PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

The Peace of Christ (Colossians 3)

03/22 The Peace of Christ (Colossians 3:14-17); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200322_peace-of-christ.mp3

The Peace of Christ

There’s a verse in Paul’s letter to the Colossians that I want to look at with you today. Colossians 3:15 says

Colossians 3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. The peace of Christ. Peace that comes from Jesus; Jesus’ very own peace. I want the peace of Christ to rule in my heart. I want your hearts to be ruled by the peace of Christ, no matter what we face in the days ahead.

In John 14, Jesus said to his fear-filled and troubled disciples (14:1, 27), whose hearts were filled with sorrow (16:6, 22) because he had told them he was leaving them and life for them would be hard,

John 14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Jesus promised to give them his own peace. Peace in the midst of affliction. Peace in adverse circumstances. Peace when death is looming large. Peace that is able to think of others above self even while being crucified.

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

In the world you will have tribulation. But in me you can have peace.

Paul instructs the Philippians

Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The peace of God will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. We need God’s peace to replace our anxiety and guard our minds and hearts. We need the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts. How does this work?

Peace Commanded

Notice, this is a command. ‘Let the peace of Christ rule’ is a command for us to obey. For you grammar geeks, it is a present active imperative. It is not something that happens automatically. We need to obey this command. We need to let the peace of Christ be our umpire, to decide, to determine, to direct and control. So how do we do that?

If Therefore; Gospel Transformation

This verse appears in Colossians chapter 3, which gives instructions for Christian living. This is the third chapter in a letter, so it’s not fair just to jump in here without following the logic of the letter. Chapter 3 begins with ‘If therefore’. ‘Therefore’ is a connection; because of everything I have already said, therefore, do this. ‘If’ assumes something is true of you. ‘If therefore you have been raised up with Christ.’

If this isn’t true of you, you can’t go any further. You can’t obey the command to let the peace of Christ rule if you haven’t been first raised up with Christ. What is this talking about?

At the opening of this letter, Colossians 1:4 says:

Colossians 1:4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,

This letter is written to believers, people who have put their faith in Christ Jesus. This is written to those who have heard the gospel, the word of truth, to those who understand the grace of God, his free gift to those who couldn’t earn it and will never be worthy of it.

He says in 1:12 that the Father has made us sufficient; He

Colossians 1:12 …has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

This is written to the redeemed, those who have been forgiven of all their sins, who have been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

He addresses us in 1:21

Colossians 1:21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

He addresses believers, those who are trusting in, depending on, holding fast to the good news that Jesus’ death is sufficient to reconcile sinners to God and make us blameless in his sight.

In chapter 2 he cautions against false teachers and exhorts us to remain anchored in Jesus, walking in dependence on him alone.

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.

He refers to circumcision and baptism, two symbols of putting off or putting to death our old way of life:

Colossians 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

The debt is canceled. We died with Christ, and we have been raised again through faith to a new kind of life.

It is to those who have embraced Jesus by faith, who have believed the good news that all our sins were legally once for all dealt with at the cross, who have died and been made alive with Christ by God’s resurrection power; it is to those that he gives his instructions in chapter 3.

So I want to invite you, if you are listening right now, and this is not true of you, right now, turn and cry out to Jesus, a sinner in need of forgiveness. Ask him to cancel your debt and make you new. Believe him. Trust him, that what he accomplished on the cross is everything necessary for you to be rescued from what you deserve. You can’t add anything. Receive his gift.

Setting Mind and Heart on Christ

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.

Because of what is true of us in the gospel, because we have been raised with Christ to a new kind of life, our hearts and our minds should pursue different things. Seek the things above; seek Jesus, set your mind on Jesus. Your life is hid with Christ in God; Christ is your life. Christ is your treasure. Set your mind and your heart on him.

Remember, these are active commands. Seek the things above, set your minds on things above. What are you looking at? What are you reading? What are you thinking about? What are you listening to? This does not mean that we have our heads in the clouds and are oblivious to the things happening around us. But it does mean that our attention, in the midst of breaking news, is fixed on the one who is sovereign over life and death, on the one who is upholding all things by his powerful word, on the one in whom is our only hope in life and in death. This means that we need to keep the gospel always in front of us, to consciously set our highest affections on Christ, and to filter every headline through the gospel truth that we believe. Our hope is a gospel hope, a firm assurance that looks beyond the grave.

Put Off / Put On

Because of this hope, because of what is true of us in Christ, because we have died and been raised to a new kind of life, because our hearts and our minds are pursuing a greater affection, we should live differently than we once did. Paul says that because we have died to our sins, we should now put to death the actions that are consistent with our old dead desires. He says

Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: …

And he gives a laundry list of what is earthly, the way we once walked, because of which the wrath of God was coming. He instructs us to put this kind of lifestyle to death, to put it away, to strip it off like a contaminated set of clothes. He uses this metaphor of clothing; putting off and putting on. We have been washed clean on the inside; it doesn’t make much sense after taking a shower and getting clean to then put back on the same reeking, filthy, germ ridden clothes you were wearing before bathing. We are to put on a fresh set of clothes because we are clean.

Colossians 3:9 …you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, lying. Don’t wear that around any more. Those things bring God’s wrath, and you are dead to that.

This is the new set of clothes that we are to wear after having been cleansed by the blood of Jesus:

Colossians 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,

Notice, that is who we are. Chosen by God. Holy, set apart by God. Loved by God. We have been forgiven of all our trespasses through trust in Christ. We have been raised with Christ. Our life is hidden with Christ in God. That is our new identity.

Colossians 3:12 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.

This is the context where 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.

The peace of Christ is now to arbitrate every response, every word, every reaction. ‘Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom.5:1). Because we are now at peace with God, peace should rule our hearts and emotions. We are no longer at war, in fear of death; rather death has lost its sting, and we are forever secure and at peace with God.

Peace and the Body of Christ

Because we are at peace with God, because the peace of Christ is arbitrating in our hearts, we can be at peace with one another. See the community here? You were called to the peace of Christ in one body. You are called not only to be at peace with one another, but to promote the peace of Christ. This is so important.

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.

We are to set our hearts and minds on Christ, we are to have the peace of Christ be the deciding factor in our hearts, and we are to have the word of Christ dwell in us richly. Only then are we in a position to encourage the community of believers. And that is what we are called to! Teaching one another, admonishing one another, singing with one another, giving thanks with one another. In this time, especially, that one another ministry is so vitally important!

-Set your mind and heart on Christ

-Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart

-Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly

Colossians 3:17 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.

***

March 27, 2020 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gospel Hope in a Broken World

03/15 Gospel Hope in a Broken World; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200315_hope.mp3

Our president announced this week a state of national emergency. The World Health Organization has officially designated the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic; as of yesterday there were 142,539 confirmed cases and 5,393 deaths worldwide [who.int]. There are currently around 2,000 confirmed cases in the US and 41 deaths, and those numbers are expected to rise. In response to identifying the first case of community spread in Utah, our governor announced the ‘dismissal’ of all students K-12, and colleges and universities are closing campuses and moving classes online. There is not a roll of toilet paper to be found in stores. Many people are afraid.

Suffering is Not New

How are we to think about all this? What do we as followers of Jesus do? Today I want to bring a message of hope to a hurting and broken world. But first we need to step back and look at where we are at and how we got here. Before we get to the good news, we should look at some bad news. Let’s give this some historical context. I found this list of 10 of the worst pandemics in history, and their death toll:

165 AD – Antonine Plague – Smallpox or measles? – 5 million

541-542 – Plague of Justinian – Bubonic plague – 25 million

1346-1353 – the black death – Bubonic plague – 75-200 million

1852-1860 – third Cholera pandemic – Cholera – 1 million

1889-1890 – ‘asian/russian’ flu pandemic – influenza – 1 million

1910-1911 – sixth Cholera pandemic – Cholera – 800,000+

1918 – flu pandemic – influenza – 20-50 million

1956-1958 – Asian flu – influenza – 2 million

1968 – flu pandemic – influenza – 1 million

2005-2012 (peak) – HIV/AIDS pandemic – 36 million

[https://www.mphonline.org/worst-pandemics-in-history/ ]

These are some staggering numbers. Why point this out? I am not at all trying to downplay this current pandemic. What I want us to see is the prevalence of death throughout human history. Remember this is just a top ten list; it obviously leaves a lot out. Suffering and disease and death is not new. We are not the first to face things like these. And we can learn a lot from history.

The Root of All Suffering

But to put this in an even broader context, I want to look at the global pandemic, the root cause that underlies all of these.

