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2 Corinthians 8:6-7; Super-Abound in This Grace

08/18_2 Corinthians 8:6-7; Superabound in this Grace; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190818_2cor8_6-7.mp3

Paul in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is talking about giving, about generosity; he is encouraging generosity toward a collection for the poor saints; but he is talking about grace. He frames everything he says about generosity around God’s generosity toward us, about God’s undeserved grace toward sinners through Jesus. This first act of giving, God’s grace toward us grounds and motivates our gracious generosity.

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity [simplicity] on their part. 3 For [they gave] according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor [grace] of taking part [fellowship] in the relief [service] of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also.

Encouragement / Comfort

This passage is full of grace, and it is saturated with encouragement. When Paul says that ‘we urged Titus,’ he uses the same word ‘encourage’ or ‘comfort’ that has been a major theme of this letter.

The opening of the letter points to God’s comfort, God’s encouragement in affliction.

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.

Just in the last chapter (chapter 7) he said:

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.

…13 Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.

Paul was comforted, encouraged by Titus, as Titus was encouraged by the Corinthians. Now Paul encourages Titus to go back to Corinth and finish what he had started there.

[MAP]

Titus has just met Paul in Macedonia. It is sometime around AD 55 or 56. There had trouble in Corinth, so Paul had left Ephesus to cross the Agean and deal with the issues, but his visit was not received well, so he retreated to Ephesus and wrote a painful letter and sent it with Titus to Corinth. He then traveled by land North from Ephesus to Troas, where he expected to meet Titus with news. But Titus didn’t show, so he abandoned an open door for ministry and traveled over to Macedonia, to visit the churches of Philippi and Thessalonica and Berea. There Titus met him and gave him a good report of the grief and repentance of the Corinthians in response to the painful letter. Now he is writing the letter we know as 2 Corinthians and encouraging Titus to take it back to Corinth and to finish what he had started. He wants him to bring to its fulfillment this grace.

The Collection

Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians (AD48) of his meeting with James

Galatians 2:9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

James and Paul and Peter and John were all proclaiming the same message, the same good news about Jesus, Jesus Christ and him crucified. That is the right gospel, only be sure the gospel moves out from what you say into what you do. Belief must work itself out in action. Only they asked us to remember the poor, and that Paul was already eager to do. Around this time, in Acts 11 [AD 45-47] there was:

Acts 11:28 …a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

Some years later Paul is taking another collection. Paul gives instructions for this collection in 1 Corinthians 16 [AD 53-55]. Apparently he had already made them aware of this before the writing of 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 16:1 Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. 3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift [grace] to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

It appears that Titus during his recent visit had made a beginning at this collection. Paul is now encouraging him, just as you began before, thus also bring it to completion. Notice what he calls it; this grace. The ability to give is a gift; it is grace. It is not deserved or earned.

We are first and fundamentally receivers. Every good thing comes from God. He is the source of all good. To give is a gift, it is grace.

Superabounding

Paul has encouraged Titus to complete among them this grace, and now gives a word of encouragement to the Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 8:7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also.

Just as in all things you superabound. Faith, speech, knowledge. Back in the beginning of 1 Corinthians 1 he says:

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—

Paul thanked God that by God’s grace, they had been enriched in all speech and all knowledge. Speech and knowledge are gifts of God’s grace. But he also warns them in 1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

All speech and all knowledge are good gifts, so long as they are exercised in love. Here he also commends their faith. He commends their eagerness or earnestness. He said in

2 Corinthians 7:11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you,…

12 …I wrote to you, …in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God.

His sorrowful letter produced in them an earnestness for the apostle just as he had hoped. And now he commends them for it.

You superabound in our love for you. It seems odd to include in a list of their excellencies the apostle’s love for the Corinthians, and this unusual expression has likely led to the variant reading in the manuscripts which reads ‘your love for us,’ which would seem to fit the context better. Literally the phrase reads ‘the out of us into you love’; and some have translated this ‘the love we aroused or inspired among you’ [WBC, p.259; BECNT, p.403]. Paul had said in 6:11-12 that ‘our heart is wide open …you are restricted in your own affections’. It could be that Paul is acknowledging and praising an opening of their hearts to him in response to his severe letter, or it could be that he is highlighting the fact that they hold a special place in his own heart, as he has communicated to them many times already in this letter.

Regardless of how we read it, the point he is making is clear. You are extraordinarily gifted by God; you superabound in everything; be sure you superabound also in this grace.

This Grace

God’s grace produced in the Macedonians a superabundance of joy in the midst of their afflictions, according to verse 2. Paul is inviting the Corinthians to superabound in this grace also. It is worth looking back at these verses, at this grace.

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity [simplicity] on their part. 3 For [they gave] according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor [grace] of taking part [fellowship] in the relief [service] of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

God’s grace created an abundance of joy in spite of affliction and deep poverty, and their joy overflowed in a wealth of single-hearted devotion to Christ; they begged for the grace and fellowship of service to the saints. God’s grace came in, and it created a simplicity of affections for Jesus that overflowed in joyful eagerness to serve others. Ministering to others is gift, it is grace; and it is communion, fellowship.

Not About Amount

It is important to see that Paul is not telling the Corinthians to compete with the Macedonians in how much they give. The Corinthians were much more affluent, so they likely could have easily outgiven them in amount. But that is not the focus, so he carefully chooses his language to make sure they don’t fall into that trap. He is looking at their hearts. He wants the grace of God to be experienced by them in such a way that it wells up in a joy in Jesus which spontaneously overflows in service to others. Paul’s aim is never simply to raise more money for his project regardless of where it comes from or how it is given. He cares more about the hearts of the givers than he does about the gift itself.

Grace and Love

This is not much different from what he says in 1 Corinthians 13. You can have all wisdom, all knowledge, all faith, you might even give away all that you have, but without love, it is all nothing. Nothing! Love is essential. First, love from God. We only can love because he first loved us. And love freely received from God spills over into love toward others. Do you see how this is the same? After describing love in 1 Corinthians 13, he says

1 Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts…
…12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

He exhorts them to excel, to strive to superabound in building up the church; overflow in loving service to others. It is not only what you do, but why you do it. Is the motive to build yourself up, to make yourself look good, to impress others? Or is it to stoop low so you can build others up, to use your gifts to serve others for their good? To build up the church?

In the very next verse here in 2 Corinthians 8:8 he will connect this overflow of grace with love for others; as an expression and a proof of love.

Do you love? Have you experienced grace? This is rubber meets the road Christianity. This is what following Jesus looks like. It looks like God’s gift of grace poured out into a person that so transforms them that they are eager to serve others, to extend grace to others, to freely give of themselves, first to the Lord, and then to the Lord’s work in the lives of people. Is this what your life is shaped like? Does the love of Christ compel you? Constrain you to live no longer for self, but for others?

2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

***

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

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August 19, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | 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.

***

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

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

1 Corinthians 15:58; Labor in the Lord is not Vain

06/14 1 Corinthians 15:58 Labor in the Lord is not Vain; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20150614_1cor15_58.mp3

1 Corinthians 15 [SBLGNT]

58 Ὥστε, ἀδελφοί μου ἀγαπητοί, ἑδραῖοι γίνεσθε, ἀμετακίνητοι, περισσεύοντες ἐν τῷ ἔργῳ τοῦ κυρίου πάντοτε, εἰδότες ὅτι ὁ κόπος ὑμῶν οὐκ ἔστιν κενὸς ἐν κυρίῳ.

1 Corinthians 15 [ESV2011]

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Today we finish 1 Corinthians 15 and look at verse 58. This is a very encouraging verse. This verse is a command with a promise. It is a command to be something and to do something. It is a command of character and behavior. And it is character and behavior based on a promise, based on knowing something.

Character Commanded

How many of us want this kind of character to define us? What do people think of you? How do people describe you? When a friend is telling someone about you, what adjectives do they use to describe you? When you meet someone, and they say ‘oh, you’re so-and-so. I met your friend the other day. They said you were…’ What do you want to hear them say? Would they say you are steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord? Do you hope that is what they would say?

This is a command of character. This is a command to be a certain kind of person. This should give us hope. Some might say, well, I’m just not that kind of person. That’s just not how I am. But according to this, you can change! You are not stuck! You can be different than you are. Your character is not a fixed entity that you were born with and can do nothing about. You can be better than you are. You can grow and learn and change, and Paul will tell us how.

Imperative follows Indicative

This is a command, a command to be a certain way, and it is a command based on a promise. It is a command based on truth. We find this sort of thing all over the Bible. You can observe this pattern in much of the teaching of the New Testament. When you find a command, look around to see what that command is built on. We can see that in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Before God says ‘thou shalt’ and ‘thou shalt not’, he makes this statement:

Exodus 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (cf. Deuteronomy 5:6)

The commands are based on and rooted in a statement of truth. The imperative (or command) follows the indicative (or statement of fact). Another way to say this is that exhortation follows information. I am going to inform you of truth, which I believe will shape the way you live. We see this all the time in advertising. The little sidebar pops up on you screen that says ‘one rule for a flat tummy’ or ‘three foods that fight cancer; click here to find out more’. There is something you need to know, the information, the secret, that will change your behavior, so that you can attain the goal, the promise.

This verse begins with ‘therefore’. And whenever we see the word ‘therefore’ we should look to see what it’s ‘there for’. This is the last verse of 1 Corinthians 15, and 1 Corinthians 15 is all about the resurrection. Paul is teaching truth to combat error that will shape behavior. Let’s look back over the chapter.

1 Corinthians 15 Outline

In verses 1-7 he reminds us of the gospel message, with an emphasis on the fact that the historical resurrection of Jesus is essential to the gospel message, evidenced by a substantial crowd of eyewitnesses.

In verses 8-11 Paul holds himself up as an eyewitness and an example of the power of resurrecting grace which produces a transformed life.

In 12-19; he points to the negative consequences for those who preach and those who believe if the resurrection were not historical.

In 20-28 he holds up Christ as the new representative of mankind who undoes what Adam did and brings resurrection where Adam brought death.

In verse 29 he argues for the incoherence of the practice of baptism if there is no resurrection.

In 30-32; he argues for the incoherence of Christian sacrifice and suffering if there is no resurrection.

Verses 33-34 we find another imperative demonstrating the negative consequences of unbelief in resurrection on a person’s morality. He warns them not to be deceived, and says that because the resurrection is true, you need to ‘wake up from your drunken stupor and stop sinning’

In verses 35-41 he answers objections to the natural implausibility of a resurrection with evidence of the power and creativity of God as seen in creation.

In 42-49 he comes back to the contrast between our representatives Adam and Christ; where we have borne the fallen image of Adam, we are destined to bear the image of our new representative, Christ.

In 50-53 he argues for the necessity of resurrection transformation to enable us to participate in the kingdom of God.

In 54-57 he demonstrates the prophetic necessity of the resurrection.

And finally in verse 58 he gives concluding imperatives; because the resurrection of Jesus is an historical fact and our resurrection is a certain future event that God will bring about, we should live a certain way.

It matters what you believe. What you believe will impact the way you live. If you claim to believe something but there is no evidence of that belief working itself out in your character in everyday life, it is legitimate to question whether you truly believe what you claim.

Brothers, Beloved

1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Paul addresses his readers as brothers. Earlier he addressed them as fools. Actually, in verse 35 he quotes the questions of ‘someone’ and he responds to that hypothetical ‘someone’ who asks those questions with ‘Fool!’ because those questions were motivated not by a desire to learn but by an effort to make belief in the resurrection look silly. They were the questions of the fool in Proverbs who says in his heart ‘there is no God’. But here he refers to his readers as brothers, siblings, not subordinates or underlings, but equals. And he calls them ‘my beloved’. We are dearly loved. This is a command, but it is a command clothed in gentleness and compassion. He genuinely cares about us and he communicates that to us. The command is rooted in love, a desire to bless, to do good to us, to help us to find joy and fulfillment.

Be Steadfast, Immovable

This word gives the idea of firmness, steadiness, being settled. Paul used this word in chapter 7 talking about the resolve of a single man who chooses not to marry.

1 Corinthians 7:37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well.

This same word also shows up in Colossians 1 in a similar context to this one.

Colossians 1:23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

We are to continue in the faith, stable and steadfast. Interestingly the word for ‘shifting’ is the positive verb form of the negative adjective translated here ‘immovable’. It means to be unmovable, not moved from its place, firmly persistent. We are not to be moved from the hope of the gospel. We are to be firmly persistent in the good news.

This is the same idea that he expressed with different words at the beginning of this discussion on the resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.

He began the discussion with an ‘if’. There is a danger of not remaining in the gospel, not holding fast the word. Now he concludes the section with a loving exhortation to be settled and unmovable.

1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

It seems the Corinthians were in danger of allowing the culture and the beliefs they were surrounded by to sweep them off their sure footing in gospel truth. They were wavering on the foundation truth of the bodily physical resurrection. Paul exhorts them to remain anchored and to stand fast on the truth that they had believed.

Abounding Always

This character, being steadfast, immovable results in action. A person of character acts in ways consistent with that character. A person whose foundation is firmly rooted in gospel truth will abound in the work of the Lord. They will super-abound. They will overflow. Not occasionally, not sometimes, but always. Beyond measure, abundantly. What do they super-abound in? What do they do? What is the work of the Lord?

The Work of the Lord

Most simply, the work of the Lord is the Lord’s work. It is what the Lord does. What is it that we see the Lord doing? What is it that he tells his followers to join him in doing? In Mark 1, Jesus said

Mark 1:38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

Jesus came from the the Father in order to preach the gospel of God, telling people to repent and believe the good news.

Jesus says in Mark 10:

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (cf. Matthew 20:28)

Jesus came to serve. Jesus came to give his life a ransom. In Luke 19 Jesus tells us:

Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

The work Jesus came to do was to find and rescue lost people, to serve, to give his life, to proclaim the good news.

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said “I will build my church”. Jesus is all about building his church, one sinner at a time.

What did Jesus tell his disciples to do? In John 6, Jesus encouraged people to seek not the temporary but the eternal. Some listening asked him a question:

John 6:28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

The work of God is to believe in Jesus. First things first. We must understand the simplicity of the good news. We must come to Jesus ourselves, with childlike faith. Trust in Jesus. Rely on Jesus. Depend on Jesus for eternal life. Without this kind of relationship with Jesus, nothing else is possible. You cannot call yourself a follower of Jesus if you have not come in simple dependence on him.

For a person who comes to Jesus in childlike faith, what is the work he invites us to join him in? In John 20:21, Jesus says to his disciples “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” In Matthew 28:19 Jesus says “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, … 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” In Luke 24 and Acts 1 he calls them to be his witnesses, to testify of him and “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Lk.24:47).

It seems clear that those who have been rescued by Jesus are to join him in his work of seeking and saving the lost by proclaiming his good news to everyone. Paul said in chapter 1 that “Christ… sent me… to preach the gospel” (1:17) and “we preach Christ crucified” (1:23). In chapter 2 he said that we are “servants through whom you believed… I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. …We are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” (2:5-6, 9). In chapter 9 he says “you are my workmanship in the Lord (9:1). He says “we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (9:12). He says “I have made myself a servant of all that I might win more of them… I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel” (9:19, 22-23). In chapter 10 he says “I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of the many, that they may be saved.” (10:33). In 14:12 he uses this word ‘super-abound’; “strive to excel (or super-abound) in building up the church”. He envisions an unbeliever entering the orderly worship service of the church and “the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” (14:25). In chapter 16 he says:

1 Corinthians 16:10 When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am.

What is that work of the Lord other than joining him in seeking and saving the lost, proclaiming the good news, making disciples of all nations, building up his church?

Labor Not In Vain

1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Paul changes the word in the last phrase. He said ‘the work of the Lord’ – whatever it is that you undertake to do, what you are occupied with, what you are busy about. Here he says ‘your labor’ – toil, trouble, pain, sorrow, weariness; it carries the idea of beating one’s breast with grief. This is intense labor united with trouble and sorrow. Paul described his ministry in chapter 4:

1 Corinthians 4:9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, … We are weak, … we [are held] in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

Sometimes following Jesus is just plain hard. Doing what Jesus calls us to do, being people of character as Jesus calls us to be, is hard. It is labor, it brings trouble, it is wearisome, it is toil. Sometimes you just want to give up. Sometimes you wonder ‘is it worth it?’ This is where strong encouragement is necessary.

1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

In the Lord your labor is not empty, worthless, vain. In what way could our labor be in vain, and how is it not in vain in the Lord? Paul started this chapter on the resurrection warning that the gospel should not be believed in vain. Paul says that the gospel saves unless we believe in vain. To believe the gospel in vain would be to believe it in such a way that it is worthless and does not accomplish its intended effect; it does not save. This, in the context, would mean shifting away from the hope of the gospel, not holding fast to the gospel message. In verse 2 Paul uses a synonym to the word translated ‘vain’ in verse 58. he uses the same word four times in this chapter and nowhere else in the book. In verse 10 he says:

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

God extended his grace to Saul, and it was not in vain. God’s grace always accomplishes what he sends it to do. God’s grace transformed an enemy of Jesus into the man who risked everything and went to the ends of the earth to make Christ known.

Paul uses this word twice in verse 14

1 Corinthians 15:14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

If the resurrection didn’t happen, then Christ’s death accomplished nothing and preaching the gospel is worthless and believing the gospel is worthless. It is an empty and impotent message if it is not true. But because it is true, proclaiming the message of the cross is never a waste. Because God is in the business of seeking and saving the lost, of bring life to the dead, transforming sinners into saints, and because God chooses to do his work through the unlikely means of our weakness and foolishness so that he gets all the glory, we can be confident. Because these bodies will be raised and transformed, what we do in these bodies matters. As he said in

1 Corinthians 6:20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

And

1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

All glory to God. All honor and praise and thanks be to God.

1 Corinthians 15:57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

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

June 14, 2015 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment