to fear God, and we do this by spending time with Him.
Whatever Your Heart Desires
Do you realize that through prayer, through Bible study, and through attending Sabbath services, we are in the presence of God? In His presence is joy evermore—not discouragement, not despair, not despondency, not guilt—joy!
He is such a powerful Personality that, when we are in His presence, it is very difficult, if not impossible, not to be affected by what He is. This is why we need to pray—it is an absolute necessity! We need to take advantage of this invitation to fellowship with Him, in study and prayer, because this great Personality wants to infuse us with what He is. It becomes part of us because we are around Him.
We have a proclivity to adapt to the environment in which we find ourselves. When we have grown up in this world, our character is set in such a way that it is against God. Only by being in His presence can this anti-God attitude be counteracted. This invitation to fellowship with Him is our salvation.
And there is not just joy in His presence but love, peace, goodness, gentleness, kindness, mercy, self-control, and every other attribute of the Spirit of God. In His presence is "where it's at."
Can we see the story that is being worked out from Adam and Eve on? Through the sins of mankind, he became separated from God. But now, through Christ, the ability to return to His presence, into fellowship Him—into the very Garden of Eden, as it were—has been opened to us again. It is only in His presence that all of the good attributes of His Spirit are available to us.
This highlights the importance of Passover. It is not just the death of Christ but the effect of His death: reestablishment of communion with God, of fellowship with Him.
Having access to His presence does not mean that the Christian will never experience depression or despair, but we will never experience it for very long if we continue to fellowship with God. It will motivate us to refocus on the reality of what God is working and doing in us. In other words, our knowledge that we are keeping the commands of God and that we love our brethren and that we believe in the name (that is, the nature and all of the characteristics) of Jesus Christ will pull us out of our doldrums. We know what we have experienced with God in the past and realize that our present dilemma is not the end of the world.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love and Fellowship
"Your words": Matthew 12:34 says that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." The key is out of the abundance of the heart, that is, "what is in the heart," what we want to talk about. Of the four broad areas in Isaiah 58:13-14, this is probably the most difficult one for us. We wrestle with it, wondering whether "what we are saying" should be said or not.
The emphasis is on the word "your." Our conversations on the Sabbath should not be the same as they are on the other six days of the week, when our conversations would tend to be on those things that are pleasurable to us. What God wants us to do and say on the Sabbath are things that are His pleasure, not ours. But if we are growing spiritually, then what is "His pleasure" is also going to be in our heart.
The title of the first book of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy on the one ring of power is very interesting. It is called "The Fellowship of the Ring." The story is a fantasy about a group of nine people who were chosen to destroy the one ring of power. If we understand the symbolism, their enemy was Satan.
He wanted to keep the one ring alive and working among the nations. It was up to Frodo Baggins and the group of people who were with him to destroy that one ring. The whole trilogy describes what happened to this "fellowship." It contains all of the experiences they had in carrying out this quest to destroy the ring: the good times and the bad, the good weather and the bad, the fear and the courage, the discouragement, sickness, and injuries—all of the things that happened along the way, all of the things that they fought against and overcame, all of the difficulties, all of the trials—and all the while carrying the burden of trying to make sure that this one ring of power was kept out of the enemy's hand so it could be destroyed.
There are a lot of good lessons there, but this illustration should help us to understand what should be the subjects of our Sabbath conversations. It is our fellowship, first of all with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, as well as all of us who are within this fellowship. The things that we experience with the Father and Son, the things that we experience with each other—our discouragements, our hopes, our dreams, our failures, our successes, our courage, our fears, our worries, our crying, our happy times. All of these things become a part of the way.
The fellowship that we have along the way to the Kingdom of God is "fair game" to talk about on the Sabbath. Many things we might consider to be mundane contain vital lessons for us and others. We should share our happy times and sad times with our brothers and sisters in the faith.
But when we start throwing in things that we are planning to do about entertainments, sports, etc.—we are beginning to drift away. Are these part of the way? Is it part of the fellowship? Probably not, but it could be. This should begin to give us a framework within which we can see what is right to speak about.
God does not intend that we spend our whole time on the Sabbath turning to Scriptures. Certainly, to do so is right and good. But there is nothing wrong with talking about our fellowship and all it entails. There is a great deal that can be explored in these areas and that we can feel comfortable—with good conscience—talking about and sharing with one another.
A great deal of what we say is just so much vanity, but a lot of good lies in the experiences we have had, the lessons that we can pass on, the encouragement that we can share. There are multitudes of experiences and subjects that fit within positive purposes for which the Sabbath was created.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 5)
They could see the rage in Nebuchadnezzar's face, but they also saw God. Where did their powerful conviction come? This kind of conviction does not arise "on command," at the spur of the moment. It is the product of the demonstration of God in the lives of these three young men before this time, before their lives were on the line. Their faith had grown and matured over a period of time.
God is always the same. What God says through Paul in I Corinthians 10:13 applied to them just as it applies to us. God knew what they could endure. They also knew that He would provide a "way of escape." Because of this, they told the king, despite his threats, "Even if God does not choose to protect us, we still are not going to bow down to your image."
Have we ever considered why more "mighty deliverances" do not occur to us? It is because we spend so little time fellowshipping with God that we do not see Him as an immediate and vitally important part of our lives. As a result, the physical "evidence" we see around us overwhelms us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Do You See God? (Part Two)
God threatens to send fire, symbolizing divine rejection and purification (Malachi 4:1), upon Israel because of her false religion. The Bible, though ultimately written for His spiritual children, focuses on ancient Israel because she is comprised of God's chosen people. We can see our own lives in their examples. Amos proves through the Israelites' disobedience and corruption that they had no relationship with God. They had not allowed their privileged position under the covenant to transform them into godly people. Thus, God must send a purifying destruction upon them.
Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba were places of pilgrimage, places people went to observe the feasts. But God says, "I hate, I despise your feast days" (Amos 5:21)! Verses 22-23 show that the Israelites loved all the rituals and entertainments of the feasts, but they did not leave the feasts better people (verse 24). They returned to their homes unchanged, unrepentant, after what was supposed to be a rededication of their lives to God!
Our attitudes in attending the feasts today tell God just as much as the Israelites' did during Amos' ministry. Do we go to the Feast of Tabernacles to seek God and learn to fear Him, as He says in Deuteronomy 14:23? Our reasons for attending God's feasts are very important. Do we go to get love and enjoy ourselves? The feasts should be enjoyable, but those who go there to give love and serve others profit the most from them. Those who go to get love usually become offended and leave the feast, telling anyone who will listen how "cold" others were to them.
From the biblical events that occurred in these places, Bethel pictures reorientation and hope; Gilgal, possession of the promises; and Beersheba, fellowship with God. We can have these things in Christ if we abide under the terms of our covenant with Him. In the example of Israel, we can see that hearing and knowing the way of God intellectually is not enough. The lives of the people of Israel did not match what they knew.
The lesson we can learn from the events in Bethel are particularly illustrative of God's transforming influence. At Bethel, Jacob had his dream of a ladder reaching to heaven and angels walking up and down on it (Genesis 28:12). When he woke up from his dream, Jacob reckoned that God was surely in that place and named it "Bethel" or "house of God." The ascending and descending angels, messengers of God, depict God, not man, initiating communication. In other words, the ladder brought God to Bethel. When God arrives on the scene and descends to communicate with a man, He makes a difference in his life.
Certainly, Jacob's life quickly began to change, especially his attitude. He had been fleeing for his life, but when he got to Bethel, his future changed dramatically because God made contact with him. God reconfirmed to Jacob His promises to Abraham and Isaac. A transformation began then that did not end as long as he lived.
On the run from Esau, a man to be feared, Jacob felt at any moment his brother would appear around the next rock. He arrived at Bethel hopeless, but he left a man with a future—God said that He would be with him. So Jacob arose and made a covenant with God that if He would bless him, then he would give a tenth, a tithe, to God (Genesis 28:18-22).
When Jacob returned to Bethel after serving Laban for some twenty years, God appeared to him again, changing his name to Israel (Genesis 35:1-15). In the biblical record, a name change, normally occurring during a period of crisis in a person's conversion, signifies a change in his heart. Undoubtedly, a significant change happened here and another at Peniel where Jacob wrestled with Christ (Genesis 32:24-30). Peniel was a stepping stone to what occurred at his return to Bethel and between them, we see Jacob's spiritual conversion.
To Israel and Amos, then, Bethel represented reorientation and hope. There the old life and the old man became new. This idea is later reflected in New Testament teaching about our spiritual transformation into the image of God (II Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 4:12-15, 20-24; I John 3:2).
Contact with God causes transformation, and Bethel represents this hopeful reorientation. Israelites may have journeyed to Bethel, but Amos shows that no transformation occurred. There was no change in holiness or morality. They enjoyed the fellowship and good times of the feasts, but they returned to their homes, and it was "business as usual." Unlike Jacob, they had not repented.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
The giving of the law at Mount Sinai was the climax of a series of events that began at Passover, the moment and the means of the Israelites' redemption. At Passover they killed a lamb and put the blood on their doorposts. When the death angel passed through to slay the firstborn, those who had blood on the doorposts were spared. God was saving, redeeming, buying back His people.
Mount Sinai adds the other half of the equation. Though redemption through the blood of a lamb (Christ) freed them from sin's dominion and death, the giving of the law at Mount Sinai shows that freeing them is not all that God had in mind. Israel came to Mount Sinai after being redeemed, heard the law, and assented to keep it. God gave the law to show the pattern of life, the principles of righteousness, for the redeemed.
On one side of the coin is grace and on the other is law and obedience. They are harmonious; they cannot be separated. They are both vital parts of the process of sanctification leading to salvation. Grace is given upon repentance from sin, but after repentance, what is a Christian to do with his life? Obedience to God and living a life of holiness become his first priorities, and these work to produce character in the image of God (II Corinthians 3:18).
Amos 5:25 reconfirms that the sacrifice, offering, and shedding of blood is a foundational necessity for a relationship with God. "Did you offer Me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?" The answer is, "Yes." The people were sacrificing, but is that all that they did? He implies that though they were sacrificing, something was missing—obedience to the law.
God told Israel that He would dwell in the Tabernacle, specifically the Holy of Holies, the symbolism of which we need to understand. The most important piece of furniture inside the Holy of Holies was the Mercy Seat, a wooden chest overlaid with gold. Its lid functioned as the seat. Inside the chest, under the seat, were stored the two tablets of stone, symbolizing God sitting on His law, the basis of His judgment.
When one sins, he begins to separate himself from fellowship with God (Isaiah 59:1-2). He is no longer permitted, as it were, to come into the Holy of Holies. What means did God provide to heal the broken relationship, to restore the fellowship?
One might think that the giving of a sin offering would appease God, and He would forgive the sin. However, Hebrews 10:4 is very clear: "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins." Then why did God have the Israelites make these sacrifices? "But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year" (verse 3). As Amos does not mention the sin offering in Amos 5:22, it seems that Israel did not even make the attempt to be reminded of sin.
So how was fellowship restored? On the Day of Atonement, once a year, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies to sprinkle the Mercy Seat with blood. God's intent in this ritual was to show people that their transgressions of His law were covered by the blood. The redeemed were again in fellowship with God.
The blood and the law are essential parts for maintaining the correct relationship with God. The law is permanent and codifies the nature of God in precepts to help us understand Him clearly. Obedience to His law is a perpetual requirement, with blood available to cover any transgression of it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
Verses 13-15 contain a complaint of the people about the difficulty of God's way. They see things within the nation that are unfair. Those who are really assertive and aggressive, those with a lot of carnal drive and energy, are getting ahead. "What good is it to be godly?" they ask. God replies to them with a promise in verses 16-17. He does not say that He would end the injustice right then.
God shows that His ear is on our conversations. Psalm 139 tells us that His Spirit goes everywhere! He is aware. He is not really judgmental, but He is aware of what is happening, and He wants to encourage us to grow.
This instruction is intended for the church at the time of the end, to encourage those who are genuinely trying to be faithful to God yet who feel frustrated and doubtful because of what they see going on around them. So God replies with this encouragement to those who speak on His name. This refers to those who have the Word of God in their minds and hearts and are speaking to one another about the wonderful fellowship with God we have been drawn into. They are tying God into all aspects of their lives.
God says He is making a book of remembrance, and He will reward these people for their faithfulness. It is obvious that what these people are meditating on and talking about is God's name and what is contained within their hearts, and it is good. This reveals a major purpose for the Sabbath: to get God's Word into our hearts, minds, and consciences. He is a part of our lives, and we need to think about Him being a part of them. Do we see God? That is what this is about. Do we see Him as a part of our lives? Do we see Him as a part of our futures? When we do, then we find ourselves talking about it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 5)
What do we actually do to "seek first the Kingdom of God"? How do we in our daily actions put God first? How do we take Christ's abstract statement and turn it into concrete steps that we can employ in our lives? One answer is Luke 21:36. Seeking God—is the solution to all our problems. Luke 21:36 gives us the first step in implementing that solution—praying always. This is a foundation on which to build eternal life.
By being in conscious and constant communication, we are acknowledging God. We are bringing Him into the picture, obeying Matthew 6:33 by seeking Him first. When we do that, we create the opportunity to put some interesting dynamics into action that will facilitate overcoming.
Could we have any better companion than God? With no other could we possibly find better fellowship. God designed prayer to be an act by a free-moral agent who consciously chooses to be with Him to develop their relationship. When we pray, we acknowledge that we are in the presence of God, giving Him the opportunity to rub off on us, like iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17).
When person A rubs off on person B, it implies that B becomes a little more like A—he begins to take on the other's characteristics. The same holds true with the relationship between God and us. Who has the easier time dealing with temptation—God or us? Of course, God does (James 1:13)! It follows, then, that if the more God rubs off on us, the more we become like Him—the more successful our battle against temptation becomes. The more God rubs off on us, the more the battle becomes God's, not ours.
To have the right kind of fellowship and relationship with God, we have to be aware of the reality that we are always in His presence; He is "a God near at hand" (Jeremiah 23:23). Because God has promised never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and since we are the Temple where His Spirit dwells (I Corinthians 3:16), God is constantly with us. For His children, the question is never whether He is present, but whether we acknowledge His presence. Praying always accomplishes this.
If being in the presence of a friend of fine character improves us on a human level (Proverbs 13:20), how much more true is this when we are in the presence of God Himself, the very definition of character and wisdom? That is how He can rub off on us: We are with Him, in His fellowship, in His presence, through prayer. When it comes to His children, He is never way off somewhere, if we would but acknowledge this fact.
God designed human beings to adapt to their environment. Before conversion, this world and its influences were molding us into an anti-God form. Acknowledging God's presence is the antidote that counteracts the influence under which we have lived since birth.
God's calling is an invitation to fellowship with Him, and getting to know Him is our salvation (John 17:3). If this is so, then the means—prayer—is a vital part of the foundation on which we need to build. That is the message of Luke 21:36. Praying always leads to overcoming, and both will lead to an escape from God's wrath and fellowship with Christ on into God's Kingdom.
Notice another illustration of the power of presence. What happens to us when we are around people who are pessimistic, angry, fearful, whining? Compare that to our reaction when around those who are positive and enthusiastic, facing life with gentle humor, determination, and energy. The former can quickly drain and depress us, while the latter can energize and enthuse us. In these situations, a literal transference of a spiritual attitude takes place. However, as we increase our physical distance from either of these examples, their power to influence erodes.
What happens on the human plane is no different from what happens spiritually. The spirit—good or bad—of people radiates out from them. It can affect, even change our spirit. Likewise, Satan's spirit permeates our environment, influencing us unless we choose to counteract it.
That choice is praying at every opportunity, willingly submitting ourselves to the persuasion of the most positive, righteous, and unchanging attitudes that exist in the entire universe! This is why after prayer, after spending time in the presence of God, people can feel peace, joy, or confidence. On the other hand, they can also feel humbled and chastened because God has led them to remorse and repentance. Prayer changes things—us.
Praying Always (Part Four)
Knowing the gruesome details of leprosy, one can easily imagine the crowd hastily parting as this man worked his way toward Jesus. Yet, He, in contrast, reaches out to touch the leper, signaling His willingness and power to heal. In Exodus 15:25-26, God reveals Himself as Yahweh Ropheka, or "the Eternal-Who-Heals," at the incident at Marah. Nathan Stone writes in his book, Names of God,that this name means "to restore, to heal, to cure . . . not only in the physical sense but in the moral and spiritual sense also" (p. 72). Dying to sin and living for righteousness are a kind of healing through Jesus Christ.
Ordinarily, uncleanness is transferred among men, but holiness is not (Haggai 2:10-14). This scene of the leper coming to Christ pictures divine reconciliation, since what is holy and what is profane usually do not mix. This is overcome through the work of our Savior. Jesus stretches out His hand and commands the leper to be cleansed, showing God in action as the Eternal-Who-Heals. This is why the leper's uncleanness does not transfer to Jesus - at first.
Later, however, the death penalty for sin was transferred to Jesus. A price had to be paid for the leper's cleansing. "Clean" has a sense of purity and holiness, so to be cleansed was to be made pure. Proverbs 20:9 says, "Who can say, 'I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin'?" The leper could no more pronounce himself clean than we can pronounce ourselves sinless (I John 1:10). Proverbs 20:30 adds, "Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, as do stripes the inner depths of the heart." Comparing these two verses from Proverbs suggests that a certain chastening is required for cleansing.
Isaiah 53:4-5 adds another piece to the picture:
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.
These verses place the emphasis of our cleansing from spiritual impurity on Christ: He paid the price to heal us and restore us to fellowship with God.
Thus, when Jesus Christ became sin for us, on Him was transferred all uncleanness. For those who have repented and accepted His sacrifice, there is increasingly more responsibility to continue this cleansing process in cooperation with and submission to Him. Peter summarizes this idea in I Peter 2:24, "[He] Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we having died to sins, might live for righteousness - by whose stripes you were healed."
The Gift of a Leper
Clearly, "a certain king" refers to the Father, and the king's son, the bridegroom, is Jesus Christ (John 3:29). The bride is God's church (Revelation 19:7-9), but it is not a primary issue in this parable, nor is the marriage itself. However, the marriage feast is prominent, illustrating the full benefits of God's truth: fellowship with God, excellence, abundance, and happiness. God offers such a spiritual banquet to "the called." The glorious feast He has spread includes pardon of sin, favor with God, peace of conscience, exceedingly great and precious promises, access to the throne of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Is Heaven the Reward of the Saved?
How were Simeon and Annaable to recognize the Messiah three decades before His first witness actually began? Luke provides the answer. He shows us that, in aggregate, the people of this group displayed the following characteristics:
1. They had God's Spirit. As a result, they were able to understand "the deep things of God. . . . No one knows the things of God except [by] the Spirit of God" (I Corinthians 2:10-11). When He promised the Spirit to His disciples, Christ called it
the Spirit of truth [which] . . . will guide you into all truth; for [it] will not speak on [its] own authority, but whatever [it] hears [it] will speak; and [it] will tell you things to come. (John 16:13)
The Spirit taught Simeon and Anna, just as it taught the apostles—just as it teaches us today.
2. They heard God's Word. Anna "did not depart from the Temple . . . night and day." She often heard the reading of God's Word, which Christ defined as truth (John 17:17). That Word "is profitable for . . . instruction in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16). The Devout received frequent instruction from God's Word.
3. They talked with others of like mind. Simeon was not alone; neither was Anna. Luke 2:38 says Anna "spoke of [Christ] to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem." An unspecified number of other people also waited for the Messiah! They fellowshipped with those who were "just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel" (verse 25).
4. They fasted often. Notice the plural: Anna "served God with fastings" (Luke 2:37). These were not the fastings of vanity (see Matthew 6:16-18), but she fasted in service to God. A result of proper fasting is knowledge (see Daniel 9:1-22; 10:1-21). Surely, Anna's frequent fastings contributed to her ability to recognize the Messiah.
5. They prayed regularly. Again, notice the plural, "prayers" (Luke 2:37). Many hours of prayer lay behind Anna's recognition of her Messiah.
Solomon writes in Proverbs 2:3-5, "If you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, . . . then you will . . . find the knowledge of God." Solomon should know. God greatly increased his knowledge and wisdom as a result of his prayer (II Chronicles 1:10).
6. The Devout made the right connections. As a result of hearing God's Word, they were aware of the Seventy-Weeks Prophecy (Daniel 9:20-27). They realized that it was about 69 prophetic weeks since the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the Messiah's coming was imminent. That is what Luke 2:26 tells us: God's Spirit revealed to Simeon that he would not die before seeing the Messiah.
7. The Devout saw the Day approaching and did not forsake the assembling of themselves together (Hebrews 10:25). They understood the value of Christian fellowship. The prophet wrote of them and their sort through the ages: "Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them" (Malachi 3:16).
Discussing God's Word in frequent fellowship, with humble fastings and prayers, the Devout received understanding from God. Thus, they recognized their Messiah while the superstitious and the proud did not.
Recognizing the Second Witness
Luke describes the woman as crippled by “a spirit of infirmity eighteen years” and “bound” (verse 16) by Satan. Without denying the historicity of the event, Luke's placing this miracle at this point in his narrative has obvious symbolic value. Jesus' mission among the Jews was to “loose” them from crippling influences and bring them to uprightness. This miracle is a graphic example of Jesus making a literally crooked woman upright.
Jesus healed her by His words and by touching her. He could have healed her by a word only, and as seen in other miracles, He did not even need to be in the same place, city, or country. However, in laying His hands on her, He shows everyone the value of her obeying God and coming to Him. Had she refused, He could not have touched her. Nothing good comes to those who disregard God's Word (Romans 2:8; II Thessalonians 1:8; I Peter 4:17).
People often pray for the “touch” of God upon their lives, which is not a bad prayer. Yet, if we want God to touch us, we must draw near to Him. We cannot keep our distance from Him in fellowship. We must walk closely with Him at all times if we want His influence upon our lives.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Stooped Woman (Part Two)
Luke 22:15-16 specifically concerns Jesus' Passover offering, but we need to consider its effects in light of the peace offering rather than the sin offering.
First, God is satisfied because man is in communion with Him through Christ, the offering. Second, man is satisfied because he knows he is accepted by God and in fellowship with Him. Third, the priest is satisfied because, as the common friend of formerly estranged parties, He is happy to see them in fellowship. No wonder Christ desired this particular Passover! It produced the very purpose for which He came.
The medium that brings this all about is sacrifice. It is not just Christ's sacrifice on the stake, for it just culminated a whole series of sacrifices that began in heaven when He sacrificed His glory as God, became a man, and subjected Himself to the Father's will perfectly. Christ's stated desire here is looking forward to God and mankind being in fellowship with each other in His Kingdom—the ultimate effect of giving the best of ourselves to God following Jesus' example.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Four): The Peace Offering
Our calling, our life in Christ, begins when the Father directly interfaces with our mind for the purpose of revealing Himself, His ways, His purpose, His plan, His mind, His attitude, His perspective, His character, His love, His power, His mercy, His forgiveness, and on and on, that we might use our life and free-moral agency to choose life
But most important is that the Father Himself does this. God miraculously joins His own mind to ours! There is nothing mysterious about this at all. He begins to transfer His thoughts, His attitudes, His character—the Spirit of His mind—into our minds. When it tells us, "Grieve not the Spirit of God," he means, "Don't grieve the Father by resisting Him." He is transferring the invisible essence of His mind through the access that we have to Him by means of the death of Jesus Christ. He is by no means kidding about the importance of this process. He is helping us to understand that, even as we are influenced by those around us, unless we are in the presence of God, we will not be influenced by Him. This is why it is so vital for us to share life with Him.
This is where prayer and Bible study become important because we are literally in His presence and He can transfer the essence of His mind into ours. Nobody sees it. When we obey, we are giving Him permission to do this. We submit, using our free moral agency. There is nothing magical about this at all. It occurs when we respond to the influence of the interface that He creates between us when we believe His Word and submit, and when we strengthen the relationship through prayer, Bible study, and meditation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 1)
His relationship with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus was different from the relationship He had with other people. Why? One reason is, as we find in other places, He stayed with this family when He was near Jerusalem. He had undoubtedly eaten quite a number of meals at their home, and they had had ample time to talk about the plan of God, as well as their hopes and dreams, problems, trials, and difficulties. Jesus likely counseled them in these matters. As a result of this fellowship, within this family atmosphere, grew an intimacy of thinking that He did not have with many others. The Bible does not say all that often that He loved somebody the way He loved these.
Trust in a historical fact can be essentially passive, but so what? It might not be a vital part of life. However, a Christian cannot have the kind of conviction needed unless he recognizes that he is fellowshipping with a very wonderful, living, dynamic, and gracious Personality. When we pray to Him, He wants us to think about that relationship, about Him, His power, His willingness, His purpose, and everything connected with Him in His relationship with us.
Trust in a Personality energizes the quality of the prayer. In this case, it infuses the trust with a firsthand knowledge of the Being to whom we are appealing. Prayer's most important fruit may well be the understanding gained of this Personality: what He is and what He does.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Fervency
Paul said this when making his last goodbye to the Ephesian elders on his way to Jerusalem. Eventually, from there, he went to Rome to face the authorities there. He had spent many years in his journeys crisscrossing the area of what is today western Turkey, preaching the gospel to them, as well as to the world. In making this statement, he is saying, in effect, that a disciple is not made merely by preaching the gospel to him as a witness. There is a vast difference between the two. A disciple of Christ is created through preaching, personal study, prayer, meditation, fellowship, and experience in a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the church. Jesus clearly says in Matthew 28:20 that the disciples were to be taught "all things whatsoever I have commanded you."
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 2)
Do not be misled by the word established because it can suggest that they were not already established, which they were. The next verse explains what he means.
The apostle Paul is talking about "feeding the flock," preaching "the whole counsel of God" in infinite detail. The words of God—the gospel—when understood in its broadest sense, include the entirety of the Bible. It is not confined to making a witness so that people might have this held against them in a legal sense by God—as if God were saying, "I gave you My word, but you didn't respond to it."
God's primary concern is to prepare His children to share a relationship in fellowship with Him for all eternity—everybody living exactly the same way. The "gospel" requires an infinite expansion on the bare basics that bring us to conversion so we can see the application of God's way of life in every situation possible in our lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 1)
The question Paul poses is natural for those who do not have the faith and thus have not really submitted to God. The far more important question for the converted is, "Does He not have the right to do as He pleases with us, since He is not only our Creator, but He has also purchased us from our spiritual bondage to sin through the payment of His sinless Son's lifeblood?" We therefore belong to Him, and He sees us now as both sons and slaves. God fully expects us to be slaves of righteousness even as we were once slaves to sin (Romans 6:15-23). A slave is one whose master makes his choices.
The majority of us have been born into cultures where literal, physical slavery is no longer practiced. We have no direct experience with it, though most of us have at least an intellectual understanding of some aspects of it. Consider, then, the relationship between master and slave. The apostles had a good reason to use the word that means "slave" (doulos). They wanted us to understand that in our relationship with God we not only experience the joys of freedom as His children but also the serious requirement to obey as His slaves.
Suppose the Master summons a slave to meet with him every seventh day for instruction and fellowship with Him and His other slaves, and the slave refuses, saying he has something more important to do. This "something more important" does not necessarily have to be working for pay. Perhaps his justification for staying away is, "I learn more studying by myself at home," or "So many 'unspiritual' people are there that I no longer feel comfortable." Suppose the Master says the slave is to pay back ten percent of his increase to Him, but the slave says, "I have other, more important things to do with my money."
Once we understand this, it becomes apparent where our parent church headed in regard to sovereignty. The leaders quickly changed many doctrines—and thus the theology of the entire institution—subtly turning the tables in the relationship. They made the slave the master by giving him the right to decide what is law and what is not, as well as permission to change established priorities. This is virtually the same ploy Satan used on Adam and Eve when he said, "You will be as God."
Who is the sovereign and who is the slave is one of the points Paul makes in Romans 9. Understanding that God is sovereign and we are the slaves and translating this into loving submission are essential to our relationship with Him. This absolutely requires trusting Him. Those without the faith cannot do this because they do not believe as God does. To have the faith of Christ, we must believe what Christ believes. Will anyone be in God's Kingdom who does not believe as God does?
As we have experienced this life, most of us at one time or another have considered whether God is fair. Our Creator has designed experiences to bring this question to mind so we might consider as many ramifications of it as possible. We usually glean most of our information from the disasters and tragedies of human life. What we often lack are His perspective and truth. As He gives these through the revelation of Himself, we begin to perceive His loving grace, abundant generosity, infinite patience, ready forgiveness, stable oversight, and unswerving commitment to concluding His wonderful purpose successfully.
Those who see Him as unfair are usually ignorant of what is really going on because they have not yet been given eyes to see that they are included in His plan. Mankind's disasters and tragedies have their roots in sin, but God did not will man to sin. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 7:29, "Truly, this only I have found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes." Mankind has chosen to bring disaster and tragedy upon himself. God is gradually removing the ignorance that holds mankind in thrall to choices that kill him. He has removed this ignorance from us already, and we are therefore free to choose life, as God commands in Deuteronomy 30:19.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six
1 Corinthians 1:9
This particular verse is written in such a way as to be translated either "with" or "in": Our fellowship is with Christ, or our fellowship is in Christ. It can go either way. The case is both subjective and objective in I Corinthians 1:9.
Fellowship means "sharing," "communion with," "companionship with," or "association with." We have been called into an association—a companionship, a fellowship, a communion—with Christ. All these words are synonyms. The only difference might be the degree of the intimacy that is expressed. In addition, fellowship indicates people having things in common—they do things together because they share common interests. What we have in common is our love for Christ.
We are drawn to the brethren because of the common tie—the common love for the same Person. Even when we meet people in the church for the very first time, we do not feel as though they are perfect strangers to us because of that commonality. We recognize the spirit or attitude that emanates from them. It is almost something that we can feel or see because our senses seem to be attuned to it. This is why world travelers with the church say that they can go into another congregation and know that it is of the same Spirit as the one that they traveled from.
There is a bond or union between us because we love the same Person. To the Christian, then, Christ's friend is our friend. We are members of the same body. We are children in the same Family. We are soldiers in the same army. We are pilgrims on the same road. These same analogies are used many places in the Bible.
John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ
1 Corinthians 15:49
I Corinthians 15:49 shows the end of the process, which it encompasses in just a brief phrase, "we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." We were born into the human family, and we have borne the image of that family, an image that all of mankind has in common. All of us have the human spirit. We may be different ethnically. We may look different from the person sitting next to us, but now in Christ Jesus He is building a commonality, one God intends us to use to increase our fellowship with Him, as well as increase and deepen the respect and fellowship that we have for each other until we come to bear the image of the heavenly. Then, of course, the fellowship will be in totality. That is where Christians are headed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Truth (Part 4)
2 Corinthians 4:16
Once fellowship with God is established through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, that is not enough. This fellowship must be built upon. For it to continue, it has to be renewed day by day. In other words, sacrificing has to continue. Our relationship with God, then, is not constant because we are not unchanging as God is. Our attitudes fluctuate, our faith increases or decreases, and our love, joy, and peace ebb and flow in their intensity.
Sacrifice, whether it be the sacrifice of Christ or our own personal sacrifice, plays a major role in all of this because these things are not constants within us, so they have to be renewed daily. We can conclude that a sacrifice is then either a means of reconciling or a means of strengthening what already exists—a necessary means of becoming or continuing at-one-ment with God.
We need to add another factor to this. In the Old Testament, the gifts given to God are arranged in the order of their value: An animal is of greater value than a vegetable. Consider Cain and Abel's offering. Abel gave an acceptable one, while Cain gave one that was unacceptable for that circumstance. It might have been acceptable in a different circumstance. Nonetheless, the Bible arranges them in order of priority, as in Leviticus 1-3: A bullock is of greater value than a ram, which is of greater value than a kid or a dove. There is a principle here.
Let us step this up even higher. The offering of a son is of greater value than the offering of any animal. When Abraham offered Isaac, it was far greater in value than the offering of a lamb, ram, or even a bullock. In this case, God would not accept anything less than the very best. It had to be the offering of what was nearest and dearest to Abraham's heart. From this we learn that it is not just the intrinsic value of the gift, but also the relative cost to the giver to which God attaches the greatest importance of all. A widow's two mites can be a greater offering than all of the silver and gold a wealthy man can give.
From this, then, we can extract another principle: The greatest gift of all is self-sacrifice.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Preparing to Be a Priest
In His mercy, God fulfilled what Jesus said in John 6:44, and began to draw us. He started to bridge the gap and to give us life. We were dead because of sin, but He made us alive and began to give us light.
In this context, "life" means more than endless or eternal life. It implies a "quality" of life, for endless life is a blessing only if its quality is good. Thus, the definition of eternal life must include quality of life.
God revived us, as it were, resurrecting us from a state of spiritual death to life. He revived us, not just to give us eternal life, but to change the quality of our lives. This is a given, because why would He revive us if we are going to return to the same kind of sinful life that spiritually killed us in the first place? No, He revived us from spiritual death to make possible a different kind or level or quality of life, one that includes the ability to fellowship with Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Truth (Part 4)
This creating, building, or growing that Paul writes about here is the process by which we come to have more and more in common with each other so that there can be a continuing fellowship. The Holy Spirit, mentioned in verse 18 and again in verse 22, is the mechanism by which this is accomplished.
The eradication of the differences that we bring with us into the church and the building of the commonality are primarily the creative work of God. He is the Artisan at work, and we are being created in Christ Jesus into a fellowship that is so close that it is likened to a family. Families have things in common. It begins with a biological affinity, and the children of a mother and a father are genetically closer to each other than they are to their parents. What are we called in the church? Brothers and sisters.
Families have looks and practices in common, too, among other things. What they have in common makes them a family. So, in the church, God has to build a commonality to give us the family and therefore the fellowship that will enable us to continue with Him and with our brethren.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Truth (Part 4)
Christian union is built around the fact that we are all partakers with one another in the grace of God. Unity, then, will vary from person to person. With some, it will be tenuous because the relationships and experiences together are just not that strong. On the one end, we have casual acquaintances. We know these acquaintances are part of the church of God, and thus we share a Spirit with them, as well as a hope, a dream, a goal. We are on a pilgrimage with them to God's Kingdom. Because they are in our minds, we have a tenuous union with them.
On the other extreme is the union that we have with our mate, who likewise shares with us the same Spirit, the same hopes and dreams. However, with our spouse, we share a great deal more intimacy and far more experience. Our union with him or her is far deeper. Spiritually, this also applies to our unity with the Father in heaven.
This epistle was written while Paul languished in prison. His fond memories of his experiences with the Philippians made him feel confident, as if he were not alone, as if they were with him in his chains, giving him encouragement in his desperate situation. It is as if he is saying, "Because of our unity, I can feel your support."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part 4)
The New Testament stresses that Christians need the fellowship of others of like mind. An identifying mark of the true church is that the members have love for one another (John 13:35). Indeed, one of the criteria by which Christ will judge us is how we treat our brethren in the church (Matthew 25:31-46). How can we love and serve one another if we do not fellowship with and get to know each other?
God has given us ample instruction regarding how we should relate to other Christians. It is His purpose to teach us how to get along with each other so we can teach others about these things in the Millennium. We are to be unselfish and concerned for the needs of others (Philippians 2:4). God wants us to learn patience and forgiveness (Colossians 3:13), striving to be "kindly affectionate," humble, and self-effacing in our dealings with one another (Romans 12:10). We should be giving and hospitable to our brethren (verse 13).
The New Testament is replete with various admonitions on how we should interact with our brothers and sisters in the church. Obviously, God views our interaction with other Christians as vital to our training to become members of the God Family and qualifying for a position in His Kingdom. He wants us to develop interpersonal skills that equip us to deal with occasional differences of opinion and offenses.
Our fellowship should be a source of encouragement to one another. We should use this time to show love to our brethren and to motivate them to perform acts of kindness and service for others. All of these exhortations show a clear need for us to be part of an organization of God's people. God's Sabbath service is like a weekly training school for Christians. The spiritual food that God's true ministers prepare for us is vitally important for our spiritual growth and development. In discussing the relationship of the ministry to the church member, Paul explains that the ministry is given
for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-13)
The interaction that we have with one another when we fellowship at church services helps us to develop the fruit of God's Spirit—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Paul shows that the church is truly Christ's body, and like the human body, each part depends upon the other parts.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
For the Perfecting of the Saints
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together - The Revised English Bible renders this verse: "We should not stay away from our meetings, as some do, but rather encourage one another, all the more because we see the day of the Lord drawing near." Since the New Testament church observed the Sabbath, it is evident that Paul is saying, "We need to be attending church services, especially since the end is coming soon!"
A good friend of mine and I were talking about how the church keeps the Sabbath. He commented that, generally, church members baptized before the mid-1970s seem to have a greater zeal for making sure they always get to services on the Sabbath than those baptized later.
This may or may not be true, but there does seem to be a trend not to consider assembling on the Sabbath as important as it used to be. In the past, we would never think of missing church services to attend a wedding or visit with family coming into town. We would never stay home because we were tired. When someone became ill, the whole family did not stay at home; we thought that everyone else should still go or at the very least one of us should represent the family at church. Since it was the most important event of the week, we would always plan to be at services, even if we "ruffled the feathers" of relatives or neighbors.
We obediently honor God in coming before Him at services. Each Sabbath is to be "a holy convocation" (Leviticus 23:3), meaning we are "called together" to worship Him. In a way, it is like a weekly Family reunion to pay homage to our Father, and in turn, He instructs us further in His way of life.
In addition, we partially fulfill some of the elements discussed in Hebrews 10:22-24. The Sabbath allows us to draw near to God and strengthen our faith. It helps us to hold fast our belief in doctrine through the messages we hear. And through fellowship with the brethren, assembling on the Sabbath enables us to know and consider others' needs, showing us how we may aid them.
Are there reasons to stay home on the Sabbath? Of course. Personal or family sickness, as when a child is ill. Business trips and family vacations will interfere occasionally with attending services, but we can still livestream services. We may have put in an especially difficult, exhausting week, but even here, we can plan and prioritize to avoid these situations so we can attend services. In fact, having a difficult week is all the more reason to make sure we make it to Sabbath services.
Many consider that keeping the seventh-day Sabbath is just a tradition, not a law. It is interesting that the only part of the Bible that God did not inspire to be written by a human being is the Ten Commandments. God wrote them Himself with His own finger. He did this because the commandments are His mind, the foundation upon which everything else stands. Thus, the keeping of the Sabbath is not a "tradition." It is a direct, eternally binding command of God, and thus we should do all we can never to forsake the assembling of ourselves on it.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
We are responsible for maintaining our fellowship with Him by doing the works that He has appointed for us to do. For instance, there must be continuous exercise of prayer, study into His Word, and seeking to be like Him. We seek Him because we grow to admire—indeed respect—His love and character, appreciate the purpose He has brought into our lives, desire His merciful forgiveness, and realize He is our Benefactor in every aspect of life. However, we must do all of these things in faith.
Notice Paul's counsel in II Corinthians 5:7: "For we walk by faith, not by sight." Like life, walking is a continuous process. Thus, when Hebrews 11:6 says, "He who comes to Him must believe that He is," it means far more than just assenting to a vague idea of a "First Cause." Under the New Covenant, we are dealing with a living Personality working within His creation.
To walk by faith is a practical responsibility. It results from believing in His character and His works as revealed in His Word to the extent that we trust Him and submit to His commands in every area of life. His character is a major reason why we must continue to seek Him: so that our knowledge of Him is continually sharpened and refined to inform our imitation of Him in our lives. Otherwise, we will be pursuing a phantom designed by our own imaginations. We need to grasp as much of His transcendent holiness, supreme sovereignty, almighty power, and perfect justice, as well as His abundant mercy and wonderful grace.
Hebrews 11:6 emphasizes that He is a Rewarder, a Benefactor to those who come to Him and consistently walk with Him by faith. He rewards those who, as a way of life, seek Him in anticipation of His treating them with patient, respectful kindness, even abundance, as He works to create us in the image of Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 11:5-7 balances reward with duty. Together, these verses show that, to be rewarded, we must walk with Him and seek Him. Walking and seeking are where "works" come into play, troubling those who believe in the incomplete Eternal Security doctrine.
In summary, walking with God and seeking Him by faith require keeping God in mind combined with making the efforts of obedience and any sacrifices of time, energy, and rejection by worldly family, friends, and business associates. Nevertheless, these result in being rewarded by God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
Notice that Hebrews 11:6 reads, "he who comes to God," and I Peter 2:3-4 uses a similar phrase. "Coming to God" means that one approaches nearer to God, seeks Him, or he walks with Him. It signifies fellowship with Him.
The Bible shows three stages of coming to God. The first is at God's calling when one begins to draw near. It results in justification and the imputing of Christ's righteousness. The second is more continuous, occurring during sanctification, as a person seeks to be like God, conform to His image, and have His laws written, engraved, into his character. The third stage occurs at the resurrection when the individual is glorified.
John 6:44 clarifies our first coming to God: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day." Nobody comes to God, no one seeks the God of the Bible, until he becomes aware of his need of Him. Nobody comes to God until he realizes he is far from Him and out of His favor—in fact, he is under God's condemnation and separated from the quality of life called in the Bible "eternal life." God reveals a measure of these things through His calling.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates this (Luke 15:14-19). The son did not return or draw near to his father until he was aware of his need. This sense of need motivates us to seek God and draw near to Him. This sense of need is a gift of God's grace working on a person's mind and is initially given when God summons the individual to approach Him.
Ephesians 4:17-24 covers the second "coming to God":
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness on their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ. If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
Verse 30 adds an instructive, albeit sobering, thought: "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." The Holy Spirit mentioned here is God Himself, who is hurt, sorrowed, by our sinful neglect of His gift. Once He bestows this sense of need, it is a continuous impulse unless we stifle it by neglecting to follow through, as those in the book of Hebrews were doing.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
1 John 1:1-4
Notice the wording carefully. What is it that John says was manifested, that they experienced with their own senses? Eternal life! Eternal life is something that in the biblical sense can be seen and heard. Indeed, the apostles fellowshipped with it in the flesh! In turn, they reported it to us so we can also fellowship with it - though not to the same extent and in the same manner as they did.
Of course, John is speaking of witnessing and fellowshipping with that kind of life as exemplified in Jesus Christ. Verse 3 is the specific purpose statement of this epistle of I John: to proclaim the reality of God's eternal life as revealed in Jesus Christ.
When John wrote this epistle, the Gnostic heresy was rising in the church. We should note that John's method of countering it is highly subjective, that is, the epistle has many references to the first-person pronouns "I" and "we." The apostle uses the weight of his personal experience witnessing this life to combat the heresies of the Gnostics.
He says the life we witnessed "was from the beginning"; it is the original manner of living. It is the ultimate reality of how to live. This kind of life is not subject to change, whether over time or from culture to culture. The ultimate reality is God - in this case Jesus Christ in the flesh, who is God - and He changes not.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Six): Eternal Life
1 John 1:3
Someone who is guilt-ridden and conscience-stricken because of sin, rather than seeking fellowship with God, will shy away from Him just as Adam and Eve did. After their sin, they ran, not to Him, but from Him—they hid from God (Genesis 3:8-10). Is there a more powerful act that we, as Christians, can do to demonstrate our desire to run to God rather than from Him—to demonstrate the strength of our desire to fellowship—than to pray always?
A lack of desire to fellowship with God and Christ is a distinctive trait of a Laodicean (Revelation 3:18-20). We live in an era when people are apathetic about having a true relationship with God. No professing Christian would admit that he would not care to eat a meal with and fellowship with Jesus Christ, yet He reports that in His own church, some will not rouse themselves to fellowship with Him, though they know that He knocks at the door. By their inaction, they choose not to fellowship with Him.
In fact, they are so far from Him that they do not even see their need! A terrible cycle of cause-and-effect is created: no awareness of need, no desire; no desire, no prayer; no prayer, no relationship; no relationship, no awareness of need. It runs in a vicious circle.
God offers us, not just endless life, but even more—eternal, close fellowship with Him. That is part of our reward as firstfruits (Revelation 3:12, 21). But how does God know if we want to fellowship with Him forever? How can He determine about us, as He said about Abraham in Genesis 22:12: "Now I know"? Simply, if we areearnestly seeking fellowship with Him right now, in this life, our actions prove—just as Abraham's actions were proof—that we sincerely desire to fellowship with Him forever.
What is the major way God gives us to show our desire for eternal fellowship with Him? Prayer! Through prayer, especially praying always, we are consciously deciding to place ourselves in God's presence—to have fellowship with Him and to acknowledge our vital need for Him.
As an example of this, David writes in Psalm 27:8: "When You said, 'Seek My face,' my heart said to You, 'Your face, Lord, I will seek.'" The Amplified Bible expands the idea of "seek My face" as "inquire for and require My presence as your vital need." In everything we say or do, we are to acknowledge His presence in our lives and give thanks for it (Colossians 3:17). Our praying always should also include thanksgiving to God for the many blessings He provides to sustain us, prosper us, and perfect us.
Considering this idea of eternal fellowship, it should come as no surprise that by striving to pray always we are in training to do now what we will be doing for eternity—closely fellowshipping with God. It is one reason why we have been called and elected by God—that we might have fellowship with the Father and the Son (Revelation 3:12, 21; John 17:24).
Praying Always (Part Six)
1 John 1:7
We know what walk means. It implies how we conduct our lives. I John is a letter written to a church congregation, and he is instructing church members that fellowship hinges on walking in the light. This is how we are to have fellowship with one another.
The context of this instruction is quite interesting. Protestantism focuses heavily on the initial forgiveness of sin that takes place upon belief at the beginning of salvation. Thus, their evangelists have altar calls. People come down before the altar and confess their sins and accept Christ as their Savior. Once they do this, these people are considered "saved" and "born again." Their doctrine—that of eternal salvation—continues in this vein, that is, once that occurs, salvation is basically assured. So a great deal of emphasis is put on the initial repentance and forgiveness of sin.
However, notice this verse in its context. John writes, "If we walk in the light. . . ." An individual cannot walk inthe light until he is called and converted. This walking occurs after conversion. He continues, "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship. . . ." The fellowship depends on what we do after the initial repentance. Amos writes, "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" (Amos 3:3). It cannot be done. We do not have fellowship with people that we do not agree with. Agreement is shown by the way that we conduct our lives—by the way that we behave under our belief system.
". . . and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all unrighteousness." This phrase, in context, is the game-breaker. The apostle is teaching that further cleansing, further forgiveness, hinges on our obedience to God after we are converted, for "walking in the light" is synonymous to being obedient or living righteously. Forgiveness after conversion works exactly the same way as the forgiveness we were given before we were converted. It hinged on whether we had repented and had begun obeying God.
Clearly, salvation is a process!
What we must understand here is that forgiveness, cleansing, and even fellowship is not a once-for-all act; but it is a process—even as growing in the grace and knowledge is a process, even as the writing of God's law on our heart is a process. Cleansing is a process. The quality of the fellowship depends upon all of these things. So, if we walk in the light, we have fellowship and His blood cleanses us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 12)
1 John 1:7
As we grow, God reveals more of His perfection to us, and as He reveals His perfection, His light, His truth, we continue to repent. Knowing better what He is, we go to Him for forgiveness of what we are and what we have done, and He continues to cleanse us by the blood of Jesus Christ, washing our imperfections away.
Everything in the Christian life ultimately comes down to our relationship with God. Without the relationship, without the fellowship that is made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ—which bridges the gap between us and God and enables us to have the relationship—no growth will take place. The practice of walking in the light makes perfect. It is not a matter of changing and cleansing ourselves, but rather that fellowship with God has a transforming and perfecting quality.
We know that "evil communication [company, NKJV] corrupts good manners" (I Corinthians 15:33, KJV). The obverse of this is that wonderful, pure, good communication produces good manners. When we are around evil people, we will pick up their habits and their ways. When we choose as our companions people who have the standards of God and fellowship with them, they will likely rub off on us. We cannot fellowship with anyone better than God. That is the whole purpose of the relationship. When we are around Him, we become like Him, unless we consciously decide to cut ourselves off from Him by rejecting His truth.
It is a wonderful system. Everything hinges on the relationship, on the fellowship, and then ultimately on the response to truth. We cannot afford to allow the carnal nature in us (it is still there even after conversion, as Paul said that sin was still in him; Romans 7:14-25) to gain the upper hand and prevent us from working and building on this relationship.
Leviticus 19:2 tells us that we are to be holy because He is holy, and that is what this fellowship is doing, equipping us for holiness on a day-to-day basis. Maintaining that fellowship is not always easy because of the prejudices that we bring with us due to the traditions of our human cultures. We were once helpless before them, having absorbed what our parents taught us until God opened our minds to the truth. Even now, it takes conscious effort for us to respond to the truth, but if we want to be holy, we must maintain the relationship.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Truth (Part 3)
1 John 3:20
This is vitally important to us because we of all people are subject to intense feelings of self-condemnation and guilt from knowing that we are not living up to God's standard. We truly care about what God thinks of us because we know more than most about Him.
Our faith is not to be blind and unthinking but based on truth. Our application of faith in light of this verse necessitates a fascinating balance between two extremes that arise from our more precise knowledge of God's way. Both extremes are wrong. The first extreme is that we live life in constant guilt and fear that God's hammer will fall and smash us to smithereens at any moment due to our imperfections.
The second is a laissez-faire, God-is-very-merciful-and-tolerant, He-understands-my-weaknesses attitude. In this extreme, sins are accepted as part of the normal course of life, and no determined effort is made to overcome them. Some have given in to a particular sin, exclaiming, "God understands my needs." God also understands rebellion.
But whatever happened to Jesus' strong admonition, "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out," or "If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off" (Matthew 5:29-30)? Certainly, He does not mean this literally, but it illustrates the serious determination, vigor, and strength we are to employ in overcoming sin. Those who minimize sin come close to trampling the Son of God underfoot and putting His sacrifice to an open shame (see Hebrews 6:6; 10:29).
How good is the sacrifice of such a person's life? He is guilty of practicing sin. John writes, "Whoever is born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God" (I John 3:9). Later, in Revelation 22:15, he adds, "But outside [the New Jerusalem] are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie." Such people will not be in God's Kingdom.
Their consciences have adjusted in a similar way to the situation in Malachi 1. Sin, a defiled life, is acceptable, and their attitude seems to be that God will just have to be satisfied with children who will not strive to overcome. This is dangerous business indeed because God says only those who overcome will inherit all things (Revelation 21:7). Is God satisfied with such a situation? Does He not desire a better offering from His children for their welfare and His glory? If He is not content, the fellowship is either already broken or is breaking down.
Our concern, however, is for those who are striving to overcome but still failing from time to time—those who know they are not living up to the standard and struggle with a guilty conscience and feel their fellowship with God is cut off because of occasional sin. The majority of us probably fall into this category.
When we commit the occasional sin, are we no longer acceptable to God? Is our fellowship truly cut off? While it is true that sin separates us from Him, do we remain unsatisfied because we feel there is no communion? Once again, God's grace rescues us from what would otherwise be an impossible situation.
The answer to this confounding situation lies in a change of our natures arising from repentance, receipt of God's Holy Spirit, and—perhaps above all—access to God through Jesus Christ. Through these come fellowship and experience with Them throughout the remainder of life and access to God's merciful grace when we fall short. There can be no doubt we are saved by grace through faith. Our depression and extreme self-condemnation reveals a lack of faith in God's willingness to forgive upon repentance. Though works are required of us, we cannot earn our way into the Kingdom through them because they will forever fall short in providing payment for sin.
There is a tension between the two extremes of excessive guilt and feelings of worthlessness in contrast to the casual, careless, irresponsible, "God will just have to take me as I am" disregard of our responsibility to glorify God in all we think, say, and do.
This is why John says, "God is greater than our heart." He is ever willing to accept us as Christ—even though we personally bring Him blemished offerings in our life's experiences—as long as our attitude has not turned to trampling the sacrifice of His Son underfoot and treating it as a common thing.
We will never enter into God's acceptance and fellowship based on any work of offering we sacrifice to Him. The only thing He will accept is the unblemished offering of Christ's life, and because it accompanies or precedes us into His presence, we are accepted, have communion with Him, and are fed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Four): The Peace Offering
1 John 4:20-21
John presents these verses as a challenge, a test, to his readers. There are many who say they “love God” or “I have fellowship with God” or “I know God,” and John is saying, "Prove it by loving your brother." The proof that love is real is the action that it produces. It will always help the other person in the long run.
If a person really loves God, he will honor his parents, he will not commit murder, nor will he fornicate, commit adultery, lie, steal, or covet. In other words, he will keep God's Commandments. If a person is really becoming close to God, he will not do any of these things—and not their spiritual counterparts either.
This verse, then, offers a permanently valid test to see whether our religion is the true one or not. Do we love God? Do we love one another? The proof that we love God is that we love our brother with agape love, for that kind of love must have an outlet, or it will not be reciprocated back to God.
The feelings associated with agape love arise as a result of our fellowship with God through experiencing life's events with Him as a dominating influence on our thinking.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Emotional Dimension
1 John 5:11-13
Eternal life is more than endless living. It includes fellowship with God and at least beginning to live life as God lives.
When God gave us eternal life, He gave us something unique, a life different from the one we were living before our calling. At that time, we were "dead" in trespasses and sins because we were living a life that produced death. Those still in the world continue to live this kind of life by nature. Do they have fellowship with God? Do they walk with Him as friends because they agree with Him about how to live and to remain at His side endlessly?
Understanding this fellowship aspect is important to understanding eternal life. "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" (Amos 3:3). God created humanity for fellowship, and by nature, we seek it out on many levels. Many find it through hobbies, the arts, politics, intellectual pursuits, social organizations, and sports. The greatest and highest form of fellowship, though, is with God and others who share the common desire to live like God always and whom He is transforming to that end. This fellowship is reserved for those whom God summons.
This means an independent Christian is a contradiction in terms. The Christian church is a community fellowship comparable to a body of which Christ is the Head (I Corinthians 12:12-31). Hebrews 10:25 commands us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Fellowship is not just friendly conversation and geniality. The Bible's writers show plainly it is a tightly knit relationship marked by self-sacrificial love manifested in mutual service, concern, prayer, labor, and helpfulness.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Six): Eternal Life
We are, to a great measure, victims of an age that is certainly not apathetic to seeking its own pleasure but is apathetic about having a true relationship with God. Would anybody in all honesty not care to eat or to have fellowship with Jesus Christ? Yet, verse 20 says He is standing at the door and knocking, and He will come in and dine with them if they just open the door.
Many would like to eat and fellowship with Christ just to say that they had that novel experience. But the irony here is that God is seeking His people, and they are too uncaring to even rouse themselves to answer the door! The message to this church shows that the problem is that they are so far from Him they are not even aware of their spiritual need and thus have no desire to be near Him. No desire, no prayer. No prayer, no relationship. No relationship, no awareness of spiritual need. It goes in a vicious cycle.
God is hoping that He can stir us up enough to repent and to break out of the cycle. He says, "Repent. Be zealous." Zeal indicates heat, passion, and feeling. He is hoping to break us out of this circle by rekindling an awareness of our spiritual need.
An awareness of need resides in us because we are close enough to Him to see how holy, gracious, kind, merciful, and good He is and desire to be like Him. In other words, we admire Him so much and respect His personality and character so much that we want to be near Him—right across the table from Him, as it were. We do not want to be near Him just to have a novel experience but to exalt Him and honor Him by being like Him. Is not imitation the most sincere form of praise?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Seeking God
Do we really want fellowship with God? Our frequent contact with God, or lack of it, is an easy, concrete measurement for both God and ourselves to know the true answer.
A Laodicean's central characteristic is an aversion to God's presence. He does not gladly throw open the doors to let Christ in. Instead, he wants his privacy to pursue his own interests, unimpeded by the constraints God's presence would impose.
Striving to pray always throws open the door of our minds to God, and just as Luke 21:36 indicates, by vigilant watching we can spot our Laodicean tendencies, overcome them, and avoid tribulation. Commentator Albert Barnes makes some interesting points on Revelation 3:20:
The act of knocking implies two things:
(a) that we desire admittance; and
(b) that we recognise the right of him who dwells in the house to open the door to us or not, as he shall please. We would not obtrude upon him; we would not force his door; and if, after we are sure that we are heard, we are not admitted, we turn quietly away. Both of these things are implied here by the language used by the Saviour when he approaches man as represented under the image of knocking at the door: that he desires to be admitted to our friendship; and that he recognises our freedom in the matter. He does not obtrude himself upon us, nor does he employ force to find admission to the heart. If admitted, he comes and dwells with us; if rejected, he turns quietly away—perhaps to return and knock again, perhaps never to come back.
Striving to pray always is our conscious choice to let God in. Psalm 4:4 (Contemporary English Version,CEV) emphasizes the seriousness of examining ourselves: "But each of you had better tremble and turn from your sins. Silently search your heart as you lie in bed."
Every night, at the end of another busy day, provides us—and God—an opportunity to evaluate the true intent of our hearts. We can ask ourselves: How much and how often did we acknowledge God throughout our day? How much did we talk to Him and fellowship with Him today? Where did we miss opportunities to do it? Why?
Perhaps the biggest question to ask is this: When did we hear the "still small voice" today and hide from God's presence? Our daily answers to these self-examination questions and our practical responses could in a large measure determine where we spend both the Tribulation and eternity (Luke 21:36).
Praying Always (Part Five)
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