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

The Bible has the answers to our deepest questions. Why? Why do terrible things like these happen throughout human history? Sin entered God’s good creation through one man. Death entered this world through Adam’s rebellion. Death spread to all people because all sinned. The wages of sin is death. The spread of contagious diseases that wipe out entire populations are not new. Fear and suffering and death are not new. God warned our first parents that enjoying relationship with him is life, but turning from him to follow other voices results in death. The death rate of COVID-19 is estimated at somewhere around 3.5%. The death rate of sinners throughout human history is 100%. Death is a fact we must face as humans living in a broken, fallen, hurting world. Let me give you a sobering word of encouragement; if the Corona virus doesn’t get you, something else will.

The Good News

We rebelled against a good and loving God. We brought the promised consequences down on our own head. But here’s the stunning thing. God himself came down. God entered into our disease ridden sick and dying world, not in a hazmat suit with a respirator, but in a susceptible, vulnerable human body. He actually took on flesh, he became one of us. In fact, he came so near to us that he contracted our disease. Galatians 3:13 says:

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—…

1 Peter 2:24 tells us:

1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, …

2 Corinthians 5:21 says:

2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he [the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Jesus himself told us:

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

This is staggeringly good news. The God who we rebelled against and offended has come down,

John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

God came down on a rescue mission, to lay himself down, to actually contract our disease, to die our death so we could live.

John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

Just stop and breathe that in. Whoever – believes – has – eternal – life. Eternal life. It will last forever. It cannot be lost or taken away. All who trust only in Jesus will enjoy his presence forever. Let that truth sink in deep and shape your souls and overcome your fears.

Here’s how the apostle Paul responded to this truth.

Philippians 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. …23 …My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

Genuine Belief

Do you believe this? Do you really believe this? Has this truth sank down deep to the gut level where it influences every decision you make? Is this what you know is the right answer if your pastor were to ask you, or is this a truth that fleshes itself out in the way you live your life day to day? You see, a crisis, a tragedy, a global pandemic shows us what we really believe.

Cyprian (d.258); Dionysius (d.264)

In the plague of Cyprian, 249-262, at the height of the outbreak 5,000 people a day were said to be dying in Rome. Cyprian’s (Bishop of Carthage) biographer wrote of the plague at Carthage:

Afterwards there broke out a dreadful plague, and excessive destruction of a hateful disease invaded every house in succession of the trembling populace, carrying off day by day with abrupt attack numberless people, every one from his own house. All were shuddering, fleeing, shunning the contagion, impiously exposing their own friends, as if with the exclusion of the person who was sure to die of the plague, one could exclude death itself also. There lay about the meanwhile, over the whole city, no longer bodies, but the carcasses of many, and, by the contemplation of a lot which in their turn would be theirs, demanded the pity of the passers-by for themselves. No one regarded anything besides his cruel gains. No one trembled at the remembrance of a similar event. No one did to another what he himself wished to experience. [/wiki/Plague_of_Cyprian; Pontius of Carthage, Life of Cyprian. Transl. Ernest Wallis, c. 1885. Online atChristian Classics Ethereal Library. ]

One eyewitness of the plague in Alexandria, Bishop Dionysius records:

At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treating unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape.” [https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-early-church-teach-coronavirus/ ]

While the response of many to the plague was characterized by self-protection, self-preservation, avoiding the sick at all costs, the response of Christians was different. Dionysius recounts:

Most of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead” [https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-early-church-teach-coronavirus/; https://erenow.net/common/the-history-of-the-church/8.php]

The conduct of believers so impacted the culture, that a century later, the emperor Julian wrote (AD362) to exhort the pagan priests to imitate the Christians in their charity:

For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galilaeans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us. Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort… [https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Letters_of_Julian/Letter_22 ]

1527 – Luther

In August of 1527 the Bubonic plague struck Wittenberg and numerous people fled in fear of their lives. Martin Luther and his wife Katharina, who was pregnant at the time, remained in their beloved city in order to treat the infected. Luther responded to a fellow pastor and friend in another city: [https://www.patheos.com/blogs/chorusinthechaos/martin-luther-and-the-black-plague/ ]

Now if a deadly epidemic strikes, we should stay where we are, make our preparations, and take courage in the fact that we are mutually bound together …so that we cannot desert one another or flee from one another.”

Luther saw one purpose of an epidemic as

also to test our faith and love — our faith in that we may see and experience how we should act toward God; our love in that we may recognize how we should act toward our neighbor. “

He says we ought to:

serve our neighbor, risking our lives in this manner as St. John teaches, “If Christ laid down his life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” [1 John 3:16].

He goes on to address our fears:

When anyone is overcome by horror and repugnance in the presence of a sick person he should take courage and strength in the firm assurance that it is the devil who stirs up such abhorrence, fear, and loathing in his heart. He …takes delight in making us deathly afraid, worried, and apprehensive so that we should regard dying as horrible and have no rest or peace all through our life. And so the devil would excrete us out of this life as he tries to make us despair of God, become unwilling and unprepared to die, and, under the stormy and dark sky of fear and anxiety, make us forget and lose Christ, our light and life, and desert our neighbor in his troubles.”

[https://blogs.lcms.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Plague-blogLW.pdf ]

It is out of this period that Luther penned his famous hymn:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

1854 – Spurgeon

In 1854 Cholera broke out in London in the Broad Street neighborhood, just across the river from the New Park Street Chapel where Charles Spurgeon was newly called to minister. He was busy preaching, serving his people, visiting the sick and dying. In 1866, amid another cholera outbreak, he gave this charge to Christians:

You cannot stop their dying; but, oh, that God might help you to stop their being damned! You cannot stop the breath from going out of their bodies; but, oh, that the gospel might stop their souls from going down to destruction! It can do it, and nothing else can take its place.

Just now, the cholera has come again. There can be little doubt, I suppose, about it being here already in some considerable force, and probably it may be worse. The Christian need not dread it, for he has nothing to lose, but everything to gain, by death. Still, for the sake of others, he may well pray that God would avert his hand, and not let His anger burn. But, since it is here, I think it ought to be a motive for active exertion. If there ever be a time when the mind is sensitive, it is when death is abroad.

I recollect, when first I came to London, how anxiously people listened to the gospel, for the cholera was raging terribly. There was little scoffing then. All day, and sometimes all night long, I went about from house to house, and saw men and women dying, and, oh, how glad they were to see my face! When many were afraid to enter their houses lest they should catch the deadly disease, we who had no fear about such things found ourselves most gladly listened to when we spoke of Christ and of things Divine.

And now, again, is the minister’s time; and now is the time for all of you who love souls. You may see men more alarmed than they are already; and if they should be, mind that you avail yourselves of the opportunity of doing them good. You have the Balm of Gilead; when their wounds smart, pour it in. You know of Him who died to save; tell them of Him. Lift high the cross before their eyes. Tell them that God became man that man might be lifted to God. Tell them of Calvary, and its groans, and cries, and sweat of blood. Tell them of Jesus hanging on the cross to save sinners. Tell them that —

There is life for a look at the Crucified One.”

Tell them that He is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him. Tell them that He is able to save even at the eleventh hour, and to say to the dying thief, “to-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.”

[https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/books/the-autobiography-of-c-h-spurgeon-volume-i#flipbook/380; Autobiography 1:371 ‘in sermon preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, July 29, 1866’]

2019-2020 Wuhan China

On January 24, 2020 Pastor Paul Peng shared the gospel over the phone with a Zhang, a woman from Wuhan who while visiting her son in Chengdu, China, had become ill and was quarantined. Five days after putting her trust in Christ, she became the first coronavirus fatality in Sichuan province. Peng held a memorial service over a videoconferencing platform, preaching to about 100 of her friends and family that ‘calamity should lead people to pray not only for God to rescue them, but also for people to repent and turn to God’ [https://world.wng.org/2020/02/seeking_peace_in_sickness ]

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563)

I want to close today with the first question from the Heidelberg Catechism, a teaching tool for Christians in the form of questions and answers.

Q1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own (1Cor.6:19-20), but belong—body and soul, in life and in death (Rom.14:7-9)—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ (1Cor.3:23; Titus2:14).

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood (1Pet.1:18-19; 1Jn.1:7-9; 2:2), and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil (Jn.8:34-36; Heb.2:14-15; 1Jn.3:1-11). He also watches over me in such a way (Jn.6:39-40; 10:27-30; 2Thess.3:3; 1Pet.1:5) that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven (Matt.10:29-31; Lk.21:16-18); in fact, all things must work together for my salvation (Rom.8:28).

Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life (Rom.8:15-16; 2Cor.1:21-22; 5:5; Eph.1:13-14) and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him (Rom.8:1-17).

***

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

March 16, 2020 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

****

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.

****

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.

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

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