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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 10:2-6; The Spiritual Battle for the Mind

03/08_2 Corinthians 10:2-6; The Spiritual Battle for the Mind; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200308_2cor10_2-6.mp3

For two years, John Calvin preached regularly throughout the week in the church in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1538 the city council, resisting his ideas of reformation, kicked him out of the city. Three years later, they begged him to return, about which he wrote to a friend “There is no place under heaven of which I can have a greater dread.” After several busy years of ministry in Geneva, in 1546 he wrote this in his commentary on 2 Corinthians:

The life of the Christian, it is true, is a perpetual warfare, for whoever gives himself to the service of God will have no truce from Satan at any time, but will be harassed with incessant disquietude.”

The life of the Christian is a perpetual warfare. He goes on:

It becomes, however, ministers of the word and pastors to be standard-bearers, going before the others; and, certainly, there are none that Satan harasses more, that are more severely assaulted, or that sustain more numerous or more dreadful onsets. That man, therefore, is mistaken, who girds himself for the discharge of this office, and is not at the same time furnished with courage and bravery for contending; for he is not exercised otherwise than in fighting. For we must take this into account, that the gospel is like a fire, by which the fury of Satan is enkindled. Hence it cannot but be that he will arm himself for a contest, whenever he sees that it is advanced.” [Calvin, p.321-322]

The life of the Christian, especially the Christian involved in ministry (and we are all called to minister) is war. Paul describes this warfare in 2 Corinthians 10.

2 Corinthians 10:1 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— 2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Walking In the Flesh not According to the Flesh

Paul is being accused ‘walking according to the flesh.’ Back in chapter 1, when he was faulted for changing his travel plans he asks:

2 Corinthians 1:17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.

Paul concedes, he does walk ‘in the flesh.’ Paul is human. He is not superhuman; he has a normal human existence. Galatians 2:20 he says:

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

He lives life in the flesh. He walks in the flesh. But he does not walk or make plans according to the flesh. He is using ‘flesh’ in two different ways here. He does lead a normal fleshly human existence with all the frailties and hardships of life in a fallen physical body, but he does not live according to the flesh; he does not follow his sinful fallen human thinking to make decisions. We do not walk according to the flesh; we do we walk in the flesh, but ‘we are not waging war according to the flesh.’

Waging War

Here he switches metaphors from walking to waging war. Paul is not walking, he is not running, he is on the warpath, he is on the offensive. He is in a battle. He is waging war. But he is clear; he does not wage war according to the flesh.

Supernatural Weapons in Both Hands

The weapons he uses in his warfare are not of the flesh. They have divine power to destroy strongholds. He doesn’t here tell us what those weapons are. We could look to the gospel armor in Ephesians 6; the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of gospel peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, the word of God; together with all-prayer. We need to have on the full gospel armor to stand against our supernatural enemy. But we don’t have to leave 2 Corinthians. We could look back to 6:7 where he mentions the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left. Paul uses both right-handed and left-handed spiritual weapons. On the one hand:

2 Corinthians 6:4 …by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;

On the other hand:

2 Corinthians 6:6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;

There are two sides to his weaponry:

2 Corinthians 6:8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

This kind of warfare doesn’t make human sense. That’s what he means when he says that he does not wage war according to the flesh.

Have you ever seen a physical battle that is won by meekness and gentleness? But that is exactly how Paul wages war. By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, he tears down strongholds. He battles by dying, and behold we live.

In chapter 4 he says

2 Corinthians 4:4 …the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

He battles (4:2) ‘by the open statement of truth’ . God opens blind minds through the proclamation of (4:5) ‘Jesus Christ as Lord.’

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

You see the kind of weapons he uses? They are not what we would expect, according to the flesh. He wins the war like Jesus did, by laying down his life, to show us life that is life indeed.

Tearing Down Strongholds

2 Corinthians 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

The weapons we use have the divine power to destroy strongholds.

A stronghold is a defensible place stocked with supplies where people could retreat from an attacking army. A stronghold at best would serve to delay the inevitable conquest. An attacking army with siege weapons, given enough time would be able to conquer the stronghold and take captives. In Judges 9, Abimelech ambushed many of the people of Shechem, captured the gate of the city, and when he was told that the leaders of the tower of Shechem had fled to the stronghold, he and his men set fire to it and killed them. But when he captured Thebez and attempted to do the same thing to their strong tower, a woman threw down an upper millstone and crushed Abimelech’s skull.

Battling Proud Arguments

What are the strongholds Paul refers to? He tells us in the next verse.

2 Corinthians 10:5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

Paul is in a war against arguments, ideas, opinions. He is in a battle for the minds of people. His objective is to take the minds of people captive to obey Christ. What he tears down is anything that is raised up against the knowledge of God.

2 Corinthians 4:4 …the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing.. 5 For what we proclaim is …Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

He wants the Corinthians to know God, to know and experience the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He wants them to see the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, who is the very image of God. He wants them not to regard anyone according to the flesh (5:16), no longer to boast in outward appearances (5:12). This is a spiritual battle that requires spiritual weapons.

Forsaking Pride to Know Him

He tears down every exalted thing. We tend to lift up so many things. We lift up wisdom and power and position and status and appearance. We lift up ourselves. We don’t think we’re really that bad. We think we are enough, that we are OK, that we can do it, maybe with God’s help, but we can do it. Our opinion of ourselves is often lifted up against the knowledge of God. We can’t even believe in God without the gift of his grace! Paul says that he is not sufficient in himself to claim anything as coming from himself (3:5).

You see, to believe in God, to really trust him alone, we have to come to the end of ourselves. As long as we think we can contribute something, we won’t trust. Not completely. And God requires us to turn. Turn away from whatever you were holding on to, to throw down as worthless whatever you were clinging to and cling only to him. This is biblical repentance.

Paul describes his own experience in Philippians 3. He said ‘if anyone thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more (3:4) and then he lists his credentials. And when he gets to the end he says:

Philippians 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

Paul took everything that lifted him up, all his own accomplishments that were lifted up against the knowledge of Christ, and counted them all as loss, filth, refuse. He turned to Jesus empty handed, open handed, ready to receive a gift he didn’t deserve. He emptied his hands so that he could know Christ.

Philippians 3:10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

I Must Die

Paul wants to build up the Corinthians, but first he must tear down everything that is lifted up against the knowledge of God. Paul wants them to truly know Christ, but first the demonic wisdom that lifts itself up against knowing God must be destroyed.

Mark Seifrid writes “this violent conquest is achieved by means of weakness. It …is contained within the paradox of the cross, where God’s weakness is manifest as more powerful than human beings (1Cor.1:25).” [PNTC, 381]

His authority as an apostle is for the edification of the Corinthians, not for their destruction. He must, however, first destroy the Corinthians in their false imaginations (every exalted thing) in order to take captive every mind (including the Corinthians) in obedience to Christ. The Spirit gives life only to that which has been put to death (3:6). Paul’s calling as apostle is not to effect merely a change of minds, but a change of persons. The cross of Christ does not merely do away with the world’s wisdom, strength, and boasting. It does away with the wise, the things that are strong, and the exalted (1Cor.1:26-31).” [PNTC, 382]

Paul wars against this, and we must war against it in our own hearts and minds. I must reckon myself dead, dead in trespasses and sins, if I am ever to experience the resurrection life that Jesus gives (Rom.6:8; Eph.2:5). I need to embrace – to really believe – the gospel. I must be crucified with Christ so that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me (Gal.2:20). I must abandon my pride and own my need so that I can truly know Christ. The gospel is good news for sinners.

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

March 9, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 10:1-2; The Meekness and Gentleness of Christ

03/01_2 Corinthians 10:1-2; The Meekness and Gentleness of Christ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200301_2cor10_1-2.mp3

Overview of 2 Corinthians 1-9

We are going to jump back in to 2 Corinthians at chapter 10 today, but since we’ve been away from this book for some time, we will start with an overview to orient ourselves on where we are at in this book.

Chapters 1-7 expound the characteristics of genuine Christian ministry; gospel ministry is ministry that looks like the gospel and is shaped by the gospel. Real ministry is loving service that embraces suffering for the good of others.

Chapters 8-9 encourage an experience of God’s grace to overflow in practical generosity to others.

Chapters 10-13 confront the false apostles who proclaim a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel.

In this final section of the book, Paul employs biting sarcasm, thick with irony. He is directly confrontational, even threatening. His tone is so markedly different from the rest of the book that it has become popular among scholars to see this section as a sloppy cut-and-paste job, attaching something else Paul wrote to the end of this book. Some guess that chapters 10-13 contain the severe letter that he mentions in 2 Corinthians 7:8 now appended to the body of his current letter. Others hypothesize an interruption between the writing of chapters 1-9 and 10-13 where Paul received disturbing news from Corinth that caused him to change his tone. All this is conjecture, for which there is zero evidence in the manuscripts of 2 Corinthians.

The letter as it stands is cohesive and builds on itself. Throughout the book, Paul has been alluding to those who undermine his integrity and authority, and patiently teaching what authentic Christian ministry looks like.

The Opponents in 2 Corinthians

In chapters 1 and 2 Paul defends himself against the criticism that he makes his plans according to the flesh, vacillating, saying Yes yes and No no at the same time. ‘it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth’ (1:23).

In chapter 2 he distances himself from those who peddle God’s word for profit.

In chapter 3 he denies that he needs, like some do, letters of recommendation. The Corinthians themselves are the proof of his authenticity. He claims no competency for ministry in and of himself, but he has been made competent by God as a minister of the New Covenant through the Spirit.

In chapter 4 he renounces ‘disgraceful, underhanded ways.’ He says ‘We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God (4:2). He implies that there are those who do tamper with God’s word, who cunningly use disgraceful underhanded ways.

Throughout he re-frames their thinking about adversity and suffering, showing them that it is not evidence of the Lord’s disfavor, but rather it is exactly the pattern Jesus set for us at the cross, when he came to rescue us by laying down his own life. Authentic gospel ministry is ministry that is shaped by the gospel.

In chapter 5 he warns against ‘those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart’ (5:12).

At the end of chapter 5 and into chapter 6 he implores them to be reconciled to God (5:20), he appeals to them not to receive the grace of God in vain. ‘Behold, now is the day of salvation.’ He says ‘We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry’ (6:1-3).

He understood how big a deal this was. This is a salvation issue. To reject the apostolic witness to the gospel is inextricably linked to that gospel the apostle proclaimed. To undermine the apostle is to undermine the gospel. It’s no different today. To undermine the trustworthiness of God’s word is to undermine the good news it communicates.

He says his heart is wide open to them but they are restricted in their own affections, and he invites them in return to open their hearts to him (6:11-12). He warns them not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, which is what they were doing by putting up with false teachers, and he urges ‘go out from their midst and be separate from them’ (6:14, 17). He again invites them to make room in their hearts for their true apostle, and he says ‘We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one’ (7:2). Either some were accusing Paul of taking advantage of them, or Paul is contrasting himself with what he sees going on in this church, that the false teachers are wronging and corrupting and taking advantage of them.

At the end of chapter 7 he rejoices over their response to Titus and the severe letter, that they experienced godly grief that led to repentance. He says in 7:12 that he wrote as he did ‘in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God.’ He wrote as he did because he wanted them to see that they really did have a place for him in their hearts.

He goes on in chapters 8-9 to give them an opportunity to demonstrate their love by extending grace to others; through their generous giving. He closes chapter 9 pointing to the glory God will receive through their giving:

2 Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

Paul’s Authoritative Introduction

And then he says:

2 Corinthians 10:1 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— 2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh.

I Paul myself. This is rare, and it is emphatic. Through most of this letter Paul has been using the apostolic ‘we’. Here he switches to first person singular, and makes this emphatic with two personal pronouns ‘I, myself’. The other place that comes closest to the emphatic nature of this is Galatians 5:2

Galatians 5:2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.

And if you are familiar with Paul’s letter to the Galatians, you understand the precarious position of that gospel abandoning church. Here in 2 Corinthians the situation is no less grave, and Paul is no less emphatic.

The Authoritative Appeal; Bold Begging

We would expect ‘Now I Paul, myself command you.’ Instead he says ‘I Paul, myself, encourage you or entreat you. This is the word comfort or encourage that he uses 18 times in this letter. He started this letter by pointing us to ‘the God of all comfort’ or encouragement, ‘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. This is the word ‘to call to one’s side.’ Paul musters all his authority to encourage them, to appeal to them, to call them to his side. He starts the next verse with ‘I beg of you’. He asks; this word is also used for asking in prayer, it expresses desire. He boldly begs them. Bold self assertion and begging. This doesn’t seem to fit. This sounds paradoxical. That’s the point. Paul uses his authority to to call them to his side and plead with them.

I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!’ This is the accusation of his detractors. They say he is lowly and meek when present but bold in his writing to them from a distance. He has a loud bark but no bite. In verse 10 he quotes his critics directly:

2 Corinthians 10:10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.”

So here, in his letter, he authoritatively appeals to them. He boldly begs them that when he arrives he won’t have to show his confident boldness.

The Gospel Illustrated (In The Apostle)

This is actually how Paul operated. He did change his travel plans and forego a visit to them, but instead wrote a severe letter.

2 Corinthians 1:23 But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth.

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, … 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.

The letter was painful, painful to write, and it caused pain to the hearers.

2 Corinthians 7:8 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. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

This was Paul’s stated intent. This is how he operated. To attempt to remedy the situation by writing, so that his visit could be pleasant and not painful, so that he could be gentle among them and not forceful. He writes at the end of this section:

2 Corinthians 13:9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. 10 For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

This was Paul’s purpose, Paul’s M.O. Paul patterned his ministry this way after the Lord himself. God thundered fearfully from atop Mount Sinai with the absolute standard of his law, together with the punishment for disobedience. And then God came down in the person of Jesus, to seek and to save the lost, the hurting, the broken. This is the good news. That God is holy and his commandment is holy and righteous and good (Rom.7:12) And when we see ourselves as desperate and cry out ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?’ (Rom.7:24), then God responds in mercy, puts himself forward as the propitiation for our sins to be received by faith (Rom.3:25).

The Meekness and Gentleness of Christ

With all his authority, Paul entreats them ‘by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.’ The meekness and gentleness of Christ. Jesus said

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus is gentle -that’s the root of the word ‘meekness’ here in 2 Corinthians. Jesus uses this word ‘lowly’, a derogatory word on the lips of Paul’s detractors; ‘I who am humble or lowly when face to face’ In taking the lowly place, Paul was following his Master.

John 13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.

Notice the paradoxical combination of omnipotent authority and abject humility.

John 13:5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Jesus very literally stooped to take the lowly place.

Philippians 2:5 …Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Paul was showing them what real leadership looks like. He is inviting them in to see Jesus, to follow Jesus with him. With all authority, he was calling them to his side by the meekness and gentleness of Christ. He was taking the way of the cross.

***

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

March 9, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment