PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Engaging Community with the Gospel – Matthew 28

01/26 Vision– individuals engaging the community with the gospel (Matthew 28); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200126_church-outreach.mp3

We’re looking at the church, God’s vision for the church, what it means to be a healthy church, to re-focus our vision for what we are meant to be as a local church.

We’ve seen from Matthew 16 that the church belongs to Jesus. It is a gathering of Jesus followers built on the identity of Jesus and the offense of the cross, united into one body by the Holy Spirit through the new birth.

A local church is made up of individual believers, so a healthy local church is made up of healthy believers. From Colossians 3 we saw that followers of Jesus live by faith, keep their minds fixed on God and his glory, live in love and forgive as they have been forgiven. We are to live lives are saturated with the word of God and with prayer.

From Romans 12 we saw that the church is the body of Christ. The church is made up of individual believers, and as individuals, we each bring something to the table, something to the body. We are individuals transformed by the good news, and God has given each of us different gifts that we are to use to build up one another in love. We are meant to experience the gospel in community.

As Hebrews 10 tells us

Hebrews 10:22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, … 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

We are to draw near to God through Jesus, to hold fast our confession of the gospel, we are to meet together, to encourage one another in the gospel, to stir up one another to love and good works. We are to experience the gospel in community. And we are to engage our community with the gospel.

The Gospel of Jesus

We looked at the great confession in Matthew 16 that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the living God as the foundation on which Jesus builds his church. Now we will look at the great commission in Matthew 28, how Jesus goes about building his church.

Matthew 28:16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus tells his eleven disciples to make disciples who will make disciples. Luke gives more detail on the great commission in Luke 24.

Luke 24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

The Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead to fulfill the Scriptures. Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations. A gospel foundation.

Paul summarizes the gospel this way in 1 Corinthians 15; the gospel he proclaimed, that was to be received and held fast, the gospel that was saving those who were believing. ‘That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, that he appeared…’ (1Cor.15:1-5). Making disciples must be built on a gospel foundation.

Witnesses, Wait

You are witnesses of these things. A witness testifies to the truth of what he has experienced. Jesus went on to say in Luke 24

Luke 24:48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” 50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

But stay until. In Matthew 16 Jesus told his followers that he would built his church on the confession of his identity as the Christ, Son of the living God, but that they were not to reveal his identity, not yet. Luke continues the story of what Jesus began to do and teach in his book of Acts.

Acts 1:1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

He ordered them to wait. Wait for the Holy Spirit. Jesus continues:

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

You will be my witnesses. You will be immersed in the Holy Spirit, clothed with power from on high to be my witnesses.

The Power of the Holy Spirit

The very first thing we need to note is that we are to be his witnesses, to make disciples, not in our own power, not with our own natural wisdom or ability. We are to fulfill the great commission in the strength that God supplies. Natural means produce natural results. Supernatural means produce supernatural results. Jesus told his disciples to wait. The Holy Spirit was sent, Peter preached, and

Acts 2:41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2 closes with these words:

Acts 2:46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The Lord added to their number. In Acts 11 the church was scattered because of persecution, and some disciples preached the Lord Jesus to the Greek speaking Jews in Antioch

Acts 11:21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.

When news of this reached Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas.

Acts 11:23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

God’s grace made visible! In Acts 16, Paul and Silas traveled through Asia minor visiting the Gentile churches and bringing news of the Jerusalem counsel (Acts 15) that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

Acts 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

Jesus is building his church through the witness of his followers empowered by the Holy Spirit.

It’s important to say here, if you are a follower of Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit living in you. Paul writes to the Romans

Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Believers, you have the Spirit of God, and you are called to be his witnesses!

The Authority of Jesus

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples…

Before Jesus commissions his disciples to go and make disciples, he claims to have all authority. It is ‘therefore’, because of this, that he authorizes them to make disciples. Jesus possesses all authority in heaven and on earth. Philippians tells us that because Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,

Philippians 2:9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus holds all authority, and he authorizes us to make disciples.

The Presence of Jesus

Matthew 28:20 … And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew’s gospel began with the introduction of Jesus as the one who will save his people from their sins, the fulfillment of the prophecy of Immanuel, God with us (Mt.1:21-23). Now, at the close of this gospel, Jesus promises to be with his people, his followers throughout history, to the very end. Jesus’ own authority remains with us today, because Jesus himself is with us today!

Disciples of All Nations

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, …

Make disciples of all nations. Where Judaism was ‘come and see’; there was only to be one temple, only in Jerusalem; Christianity is ‘go and tell.’ Jesus explicitly includes as an essential part of his great commission that the good news is meant for all the nations. We are not to be comfortable or isolated or exclusive. The ultimate goal is people ‘from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb’ (Rev.7:9) worshiping. Jesus is more than just King of the Jews. He is King of kings and Lord of lords, King of the nations! The book of Acts chronicles the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth. As followers of Jesus, we are to engage our community and beyond with the gospel.

Disciples are Baptized in the Triune Name

What does it mean to make disciples? A disciple is a learner, a follower. We make disciples by proclaiming Jesus, proclaiming in Jesus the forgiveness of sins. Repent or turn from whatever else you are hoping in, trusting in, holding on to. Turn to Jesus alone as your only hope. Disciples make a clean break. Baptism is a picture of that. You go down into the water. What you were is dead. You come up a new creation in Christ.

Throughout the New Testament, believers are baptized. This is a public statement that you have made a break with your past and now you are following Jesus. Jesus commands that we baptize his disciples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Notice, ‘name’ is singular; we are baptized into the one name of the triune God, who eternally exists in the distinct persons of Father, Son and Spirit. We are immersed into God himself.

Baptism is identifying with a new group. It is saying ‘I belong with these people.’ Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. …27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

We are baptized into one body by the Spirit. Water baptism is an outward declaration of what happened in us when we believed the gospel and turned to Jesus.

Disciples Obey Jesus Always in Everything

Those who believe the good news and turn to Jesus are to be baptized, identifying publicly as followers of Jesus, identifying with the body of Christ. But it doesn’t stop there.

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

A disciple is a learner. A follower of Jesus follows Jesus. That seems like it should go without saying, but Jesus thought it was important enough to include it in his great commission. Disciples obey Jesus in everything all the time. To follow Jesus is to give up following yourself. ‘Here’s what I want to do, but Jesus, if you are King, if I now belong to you, then I have to give up being king of me.’ I get to obey, to do what he says.

This doesn’t happen overnight. When you hear ‘disciples obey Jesus in everything all the time’ you might get discouraged or doubt, thinking ‘I certainly don’t obey Jesus in everything all the time, maybe I’m not really a follower.’ Maybe. But remember, Jesus’ command is that we make disciples, teaching them to obey Jesus. Teaching is an ongoing process. A disciple is a learner, a lifelong learner. None of us has graduated. We are all by God’s grace still learning. We are learning to love God more than anything else, and love neighbor as we love ourselves. We are learning to surrender every area of life to his loving control. We are learning to be his witnesses and make disciples. We are getting to know Jesus and what he demands of his followers, and we want to please him. We are learning what it means to be a part of his body, to love and serve one another. We are learning to forgive like we have been forgiven. We are walking. We are following.

What a disciple does not say is ‘I understand Jesus is calling me to do this, but I will not do it.’ That is what it means to not be a follower of Jesus, to not be a disciple. A disciple does not refuse to follow Jesus. At least not for very long. Remember, Jesus has all authority. Hallowed be your name (not mine). Your kingdom come (not mine), your will be done (not mine). To follow Jesus is to have a new Master, a good Master.

And remember, we are not alone, trying to do this on our own. Jesus is with us, always, to the end of the age. We are empowered by the gift of his Holy Spirit who lives inside.

Summary

Jesus is building his church. We as his disciples, followers of Jesus, are to engage our community with the gospel. Empowered by the Spirit, under the authority of Jesus, we are to make disciples, other followers, of all nations, identifying them as followers by baptizing them into the name of the one triune God, teaching them to obey Jesus always in everything. And we are to continue following, continue learning. Continue spending time with Jesus.

***

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

January 27, 2020 Posted by | church, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Church Body – Romans 12

01/19 Vision – individuals experiencing the gospel together in community (Romans 12); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200119_church-body.mp3

We’ve been looking at vision, God’s vision for the church, what it means to be a healthy church, and how we can grow more and more into what we were meant to be.

So far, we’ve seen from Matthew 16 that the church is Jesus’ church, a gathering of Jesus followers built on the identity of Jesus and the offense of the cross, united into one body by the Holy Spirit through the new birth. If each local church is composed of individual believers, then a healthy local church is made up of healthy believers. We’ve seen from Colossians 3 that followers of Jesus live by faith, we are to keep our thoughts fixed on God and his glory, we are to live in love and forgive as we have been forgiven; we are to be those whose lives are saturated with the word of God and with prayer.

We are going to spend our time today primarily in Romans 12. Our focus will be the church as the body of Christ. The church is made up of individual believers, and as individuals, we each bring something to the table, something to the body. We are individuals transformed by the good news, but we are meant to experience the gospel in community.

Established on a Gospel Foundation

Let’s just dive right in and look together at Romans 12.

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God,

It is essential to stop right here and pay attention to the ‘therefore’. That’s a connecting word, and it reminds us that we are jumping in at the end of a letter. ‘Therefore’ tells us that everything that is said here in chapter 12 is built on the foundation of what was said in the first 11 chapters. God is righteous. We are all sinners, and being unrighteous, we all deserve the just wrath of a holy God. But that same God of holiness and justice is also a God of compassion and love, and he sent his only Son to be the propitiation, the wrath-absorbing sin-bearing substitute for us. In this way God can uphold his own righteous integrity and fully punish sin, while at the same time declaring guilty sinners righteous, justified, as if they had never sinned, credited with Jesus’ own perfect righteousness.

This gift of God’s own righteousness comes to all who believe, who simply take him at his word, trust him implicitly, cast themselves completely on his mercy, entrust themselves to his care. (Rom.3:23-25

Service is Worship

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

Our response to God’s astounding mercy ought to be worship. Remember, Christians sing! Singing is one of many forms of worship.

This verse points us to another act of worship. Present your bodies as a living sacrifice. A sacrificial animal was an animal that belonged to the worshiper, a flawless animal, a valuable animal, one of his best, and he would give it to God. Ownership was transferred to God. The animal was no longer his own to do with as he willed; it belonged to God. Some sacrifices went entirely up in smoke, as a fragrant aroma pleasing to the Lord. Some sacrifices were eaten, both by the priests and the worshipers, a feast enjoyed in God’s presence. You no longer belong to yourself. You were bought with a price (1Cor.6:19-20; 7:23).

Notice, the ‘you’ is plural; you all. ‘Bodies’ is plural. Each of you individually are to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice. In joyful response to God’s stunning mercy and grace, I gladly surrender rights over my body to the Lord. This is worship. And although the ‘you’ is plural and ‘bodies’ is plural, the ‘sacrifice’ is singular and the ‘worship’ is singular. As one body we each offer our bodies as a singular act of worship to the Lord.

Service is worship. What we do with our bodies on Sunday is worship. The teachers who teach our children’s church and serve in the nursery are worshiping. Those who volunteered to come yesterday to clean the church, that was an act of worship. What we do Monday through Saturday is meant to be an act of worship. Going to work and earning an honest living so that you can provide for your needs and the needs of those who depend on you, so that you can give generously to God, that is worship. Raising your children to love and fear and follow Jesus, that is worship. Preparing a meal for your own family, or for someone in need, that is worship. Calling someone or getting together to encourage or to pray or to simply spend time with, that is worship.

Mental Metamorphosis

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Colossians 3 told us to ‘seek the things that are above’ (v.1); to ‘set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’ (v.2). To ‘let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’ (v.16). We need a complete metamorphosis in our thinking. We need to be entirely renewed in how we evaluate and process and plan. It feels natural to follow the world’s patterns, to define success by the world’s standards, but our aim is no longer to please people. We are to seek to do the will of God, to do what is good in his estimation, to be acceptable to him, to please him in all things. As followers of Jesus we think in new categories, we set our minds on things above.

Humility

Here’s a monumental metamorphosis in our thinking.

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, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

From the playground at recess to the job market, we are taught to make much of ourselves, to inflate our abilities, to show ourselves bigger than we are. We make ourselves out to be larger than life, and then we have trouble sleeping because we are concerned someone might find us out.

But this is deeper. This verse is saying that we are inclined to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. We actually believe that we are better than we are. We think that we are OK. We think that we are better than others, that we don’t sin as much as others, that in some way by our own efforts we can please God. We don’t like to think, and it is contrary to how the world teaches us to think, that we are not enough. That we are fundamentally flawed, in desperate need of help, in desperate need of the gospel. I am a sinner, I deserve death, and my only hope is in the rescue that only comes through Jesus. We are to think about ourselves with sober judgment. This requires grace, supernatural grace, God’s grace.

The Body

Romans 12:4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them:

I am not enough. I am part of something bigger than myself. As a follower of Jesus, I am a part of a body of believers. We are inextricably connected to one another in Jesus, and we need each other. Paul uses the human body as an illustration. If you understand anything about how the body works, you know the respiratory system is inextricably linked to the circulatory system. The lungs bring in a fresh supply of oxygen to the blood stream. The heart pumps the oxygenated blood around to the various parts of the body to keep the organs and tissues healthy. By the way, the heart is a muscle that needs oxygen that the lungs supply, and the lungs only work when the chest muscles are supplied with blood from the heart so they can expand to take a breath. They are inextricably interdependent. Neither works without the other.

We tend to downplay our own importance to the body. I’m not really that important. If I don’t show up, nobody will even miss me. Paul wrote earlier to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 12:14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

Eyes and hands are essential. But feet and ears, well they look kind of funny and often stink. We can probably get by without them. Or can we? I sometimes hear people say ‘Well, I don’t really fit in, I’m different, I don’t feel like I belong.’ It’s precisely because you are different that we need you. No one else does what you do. You bring something unique to the table.

There can also be a frustration on the other side, where a person is gifted and passionate about something, and is frustrated that everyone else doesn’t share that same passion.

1 Corinthians 12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

You have probably been wondering why we are sitting in a circle today. That was not my idea; it was suggested to me by one of you as a visual illustration of the body. Jesus is at the center, he is the head. He brings us together. We gather around him. And we are all sinners, hurting, broken, daily in need of the gospel, of God’s amazing grace. Daily we need forgiveness, and we need to forgive one another. There is not those who serve and those who come to be served. There are not some who are essential and some who are expendable. Every body part is unique, perfectly designed for its own distinct role, and no other part can take its place. None of us on our own is enough. We are meant to function together, to complement one another. We are all part of something bigger than ourselves.

Gifts That Differ

Romans 12:4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Every believer in Jesus has experienced God’s grace. We each have been given a gift we didn’t earn and don’t deserve. We have been uniquely equipped to serve others. As an act of worship, we are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, to use as he sees fit. We have each been given gifts, and we are to use them through love to serve one another.

Notice all the attitude words? Zeal, cheerfulness, genuine love, abhorring evil, brotherly affection, not slothful but fervent. Our attitudes matter. Grudging half-hearted ‘I guess I’ll do it because no one else will’ service is not pleasing to the Lord. You see, when you discover who God made you to be, there is passion and joy in being who you were created to be and doing what you were designed for. There is satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment. And we need each other to help each other discover those unique gifts and passions.

…But Not Yet

I find it interesting where he goes next.

Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

He talks here about tribulation, difficult circumstances; and about persecution, opposition from people. And I asked, is he switching subjects here, moving from life within the body out to life in the world? As followers of Jesus we expect persecution from the world. He definitely moves out to talk about that in chapter 13. And that is at least included in what he says here. But these instructions come in the context of body life and all mixed in with ‘one another’ language. We find joy now in service, but we rejoice in hope. Hope is something that is anticipated but hasn’t been fully realized yet. There is joy in service in the body now, but it is not yet as it is meant to be. There is also tribulation, and even persecution. We live in a community of redeemed sinners undergoing sanctification. And even redeemed sinners sin against one another. That is why we are commanded to forgive one another. Don’t be surprised by opposition, even when it comes from within the body, even when it comes against you using your God given gifts. Live in harmony with one another. That means you don’t all have to sing the same note, but that you do work together and complement one another. There will be times when well meaning fellow believers will seem to be working against you, criticizing your best efforts, frustrating your gifts. Be patient in tribulation. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Live in harmony with one another. If possible, live peaceably with all.

In chapter 15 he has more to say about body life and bearing with one another in love, and so today we will close with his prayer from 15:5-7.

Romans 15:5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Lord, make it so, here, in this body, your church, today!

***

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

January 20, 2020 Posted by | church, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2020 Vision; Healthy Church – Colossians 3

01/12 Vision – healthy individuals make a healthy church (Colossians 3); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200112_healthy-church.mp3

Last time we looked at Jesus’ vision for the church; seeing clearly who we are, who we are meant to be will shape what we do. We saw from Matthew 16 that the church is a gathering of Jesus followers. The church belongs to Jesus. The church is built on the identity of Jesus as the only Son of God. The church is created by the Holy Spirit through the miracle of new birth. The church carries Jesus’ own unstoppable authority and is meant to be on the offensive, moving forward to take ground from the enemy. But the church is built on the offense of the cross; we follow a crucified King; Jesus came to lay down his life for others. So the way we advance is by that same love which works itself out in self-sacrificial service toward one another and toward a hurting world. This is Jesus’ own vision for his church.

We can embrace and affirm Jesus’ vision for his church. We can read Matthew 16 and agree, ‘yes, this is what the church is, I agree,’ but how do we move from saying to doing? How do we move from merely affirming to actually being, living it out?

Not a Building

Today I’d like to look at what it means to be the church by looking at what the church is composed of. Remember, the church is a gathering of Jesus followers. We tend to think in terms of place and structure. How do I get to the church? Where is it on the map? What does the building look like?

Across the world, church buildings have been burned or bombed. On 15 April 2019, the 850 year old Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was significantly damaged from a fire, and for the first time in 200 years did not hold Christmas services. January 9 of 2018 the Golden Lampstand church in the Shanxi Province of China, where 50,000 Christians worshiped, was demolished by Chinese police using heavy machinery and dynamite.

But if the church is really a gathering of Jesus followers, then the destruction of a church building does not destroy the church. If the church is a local gathering of Jesus followers, It doesn’t really matter where we meet. It’s not about the building.

Healthy Believers Healthy Church

Today I want to ask the question ‘What makes a healthy church?’ If a church is composed of Jesus followers, then a healthy church is made up of healthy Jesus followers. That means that if I am concerned about the health of this church, then the biggest thing I can do is to make sure that I am a healthy Christian. And a healthy Christian is one who lives a life characterized by following Jesus. And a life characterized by following Jesus is the composite of individual days and moments of following Jesus. What does that look like?

Colossians

There’s a lot of places in God’s word we could go to answer this question, but today I want to look at Paul’s letter to the Colossians. This is a church that Paul didn’t directly start. It seems that when he was in Ephesus (Acts 19:10), Ephaphras, a Colossian, was visiting Ephesus, heard the preaching of Paul and believed, and brought the good news back to his own city and a church was birthed. Now a few years later, visiting Paul in prison in Rome, he shares concerns over threats to this church, and brings Paul’s letter back to them.

The Miracle of New Birth

Paul starts (1:3-14) by thanking God for their faith, that when they heard the gospel, God’s grace had been poured out on them and they believed; remember, the new birth is a supernatural work of the Spirit of God. Paul reminds them of God’s rescue, God’s forgiveness, and that is is God who ultimately makes them fruitful.

The Bedrock Identity of Jesus and the Offense of the Cross

Then (1:15-23) Paul points them to the priority, the preeminence, the first place of Jesus in everything. Remember, the church is built on the bedrock foundation of the identity of Jesus. The eternal Son of God, the very image of God, the one who created and sustains all things, is the head of the church. It is the offense of the death of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, the cross of Jesus that secures our peace with God.

Paul preaches Jesus (1:24-2:5) and struggles and strives for their maturity in Christ. He exhorts them to stay firm in their faith in Christ, and warns them against being led astray.

He tells them (2:6-7) that as they received Christ Jesus the Lord in simple faith, entrusting themselves to him, depending on him alone, with thanksgiving that they should continue to live their lives by that same simple faith with thanksgiving.

He warns them (2:6-15) not to get taken captive by philosophies or traditions apart from Christ. Christ is everything. Jesus is God in the flesh. We died with Christ and have been raised up and given new life.

He warns them not to get tangled up in legalistic observance of days or dietary restrictions (2:16-23), We must hold fast to Christ the head, who nourishes and connects his body and causes its growth.

Indicative/Imperative

The church is established on the identity of Christ, is given new life in Christ, and lives in communion with Christ. Paul lays this foundation of truth that we must hold on to in the first two chapters, and then in the last two chapters, he gives practical instructions for how to live in light of this truth. That’s what I want to focus on for the rest of our time. If then. If this is true, if we are the church, built on the foundation of Christ, transformed by the good news of Christ crucified, following in the footsteps of Christ, living in communion with Christ, what should this look like?

Mind Set on Things Above

The first thing we are told, because we have been raised with Christ, we are to make a habit of seeking things above, and setting our minds on things above, not on earthly things. Jesus invited us to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (Mt.6:33). This doesn’t come naturally.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, talking about marriage and singleness says:

1 Corinthians 7:32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. … 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

Paul holds up the main benefit of singleness as single-mindedness. The single person is free to focus solely on things above, on pleasing the Lord. So many single people waste their singleness with their minds set on earthly things. We are to seek in all things above all to please the Lord. Because we have been raised with Christ, we can seek the things above, we can seek to be satisfied in God. Martha was anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary’ (Lk.10:41-42). To sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him.

Are you fixing your thinking on things above?

Colossians 3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

The Crucified Life

The next thing Paul tells us is to live the crucified life. He moves from resurrection to crucifixion. As soon as we try to fix our minds on things above, all the things of the world elbow their way in and compete for our attention. Paul is not gentle with these competing affections.

Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices

The follower of Jesus is to embrace the offense of the cross and walk in the way of the crucified life. Some things can’t be coddled. They need to be crucified. We tend to deal gently, even affectionately with our sins. We need to take hammer and drive the nail straight through.

The Peace of Christ

Paul goes on to describe in practical rubber meets the road terms life in the body of Christ.

Colossians 3:10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Our new self is not perfect. It is being renewed, day by day. And that means others in the body of Christ are being renewed; they are not yet perfect either. But in Christ there is unity in spite of deep differences. We are being renewed whenever someone is difficult to be around, whenever someone disappoints us or wrongs us or sins against us. We are to be characterized by compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love. We are to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts in the one body of the church family. Oh, and by the way, be thankful. When you have an opportunity to forgive, be thankful. When you have an opportunity to bear with one another, be thankful. When you have a complaint against another, be thankful.

The Word of Christ

We might ask ‘how in the world do you expect me to set my mind on things above, to crucify my competing affections, to let the peace of Christ rule in my relationships with irritating, annoying, disappointing, difficult people?

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. What is in you will come out. What are you primarily feeding on? What is the main substance of your diet? There are a lot of different diet plans out there, and on occasion we have filled our fridge and our pantry with all kinds of odd things and measured and calculated and read the ingredients with the utmost care. How much attention do we give to what we feed on mentally and spiritually? What we feed on will inevitably shape our attitudes, our emotions, our thinking, how we see the world. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, the Word made flesh come to dwell among us (Jn.1). Jesus’ words are spirit and life (Jn.6:63), and he means for his words are to take up residence in us. We are to be washed in the water of the word (Eph.5:26).

Not just feed on the word, but let it dwell in you. Not just dwell in you, but dwell in you richly. Don’t be sparing or stingy. Don’t measure it carefully. Glut yourself on God’s word.

What goes in must come out, and if we are consistently feeding on the word of Christ, then we can ‘teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.’ Without a stable diet of God’s word, we will be spewing earthly human so called wisdom.

Notice the one another here. There is to be one another teaching and admonishing. Disciples are to make disciples, teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded us. ‘And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also’ (2Tim.2:2). If you are feeding on the word, you have something to say that is worth saying.

One another ministry is essential for a healthy church. First we are to forgive one another, and then we are to teach and admonish one another. Don’t attempt to admonish without first forgiving. Don’t attempt to admonish without the word of Christ dwelling in you richly.

And notice, when the word of Christ dwells in you richly, you sing. With thankfulness in your hearts to God. The word dwelling in you richly overflows in worship. Churches sing together. There is something unique about singing together the mighty truths of the gospel, expressing our praise and thanksgiving out loud together in song. Healthy Christians sing with thankfulness in their hearts to God.

Continue Steadfastly in Prayer

Paul gives some specific instruction to wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves, and then he gives us these instructions:

Colossians 4:2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. 5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.

Prayer. Steadfast continued prayer. Watchful prayer. Prayer with thanksgiving. Prayer for the advance of the word, for the proclamation of the gospel. Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. Healthy Christians pray.

A healthy church is made up of healthy followers of Jesus, who pray and sing together with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, who teach and exhort one another, who are saturated in the word of Christ, who allow the peace of Christ to rule in relationships permeated with forgiveness and love, who put to death earthly affections and fix their thinking on the things of God.

***

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

January 13, 2020 Posted by | church, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2020 Vision – The Church – Matthew 16:18

01/05 2020 Vision – The Church; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200105_vision-church.mp3

I recently got my eyes checked. I was way overdue for an eye exam, and I’ve been noticing that my vision isn’t as keen as it once was. I’ve been having some trouble reading, especially with my contacts in. Vision is so important, and affects so many things.

One of my kids has glasses that she doesn’t wear very often, because her eyesight really isn’t that bad. But while we were traveling, she was looking out the window and said ‘Whoa, look at that buffalo!’ Of course everyone looked, but nobody saw any buffalo. Finally one of my other girls said, ‘Do you mean that big rock over there?’ If you can’t see clearly, you might fail to interpret accurately what is really there. That’s a problem.

Another time we were driving and the windshield was a bit dirty, but when we came around a bend so that we were heading directly into the sun, the glare made it impossible to see the road. It’s extremely dangerous both to yourself and to others around you when you can’t see the road. You have to be able to see the lines so that you can stay between them. Clear vision is essential to see the way ahead.

Vision and Vision Casting

It’s worthwhile to periodically check your vision. It’s worth stopping to clean your windshield before you find yourself facing directly into the sun. As a pastor, I am occasionally asked ‘What is your vision for the church?’ I understand that the question is meant in the sense of vision casting, what are your goals, your objectives, your strategic plans for the future. Dictionary.com defines vision in two distinct ways: 1. the act or power of sensing with the eyes; sight. 2. the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be: prophetic vision; the vision of an entrepreneur.

I’m not a visionary, and while I don’t want to disparage those who are, I would rather focus on making sure we are seeing clearly and accurately.

Vision and Absolutes

In visiting the eye doctor, I discovered that they believe in absolutes. They have an objective standard. They put letters on the wall, and they ask you to tell them what letters you see. When your vision is fuzzy, the capital G is easily confused with the C or even the Q. But it’s not enough to answer confidently. If I said that the F was a P, they adjusted my prescription. Telling them that it was a P to me just confirmed their suspicion that I wasn’t seeing accurately or clearly.

We have an absolute standard, and it is the word of God. I want to be sure that my hopes and dreams for the church stay between the lines God has established for his church, and that we are moving together in the right direction.

Matthew 16:18

What is the church? What is God’s vision for his church? In the coming weeks I want to refresh and clarify our vision for the church, what we are meant to be. Today I want to look at Jesus, his promise to built his church; I just want to walk through the text in Matthew 16 together and make some observations about the church.

Matthew 16:15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Ownership

The first thing that Jesus says about the church that I want us to pay attention to is an issue of ownership. Sometimes when pastors talk with other pastors, I hear things like ‘how are things going at your church?’ or ‘this is what we do in my church’. Now I don’t want to be the word police and I’m sure I’ve said things like that myself; that’s easier to say than ‘this is what’s happening in the church that I serve’. But I want to be clear. Jesus said ‘I will build my church.’ The church belongs to Jesus. Sometimes people refer to ‘my church’ not in the sense of ownership, but in the sense of belonging. When someone says ‘this is my restaurant’ we know they don’t mean that they actually own the restaurant; it’s the one they always eat at. ‘My church’ can mean the church I belong to, the church where I serve. But if we are talking about ownership, Jesus holds exclusive right. It is his church that he bought with his own blood (Acts 20:28). The church belongs to Jesus.

Built on the Identity of Jesus

The second thing to note is that Jesus started this conversation off with a question about his identity. Who do people say that the Son of Man is? Who do you say that I am? The church is built on the rock of the identity of Jesus. Peter’s great confession was ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” There are lots of opinions about Jesus floating around, but it is essential that we see clearly who he really is, who he claims himself to be. The Christ, the promised Messiah, the long awaited anointed one. Prophet, Priest and King. The Son of the living God. “He was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn.5:18). The identity of Jesus is the foundation of his church. You are:

Ephesians 2:19 …members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,

1 Corinthians 3:11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

On this rock I will build my church.’ The identity of Jesus is the foundation of the church.

Spirit Wrought Faith

There’s a third thing we need to see in this passage. This great confession was not a clever conclusion drawn from evaluating the evidence. Jesus makes a point of pointing this out.

Matthew 16:17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Peter, you are blessed. You have been given a great treasure. You didn’t come up with this on your own. It wasn’t your keen insight or brilliant logic. It was revealed to you. My Father revealed it to you. It was given to you from above.

There was a Pharisee who came to Jesus at night with his own perception of who Jesus was. He called him ‘Rabbi’ and identified him as a teacher who came from God doing signs. He acknowledged that God must be with him. Jesus challenged him on his need for a spiritual transformation so that he could see Jesus for who he really is:

John 3:3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 …‘You must be born again.’

…or born from above. Jesus went on to describe the work of the Spirit of God in bringing about this new birth.

John 3:8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The Spirit brings about the new birth when and where and in whom he wishes. Jesus went on to reveal his identity as the only Son given by God the Father to bring eternal life and salvation to a world condemned by sin.

The new birth is necessary to see Jesus for who he is, and that seeing is a work of the Spirit of God. There is a spiritual blindness that keeps us from seeing.

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

God through the supernatural work of his Spirit and through his omnipotent word reveals Jesus to us.

The church belongs to Jesus, it is built on the identity of Jesus, and that identity is perceived and believed by those who have been born again by his Spirit.

Un-opposable Authority

Let’s look at some other things we can glean about the church from this passage.

Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The church is not depicted here as a fortress immune from attack. Instead it is an organism on the move, advancing and taking ground. The gates of hell can’t hold up against the advance of Christ’s church.

And there is unopposable authority. Keys unlock doors and grant access.

Peter, on the day of Pentecost, proclaimed the forgiveness of sins in Jesus, and opened the kingdom to three thousand Jews. (Acts 2:38-41)

Later, in Acts chapter 10, Peter went to a Gentile’s house proclaimed the good news:

Acts 10:43 ..that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

And the door was unlocked to the Gentile nations. This was not unique to Peter.

When Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey

Acts 14:27 … they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

If we jump ahead from this great confession to the great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel, we read of this unstoppable authority.

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus holds all authority. And he invites us to make disciples of all nations. The church is made up of disciples, followers of Jesus from every diverse people group. We operate under the authority of Jesus, who is with us always.

The Offense of the Cross

But if we read on, there is something else we can learn about the church.

Matthew 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

There is an offensive element to the church. It is the offense of the cross. In fact the church is built on the offense of the cross. There is a warning here. We have a tendency to want to avoid the cross. We have a tendency to set our minds on the things of man, not the things of God. We tend to look to human means, to strategies for success to grow the church. This is not God’s way. Jesus builds his church through the offense of the cross. Jesus triumphed over sin and death by bearing our sin and dying. We want the church to look presentable to the world, but the cross is not presentable. It’s not politically correct to talk about sin and judgment, but the good news is that Jesus took my sin and carried my shame and died the death that I deserved. The church advances when the message of the cross is unapologetically proclaimed.

Community of Self-Sacrificial Service

Jesus goes on in the next verses to define his followers.

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.

The offense of the cross extends to Jesus’ followers. A disciple is one who patterns his life after the one he follows. Following Jesus means a life of self-sacrificial service to others. Jesus laid down his life in love for us. We are to lay down our lives in loving service to others. The church is made up of people who follow their Master and pattern their lives after his self-sacrificial service to others.

Conclusion

Let’s keep a clear vision of who we are as the church; who we are meant to be. The church is a community of Jesus followers united in one family by new birth. The church belongs to Jesus, it is built on the identity of Jesus, and that identity is perceived and believed by those who have been born again by his Spirit. The church embraces the offense of the cross both in belief and practice. The church is a community of Jesus followers who gladly surrender and sacrifice for the good of others. Let us see clearly who we are, and let our identity shape our actions.

***

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

January 6, 2020 Posted by | occasional, 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 8:16-23; Honorable in the Sight of God and Man

10/06_2 Corinthians 8:16-23; Honorable in the Sight of God and Man; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20191006_2cor8_16-23.mp3

It is a gift to give. Paul is writing to encourage generosity and fellowship in the grace of service to the saints. He is eager for Corinthian participation. But he insists that the handling of resources be done with integrity.

2 Corinthians 8:16 But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 17 For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. 18 With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 19 And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. 20 We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, 21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. 22 And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. 24 So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.

In these verses, as we have seen, he is highlighting his purpose in this collection; it is for the glory of the Lord himself, and to show our eagerness. Paul wants the Lord Jesus Christ to get glory through this act of grace from the Gentile churches toward their Jewish brothers and sisters. Paul mentions in verses 19 and 20 that he and his co-workers are serving, ministering, or administrating this grace; in verse 20 this generous gift, or literally this fatness, this abundance.

Precautions for Abundant Giving

Paul had said in verse 14 that the abundance of the Corinthians should supply the need of the Jerusalem saints. The Corinthians had been eager and promised to participate in this collection. Paul expected them to give out of their abundance, and he anticipated this grace to be fat, a plump gift out of their overflow.

A gift like that necessitated care. Today we can transfer money electronically, or we can carry money in the form of checks that are less easily stolen, but in the ancient world, this was not an option, and travel with a large sum of money was extremely dangerous. In Jesus’ story about the good Samaritan, he says:

Luke 10:30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.

This was a real danger of travel in the ancient world. Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:26 lists ‘danger from robbers’ second in his list of dangers he faced in his journeying.

A group journeying together would offer much more protection from thieves than a person traveling alone. So Paul in this passage begins to list some of the travel companions that will accompany and oversee the gift.

Back in 1 Corinthians 16, where he gave instructions on the collection, he mentioned:

1 Corinthians 16:3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

One of the accusations he defends against in chapter 3 of this letter is not having a letter of recommendation himself. Here he is including in this letter his commendation of Titus and the other brothers who accompanied him.

He thanks God that God put the same earnest care that Paul has for the Corinthian church into the heart of Titus. Titus was invited by the apostle to return and bring to completion the collection that was started, and Titus himself was eager to go.

The Brother Whose Praise is in the Gospel

2 Corinthians 8:18 With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 19 And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will.

With Titus Paul is sending an unnamed brother, but one who was well known among the churches. Literally translated, it says ‘the brother of whom the praise in the gospel [is] through all the churches.’ different translations render this ‘whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches’ (KJV, NKJV); ‘who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel’ (NIV); or ‘for his work in spreading the gospel’ (NET); whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches’ (NASB). As these translations show, there is some ambiguity in Paul’s language. Does he mean that this brother was praised for preaching the gospel? Or that he was praised for supporting and encouraging the advance of the gospel? Gospel ministry includes evangelism, but it is bigger than evangelism. The good news of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead to new life affects all of life. Gospel ministry, serving others in and with the gospel, includes evangelizing the lost, as well as discipling and teaching and exhorting and encouraging in the gospel. Gospel ministry includes going, as well as giving and sending and serving.

Not all of us have been gifted as evangelists. But we all as followers of Jesus ought to be doing the work of an evangelist, in whatever opportunities God opens up for us. And we all ought to aspire to be those who are always diligently engaged in gospel ministry in whatever ways we have individually been gifted. What a commendation, ‘whose praise in the gospel is throughout all the churches’!

2 Corinthians 8:19 And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will.

This brother was appointed by the churches to accompany this grace that was for the glory of the Lord himself. Notice who the churches appointed to accompany a financial gift. It doesn’t say that he was a shrewd and successful businessman. It doesn’t say that he was well educated and good with numbers. It doesn’t say that he was big or strong or good looking or popular.

The churches appointed someone who understood grace. The churches picked someone who knew that he was a sinner, forgiven by God’s sheer and unmerited grace displayed in Jesus on the cross, a man whose only hope was in the good news of Christ crucified and risen, a man who had been transformed by the gospel, and who knew that the only hope for the world was in the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. This is who the church selected to help to oversee this financial gift. ‘Whose praise in the gospel is throughout all the churches’

Church Universal and Local

All the churches. Jesus said ‘I will build my church’ (singular). And we have letters addressed to the church in Corinth, the churches of Galatia, the church of the Thessalonians, and here we are the church in Ephraim, Utah. There is the church, the body of Christ, the catholic church (in the original sense of the word as universal), the church that includes every Jesus follower over all the globe and throughout history, and then there is a church in a particular geographic area, a local church, believers who meet together regularly for teaching, fellowship, worship, and prayer, who baptize believers into that larger body of Christ, and who remember Jesus together by breaking bread.

Here Paul’s focus is on the many churches, local groups of believers who meet together in a geographic area. This brother has a good reputation in gospel service throughout all the churches.

We don’t know who this guy was. Paul doesn’t name him. We could speculate Apollos, who was well known in Corinth, who was ‘eloquent, …competent in the Scriptures …who spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus’ (Acts 18:24-25). Or Barnabas, son of encouragement, co-laborer with Paul through the first half of Acts. Or Luke the physician, who also accompanied Paul on much of his gospel ministry. Possibly it was one of those named in Acts 21 as those sent by the churches to accompany Paul in bringing this gift to Jerusalem; Trophimus or Tychicus from Asia, Timothy or Gaius from Galatia. Probably not Sopater or Aristarchus or Secundus, who were from Macedonia, because Paul indicates in chapter 9 that the Macedonians would be coming with him later. Or, it may be someone who is not named anywhere in the biblical record, whose praise in the gospel is through all the churches.

The Tested and Earnest Brother

2 Corinthians 8:22 And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you.

Titus and the brother whose praise in the gospel is throughout all the churches would be accompanied by a third brother, one who at many times and in many ways had been tested, being earnest, but now much more earnest in much confidence in you. Paul commends him for his earnestness, his eagerness, his diligence. He was not new; he had been tested many times in many ways. His character had been proved. His eager diligence had been demonstrated more than once. There is simply no substitute for proven character, tested over time and in diverse circumstances.

And he had a gospel confidence in the Corinthians. Paul had expressed his own confidence in them in 1:15 and 2:3 and with a different word in 7:16. In 3:4 his confidence is through Christ toward God. Paul and this brother are confident in the Corinthians, not because they have proved themselves worthy of confidence, but because they observe the grace of God at work in the Corinthians, and they are confident in God’s transforming power through the gospel. The Corinthians have proved themselves unreliable and fickle, but both Paul and this brother see something bigger at work.

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.

This is gospel confidence. And this brother’s gospel confidence made him more earnest than ever.

Honorable in the Sight of the Lord and Man

Paul explains his reason for sending multiple people.

2 Corinthians 8:20 We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, 21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.

Paul’s character had been under attack in Corinth. As he said back in 1 Corinthians 4

1 Corinthians 4:3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

It is a very small thing to be judged by people; even my own conscience is not the final judge. It is the Lord who judges me. Paul lived his life before God. He lived in the presence of God. Above all, it is God’s opinion that matters.

2 Corinthians 5:9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

In a very real sense, Paul played for an audience of one. It didn’t matter what people thought, so long as he pleased the Lord.

But in another sense, he was eager to be understood. He 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.

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.

God knows my heart, that is what really matters. But I hope it is known also to your conscience. Paul is applying wisdom from Proverbs 3:4.

2 Corinthians 8:20 We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, 21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.

Paul is aware of the danger of accusations when it comes to handling money. He does what he does so that he cannot be blamed of impropriety. He doesn’t entrust this to just one person, regardless of how great their integrity. He makes sure there are multiple people involved so that there is accountability, so there is protection.

When it comes to the offering here at this church, we have only trusted people handling the money. And even though we trust them, for their own protection we have more than one person involved. There is accountability. What you give, you give to God, and the money is God’s money. We seek to handle it in a way that is above reproach and transparent. We keep track of what comes in and where it goes, and we communicate that to you. If anyone has questions about the finances of this church, it’s no secret; you can ask. We aim at what is honorable, not only in the Lord’s sight, but also in the sight of man. Few things can discredit a ministry quicker than mishandling money.

Peter gives this advice:

1 Peter 2:12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. …15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

Integrity matters. Public integrity matters. It matters not so much because we care what people think of us, but because we care about the glory of God, and when we act dishonorably, it dishonors Christ, whom we represent. Peter tells us that our honorable conduct ultimately glorifies God. Paul seeks, not only in the collection itself, but also in the way the collection is handled, for the glory of the Lord himself.

Messengers of the Churches the Glory of Christ

2 Corinthians 8:23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.

Titus is my partner, the one I have fellowship with. And he is a co-laborer to you. As for the brothers, the brother whose praise is in the gospel, and the tested and earnest brother, they are apostles of the churches, sent out on mission. The glory of Christ.

This is an amazing statement. The glory of Christ. Paul seeks above all the glory of the Lord himself. The churches, glory of Christ. In chapter 4, he wants us to see the light of the gospel, the good news of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God; God opens our eyes to give us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (3:18). We have this treasure in jars of clay (4:7). The churches, the glory of Christ. We look at churches and see flaws and frustrations. We are disillusioned and disappointed. But God looks on the churches and their ministers as reflections of his own glory. God’s glory in earthen vessels. God’s aim is to sanctify his church,

Ephesians 5:27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

We are to reflect the glory of God in everything we do. Integrity matters.

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

October 8, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

2:14-7:4; Authentic Ministry

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

Resolution with Depression

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

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Inner Anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But …God

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

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

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

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

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

The God of All Comfort

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

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

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

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

Paul began this letter pointing us to

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

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

Mediated Comfort

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

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

Reciprocal Comfort; Reciprocal Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul said in:

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

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

***

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

June 23, 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.

***

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

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

The Church and the Body of Christ; Ephesians 5

01/06 The Church the Body of Christ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190106_church-body-of-christ.mp3

Last week Daniel spoke about craftsmanship; how God is the master craftsman, the potter, who picks us up out of the muck and mud, who molds us and shapes us into the very thing he intends us to be, something useful, something beautiful. And he intends for us to enter in to his creativity. He has gifted us, he has invited us in to join him in his creativity, as he fashions beauty out of dust.

I like to take the beginning of a new year as an opportunity to look at who we are, what we are to be all about, to refocus.

Incarnation and Salvation

Daniel set this up for us when he talked about craftsmanship. God had to take the initiative. Clay can’t form itself. Like the demon possessed man who Jesus set free, it is grace. It is all of grace. Undeserved kindness. We were dead. Enslaved. Christ has set us free. He scooped us up out of the muck, and forms us into something beautiful, something useful. That’s why he came. He came to seek and to save what is lost. He came to redeem. To buy us out of the slavery we willfully sold ourselves into. He came to pay our price.

God humbled himself and became human so as a human he could enter in to our mess, to pick us up and pay our price, to take our place. That is what the incarnation is about; God the Son was born of a virgin as a human baby, so that as a man he could legitimately take our place, suffering our punishment, perfectly submitting to and obeying his Father in everything, thus fulfilling all righteousness.

Incarnation and One Flesh

But there is another part of the incarnation that I want us to see today. And my prayer is that this would cause us to wonder and worship, to stand in awe of him, to rekindle our passion for him, to be useful to him. That it would ignite our amazement of and our love for the church.

Look with me at Ephesians 5. This is the classic marriage passage that you’ve probably heard in wedding ceremonies, but I want you to listen carefully to what it says:

Ephesians 5:31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

This passage teaches a husband how he should love and serve his wife, and how a wife should respect her husband. But Paul has something bigger in mind. He teaches us that this fundamental human relationship is an illustration of a greater reality, the relationship between Christ and the church. ‘A man shall leave his father and mother’; Jesus left his Father’s side, from the cross he discharged his responsibility for his human mother to his beloved disciple, and he now holds fast to his bride the church. Jesus took on human flesh at the incarnation, and has now become one flesh with the church.

Allow me to read Ephesians 5:23-32 focusing only on what it tells us about Christ and his church.

Ephesians 5:23 …Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 …the church submits to Christ, … 25 …Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 …[Christ] love[s the church] as [his] own bod[y]. … 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

The church is pictured as the bride, sanctified, adorned, loved, sacrificed for.

The first part of this is Christ’s sacrifice. He gave himself up for her. Jesus died for the church to sanctify, cleanse, make holy and blameless. He took our sins. He is our savior.

The second part of this, that we must not miss, is why. Why did Christ give himself up for the church? Why did he pay for our sins with his own blood? So that he might present the church to himself in splendor. Jesus intends to take us to be his own, to hold fast to us, to be united with us as a husband with his bride.

This passage tells us that Christ has become one flesh with the church. Christ is the head of his church. The church is called his body, his own flesh. We are members of his body. This is simply stunning. It is staggering to think that the eternal God, unbounded by time or space, entered into his creation, became part of his creation as a baby. Tiny fingers and toes. Eyes full of wonder. Fragile. Dependent. He took on flesh. He became human. Jesus has entered his creation physically, and now he says we are his body, his hands, his feet, his fingers and toes. He is our head. We have become one flesh with him. We have been united to him. We are his body.

This boggles the imagination! We are connected to Christ as intimately as our body is connected to our head! We are now ‘bone of his bones, flesh of his flesh’ (Gen.2:23). When my stomach grumbles, my head says ‘it’s time to eat’ and my feet bring me over to the kitchen and my hands put together something to eat. If I smash my thumb with a hammer, my head feels the pain, and my whole body gets involved. We are connected to Christ. We are one flesh with him. We thrive under his authority. We are nourished and cherished, because we are part of him, connected to him.

At the incarnation Jesus took on flesh, so he could become one flesh with us, his church, his body.

The Body in Ephesians

Back in Ephesians chapter 1 (v.22-23), the Father put all things under the authority of Jesus, and “gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

We, his body, the church, are the fullness of him who fills all. I take this to mean that he fills all in all by means of his body the church, the fullness of him. “The church, filled by Christ, fills all creation as representatives of Christ” (ESV Study Bible notes).

Ephesians 2 (v.13-22) points out the horizontal unity brought about by the vertical unity we have with Christ our head. Because we all, Jew and Gentile have been united to Christ, we have also been knit together with one another in one body. In Christ we “have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” He has “reconcile[d] us both to God in one body through the cross.” “Through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” “In him” we “are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Chapter 3 tells us:

Ephesians 3:6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

We all, however different we may be, are members of the same body, the body of Christ, an organic unity, a living organism.

Ephesians 4 (v.4) tells us “There is one body and one Spirit”. Just as the head directs what the body does, so Jesus directs us. Just as the body without the spirit is dead, and our spirit animates our body, so the Holy Spirit who lives inside every believer connects us all as one body and animates us to do what our Head desires that we do.

When Each Part is Working Properly

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,

This body of Christ, the church, is united as one and gifted for building up the body. Every believer is to be equipped for ministry, for service in love to others. Whatever grace you have been given is not just for you; it is for building up the body, for equipping the saints for the work of service.

Ephesians 4:15 …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.

Do you see this body metaphor literally fleshed out? A body is made up of many parts. The human body is fantastically equipped with joints and ligaments that hold everything together in a functional useful way. Do this: open your hand and then make a fist. One of my favorite things about our babies was when their tiny hands would grasp my finger. Did you know that the human hand is made up of about 29 bones and 29 major joints, about 123 ligaments, 34 muscles that move the fingers and thumb, 48 nerves, and at least 30 arteries? That’s just the hand. Notice it says ‘when each part is working properly’? Have you ever had just one part not working properly?

A few years back Deanna injured her finger. Just one joint was damaged. Now 28 out of 29 seems like it would not really be a big deal. That’s 96.5% of her joints working just fine. If we count all 293 parts (and that’s probably a low number), that boosts the percentage of functional parts to 99.7%. You should be just fine with less than 0.4% not working, right? Her signature no longer looked like her signature. She couldn’t make a fist. She would drop things. It was incredibly painful. Just one part. Ask her if it made a difference!

You might be tempted to say, ‘I’m just one part. Not even a very important part. I won’t even be missed.’

Ephesians 4:15 …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.

Every part needs to be there, and every part needs to be functioning as it was designed. You matter. The head notices when a part is not functioning properly.

I’ve had a few conversations recently where people have asked ‘how are you, and how is the church doing?’ It’s been a hard year. Just over a year ago, October 2017 we sent out a number of people who were very involved serving our body here to plant a church in Gunnison. And that left a tangible hole in our body. Our church family gave birth to another church, and birth is a joyful experience, but birth is also a traumatic experience. And it takes time to recover. I think we are recovering well, and we can rejoice in what God has done and is doing in us and through us. The birth has created opportunities for those who had been less involved to step up and become more involved. What we long for is that “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.”

Here’s a few questions for each of us to think about.

-How has God in the riches of his grace gifted me?

-How am I using those gifts to their maximum capacity for the glory of Christ?

-How am I intentionally engaging in building up the body in love?

I’ve put these questions in your notes, and left room for you to respond. Take a minute right now to write something down.

‘I’m not gifted’ is not a valid answer for a believer. ‘I don’t know’ is weak, unless it is followed by ‘here are the ways I will pursue finding out this week.’

The body of Christ is a unity, a community, a place to belong, to be a part of something bigger than yourself. And I believe that when functioning properly, the church is much greater than the sum of all its parts. We “are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph.2:22).

The goal we are to be striving together toward is given in verses 11-13 of Ephesians 4.

Ephesians 4:11 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,

Pursue unity of the faith; pursue knowledge of the Son of God; pursue Christlike maturity. Build up the body.

As we close, listen carefully the exhortation in Romans 12.

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, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

***

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

January 7, 2019 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving and One Another

11/25 Thanksgiving and One Another; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20181125_thanksgiving-one-another.mp3

The Necessity of Giving Thanks Always

Last time we talked about thanksgiving, the necessity of giving thanks, our obligation to give thanks to the Lord; we owe it to him because he is worthy, because every good gift comes from him, because we were made to give him praise. Romans 1 says:

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

…21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

A failure to honor God as God and give thanks to him is sin deserving of the wrath of God.

We looked at the positive command in 1 Thessalonians:

1 Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit.

God’s will is that we rejoice, we pray, we give thanks always and for everything. To fail to give God thanks is to quench the Spirit who lives in every believer.

So how are you doing? How did you do this thanksgiving week at rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, giving thanks in all circumstances?

I hope you did better than I did. I had some great moments of thanksgiving. But I also got annoyed, frustrated, irritated, impatient, discouraged. I yelled at the kids. I said unkind words to my computer. I was short with my wife. My week was not characterized by rejoicing always. It was not ceaselessly prayerful. I failed to give thanks in all circumstances. And this was thanksgiving week!

I wish I could stand before you as a model of the perfect Christian. I want to do better. I want to be better. But here’s the problem. If I could tell you all about how wondrously thankful and joyful and prayerful I was this week, that wouldn’t encourage you, it would likely discourage you. And (if it were true) I would be able to feel pretty good about myself. I would feel successful. Maybe I could even look down on some of you who clearly weren’t as spiritual as I was this week. And that’s not the gospel. That’s not in line with the gospel. The gospel reads that I can’t. I’m not good enough. I will never be good enough. But if I lean into Jesus, he is good enough, and he will carry me. In him I am good enough, yet it is not I but Christ living in me.

So how do we genuinely seek to honor God and give him thanks? How do we seek to obey the commands to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances? How do we take these commands seriously and not use the gospel as an excuse for our own laziness; if my failure puts the grace of God on display, then let us ‘continue in sin that grace may abound? May it never be!’ And how do we pursue obedience in such a way that it does not result in pride?

Abounding In Thanksgiving Through The Gospel

I found some help in the letter to the Colossians. Colossians 2:6-7 says:

Colossians 2:6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Here we find more thanksgiving language; we are to abound in thanksgiving. I want my life to be characterized by abundant thanksgiving. How do we abound in thanksgiving?

In these verses, Paul explicitly points us back to the gospel. He points us to what we were taught, he points to the faith, what we believe, the content of the gospel. He brings us back to our receiving Christ Jesus the Lord. In the previous verse he rejoiced in ‘the firmness of your faith in Christ.’

The gospel, the faith is what I am depending on to rescue me from the consequences of my own rebellion. The gospel tells me that I am not good enough, that I am actually worse than I ever would have imagined, but that Jesus bore the wages of my sin in his body on the tree, that he takes me as his own, that he clothes me in his righteousness, that I am accepted, not because of anything I have done, but because of everything he has done for me. We receive Jesus as a gift undeserved, freely given. Colossians 2:6 tells us we are to walk in him in the same way we received him. We live the Christian life depending completely on his work on our behalf, receiving it as a gift undeserved, freely given. We receive Jesus by faith; depending completely on him. We walk the Christian walk by faith, depending completely on him. We must be rooted in Jesus. He must be the source we draw life from. We must be built upon Jesus. He must be be our only foundation. We must be established in our dependence on Jesus. This is the good news we were taught. This is the gospel we were given. And this is the gospel air we breathe. This is the grace in which we live and move and have our being. We received Jesus as a gift undeserved, depending completely on him. We live the Christian life in total dependence on him, receiving everything we need freely from him.

Obligation and Gratitude

And we say thank you in response to a gift we have been given. I say thank you to the waiter who fills my water at the restaurant as a courtesy. But I don’t have to say thank you. It’s his job. He is not doing me a favor, he gets paid to keep my water full. If he doesn’t, I could complain to the manager, and he could lose his job. I am under no obligation to thank him. He hasn’t really given me anything.

But when we really get the gospel, that we are undeserving, that God is under no obligation to us, and yet God is overwhelmingly generous to us in Jesus Christ, we understand we are truly in his debt and under obligation to gratitude. Abounding in thanksgiving is the right response to the gospel.

Our English word ‘thank’ is related to the word ‘to think,’ thought or thoughtfulness, to think well of. This fails to capture the depth of the original. There was an expression I remember hearing when I was growing up, that I haven’t heard in a while. It was used as an exclamation of surprise or amazement, but taken literally, it captures the essence of the Biblical concept of thanksgiving. It was ‘Good gracious! or ‘Goodness gracious!’ That would be a good literal translation of the Greek word ‘εὐχάριστος‘ – good gracious. It is good that God is gracious to me. God’s grace is good, it is pleasant, it is enjoyable. I see that I am undeserving, and he is under no obligation, and yet he freely gives. That is grace, and I am grateful for his good grace.

So what does this look like practically? How do I abound in gratitude? First, receive Jesus as a gift. He is God’s grace to you. Be rooted in him; draw day by day your life sustenance from him. Be built on him as your only foundation. Be established in dependence on him. Walk day to day in dependence on him. And remember, you will never deserve what he has freely given, so even your failures are a reminder of the goodness of his grace. So receive his grace, and let your heart overflow with gratitude.

Gratitude is a Community Project

I understand this, but still I struggle to apply it, to do it, to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances. I tend to lose sight of the grace of God, to let other things cloud my view. Paul understands this, and so he gives us more help in the next chapter. Colossians 3 begins by reminding us that we have been raised with Christ, and so we ought to set our minds on the things that are above. We are to put to death our earthly passions and desires, and to put on our new self which is being renewed. Because we are chosen by God, because we are holy, because we are beloved, we are to put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, love. In verse 15 he says:

Colossians 3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

If you notice, all these things have to do with body life, interacting with others. We are to bear with one another. We are to forgive one another. We are called to love one another, be at peace with one another, live in harmony with one another. We were called in one body. We are called into the body of Christ, the church which he purchased with his own blood. Thankfulness is a community project.

And it is rooted in God’s gracious forgiveness. Verse 13 tells us “…if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” The word ‘forgive’ here is ‘χαρίζομαι‘ to freely, graciously give or forgive. It is part of the root of the word thankful ‘εὐχάριστος‘, good gracious. The way we deal with one another, especially when we are wronged by another is determined by how the Lord has forgiven you. And our gracious forgiveness of one another is an expression of God’s forgiveness to us.

So when we are wronged, we are reminded of how we have wronged God, and how he graciously forgave us. And we are stirred to gratitude. And when we have wronged a brother or sister, and they extend us grace and forgiveness, we are reminded of the gracious forgiveness God has given to us, and we are stirred to gratitude. We might respond ‘good gracious!’

You see how being rooted in the gospel works itself out in community life and reminds us to gratitude.

Thankfulness and Singing

But Paul doesn’t stop here. He goes further to describe what church life, life in the body of Christ should look like.

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,

The word is central. We must have Christ’s words, the words about Christ, the gospel living in us. Copiously. Abundantly. Richly. Read, meditate, memorize, let it saturate and spill out. And we are to use the gospel living in us to remind each other. To to teach one another, to correct or reprove one another. We need each other!

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Part of what we do as a body of believers in Jesus is sing together. One way we teach and admonish one another is by psalms, hymns, spiritual songs. We sing with thankfulness in our hearts to God.

It is interesting (we don’t have time to do it now) to trace out thanksgiving in the Psalms. Of course, the Psalms themselves are songs, but repeatedly in the Psalms, we are told that thanksgiving and singing go together.

Psalm 57:9 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.

One way to express gratitude to the Lord for his good gifts is to sing together to him. This is public proclamation of God’s goodness; among the peoples, among the nations, among generations, to the children, in the assembly. There is something about singing that is participatory; it includes people, draws them in. There is something powerful about gathering together with other people and singing truth aloud together that is powerful. It’s memorable. It sticks with you in ways the spoken word doesn’t. It reminds us to be thankful. We need each other!

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Thanksgiving and the Spirit

I’d like to look at one more thing before we pull this all together.

We started by looking at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19, which put giving thanks together with the work of the Spirit of God, indicating that a failure to give thanks is to quench the Spirit who lives in every believer.

1 Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit.

We could take this merely as a random collection of disconnected thoughts, or we could see a connection. I think Ephesians 5 helps us to see the connection. Ephesians 5:18-20 is a restatement of several of the themes we have been looking at in Colossians 3.

Ephesians 5:18 … but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

This rejoicing together in song, this praying, this giving thanks always and for everything is evidence of continually being filled with the Spirit.

Romans 8:9 (along with 1 Cor.2:12 and 6:19, among others) teach us that every believer has the Spirit of God living in them. But here in Ephesians 5 is a command to believers who have the Spirit living inside, who have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph.1:3), to continually be being filled with the Spirit.

So although every believer has the Holy Spirit living inside, believers can quench that Holy Spirit, and they can seek to be filled with the Spirit. The filling of the Spirit is Spirit empowering or Spirit enabling to do something. In the Old Testament, the craftsmen were filled with the Spirit and given wisdom and skill to create the tabernacle and its furnishings. In the New Testament, the filling of the Spirit is most often connected with speaking, celebrating or proclaiming the good news.

Here in Ephesians 5, the filling of the Spirit is directly connected with one another ministry and focused on giving thanks.

We recognize that gratitude that pleases the Lord must come from a heart filled with the Spirit of God. Gratitude is a response to God’s free and gracious forgiveness found in the good news. It is dependence, drawing life from and standing firmly on the Lord Jesus Christ. And it happens in and is encouraged by community, in the body, with one another.

This is Triune thanksgiving; being filled with the Spirit, we give thanks to God the Father always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

***

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

November 27, 2018 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment