What the Bible says about
Relationships With People
(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
2 Chronicles 15:1-4
These men of Judah had made the covenant with Him, and this is important for understanding that reciprocity exists in our relationship with God. He begins by drawing near to us, and He expects a similar response from us.
We do not come near to Him in one giant leap. As it is in almost all human relationships, love develops gradually. Some feel that they fall in love with one glance across a crowded room, but what really happens is that the two mistake lust or passion for love. A love relationship exists when two people really know one another; they see all the warts and character imperfections and are still willing to submit to and serve each other in a warm and generous willingness.
God is perfect in His character, and the projection of His personality is also perfect in every way. We are the problem in this relationship; we are the ones with all the warts and blemishes. These faults are in our thinking, our attitudes, and our character. The reason we draw near to God is to have our wrong thinking and attitudes removed, changed. That is what the relationship is all about, so that we can be like God. He is perfect and mature, and He wants to bring us to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Then a marriage can take place.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 7)
The prophet Isaiah is saying the same thing in more detail as what Peter says in Acts 3:19: "Repent." That is how the breach, the separation, between God and man will be healed. That is how atonement is made. Atonement is not all something that Christ does. There will never be oneness with God until man does something with his free-moral agency.
The problem in Isaiah 1 is a hypocritical people just going through the motions. They were observing the rituals: burning incense, making the sacrifices. Yet, at the same time, their daily lives were filled with all kinds of unlawful acts—business shenanigans—that, according to God's law, is taking advantage of others. They were lying about the weights and balances, selling shoddy products, and as a rule, not conducting business in an upright way. They were murdering one another's reputations through gossip, and lying to one another using charm and deceit. God is saying that their lives were full of hypocrisy.
In the same way, people who today claim to be children of God, who attend Sabbath services and holy days yet have a heart full of greed, covetousness, anger, hatred, bitterness, envy, and so on, are simply hypocrites.
As it pertains to us, what we see in Isaiah is that there must be a relationship between worshipping God and our character in its practical aspect out on the streets, in our homes, in the way that we conduct business. We might say our character away from church, out of the eyesight of God's people, must reflect what we profess to believe. How can those who treat their fellows with contempt, greed, envy, jealousy, anger, hatred, and revenge, do those things through the week and then come to church services before God, thinking that somehow or another they are not separated from Him? Jesus says in Matthew 5:23-24, "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." That is quite plain.
Because of all these things, God treated His people Israel in the same way as pagan idols treated their worshippers. Remember, the idols are not alive; they do not have ears that can hear, eyes that can see, or mouths that enable them to speak. So idol worshippers made their lamentations, their prayers, and their praises to their idols, and the idol never responded. God says, "I am going to be just like an idol to you. When you talk to me, I am not going to talk to you, and when you look at me, I am not going to look back at you. I am not going to see you." So in this way, He became as one who is dumb and deaf. He did not respond to their prayers.
It is essential to note that God, in His wisdom, knew before creating mankind that mankind would sin. If there were to be both reconciliation and character building, He would have to provide a means that would not only satisfy the legal requirements, but also contain within it the moral and spiritual influences that would motivate a man to cooperate on his own.
We play a major part in this because God has given us free-moral agency. By and large, the Protestant world has convinced Americans, Canadians, and Western Europeans that Christ did it all for us. It is a bald-faced lie! But sometimes, we who know better act as though it all depended on God. God gave us free-moral agency so that we can respond to Him, put His Word into practice, and exemplify before others what God is like.
It would be nice to say that we live lives like Christ so much that we could say of ourselves what Christ said: "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father" (John 14:9). There is a Person who was really at one with God.
What God is trying to do with the things that He has provided—namely, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of His Holy Spirit—is to motivate man to repent—to change, to turn to God, to resist the desire to continue in sin—to work at building character and learn to live by faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Reconciliation and the Day of Atonement
The Israelites' immorality fell into three major areas:
1) Indifference to and oppression of the poor.
2) Covetousness displayed by placing primary importance on material possessions.
3) Unrestricted promotion of self-advantage—doing anything to anyone to get their way.
The Hebrew words for poor are very similar to our "underdog." Amos uses two different words, 'ebyôn and dal, to designate the poor (see Amos 4:1). 'Ebyôn usually designates the very poor, and dal describes the lowest social class. However, both words connote "wanting because of oppression or exploitation" and refer to the weaker members of society. To God the poor are those without the worldly resources or connections to defend themselves. As a result of their weakness, the wicked look upon the poor as fair game to exploit (Isaiah 10:1-2). Today, "poor" could refer to the small businessman or consumer at the mercy of the huge corporations, or the "little guy" under the thumb of "big" government.
One of the means of oppression was the courts, and Amos frequently shows how the poor "took it on the chin" within the "justice" system. In a lawsuit the guilty party, one of the "strong," bribed the judge, who found the innocent person—the weak—guilty (Isaiah 5:23). As so often happens today in America, the ancient Israelites shunned out-of-court settlements. They went to court even over minor matters because their chances for a larger settlement were better.
When a person was found guilty by the court, he, of course, had to pay a fine. If he did not have enough in his pocket to pay it, he could pay in produce. For example, a vintner could pay in wine. The victors then took their winnings—"the wine of the condemned"—and partied (Amos 2:8). They had turned into self-centered parasites who lived by the code, "get the other guy before he gets you." Israelites can be a mercenary, unmerciful lot of people.
Obviously, God was not happy with this system of justice, and it is even worse now. Today's "wine of the condemned" awarded to the injured party—reaching into the millions of dollars—goes mostly for exorbitant lawyer and court fees. Governments of all sizes include expected fines from lawbreakers in their budgets.
In addition, Israelites coveted real estate to the ridiculous extent that the buyer begrudged the small amount of dust the seller threw on his head to symbolize his grief over losing his ancestral properties (Amos 2:7). In a similar vein, God accuses the Jews of moving the boundaries between parcels of land (Hosea 5:10). In those days, instead of driving a stake into the ground to mark their property lines, landowners set up pillars of stones on the boundaries. God pictures the Jews kicking the boundary stones over a few feet when no one is looking. They may have justified it with, "Doesn't everybody do it?" but it was still outright theft.
Because the strong could so easily exploit the weak, land and wealth in Israel fell into fewer and fewer hands. God cries, "Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, till there is no place where they may dwell alone in the midst of the land!" (Isaiah 5:8).
It is no different than today's big international combines buying up farmland and displacing farmers, who must then find jobs, usually in urban areas. How soon we have forgotten that small family farms played a large role in keeping the United States economically and socially stable for generations! America's agrarian heartland was the backbone of the nation. We need to be aware that the resulting instability will lead us down the same path of destruction as it did Israel!
"They lie down by every altar on clothes taken in pledge" (Amos 2:8). Under the Old Covenant, a person's cloak could be taken as security for a loan, but Exodus 22:26-27 shows that it was to be returned every evening if it doubled as his blanket at night. God considers keeping a poor man's coat overnight as taking advantage of him.
Remember, our judgment from God largely depends on how we treat our fellow man (Matthew 25:33-46). Good relationships with others are vital to maintaining a good relationship with God (Matthew 5:23-24). This means we must always do the right things toward others no matter how much it hurts us (Psalm 15:4) or how they might react (Matthew 5:44-45).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
Pride deceives one into believing and eventually doing wrongly. What does it deceive a person into believing?
In this context God quotes Edom as saying, "Who will bring me down to the ground?" Edom dwelt in the mountainous country southeast of Judea, and Petra was their stronghold. They thought their combination of military strength and impregnable position made them impossible to defeat. Yet notice what verse 4 adds: "'Though you exalt yourself as high as the eagle, and though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,' says the LORD."
What had pride done? It had deceived them into believing they were secure, self-sufficient, quick-witted, intelligent, and strong enough to withstand anybody. This clearly illustrates that pride's power lies in its ability to deceive us into believing in our self-sufficiency. Even in our everyday relationships with other people, this is a serious deception, but when the deception involves our relationship with God, the level of seriousness reaches alarming proportions.
The Edomites looked at their stronghold and then at themselves and their enemies. They concluded they were stronger than all—they were impregnable! Their evaluation was in error because they left God out of the picture. Therein lies much of the problem concerning pride. Against whom do we evaluate ourselves? Pride usually chooses to evaluate the self against those considered inferior. It must do this so as not to lose its sense of worth. To preserve itself, it will search until it finds a flaw.
If it chooses to evaluate the self against a superior, its own quality diminishes because the result of the evaluation changes markedly. In such a case, pride will often drive the person to compete against—and attempt to defeat—the superior one to preserve his status (Proverbs 13:10). Pride's power is in deceit, and the ground it plows to produce evil is in faulty evaluation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Pride, Humility, and the Day of Atonement
God will often see to it that we are treated the same way we treat others.
Jacob was a talented young man with great ability, but he had a serious fault: As a young man, he would lie, connive, and scheme to get his own way, without a thought for other people's feelings. He deceived his father Isaac into blessing him, instead of his brother Esau, with the birthright, an incident that split the family and caused much suffering and ill will, as Genesis 27 records.
God, of course, fully intended Jacob to have the birthright and could have worked it out in a way in which nobody got hurt. But this was not the first time that Jacob had used shrewdness to get his own way. Earlier, when Esau was about to collapse from lack of nourishment, Jacob gave Esau bread, a stew of lentils, and a drink in exchange for his birthright. Jacob had a secret sin and needed to be taught a lesson. He could not look at himself and see that he had this sin. He probably looked at himself as many today in business look at themselves; he probably thought he was being clever and wise.
During the next few years, Jacob reaped what he had sowed. His employer and future father-in-law, Laban, tricked him out of his wages and the wife for whom he had labored seven years. In addition, toward the end of his life, Jacob was also deceived by the use of a dead goat, just as he had deceived his father Isaac. Jacob's sons dipped Joseph's coat of many colors in the blood of a goat to convince their father that his favorite son, whom they had sold, was dead. Jacob spent many years in grief, deceived as he had deceived others.
Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent
Many stay-at-home members use this verse to justify not fellowshipping with a larger organization. On the surface, it seems to support their argument. However, we must look at it in context.
The chapter begins with Jesus teaching about our need for humility (verses 1-5). He uses the analogy of body parts to show the importance of not offending little ones (verses 6-10). He then gives the Parable of the Lost Sheep to show His concern for every sheep (verses 11-14). He instructs about how we should deal with offenses among us (verses 15-20). The context of the entire chapter is interpersonal relations and offenses, not church administration. Peter understoodthis,for he immediately asks how often one should forgive a brother (verse 21).
God requires two or three witnesses lest injustice come from one man's word against another (verse 16; Deuteronomy 19:15). He will honor the decision based on the judgment of two or three along with the accuser. If the offender will not listen to them, the offense should be taken to a larger forum—the church. The very context assumes the existence of a larger group. God prefers, however, that matters be handled privately in a smaller group whom He will be among rather than escalating every personal problem to the attention of the whole church. Notice the instruction: Go to the offender ALONE first, then escalate it only as necessary to solve the problem.
In I Corinthians 5, Paul shows how this works in practical application when a church member was unabashedly committing sexual sins. Notice that Paul had ministerial, hierarchical authority over the Gentile church in Corinth. He even made his judgment of the situation—disfellowship that man!—without being present! Later, upon the man's repentance,he ordered him restored, and forgave even as they forgave (II Corinthians 2:10). He also legislated what their attitude and approach to a repentant sinner should be!
Did he allow every group of two or three in the congregation to make a judgment? How would God have bound the conflicting judgments that surely would have arisen between the people of varying levels of understanding and maturity in Corinth? The church would have been divided into many small groups had Paul not exercised his authority.
Is that not what we have seen as groups have misapplied Matthew 18:20, lifting it out of context, and justifying their own doctrinal and administrative decisions? This misapplication and twisting of this one scripture automatically repudiates any authority God placed in an ordained ministry and splinters the church. Is that how Paul understood Scripture, or did he constantly defend his own position as an apostle and that of the local ordained ministry to preserve unity?
We are told to judge by the fruits. What are the fruits of two or three people deciding they can make doctrinal and administrative judgments? We need look no further than the dividing and redividing of groups in today's greater church of God to see that the fruits are not good.
Scattered sheep are just that: scattered and in grave danger. Contrast the dubious idea of Christ giving administrative authority to two or three scattered sheep to the very clear and powerful administrative authority given to Peter as head administrator of the church in Matthew 16:18 (see also John 21:15-17). Compare also Hebrews 5:4 where no man can take the office of high priest to himself. Can any of us decide we are the final word? Can we take any office in the priesthood to ourselves? God compares presumption to witchcraft (I Samuel 15:23).
For the Perfecting of the Saints
Jesus Christ's response to the Pharisee's question shows that He divided the Ten Commandments into two sections or tables. He covers the first four by saying, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment" (verses 37-38). This supersedes all other commandments; none is greater. The second, covering the last six, is similar to it. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (verse 39).
God also arranged each section to begin with the most important command. He placed first the commandment, which, if kept, will ensure the greatest benefit to our lives, both physically and spiritually. On the other hand, if we break this commandment, it will cause the most damage to our worship of God or to the community by virtually ensuring that we will break others. In the first table of the law, this commandment is, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:2). In the second, it is the fifth commandment: "Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you" (verse 12).
Just as the first commandment governs our relationship with God, the fifth commandment is first among those that govern our relationships with men. When we keep it or break it, it affects those relationships. Not only is it chief in this section, it also acts as a bridge between the two tables of the law. When we keep the fifth commandment properly, it leads us to revere and obey God Himself.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment (1997)
If we indeed allow God's light (John 8:12) to be placed within the lamp, us, and then do nothing with it, it is like hiding it in a secret place. This is true in our everyday experiences and within the church. This hiding of God's light is another form of spiritual myopia, and perhaps surprisingly, it concerns our relationships with and how we view others. If we become shortsighted in our relations with other people—seeing only what we want to see and not all that we should see—we can become judgmental and critical or patronizing and denigrating to others. In effect, we become the standard, the barometer, that only we know and by which we judge all others.
A common problem with the church today is this lack of light and focus on truly godly issues rather than trivial ones. Seeing only one's personal point of view has caused a general blindness within the church, spawning many of the current issues and problems. Too many members can focus only on their ideas and viewpoints, lacking the insight to see beyond the comfort of their own secret places. Even when the points such people espouse are true, their demeanor toward their brethren is often hostile and their efforts to overcome are lackluster or not based on godly principles.
We can also see elements of spiritual myopia in the independent mindset that many within the church embrace today. Looking exclusively inward, some see themselves as the only viable holders and/or purveyors of God's truth. Though they may attend with a larger group, they see themselves as independent thinkers or needing only themselves and God. Some have taken this independent spirit to the extreme of forsaking others in service and church attendance (Hebrews 10:25). They can even become quite comfortable in their own shortsighted way, wanting little or no interaction with any others who might not see things exactly as they do.
One interesting facet of Luke 11:33-36 is that Jesus alludes to the fact that not everything is distinctly black or white. Verse 35 implies that there are varying degrees of light: "Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness." All light we see is not at the same level of brightness, so some may see part of the truth but not its fullness. It can also suggest that each person may be "in the dark" on any given matter at any point in their relationship with God and others, while being "in the light" on other matters. Similarly, this can illustrate our relative levels of conversion as well.
Since we know that the true light comes only from God, any variance in intensity must come from how we see or not see something. While verse 34 treats the extremes of how we view things, whether optimistically or pessimistically, many of God's people are somewhere in the middle, like the Laodiceans "neither cold nor hot" (Revelation 3:15). Christ's wish is that we are one or the other!
Of course, the most obvious lesson of these verses is that we should desire Christ's light as our light, seeing and doing things as He would. When we fail in this, Satan's influence and dark ways can become our ways over time. We can totally lose the proper vision and allow his deceptions to blind us. We are all part way down this path; we all have our spiritual blind spots, seeing life and the church through unfocused eyes. Unfortunately, too many of us are not using the aids that would remedy our myopia and put us back on track.
Jesus Christ does not need to see us in action administering a great city to know how we will govern in His Kingdom. He can see how we solve our problems in our own little life, whether we humble ourselves to be faithful by submitting to His way. Or do we "solve" our relationship problems with others by shouting, punching, hating, crawling into a shell, refusing to fellowship, going on strike, spreading gossip, seeking others to take our side, or running down another's reputation?
He can tell by the way we manage our own or our company's money; how we maintain our property; and how we dress. Christ can even judge our abilities by how we drive our car! Some people turn into aggressive, lead-footed monsters behind the wheel. Are we so vain to think the road belongs to us? Would He entrust a city to such an obnoxious person?
A woman once asked Mr. Armstrong what she had to do to worship God and prepare for the Kingdom. Who knows what she expected, but he advised her to begin in her bedroom! No one knows whether he meant that she should work on her prayers, keep the room neat and clean, or improve her relationship with her husband—maybe all three. The principle is that preparation for the Kingdom is achieved by working on the little things of life God's way.
Matthew 25:21 illustrates this clearly. "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'" In this parable, the servant who misused his position was disqualified because the lord could not trust him to use what was given him in a godly way.
Can we see this, brethren? The very elements involved in the process of sanctification are the ones that prepare and qualify us to rule!
What kind of decisions do we make in the everyday things of life? The choices required to live God's way are really very simple. Basically, they are a matter of saying, "Yes" or "No" to God's law. It does not have to be complicated for God to judge where we stand. He did not give Adam and Eve some long, complex mathematical, engineering, or political test. It was a simple test of obedience involving one of the most basic areas of life—food. You can eat this but not that.
We do not have to be an Adolf Hitler to prove ourselves unsuitable to rule over others. How we treat our spouse, children, or friends will provide ample evidence. Do we carefully think through what we say? Do we keep our word? Are we short-tempered, hard to get along with, stubborn, and uncooperative unless things are done our way? Are we quick to judge, impatient, malicious, foul-mouthed, or rebellious? Do we seek preferential treatment or position?
Christ needs to know if we will live His way now, before He entrusts us with the power of office in His Kingdom. The leaders of this world are not interested in the Way (see Acts 9:2; 16:17; 18:25-26; 19:9). They consider it foolish, unrealistic, impractical, and simplistic. So they make treaties and break them, and the wonderful advances of technology continue to prove useless in things that matter. The Kingdom of God, however, will produce all the good things written in the prophecies because the government itself reflects them. They are in its character, and they have already manifested themselves in each ruler's life.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Preparing to Rule!
The Greek word translated "truth" is aletheia, which most closely resembles our English word "reality." It means "the manifested, unconcealed essence of a matter." A living, saving faith depends upon the premise by man that God is true in His being and character. The truth forms the basis for a person's conversion.
Consider this: There is a Personal, Living, Almighty God whose ways and laws are reality in spite of the way things may appear to our senses (II Corinthians 5:7). They are intrinsically right and true. Therefore a person who is honest, who is willing to speak the truth, who will acknowledge and submit to it when he sees it, will eventually be converted to be like God.
We are God's workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). God, as Creator, is making us kings and priests to administer and teach a way of life based upon revealed truth. Because He desires to share and perpetuate what He is with an entire Family of children bearing His characteristics, He cannot have anybody in His Family who does not embody truth as Jesus did.
"You shall not bear false witness" thus has far-reaching spiritual applications. It is not a commandment that we can carelessly ignore as being insignificant compared to other "more important" ones. The word "bear" indicates "spread", "carry", "render," and "give." At first, it seems to involve only perjury or gossip, but other Scriptures show it covers giving a false witness, example, or impression under any circumstance, including hypocrisy and self-deception. It includes the giving of testimony (verbally or by example) in any case that tends to produce injury. The ninth commandment regulates man's relationship to other men much as the third commandment does in man's relationship to God. This commandment directly involves faithfulness and loyalty in our mouth and example for God before men.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Ninth Commandment (1997)
If we were to read between the lines, Paul might be saying, "You Athenians are to be commended for your devotion to spiritual things." The King James' rendering of "religious" as "superstitious" exposes the latter word as having undergone what linguists call semantic drift. In Shakespeare's day and King James' time, this word did not have the negative connotation as it does now.
From the context of this account, it is plain that the apostle Paul was not, as some theologians like to characterize him, a feisty, wrangling, argumentative hothead. The men of Athens, who vastly outnumbered Paul and loved a good philosophical debate, could have made short work out of any know-it-all smart aleck. The apostle Paul was thus lavish in his compliments.
Throughout his ministry, he frequently resorted to diplomatic language. At one point, he acknowledged a cultural debt both to the Greeks and to barbarians (Romans 1:14). In addition to complimenting strangers, Paul continually sought out similarities he shared between him and other groups. In a conflict in which both the Sadducees and the Pharisees were breathing fire down his neck, Paul masterfully ingratiated himself to the Pharisees, reminding them that he and they shared the same view on the resurrection (Acts 23:6-8). Paul, to the right people, let it be known that he was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37-39; 22:25-29).
We also need to find common ground, not only with people in the other groups of the church of God, but with the world at large, emphasizing (like mountains) the things we agree upon and de-emphasizing (like molehills) the things we disagree upon.
In the process of finding common ground, we dare not compromise our core values or syncretize them with the world. We should instead practice more of what one late church of God minister counseled, "You don't have to tell all you know." Oftentimes, keeping our traps shut is the most diplomatic behavior of all (Ecclesiastes 3:7; Lamentations 3:28-29; Amos 5:13).
David F. Maas
How to Conduct Ourselves as Ambassadors for Christ
To grasp this properly, one must understand these two verses against the background of the book of Romans. The preceding eleven chapters contain the doctrinal foundation and prelude to the last four chapters of practical Christian living. These two verses bridge the gap between the doctrinal foundation and the practical, daily applications. In these two verses, he is essentially saying, "In light of what I have told you, this is what you are obligated to do in order to serve—that is, to love—Christ."
First, we must operate by these two principles and give up our whole being constantly to these pursuits. Second, we must yield ourselves so that we are not merely avoiding conformity to this world but being transformed into a new being, proving to ourselves the benefits of this way of life. Thus, we are to apply these two principles to the subject of the rest of chapter 12, which primarily concerns relationships with the brethren within the church, and secondarily, with those in the world.
John W. Ritenbaugh
An Unpayable Debt and Obligation
2 Corinthians 5:11
When God summoned us to His way of life, He persuaded us with various proofs that He exists, desires a relationship with us, and rules not just the universe but also the affairs of men. As often happens during our first love (Revelation 2:4-5), we desire to share our joy and newfound truth with others. Most of the time, our early evangelistic efforts fail to produce any new converts to the faith - instead, our efforts usually cause problems in our relationships.
Most lay-members, after one or two failures of this sort, get smart and desist in trying to convert their relatives and friends. They realize that nothing will ever happen without God first calling the other individual and changing his heart by His Spirit to accept the truth (John 6:44; Romans 2:4-5; 8:7; I Corinthians 2:10-14; Hebrews 8:10; Ezekiel 11:19). All our preaching and cajoling will accomplish nothing unless God moves to initiate a personal relationship with him.
Ministers do not have such an easy out. Certainly, in their personal relationships they can quit trying to "save" those unconverted members of their families, but in their professional capacity, their job is to "persuade men." In personal conduct, counsel, sermons, and articles, they must devote their energies to showing and explaining why God's way is true and will lead to eternal life in God's Kingdom.
Today, that is not an easy task. It has never been easy, really, but the current environment makes it harder than it has been historically. For starters, though a high percentage of people say they believe in God, most people are no longer religious but secular. Religion is not a high-ranking concern, and because of this, religious issues fly under their radar and over their heads. They just do not care, and even when they inquire about them, they do not understand them because they lack the background and education necessary to evaluate them properly.
Another problem is competition. It used to be that most people at least treated Sunday, "the Lord's day," as a Sabbath and devoted most or all of that time to religious pursuits. No longer. Sunday, though it is not God's Sabbath day, is used just like any other day: for work and entertainment. If God receives a few hours on Sunday morning for worship services, most Americans - and Europeans to an even greater degree - think He should feel satisfied that they could spare Him even that much!
Yet a third hindrance is the way moderns think. Too many people, especially younger adults, have absorbed the postmodern, values-neutral approach. This way of thinking considers every idea and belief as equally valid, neither right nor wrong. A person can believe anything he likes - even that the moon is made of green cheese - and he should not be judged as right or wrong. Any god one worships, or for that matter, if one chooses to worship no god, is fine, and no one god or belief system is better than any other.
In such an environment, how can we persuade anyone of the truth? Our success certainly looks bleak.
The answer lies in what Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:9-11: "We make it our aim . . . to be well pleasing to Him." Our judgment does not rest on how many men we persuade but on whether we do the job. We are called to make the witness for God and Christ to the best of our ability and strength. Christ will judge us "according to what [we have] done, whether good or bad." How others react to us and what we say or write matters little; it is "God who gives the increase" (I Corinthians 3:5-8). As Paul says, one plants and another waters, but what happens to the sprout is not under their control but God's.
Thus, we cannot quantify the results of our persuasion as others can. We cannot see the growth of our "business" in statistical form. The true measure of our success will be revealed in God's Kingdom, and even then, we will be unable to claim the glory for it. For in persuading men, we "do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
2 Corinthians 6:14-17
This series of verses is not an appeal for us to break all of our worldly associations. Recall that Paul urges the Christian partner in a divided marriage to strive to maintain the relationship as long as possible. This, instead, is an appeal to avoid too close associations. He says not to go into the world, but come out of it (see Revelation 18:4). We should not deliberately make close associations with the peoples of the world. It is all right to do business with them and to work with them, but avoid becoming harnessed together with them.
The statement, "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters," seems to hinge on whether or not we are allowing ourselves to become yoked into these associations. God does not want us in these close associations with the world because it almost inevitably leads to compromise with His standards. It jeopardizes the consistency of the Christian's witness for God because there is a spiritual force in the world that undermines the Christian because the unbeliever does not share the Christian's standards, sympathies, or goals in life.
Is it unfair that God should ask this of us? Remember, He has bought us with a price (I Corinthians 6:20). The price was the life of His Son, which obligates us to a life of purity and holiness. Once we accept that sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin, we belong to Him. He is our Master, and He says, "Come out of the world and be separate." That is a demand that He puts on us.
Does God ever ask us for something that is not for our good? Of course not! And how is this for our good? Because He knows that it is likely that His people, though they have the Spirit of God, will have an extremely difficult time resisting the spiritual force that wants to lead them to compromise on the standards of His Kingdom. He thus obligates us to purity of life, to holiness, to separation from evil. We owe our allegiance to Him alone, and we cannot allow ourselves not to be a fit vessel for Him to live in.
There is no surer way to go backward in our spirituality, to blunt our feelings about sin, to dull our spiritual discernment until we can scarcely tell evil from good, and to dry up the source of our spiritual strength than by needless mingling with the world. We should stress the word "needless" because Paul writes in I Corinthians 5:9-10 that to avoid all contact with the immoral, one would have to go out of the world. There is nothing in the New Testament to indicate separating oneself by moving into a commune of believers or living alone like a hermit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
New Covenant Priesthood (Part 2)
Contrary to popular belief, the meek (gentle, NKJV) do not take everything "lying down." Notice Moses, who was the meekest man of his time (see Numbers 12:3). He did not hesitate to order the execution of about three thousand of the idolaters who worshipped the Golden Calf while he was with God on the mountain (Exodus 32:25-28). Against evil this meek man was as stern as steel. How a meek man reacts depends upon what he discerns God's will is for him within the circumstance. Because the meek man sets his mind on God's purpose and not his own comfort, ambition, or reputation, he will offer implacable resistance to evil in defense of God yet react with patience, kindness, and gentleness when others attack him.
Jesus set a clear example of this pattern of reaction too. He made a whip of rope, and with stern and vehement energy, overturned the tables and drove the livestock, their sellers, and moneychangers from the Temple compound because they had turned God's house into a common bazaar by their sacrilege. With simple, forthright, firm, instructive answers and incisive questions, He met the twisted, intellectual, carnal reasoning of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. Yet as Matthew 12:19-20 reads, "He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench." Peter adds:
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: "who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth"; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously. (I Peter 2:21-23)
A meek person will feel the wrong done against him and feel it bitterly. But because he is not thinking of himself, his meekness does not allow his spirit to give vent to a hateful, savage, and vindictive anger that seeks to "get even." He will instead be full of pity for the damaged character, attitudes, and blindness of the perpetrator. From the stake Jesus uttered, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). This virtue is a strong bulwark against self-righteousness and intolerant and critical judgment of others. Yet neither does it excuse or condone sin. Rather, a meek person understands it more clearly, thus his judgment is tempered, avoiding reacting more harshly than is necessary.
Paul writes in Titus 3:1-2, "Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility [meekness, KJV] to all men." The possibility of conflict is inherent where the subject includes our relationship with governments; it is quite easy to have conflict with those in authority over us. Some in positions of authority take pleasure in wielding their power, as Jesus notes in Matthew 20:25: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them."
On the flip side are those under authority, and this is where Paul's main emphasis is in Titus 3. Humans, by nature, tend to be very sensitive, critical, and harsh in their judgments of those over them. It frequently results in slanderous attacks and quarrels against those in authority—sometimes even in revolutions. Paul advises us to be non-belligerent, considerate, unassertive, and meek. If the fruit of meekness has been produced in either or both parties, peace and unity are more possible because a major tool is in place to allow both to perform their responsibilities within the relationship correctly.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Meekness
From the time we were born, Satan began to inject us with his mind, thoughts, ways, attitudes, and purposes, so by the time that God gets to us—but in God's good time He calls us and begins to convert us—we are in union with Satan. All our lives, he has been broadcasting, and we are in agreement with him. This is what has to be overcome.
Satan is with us always. But we have to understand that nobody, not even God, can take away our right of choice of whom we want to be in union with. When God begins to convert us, He makes us well aware that we have a choice and that we can resist and determine who we want to be united with—God or Satan—just as we can determine in our own lives who we want to be friends with.
We can choose our friends. We can choose, then, the kind of relationships we have with them. We can walk away from them, if they are pulling us down—away from union with God.
Unfortunately, that has to be done sometimes so that we be in union, at one with, the Father. We hope that does not happen very often. Parents know that at times they have tell their children, "We don't want you to hang out with him or her." Why? Because they know that that other kid will pull their children down, so they do not want them in union with him. It is a simple principle.
God has put us into the position where we have the opportunity to use our time and energy to make the choice of whether we will be in union with Him. He leaves the choice to us. It is a tremendous thing that He does this because it produces wonderful effects.
So we are juxtaposed between, on the one hand, God, and on the other hand, Satan. But we are free from Satan because we have the choice of whom we want to be in union with.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part 4)
Notice carefully what Paul names as the reason for making unity and peace: the value we place on our calling. If, in our heart of hearts, we consider it of small value, our conduct, especially toward our brethren, will reveal it and work to produce contention and disunity. Thus John writes, "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" (I John 4:20).
Paul next counsels us to choose to conduct ourselves humbly. Humility is pride's opposite. If pride only produces contention, it follows that humility will work to soothe, calm, heal, and unify. He advises us to cultivate meekness or gentleness, the opposite of the self-assertiveness that our contemporary culture promotes so strongly. Self-assertiveness is competitive determination to press one's will at all costs. This approach may indeed "win" battles over other brethren, but it might be helpful to remember God's counsel in Proverbs 15:1, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." James declares that godly wisdom is "gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy" (James 3:17).
Then Paul counsels that we be patient; likewise, James counsels us to "let patience have its perfect work" (James 1:4). We often want quick resolutions to the irritations between us, which is certainly understandable since we want to get rid of the burden those differences impose. But we must understand that speedy solutions are not always possible. Interestingly, in Paul's letter to the Philippians, he does not use his apostolic authority to drive the two feuding women into a forced solution (Philippians 4:1). Some problems are deeply buried within both sides of the contention, so finally Paul admonishes us to forbear with each other in love. Essentially, he says to "put up with it" or endure it, doing nothing to bring the other party down in the eyes of others and vainly elevate the self. This is peacemaking through living by godly character.
Yet another aspect to the Christian duty of peacemaking is our privilege by prayer to invoke God's mercy upon the world, the church, and individuals we know are having difficulties or whom we perceive God may be punishing. This is one of the sacrifices of righteousness mentioned in relation to Psalm 4:5. The Bible provides many examples of godly people doing this. Abraham prayed for Sodom, Gomorrah, and probably Lot too, when the division between them and God was so great that He had to destroy the cities (Genesis 18:16-33). Moses interceded for Israel before God following the Golden Calf incident (Exodus 33:11-14). Aaron ran through the camp of Israel with a smoking censer (a symbol of the prayers of the saints) following another of Israel's rebellions that greatly disturbed the peace between them and God (Numbers 16:44-50). In each case, God relented to some degree. We will probably never know in this life how much our prayers affect the course of division or how much others—even the wicked—gained as a result of our intercession, but we should find comfort knowing that we have done at least this much toward making peace.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 7: Blessed Are the Peacemakers
With admonitions like these, we step into the intimate personal relationships within a congregation or family. They show that unity depends more upon the exercise of the members' moral qualities than the structure of the institution. Paul shows in Ephesians that the life we are called to live is characterized by five qualities: humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, and love, the last of which embraces the preceding four and is the crown of all virtues. Each of these qualities enables us to act in mercy and live at peace. God's Spirit empowers us to use these qualities to overcome the ill will and the bitter, passionate rages that lead to clamorous slander, destroying reputations.
Such ill will and rage hardly promote kindness, compassion, and acting in grace toward each other. "Acting in grace" is an acceptable translation of the Greek word, charizomai, rendered "forgiving" in Ephesians 4:32. Acting in grace catches the essence of how God has acted toward us and our sin against Him. And because He has forgiven us, we are commanded to forgive each other (Colossians 3:13).
Mercy begins with the way we feel about or toward each other and moves toward merciful acts. God loves us and has an outgoing concern for us. If God so loves us, then we ought to love each other (I John 4:11). Thus, we are bound to forbear with one another and act kindly, in mercy. Anybody focused on himself as the center of the universe will have a difficult time thinking kindly of others, and unity will be difficult, if not impossible. It is no wonder, then, why so much divorce occurs, as well as division in other areas of life. A focus on the self does not allow much room for humble, kind, and compassionate thoughts of service for others.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 5: Blessed Are the Merciful
A baby is not born evil. It is most certainly born with a measure of self-centeredness that God pronounced as very good in Genesis 1:31, for some small measure of self-centeredness enables a person to take care of the self.
Understood and controlled, a right measure of self-love provides a foundation for the love of others, which proves beneficial for the giver as well as the receiver. This is especially true in marriage because husband and wife become one flesh; to love one's spouse is to love the self because of this oneness.
It is at least equally true, if not more so, in our relationship with Christ. He is our example. Because of our spiritual oneness with Him, and because we are His body, His loving service of us is the same as loving Himself. This principle works both ways. Our loving service of Him is also the same as loving ourselves. What we see in these two intimate relationships is a practical application and benefit of the Golden Rule—"Do unto others as you would have them do to you"—in operation, with the added benefit to the giver.
The problem with self-love is that, without contact with God throughout life, an individual's innate self-centeredness can easily develop into an extreme and sharply honed sinfulness and evil. Such an egotist gives little thought to loving others as a way of life; he shows little care for others and rarely looks for ways to serve. Without God, life becomes all about the self. The world, established by and built upon selfish human nature, continues to feed its self-absorbed inclinations and cravings.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Two)
When Paul speaks of putting on the new man here, he gives us several attitudes we need to emulate as followers of Christ. Most of them involve the way we deal with each other because a major part of what God is teaching us has to do with building and solidifying our relationships. As we see in the next few verses, he comments specifically on the husband-wife, parent-child and employer-employee relationships.
Why? Largely, our judgment by our Savior hangs on the quality of our relationships. We should never forget the principle found in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats: "Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40, 45).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Road Less Traveled
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)
For the seed which one day produces the reward which righteousness brings can only be sown when personal relationships are right and by those whose conduct produces such relationships. (James 3:18; William Barclay's Daily Bible Study)
In this verse, James is talking about a social situation. God's purpose - the fruit that He wants from His way of life, the kind of character that He wants in us - has to be produced in peace. It cannot be produced in war.
Why it cannot be produced in war is obvious. When one is involved in war, he is thinking only of himself, which runs 180 degrees counter to God's nature. God's nature is outgoing. When one is engaged in war, all one is seeking to do is to preserve the self. For God's purpose to be fulfilled to the very best degree, peace is required.
The seed, which one day produces the reward that righteousness brings, can only be sown when personal relationships are right, and by those whose conduct will produce such relationships.
Jesus says that peacemakers will be the children of God, not those who butt others aside, aggressively trying to get to the top, asserting themselves, their will, and their ideas in every circumstance, angling to be the big shot. "Out of my way, buddy. That is my beat." Those people, by implication, will not see God.
This is why God will permit a divorce. Does He not say through Paul in I Corinthians 7:15, "If the unbeliever departs, let him depart"? The believer "is not under bondage in such cases" because "God has called us to peace." God will permit a divorce so that a person can be saved due to the subsequent peace. In a family in which a war rages between a husband and wife, it is possible that God may lose both of them.
When those who butt and disturb the flock are present, the flock will not prosper. The shepherd has to ensure that there is peace, freedom from fear from the outside, freedom from tension within, and freedom from aggravation. (We even use the term "bug," which is what insects do to sheep: They irritate them to no end so they cannot gain weight and are discontented.) The shepherd must also make sure there is freedom from hunger - a congregation, a flock, will prosper if it is being well-fed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 23 (Part 1)
1 Peter 3:8
In I Peter 3:8, the apostle uses only seven Greek words, whereas the King James employs nineteen to get the meaning across. At the risk of boring the reader, we will look at I Peter 3:8 in the Greek, as if it were in an interlinear Bible: Telos pas homophron sumpathes philadelphos eusplagchnos philophron. Here it is, word by word, with English equivalents and a note or two:
Telos (finally, in the end, to sum up)
pas (individually and all, each and every one of you, collectively)
homophron (of one mind, in accord with one another; used in the New Testament only this once)
sumpathes (suffering or feeling the same with one another; used only this once)
philadelphos (love as brethren, brothers and sisters, countrymen; used only this once)
eusplagchnos (compassionate, tender-hearted; used just twice)
and finally, philophron (friendly, kind, courteous; used only this once).
The apostle Peter is here summarizing his instructions from the previous 20 verses, going back to I Peter 2:17. That passage deals with relationships: how to get along with brethren, mates, and the world at large.
We could paraphrase I Peter 3:8 like this, which sounds a great deal like The Amplified Bible: “In summation, each and every one of you, individually and collectively, have compassion, sympathy, even empathy for one another, loving everyone as if they were your family; be compassionate and courteous.”
The only way to do what Peter recommends is to consider others more important than ourselves. This can be quite hard to do in this competitive world we live in. We have to win in everything. We have to be in the fastest line at the bank or store. We have to ensure no one breaks in line ahead of us. We have to close up on the car ahead and not leave a gap to allow another car to cut in.
If we fail to do these things, what happens? We are life's losers, right? Of course not. There is no pain in living a courteous life. It does not cost us a thing to tell someone, “No, you go first.”
Why has our society coarsened? Is it because our schools for decades now have emphasized how “special” we all are? We have many adults now who cannot read or write very well and who know little history or math, but they feel really good about themselves! They have high self-esteem. Anything that comes their way is deserved or owed to them because we have taught them that.
Or are we less polite because, as a people, we drift further from God every day?
1 John 2:8-11
Consider these verses in relation to the meal offering, representing the devoted keeping of the last six commandments. Hating a brother would be breaking those commandments in relation to him. It might involve murdering him, breaking the marriage bond through adultery, stealing from him, lying to or about him, or lusting after him or his possessions.
Verse 10 parallels Psalm 119:165 exactly when it says, "But he who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him." I John 5:3 defines love: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome." The New Testament strongly affirms that loving one's brother is keeping God's commandments in relation to him, and this provides us strong assurance and stability along the way.
I John 2:11 then shows that the blindness of darkness envelops the eyes of one who hates his brother, that is, breaks God's commandments in relation to him. This blindness produces stumbling and fighting, and thus he has no peace.
It is particularly disturbing if the brother spoken of in these verses also happens to be one's spouse, father, or mother. Old people today stand a high chance of being shunted off into a convalescent or old-age home, if only for the convenience of the adult children. Is that honoring a parent, or is it in some way contemptuous? Are the children unwilling to make sacrifices even for those who brought them into the world? Will this course of action produce peace? Will it produce a sense of well-being in either party?
John says, "He who loves his brother abides in the light" (verse 10), implying that love produces its own illumination. Illumination is what enables a person to see in the dark. Light contrasts to the darkness, blindness, and ignorance of verse 11, which result in stumbling. Illumination indicates understanding and the ability to produce solutions to relationship problems. The difficult part is laying ourselves out in sacrifice to express love. If we fail to do this, we may never see solutions to our relationship problems.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Five): The Peace Offering, Sacrifice, and Love
1 John 2:10-17
Remember that John's epistle is written to church members. Therefore, he frames matters in absolute terms, offering no middle ground regarding sin and one's relationships with God and fellow man. It must be this way because this is our one and only opportunity for salvation, and sin was what cut us off from God in the first place, causing us to need salvation. We do not want to fall into that position again. Sin is serious business!
Regarding our moral and spiritual conduct, we must recognize that there is no twilight zone, especially in our relationship with God. A Christian cannot muddle around morally or spiritually, thinking that sin is a rather minor affair. It cost Jesus His life! In this relationship, which is in reality preparation for a marriage, love and loyalty are extremely important.
John spells matters out as either light or darkness, love or hatred, all absolutes. Where love is absent, hatred rules in darkness. Where love prevails, there is light. Through the word "darkness," John is disclosing that, because of the sin or hatred, a lack of love for a brother, the relationship with God declines. Notice in verse 11 that the sin John mentions is against a brother, meaning a fellow church member. Hatred is not a trifling matter! Later, in I John 3:15, John says that one who hates his brother is a murderer. What is the result? A relationship is broken, and communication with the brother ends.
Even more serious, we find that the sin also involves one's relationship with God because the effect of that sin is a measure of spiritual blindness. The hater grows insensitive to or hardened against spiritual truth.
Paul reinforces what John teaches, writing in Hebrews 3:12-13, "Beware brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." He warns that sin has a deceptive quality. It promises so much even before it actually becomes an act of conduct, but it delivers far short of its promise. Its truly sneaky aspect is its powerful tendency to lure us into further sin, enslaving us and hardening our minds against righteousness. In other words, it shares characteristics with drugs in that it is addictive or enslaving, destroying one's well-being.
Herein lies the cause of the apostle John's concern in I John 2. God is the source of spiritual truth (light), and we are sanctified as His children and to His service by it because we believe it. However, under the sin of hating, communication with God begins to break down, and consequently, the sinner puts himself in peril of falling completely away. Notice in I John 2:13-14, John mentions that the fathers - those in the congregation older in the faith - have known the Father. He appeals to them to exercise their longstanding, mature leadership within the congregation in a right manner.
The word "known" ties John's thoughts directly with Jesus' words in John 17:3. Knowing God, having an intimate relationship with Him, is the key to living a life - called "eternal life" - which will be acceptable for living in the Kingdom of God. Hating a brother actually cuts the sinner off from the Source of the gifts and strengths necessary to live that quality of life. In other words, the sinner is not properly using what God has already given him and is showing disloyalty both to God and to another member of the Family.
Beginning in verse 15, John pens three of the more notable verses in his writings. When considered in context, they should be scary stuff for a Christian. Why does he command us not to love the world? Because the sinner's conduct exhibited in his hatred of his brother reveals the source of communication prompting his sin! John exposes the communication to which the hater is responding.
Under no circumstance would God ever communicate the sin of hatred toward a brother. Besides, James confirms that God tempts no one (James 1:13). John is warning that the person's affections are drawing him away from God and toward the world, and he had better do something about it before he slips completely back into the world.
This also connects to John 1:5. "And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." Darkness symbolizes the spiritual blindness of Satan's unconverted world. In the book of Revelation, this blindness is represented by Babylon the Great. Satan's world simply does not get it, that is, spiritual truth. Because it cannot grasp God's truths, the only spirituality the world can ultimately communicate is inducement to sin, which it does insistently and attractively.
This leads us back to God's illustration regarding Adam, Eve, and Satan. Satan is the god of this world (II Corinthians 4:4), and thus its spiritual leader and governing principle. He persuaded Adam and Eve to sin. So the only way we can come out of the world is to reverse the process that placed us in the world in the first place: to stop sinning. One can phrase it more positively as to yield to God's will rather than Satan's or to God's communication rather than this world's.
We could never leave the world on our own. God must mercifully deliver us by calling us. We do not understand the mechanics of what He actually does in our minds, but in calling us, He miraculously does something to begin leading us to think of matters in relation to God with a clarity of understanding and intensity that we never before experienced. It is almost as if we suddenly understood a foreign language.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part Three)
We need to expand our thinking on the word "earth" and understand that it figuratively, metaphorically, represents all of creation. It is not just the earth, the orb that is spinning around through space on its appointed path, but all of the things that are on the earth. Above all, it refers to mankind, which lives on the earth.
God says He will destroy those who destroy the creation, and that includes themselves. When man does that, he is telling God that we do not appreciate what He has given us. We have a love of beauty without the love of doing what is right in order to maintain correctly what He has given to us.
By far and away, the most important abuse in all of creation deals with man's relationships with God and fellow man. We abuse our relationships because we do not love righteousness along with beauty. Rather than dressing and keeping the relationships through a love of righteousness, we use and abuse them, too.
We can see this in the divorce rate. People do not get divorces because they love one another. It is because one or the other spouse, or both, have abused the relationship. So the marriage, which was created by God to be the environment in which His spiritual creation would be carried out, is destroyed! Again, God is going to destroy those who destroy the earth, His creation.
The basic reason this occurs is addressed in I John. It is the lack of love for God and of God that is causing this. Loving God is a choice that is open to all Christians. If one does not consider God beautiful and choose to love Him, the only alternative is self-centeredness.
We turn our love in on ourselves, and instead of seeking to please God within a relationship with Him, we instead choose unrighteousness or sin, abusing the relationship between Him and us. All love for fellow man begins first with the love for God. This is why I John tells us it is impossible to love man without loving God first.
We must start thinking about what are we doing in our lives to build our relationship with God, because that relationship is salvation! Is God beautiful to us? Is God's way beautiful to us? If it is not, the self-centeredness will lead to abuse. Self-centeredness is the hallmark of worldliness.
John W. Ritenbaugh
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