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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 12:11-13; Signs of a True Apostle

02/28_2 Corinthians 12:11-13; Signs of a True Apostle; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210228_2cor12_11-13.mp3

We are in 2 Corinthians 12. In 2 Corinthians, Paul re-frames our thinking about ministry. He spends the first 7 chapters pointing us to the fact that authentic gospel ministry takes its shape from the gospel it proclaims; the good news of an awesome God who humbles himself, who stoops down to our level, who out of his great love for us takes our sin upon himself and suffers in our place for our eternal good. Authentic ministers carry this gospel treasure in fragile earthen containers, to put on display that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2Cor.4:7).

In chapters 8 and 9 he points to the practical outworking of this transformative good news, which so changes the hearts of believers that they joyfully overflow in practical generosity to others. He invites and exhorts the Corinthians to join him in an opportunity to serve the suffering saints.

In chapters 10-13 we discover that there is a sinister danger set to derail the church in Corinth; triumphalist leaders have infiltrated the church and have been building themselves up by tearing Paul down.

Foolish Boasting

Although no one ought to boast except in the Lord, and it is only the Lord’s approval that carries any weight (2Cor.10:17-18), Paul is forced to defend himself against false accusations. He is forced to boast in his own ministry over against that of the false apostles, whom he calls servants of Satan (2Cor.11:13-15).

He acknowledges that boasting in oneself is foolish. He asks them to bear with his foolishness, seeing that they all too readily bear with fools (11:1, 4, 19). He doesn’t want to be thought a fool, but since they already think so poorly of him, he asks them to indulge his foolish boasting and give him their ear (11:16-18). But he warns them that boasting in self is not according to the Lord but rather according to the flesh. As he beings his boast in 11:21, he interjects ‘I am speaking as a fool’. In verse 23 he says he is not only speaking foolishly; literally ‘without his mind’, but he is ‘out of his mind’ to boast like this.

He begins by boasting in his Jewish heritage (11:22), which he tells us in Philippians 3:3-8 that confidence in the flesh, in ethnicity and religious upbringing, is worthless, a liability not an asset, nothing but offensive filth and rubbish.

But he quickly switches gears (11:23-29) and begins to boast in his superior service to Christ, which looks like sufferings, trials, hardships, persecutions, constant and varied dangers, toils and snares.

When they would expect him to boast in his successes, in his accomplishments, he boasts that he is quite literally a basket case – having to flee for his life let down through the city wall in a grocery basket under cover of night.

When they anticipate accounts of visions and revelations (12:1-6), he switches to the third person, boasting not in himself as the great apostle, but in an ordinary ‘man in Christ’ who doesn’t know exactly what happened to him, other than that he was caught up into heaven and heard things he is not permitted to tell them about. But this surpassingly great revelation came with a thorn, a satanic emissary given by God to crush his pride and keep him humble. He prayed for deliverance, but God didn’t even answer his prayer, at least not in the way he had hoped. The answer he did receive from Jesus was that his grace is sufficient; because power finds its fulfillment in weakness.

In response to this, he is delighted to boast in his own weaknesses so that the power of Christ encamps on him.

What the Church Ought To Do

He concludes this foolish boasting by pointing to the fault of the church in pushing him to that extreme.

2 Corinthians 12:11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. 12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. 13 For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

The church did not do what it ought to have done, and this impelled Paul to make a fool of himself to rescue them from the diabolical danger they were embracing. When false teachers came promoting a false gospel, preaching another jesus, encouraging them to receive a different spirit, they ought to have smelled the wolf by their life and teaching and given them no quarter. When the servants of Satan began to undermine the one who preached the gospel to them, who served them at great personal cost, who showed them what it looks like to follow Jesus, they ought to have stood up and testified in Paul’s defense. Paul looks back over this list of his own sufferings in service to Christ, and says ‘this is the script you should have read in my defense.’

I ought to have been commended by you. As he said earlier in response to their desire for letters of recommendation ‘you yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts’ (2Cor.3:2-3). You are the authenticating evidence of our ministry, you who once were immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers; you have been transformed by the gospel we preached. You were washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1Cor.9:9-11). You who were sinners have been made saints though the gospel we brought to you.

It was not only the fault of the false apostles. It was the negligence of the church to stand firm in the message that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). They should have known better. They ought not to have stood silently by while the truth of the gospel and the character of the one who brought it to them was maligned and distorted. The church is called to be the pillar and buttress of the truth (1Tim.2:15). The foolish boasting of the apostle was made necessary by the church neglecting to do what it ought to have done.

Nothing and Still Not Inferior

Because, Paul says, ‘For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.’ Think this statement through for a minute. I am not deficient, I have no lack, I am not less than the super-apostles. Think of this in simple math terms. If he is not less than them, then he is saying that he is at least equal to, if not greater than them. And he considers himself exactly equal to zero. He is nothing. If he is not less than the super-apostles, then the super-apostles are equal to or less than zero.

But Paul, you don’t really consider yourself a zero, do you? This must be false humility at its best. I say ‘I’m a zero’ as a way to get you to affirm me and tell me how really great I am and how much I do contribute. I put myself down to get you to puff me up. Is that what Paul is doing here?

No, it’s not. Paul really and truly considered himself a zero, a nothing. He tells the Romans:

Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment…

He told the Galatians:

Galatians 6:3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Our problem is not low self esteem. The temptation we all face every day is to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. We think we are something, and really we are nothing.

In 1 Corinthians 3, the church was lining up each behind his favorite leader. Paul asks:

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

I am nothing. Apollos is nothing. Nothing but servants, doing what the Master assigned. We each did what we were told. God is the one who gave the growth. God is everything. I am nothing.

He goes on to warn them:

1 Corinthians 3:18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

Again, our problem is not that we think too little of ourselves, but too much. Nobody struggles with the sin of humility. Paul writes in:

1 Corinthians 4:6 …that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

My flesh cries out ‘No!’ I’m not nothing! Look at my talents, my abilities, my accomplishments, my good looks, my charming, winsome personality. What do you have that you did not receive? The question is not whether or not you got it. The question is where’d you get it? Did you deserve it? Or is it a gift, freely given?

Here’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:

1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 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.

I’m unworthy. I am what I am by God’s grace. Grace, remember is God’s undeserved favor extended freely to sinners. It’s the opposite of being worthy, it’s the opposite of getting something in return for being something or contributing something. Grace is given to zeroes.

Paul says ‘I worked harder than any of the other apostles, but that was not me. That was God’s grace at work in me.’ I am nothing.

Signs of A True Apostle

He says ‘you ought to have defended me, because the signs of a true apostle were performed among you.’ What does he mean by that? What are the signs of a true apostle? We could look at Jesus’ ministry. When he was asked if he was the long anticipated one, he answered:

Matthew 11:4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.

Authenticating signs and wonders. Blind, lame, lepers, deaf, even dead people are raised. But listen carefully to what Jesus lists as the climactic sign authenticating his ministry; the poor have the good news preached to them. That’s the climactic conclusion of Jesus’ list of his own signs.

In Mark 1, after Jesus had healed many and cast out many demons so that everyone was looking for him,

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 performed authenticating signs, but that was not primary. Proclaiming the good news was primary. In fact, Jesus warned:

Mark 13:22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.

Jesus even predicted (Matt.7:22-23) that many would prophesy, cast out demons, and do might works in his name, who did not even have a relationship with him. So what are the signs of a true apostle, if false prophets will perform signs and wonders to lead people astray? How can we know what is true if both the true and the false perform signs and wonders and mighty works?

It would serve us well to pay careful attention to what Paul says here, and what he does not say.

2 Corinthians 12:12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with both signs and wonders. With mighty works. He does not say that the signs of a true apostle are the signs and wonders and mighty works. He says the signs of a true apostle are accompanied by both signs and wonders and mighty works. Remember, Paul has just been talking about power, this same word for ‘mighty works’ here.

2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

It is Christ’s power, and it is power that finds its aim and end in our weaknesses. Paul has been boasting, but he is boasting in the things which show his weakness (11:30; 12:4). Throughout this passage, he has been pointing away from supernatural signs as confirmation of authentic ministry. He carefully avoids saying anything that would cause someone to ‘think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me’ (12:6). The book of Acts records some of the supernatural signs and wonders that happened at the hands of Paul. But Paul insists that the minister be evaluated on the basis of his life and his teaching, objective findings that are seen and heard, not subjective supernatural experiences that can lie or be counterfeited.

Jesus told those who were requesting a sign from him:

Matthew 12:39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (cf. Matt.16:4)

Jesus pointed them to the greatest sign of his own death, burial and resurrection. The cross was the ultimate sign that demonstrated Jesus’ perfect obedience to his Father. In John 2,

John 2:18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

Jesus did many signs and wonders, and many believed because of them. But the sign without which no other sign mattered was the cross.

With Patient Endurance

The signs of a true apostle, Paul points out here, were performed in you or among you. This is in the passive voice. Paul doesn’t say ‘I performed (active voice) the signs.’ Rather, they ‘were performed’ – passive. God performed the authenticating signs in and through Paul.

And he says that these signs were performed ‘in all patient endurance’; with utmost patience. He uses this same word ‘patient endurance’ in 2 Corinthians 6, where he lists his apostolic credentials that commend him as a legitimate servant of God. There he said:

2 Corinthians 6:4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 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; 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.

There he spells out for us what he believes authenticates ministry. It is the paradox of patiently enduring great sufferings in the cause of Christ. It looks like… Jesus.

He affirms the same thing in Romans 15. He says:

Romans 15:17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ;

Any signs and wonders were not his, pointing to him; they were done through him by Christ, and pointed people to Christ Jesus. It was the power of the Spirit of God at work bringing people to Jesus. Paul’s purpose was always evangelistic; preaching the gospel of Christ; to bring the Gentiles to obedience. His holy ambition was to make Christ known, and he was willing to patiently endure suffering if that was necessary. In fact it was often through his suffering that Christ was made known.

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

March 4, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 12:7; Every Rose Has Its Thorn

02/14_2 Corinthians 12:7; Every Rose Has Its Thorn; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210214_2cor12_7.mp3

It’s valentines day, and providentially we’re in 2 Corinthians 12, the passage about Paul’s thorn in the flesh. So to make the connection I thought I’d use a corny cliché to title this message; every rose has its thorn.

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul’s Parody of Boasting

Paul is engaged in foolish boasting to combat the dangerous servants of Satan that were promoting a kind of celebrity leadership based on alleged private (and hence unverifiable) spiritual experiences. God appeared to me, God told me, I had a dream, I experienced a vision, I’ve been entrusted with a word from the Lord; therefore you need to listen to what I have to say, you need to follow me, do what I say.

Private visions, private revelations may benefit the one who experienced them, but they do not establish spiritual authority. Paul does everything he does to be beneficial, useful, to build up the church. He says there is nothing to be gained from boasting in visions and revelations. No benefit to the church. It might sell a book or pack out a room, but it won’t build anyone up.

In this mock parody of the false apostles false boasting, he starts in 11:16-22 by boasting in his own heritage, but then he quickly moves to say that he is a greater servant of Christ, because he suffered more than others in his service to his Lord.

They expect divine supernatural authentication, so he brings up his Damascus experience, but instead of recounting his Damascus road vision of the risen Christ, he recounts his disgraceful and laughable escape from the city, being let down under cover of night through the wall in a basket.

In chapter 12 he lifts our expectations by saying that he will go on to visions and revelations. He gives us his experience, but in the third person; it’s not Paul the great apostle, but simply a man in Christ who was caught up to the third heaven, to paradise, who heard inexpressible words that he is not allowed to speak. He doesn’t give any description of what he saw, he can’t tell us what he heard. He doesn’t claim that in any way it authenticates his ministry; rather it is an experience that belongs ultimately to anyone who is in Christ.

Paul’s Fear

2 Corinthians 12:5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.

Paul’s fear is that if he were to boast of his supernatural experience, someone might think more highly of him that is warranted. They might think of him as larger than life, more than an ordinary Christian, more than a man in Christ. Paul is afraid that someone might attribute to him some unattainable celebrity status, lift him up because of his exceptional experience as more spiritual than others who are in Christ. Paul insists the criteria of faithful ministry must not be unverifiable visions and revelations; ministry must be judged by the objective criteria of life and teaching. What do you hear taught? What do you see in my life?

Paul’s concern is that they evaluate ministry by the wrong standards and listen to the wrong kind of leaders, who, based on their life and teaching, he calls servants of Satan. He’s concerned, because of his own surpassing revelations, that they will listen to him for the wrong reasons.

Paul’s Danger

Paul is concerned for the church. But he is also aware of another threat. He himself is in grave danger.

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul was in great danger. The surpassingly great revelations given to Paul created a great threat to Paul. What he saw, what he heard, was so far beyond, so great, so intimate, that he can’t help but conclude that he is special. No one else had this privileged vision. He was lifted up by the Lord to such incomparable heights that he was in danger of being lifted up with pride in his own heart. It would be all too easy for him to think too much of himself. You hear his concern, repeated both at the beginning and at the end of verse 7; ‘to keep me from being conceited.’ This was a real danger for the apostle, and he recognized it.

This word ‘conceited’ is a compound word ‘surpassingly lifted up’ that connects it with the ‘surpassing greatness’ of the revelations he was given.

The only other place this word ‘conceited’ or ‘surpassingly exalted’ appears in the New Testament is 2 Thessalonians 2:4, where:

2 Thessalonians 2:3 …the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

This is a real danger. Charles Spurgeon says of Paul,

“He had entered into the nearest communion with God, possible to a man while yet in this life. Should he not feel somewhat exalted? Surely exultation must fill that man’s bosom who has been brought within the veil to see his God, and to hear the unutterable harmonies! It was natural that he should be exalted, and it was not unnatural that he should stand in danger of being exalted above measure. Devout exaltation very rapidly degenerates into self-exaltation. When God lifts us up, there is only one step further— namely, our lifting up ourselves; and then we fall into serious mischief indeed. I wonder how many among us could bear to receive such revelations as Paul had? O God, thou mayest well in thy kindness spare us such perilous favours! We have neither head nor heart to sustain so vast a load of blessing. Our little plant needs not a river to water its root: the gentle dew suffices— the flood might wash it away.” [C.H.Spurgeon, delivered Dec. 8, 1872; Volume 18]

Pride is the sin that damned the devil. It is dangerous. ‘O God, thou mayest well in thy kindness spare us such perilous favours!’

God’s Good Gift

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

To prevent Paul from falling into this deadly devilish danger, he was given a gift. He doesn’t say who gave this gift, but it is clear from the context. This word ‘given’ speaks specifically of God’s favor bestowed; in Eph.3:8 and 4:7 it speaks of God’s grace given; in 1Tim.4:14 of God’s grace-gifts. God is the giver of every good gift, and if this gift prevents Paul from pride, it is a good gift.

Thorns

What might startle us is what God’s good gift is. Paul says he was given a thorn in the flesh. That doesn’t sound good, and it is certainly not pleasant. Have you had a thorn in your flesh? Inevitably, when pulling weeds, I’ll get a little tiny thorn in my hand. Some of these thorns are so small, so insignificant, I can’t even see them. I can’t see them, but I certainly can feel them! I might not notice it for a while, until I go to pick something up and it irritates the thorn and reminds me that it’s still there. I’ve used a needle or a blade to literally dig a hole in my finger where I think the invisible source of my torment is, trying to root it out.

Thorns aren’t very impressive either. If you ask for my help and I say I can’t help because I was on the battlefield and suffered a gunshot wound to my arm that hasn’t fully healed yet, you might be impressed. But if I say I have this little thorn in my hand, so it hurts me when I pick anything up, you might roll your eyes and come at me with tweezers. And if I tell you it’s no use, it is too small even to see, I’m sure you will be very impressed with my undaunted bravery.

Everyone wants to know what Paul’s thorn was. About every malady, physical or spiritual, every form of persecution or opposition has been suggested. The fact is he doesn’t tell us. We aren’t meant to know. Whatever it was, it was given in response to the heavenly rapture experience 14 years earlier, and it was meant to keep Paul humbly trusting. Spurgeon again has a helpful word:

“we have unveiled before us a portion of the secret life of Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles. We may not only see his bed-chamber, but learn the apostle’s visions; we may not only see his private infirmities, but learn the cause of them. Let us not, however, be actuated by so low a motive as mere curiosity, while we gaze upon the open secret; let us remember that the apostle never intended to amuse the curious, when he penned these words, but he wrote them for a practical purpose. Let us read them with a desire to be instructed by them, and may the Holy Spirit teach us to profit. This record was not sent to us merely that we should know that this eminent servant of Christ had abundant revelations, or that he suffered a thorn in the flesh, but it was written for our profit.” [C.H.Spurgeon, delivered Dec. 8, 1872; Volume 18]

We learn from this that pride is more dangerous than thorns, and God may give us the good gift of a thorn to keep us trusting in him alone and not in ourselves or our past experiences.

Satan’s Angel

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul parallels his description of the thorn in the flesh with ‘an angel of Satan to harass him’. The word here is the same one used of our Lord in his treatment at the hands of the Jewish leaders.

Matthew 26:67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him,

A demonic messenger was sent to strike him, to buffet him. This too is startling; that God’s good gift to him is Satan’s emissary. So who sent this Satanic thorn to pummel Paul? Was it Satan or God? Paul’s answer is ‘yes’. The thorn was sent by Satan, and it was a gift from God. We must remember that Satan is a created being, part of God’s creation, over whom God is omnipotent and sovereign.

We could think of the evil action of Joseph’s brothers, who sold him into slavery,

Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

The brothers intended evil, but God intended good. We could think of the first chapters of Job, when God instigated Satan to test him. We could even think of Judas; when Satan himself entered Judas, he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Judas, under control of Satan, sold Jesus out to be executed. And we know from Colossians that Jesus death [canceled…]

Colossians 2:14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Satan incited Judas to betray Jesus to the cross, the very thing that secured our forgiveness and disarmed and conquered the powers of darkness. This is clearly a case, as Jesus predicted:

Matthew 12:26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?

Satan, in seeking to destroy Jesus, brought about the even that set us free from his power and sealed his own fate.

The early church understood:

Acts 4:27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

This proved to be the case for Paul. Satan’s angel no doubt intending to discourage and destroy Paul, actually was a gift of God that crushed Paul’s pride and secured his utter weak dependence on the Lord alone. God wields circumstances, sufferings, even Satan himself to bring about his good ends. As Paul said in the beginning of this book, about his affliction in Asia,

2 Corinthians 1:8 …we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

The devil is a tool in the hand of the sovereign Lord to wean us away from our self sufficiency and trust him completely.

Our self-exaltation is more deadly even than demonic oppression.

Persistent Prayer for Deliverance

Don’t misunderstand; Paul didn’t look for this thorn; Paul wasn’t asking to be abused by a satanic emissary. Quite the contrary.

2 Corinthians 12:8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Here again the apostle demonstrates that authentic ministry is ministry shaped by the cross. Genuine ministry follows in the footsteps of Jesus. Our Lord Jesus, in dread of the cross, three times

Matthew 26:39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Paul pleaded with the Lord Jesus three times about this that it should leave him. This is one of the few places we see prayer directed to Jesus rather than the Father, because Paul found in him a high priest who is able to sympathize with his weakness (Heb.4:15-16). He desired that the thorn, the satanic messenger be taken away. Like his Lord, he did not receive the answer he hoped for. Rather, like his Lord, he was strengthened to endure what was necessary for him to endure. Like his Lord Jesus, he would bring glory to God not by escaping the unwanted trial, but by persevering through it. He was promised sufficient grace to meet the trial.

Do we underestimate the danger of our own hearts, of our self-important thoughts? Do we rightly estimate the deadly disease of pride? Likely none of us have had the rapturous experience that Paul had, and yet we allow ourselves to be puffed up beyond measure. It is God’s grace that uses a thorn to deflate our self-obsession so that we embrace weakness as the way to glorify God.

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

February 16, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 12:1-6; Visions and Revelations

02/07_2 Corinthians 12:1-6; Visions and Revelations; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210207_2cor12_1-6.mp3

Visions and Revelations

Paul had been in Corinth only a short time and God was blessing. Although he was opposed by those in the Jewish synagogue, he went to a house next door and continued to proclaim Jesus. The ruler of the synagogue and his household believed, and many Corinthians believed and were baptized. But in Acts 18:9 we read:

Acts 18:9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision [ὅραμα], “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Paul must have been afraid, intimidated, feeling alone. He must have been tempted to back off, to be quiet, to disengage, so the Lord Jesus encouraged him with a vision and a word.

Peter, in Acts 1, when:

Acts 2:3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared [ὀπτάνομαι] to them and rested on each one of them.

Peter proclaimed the good news of Jesus to the questioning crowd, and he said:

Acts 2:17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see [ὀπτάνομαι] visions [ὅρασις], and your old men shall dream dreams;

Visions, dreams, revelations. Paul in 2 Corinthians 11 in confronting the false apostles is boasting (foolish boasting), and in chapter 12 he says:

2 Corinthians 12:1 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.

Paul is going to address visions and revelations of the Lord. Visions and revelations are big in some circles of the church today, as they were big in the church in Corinth. Apparently the false apostles would one-up each other with elaborate accounts of their visions and revelations.

Boasting and the Damascus Escape

Paul is meeting the false apostles on their own boastful turf, answering fools according to their folly, and bragging that he has more to boast of than they do. If you remember in 11:21-22 he began by boasting in his ethnic and religious pedigree, claiming the same credentials as anyone else. In verse 23 he takes it up a notch and claims to be a better servant of Christ, but he switches gears and begins to talk about his sufferings in service of Christ and the gospel. He says ‘if I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness’ (11:30).

He brings up his Damascus experience, where everyone knows he had a vision of the risen Jesus who appeared to him and changed the entire direction of his life. But Paul doesn’t recount his life transforming vision here. Rather he recounts his humiliating escape from Damascus, where the persecutor of Christians escaped by night, weak, lowered in a basked through the city wall by the Christians whom he now calls brothers; the mighty persecutor had become the persecuted.

They would have expected him to recount his Damascus vision here, but instead he tells them about his humbling escape.

Nothing To Be Gained

Here it comes. In chapter 12, he says he will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. He’s stringing them along. Finally he’s going to get to the powerful, the supernatural, the good stuff. After all, a true apostle must have had some profound spiritual experiences.

But he prefaces what he is about to say by reminding them that he is boasting, which he has told them in 11:16-18 that he is boasting according to the flesh, he is not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.

And here he says, ‘there is nothing to be gained by it’. It is not beneficial. It is not profitable. It won’t build anyone up. In Acts 20, he reminded the elders of the church in Ephesus of his service ‘with all humility and with tears and with trials…’

Acts 20:20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house,

Paul seeks to be useful, profitable, to do good to all. He said in

1 Corinthians 10:33 …not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

This is his criteria for his own ministry, and for the use of spiritual gifts in the church.

1 Corinthians 12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

In 1 Corinthians 14 he uses a parallel idea – building up:

1 Corinthians 14:12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

And here in 2 Corinthians 10-13, he says it three times

2 Corinthians 10:8 …our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you…

2 Corinthians 12:19 …we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.

2 Corinthians 13:10 …the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

Paul seeks to build up, to be profitable, to seek the common good. But here he says that boasting in visions and revelations does not do that. There’s nothing to be gained by it. It will not benefit you. It will not build up the church. But here I go. I must go on boasting; you’ve driven me to it.

Not a Credential; A Man In Christ

2 Corinthians 12:1 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.

What strikes us here is that Paul switches to the third person. He promises to boast of his own visions and revelations, but now he’s talking about some ‘man in Christ’. But when we look ahead to verses 6-10, he switches back to the first person ‘I, I, I, I, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, I, me, me, I, my, me, I, I, I.

What is Paul doing? Paul is boasting about his credentials for ministry, and here he moves on to boast about the category of visions and revelations, his own supernatural experience. He gives one specific example, but he distances himself from the narrative.

He doesn’t say ‘I, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, had this amazing experience, unlike anyone else’. Rather he says ‘I know an average ordinary believer, a man who belongs to Jesus, someone who is in Christ’. It could have been anybody. I had this experience, but not because of who I am, and the experience doesn’t establish my credentials or give me any authority.

So many false teachers, false prophets, false apostles throughout history have built their platform on a vision or a revelation. I had this experience. God appeared to me, God spoke to me, the Lord told me… Paul is careful not to paint a picture of himself in such a way as to make them think that visionary experiences give anyone any authority in the church of Jesus Christ.

Fourteen Years Ago

2 Corinthians 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven…

Fourteen years ago? Fourteen years ago, Paul, and you’re not selling books ‘my trip to the third heaven’. You’re not holding seminars ‘how to have your own personal rapture’? You’ve not been invited to speak at multiple large events? Fourteen years ago and you haven’t told anyone?

If Paul wrote 2 Corinthians around AD 54 or 55, that would put this experience around AD 40, shortly after his escape from Damascus between 37 and 39. We know almost nothing of the years between his departure from Damascus and Barnabas retrieving him from Tarsus around 44 or 45 (Acts 11:25-26), other than what he says in Galatians 1

Galatians 1:17 … I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. …21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

Paul has known the Corinthians for 5 years. He spent 18 months with them, he made another brief visit to them, this is his fourth letter to them. And only now, when he is forced to, does he bring up this monumental experience. Why?

Raptured (Passive)

2 Corinthians 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—

Twice in these verses Paul says he was caught up; the word is used of seizing. This is the word used of the evil birds in Jesus parable who snatch away what was sown in the heart (Mt.13:19), or of the wolf who snatches the sheep. Jesus reassures us that no one will snatch his sheep from his hand (Jn.10:12,28-29). This is the word used when the people wanted to take Jesus by force and make him king (Jn.6:15). Or in Acts 8:39 when the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away. This is the word that comes to us through the Latin as rapture.

Paul claims to have been raptured, caught up to the third heaven, to paradise. In Jewish thought the first heaven is the day sky or our atmosphere; the second heaven is the night sky or space, the moon, stars, galaxies; the third heaven is the presence of God himself. Paradise connects back to where God walked with the first man and woman in the garden.

Notice, this is something that happened to Paul. The verbs are in the passive voice, which means it is not something Paul did; it was something that was done to Paul by another. This was not an experience Paul was seeking or preparing himself for. It was not a state he worked himself into. Paul can take no credit. God did it. God snatched him, carried him off.

Notice also Paul’s ignorance of the details. He repeats twice his ignorance of his own physical state during this event. He doesn’t know if he was taken bodily or only spiritually. Ancient extra-biblical Jewish apocalyptic literature went into detail on about traveling through the heavens, and entering into the presence of God, and what they claim to have seen there. Paul doesn’t give us any of this. He doesn’t even know where his own body was. God knows.

God gave Paul a foretaste of heaven. And this is the hope of every believer, of all who are in Christ.

1 Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

What happened to Paul was no doubt incredible. But it happened to ‘a man in Christ’. He brings his experience down and makes it ours. Every believer, all who are in Christ will be caught up to be with the Lord forever.

He Heard Unutterable Utterances

2 Corinthians 12:1 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—

Next comes the part where he tells us what he saw and heard. Actually he doesn’t tell us what he saw; he only tells us what he heard.

2 Corinthians 12:4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

Do you see how anticlimactic this is? How disappointing? Paul was given revelation, he heard words, but they are unutterable, inexpressible. This could mean that what was communicated to him went beyond the limits of human language. But in the next phrase he says that what he heard is not lawful or permitted for a man to speak. Whatever he heard he was not allowed to communicate. This revelation was for him alone. This is one reason he didn’t talk about what happened for 14 years. And he still doesn’t break the silence. Everybody wants to know what Paul heard, but doesn’t let us in on any of it. This is in stark contrast to the false apostles who are all too eager to use their experiences to manipulate people.

Weakness (Suffering in Service to Christ) Establishes Authenticity

Paul concludes

2 Corinthians 12:5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.

Paul is persistent that if he must boast, it will be in his weakness. That is why he frames this whole visionary revelatory experience in the third person. It was a man in Christ. If he wanted to boast in this man’s experience, he wouldn’t be lying, because it was indeed his own experience. But he refuses to boast in it. He refused for 14 years, and he will continue to refuse to use it to leverage authority. It is his weaknesses that he wants to be written large over his life and ministry.

His reason for this is so counter-cultural. We are worried that people will think too little of us, or think of us too little. We love to filter our flaws and inflate our image. We want to be made much of. Paul doesn’t want anyone to think too highly of him. Even in the context of false teachers in the church undermining his authority and integrity, he doesn’t want anyone to think more of him than is warranted by the real verifiable evidence of his life and teaching.

Paul could have easily won a short term victory here by pulling his authority card and his supernatural experience card and leaving the opponents in the dust. But that would have left the door wide open for future generations to seize spiritual authority by unverifiable supernatural experiences.

He is teaching the Corinthians (and us) that supernatural experiences, although real, are not to be used to establish the credibility or authority of anyone as a minister. Those kind of personal experiences aren’t earned, they are given graciously by God. And they can’t be verified.

Paul wisely says no. Don’t think more of me than what you see in me or hear from me. Those are objective, verifiable standards. Judge me by my life, by my weaknesses, my my suffering service for the Savior. Judge me by the content my message, by the gospel I proclaim, by my open statement of the truth.

***

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

February 12, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 11:30-33; Boasting in Weakness

01/31_2 Corinthians 11:30-33; Boasting in Weakness ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210131_2cor11_30-33.mp3

We are going to jump back in to our study of 2 Corinthians today. We have been away from this book for the holidays, so a quick overview to orient ourselves in this letter from the Apostle Paul to a troubled church.

Acts 18 recounts Paul’s first visit to Corinth (around AD 50 or 51), where he spent 18 months preaching the gospel and establishing the church. But shortly after leaving, he heard there were troubles in Corinth, so he wrote them a letter (AD 52) confronting some of the issues, a letter that was misunderstood. He again received visits from some in Corinth communicating that all was not well, so he wrote them again (AD 53; the letter we have as 1 Corinthians). About a year later (AD 54), he heard of more problems, so he traveled in person to Corinth, a visit that did not go well. He quickly retreated, and wrote them a letter through his tears. Having sent his co-worker Titus ahead to Corinth to try to patch things up, he was now traveling through Macedonia en route to visit them again, and he wrote this letter (AD 55) to prepare them for his visit.

Chapters 1-7 seek to re-orient their thinking about ministry. They had developed a distorted understanding of what ministry is all about; Paul argues that gospel ministry is ministry that is shaped by the gospel. The good news is that God humbled himself, became one of us, to seek and to save the lost, to lay down his life for us. Christian ministry is not all about paychecks and positions and privilege. Gospel ministry must be shaped by the gospel, by the cross. It must look like humility, like sacrificial service for others. It must pattern itself after Christ crucified. It must conform to the cross.

Paul says:

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. …7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

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.

In chapters 8-9 he reminds us that this gospel grace that has been extended to us by God will so transform our hearts that we will overflow in practical generosity to others. Part of his purpose for this trip through Macedonia to Corinth is to take up a collection for the poor and persecuted believers in Jerusalem, so he extends them the opportunity to participate in this practical ministry.

In chapters 10-13 he confronts head on the false apostles who had gained a hearing in the church, who were proclaiming a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel.

Paul changes his tone in this section to biting irony. The false teachers are engaged in foolish boasting, so he answers fools according to their folly so that their folly will become evident to all. He warns the Corinthians are being led astray from a sincere devotion to Christ, and that the false apostles are taking them as slaves, devouring, taking advantage of, putting on airs, even striking them in the face (11:20).

2 Corinthians 11:21 …But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I.

Paul possesses the credentials to meet them in their foolish boasting. In fact, he can go further than that.

2 Corinthians 11:23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman…

But here he switches gears on them. He reminds them that a servant of Christ is just that, a servant.

2 Corinthians 11:23… —with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

Res Gestae Divi Augusti

When we put this in historical context, we see Paul is making a parody of the typical self-praise of the powerful.

Augustus Caesar (who reigned 31 BC to 14 AD) had his lengthy autobiography inscribed on two columns in Rome. Here is a short excerpt:

“the achievements of the deified Augustus by which he placed the whole world under the sovereignty of the Roman people, and of the amounts which he expended upon the state and the Roman people”.

[4] Twice I triumphed with an ovation, thrice I celebrated curule triumphs, and was saluted as imperator twenty-one times. Although the Senate decreed me additional triumphs I set them aside. When I had performed the vows which I had undertaken in each war I deposited upon the Capitol the laurels which adorned my fasces. For successful operations on land and sea, conducted either by myself or by my lieutenants under my auspices, the Senate on fifty-five occasions decreed that thanks should be rendered to the immortal gods. The days on which such thanks were rendered by decree of the Senate numbered 890. In my triumphs there were led before my chariot nine kings or children of kings. At the time of writing these words I had been thirteen times consul, and was in the thirty-seventh year of my tribunician power.

It was common for the powerful to catalog their accomplishments. Paul meets the super-apostles in their boasting, but he takes it in a direction they wouldn’t anticipate. We expect boasting to be in accomplishments, in victories, in triumphs. But Paul boasts in his trials, in his brokenness, in his sufferings.

Divine Commission

We pick up on some of the credentials they were looking for from chapter 12, where Paul says ‘I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. …The signs of a true apostle were performed among you …with signs and wonders and mighty works’ (12:1,12). They expected the supernatural; visions, revelations, signs, wonders.

We could think of the divine commissioning of the Old Testament prophets, like Ezekiel, who said “the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” or Isaiah; “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” or Jeremiah; “Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” or even the Apostle John “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book…”

We would expect Paul to share with us his commissioning by the risen Lord that we find in Acts 9:

Acts 9:1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (cf. Acts 22:6-11; 26:12-18)

No doubt this was well known to the Corinthian church, as Paul had referenced it in 1 Corinthians 9:1. But that’s not what he says here.

Glory To God Alone

Paul says

2 Corinthians 11:30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Paul is answering a fool according to his folly, but he refuses to play their game on their terms. He will not answer a fool according to his folly. He changes the criteria. He says ‘You make it necessary for me to boast, but I’m going to boast about that which puts on display my weakness, so that God gets all the glory.’

2 Corinthians 11:31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.

God must get all the glory. God alone is blessed forever. God is related to Jesus as his God in his humanity, and he is the Father of our Lord Jesus in his eternal divine nature. Christian ministry is intimately linked to the Father through our Lord Jesus.

Paul takes an oath by the God who is Truth, that he is telling the truth. This heightens our expectation of what he is going to say next. He brings up his Damascus experience, but not in the way they expect.

Damascus Escape

2 Corinthians 11:32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me,

This account, by the way, is anchored in history. Aretas was a royal title. This was Aretas IV, a Nabatean vassal king who reigned in Petra from 9 BC to 39/40 AD; he was the father-in-law to Herod Antipas. Herod divorced his daughter to marry Herodias, the former wife of his brother Philip (Mat.14:3-4; Mk.6:17-18 Lk.3:19). This is the Herod whom John the Baptist rebuked, and was eventually executed by. Aretas avenged his daughter by attacking and defeating Herod Antipas in 36 AD.

2 Corinthians 11:32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands. (cf. Acts 9:20-25; Gal.1:17)

This is shocking. He turns boasting upside down. Paul was powerful, triumphant, marching in broad daylight to Damascus with authority to persecute and imprison followers of Jesus. This is the posture of the false apostles. But he didn’t know Jesus. Jesus knocked him from his high horse, lowered him to the dust, so that he could reveal himself to him.

And then he was helpless, blind, weak; he had to be led by the hand. He had to be prayed for by a reluctant disciple from Damascus that he was coming to persecute. Ananias laid his hands on him to restore his sight. He immediately began to proclaim Jesus, and this soon got him in trouble. The hunter became the hunted; the persecutor became the persecuted. The powerful became weak. The pursuer was pursued. The one who came to take lives had to flee for his life. In a humiliating turn, those he came to persecute helped him escape; he was lowered in a large basket under cover of night, a basket normally used for salted fish or produce.

Saul the persecutor came to know what it was to be persecuted for the name of Jesus. But he had met Jesus, and Jesus was worth the cost. Christian ministry is characterized by humility, willingly sacrificial for the good of others.

Corona Muralis

It was well known that one of the highest military honors for valor was the Corona Muralis or Wall Crown. It was awarded to the first Roman soldier to successfully scale the wall of an enemy city. Ironically, Paul boasts in his weakness. He didn’t scale the wall in victory; he was lowered down the wall and slunk away under cover of darkness.

The false apostles wanted credentials, they wanted evidence of divine commissioning. They wanted an account of a vision or evidence of divine favor. In bringing up Damascus, Paul alludes to his divine call and commissioning, but instead he recounts his shameful exit from the city.

Jericho and David

But Paul was not the only one to escape down a city wall. Under Joshua’s command, the two spies who entered Jericho were let down a scarlet cord through an opening in the wall by Rahab the prostitute (Josh.2:15). David escaped from King Saul when Michal let him down through the window, and he fled (1Sam.19:12). In each of these accounts, what seems like an ignominious and shameful escape turns out to lead to a display of God’s power.

This is exactly Paul’s point. God’s power is displayed most vividly through human weakness. So he is glad to boast in the things that display his weakness, so that God alone would get all the glory.

***

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

February 2, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 10:12-18; Leadership and the Lord’s Approval

10/04_2 Corinthians 10:12-18; Leadership and the Lord’s Approval; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20201004_2cor10_12-18.mp3

Who won the debate? By what standard? Who had better arguments? Who had greater eloquence? Who made a better show? Who listened well and followed the rules of etiquette? Who showed greater kindness to his opponent? By what standard do you judge? (I didn’t watch it.)

2 Corinthians 10:12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. 13 But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. 15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. 17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

You’ve seen kids on the playground who are told to line up smallest to tallest. They stand back to back to measure themselves against each other and stretch to their full height and re-order themselves and argue about who is taller and who was standing on tippie-toes and who has shoes that give an unfair advantage. Someone establishes themselves as judge to evaluate, but then they have to be evaluated by others to find their place in the line. That is the kind of thing that is going on in this passage, and Paul calls it foolishness. He says ‘I wouldn’t dare to even play your silly game.’

Let me give you a rough literal translation; it’s not good English, but it brings out some of the repetition and verbal links that are there in the original.

12. For we don’t dare judge in or judge with those who commend themselves; but those who by themselves with themselves measure and judge themselves with themselves do not understand.

13. But we will not boast to that without measure; but according to the measure of the rule which God measured to us; which measure extended even as far as you.

14. For not as not extending to you do we hyper-extend ourselves, for even as far as you we arrived before in the gospel of Christ –

15. Not into that without measure do we boast in another’s toils; but we hold hope by the growth of your faith, by you to be magnified according to our rule to super-abound 16. into the still farther parts beyond you to evangelize; not to boast in another rule to that which is prepared;

17. but the one who boasts must boast in the Lord

18. for not the one who commends himself is that one approved, but whom the Lord commends.

Paul is under attack. His authority and credibility in the church in Corinth is being undermined by those he later calls

2 Corinthians 11:13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.

Paul is not ashamed to boast excessively of his authority, which he received from the Lord for building up the church (2Cor.10:8). He calls them sarcastically ‘super-apostles’ who are preaching a different Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel (2Cor.11:4).

Paul and Delegating Leadership

Paul has no problem turning over the local leadership of a church to another. He left Titus in Crete

Titus 1:5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—

Paul was eager to establish others, men of character, in leadership. But, along with personal integrity,

Titus 1:9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

He must hold firm the trustworthy word as taught. There are deceivers who must be rebuked and silenced.

According to Philippians 1, Paul can rejoice even over the preaching of those with impure motives, when they are preaching Christ.

Paul has no problem with someone like Apollos coming in behind him to follow up his ministry and serve in the churches he planted.

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, …

The Corinthians tried to pit Paul against Apollos. Paul says no, we are on the same team. We are one. We are fulfilling different roles that God has given to each of us.

False Apostles and Usurped Authority

So what is different between Apollos or the elders appointed by Titus and these ‘super-apostles’?

1 Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

The false apostles are seeking to dig up the foundation of Jesus and under their authority transplant the church on to a different foundation of a different Jesus and a different gospel. This is what Paul is up against in this passage.

Subjective Comparison

Paul’s sarcasm is biting, and this passage drips with irony.

2 Corinthians 10:12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.

The false apostles are commending themselves. Back in chapter 3, we see that apparently they were coming in with letters of recommendation, seeking to establish their own authority. Paul says ‘you are our letter of recommendation.’ In Chapter 4, Paul says that he does not tamper with God’s word, but commends himself to all by the open statement of the truth. In chapter 5 he says that he is not seeking to commend himself, but rather to give them an answer to use with those who boast merely in outward appearances. In chapter 6 Paul commends himself by cataloging his sufferings that demonstrate he is following in the footsteps of his Master.

The false apostles are commending themselves, by judging themselves with themselves. This is a danger today. We are a competitive culture. How successful is your ministry? How big is your church? Your bible study? How many have you led to Christ? How many followers do you have, how many views, how many hits, how many likes? Or in some circles, how much opposition do you have? How many are criticizing your ministry? Because if you’re being attacked, you must be doing something right (it couldn’t mean that you are just rude, or being a jerk).

How do you measure ministry success? This is a case of the seven dwarves bickering over who is the tallest. Snow White smiles and stoops down to pat them on the head. At Babel (Gen.11) mankind came together to make a name for themselves and a tower to compete with heaven. The Lord came down to get a better look at the puny little tower they had built.

We like to look sideways to see how we are doing. Am I keeping up? Am I doing better than the other guy? If I am ahead, I can ease up and relax a little. If I am behind I need to push hard to catch up. How are you doing? ‘Well, I’m faster than him, but I’m way behind her.’ Paul says ‘when you measure yourselves by one another and compare yourselves with one another, you are without understanding.’ You lack spiritual insight. You don’t have an external standard, an absolute standard.

The Standard and Measure

2 Corinthians 10:13 But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ.

What is the standard? ‘We will not boast without measure; but according to the measure of the rule which God measured to us; which measure extended even as far as you. For not as not extending to you do we hyper-extend ourselves, for even as far as you we arrived before in the gospel of Christ.’ What is the measure of the rule that God measured to Paul? What is the limit of the area of influence that God assigned to Paul and his co-workers?

Acts 9:15 …“…he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Paul is to bear the name of Jesus everywhere he goes. And, by the way, his ministry will be accompanied by suffering. In his letter to the Romans (a church he hadn’t yet visited and didn’t establish)

Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, …5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,

Paul is set apart for the gospel of God. In Romans 11 and in Galatians he claims to be an apostle to the Gentiles, but that does not seem to be the primary thing he has in mind here. What he says here is that he was ‘the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ.’ The standard is the gospel. It was by his open statement of the truth that he commended himself. He proclaimed Christ and him crucified. He preached the cross.

The false apostles are seeking to build themselves up by attacking Paul’s character and undermining his authority. His defense? On his second missionary journey in Acts 18, he made it all the way to Corinth. He spent 18 months preaching Jesus, and a church was birthed. They exist as a church because he brought the gospel to them, because the message of Christ crucified had life transforming power. He says ‘you are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts’

Hopes for Evangelism Beyond

And here he wants them to know that he is looking beyond them. It’s not all about them. The mission is bigger than them. But they are part of it.

2 Corinthians 10:15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you [by you] may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence.

The Corinthians are Paul’s labor. And they have been a painful labor to him. But his hope is as their faith grows, they will be instrumental in expanding the mission beyond them. A short time later, in the letter to the Romans, writing from Corinth he says

Romans 15:17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” 22 This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.

Paul is eager to preach to those who have never heard. He hopes that when the faith of the Corinthians grows, they will be a launching pad to send him out to Rome, and then on to Spain. This is Paul’s heart. Do you know that there are still today places and peoples who have never heard the good news, who have never heard the name of Jesus?

Boasting in Knowing the Lord

Paul doesn’t commend himself by comparing himself with others. He measures himself by the objective standard of the gospel that he was called to proclaim. He doesn’t boast in someone else’s labors; he boasts in the work prepared for him by God. He boasts only in what God has accomplished through him, so his boasting is ultimately boasting in the Lord.

2 Corinthians 10:17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Paul paraphrases Jeremiah 9:24

Jeremiah 9:24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Boast only in the Lord. This is an echo back to verse 12, where Paul accuses the false teachers who compare themselves with one another of being without understanding. The understanding they lack is understanding and knowing the Lord. They were boasting in outward metrics and measurables. They were hyper-extending themselves and boasting about the labors of another as if it were their own.

Paul says it comes down to this. Accomplishments are great, and he hopes to be used by God to reach more and more people with the good news, but what really matters is boasting in the Lord, knowing the Lord, having real understanding, a real relationship with Jesus.

2 Corinthians 10:18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

Self-commendation doesn’t mean anything. The commendation of others doesn’t mean anything. What you think of yourself doesn’t matter. What others think of you or your ministry doesn’t really matter. It is what Jesus thinks of you that matters.

The false apostles are in danger of hearing these fateful words from the Lord:

Matthew 7:23 …‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Paul knows it is only what Jesus thinks of him that matters, and he looks forward to hearing these words:

Matthew 25:21 …‘Well done, good and faithful servant. … Enter into the joy of your master.’

Paul didn’t lose heart, he didn’t despair even when everything seemed to be falling apart, because he was looking not to the things that are seen, but to the unseen eternal realities (2Cor.4:16,18). He had his eyes fixed on Jesus, and the only approval he was seeking was the approval of Jesus.

***

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

October 8, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 10:7b-11; Edifying Authority

09/27_2 Corinthians 10:7b-11; Edifying Authority; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200927_2cor10_7b-11.mp3

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. 7 Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. 8 For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed. 9 I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” 11 Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.

Paul asserts his authority to beg the Corinthians to respond to his appeal by letter, so that he does not have to be bold when he returns to visit them. He would rather in humility show the meekness and gentleness of Christ. He is equipped to wage war and ready to put down all disobedience of those who persist in rebellion once the obedience of those who are genuine has shown itself. He is on his way to visit them at last, and he wants them to prepare themselves for that visit. They have been looking at appearances. He wants them not to ‘judge by appearances, but with right judgment’ (Jn.7:24).

Self-Confidence or Gospel Confidence?

You are looking at what is before your eyes.

2 Corinthians 10:7 Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we.

There is danger in presumptuous self-confidence. There are some who have persuaded themselves, they have confidence in themselves that they are Christ’s.

Paul challenges them to ask the question, ‘How is it that you belong to Christ?’ What persuades you that you are Christ’s? We only come to identify with Jesus and belong to him when we acknowledge our own sin and our need for a rescuer. We belong to Christ because we have been bought by his blood. We belong to him because we were sinners in need of a Savior and Jesus is the only one who can save. ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom.5:8). It is ‘not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1Jn.4:10). This is a reminder of the gospel. Every believer is always only a sinner saved by God’s amazing grace. Jesus pursued Paul and saved him from his open hostility. How did you come to belong to Christ? By your own merits? Is your confidence in yourself or in Jesus?

But what Paul says goes beyond belonging to Christ. The issue at hand is authority. Who had been authorized by Christ to wield Christ’s own authority in the church? There were some in Corinth who were undermining Paul’s authority and seeking to establish themselves as having superior claim to spiritual authority. They were building themselves up by trying to tear Paul down. They pursued power over the church, so Paul asks them ‘how did you come to possess this confident authority over the church?’ Were you called by Christ, commissioned by the resurrected Lord of his church? Did you plant this local church? Where do you get your confidence that you are Christ’s?

Back in 1 Corinthians 3, where Paul addressed the various factions that had developed in Corinth, each lining up behind his favorite preacher, he said:

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Paul planted. In the sovereignty of God, Paul was the first to bring the message of Jesus to Corinth. By God’s grace, Paul laid the foundation, the foundation of Jesus Christ and him crucified (1Cor.2:2). Now others are building on that foundation.

Paul is not saying that no one else has any spiritual authority in Corinth. What he is saying is that if anyone else has authority there, they have to acknowledge at least that he too has claim on that authority.

He exhorts his reader to ‘remind himself’; this word points to taking inventory; to reason, conclude, reckon or account. He used it back in verse 2, where he counts on showing boldness to those who count him as walking according to the flesh. He will use it again in verse 11 ‘let such a person understand’ or ‘count on this’. Count on this; just as you are Christ’s, so also are we.

Boasting and Not Ashamed

If those who are now in Corinth are laying claim to authority, the founding apostle also has that same authority.

2 Corinthians 10:8 For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed.

Paul will go on in this section to boast in his own authority. Well over half of the New Testament uses of both the verb and the noun forms of ‘boast’ occur in 2 Corinthians, and the majority of those are here in chapters 10-12. This section is Paul’s boast. He is about to boast abundantly in his authority, and he tells us up front that he will not be ashamed in his excessive boasting.

Back in 1 Corinthians 1 he told them:

1 Corinthians 1:27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

God intentionally orchestrated salvation so that our boasting would be excluded. If we boast at all, we must boast in the Lord. Paul is picking up the teaching of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 9:23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Don’t boast in yourself; boast only in the Lord. Boast in his character. Boast in his amazing grace toward those who don’t deserve it. Celebrate knowing Jesus by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph.2:7-9). Glory only in the cross (Gal.6:14).

Paul sets out here to boast in his own authority, but he prefaces his boasting by the fact that his authority is a gift of God.

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, …

He didn’t earn it. He doesn’t deserve it. He is not sufficient for it. It is all grace. He will boast, but his boast is in the Lord.

Authority for Construction not Demolition

Paul specifies what his authority is for.

2 Corinthians 10:8 For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed.

His authority is for construction not demolition. He just got done saying that he is ready to punish all disobedience, and that he wages spiritual warfare with divine power to demolish strongholds, to demolish arguments and high things raised against the knowledge of God. But his authority is for building up, not tearing down. His ministry is a New Covenant ministry.

Contrast this with Jeremiah’s ministry. When God commissioned Jeremiah, he told him:

Jeremiah 1:10 See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah’s ministry was primarily a ministry of demolition, to pluck up, break down, destroy and overthrow. Secondarily it was a ministry to build and to plant. But in Jeremiah 31, where God promises that he will make a New Covenant with his people, he says:

Jeremiah 31:28 And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring harm, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares the LORD.

The New Covenant ministry that Paul was entrusted with is a ministry that is primarily to build up.

Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, …33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

There is a necessary aspect of tearing down everything that is raised up against the knowledge of God, to clear the ground for new construction, but the primary focus of Paul’s mission is to build up. Where the primary focus of the Old Covenant was to level the ground for the coming Messiah, to tear down our pride and show us our need, the New Covenant ministry has greater glory because it is a ministry of the Spirit, that gives life, that brings genuine heart transformation.

Paul’s own ministry, and his heart for the church is that we would engage in building up and not tearing down.

Ephesians 4:7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. …11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

The goal of New Covenant ministry is to build up the church to unity, maturity, until Christ is formed in you (Gal.4:19). There is a necessary demolition aspect to this ministry;

Ephesians 4:14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

But the goal is building up.

Ephesians 4:15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

The Lord gave me this authority for building you up and not for destroying you. There is implied contrast here between the apostle and the false teachers, who are seeking to divide and turn them away from their simple faith in Jesus, which would lead them to destruction.

Consistent Apostolic Ministry

There is a consistency in apostolic ministry.

2 Corinthians 10:9 I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” 11 Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.

Paul has been accused of inconsistency. He had been accused of coming across differently in person than he does in his letters. But his ministry strategy is consistently to use his authority to build them up. He is weighty and strong in his letters so he can exhibit the meekness and gentleness of Christ with them in person. It was to spare them that he refrained from coming again to Corinth (1:23). His kindness and patience and forbearance was meant to lead them to repentance (Rom.2:4).

***

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

September 28, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, church, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 8:24-9:5; Proof Before the Churches

10/13_2 Corinthians 8:24-9:5; Proof Before the Churches ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20191013_2cor8_24-9_5.mp3

Paul is talking about communion, about the fellowship, this expression of grace that he was administering; this collection from the Gentile churches serving the saints in Jerusalem.

He is encouraged by the grace of God poured out on the Macedonian believers, whose joy in adversity and depth of poverty overflowed in joyful generosity; as they eagerly insisted on the grace of giving, the communion of service to the saints; and he wants the Corinthian believers to know about what God is doing among the Macedonians.

He is exhorting the Corinthians to give according to their means, to do what they had desired to do, to follow through on their promised generosity, to finish what they started.

He has commended the brothers who are coming to help this collection along; Titus, his partner and fellow worker for the joy of the Corinthians, into whose heart God put an eagerness and earnest care for them. Another brother, whose praise is in the gospel among all the churches, who was appointed by the churches to carry out this grace, and another tested and earnest brother. These brothers are ‘messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ’.

Paul is eager to see God glorified through this expression of grace, and by the integrity with which it is carried out. He delights to see the glory of Christ revealed in the messengers sent by the churches to carry out this act of grace. So he says:

2 Corinthians 8:24 So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.

2 Corinthians 9:1 Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.

We see fellowship in this section; interaction between the churches. Paul is stimulating interaction between local churches. Selected men of character are being sent by the churches to accompany the gift to the church in Jerusalem. Paul told the Macedonian churches about the zeal of the Corinthians, that they had been eager to participate in this generosity from last year. He boasted about Corinth to Philippi and Thessalonica and Berea, and his boasting stirred up most of them.

Notice his modest realism here; it stirred up most of them; the majority; not all of them. There were some even in those churches who remained unmoved. But the majority were provoked to action.

Prove the Proof of Your Love

Now he is sending brothers ahead with this letter to ensure that the Corinthians are indeed ready. He invites them to give proof before the churches of your love. Earlier in chapter 8, he urged them to excel in this grace.

2 Corinthians 8:7 But as you excel in everything—…see that you excel in this act of grace also. 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

This opportunity to extend grace was an opportunity to test the genuineness of their love. Had they truly experienced the grace and love of our Lord Jesus in such a way that that love overflowed as they pursued opportunities to extend grace to others? Here he says ‘give proof before the churches’. He uses both the noun and verb form of a word here; literally ‘prove the proof of your love’ or ‘demonstrate the demonstration of your love’ or ‘manifest the manifestation of your love. This is about showing, making known what is really there, what is inside. Show it. Make it visible. Before the churches.

Accountability Among the Churches

Put yourself for a moment in the sandals of a Corinthian believer. You show up to the home of one of the wealthier members, who hosts the church meetings in his courtyard. It’s been a bit of a rough morning, as your youngest was fussy last night and didn’t sleep well, and you had a mild disagreement with your spouse on the walk to church over money issues. You are greeted at the gate by one of the servant girls, who with excitement in her eyes lets you in to gather with the other believers. Titus is back, with some strangers, and he is carrying a letter from the apostle Paul. After the church has gathered, and you sing a hymn together, Titus sits down and begins to read Paul’s letter. When he gets to this section, he introduces the brothers who are with him. Then he reads: ‘Therefore demonstrate the proof of your love and our boasting about you to them in the presence of the churches.’

As everyone listens attentively, there is some awkward tension in the room. The Asian believers who came with Titus are observing your responses as the letter is read. As you look into the kindly faces of these strangers, you ask yourself ‘Is my love genuine? Is Paul right to boast about us to others? What will it look like for me to give evidence of the genuineness of my love in the presence of these delegates from other churches?’

This is accountability among the churches. And it is not one directional authority, but it goes in both directions, as the Macedonians were stirred up by the report of the eagerness and zeal of the Corinthians, and now the Corinthians are to give proof of their love before these Asian or Galatian believers, and soon there will be Macedonians accompanying Paul to visit them, to observe first hand the love and zeal that they had been told about. Paul is fostering connections between the churches, fellowship between the churches, a together pursuit of the glory of Christ through service to others.

Unity and Diversity in the Body

I grew up in a church that had figured everything out. They had the bible figured out better than anyone else. And they did church right. They were just more biblical than any other church around. I don’t recall if this was ever actually said in so many words, but it was definitely the vibe I picked up. It made me believe that I could have true fellowship with only this very small circle of like minded people in like-minded churches.

But then I got connected with a high school campus ministry where I met people from a wide diversity of church denominational backgrounds, who loved Jesus and wanted to make him known.

And then I went off to bible college, and Dr. MacLeod taught us theology. He taught the big foundational doctrines that the church has treasured throughout history, the church which includes every genuine follower of Jesus through 2000 years of church history and across denominational (or non-denominational) lines.

He taught us the Bible, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments are trustworthy, God breathed and without error. That our God is one God, eternally existing in three distinct persons; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That this one God created all that exists to display his own glory. That the Son at a point in history became human, was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, and died as a substitute for sinners. That we can be forgiven and enjoy eternal life by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. That Jesus rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of his Father, and lives forever making intercession for us, and that he promises to return for us to take us to be with him where he is. And so much more.

I began to see that the things that set our little church apart from so many other churches were so small, so secondary, so insignificant in light of all the massive truths that we treasured in common. I began to realize that although we didn’t see eye to eye on every non-central detail, I was connected to a great cloud of witnesses, a brotherhood of believers, a family. We may have different traditions, different preferences, we may do thing differently, but we were connected.

There is a natural diversity among the churches; each church has a unique personality, there are language differences, cultural differences, difference of preference and style. But there is a unity of faith, of doctrine. And there ought to be opportunities to learn from one another, to exhort one another, and to hold one another accountable.

Our Connections with Other Churches

Giving is something that connects local churches in the body of Christ to one another. Our church gives regularly to other churches and missionaries, and that investment creates a connection. Most of those missionaries have come back here to encourage us, and they are invested in us. And some of us have had the opportunity to visit where they serve and see first hand what God is doing through them and hopefully be an encouragement to them. We hope to create more opportunities for some of us to go and serve and make those connections.

There are other churches that give to us. We just got a **letter** in the mail last week with a generous check and a note of encouragement from churches in Iowa and Wisconsin who have come to our community on a mission trip and began to understand the unique mission field we live in, and they were stirred up by what God is doing here, through us. They are praying for us and wanted to bless us.

Serving together is another great way to develop that kind of fellowship with other churches. Each summer, our church partners with several other churches to put on bible camp for our kids, and this has provided an opportunity to encourage and challenge each other and strengthen those connections with the churches. We have had the opportunity to do men’s and women’s retreats with other churches, and all of these opportunities for fellowship create healthy connections with other churches.

2 Corinthians 8:24 So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.

2 Corinthians 9:1 Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.

Paul’s Gospel Boasting

Paul knew of their advance desire, their zeal, their readiness, and he has been boasting about them to the other churches. Normally we think of boasting as bad, and often it is. Paul said in Galatians 6:14

Galatians 6:14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

And yet he is boasting about the Corinthians to the Macedonians. In the beginning of chapter 8 he is boasting about the Macedonians to the Corinthians, so we can see what this looks like.

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia,

Paul’s boast in the Macedonian’s joyful giving beyond their means was the grace of God given to them. I am sure that Paul’s boasting about the Corinthians was also a boasting in the grace of God at work in this church. Look at what the cross has accomplished in the lives of these Gentiles! God’s grace has stirred them to zeal!

Now he is sending the brothers to ensure that this work of God in them was indeed genuine; that their actions will match their eagerness.

He says ‘on the one hand, it is redundant or superfluous for me to write about this because I know your readiness and zeal, yet on the other hand I am sending the brothers to be sure you are ready and to avoid embarrassment when the Macedonians come.

Blessing not Greed

2 Corinthians 9:5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.

Here Paul uses yet another word to describe the gift. He has called it a grace, a service, a fellowship, a singleness or simplicity, this fatness, and now he calls it the before promised blessing. The Greek word [εὐλογίαν] is where we get our word eulogy, literally a good word. The focus is on the verbal aspect; when we say a good word or pronounce a blessing on someone, we are asking God from whom all blessings flow to put his blessing on them. We become a conduit for God’s grace to flow through us to others, as we seek to bless others. The Corinthians had made a promise in advance, a year ago, a promise to bless. Paul is sending the brothers to be sure this before promised blessing comes from them indeed as a blessing, not as an exaction.

This word translated by many as ‘exaction’ or ‘extortion’ or something you were forced to do, is literally the word greed or covetousness. ‘That this may be ready in this way as a blessing and not as greed. The interpretive question is ‘whose greed?’ Is it the apostle’s greed in pressuring them to give, thus exaction or extortion or something they feel forced to do? This doesn’t seem to fit the context well. The word ‘blessing’ describes their heart, their attitude in giving; that they were eager to bless. The greed then would be their own greed or covetousness, a desire to hold on to what they have rather than freely and generously give to bless others. Paul goes on to talk about the heart and attitude behind giving in the coming verses. If they are giving out of a stingy heart, it will be evident, as the Proverbs graphically illustrate:

Proverbs 23:6 Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, 7 for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. 8 You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten, and waste your pleasant words.

Conclusion

Paul is confident in the gospel’s ability to change a stingy heart into a gracious heart that is eager to bless others. And he is willing to write to encourage believers to extend the grace that they have freely received out to bless others. And he believes there ought to be a healthy accountability among the churches for the glory of Christ.

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

October 14, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 7:11-16; Gospel Confidence and Gospel Boasting

07/21_2 Corinthians 7:11-16; Gospel Confidence and Gospel Boasting ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190721_2cor7_11-16.mp3

The Results of Grief According to God

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. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 12 So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God.

Paul rejoices at the report of the Corinthian’s grief, not because they were grieved, but because their grief was according to God, it produced a repentance that leads to salvation. Paul was not eager to crush them; he ‘worked with them for their joy’ (1:24).

Their grief according to God produced the appropriate results. Paul draws their attention in verse 11 to what it worked in them; see what urgency or earnestness, also what defense or clearing of yourselves, also what indignation or repulsion over your sins, also what fear recognizing God’s just judgment on wrongdoers, also what desire or earnest longing for reconciliation and to do what is right, also what zeal or fervency as opposed to a lack of care or concern, also what punishment or vindication, a commitment to what is right and just.

At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” We are not certain what the matter was that he was referring to, but they knew. He refers back in chapter 2 to an issue that had caused pain. He said:

2 Corinthians 2:5 Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

We don’t know exactly what the issue was, nor are we intended to. He leaves it ambiguous, so that what he says can be applied to many specific situations. Possibly it was the immoral man addressed in 1 Corinthians 5; possibly someone who was defiant in the church, who had undermined and opposed Paul’s authority, someone who gained a following. Whatever the sin issue, they had responded with appropriate earnestness, clearing, indignation, fear, desire, fervency, vindication. They had demonstrated their purity.

Why Paul Wrote; To Show Them Their Own Earnestness

He said in 2:3

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. 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.

His purpose for writing was to communicate his abundant love for them.

He said in 2:9

2 Corinthians 2:9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.

Now here in 7:12 he says

2 Corinthians 7:12 So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God.

He wrote what he did not (primarily) for the sake of the wrongdoer, nor (primarily) for the sake of the one who was wronged. Rather, he says, it was in order to show to you your eagerness for us before God.

Do you see what he is doing here? He wrote a stern letter through his tears, and sent it with Titus, not primarily to correct the wrongdoer, nor primarily to clear the one wronged (which, if the offender was the one who attacked his character, the one wronged was Paul himself). Rather, his purpose was as he said in chapter 2 ‘to test or prove you’. Here he elaborates that it was to demonstrate to you your eagerness for us.

What does this mean? What does it matter? Why would his primary aim be to reveal to them their eagerness for the apostle Paul? Isn’t that a bit self-promoting? Paul has written in 2 Corinthians defending his apostolic ministry and teaching them what authentic ministry looks like because authentic Christian ministry is shaped by the gospel and it is shaped like the gospel. Authentic ministry is self-sacrificial service for the ultimate good of others. In pursuing their eagerness for him, he is pursuing their eagerness for the genuine gospel, and ultimately their eagerness to follow Jesus. His desire is that they see their eagerness for their apostle who proclaimed to them the gospel message and lived out the gospel before them.

How does this work? Paul visits them, attempts to correct them, and it doesn’t go well. He leaves, writes them a tearful letter, sends it with Titus, and prays that their eagerness for him will be revealed to them in the presence of God. Titus comes, delivers the letter. They experience grief according to God that leads them to repentance, and it reveals to them their love for the gospel, and for the one who brought them the gospel.

They see this in the presence of God. Paul by his openness has commended himself to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God (4:2). Later in chapter 12 he says that ‘in the sight of God he speaks in Christ for your upbuilding’. They come to the realization of their love for Paul and the gospel in the presence of God. This is God at work in them.

Reciprocal Refreshment and Joy

2 Corinthians 7:13 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.

When Paul arrived in Troas, he said (2:13) “my spirit was not at rest.” When he entered Macedonia in search of Titus, he says (7:5) “our bodies had no rest.” Now he says that he is comforted and rejoiced because Titus’ spirit had been refreshed by you. Here again we see this reciprocal comfort, this reciprocal refreshment, this reciprocal joy in the body of Christ. We need each other. We are meant to encourage each other. Paul began the letter saying that he was a fellow-worker with the Corinthians for their joy (1:24), that the Corinthians were meant to bring him joy, and

2 Corinthians 2:3 …I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all.

Paul’s joy at over the Corinthians would be their joy. Even his severe letter that grieved them was meant ultimately for their joy. When they repented with a grief brought about by God, this brought Titus refreshment of spirit, and that brought Paul comfort and joy. There will be difficult times being part of the church. But even the difficult things are meant to encourage and bring joy. Have you brought joy and refreshment to anyone this past week?

Gospel Boasting and Gospel Confidence

2 Corinthians 7:14 For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. 15 And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. 16 I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.

This is stunning, staggering, startling. Paul had been boasting about the Corinthians to Titus. This is startling on multiple levels. For one, Paul had told the Galatians

Galatians 6:14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

He said in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 3:21 So let no one boast in men.

But here Paul seems to be violating his own instruction and boasting about this church. This is even more startling when you look at what we know about the church in Corinth. From 1 Corinthians we learn that they were divided with quarreling, jealousy and strife (1Cor.1:10-11; 3:3). They were embracing sexual immorality of a kind that was not even tolerated among the pagans (5:1). They were bringing lawsuits against each other (6:1). They were confused on marriage and morality (7). They were participating in idol feasts (8-10). They were disordered in their gatherings, and when they came together to eat the Lord’s supper, the rich would get drunk and the poor would go hungry (11:21). He said that it would be better if they did not meet at all (11:17). They were abusing spiritual gifts to promote themselves and impress others (12-14). They were even beginning to doubt the resurrection (15)! They didn’t respond well to his letter, or to his visit, so he had to write a severe letter and send it with someone else. And even though they responded well to that letter, there were still serious problems that he addresses in 2 Corinthians; they misunderstood Christian leadership, they were in danger of being deceived like Eve in the garden, being led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

This church was and still is a mess at the time of his writing. And in the middle of the mess, when he sent Titus with the severe letter, he boasted to Titus about them. What could this boasting possibly consist of? Surely it was misplaced!

Boasting in God or Boasting in Men?

We get a glimpse of what Paul means when he said he boasted in them if we look back to the thanksgiving at the beginning of 1 Corinthians. Before addressing all the problems that were going on in the church, he started by saying:

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— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Where we might see nothing at all to be thankful for, he thanks God continually for them. What does he see? He sees the grace of God given freely to them. It is clear they don’t deserve it; it is sheer grace! He thanks God that the testimony of Christ was confirmed among them; that they believed the gospel! This foolish message of the cross was demonstrated to be the power of God for salvation in them when they believed. They now are waiting for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. And notice, it is this Jesus who will sustain you to the end guiltless. He reiterates; God is faithful. God called you into the fellowship of his Son. God did it. God is doing it. God will finish it. Notice where Paul’s confidence lies? Not in them; they were flakes. His confidence was squarely on God and the power of the gospel. His confidence was not in the faithfulness of the Corinthians; it was in the faithfulness of God to make good on his promises. This reminds me of Philippians 1:6

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.

God began the good work. God will finish what he started. I am sure of this. Are you sure of that? When you look around the room this morning, do you see a bunch of messes? That’s accurate; but do you see the gospel at work transforming those messes into something beautiful? Are you sure of this? Are you confident in God’s power at work in the gospel? When I look at you, do I see God’s grace? Man! You don’t deserve it! That’s grace, it’s all grace! And we need God’s grace! God’s grace was given to us in Christ Jesus, and Jesus will sustain us to the end guiltless, and God who called us into the fellowship of his Son, he is faithful!

This is gospel confidence and gospel boasting, and it is perfectly compatible with boasting only in the cross. It fits perfectly with what Paul says later in 2 Corinthians 10

2 Corinthians 10:17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

He went out on a limb and boasted to Titus about the Corinthians, not because he thought the Corinthians were basically pretty good people and they wouldn’t let him down, but because he knew that although they were worse at heart than he dared imagine, God’s transforming power through the gospel is more potent and will surely not fail to bring about his promises. His boasting in the Corinthians was boasting because they had believed the gospel. That good gospel seed with time will bust up their concrete hearts and produce good fruit. They were believing, trusting, depending on another. And that another is more than capable to bring about what he promised. Paul was confident that they hadn’t believed in vain; that they were being saved day by day by the gospel.

Imagine the conversation between Paul and Titus. “Titus, I know this church is a mess, and I don’t know how they are going to respond to you. They didn’t respond well to my letters or my visit. But when I went the first time and proclaimed the good news, they genuinely believed it. God opened their blind eyes to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. God’s power began to change them. And he promises to finish what he started. I am praying that God would use this strong letter and your unique gifts and personality to bring about the godly grief and repentance that we both know would glorify God. I want you to go, confident that God has shown them grace, and although they will never deserve it, God is able to sustain them to the end, guiltless, because they are believing in Jesus. God called them and God is faithful. He will surely do it!”

Paul says:

2 Corinthians 7:14 For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. 15 And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. 16 I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.

Everything we said to you was true. We proclaimed the true gospel to you, the good news of Jesus Christ and him crucified. Our boasting has in the same way proved true, because our boasting was rooted in the gospel. The gospel works! It is true and it works! God works through it! It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. We shouldn’t be surprised when we see the gospel working, transforming hopeless desperate lives. That is what God does. The more desperate and dark the situation, the greater the platform on which to display his glory. We can bank on it. We can boast in it.

Is there a situation today that you need to have gospel confidence in? Is there a person or situation that looks hopeless that you need to look at through the gospel lens and thank God for his grace to those who don’t deserve it? To thank him for his sustaining power? To thank him for calling us into the fellowship of his Son, to thank him for being always faithful, mighty to save? To thank him that he is a God who breathes life into dead things, who sets prisoners free, who brings hope to the hopeless, and overcomes darkness with his marvelous light?

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

July 21, 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.

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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

2 Corinthians 5:11-13; An Audience of One

01/13_2 Corinthians 5:11-13; An Audience of One; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190113_2cor5_11-13.mp3

Who are You Seeking to Please?

You serve in the church. Maybe you volunteer to teach or host a bible study, maybe you help with nursery or Sunday school, maybe you clean or do maintenance or yard work, maybe you serve the youth, maybe you’re into administration, or maybe you give generously, maybe you make a meal for someone, maybe you write a note of encouragement, or visit someone who is sick, maybe you talk to everyone you run in to about Jesus, maybe you spend a lot of time in prayer for others, maybe you have people over to your house. Maybe I haven’t mentioned the thing you do, and you’re wondering if I’ll get to it.

Who notices? What if no one notices what you do? What if no one says thank you? What if no one seems to care? Do you get discouraged, wonder if it’s really worth it?

What if people do notice your service, and they criticize you for how you do what you do? Or what if no one comes to you, but you hear that people are talking about you and they don’t like the way you are doing things?

Or what if you happen to be there when people are talking about someone else’s service?

This is what was going on in Corinth. This is one of the reasons Paul wrote 2 Corinthians. We learn from reading the letter that people were talking about Paul. Some were questioning his character, his motives, his authenticity. Some who didn’t know him were questioning his gifting, his calling, his fitness for ministry. And some who did know Paul were hearing these conversations, but they were not coming to his defense. Maybe they were even being pulled in.

Recap/Outline

We are in 2 Corinthians 5:11-13. We have been away from 2 Corinthians for some time, so we need to orient ourselves on where we are in this letter.

Chapters 1-7 explain the characteristics of genuine ministry; gospel ministry is ministry that looks like the gospel and is shaped by the gospel. Real ministry is 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 11-13 confront the false apostles who proclaim a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel.

In chapter 4, Paul described his apostolic ministry as cross shaped ministry. To follow Jesus is to go the way of the cross, a life laid down in service to others. He concludes:

2 Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Paul has an eternal perspective. He is keeping his eyes on the unseen realities. He spells out his hope in chapter 5, that he has certainty of what comes after death for the believer. In fact he has a deep longing to be at home with the Lord. In verse 9 he gives his prime motive for ministry.

2 Corinthians 5:9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Paul desires, more than anything else, to be pleasing to the Lord. One of the unseen motives that drives him is appearing before the judgment seat of Christ. We each will stand face to face with Jesus and give account for what we have done. This is a sobering prospect, a reality that should make each of us pause and ask some questions; Am I in Christ? Will I be found genuine? Have I made it my aim above all else to be pleasing to him? Have my attitudes, actions, and thoughts been pleasing to him?

Paul views this coming day of judgment with sober joy. He knows that for those who are in Christ Jesus, there is no condemnation. He longs to be with the Lord, to see him face to face. But this is no casual flippant occasion. This is weighty, serious. Serious joy.

Persuading People

In light of this, he says in verse 11

2 Corinthians 5:11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.

Knowing the fear of the Lord. Aware of the coming judgment, we persuade men, people. In Acts 18, when Paul first came to Corinth, it says:

Acts 18:4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

He reasoned, he talked through, his goal was to persuade people of the truth of the gospel. Paul understood (as he wrote in 2 Corinthians 4) that

2 Corinthians 4:4 …the god of this world 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.

And he understood that it is only

2 Corinthians 4:6 …God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” [who must shine in their] hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But this truth did not prevent him from working hard to persuade others. Using the scriptures, using logic, using history, and his own experience, he sought to persuade people. But he never manipulated.

2 Corinthians 4:2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word…

But he did seek to persuade. He understood that every person will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and he would do everything in his power to persuade them to put their trust in Jesus alone. He understood his responsibility to them and sought to discharge his duty well. He understood that faith is the gift of God (Eph.2:8) and he understood that faith comes from hearing the word of Christ (Rom.10:17).

Manifest to God

2 Corinthians 5:11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.

Paul sought to persuade all people to believe in Jesus, but he was having now to persuade the Corinthians of his own legitimacy. He again attests to his openness before God. What we are is known or manifest to God. He used this verb just in verse 10, where he said ‘we must all appear [or be made manifest or shown] before the judgment seat. Now he says ‘to God we are manifest.’ To God we are openly shown and known. But, he says, I hope in your consciences we are also manifest, known and shown.

Back in chapter 4, Paul said

2 Corinthians 4:2 …by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

By making the truth of the gospel manifest and open, we commend ourselves to every person’s conscience in the presence of God. If this is his stance before unbelievers, surely the consciences of the believers in the church he planted ought to recognize him. Back in chapter 3 he said:

2 Corinthians 3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, …

‘We are beginning to commend ourselves to you again!’ We shouldn’t need to go over introductions again. Here in chapter 5, he says

2 Corinthians 5:12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.

Outward Appearances

Don’t look at this as a letter of introduction; you already know us! Instead, look at this as a reminder of the gospel and who I am in Christ. You can then use this as a defense against those who judge by outward appearances. Here we get to the heart of the issue. Corinthian culture was all about status and position and eloquence and presentation, how much you made and how much you were worth. It was superficial. It was about how you were perceived by others.

I know none of you can relate to this, a culture so caught up in outward appearance, so I’m going to have to work really hard to help you see any kind of application that is relevant to us today. You don’t know anyone focused on outward appearances, do you?

There were false apostles in Corinth who were undermining Paul, raising doubts, questions about his character, his credentials, his credibility. Much of this was based on outward appearance. He was despised and rejected by many, all too acquainted with suffering and grief. If they would look closely, they would see that his life reflected his Master.

This wasn’t just a power struggle; we find out in chapter 11 that they are being led astray to a counterfeit jesus, a false gospel. Paul’s character is being criticized, the church he invested in is being led astray, no one in the church seems to be standing up for him or for what is right. How does he respond?

His response is to patiently instruct them. Paul is not eager to defend himself; but he is passionate about protecting the church. And in this case that means showing them how to defend their apostle.

Ecstatic or Maniac?

2 Corinthians 5:13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.

Verse 13 can be understood in more than one way. The word ‘we are beside ourselves’ is used differently in different contexts. Its usual meaning is to be astounded or amazed, usually at something supernatural. It is used this way 15 times in the gospels. Only once, in Mark 3, is it used with the sense of ‘to not be able to reason properly.’

Mark 3:21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

There is a different word ‘mania’ that is less ambiguous, that always means to be crazy or to not be thinking rightly. If Paul wanted to be clear that this was his meaning, he could have used ‘mania’, as he does in 1 Corinthians 14:23.

The noun form of the verb he uses here is where we get our word ‘ecstasy’. The noun is used four times for amazement, and three times for being in a trance. It is possible that Paul is referring to his ecstatic spiritual experiences. In 1 Corinthians he told them

1 Corinthians 14:18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

The Corinthians were enamored with the showy overtly supernatural gifts. They were focused on outward appearance. Paul’s focus was on building them up, not impressing them with a demonstration of his own spirituality. It may be that he is saying that if we (apostles) have ecstatic experiences, it is between us and God. That is not the basis of our leadership. The false apostles may make a big deal about their ecstatic experiences. But Paul would rather speak five words with his mind in order to instruct others. In Colossians, Paul warns of those who would disqualify you, who were

Colossians 2:18 …going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to [Christ]

If we are of sound mind, it is for you. Paul really doesn’t care if outsiders are impressed with him. He is willing to be misunderstood, to be thought a fool, as long as the church is being built up. His aim in all things is not to please people, but to please the Lord. He does not need the applause of people if he can stand before the Lord on judgment day with a clear conscience.

Boasting Only in The Cross

Paul is giving them reasons to be confident in him. He is re-framing their thinking to see as God sees, to see the cross not as shameful, to be shunned, but beautiful, to be embraced. Others were boasting in outward appearance. Paul gives reasons, grounds not only for defending him, but for boasting in him. Now how does this fit with Paul’s statement in Galatians 6:14 that he boasts in nothing but the cross?

They can boast in their apostle, because his life and ministry is shaped by the cross, so their boasting in him is in reality a boasting in the cross.

You see, Paul viewed the day of judgment as a day of boasting, not in himself; he said ‘that we are not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers’ (2Cor.3:5-6). In chapter 1 he boasts of the testimony of a clear conscience, but he goes on to say that he conducted himself by the grace of God (2Cor.1:12), a grace that is unearned, undeserved. He looks forward to the day of judgment,

2 Corinthians 1:14 …—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.

There will be mutual boasting; ‘this is my church, the church I gave myself to! Look what God has done in them! Look how Christ is formed in them!’ ‘This is our apostle! Look what God has done in us through his ministry! He did not just tell us about the cross, he showed us the cross through his life and sufferings!’ They can boast in each other, and it is a boasting only in the cross, in the transformational power of the cross.

People naturally look at outward appearances. And the cross is not glamorous.

1 Corinthians 1:27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

‘It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe’ (1Cor.1:21). We must learn to see past the surface. We must begin to see as God sees; because it is what God sees that matters. Man looks on the outward appearance; the Lord looks at the heart (2Sam.16:7).

What we are is known to God. To God we are open and manifest. And if we are pleasing to God, it shouldn’t matter too much what others think of us.

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

January 14, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment