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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 7:7-8; Divine Guidance and Apostolic Regret

06/30_2 Corinthians 7:7-8; Divine Guidance and Apostolic Regret; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190630_2cor7_7-8.mp3

Paul had changed his travel plans. He had hoped to cross the Aegean from Ephesus to Corinth and visit them on his way up to Macedonia, and then again on his return trip down from Macedonia. <<MAP>>

2 Corinthians 1:15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. …23 But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. 2:1 For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? 3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.

Upon hearing some concerning news, he made an emergency visit, a visit which proved painful for him. He refused to make another painful visit, instead sending Titus ahead with a severe letter, and traveling north from Ephesus by land to Troas, where he planned to meet Titus and hear news of how they responded. But Titus did not meet him in Troas, so he continued on to Macedonia, where he was comforted by the coming of Titus.

2 Corinthians 7:5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn— fighting without and fear within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. 8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while.

Good News of Grief

Paul says that he was comforted by the God who comforts the depressed; by the comfort with which Titus was comforted by you. This is reciprocal comfort, reciprocal encouragement.

A Risky Letter and Apostolic Regret

Paul says something very interesting here; he wrote a letter that he regretted writing after he sent it. He took a risk. He was deeply concerned about them, and they hadn’t responded well to a visit, so he wrote a forceful letter. But after sending it off, he questioned, was it too much? Will it push them farther away? Things seem to be on the verge of falling apart. What if his severe letter pushes them over the edge? If this church falls apart, what will come of the advance of the gospel in the region of Achaia?

We get yet another glimpse into the real human struggles of an apostle. Led and empowered by the Spirit of God, he had to make hard decisions and afterward, he wasn’t confident he had made the right decision. I believe we get a glimpse here into what it means to be led by the Spirit. We tend to think only in categories of the mystical and supernatural, that they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” and “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go into Bithynia” (Acts16:6-7)

Acts 16:9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

God can and sometimes does lead in those direct clear ways. But there is also “even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest …So I took leave of them and went on” (2Cor.2:12-13). A gospel door was opened, but because of what was going on, I couldn’t take advantage of it and had to leave. Do we say that Paul was disobedient to the Spirit’s leading? Or was his ‘spirit not at rest’ also leading of the Spirit? Was there only one right answer? To stay may have meant fruitful ministry, but he chose to leave, and God brought his comfort to him in Macedonia.

Paul ‘wanted to come to you first …but …I refrained from coming again. …For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you.” (2Cor.1:15; 2:1). Acts records it this way “Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia…” (19:21). Paul has desires, and he wrestles with what will be best for them. He reasons and thinks and makes up his mind. He writes a letter and then begins to regret writing the way he did, wondering if that was best. Paul is empowered and led by the Holy Spirit, and yet he doesn’t always have a ‘word from the Lord’ on what he is supposed to do. The Spirit is growing in his heart an affection and care for the churches, he wants to serve and love and bless them, but he uses his God given wisdom to choose how to do that. He takes risks. Writing the severe letter was risky. It could backfire. They might misunderstand his intentions. And yet he makes a decision and prayerfully moves forward in ministry, trusting God to direct his steps.

The Revealed Will of God

It’s a very common question; how do I know what God’s will is in any particular situation. And it’s a good question, because we ought to be making it our aim in all things to please him (2Cor.5:9). We should be asking ‘what would the Lord want me to do? What would please him? What would glorify him? I think it’s worth taking some time to look at what the Bible has to say about God’s will and how to make decisions that please God.

On one level, this is a very easy question, because a quick search in bible software or a concordance will give you some very specific verses dealing with the will of God. Here’s one:

1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;

This is the will of God, your sanctification. You are set apart for God. Sexual immorality of any kind is inconsistent with who you are in Christ. This is clear. You don’t have to pray about if you should have an affair or go too far with your girlfriend, or indulge in pornography. God has said clearly that abstinence outside of a traditional marriage relationship is his will. But this doesn’t tell me what job I should take or what school I should attend or where I should live.

Or maybe it does. Is there wisdom here, that tells me that although this job pays more, it puts me in a position that exposes me to more frequent and more intense temptations to sin, and it would be unwise to put myself in those positions?

Here is another will of God verse:

1 Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Usually those asking the question of how to determine the will of God are facing a life decision that will place them in very different circumstances. This verse doesn’t tell us which circumstances to choose, but rather what God’s will is in any and every circumstance. You can find joy in any circumstance. Never stop praying. In every circumstance give thanks to God. That is God’s will. If you choose A, find joy in it, give thanks for it, and never stop praying. If you choose B, find joy in it, give thanks for it, and never stop praying. The will of God is not necessarily choosing A over B or B over A, but in A or B or C or D to rejoice and stay connected to God and give him thanks.

Here’s another one:

1 Peter 2:15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

Peter says that we should “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” God’s will is that we live lives of integrity that are above reproach, lives that bless others, so that the name of Christ is not reproached.

How to Do the Will of God

Ephesians 6 tells us how we are to do the will of God;

Ephesians 6:5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.

This is addressed to servants, and the focus here is not what you do outwardly but where your heart is, what your attitude is like. This is a circumstance few would choose. A slave doesn’t get to make many choices; they are told what to do. And yet even in a situation of slavery, Paul says that they can do the will of God. The will of God defines how you serve a master. With a sincere heart, from the heart, with a good will, as to the Lord and not to man. God’s will reaches beyond what you do into the heart motivations of why and how you do it.

Discerning the Will of God in Every Situation

We still haven’t tackled directly the question of how to discern the will of God in any given decision. Romans 12 is an important passage for how to determine the will of God. And it begins with a ‘therefore’. It is built on top of the foundation of 11 chapters of gospel, of the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone.

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you [or encourage; Παρακαλῶ] therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

In response to God’s mercy displayed in the gospel, that we all are sinners deserving of wrath, that none is righteous, no not one, but God gives us his own perfect righteousness as a gift to be received by faith, that God put his only Son Jesus forward as a propitiation, placing all our sins on him and pouring out his just wrath on him as our substitute.

That we have been justified, that we have peace with God, that we have received the Spirit as a guarantee. In view of God’s many mercies, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service, your spiritual worship, your logical liturgy.

The first point if you want to discern the will of God is to know the gospel well. Soak in it, marinate in it, enjoy it, savor it. Any attempt to live a life that pleases the Lord must be rooted in and grow out of the rich soil of treasuring the gospel.

The second point we see here is this. Refuse to be shaped by this fallen world system; don’t let the world press you into its mold. Don’t follow the patterns of thinking of a Christ rejecting world. If we want to please Jesus, we need to recognize that this world system is opposed to Jesus and his ways. He told his followers:

Mark 10:42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus made it clear that his kingdom operates on principles that are upside down and out of step with this world. We must stop thinking in worldly categories if we want to please God.

Here is a simplistic example; (real world decisions are often more complex than this). You are contemplating two jobs. One pays more than the other. You want to live a comfortable life, you want to be able to afford the fancier car and enjoy the luxuries that money can buy, so you choose the higher paying job. It is not that your decision is wrong, as if you chose A and God’s will was for you to choose B. Rather, your reasoning was wrong. You were thinking according to worldly patterns. Maybe the lower paying job would be a better choice because it would free up time to spend with family and serve in the local church. Maybe there would be more opportunity to be a light for Jesus in one than the other. Or maybe the higher paying job would enable you to use your gifts and talents to earn more money so that you can give sacrificially to advance the kingdom of God in the world. In your thinking, in your reasoning, do not be conformed to this world system.

Instead, be transformed, be metamorphosed by the renewing of your mind. This is where marinating in the gospel, treasuring the gospel, being washed in the water of the word, comes in. Let God’s word transform your mental framework, your priorities, your deepest desires. Let God renew your mind.

The result of this is ‘so that by testing you may discern what is the will of God. This word ‘testing to discern’ [δοκιμάζειν] is a word that is used in the refining of precious metals; to test in order to demonstrate its genuineness, to prove. When a refiner puts the gold into the fire to prove it, he risks losing it all if it is false; and yet there is no risk for what he would lose is merely the imitation.

Here is how this works. As you treasure the gospel, as your heart and mind are transformed, as you pursue a life pleasing to God, you prove what is the will of God as a fire proves gold. You have a decision to make and so you consider what would advance the gospel, what would glorify God, what would be most pleasing to him. And then you have to do something. This testing, this proving, this involves risk. You have to take the next step. God’s will is good, it is pleasing, it is complete or perfect, it achieves the intended goal.

Paul made it his aim in all things to please the Lord. When circumstances arose, he applied his gospel sanctified common sense, and moved forward with what he though would most glorify God. He was human. He didn’t always claim to have a word from the Lord on a specific matter. Sometimes he felt regret, wondering if he had done the best thing. Sometimes he was discouraged. Sometimes he was depressed. He needed brothers and sisters to come along side him and encourage him. And yet he could move forward with boldness and humble confidence, knowing that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom.8:28)

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Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

June 30, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 7:5-7; Encouragement for Depressed Ministers

06/23_2 Corinthians 7:5-7; Encouragement for Depressed Ministers; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190623_2cor7_5-7.mp3

We are in 2 Corinthians 7:5-7. At this point in the letter Paul picks up a thread of narrative that he left hanging back in chapter 2. If we look back to the beginning of this letter, he explained why he changed his plans and delayed his visit to them, instead sending Titus with a painful letter. He didn’t want to make another painful visit to them (2:1); which means that he had already made one painful visit. He also did not want them to be unaware of the affliction that he experienced in Asia; that he and his co-workers were so utterly burdened beyond their strength that he despaired of life (1:8). Then he said:

2 Corinthians 2:12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.

And he left us hanging for over 4 chapters, wondering what happened in Macedonia, if he met Titus there, how the emotional state of the apostle was.

2:14-7:4; Authentic Ministry

He left off his narrative to give us four chapters of theology, four chapters unpacking what authentic Christian ministry looks like, feels like, smells like. To summarize, authentic ministry is ministry following in the footsteps of Jesus; the Christian life is a life shaped by the cross. This church was looking for something eloquent, something powerful, something outwardly impressive. Instead Paul teaches that following Jesus looks weak and shameful, it looks like brokenness and suffering. It is characterized by humility. It looks like laying down your life in sacrificial service for others. Paul leaves us hanging for four chapters, wondering at the weakness and vulnerability of the apostle, wondering why he would abandon an opportunity for fruitful ministry, wondering about his troubled spirit, to drive home this point and reshape our expectations for authentic Christian ministry, ministry “which enters into the suffering of Christ for the sake of the church” (Guthrie, BECNT p.368).

Resolution with Depression

Listen to how the narrative reads if we jump from 2:13 to 7:5

2 Corinthians 2:12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.

2 Corinthians 7:5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn— fighting without and fear within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.

We might expect the tense suspense to be resolved completely. But instead he points to his continued affliction. In chapter 2, his spirit found no rest; in chapter 7 his flesh finds no rest. No break, no pause, no relief. Both spirit and body under constant pressure. Both in Troas, and now in Macedonia, no rest.

He says ‘we were afflicted at every turn;’ literally ‘in all affliction.’ In the previous verse he said that we had ‘super-abounding joy in all our affliction.’ Now he describes some of that affliction; conflicts outside, fears inside. This is real. This is transparent. There was quarreling, conflict, strife. This word is not used to describe fighting with fist or sword; this word describes fighting with words, with looks and responses of the heart. We learn from the next chapter (8:2) that the churches of Macedonia, Phillippi and Thessalonica and Berea, were experiencing ‘extreme poverty; a severe test of affliction.’ Those were the external circumstances.

Paul’s Inner Anxiety

But inside, in his own heart, there were fears. Paul, the apostle, was afraid. In 1 Corinthians, when Paul said he had ‘decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,’ he says:

1 Corinthians 2:3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,

We know from Acts 18:9 that ‘the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you.” Paul was so fearful that the Lord personally encouraged him.

We learn from his letters that Paul was afraid that his churches might be led away from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ (2Cor.11:3). He feared visiting and finding them not as they ought to be (2Cor.12:20). He was afraid he might have labored over them in vain (Gal.4:11). He says in:

2 Corinthians 11:28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

Paul had anxiety. Paul was fearful. His spirit was troubled. In the next verse, he says he was downcast. That word can be translated humble (as in Jas.4:6, 1Pet.5:5), and it can refer to the lowly, the despised, those of low standing outwardly in contrast to the rich or exalted, and it can refer to those who are low or downcast inwardly. That is the focus here. We would probably say Paul is depressed.

Brothers and sisters, you who are weary, you who are downcast, you who feel low and depressed and trampled, take heart! A Spirit-filled apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ who knows the word (who actually was used to write the word!) can be downcast, depressed, fearful, and not know what to do. He might walk away from and open door of opportunity for ministry because of his inner unrest. Take heart! Paul is being real and transparent with us for our encouragement and instruction. It is not unspiritual or abnormal to experience depression and deep discouragement in ministry. Ministry is hard. Serving others often hurts. Others, even brothers and sisters, often hurt us. Following Jesus, laying down our rights in service to others, is hard. Crucifying the flesh with its passions and pride is painful. Paul gives us hope from the midst of his own affliction and heartache and troubled soul.

But …God

But God. Isn’t this where all hope enters our desperate situations? But God! We

Ephesians 2:3 …were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—

Romans 5:7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—… 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

But God. God can enter into a desperate situation, a hopeless situation, even a dead situation. God is the God who breathes life and hope and healing and reconciliation.

Paul actually stretches the but …God phrase in this verse out for emphasis. The original word order reads like this: “But the one who encourages the downcast encouraged us – the God – in the coming of Titus.”

The God of All Comfort

Paul quoted Isaiah 49:8 back in 6:2 urging his readers that ‘now the day of God’s grace and salvation,’ and now he alludes again to Isaiah 49:13, pointing to the restoration of all that is desolate.

Isaiah 49:13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.

The Greek translation of Isaiah that Paul would have used has some of the exact words that Paul uses here; ‘God … the downcast …has comforted.’

2 Corinthians 7:6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,

Paul began this letter pointing us to

2 Corinthians 1:3 …the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

God is the God of all comfort. He is the one who comforts us in all our affliction. Remember, we learned the word comfort is not a soft word like a cozy bed spread, but a strong word com-fort; like ‘fortress’ or ‘fortitude’. It could be translated ‘to encourage’ or ‘to infuse with courage;’ ‘to embolden another in belief or course of action’ [BDAG, 766] In the Greek it is literally ‘to call alongside’; a beautiful picture of God who is strong, calling us weak and tattered ones to his side, where he imparts to us his strength, his courage, his fortitude.

Mediated Comfort

God is the God who comforts the downcast. That is who he is. He comforted us by the coming of Titus. Notice that God is the one who does the comforting. He is the God of all comfort, and he comforts us in all our affliction, but he uses means to bring about comfort. He uses people. In Paul’s life, he used Titus. He left Troas distraught and discouraged, because Titus didn’t meet him there as planned. He faced both inner and outer turmoil when he arrived in Macedonia, yet God comforted him through the coming of Titus. He was able to connect with a friend and trusted co-laborer. God comforts, but often he doesn’t comfort us directly; his comfort is mediated to us through people.

In your discouragement don’t overlook or underestimate God’s work through other people. Don’t disconnect from the body. Don’t insulate and isolate yourself from others. ‘God, why aren’t you answering my prayer?’ We could imagine God answering ‘I intended to encourage your heart as you gathered as a local church with my people, but you chose to stay home and wallow.’ Don’t neglect God’s means of comfort through the local church, through friendships with brothers and sisters whom you’ve entrusted with permission to speak into your life. Paul recognized God at work bringing encouragement to him through the coming of his beloved Titus.

Reciprocal Comfort; Reciprocal Joy

2 Corinthians 7:6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.

Notice also that this comfort came to Paul through the coming of his friend, but a key part of that comfort was reciprocal. Titus had received encouragement, and that was an encouragement to Paul. This is one way God works within his body of believers. I am in need of encouragement, and you are in need of encouragement, and when I see your heart encouraged, it encourages my heart.

This is how he began his letter, speaking of God who comforts us so we are able to comfort others with the comfort we received from him. We are comforted for your comfort.

Why is this true? I am depressed, but I spend time with you and you have been encouraged, and your encouragement begins to lift my spirits. Why? I believe it is rooted in the truth that we are one body in Christ. Paul says in:

1 Corinthians 12:25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

When you smash your thumb with a hammer, it is your thumb that is injured, but the thumb does not experience its pain in isolation from the body. Because we are really and truly connected, when you are hurting, I hurt; when you are honored, I rejoice. When you are comforted, encouraged, emboldened, I experience comfort and courage. We are connected to one another in Christ.

Paul said in:

2 Corinthians 2:3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all.

When you are not following Jesus, it causes me pain. You are intended to bring me joy. And Paul is confident that his joy spills over to them; that his joy will be their joy, and in 1:24 he said that he is a fellow-worker with them for their joy. Paul is pursuing their joy by pursuing his own joy by pursuing their repentance. You see how this works? The Corinthians are turning away from Christ, and that causes Paul sorrow. He is doing everything he can to turn them back to a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. When they turn back to following Jesus, this brings joy to his heart. And when he rejoices in them, they see his joy in them, and it brings them joy. So Paul can say in 7:4 “I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.” and he can say in 7:7 “so that I rejoiced still more.” Even in the middle of an experience of affliction, even when circumstances are still against him, he can be filled with comfort and super-abounding in joy, and he can rejoice even more, because he is connected to the greater body of Christ.

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Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

June 23, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Indicative Before Imperative

06/16_Indicative Before Imperative; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190616_indicative-imperative.mp3

We’ve been looking at 2 Corinthians, savoring some of the beauty and details of this passage. We’ve been in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 and we’ve seen that identity comes before instructions, that promises under-gird and precede the commands. Another way to say this is that the indicative come before the imperative. Imperatives are commands; do this, this is how you ought to live. In grammar, the indicative mood is used to make ordinary statements of fact. Because this is true (indicative) then this is how you must act (imperative). We’ve been looking carefully at 2 Corinthians, and 2 Corinthians 7:1 is a great example of this pattern;

2 Corinthians 7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

In 6:16-18 Paul assembles about 6 different Old Testament promises to highlight our identity in Christ. God will indwell in us, he will walk among us, be our God and take us to be his people. He will welcome us; he will be a father to us and we will be to him sons and daughters. These promises enclose the command in verse 17 to go out, to be separate, to touch no unclean thing.

7:1 spells out this relationship between promises and commands; between what is true and what we ought to do. ‘Therefore, having these promises, beloved.’ Not ‘in order to make these promises come true, this is what you must do,’ but rather ‘because you already possess these promises, because the belong to you in Christ Jesus, because you already occupy the position of ‘beloved,’ this is how you must respond. ‘Because this is true of you’ (indicative); ‘therefore, this is how you must respond’ (imperative).

What I’d like to do today is to step back from looking closely at this text and to see the bigger picture, to see this pattern in other places. Think of it as examining a tapestry or a quilt. We have been looking closely at each stitch, the care, precision and intricate detail in one particular section of the quilt. Now we take a step back and take in the whole, and see the symmetry, the design, to see the repeating patterns woven into the very fabric of Scripture.

Romans and Ephesians

In the magnificent letter to the Romans, Paul takes 11 chapters to systematically lay out the gospel, the good news, that although all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (3:23), that all together are lost and wrecked by sin, that God’s righteous requirements are not met by our effort, not by earning his favor, but rather through trusting in a God who declares sinners righteous (4:5). He does this out of sheer grace as a freely given gift by putting his one and only Son Jesus forward as a propitiation – the wrath appeasing sacrifice for our sins – by his blood, to be received as a gift by faith (3:24-25). He died for us not after we had cleaned ourselves up, but ‘while we were still sinners’ (5:8). He tells us (in the indicative) that we have been justified or declared righteous by faith, that we have peace with God, that we have access into this grace by faith (5:1-2), that God’s love is poured into our hearts through his Holy Spirit who has been freely given to us (5:5). We have been reconciled. We died with Christ and are raised to newness of life. We are no longer under sin’s control, although we continue to struggle with sin. We are no longer under condemnation, we are no longer under the law. We are indwelt by the Spirit of the living God who now empowers us to live holy lives. It is not until chapter 12 that he really gets to the imperative.

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Therefore, in light of the overwhelming mercies of God, therefore, rooted and grounded in what is true of you in Christ, as a result of 11 chapters saturated with indicatives, therefore I appeal to you to live holy lives to the glory of God.

In Ephesians we see the same pattern. He tells us that we are blessed, chosen, loved, predestined for adoption, redeemed, forgiven, made co-heirs with Christ, sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (1:3-14). Even when we were dead in our trespasses, he made us alive together with Christ, he raised us up with him, he seated us in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, he intends to display in us for all eternity the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (2:5-7). We have been brought near by the blood of Christ, we are reconciled to God and to one another, we have access in one Spirit to the Father (2:13-18), we are called saints, a dwelling place for God. We have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Christ. He prays that we would have strength to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge (3:17-19).

Only after all this, in chapter 4(:1), does he urge us therefore, because of this truth, because of what has been given to us in Christ, because of who we are, because of all these indicatives, therefore, ‘walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.’ Therefore, walk in unity, Jews and Gentiles, walk in submission to proper authority. Therefore put off the old self and walk in love, therefore try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Built on this firm foundation of indicative truth, he gives instructions to husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves. He gives instruction for spiritual warfare, rooted in and flowing out of who we are in Christ. The imperative commands flow out of the indicative truths of who we are in Christ.

Peter, James and John

This is not only a pattern we see in Paul. Peter begins his letter addressing the elect exiles, whom God caused to be born again by his great mercy, into the hope of an incorruptible inheritance which is being kept for us, and we are being preserved by him for it (1:1-5). Only then does he say ‘therefore, gird your minds for action, set your hope fully on future grace, and as obedient children be holy as he who called you is holy’ (1:13-16) Peter goes on to point us back; be holy because you know that you were ransomed with the precious blood of Christ (1:18-19).

James reminds us that every good gift comes down from above, and that it was by God’s will that we were birthed by the word of truth. We are told to ‘receive with humility the word that was planted in you which is able to save your souls’ (1:17-22). Only after that, he reminds us to ‘be doers of the word and not hearers only’ (1:22)

John says in his letters that

1 John 2:3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.

The knowing him comes first. The keeping his commands is response, evidence of the relationship. The response, what we do, is built on and flows out of the objective reality of the relationship we have with him by grace.

Jesus and the Gospels

We see the same thing in the gospels. We see the Son of Man coming to seek and to save the lost (Lk.19:10). Jesus comes for people like tax collectors and prostitutes, sinners. He doesn’t come with a message that ‘if you will clean yourself up, then you can be my followers.’ No, he says ‘come, follow me, and I will make you to become fishers of men’ (Mk.1:17) Jesus calls Peter to follow him, and he continues to mess up. In response to a revelation given to him by God about the identity of Jesus, he names him ‘Peter’ – Rock, and then he begins to shape him into who he intends for him to become (Mt.16:17-18)

Jesus calls a wee chief tax collector down out of a tree and invites himself over to his house. It is only in response to his grace toward a sinner that Zacchaeus freely offers to repay all those he has wronged and give generously to the poor (Lk.19:1-9).

Jesus says ‘you are the light of the world’ (Mt.5:14); that is who you are – therefore ‘let your light shine’ in order to glorify God (Mt.5:16); live consistent with your identity, allow you identity to shape your behavior.

The Old Testament

This is not only a pattern in the New Testament. In the Exodus, God saves his people by his own mighty acts.

Exodus 6:6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.

When the people are afraid, he tells them through Moses:

Exodus 14:13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

God saved them with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. God got glory for himself over the Egyptians. God provided for their needs in the wilderness. God gave them victory over their enemies. It is not until Exodus 19 that God moves into the imperative and begins to give them commands. He says:

Exodus 19:4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

Therefore, because of what I have done for you, because I brought you into a relationship with myself, therefore, it ought to transform your behavior.

We see this even in the structure of the ten commandments.

Exodus 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

Because of what I have done for you, because I have rescued you, because I have proved myself to you, because I am your God and have taken you be be in relationship with me, you shall have no other gods before me. The indicative drives and motivates the imperative.

We see this throughout the Old Testament, as prophet after prophet calls the people of God to live consistent with their identity as the chosen people of God.

Our Response

I hope you take this into your bible reading and see if you see this pattern over and over again. I have picked out some of the more obvious examples, but I believe you will begin to see this everywhere.

We need to ask why. Why do we see this pattern everywhere in God’s word? We see this everywhere because this is how God works. God is the initiator. We reciprocate. God is the originator. We respond. God is the creator, God is the redeemer. God alone saves. We are rescued by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, as God authoritatively declares in his word alone, for his own glory alone. When we were dead, God made us alive by his grace, through faith. This is not our own doing; it is all gift, all grace. We are his workmanship. But we are created new in Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph.2:10). He initiates; we respond.

So how do we respond? Seeing this pattern should motivate us to pursue holiness. Because of all that is true of us in Christ, because of what God has done to rescue us, because of our new identity in Christ, seeing this awakens in us new desires to make it our aim to please him in all things. So look! Look at all that God has done for you in Christ. Look at your identity in Christ. Look at the great news of God’s unearned grace. Look, ponder, meditate, worship. And as you look, allow him to awaken in you new desires, new longings to please him in all things. If you feel stagnant in your walk, in your pursuit of holiness, look! Look at the wonders of the gospel; behold and be transformed.

And step out in childlike dependence in pursuit of his pleasure. Seeing this pattern gives us confidence to trust. We work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, because we know that ‘it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure’ (Phil.2:12-13). All the imperatives he gives us are built on the indicatives of who we are in Christ. The indicatives, what is true of us in Christ, supplies us with the ability to walk boldly in the imperatives.

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Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

June 17, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, occasional, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 7:4; Super-Abounding On All Affliction

06/02_2 Corinthians 7:4; Superabounding Joy In All Affliction Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190602_2cor7_4.mp3

2 Corinthians 7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. 2 Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. 4 I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.

I just want to take this verse and listen to it, to turn it over and look at it, to savor its truth, to cherish it and ask if we might be able to apply its truth in helpful ways to today, to every day.

What I’m doing today is really not that profound. This is something we all can do. To take a verse and meditate, contemplate, ruminate and reflect on it, to chew on it, to think it over and allow it to change our thinking, to consider and take it to heart. This is what we should all be doing with God’s word, daily.

Background / Context

Paul is exhorting his readers to holiness. Holiness means cutting off inappropriate ties with false teachers and their practices, unfruitful partnerships with unbelievers. He applies various passages in the Old Testament to point them to the promises, to the truth of who they are in Christ, to say that because of who you now are, you need to act like who you are. Identity shapes behavior. Behavior doesn’t shape identity.

You have a king’s kid, the heir to the throne. And you have the son of a pauper, a peasant. The peasant can try to dress like the king’s kid, he can try to behave like the king’s kid (and he may often be better behaved than the king’s kid) but his behavior doesn’t change his identity. On the other hand, the king’s kid doesn’t often act like the king’s kid, he doesn’t like to dress like the king’s kid, but he is. It is his identity. He is heir to the throne. We hope and pray that over time he rises to the office, and grows into the position that is his, that he would learn to love and serve and rule well, we want his identity to shape his behavior, but his identity is not changed by his behavior.

Paul is saying, because of who you are, because of who you have become in Christ, this should motivate you to rise to the office, to step up and pursue holiness, to be who you are in Christ. God lives in you and walks among you, he is our God and has taken us to be his own people; he welcomes us and is a Father to us; he adopts us as his own sons and daughters. Because of who we are in Christ, “since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” Allow your identity to shape your behavior.

Having given them a strong exhortation to holiness, he re-affirms his love for them, and invites them to open their affections to him in return. Because we are united with Christ in death, so we are united in his resurrection life. Because of our union with Christ, we have love for one another; we die together and we live together.

Boldness

And then he launches yet another staccato series of statements: much my boldness toward you, much my boasting on behalf of you, filled with comfort, super-abounding in joy on all our affliction.

Much my boldness toward you. Paul has been open, outspoken, blunt, frank with them. And he makes it clear, this is because his heart is open wide to them; he loves them. He has them in his heart. He is united with them. So he can be direct with them; when there is a problem, a concern, when their conduct is not in step with the gospel, he can address the issue. He uses tact, he applies wisdom, he is not rude. But he is clear. He speaks plainly to them. He used this word ‘boldness’ back in chapter 3:12 where he was contrasting his apostolic ministry with the veiled ministry of Moses. He said:

2 Corinthians 3:12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold,

And that applies here. Since we have this hope, these promises, because of our shared identity, who we are in Christ, we can be very bold. There is great confidence;

Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

The Corinthians are God’s work. And he will bring it to completion. And one of the instruments in his hands to bring that work in them to completion is Paul. So Paul can be bold with them because he knows ultimately it is God’s work and he will without fail complete what he started in them. This is blood-bought gospel boldness, gospel confidence.

Boasting

Much boldness toward you; much boasting on behalf of you. Paul wants them to know that they are not his problem child. We read the Corinthian correspondence and we might get the impression from all his boldness addressing all the problems there that they are a constant source of grief to him. They might get the impression that he talks negatively about them wherever he goes. After all, he likely left Ephesus to make an emergency visit to them, and that didn’t go well. Then on this trip, he decided not to make another painful visit to them first, but instead send Titus to hopefully patch things up. But in Troas he left an open door for gospel ministry because of his inner turmoil over them. We could easily hear him saying ‘yeah, I’d really like to stay and serve you, but I’ve got this problem church down in Achaia, and I’ve got to go deal with them… again. But that is not his heart, and that is not how he talks about them. Here he affirms that when he talks to others about them, it is ‘much boasting’. And we see him display this in the Corinthian letters. He said in 1 Corinthians 1 that

1 Corinthians 1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—

In 1 Corinthians 15:31 he swears and oath by his pride in them. Later in this chapter (7:14) he relays that he had been boasting about them to Titus, and his boasting had proved true. In 8:24 he says that he has been boasting about them to the other churches. He is bold toward them, but he is like a proud parent boasting about them to others. There are issues, and he doesn’t brush over them; he is bold toward them. But he is proud of them. He takes pride in them; ultimately in the work of God he sees in them. God is at work. And he is confident in the ability of God to complete what he has begun.

Comfort

Much boldness, much boasting, I am filled with comfort. Different forms of this word ‘comfort’ show up 10 times in 1:3-7

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

God is the God of all comfort. He comforts us so that we can comfort others. If you remember all the way back to chapter 1, we learned there that this word comfort is not a soft word; it is a strong word. Com-fort has ‘fort’ as its root, as in fortress or fortitude. This is a strengthening word. The Greek is παρακλήσει which literally means to call alongside. Jesus speaks of the coming Holy Spirit in John 14 as the παράκλητος ‘the Comforter’ (Jn.14:16,26;15:26;16:7;cf.1Jn.2:1) or the Helper; the one who calls us to his side. In our afflictions, God calls us to his side; he is with us in our sufferings, he implores, he exhorts, he gives us strength. In the coming verses he talks about the comfort he received at the coming of Titus. Here he says he is cram full of comfort. He is filled up. He was downcast, but God comforted him. He has no lack, his cup is not empty. Filled up with comfort.

Notice where this strengthening comfort comes from. It is the God of all comfort who comforts us; we are comforted by God. It is God who comforts the downcast, who comforted us. And notice where this strengthening comfort comes to us, it comes in all our affliction. It comes to those in any affliction. We experience abundant comfort as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings. You experience comfort when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Comfort isn’t escape from the pain; comfort comes to us in the middle of our pain.

Super-Abounding in Joy on All Our Affliction

This last phrase in this series is so interesting; super-abounding in joy on all our affliction. It seems Paul coined this word here. He takes a more common word superabound, to have more abundance, to be in excess, to have more than enough, which shows up a dozen times in the gospels; once in Acts, and 26 times in Paul’s letters, and he adds a prefix to compound and amplify it; super-super-abound. His cup is not just filled up full, it is not just overflowing, it is super-overflowing.

He uses this word here as he writes to Corinth from Macedonia, and again a few months later when he writes to the Romans from Corinth.

Romans 5:20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

Grace super-super abounded; Grace hyper-over-flowed.

Here, he is hyper-over-flowing with joy. This is unexpected. I think of the Corinthian letters as filled with concern and correction, not overflowing with joy. But here it is. Joy confronts us in unexpected places. Joy. In 1:24 he refused to lord it over them, but he works with them for their joy. In 2:3 he refers to his previous painful letter and expressed his confidence that his joy would be the joy of all. In 6:10 he describe the paradox of ministry as ‘sorrowful yet always rejoicing’. Four times in this chapter (7:7,9,13,16) he speaks of his rejoicing. In 7:13 he rejoices over the joy of Titus. In 8:2 he talks about the abundance of joy of the Macedonians. In 13:9 he finds joy in his own weakness in pursuit of their restoration, and then in 13:11 he says ‘ Finally, brothers, rejoice.’

We tend to think, ‘how can he talk so much about joy and rejoicing all through a letter that is addressing such serious issues?’ And how can he talk about joy when he is experiencing such overwhelming suffering. But this is the thing, he is showing them what it looks like to have joy above your circumstance, joy not conditioned on your circumstances. Literally he says joy on top of all our affliction.

He won’t leave alone the theme of affliction. In chapter 1 it was comfort in all our affliction. He writes of ‘the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (1:8). In 2:4 he “wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears.” In 4:17 “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” In 6:4 he commends himself as a legitimate servant of God “by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities.” In 8:2 he speaks of the Macedonian’s “abundance of joy” “in a severe test of affliction” which “overflowed in a wealth of generosity.”

Joy not only can survive, but can thrive in the middle of adverse circumstances. This joy is piled right on the top of all our affliction.

Application

Are you looking for a change in your circumstances? Are you looking for a break? Is your happiness contingent on your circumstances? That’s not the kind of joy Paul holds out to us. Is your joy hyper-over-flowing even in the midst of adverse circumstances? Are you filled up with comfort? Where does this come from? He doesn’t leave us wondering. It comes from God; it comes to us in the gospel. It comes to us in the middle of the mess. God doesn’t often change our circumstances, but he does want to transform us in the midst of the circumstances. He wants to heap inexplicable joy right on top of our painful reality.

Paul is not ignoring his circumstances; he is not in denial. But neither is he self-focused. He is looking to others. He is looking to how God is using him in the lives of others. He has much boldness toward them. And he is looking at God’s hand evidenced in the lives of others. He has much boasting on behalf of them. He sees God at work, even though that work is not finished yet. And that helps. It helps to see that God is at work in others. Sometimes we are too close to see him at work in us. But we can see him at work in others. And that can give us confidence that he is indeed at work in me.

He is not going to people to fill his cup. He is filled up with comfort; the comfort of the Holy Ghost. The comfort that the God of all comfort pours out into those whose hearts have been emptied through suffering. Are you seeking to avoid any suffering? That is where God meets us with his comfort and his overflowing joy.

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Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

June 3, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment