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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

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?

***

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

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July 21, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 4:10-12; Death and Life Ministry

09/09_2 Corinthians 4:10-12; Death and Life Ministry; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180909_2cor4_10-12.mp3

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4

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

We have this treasure; the treasure of the light of the good news of the glory Christ, who is the image of God; the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

We hold this treasure in fragile earthenware vessels so that the abundance of power is of God and not from us.

In everything we are severely cramped but not cornered; we are confused but not confounded, we are pursued by our enemies, but not abandoned by our God; we are even struck down to death but not eternally perishing.

Last time we looked at Jesus’ teaching in John 12

John 12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Much fruit comes from dying. Resurrection life bursts up out of the grave. This is the way of Jesus, and this is the way of following Jesus.

The Corinthians were looking for something different in their leaders. They wanted power, prominence, popularity, persuasive speech. Paul was pressed down, perplexed, persecuted, and plain speaking. The Corinthians wanted honor but their apostle was shamefully treated. They wanted already to be treated as royalty, to live in comfort and ease (1Cor.4:8ff.). They wanted a Christianity sanitized of the cross. Paul wouldn’t comply. Instead he openly displayed his suffering. He embraced hardship. He gloried in his weakness.

Death and Life Ministry

He said ‘we are:

2 Corinthians 4:10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

We are in a death and life ministry. Ministry is characterized by affliction, persecution, inner turmoil, even death. He says it four different ways. In verse 10 he doesn’t use the usual word for death. Nekrosis; deadness or dying. The dying of Jesus. In verse 11 and 12 he uses the more typical word for death. And at the end of verse 11, he uses a derivative ‘mortal’; subject to death. We always carry around in these fragile containers the dying of Jesus.

Paul asks in Romans 8

Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Paul is not throwing out hyperbole or hypothetical circumstances. Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword; these are things he faced daily. He quotes Psalm 44

Romans 8:36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

Psalm 44 is a plea to God to remember his people. It is full of all the things the Corinthians would find objectionable.

Psalm 44:9 But you have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies. 10 You have made us turn back from the foe, and those who hate us have gotten spoil. 11 You have made us like sheep for slaughter and have scattered us among the nations. 12 You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them. 13 You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us. 14 You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples. 15 All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face 16 at the sound of the taunter and reviler, at the sight of the enemy and the avenger.

…19 yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death.

…22 Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.

…24 Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? 25 For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground.

Rejection, disgrace, defeat, taunting, derision, scorn, a byword and a laughingstock, affliction, oppression, brokenness, death. Sheep to be slaughtered. We are killed all the day long. This is distasteful. Yet this is precisely what Jesus endured for us.

Knowing Christ Crucified

Paul had already told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 2:2

1 Corinthians 2:2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Knowing Jesus crucified is more than knowing about the crucifixion and why he had to die. Knowing Christ crucified is identifying with him, becoming like him in his dying.

In Philippians 3, where Paul talks about the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, he says:

Philippians 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him… 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

Paul says to Timothy

2 Timothy 2:11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

Peter says

1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

After the apostles were physically beaten by the religious leaders for proclaiming Jesus in Acts,

Acts 5:41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

Paul had told the Corinthians already in chapter 1

2 Corinthians 1:5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

We share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings. The mental anguish. The emotional abuse. The physical pain. We are always carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus. We are always being given over to death. Death is at work in us. The communion of his sufferings. Take up your cross and follow me.

Purposeful Suffering

We are

2 Corinthians 4:10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

This is not meaningless suffering. This is meaningful suffering, purposeful dying. It is ‘so that.’

2 Corinthians 4:10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Our fellowship in his sufferings is so that the life of Jesus may also be put on display in our fragile earthen bodies. Resurrection power comes out of death. The life of Jesus is shown, made manifest, made apparent, put on display. Nothing billboards the resurrection power of Jesus like suffering. When it costs nothing to follow Jesus, it can be ignored. But when someone like Darweshi, a former Imam in Uganda who gave his life to Christ, receives threats from men in his former mosque, and can no longer return home, he puts the life of Jesus on display. Someone like Ma’ruf in Pakistan, whose family has tried repeatedly to persuade him to return to Islam, even holding his wife and two children captive for 8 days, threatening to kill them; who has lost two jobs because of his Christian faith, whose heart is overflowing with gratitude for God’s care for him. Or someone who sat in my office counting the cost of following Jesus, and considered that he might end his career and lose his wife, and concluded ‘I have to follow Jesus, because Jesus is worth it.’ That puts the fact that Jesus is real, that he is alive, that he is powerful on full display. For many of you, there is a real cost for following Jesus, and that puts the life of Jesus on display in your life.

For Jesus’ Sake

2 Corinthians 4:11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

We who live; we, in whom the resurrection life of Jesus is at work, are being given over to death. This word ‘given over’ is the familiar word from the Gospels for Jesus being given over or betrayed. We are betrayed to death for Jesus’ sake.

In verse 5, we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake; serving others for Jesus’ sake. Here, ‘given over to death for Jesus’ sake.’ It is for the glory of Jesus that we proclaim Jesus, that we suffer, that we serve others.

Our intermediate aim is for the good of others, we proclaim and serve and suffer to see more people saved from their sins and enjoying relationship with Jesus. But our ultimate aim is for the sake of Jesus. We proclaim and serve and suffer ultimately to bring honor and glory to Jesus, to display the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. It is all for the sake of Jesus.

Energizing Death

Paul concludes:

2 Corinthians 4:12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Death working. Death active. Death energizing. Death the operative principle at work in us. This is a paradox. Death is the great un-doer, the final end of all work, it lays to rest, death causes all activity to cease. But here, death is working in us. Death is displaying. Death is making visible. Carrying about the dying of Jesus is putting on display the life of Jesus. Being betrayed over to death shows off the resurrection life of Jesus in these fragile earthen vessels. Death is purposeful. Suffering, affliction, death, is doing something. Death is working.

One of the unbelieving theories to explain away the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is know as the swoon theory. According to this, Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, he merely swooned or passed out and everybody thought he was dead (never mind the expert Roman executioner who thrust a spear up under his rib cage and into his heart so that blood and water gushed out). According to this theory Jesus was placed unconscious in the tomb, and the cool tomb revived him and he got up and left (never mind the 75 pounds of spices together with the linen cloths he was bound with, the several thousand pound stone rolled in place to seal the tomb, and the Roman guard standing watch). The point of this theory is to gut the resurrection of its significance. If Jesus wasn’t really dead, then he didn’t really rise from the dead. That’s what resurrection is. Only dead people can be resurrected.

That’s why Jesus waited until Lazarus was dead to come visit. It wouldn’t have been a resurrection if he came and healed him to prevent him from dying. That’s healing, but not resurrection. He said it was ‘for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’ (Jn.11:4). It was ‘so that you may believe (Jn.11:15).

Death is working in us to display Jesus, because it is only in the context of death that resurrection life can be meaningful. So our suffering, affliction, our brokenness is producing the context in which the resurrection life of Jesus can shine most brightly.

Life in You

2 Corinthians 4:12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Paul, who shared in the sufferings of Christ and ‘count[ed] everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ puts the supreme value and worth of Jesus on display for all to see.

He says we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. We get death; but you get the life! The resurrection power of Jesus that brings life out of death was shining through Paul’s weakness, and that light created life in the Corinthians. The staggering address of this letter: ‘to the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia’, attests to the resurrection power of Jesus at work through the hurting and broken Paul. The dying of Jesus being carried around in the frail earthen vessel that was Paul, and those who were dead in trespasses and sins, God made alive by his grace. God through the foolishness of what Paul preached, saved those who believed. Paul proclaimed Christ crucified, and his life matched his message.

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

September 12, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 4:8-9; Affliction in the Way of Jesus

09/02_2 Corinthians 4:8-9; Affliction in the Way of Jesus; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180902_2cor4_8-9.mp3

In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul is talking about the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (4:6); the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (4:4). He points us to God who said ‘out of darkness, light shine!’, who has shone in our hearts to give us this light. He says

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

We carry around light, the treasure of the light of revelation; the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. We carry around this light, and we transmit this treasure to others, but we do so in earthenware containers so that the superabundance of power comes from God and not from us.

Inestimable treasure, of infinite value and worth, carried around in ordinary earthenware, common, plain, fragile, breakable. This is so that the surpassing power is of God and not originating in us.

He goes on in the next verses to show how God puts his own power on display in these fragile clay vessels.

2 Corinthians 4:8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Verses 8 and 9 lay out four pairs, four contrasts to put on display the life of Jesus in us, life that comes out of death.

Life Out Of Death; The Way of the Cross

Life must always come out of death. Jesus said:

John 12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

He was speaking of his own death. He said in verse 23 “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The way Jesus was to be glorified was that he was to die. He was to fall into the earth like a seed. Without dying, a seed is just a seed. But in its dying, the seed bursts out with life and produces much fruit.

This is the way of Jesus. He came to die. He came to be crucified for the sins of mankind. But that was not the end. That was not the goal. He came to die in order to rise again, that he might become the firstborn among many brothers (Rom.8:29; Col.1:18). He died that we, with him, might live.

Jesus goes on:

John 12:25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. …

Jesus invites us to follow him in laying down our lives to bear much fruit. In Matthew 16 he says:

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

(cf. Mk. 8:34; Lk. 9:23)

Lose your lives for my sake. Deny yourself. Follow Jesus. Take up your cross. If you do you will truly find your life.

The way of Jesus is laying down your life in order to truly find life.

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Affliction is Not Unusual

Four contrasts that put on display the life of Jesus in us. In everything, in every place, all the time. ‘In every way’ begins the sentence, and goes with all four of these clauses. These four things are not unusual. They are not infrequent. Verse 8 begins with ‘in everything.’ Verse 10 begins with ‘always’. Verse 11 begins with a different word for ‘always’. Suffering, affliction, is not unusual for the follower of Jesus. It is the path of following Jesus.

This is not a popular message. It was not popular in Corinth, and that is why Paul had to say it. It is not popular today. Many preach a prosperity gospel, that says ‘if you follow Jesus you will be be blessed. Your health will be blessed. Your finances will be blessed. Your relationships will be blessed.

But Jesus said:

Luke 6:22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven…

Notice, you are blessed. Many teach that if you follow Jesus you will have a nice job and live in a nice house with a nice wife and nice kids and drive a nice car. Nothing wrong with any of those things. But when you lose your job and you lose your nice house and you wreck your nice car and your spouse leaves, and your kids are broken, you might conclude one of two things. There is something wrong with you, or there is something wrong with God.

You are to blame. You didn’t have enough faith. Maybe there’s sin in your life. Maybe you didn’t give enough money. This is dangerous, because it can lead to unhealthy introspection and depression. What is wrong with me that things aren’t going well for me? What did I do wrong? What didn’t I do? This whole line of thinking is messed up. It is a works based system. I believe, I give, I pray, and if I do it right, God is obligated to make things go well for me.

The other line of thinking is just as damaging. There is something wrong with God. I did the stuff I was supposed to do, and he didn’t come through. Maybe he’s not good. Maybe he’s not powerful enough. Maybe he doesn’t keep his promises. Maybe he’s not even there at all.

The problem is not in God, and it is not in your performance. The problem is that what you are believing is not true. It is not true that if you follow Jesus every circumstance will go your way. It is not true that believing in God is the magic key that makes every problem dissolve.

Jesus said “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Lk.21:17). Jesus said:

John 15:18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. …20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. …

Jesus said:

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. They will persecute your. In the world you will have tribulation. These are promises of Jesus to his followers. Affliction is not unusual. It is the path of following Jesus.

Paul says ‘in every way we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. Always carrying in our body the death of Jesus. Always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake. This is not unusual. This is the normal Christian life.

Four Contrasts

Let’s look at these four contrasts that put on display the life of Jesus in us.

In every place, in everything, all the time, we are this but not that. This but not that. This but not that. This but not that.

θλιβόμενοι ἀλλ’ οὐ στενοχωρούμενοι, We are afflicted but not crushed. Both of these words point to being in a tight place. We are crowded, we are pressed, we are pressured. The world is closing in on us. Our enemies are pressing us hard. Jesus uses the root of both these words in Matthew 7 when he says:

Matthew 7:13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Narrow, tight, cramped, hard; as opposed to wide, broad, open, easy. Paul uses this first word in 2 Corinthians 7:

2 Corinthians 7:5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn— fighting without and fear within.

He uses it to refer to both external and internal pressure. He uses the second word twice in 2 Corinthians 6:12, and this is the only other place it shows up in the New Testament.

2 Corinthians 6:11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.

Notice the contrast between wide open and restricted. Narrowed, cornered, restricted, boxed in so that there is no way out. We are hard pressed, but not with nowhere to turn. We are severely pressured but not restricted; there is still a way out. We are cramped but not cornered.

ἀπορούμενοι ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐξαπορούμενοι, perplexed, but not driven to despair; The second word in this pair is an intensified version of the first word. This refers to being perplexed, in doubt, at a mental loss, uncertain what to do; the second word means to be utterly at a loss; to despond or despair. Despair is when you are so perplexed, at such a mental loss, that you are stuck there and lose all hope.

Paul already used this second more intense word back in chapter 1.

2 Corinthians 1:8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction [pressure] we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.

Notice that Paul doesn’t downplay or deny his troubles. He doesn’t try to hide his emotional turmoil or pretend that he is unaffected by outward circumstances. He is candid and open about his own struggles. They were so utterly burdened beyond their strength that they despaired even of life itself. But they weren’t stuck there.

2 Corinthians 1:9 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. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

We began to despair, but that drove away from self reliance to trust completely on God who raises the dead. It taught us to fix our hope on God. So we are confused but not confounded, at a loss but not totally lost, perplexed but not driven to despair.

διωκόμενοι ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐγκαταλειπόμενοι, persecuted, but not forsaken. The first word means to be pursued hard after, hunted or persecuted. This is the word Paul uses to describe what he did to the church of God (and to Jesus) before his conversion (Acts 22:4; 26:11; 1Cor.15:9; Gal.1:13; Phil.3:6.

The second word is to abandon, neglect or forsake. This strong word is used in Hebrews 10:25 to encourage believers not to forsake, abandon or neglect meeting together. This is the word from Jesus’ lips on the cross, when in utter darkness he cried out with a loud voice “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We are pursued, persecuted, chased down by our enemies, but we are not abandoned by God. Jesus was abandoned by his Father on the cross, so that we who now belong to him would never be.

Hebrews 13:5 …be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

καταβαλλόμενοι ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἀπολλύμενοι, struck down, but not destroyed. Paul was struck down. Literally. In Acts 9, a light from heaven flashed around him and falling to the ground he heard a voice. In Acts 14, in Lystra, ‘they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.’ Cast down is a word used in the Old Testament for city walls being cast down, or an enemy falling by the sword. It often means death.

There seems to be a progression here. Paul’s enemies are pressing in hard, but he has room to flee. He is at a mental loss, but does not give up hope. He is pursued hard by his enemies but not abandoned by God. Then his enemies finally catch up and strike him down to death but he is not destroyed. What does that mean?

Destroyed is the word Paul used in 1 Corinthians 1:18 and 2 Corinthians 2:15 and 4:3 to draw a contrast between those who are perishing and those who are being saved. Perishing in this context is being lost for eternity. This is the word Jesus used when he said “Whoever loves his life loses it” (Jn.12:25).

Look at what Jesus says in Luke 21.

Luke 21:16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish.

You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. Some of you they will put to death. But. But not a hair of your head will perish? How can you be put to death and yet not a hair of your head will perish? Unless this word perishing means something more than being put to death. Christians, even apostles can be struck down and die. But not a hair of their heads will perish eternally. The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. In the words of Jesus:

John 10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

We may be struck down, even to death, but we will never be destroyed.

Rejoice In That Day

Look back at Luke 6. Jesus said:

Luke 6:22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven…

When you are hated and excluded and reviled and spurned on account of Jesus, you are blessed. When. In the middle of the mess, you are blessed. Rejoice in that day! Leap for joy! Look, your reward is great in heaven! Our reward is not primarily here and now. We look forward to our reward when we see Jesus face to face. But even now, even in the middle of the brokenness, in the middle of the pain, we can rejoice. We can leap for joy.

Because we understand the way of Jesus. The way of the seed. Life comes out of death. We know that God works all things together for good; even the hard things, the painful things.

How do you respond to pressure? To emotional turmoil? To being pursued and persecuted? To death? Do you feel cornered? Confounded? Abandoned? Destroyed?

Or do you rejoice that you hold this treasure in a fragile earthenware pot so it is clear to all that surpassing power is from God and not from you?

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

September 2, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 4:7 Divine Treasure in Earthen Vessels

08/26_2 Corinthians 4:7; Divine Treasure in Earthen Vessels; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180826_2cor4_7.mp3

In 2 Corinthians 2 and 3 Paul displayed the surpassing glory of New Covenant ministry. It is ministry where ‘God through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere’ (2:14). It is self-authenticating ministry, where God writes Christ on the tablets of human hearts by the Spirit of the living God (3:3). It is the life-giving ministry of the Spirit (3:6). It is ministry more glorious than that of Moses, whose face radiated glory and had to be veiled (3:7-13). It is ministry that brings righteousness (3:9); it is permanent (3:11). It is ministry that removes veils (3:14-16), that brings freedom (3:17). It is ministry that beholds directly the glory of the Lord, ministry that brings about transformation (3:18).

In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul has been giving us the characteristics of authentic Christian ministry; ministry that does not lose heart. Authentic ministry is ministry by mercy; it is not deserved. It is ministry with integrity; it isn’t secretive, it doesn’t tamper, it doesn’t use every means possible. It is engaged in spiritual warfare; the god of this world blinds the minds of unbelievers. It is the plain proclamation of the gospel; the good news of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners; Jesus Christ as Lord. Authentic ministry is accompanied by the creative power of God; God speaks in and through our speaking to create life and light, to reveal Jesus, to remove blinders. In the middle of our ministry God’s creative word flashes out and shines light in the dark hearts of unbelievers to create seeing and believing in Jesus.

This is exceedingly glorious ministry! And to think, this ministry has been entrusted to us! We do not lose heart. We can have confidence. We can be very bold.

But

But… In verse 7 we run in to a big ‘but’.

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Woven throughout this passage are warnings to keep us humble. But here in verse 7 Paul illustrates the truth graphically to prevent us from becoming puffed up. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, jars of clay.

Earthen Vessels

We hold a great treasure, but it is placed in ordinary, unimpressive containers. Clay jars were about the equivalent of plastic or styrofoam cups. They were cheap, ordinary, fragile, disposable, and the landfills are full of them. They couldn’t really even be recycled. Many sites in Israel you can hardly walk without stepping on fragments of broken pottery [show examples]. There are even pits in the ground filled full of broken fragments. If a vessel made of glass broke, it could be melted down and re-blown into something useful. But not clay pots. Under Levitical law, bronze or even wood or leather or cloth containers that came into contact with something unclean could be washed in water and cleansed, but an earthen vessel must be broken (Lev.6:28;11:32-35; 15:12).

In Isaiah 30, God describes the consequences to his people of rejecting and distorting his word:

Isaiah 30:14 and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

A clay pot’s usefulness comes from its form. It does not come from the inherent worth of its material.

The Potter and the Clay

When it comes down to it, a clay pot is essentially dirt. Mud. Clay that has been formed for a specific purpose. And that is exactly what we are. According to Genesis,

Genesis 2:7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Formed by God of dust from the ground. Then after our rebellion, we are told:

Genesis 3:19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Lest we begin to think we are something, we are reminded that we are but clay jars, formed by the hand of our Master for a specific purpose.

This is an analogy that is used several places in scripture. In Isaiah 29 the Lord says:

Isaiah 29:16 You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

How dare a created thing reject its creator! How dare something formed insult the one who formed it! Again in Isaiah 45:

Isaiah 45:9 “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?

I looked up how to make usable clay for pottery out of regular ordinary dirt. It is a simple but labor intensive process. It is basically a process of washing and screening and sifting to removing the impurities so that the clay will hold together.

Isaiah 64 describes us:

Isaiah 64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

We are full of impurities, and in order for us to be useful, God must remove the contaminants.

Isaiah 64:8 But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

For us to even make it on the potter’s wheel, there must be an intensive process of cleansing.

Paul picks up this theme in Romans 9

Romans 9:20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

God as creator has rights over the clay. He can do with it what he chooses.

In Jeremiah 18, Jeremiah is given an extensive object lesson with clay pots.

Jeremiah 18:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

The potter is at liberty to do with his clay what seems best to him. God goes on to warn:

Jeremiah 18:7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’

The point of these illustrations is that God is the potter. We are the clay. The potter has the right to make what he wishes with the clay. It seem ridiculous for a clay pot to take issue with the potter over the way it has been formed, especially when we spoil ourselves in his hand. Yet that is just what we so often do. The Potter is wise. Our Potter is good. He knows what he is doing. We can trust him.

Another thing to note about clay pots, is that they can be molded and shaped into something that looks great, but they are useless until they are fired. They have to be put in the furnace or kiln to become usable. I don’t know if Paul had this in mind when he calls us earthen vessels, but it certainly fits with what he goes on to say in the rest of this chapter. The furnace of affliction and trials proves character. It makes a soft pliable wet lump of clay into a functional container. It becomes useful. And it can last a long time. Many of these pieces of pottery are thousands of years old.

In Jeremiah 32, during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem, God instructed Jeremiah to buy a field to demonstrate God’s promise that after the exile, fields will again be bought and sold in the land.

Jeremiah 32:14 ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time.

In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd discovered some clay jars in a cave near the Dead Sea. The jars contained great treasure, manuscripts of the Bible and other writings preserved in the jars for over 2000 years! Indeed, treasure stored in an earthenware vessel can last a long time.

This Treasure

The point of Paul’s contrast is between the nature of the jar and the nature of the treasure it is meant to carry.

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

We have some fancy vases in our house that we don’t ever put anything in. They are beautiful, and they are completely for show. If I were to put even a flower in it, the beauty of the vase would detract from the beauty of the flower. The simplicity and plainness of a container allows the beauty of the treasure to be seen and treasured for what it is. That is what Paul is warning here.

We contain treasure. We have been entrusted with New Covenant ministry. The ministry of the gospel; the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. We proclaim Jesus Christ the Lord. God’s creative word has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The container is not meant to compete with the glory of the treasure. We want nothing to detract from the treasure. Fancy pots won’t do!

The Power is God’s

This verse could be translated literally ‘but we have this the treasure in earthen vessels in order that the superabundance of power might be of God and not out of us.’ The verb is not ‘to show;’ rather the verb in this phrase is ‘to be.’ God’s purpose in putting his infinitely valuable treasure in these fragile human containers is that the power would be his and not ours.

If the container were impressive, attention would be drawn to the container. With containers this earthy, this ordinary, this vulnerable and common, there is no question whose the power is.

Paul may have had in mind the simple oil lamps that were so common in Corinth. Made of clay, they were inexpensive, yet functional. No one would question if the clay were giving off the light of itself or if it was the oil that was inside. It is the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God; it is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. God creatively spoke this light into existence in our hearts. When this light shines out in such a way that others begin to see the light, it is evident that the extraordinary degree of the power is from God and not from us.

Paul was accused of being unimpressive. The Corinthians wanted someone powerful, someone eloquent, someone with a commanding presence. Paul said here I am; a simple clay pot, worn, tattered, vulnerable, broken, but containing a power not his own, a divine and supernatural light. The power of forgiveness. The power of knowing Jesus. The power to transform lives.

When Jesus blinded Paul’s physical eyes, and opened his spiritual eyes to who he is, he called a man named Ananias to go speak to him.

Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument [vessel] 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 was a vessel, a container in which the name of Jesus would be carried around to all people. In the coming verses we will see how this treasure in earthen vessels connects with the necessity of suffering.

In Matthew 5 Jesus talked about light of a lamp that shines and gives light to others. He said:

Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

How is it that we are the light of the world, and that we are to let our light shine in such a way that people see our good works, but they don’t praise us; rather they give glory to our Father in heaven? How do we let our light shine in such a way that God gets all the attention?

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…

2 Corinthians 4:6 It is God who said ‘out of darkness light shine! … 7 [lit] But we have this, the treasure in earthenware vessels in order that the superabundance of power might be of God and not out of us.

You and I are really not all that impressive. God is.

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

August 27, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 1:8-10; Purposeful Despair and Hope in God

10/22 2 Corinthians 1:8-10; Purposeful Despair and Hope in God; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20171022_2cor1_8-10.mp3

Corinth was confused about what the Christian life is all about. They were being led astray with the notion that following Jesus meant success and power and popularity. They began to question if Paul’s suffering meant that God was not pleased with him and that he was not a genuine apostle. Paul is writing to correct their thinking and bring it in line with the good news of the crucified Messiah.

Instead of opening this letter with a thanksgiving to God for what he has done in the Corinthian church, Paul begins by praising God who brings comfort in the midst of suffering and affliction. Suffering is fellowship (koinonia) with Christ.

The Benediction (1:1-7)

He begins by highlighting the nature of God; that he is merciful and the source of all comfort.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,

Paul and his apostolic team have experienced God’s comfort in the midst of all their affliction.

4 who comforts us in all our affliction,

This affliction is purposeful; the apostles are comforted in affliction so that they can comfort others in all affliction with God’s comfort.

4 …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.

Overflowing fellowship in Christ’s sufferings equates to overflowing fellowship in the comfort of Jesus.

5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

The Apostles’ affliction and their comfort is all for the comfort of the Corinthians.

6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort,

The Corinthians will experience this comfort as they fellowship in their apostle’s sufferings.

6 …which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.

The firm confidence of Paul for the believers is in God, who will bring about their fellowship in both the sufferings and the comfort

7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

The Affliction (8-10)

Now in verses 8-10 he gets very personal and vulnerable, opening his heart and revealing his own struggles and fears.

8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For 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. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

We do not want you to be ignorant

Paul wants to make them aware of his sufferings. He says ‘we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers.’ The Corinthians prided themselves on their knowledge, so to be ignorant of anything would be a great shame to them. He has used this phrase twice in 1 Corinthians (10:1; 12:1) and 10 times in 1 Corinthians (3:16; 5:6; 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 16, 19; 9:13, 24) he says ‘Do you not know?’

They are already concerned about what they have heard of the sufferings of Paul. Instead of remaining quiet about some of his sufferings they may not be aware of, he highlights his suffering to them. Paul wants them to be fully aware of the depth of his affliction. He is teaching them what it means to be a follower of Jesus; that it is to follow him in his sufferings now, and his glory to come.

The Affliction we Experienced in Asia

He wants them to be fully aware of the affliction he and his co-workers had experienced in Asia. But Paul doesn’t give them the details of what happened; rather his focus is on his own experience of the affliction, and what he was taught through the affliction.

There has been much speculation on what this affliction in Asia might have been. Asia was across the Aegean Sea from Corinth; Ephesus was the major port city almost directly East of Corinth. It was from Ephesus that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 15:32 he mentions that he ‘fought wild beasts at Ephesus,’ probably a metaphorical reference to hostile people. In Acts 19, we are told of a riot in Ephesus started by the craftsman Demetrius, who understood that Paul’s preaching ‘that gods made with hands are not gods’ (19:26) was devastating their profits. After over two hours of shouting in the amphitheater, the town clerk dispersed the crowds and suggested bring their charges against them in the courts. Luke does not record everything that happened, but it is possible that Paul was charged and even imprisoned for a time in Ephesus. We don’t know for sure where he was imprisoned when he wrote to the Philippians. Many think it was during his Roman imprisonment. It is possible it was during an unmentioned imprisonment in Ephesus.

There are some intriguing parallels between his letter to the Philippians and what he says in 2 Corinthians. Paul explains that he faced a life and death struggle (Phil.1:20-23); that he felt as if he were being poured out as an offering (3:17). He says that his affliction brought about boldness and confidence in the other believers (1:12-14); he mentions the fellowship of the saints in suffering (1:5,7,29-30; 3:10); he says that he relied on the prayers of the believers to bring about his deliverance (1:19); he expects to visit them soon (1:24-26; 2:23-24); he holds up to them the example of Jesus on the cross as an example of humility and suffering (2:5-8).

We know that whether it was events related to the riot in Ephesus, or the frequent attacks of the Jews that he faced everywhere he went, Paul experienced some severe affliction in Asia.

Burdened Beyond Despair

The circumstances of the affliction aren’t the important thing. The experience of the affliction and the purpose in the affliction is the essential thing he wants to communicate.

8 …For 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.

We were super-abundantly weighed down beyond our ability. We were so weighed down that we despaired even of life itself. Paul doesn’t talk about the outward circumstance, but he talks about his experience. Crushing pressure. More than we could handle. Despair. Despondency. The sentence of death. Verse 10 says a deadly peril; literally so vast a death. Paul and his co-workers were beyond themselves. They couldn’t handle it. They were in over their heads. They had lost all hope. They were as good as dead.

Wow Paul, this doesn’t sound very spiritual. Somebody needs to read you one of your bible verses to encourage you! You know, God is in control. He will work all things together for good. Just keep looking up! Paul didn’t put on a happy face and pretend to be OK. He did not run from the pressure. He didn’t pretend that he could handle it. He was not ashamed to admit his own weakness, his own inability, his own emotional brokenness and hopelessness. He couldn’t handle it. It was beyond him. The pressure was just too great. It would crush him.

Purposeful Despair

But this was purposeful despair. God was in control. Paul blesses the God of all comfort who designed both the affliction and the comfort.

9 …But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

‘But that was to…’ We received in ourselves the answer of death in order that… There is purpose in the emotional brokenness that Paul experienced. There was purpose in bringing him to the point of total despair. In order that we must not have confidence in ourselves.

Calvin writes “that the fleshly confidence with which we are puffed up, is so obstinate, that it cannot be overthrown in any other way than by our falling into utter despair. …that this malady is so deeply rooted in the minds of men, that even the most advanced are not thoroughly purged from it, until God sets death before their eyes. And hence we may infer, how displeasing to God confidence in ourselves must be, when for the purpose of correcting it, it is necessary that we should be condemned to death.” (p.119-120).

It is as natural as breathing to trust in ourselves. It requires radical amputation to cut off our self-confidence. It was part of Paul’s experience to be self-confident. But it has to go. We cannot truly put our confidence in God until our confidence in self is put to death. This death is a slow and painful one. Self-confidence does not die easily. It must be crushed out of us; pressed out of us; the breath of self-reliance must be squeezed out of us. We must be brought to the end of ourselves so that we can begin to trust – really trust in God.

Charles Hodge writes “These two things are so connected that the former is the necessary condition of the latter. There is no such thing as implicit confidence or reliance on God, until we renounce all confidence in ourself.”(p.10-11).

Confidence in God Alone

This was a good thing. This death and despair was for a good purpose, to make us rely not on ourselves but on God. Paul named God in verse 3 as ‘the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.’ Here he names God as ‘the God who raises the dead.’ This despairing even of life itself worked in him the good purpose of weaning him from self dependence to dependence on the resurrecting God. He came to know God, not just intellectually, but experientially by a new name. Having despaired of life and having received the sentence of death, he experienced God’s resurrection power.

This was Abraham’s experience when he considered his 100 year old body that was as good as dead and the deadness of Sarah’s womb

Romans 4:17 —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”

This is the God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist. This was Abraham’s experience when in obedience he went to offer the promised son Isaac up as a sacrifice.

Hebrews 11:19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

God is the God who raises the dead. When we acknowledge our own deadness, our own inability, our own helplessness and brokenness and need, we give God room to show himself as the God who raises the dead. In order to experience his resurrection power, I must indeed be dead.

On Him we have Set our Hope

Paul says:

10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

He rescued us; he will rescue; he will rescue. Paul and his co-workers experienced deliverance from so great a death. Their experience of God’s rescue gave them strong confidence that he will deliver again. They have set their hope no longer on their own strength, on their own ability, on their own competence, no longer on themselves, but solely on him. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. All self-confidence was stripped away; all hope is fixed on the only one who is worthy to be hoped in, on the God who raises the dead.

The Gospel and Following Jesus

Paul is re-calibrating the Corinthian understanding of the Christian life by holding himself up as a vulnerable example. Following Jesus means coming to the end of ourselves. Following Jesus means death; death to self-sufficiency; death to self-reliance; death to hope in anything we can be or do; following Jesus means fixing our hope exclusively on the God who raises the dead.

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

October 26, 2017 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment