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2 Corinthians 2:5-9; Church Discipline for Your Joy

03/04_2 Corinthians 2:5-9; Church Discipline for Your Joy ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180304_2cor2_5-9.mp3

I had a few people ask me what I would be preaching on this Sunday, and when I told them that the title of the sermon was going to be ‘church discipline for your joy,’ you can imagine some of the responses I got. But this is God’s word, and this is where we’re at in God’s word. We take God’s word seriously. We take Jesus seriously. We take his church seriously. We take sin seriously. And we take joy seriously.

We’re in 2 Corinthians 2:5-9. We’ve seen at the end of chapter 1 (v.24) that Paul is working together with the Corinthians for their joy. We saw that both joy and sorrow are shared experiences in the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:26 If one member suffersall suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

There is community joy, community sorrow. What we do as members of the body affects everyone in the body. It has been a strained relationship between Paul and this church. He wrote them a letter which they misunderstood; he received news of some serious problems in the church, and he received some questions that he responded to with a letter delivered by a co-worker. The church it seems did not heed his letter, so he made an emergency visit to try to sort things out. That didn’t go well, so he wrote another painful letter, and sent another co-worker. He is anxious as he writes again to hear how that correspondence was received, and is on his way for another visit.

He didn’t visit them as planned, because he wanted to spare them. He wanted to give them time to repent.

2 Corinthians 2:4 For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.

Paul was pursuing their joy, at his own emotional expense. His desire, his heart was to see this church thriving, enjoying Jesus, happy in God. He wrote to communicate his abundant love for them. Paul mentions his own affliction, his own anguish of heart and his many tears in verse 4. But in verse 5 he moves them to think about the damage it was causing to the church.

Church Discipline for your Joy

2 Corinthians 2:5 Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.

It seems that Paul’s painful letter must have demanded the confrontation of someone in the church, and it was to test their obedience to him. Up to this point, they had not listened or responded well to his letters. Whatever the offense was, Paul says it was not only toward him, but toward the whole church.

1 Corinthians 5

We don’t know what the offense was. There is much scholarly speculation over who the offending party was and what he had done. But the text doesn’t tell us. Through most of church history it has been assumed that this was the man addressed in 1 Corinthians 5 who was in an incestuous relationship with his mother-in-law. In that passage Paul called for his expulsion from the church. That identification of the offender has been challenged, although it is still a defensible explanation [see Kruse, p.41-45; P. Hughes, p.59-65; Garland, p121]. Whether the offender was this man from 1 Corinthians 5 or some unknown offender, it is useful to look at that passage, because there are some clear connections with the subject matter that will help us understand what is going on here.

1 Corinthians 5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

Paul says ‘Let him who has done this be removed from among you.’

Cleanse out the old leaven’ do ‘not …associate with sexually immoral people;’ do ‘not even eat with such a one.’ ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’ Paul is calling for the assembled church to exclude the immoral believer. What would warrant such a drastic response? This is the passage that tells us that Paul had written a previous letter which they had misunderstood. They thought he meant not to associate with any sinners, including unbelievers. He clarifies in 1 Corinthians that he meant not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother. When we put this together with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18, we understand that this is not the initial knee jerk reaction when we find out someone is struggling with sin; this is the final last resort stage of a process of confrontation that is meant for the good of the one rebuked. Even in this passage Paul tells them to ‘deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.’ It is for this man’s ultimate good. It is ‘so that his spirit may be saved.’ This is along the lines of Jesus’ teaching in:

Matthew 18:9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

Jesus says that it is better. Better to tear out your eye. It is to your eternal advantage. Better to tear out your eye than to be thrown into the hell of fire. Both Jesus and Paul teach that sin is serious, and it has eternal consequences. Both are pursuing our good, our eternal joy.

Discipline an Expression of Love

You see, discipline is actually an expression of love.

Proverbs 3:11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12 for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

We see this theme many places in the Bible. We see it repeatedly in the Psalms, Proverbs, in Hebrews 12. Jesus even says to a church in:

Revelation 3:19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

Discipline is an expression of love.

Church Discipline According to Jesus

It will be helpful to look at Jesus’ teaching on church discipline in Matthew 18. His go-to teaching on church discipline is found in verses 15-17, but in order to do justice to his teaching, we can’t only look at these verses. To really get the heart of what he’s saying, we need to listen to the context of Matthew 18.

Jesus’ teaching on church discipline is in the context of a discussion among his disciples about who is the greatest. Jesus tells them they need to turn back and humble themselves and become like little children. And then he talks about receiving children.

Matthew 18:5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!

This sounds harsh, but Jesus is passionate about the little ones who believe in him, not just children in age, but those who are young in the faith, young believers. He goes on:

Matthew 18:8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

He starts with a strong warning against being the one to bring temptation, and then he gives instruction on the seriousness of sin, and encourages us to deal severely with the sin in ourselves. Habitual sin in our own hearts must be dealt with severely. Then he tells a story about the Father’s shepherd heart for those who go astray.

Matthew 18:10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 11 — 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

It is in this context, a context of not stumbling young believers, of dealing severely with your own sin, of the Father’s heart, the Father’s protection, the Father’s pursuit of his stray sheep, that Jesus says:

Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

The Father’s heart is to pursue his lost sheep, and he has joy when they are brought back. This is the frame for a brother sinning against you. Go, tell him his fault, in a spirit of humility, not despising, as if somehow you are better than them, with the Father’s heart of loving pursuit, for their good. Go privately first. Don’t gossip. Go straight to the source. Care for his reputation. Treat him as you would want to be treated. Only if he refuses to listen do you bring others, others with wisdom, with love, others who have a heart for his good, a heart to seek the lost. Only if he refuses to listen to them does it become a full church issue. And still, the heart must be in humility seeking restoration, seeking his good. The purpose for bringing it before the whole church is not to shame, not to dispose of him and be done with the situation, but to bring the positive pressure of the full community of believers to lovingly urge and exhort and plead toward healing and restoration. Only after this stage is resisted, is the step taken to remove that one from fellowship. And even there, we are to treat outsiders not with condemnation and judgment, but with love and the truth of the gospel, seeking to win them to Christ.

Confrontation Presupposes Forgiveness

Peter is listening, processing what Jesus is teaching, and he has a question.

Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Notice, Peter does not say ‘if my brother listens, how often should I forgive him?’ No, he says ‘how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him?’ The response of the person is nowhere in view. This is unilateral forgiveness. The process of confronting someone for their good presupposes forgiveness. If you sin against me and I am bitter, holding a grudge, I am not seeking your good, I am seeking to be vindicated, I am seeking payment. You hurt me and you owe me. But if I have already forgiven you in my heart, if I have released you from your debt, then I can come to you for your good, for your joy.

He actually asks how often his brother will sin against him. What is the outer limit? I must always respond to those who sin against me with forgiveness. But to what extent? Jesus answers that this is going to happen a lot. And notice that this is a brother, not someone outside. Don’t be surprised when your brothers and sisters sin against you over and over and over again. You are to forgive. Cultivate a forgiving heart, so that you can work together with your brothers and sisters for their joy.

Matthew 18:22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Then Jesus tells a parable about a servant whose master forgave him an incomprehensible debt, who then went out and began to strangle a fellow servant who owed him pocket change; warning those who refuse to forgive others that they have failed to understand, failed to truly receive the forgiveness that is extended to them in Jesus. One who has received God’s merciful and undeserved forgiveness will be overflowing with amazed gratitude and be eager to extend mercy and forgive as he has been forgiven.

Forgive, Comfort, Confirm Love

2 Corinthians 2:5 Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.

Whatever the offense, it seems it had escalated into a personal offense against Paul, undermining his authority and character, and the church did not stand with Paul. Paul says the offense caused grief to the whole body. Whoever this offender was, it seems the church finally took the matter seriously and expelled him. The church finally was obedient to the instructions of their apostle to deal with the sin. And now Paul warns them not to take it too far. It seems the failure of the Corinthians in church discipline (and the same danger is there for us as well) is knowing when to start and knowing when to stop. The goal is always restoration, and when there is confession of sin (which simply means to agree with God that sin is sin), where there is sorrow over sin, where there is repentance (which means a turning to go a different direction), it is enough. The goal, as Jesus stated it, is that he listens. And then you have gained or won your brother.

Paul tells them they ought to now to forgive. They ought to comfort. They ought to confirm their love for him. They had never stopped loving the offender. But their love had to take the form of discipline. Now that he had responded, they were to reaffirm, to express their love.

Our relationships with one another are to display God’s character, God’s grace. He is for us. He is working with us for our joy. He was willing to bear in himself the cost of our rebellious treason, and forgive. We must work with each other for our joy, willing to confront when necessary, willing to absorb the cost, eager to forgive as we have been freely and graciously forgiven.

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

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March 6, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Comfort in Affliction

10/15 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Comfort in Affliction ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20171015_2cor1_3-7.mp3

2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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

Missing Thanksgiving

This letter even in its greeting is rich and deep with gospel truth. But to one familiar with Paul and his letters, and even with how letters were commonly written in Paul’s day, this letter is startling in what it does not say. The normal letter writing structure is: author, readers, greeting, thanksgiving, prayer, body, closing greetings.

This is one of only two New Testament letters that lack the thanksgiving. In Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches, who were abandoning the grace of Christ and turning to another gospel, Paul attacks the problem head on. In Corinth, Paul laments that they are inclined to turn to another Jesus, another Spirit, another gospel (11:4).

Compare this even with 1 Corinthians, where he addresses many serious issues in the church. He begins:

1 Corinthians 1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Instead of a section of thanksgiving for what God is doing in the lives of his readers, he blesses God directly; his thanksgiving is about what God is doing in his own life. This omission of a thanksgiving may have communicated to his readers that all was not well in their relationship.

He offers no thanksgiving; but invites the Corinthians to give thanks for God’s work in their apostle. He also offers no prayer for his readers; but he invites them to pray for their apostle (v.11).

Even in this opening benediction Paul confronts the misunderstanding of the Corinthians; they thought that Paul’s weakness and sufferings were a sign that God was not pleased with him; that he was not a genuine apostle. They were misunderstanding the gospel. Instead he holds up his weakness and sufferings as evidence that he is following in the very footsteps of the real Jesus, who came not as a reigning King, but as a suffering servant.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul made it clear that he preached the cross; he proclaimed Jesus Christ and him crucified (1Cor.1:18, 23), which seemed foolish to many, but the cross is in fact the power of God for salvation.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

2 Corinthians 1:2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,

He begins by drawing their attention not to what God had done in them, but to God himself. In his greeting, he asked that the twin gifts of grace and peace be extended together from the two united givers; God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Here he declares God blessed; blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The titles God, Father, and Lord Jesus Christ are repeated, but in the greeting God is our Father; where in this blessing God is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In his humanity Jesus prayed to and referred to his Father as his God. This in no way undermines the clear fact that Jesus recognized himself as fully God, equal to his Father, sharing the same divine nature with his Father. Yet as a distinct person from his Father, he was in conversation and relationship with his Father, and he gladly submitted to the authority of his Father as his God.

God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; the eternal Father who sent his one and only eternal Son into the world out of his great love to rescue sinners.

The Father of Mercies

God is the Father of mercies. In Nehemiah the people prayed and confessed their sins, recounting the repetitive mercies of God

Nehemiah 9:17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. …19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. … …27 Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer. And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies. 28 But after they had rest they did evil again before you, and you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them. Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies. …31 Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

Mercy is pity, feeling sorry for one who by their own foolishness and rebellion has got himself into great trouble. Mercy is granting escape from the punishment one rightly deserves. Where grace is enjoying the benefit you did not earn; mercy is avoiding the consequences you did earn.

God is the Father of mercies; he gives birth to mercies. God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; it is only through Jesus that we can experience mercy. God fathered mercy when he sent his only Son into the world. We escape the punishment we deserve only because Jesus paid in full for my every sin on the cross.

The God of All Comfort

2 Corinthians 1:3 …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.

God is the God of all comfort; God is sovereign over all comfort, he is the source of all comfort.

We tend to have a very Corinthian problem. We might say ‘God is not doing his job of comforting me, because I am not feeling very comfortable.’ We have softened this word; we think of comfort food and a comfy recliner that makes you feel all warm and cuddly.

We need to redefine comfort. Dictionary.com defines

the noun as ‘a state of ease and satisfaction of bodily wants, with freedom from pain and anxiety. Something that promotes such a state.’ They define the verb comfort as 1. to soothe, console, or reassure; bring cheer to. 2. to make physically comfortable. And then they list 3. Obsolete. To aid; support or encouragement. This obsolete sense is the sense we are after. The ‘fort‘ in the word comfort comes from the Latin fortis (fortare) – which means ‘strong’. From it we get fortitude; mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously. We could translate this ‘encouragement;’ notice the root ‘courage‘ in encouragement?

The word literally means to call near or to call alongside. Jesus promised that he would not leave us alone, but he would send another comforter, the Holy Spirit, to be with us (Jn.14:16-18). There is amazing courage that comes when someone is by your side. One day in grade school a bully that had been harassing me made the grave mistake of following me home. My big brother happened to be outside, and this bully was much less intimidating when his feet were dangling about six inches off the ground as my brother picked him up by his coat and breathed into him some words of life; ‘if you want to live, you’ll leave my brother alone!’ There is strong comfort in knowing someone has your back. God promises ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Heb.13:5). This is the kind of comfort we are talking about. The comfort that he is with me.

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Comfort in All Our Affliction

The God of all comfort comforts us in all our affliction. The word affliction means pressure; a crushing burden; picture a donkey weighed down by a burden so great it can no longer stand. Are you experiencing great pressure? A crushing weight? God comforts us in all our affliction. No affliction is excluded from the comfort of the God of all comfort.

Purpose In Afflictions

And there is great purpose in this. Notice the purpose words ‘so that‘. So often affliction seems random, meaningless, and therefore hopeless.

2 Corinthians 1:3 …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.

So that; there is design in affliction; the afflictions we experience are not meaningless; this alone gives great encouragement to persevere. It is not random chance; it is not that God is angry with me, or I have done something wrong that I am now paying for; that is a non-Christian idea; more along the lines of karma. The Bible says ‘there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom.8:1). God is not against us; in Christ he is for us. Even in the midst of affliction we can be gospel confident that God is for us. Every affliction that comes our way is purposeful, designed and crafted by the good hand of a loving Father to be exactly what we need to accomplish in us his perfect purposes.

What happens when you are under pressure? How do you respond when you are facing affliction and opposition? We tend to pull in, to withdraw, to be on the defensive; if the affliction is severe we might curl up in the fetal position. Our focus is all within. In the midst of our pain, we might reach out to others in desperation for help, but we don’t reach out to others to help them. We focus on the pain, the pressure, and we do anything we can to make it stop.

Paul, one who had endured much affliction, teaches us something about suffering. He says it is not all about you. It is not primarily for you. Paul tells us that our affliction, and even God’s comfort in our affliction is not for us. ‘God comforts us not to make us comfortable but to make us comforters.’ His purpose is that our focus would turn outward, that we would reach out to others in all affliction, that we would become a conduit of God’s comforting mercies to others. In our affliction, God intends that our arms stretch outward to others.

Philippians 3:10b

Do any of you have a favorite verse but when you look it up, you don’t like the context? Philippians 3:7-10a has been a passage like that for me. It is an amazing section, but I’d prefer to omit verse 10b.

Philippians 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

This is great stuff! ‘the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord; …that I may gain Christ and be found in him; …that I may know him.’ I’d prefer that the verse stopped after ‘that I may know him and the power of his resurrection.’ Who likes suffering? Who wants to sign up for sufferings? But if I want to know him, really connect with him and identify with him, to really experience the surpassing worth of ‘knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,’ I must enter in to his sufferings; sufferings on behalf of others. Knowing him corresponds to sharing in his sufferings just like the power of his resurrection corresponds to becoming like him in his death.

You see, it’s only dead people who get resurrected. It’s only suffering people who can be comforted. The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord comes through suffering the loss of all things to gain Christ and be found in him.

Sharing Abundantly in Christ’s Sufferings

This comfort is purposeful, and it is others focused. We are comforted so that we are then able to comfort others with the comfort with which we are comforted by God.

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

We share in the sufferings of Christ; the sufferings of Christ were not for him. They were not at all about him. They were not his sufferings; they were ours. As our substitute, he took our sufferings. He suffered not for himself, but for us. If we are suffering for our sins, then we deserve it. But if we are suffering on account of Christ, in so far as our suffering is for the benefit of others, we share in the sufferings of Christ.

Understand, our sufferings are not like Christ’s sufferings, in that we can’t pay the price for the sins of anyone. But they are sharing in the sufferings of Christ in that they are for the benefit of others.

Paul says ‘we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings’. There is an overflow, a superabundance of suffering.

Do you want to experience abundant comfort? Embrace suffering. God’s comfort is in direct proportion to the suffering you experience. I am not saying you should seek suffering or pray for suffering. Don’t look for affliction; look to Jesus. Keep your eyes on Jesus, obey Jesus, and affliction will find you. But don’t hide from it. Don’t run from it. Embrace it. Open yourself to it. Allow Jesus to meet you in it. Savor the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. It is only through abundant suffering that we experience abundant comfort.

We and You

Paul has been talking about ‘we’ and ‘us’. A reader might assume that he is included in the ‘we’ until he gets to verse 6, where he says ‘If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation.’ Then we find out that the ‘we’ here is Paul and the other apostles, Paul and his co-laborers in contrast to the readers. The Corinthians are not part of the ‘we;’ they are the ‘you’. They had rejected suffering. They did not want to take up their cross and follow Jesus. They looked down on Paul because of how much he seemed to suffer. But Paul is not alone in his affliction. ‘We’ the apostles experience overflowing sufferings; and we experience overflowing comfort.

Paul had already pointed out this contrast between we and you in 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 4:8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. 14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.

Paul is gently rebuking his readers. He is showing them that they are not part of the ‘we;’ but he is inviting them to become part of the ‘we.’

All for your comfort

2 Corinthians 1:6 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.

Paul gives a two part sentence here. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. The afflictions of the apostles, the afflictions of Paul and his co-workers were for the comfort and salvation of the Corinthian church. Indeed, they heard the gospel and experienced salvation because Paul did not shy away from suffering. His current persecution is meant to bring them encouragement. They ought to be emboldened by his example to stand up for Christ even if it costs social standing and opposition. Instead, they are embarrassed of Paul and his sufferings.

We would expect the pairing of this sentence to go something like this: If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is because of your affliction. Instead he gives a lopsided picture. Our affliction is to bring you comfort. Our comfort is also to bring you comfort. Both the affliction and the comfort we experience is meant to give you courage.

There is space for the Corinthians to share in the sufferings. Paul understands, they will only experience the comfort when they patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.

2 Corinthians 1:7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

Our hope for you is confirmed; it is steadfast. Listen to Paul’s confidence! Paul’s confidence rests not on the character of the Corinthians, but on the faithfulness of God. He is certain that as followers of Jesus, they will face affliction. They will share in his sufferings. Not if but when. When you have fellowship in the sufferings, you will also have fellowship in the comfort.

Paul is gently inviting them into the cross shaped life of suffering for others. Not only is it to be expected that an apostle of Christ Jesus should suffer, but it is normal for every follower of Jesus to experience suffering. And it is only in the midst of the pressure and the abundant sufferings that we will experience the abundant comfort from the God of all comfort.

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

October 16, 2017 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hope of Christmas

12/13 Hope of Christmas; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20151213_hope-of-christmas.mp3

Out in the fields around Bethlehem, to unsuspecting shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks by night,

Luke 2:9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Good news of great joy! Christmas brings a message of good news! Christmas brings great joy! Great joy for all people! Good news of great joy that casts out fear!

So how are you doing this Christmas season? Is your heart overflowing with great joy? Are you free from anxiety and fear? Has the good news totally replaced all the bad?

Great Joy and Great Suffering

If it has, may I suggest to you that you are living in a bubble? Do you watch the news? I don’t, and I am still aware of things like the presidential campaign, the national debt, devastating earthquakes, suicide bombings, school shootings, ISIS beheadings, the war on terror. We live in a world that is messed up and broken. Do you know anyone that is sick? Injured? Fighting a disease? I spoke at two funerals this year. One was a very dear friend who degenerated from a debilitating disease. Good news! Great joy! Fear not! How do we bring together the joy of Christmas and the sick and broken world we live in?

Do we compartmentalize? We have a tree with lights and presents, and we live in relative safety. All is well with me, my family, my friends, my church, and that’s all I really care about? Turn a blind eye to our brothers and sisters around the world who are being killed for their faith in Jesus? Turn a blind eye to the pain and despair in our own community?

Or do we despair? The Prince of Peace has failed to bring peace on earth. The Great Physician didn’t heal my friend, my loved one, me. This good news of great joy hasn’t brought me joy. God has failed.

Let me suggest to you that there is a better way. The good news of Christmas is big enough to bring light and joy into the darkest sickest corners of this broken world. The good news is big enough to embrace all the pain and despair in our hearts and infuse life giving hope.

Notice, for a moment, that the Christmas story didn’t exempt its participants from hardship. The angel announced to the shepherds:

Luke 2:12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

What?! Shepherds knew what a manger was. A manger is a stone watering trough for animals. Saturated with stable animal slobber. You don’t put fragile newborn babies in unsanitary mangers! Why was the promised Messiah, the Lord, in an animal watering trough?! Because there was no room for them in the inn. Why an inn? Why Bethlehem? Why not back home in Nazareth? Because the Emperor had imposed a tax. Tax? The Emperor? What Emperor? The Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. Israel was under Roman occupation. This doesn’t sound like good news of great joy for Joseph and Mary! No longer free. Forced by the Roman Emperor to register. Forced to travel right at the time of delivery. Unable to find lodging. Seeking shelter like refugees in a cave.

God didn’t exempt Mary, Joseph, and his only Son from trouble. He could have. But he intentionally sent him into a troubled situation to bring peace in the midst of anguish. A year or two later, after Magi from the East arrive bearing gifts, the young couple have to flee for their lives with the baby to Egypt, and the tyrannical Herod slaughters every male child two years old or under in the whole region of Bethlehem. Good news of great joy? Try to tell that to all the mothers in Judea, weeping, refusing to be comforted (Mt.2:18).

Simeon and Consolation

Let’s learn a lesson from an old man. 40 days after Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary brought him to the temple to offer the sacrifice for purification according to Leviticus 12. There was a man in Jerusalem, Simeon, to whom the Lord had revealed through the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah (Lk.2:25-26). It is said of him that he was ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel’. He was waiting. He was filled with anticipation, longing, eager expectation, hope. He was waiting for consolation, encouragement, solace, comfort. He knew the prophecies. He was waiting. He had hope.

Isaiah 40:1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 ​Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 ​Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 ​And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

God will come down and bring comfort to his people.

Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 ​to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.

Jesus would bind up the brokenhearted. He would bring comfort to those who mourn. He would bring beauty from ashes.

Isaiah 66:10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; 11 that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.” 12 For thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. 13 As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. 14 You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the LORD shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies.

God will console and comfort and satisfy his people as a mother comforts her child. Have you seen a hungry infant, frantic, frenzied, demanding, inconsolable? And then satisfied, slumped in peaceful rest against his mother, with a trickle of milk running down his chin? This is the picture of comfort and satisfaction he paints for his people. This is what Simeon was longing for, eagerly expecting, anticipating.

Hosea 6:1 “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.

Anna and Redemption

Learn a lesson from an old lady, Anna, a prophetess, a widow who continually worshiped God with fasting and prayer. We are told:

Luke 2:38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Just as Simeon finished thanking God and pronouncing a blessing, Anna began to give thanks to God. Fasting and praying continually are indications that you are earnestly seeking something from God. She must have heard Simeon declare ‘my eyes have seen your salvation’. She began to speak of Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Again we see waiting, eager expectation, longing, anticipation. And she was not alone in this waiting. She began pointing all those who were longing for redemption to Jesus. They were waiting for redemption, for ransom. To ransom is to buy back something that once belonged to you, or someone that was sold into slavery to pay a debt (Lev.25:29, 48), or to pay for the release of something that was set apart to be offered to the Lord. (Num.18:16). We have sold ourselves as slaves to sin, and we are powerless to escape.

Psalm 49:6 those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? 7 Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, 8 for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, 9 that he should live on forever and never see the pit.

We are powerless to do anything about our own situation, and we cannot pay the infinite price for another. Even the riches of the richest man are insufficient to change the eternal consequences of his actions. Jesus said:

Matthew 16:26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

But God says:

Isaiah 44:21 Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. 22 ​I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you. 23 Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel. 24 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,

Our Creator is also our redeemer. He can pay the infinite price to blot out the debt of our transgressions and sins.

Psalm 130:1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! 2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! 3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. 7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. 8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

This world is sick and dark and twisted and broken and it is our sin that made it so. We rebelled against a good God and chose to go our own way, and sold ourselves into slavery to sin.

There were still some in Israel who understood the depths of their desperate situation, who cried out to the Lord as their only hope, who expectantly waited and hoped in and watched for the Lord, for his ransom, his redemption.

Good News For All

Christmas is about good news of great joy for all people. No one is beyond the reach of God’s redeeming love. When we look around at all those who are desperately sick and evil, murderers, predators, perpetrators, we need to see an opportunity for God’s magnificent grace. No one is too sick, too twisted, too broken, too far gone, that our good Lord cannot reach him or her. The good news of Christmas is that God sent a Savior, a Rescuer, a Redeemer, his only Son, God in the flesh, come down to pay our price in full.

My Need

Christmas is about recognizing our own desperate need and his infinite sufficiency. We must stop pointing fingers at God or at others and own our own guilt before God, recognize that what is wrong with the world is me, and God has set out to rescue me and purchase me and transform me and make me his own.

Receiving The Gift

Christmas is about accepting a free gift. God gave us the infinite gift of his own Son. Gifts cannot be earned. Gifts are to be received. We can do nothing to merit the gift, or to pay the gift back. A genuine gift is in a completely different category than a paycheck. Paychecks are earned; gifts are given freely, generously. Have you received God’s great gift to you? Have you believed?

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Already and Not Yet

Christmas is about anticipation, longing, hope. This world is not as it should be, not as it was meant to be, not as it will one day be. Christ has come, he has paid for our sins, he has begun a good work in us, but it is not yet complete. The expectation of Anna and Simeon has begun to be fulfilled, but it is not yet complete. God will one day make all things new. The grace of God has appeared, but we are still ‘waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. In the mean time we will sin against others, and be sinned against. Romans 8 tells us:

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

In this life we may experience tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, we may be killed, we may be regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. We should not be surprised at suffering, we should expect suffering. But even in the midst of this, we can be free from fear. Even in the midst of this we can experience great joy. Can any of these things separate us from the love of Christ?

Romans 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is good news indeed. This is the hope of Christmas.

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

December 15, 2015 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Everywhere and Nowhere; Psalm 139

09/27 God Everywhere and Nowhere; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20150927_god-everywhere.mp3

We are studying God, what he says about himself in his word. We are seeking to know him, to enjoy the relationship with him that he purchased for us with the blood of his only Son our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Prayer

Psalm 22

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

…11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.

…19 But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! 20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! 21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

Isaiah 64

1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.

We want to know you God. We long to be near you, to enjoy your presence, to be with you. We want to believe truth about you and flee from the idolatry of imagining that you are like us, from the sin of bringing you down to our level. We want to listen to what you say about yourself. To believe you. To stand in awe and wonder at a being so supreme, so awesome, so uniquely other. We were made to worship. To worship you alone. Guide our thoughts. Stir our hearts. Capture our affections. In Jesus’ name and for his glory we ask, Amen.

Do you sometimes feel like God is far off, he is not listening, like he is not even there? Do you sometimes experience the nearness of God, and other times feel abandoned?

God Unlimited by Time or Space

Last time we looked at the infinity of God in relation to time. God is unlimited, unconstrained by time, or by the sequence of events. He is not a temporal being, he has no beginning and no end, he is, he exists independent of anything outside of himself. Yet he interacts with us, his creatures, in time.

Today we will look at God’s infinity as it relates to space. Just as God is not limited or constrained by time as we understand it, so God is not limited by the material universe, by space or distance or size. Sometimes this is referred to as the immensity of God, the ubiquity of God, or the omnipresence of God.

If we ask ‘What is God like?’ we could look to the tabernacle. God gave Moses specific instructions on building him a sanctuary.

Exodus 25:8 And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. 9 Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. 10 “They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height.

If we understand the ark to be a kind of a throne, it is a box about 27 inches high by 27 inches deep by 45 inches wide. You would have to be a bit taller than me to sit on a throne that tall without your feet dangling awkwardly. If we keep reading, we see that the cover of this golden throne is complete with angelic figures ;

Exodus 25:22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

God would meet with his people in most holy place, which was about a 15 foot cube. If God were 10 feet tall, he could safely hover above the cherubim without bumping his head on the ceiling. Is this how we are to think about God?

God Uncontainable

If we jump ahead to the time of the kings, David made preparations for his son Solomon to build a temple in Jerusalem to replace the portable tabernacle, now that God had given them the land. In 2 Chronicles 2, Solomon wrote to make arrangements with the king of Tyre, who would supply skilled laborers and materials. He said:

2 Chronicles 2:4 Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the LORD my God and dedicate it to him for the burning of incense of sweet spices before him, and for the regular arrangement of the showbread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed feasts of the LORD our God, as ordained forever for Israel. 5 The house that I am to build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods. 6 But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to make offerings before him?

Listen to parts of Solomon’s prayer of dedication in chapter 6.

2 Chronicles 6:14 and said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart,

…17 Now therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken to your servant David. 18 “But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built! 19 Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you, 20 that your eyes may be open day and night toward this house, the place where you have promised to set your name, that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. 21 And listen to the pleas of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen from heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

Solomon understood that heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain God. So just how big is God? Solomon speaks as large as he can. Heaven cannot contain him; the sky above cannot contain him. The highest heaven cannot contain him – what we think of as outer space cannot contain him. The biggest space you can imagine cannot contain him. God is uncontainable. The God who made the universe cannot be contained in the universe. Some scientists conjecture this universe is at least 28 billion light years in diameter. Remember that one light year is the distance that light can travel in one year, which is about 5.8 x 1012 miles (that’s twelve zero’s), or 5.8 trillion miles. And then times that by 28 billion light years. Heaven, even the highest heaven cannot contain him. God existed before the universe existed. God spoke the universe into existence. God created space, and space cannot contain God.

The Lord asks Isaiah’s generation in Isaiah 66:

Isaiah 66:1 Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? 2 All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. …

Heaven is what I sit on. Planet Earth is the little thing I pull up to rest my feet on. Heaven and Earth exist because I brought them into existence. I am not contained by them. Paul says in Acts 17:

Acts 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

God made everything and cannot be contained by anything he has made. This is the danger of sacred places. They tend to give us the impression that there are places we can go to be in God’s presence, and there are other places that are exempt from God’s presence. We come to church to meet with God, and then we leave God in the church building and go do other things.

God in Heaven and Hell

Look with me at Psalm 139. The Psalmist cries out in amazed worship:

Psalm 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me! 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. 3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. 5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. 7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

You Lord know everything about me. You are ahead of me, behind me, all around me. Your hand is always on me. The Psalmist asks ‘where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?’ Is there anywhere that God is not? Of course, we expect we would find God in heaven. That is what makes heaven heaven. ‘In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore’ says the Psalmist (16:11). But what about hell? Isn’t hell the absence of God? Isn’t that what makes hell hell? Isaiah says

Isaiah 59:2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

But the Psalmist says ‘If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!’ No one can hide from the presence of God, not even in hell. Sin separates us from God, not spatially, not by distance, because God is everywhere. Sin separates us relationally from God’s favor. I might be in the same room, looking one of my daughters in the eye and say ‘I feel like there is a huge distance between us’. I don’t mean that she is on a different continent. I mean that there is something that has driven a wedge in our relationship. Heaven is not so much a location as an experience of God’s pleasure, God’s favor, enjoying the intimacy of relationship. Hell is not so much a place as the experience of a relationship with our good Creator broken, the experience of his displeasure, his anger. God is eternally present in hell to ensure every sin is justly and fairly punished.

If I fly across the sea, if I attempt to hide in darkness, you are there. There is no place we can go that God is not already there.

God Filling Space

God says to the prophet Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 23:23 “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away?

24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.

God is both near and far. There is no place that he is not. He fills heaven and earth. How does he fill all space? Is he like that expanding foam that when you spray it in a crack it expands to fill whatever space is there? Or should we think of him as so incredibly huge that his big toe is in Canada and his heel is in South America? He is present here in Utah, but only by the sole of his foot? These are all flawed ways of thinking about God that are limited to the material universe. God is not a man. God is not like us. God is spirit. He is immaterial. He is. And there is nowhere that he is not. His being is fully present everywhere. He is fully present in this room with us today, giving us his undivided attention, and he is fully present in Provo and Payson and Salt Lake City. He is fully present in Thailand and Azerbaijan and South Africa, and he is fully present with the believer praying in secret in Iraq. He is not more present in one place than another, he is not limited to being in one place at one time. His being is unlimited by space or time. It would be just as correct to say that God is everywhere as to say that God is nowhere, because where is the wrong question. In asking about the whereness of God, we are looking for physical boundaries. God has no physical boundaries. He is not physical or material. Just as God is not a creature of time but the Creator of time, independent of time and outside of time, God is not a creature in space but the Creator of space, independent of space and outside of space. He contains all space and yet is fully present in every point of space.

Immensity and Incarnation

What do we do with this when we look to Jesus and the incarnation? Jesus, eternal God, who possesses all the characteristics of God, took on flesh and became human. Did God the Son become confined in time and space to a limited human body? Did he cease to be unlimited during his time on this planet? And we believe that his humanity continues on forever, so is he still limited now? There are many hints throughout the Gospels that although Jesus really and truly took on a real human nature, and in that human nature he was confined to be in one place at each moment, that he never ceased to be fully God, and as God he continued to fill heaven and earth. Speaking of the incarnation, one of the old theologians said ‘remaining what he was, he became what he was not’. Continuing as infinite eternal measureless God, he took on an additional nature, a human nature. In his humanity he is limited; in his divinity he is unconfined.

Speaking of the Son of God in his incarnation, the author of Hebrews writes:

Hebrews 1:3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Jesus, while in his humanity he was confined to his mother’s womb, was all the while upholding the universe. Colossians tells us:

Colossians 1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

While asleep in a boat from exhaustion on the sea of Galilee, he was holding every molecule of the universe together. Jesus said to his disciples, before his human body ascended into heaven,

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

Jesus, physically, bodily, is seated at the right hand of his Father’s throne, as eternal God Jesus is ever present with every one of his followers to bless and care for us. Hebrews says:

Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Use of Doctrine

What are the implications of this truth for us? What does it matter? All biblical truth is intensely practical. It affects how we live, it affects our attitudes, our actions, our responses to difficult circumstances.

The truth of God’s omnipresence is a great comfort to believers. This means we are never alone. God is always with us. Jesus will never leave us or forsake us. Whatever we are going through, whatever trials we face, God is with us. He is for us. He will see us through.

This truth has implications on how we pray. We don’t have to take a number and wait in line for someone else to finish before we can talk to God. We don’t have to wait for God to make the rounds to our neighborhood before we can talk to him. Whenever we want, as often as we like, for as long as we desire, we have God’s full and undivided attention. Take a moment for that to sink in. The God of the universe, the God who spoke all creation into existence, the God who governs every king and president and ruler, the God who is sovereign and supreme over all spiritual forces good and evil, is eager to listen to you. He counts your prayers as significant.

This gives us great confidence when we pray for others. God is fully present with us to hear our prayers here for our brothers and sisters who are in a different town or on the other side of the planet, and at the same time (or even before we ask) is fully present there to answer that prayer wherever they are.

The infinite presence of God is a great comfort to believers, but a great terror to unbelievers. In Revelation 6, we are told:

Revelation 6:15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

Hebrews 4:13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

There is no place we can flee from his presence. Not heaven, not hell, not the depths of the sea, not the farthest reaches of space. Augustine writes “there is no place whither thou mayest flee from God angry but to God reconciled. There is no place at all whither thou mayest flee. Wilt thou flee from him? Flee unto him.” The only safe place to flee from the wrath of God is to flee into the outstretched arms of Jesus. “No one comes to the Father except through me” Jesus said (Jn.14:6). Herman Bavinck writes “approaching God and seeking his countenance does not require pilgrimage but penitence and humiliation.” [Bavinck, p.163]

Isaiah 66:1 Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? 2 All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

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

September 27, 2015 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Unchanging; Psalm 102

09/13 God Unchanging; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20150913_god-unchanging.mp3

Prayer

O Lord, we desire to know you. We long to enjoy your intimate fellowship as Enoch, who walked with you and was not, for you took him. We want to love and fear you like Abraham, so much that no sacrifice is considered too great. We desire to count our time with you so valuable that like Daniel we would risk being eaten by lions just to spend a few precious moments with you. We want, like Job, to bless your name and worship you, whether you give good gifts, or take those gifts away. Help us to say with the Psalmist, that we seek you, we thirst for you, we faint for you, ‘because your steadfast love is better than life’ (Ps.63:3).

Everything Changes

Today we will look at the immutability of God, the unchangeable nature of his being and attributes.

When we travel to visit family in Minnesota, it is a 22 hour drive, so we usually stop somewhere in the middle to spend the night. One of our early trips, Deanna found a great deal on a motel. It was an older motel, and they rented us what must have been the caretaker’s apartment. It had several rooms, a small kitchen, and the pool was right outside the door. It looked like it had been furnished in the ’70’s, but it was comfortable, it fit our family well, and it was cheap! We made some great memories there with our little family. On a later trip, we tried to look this place up so we could make reservations. We couldn’t find it online. We made some calls, but came up with nothing. We tried to remember where exactly it was. We took the exit and drove around, but we couldn’t find it. Finally, we narrowed it down to where it was, and it was a construction zone. The property was surrounded by chain link fence, and there was nothing there but dirt. No motel, no apartment, no pool, no parking lot, no sign, nothing. It was gone. Erased. No trace. Obviously we had to find a different place to stay.

Everything changes. Our culture has changed. Our country has changed. What not too long ago was considered deviant behavior is now celebrated and protected. What would have been considered standing up for what is right and good and true is now considered hate speech. What was wrong is now right. What was right is now wrong.

In a world that is so rapidly changing we look for something stable, something solid, something permanent, something that we can hold on to, something we can trust.

Consider our brothers and sisters fleeing from Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritria seeking a place to live where they will not be killed for their faith in Christ. Last year nearly 200,000 Assyrian Christians were forced to flee their homes around the Mosul area in Iraq, near the site of ancient Nineveh, after ISIS took control of the city and destroyed historic Christian churches. Imagine, the stability of an 1800 year old church building demolished and the Christian community forced to flee, be killed, or convert to Islam. What is there to hold on to? What doesn’t change?

Psalm 102

Listen to the words of Psalm 102

Psalm 102

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you!

2 Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress!

Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call!

3 For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace.

4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread.

5 Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh.

6 I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places;

7 I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.

8 All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse.

9 For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink,

10 because of your indignation and anger;

for you have taken me up and thrown me down.

11 My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.

Listen to the descriptions the afflicted one uses of himself; my days pass away like smoke; grass that has withered, alone, my days are like an evening shadow, I wither away like grass. Temporary, transient, fading, impermanent, unstable, momentary, fleeting.

Now listen to the permanence and stability of the rest of the Psalm:

Psalm 102:12 But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations.

13 You will arise and have pity on Zion;

it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come.

14 For your servants hold her stones dear and have pity on her dust.

15 Nations will fear the name of the LORD,

and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory.

16 For the LORD builds up Zion; he appears in his glory;

17 he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer.

18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come,

so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD:

19 that he looked down from his holy height;

from heaven the LORD looked at the earth,

20 to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die,

21 that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD,

and in Jerusalem his praise,

22 when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the LORD.

23 He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days.

24 “O my God,” I say, “take me not away in the midst of my days—

you whose years endure throughout all generations!”

You are enthroned forever; throughout all generations; generations to come; you whose years endure throughout all generations.

Listen to the closing verses:

Psalm 102:25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,

and the heavens are the work of your hands.

26 They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment.

You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,

27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.

28 The children of your servants shall dwell secure;

their offspring shall be established before you.

What is more permanent than the foundation of the earth and the regularity of the heavens? And yet compared to God, they were brought into existence by him, they will perish, they will wear out, they will be changed and pass away, but the LORD will remain. You are the same. Listen to the comfort in those words. You are the same! Something stable. Something unchangeable. Something solid and consistent. Something to hold on to when everything else is in upheaval and turmoil. You remain. You are the same. Everything else changes. The heavens and the earth change, all created things change, but you are the same. The immutability of God is a strong comfort in troubled times.

Unchangeable and Impassible

What does it mean that God is unchanging? It means both that he will not change and that he cannot change. He is who he is. His being, his essence, his character is always the same. What he is he always is. He cannot be other than he is. He is consistent.

Did you ever have something important you wanted to ask your parents? You learn to pay attention to what is going on and be sure to ask at the right time. Is mom in a good mood? Did dad have a good day at work today? If you ask at the wrong time, the answer is automatically ‘no’. So you learn to pick up on cues, to find the most agreeable time to ask. God is not like that. God is always in a good mood. I think that is what the Westminster divines were getting at when they wrote their description of God who is ‘without body, parts, or passions, immutable’ [Westminster Confession, 2, I]. They did not mean that God is not passionate about anything, or that he is emotionless. It is clear that God has a red-hot hatred of sin and evil, and that he delights to show mercy and extend grace to undeserving sinners. But he is not passively affected from something outside himself. God is never grumpy and frustrated because he had a bad day and things didn’t go his way.

Unchangeable in His Character and Nature

God says to his disobedient people:

Malachi 3:6 “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

I YHWH do not change. This is a passage of judgment. He is rebuking them for their unrighteousness, for their sorcery, adultery, lies, oppression, lack of love and care for the hurting and downcast, lack of fear of the Lord. The fact that they are not consumed is not because of them. They fully deserve to be consumed. They have earned the fires of hell. The fact that they are not consumed has nothing to do with them. They are not consumed because of the character of God. God is an unchanging God. God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness. He is always that way. You are not consumed because I am God and I have made promises to you, children of Jacob. The day of judgment is coming. God is just and he will punish all the arrogant and all evildoers. But he is patient and merciful. He sends his messenger to turn the hearts of his people back to him.

James tells us:

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

God is the Father of lights. There is no fickleness, no variability in him. There is no shadow from turning. There is absolute consistency. Rock solid reliability. No dark spots on his character. God cannot be tempted with evil and he tempts no one. All good gifts come from him. The greatest gift is new birth. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth. He caused us to be born again through the transforming power of his word.

Unchangeable in his Purposes and Promises

What a glorious truth that God is unchangeable. He is ever the same. He is unchangeable in his being and essence; he cannot become more God than he is; he cannot become less God. He is God. He always has been God. He always will be God. He is unchanging in his perfections or his attributes. Every characteristic that describes God has always been true of him and will always be true of him. He has always been just and will forever be just. He has always been love and will for eternity be love. God is unchanging in his purposes and his promises. He does not set out to do something and then change his mind.

Numbers 23 says:

Numbers 23:19 God is not man, that he should lie,

or a son of man, that he should change his mind.

Has he said, and will he not do it?

Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

God is contrasted with man. Man is characterized by changeability. We change our minds. We lie. We speak and don’t follow through. God is not a man. He never was a man. He is not a son of man. God is not like man. He cannot lie. He cannot change his mind. He does not promise and then fail to make good on his promise. We change our minds because we don’t have all the facts up front. We make a decision based on limited information, and then when more information comes, we see a better way. We change our minds because we are subject to circumstances that are beyond our control. Something happens and now we can’t follow through with what we had planned. But there is nothing God does not know. He has all the facts in front of him, so he always makes the best possible decision. To change his mind would be to move from the best decision to a worse alternative, and God will not do that. There are no circumstances unforeseen or beyond God’s control. Nothing will ever come up that forces God to change his plans.

God Changes His Mind

1 Samuel 15 says:

1 Samuel 15:29 And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”

God is not a man. He will not have regret. We regret when we make a bad decision and have to suffer the consequences. We didn’t have all the facts, and couldn’t see the outcome, and knowing what we now know, if we had it to do over again, we would choose differently. God is not a man to regret or repent or change his mind that way. But doesn’t the Bible say that God changed his mind on occasion? One of those occasions is right here in 1 Samuel 15. It will help us to look at it. Back in verse 11, God tells Samuel:

1 Samuel 15:11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the LORD all night.

And then in verse 35, we are told:

1 Samuel 15:35 And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

And in between these two verses that tell us that God regretted or repented or changed his mind, we have the statement that

1 Samuel 15:29 And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”

So what do we make of this? God regretted that he made Saul king, because Saul turned back from following the Lord. He disobeyed the Lord, he rejected the word of the Lord, and so the Lord rejected him as king. God was sorry that he made Saul king, not in the sense that he wished he had more information on which to base his decision, not in the sense that he wished he could have known what was going to happen, not in the sense that he would choose differently if he had it to do over again. God is not a man that he regrets that way. God new exactly what Saul would do. God knew that he would turn away and disobey. God knew Saul’s character and the outcome of what would happen, and knowing all this, he chose to make Saul king for a time according to his good and wise purposes. When Saul chose to disobey, God responded the way he always responds to sin and disobedience; with judgment. Sin has consequences. God did not change. Saul changed. And although God knew it all along and saw it coming, he is grieved by sin. He has an emotional response to our sin. But even in Saul’s rebellion, God had good purposes that were bigger than this isolated event, that he was bringing about, bigger purposes for the nation of Israel, bigger purposes for David, and if he had it to do over again, he would make the exact same choice, knowing that it is the best possible choice, even though he will grieve over Saul’s rebellion. He regretted or repented or changed his mind, but not in the same way that we as finite creatures with limited foresight and understanding regret or change our minds. God is not a man that he should have that kind of regret.

Unchangeable Word

Isaiah 46 says:

Isaiah 46:8 “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, 9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ 11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

God accomplishes all his purpose. His counsel stands. When he speaks he brings it to pass. His purpose is unchangeable. He is absolutely unique in knowing the end from the beginning and never having to change his mind. In Isaiah 40 he says:

Isaiah 40:6 A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

Again the contrast is drawn between the changeability of people who wither and fade like grass and flowers, but God’s word stands forever. The confidence we have in God’s word, the Bible, is rooted in the character and nature of God. Because God is unchangeable his word is unchangeable. When he speaks he never has to take it back, because he is not subject to limited knowledge or outside forces beyond his control. His word stands forever because he is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb.13:8).

We can take great confidence in the unchangeable character of God.

Hebrews 6:17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone …

God’s purpose is unchangeable. His word is unchangeable. His promise is unchangeable. It is impossible for God to lie. This is strong encouragement. This is a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul. This is an unwavering hope that enters in to the very presence of God, that flees for refuge to Jesus.

The Rock

God is referred to as a rock repeatedly in scripture because a rock is the nearest thing we can think of that seems solid and permanent and unchanging. Deuteronomy 32 says

Deuteronomy 32:3 For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! 4 “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.

God is perfect, just, faithful, upright. He will never change. He is solid, reliable, enduring. Psalm 31 says:

Psalm 31:1 In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! 2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! 3 For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; 4 you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. 5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.

God is a rock of refuge, a strong fortress. We can run to him with absolute confidence because of his unchangeable in his being, his perfections, his purposes. He will never go back on his word. And he has promised to rescue all who run to Jesus for refuge!

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

September 13, 2015 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 1:3-5; Comforts of the Cross

10/19/2014 2 Corinthians 1:3-5; Comforts of the Cross; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20141019_comfort-2cor1_3-5.mp3

2 Corinthians 1:3 Εὐλογητὸς ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὁ πατὴρ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν καὶ θεὸς πάσης παρακλήσεως, 4 ὁ παρακαλῶν ἡμᾶς ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ θλίψει ἡμῶν, εἰς τὸ δύνασθαι ἡμᾶς παρακαλεῖν τοὺς ἐν πάσῃ θλίψει διὰ τῆς παρακλήσεως ἧς παρακαλούμεθα αὐτοὶ ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ. 5 ὅτι καθὼς περισσεύει τὰ παθήματα τοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς ἡμᾶς, οὕτως διὰ τοῦ Χριστοῦ περισσεύει καὶ ἡ παράκλησις ἡμῶν.

2 Corinthians 1:2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

I thought it might be helpful to seek comfort today in the midst of difficulties. As we look around us, this world is full of pain, full of sorrow, full of evil. Sickness, disease, death, depression, pain, suicide, persecution, even beheading, are just some of the things that touch us or those close to us. We need to find comfort that will carry us through the grief and sustain us through the pain that confronts us in this fallen world. For those around us, those with whom our lives intersect, who are in need of comfort, we want to be equipped to bring strong comfort to the hurting.

Our inclination is often to try to fix the problem, to try to identify the source, to find a rational explanation for why. Our inclination is rooted in a desire to avoid pain at all cost. This was the approach of Job’s friends, and he called them ‘miserable comforters’ (Job 16:2).

2 Corinthians 1 is a chapter in which the word comfort appears 10 times in 5 verses. It means to call alongside, to exhort, encourage, strengthen, console, or comfort. This chapter begins by speaking grace and peace to the readers. Grace, God’s undeserved generosity, and peace, a reconciled relationship. Unearned blessing and reconciliation come from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed Be God

Then he speaks a word of blessing toward God. God is blessed, God is happy, God is delighted in himself and all that it means to be God. He is happy and we wish him to be happy. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is something we find on the lips of Job, even in the midst of immense suffering.

Job 1:21 …The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

For many, in the midst of suffering, their tendency is to blame God rather than to bless God. But Job and the apostle join their voices to bless God in the midst of unimaginable suffering, and they invite us to accompany them in seeing God as worthy of blessing even in our agony.

Father of Mercies

The apostle blesses the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom he calls the Father of mercies. Mercies is plural. There are multiplied occasions God extends mercy to sinners, not giving us what we deserve. God is the Father of mercies, he originated mercy and has begotten multiplied mercies. If we ever experience mercy, he has brought it into being, he has fathered it. All God’s many mercies come to us through his Son Jesus Christ. God is the Father of mercies.

God of All Comfort

Then he names him the God of all comfort. Our God, the source of every mercy, is sovereign over comfort. If there is any comfort to be had, he reigns supreme over it, he wills it, he calls it into being, he controls it, and he brings it to us.

He is the God of all comfort. There is no true comfort outside of him. If we want genuine comfort, we must go to him. If we want to bring real comfort to others, we must connect them to him, the God of all comfort.

We tend to seek comfort in lots of different ways. We seek comfort in getting lots of money, or in spending lots of money, in eating lots of food, in drink, or in denying ourselves. We seek comfort from relationships with other people, or in isolating ourselves from other people. None of this will bring lasting comfort.

Often we seek comfort through understanding. If only I can make sense of the situation, if only I can understand why, then I will feel better and be able to deal with the situation. But as God revealed to Job, true comfort comes in knowing God as God, knowing he is awesome, he is in control, and his ways are past finding out. God is the God of all comfort.

Comfort in All Our Affliction

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, …

God is the one who comforts us in all our affliction. There is no affliction to great or too deep or too wide that he is unable to comfort us in. The word ‘affliction’ literally means pressure, that which presses hard in on us. It is used for pressing grapes to make wine. It is used in:

Matthew 7:14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

The way to life is hard, pressed, afflicted, oppressed, distressed. Whatever it is that is pressing in on us, threatening to crush us, God is there to comfort us in all our affliction. The God of all comfort, the Father of mercies, is present to comfort us! There is no pressure too big, and there is no pressure too small for him to bring us strong encouragement and hope in the midst of it. Over against all our affliction, he presses into us with his comfort.

So That We May Be Able to Comfort

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Here we are given purpose. God presses into us with his comfort over against our affliction so that we are equipped to comfort others. Think about this; if you are going through a very difficult time, who do you turn to for comfort? Do you run to those who seem to have it all together, who have apparently been able to avoid all suffering and heartache and loss, those who have insulated themselves from the pain of this world? Or do you turn to those you know have suffered profoundly, maybe in similar ways you now find yourself in, and have come through deep waters with peace and joy and hope and depth of character?

This is yet another problem with the prosperity gospel; those who are living their best life now are impotent to give any real help or comfort to those who are suffering. They are Job’s miserable comforters, pointing out why he is suffering and what he needs to change to get out of the suffering. They can offer no real comfort, because they just don’t understand.

God comforts us in our affliction so that we are able to comfort those who are in any affliction. This is helpful. We may think that only those who have suffered in a specific way can comfort those who are suffering in that same specific way; for example, I may feel incapable of bringing comfort to someone battling cancer because I have never personally battled cancer. There may be some truth to that, in that someone who has experienced a specific type of suffering is uniquely gifted to identify with others facing that exact same type of suffering, But if you have experienced God’s comfort in any suffering, you are competent to bring God’s comfort to any person facing any kind of suffering.

2 Corinthians 1:3 …the …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.

If we have experienced the comfort of God in our affliction, we can comfort others with the comfort with which we are comforted by God. The opposite is also true. If we have not experienced the comfort of God in any affliction, we are not able to bring comfort to others. God comforts us in all our affliction so that we can comfort others with that comfort God has comforted us with.

God’s Comfort

What is this comfort God comforts us with? Is it a warm comfortable feeling? Is it some inner sense of well-being? Is it some cloudy, subjective, nebulous, fluffy sort of hope? Or is it rock solid and real, an anchor for the soul buffeted by life’s storms? The next verse says:

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

The footnote in the ESV suggests another possible translation:

Or For as the sufferings of Christ abound for us, so also our comfort abounds through Christ

Another translation puts it this way:

[LEB] 2 Corinthians 1:5 For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, thus through Christ our comfort overflows also.

[NASB] 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.

The comfort we receive from God is no cloudy ethereal feeling, it is as real as the sufferings of Christ, sufferings which abundantly overflow to us. God can comfort us because God in Christ has entered into our suffering. Jesus suffered for us. His sufferings abound to us. Here is where we find our comfort. We find comfort in the sufferings of Christ. We find comfort in the cross.

Let us review some of the concrete comforts we have, in order to anchor our comfort in the sufferings of Christ that overflow to us.

It is a comfort to know that we are loved by God:

Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

We have the comfort of forgiven sin:

Matthew 26:28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Acts 10:43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

Colossians 2:13 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.

We have the comfort of no condemnation:

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. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

We are comforted by the gracious gift of justification:

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. …

We have the comfort of peace with God:

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We can take comfort in our reconciliation:

Romans 5:9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

We have the strong comfort of Christ’s righteousness credited to us:

Romans 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

We can take comfort in the promise of eternal life:

John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

We enjoy the comfort of being adopted as God’s children:

John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

Romans 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. …

We have the comfort of the new birth:

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

1 Peter 1:23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;

We have the comfort of a promised inheritance:

1 Peter 1:4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Colossians 1:12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

We have the comfort that God is working all things for our good:

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

We have the comfort that no good thing will be withheld from us:

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

We have the comfort of being secured with the Holy Spirit:

Romans 5:5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Ephesians 1:13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,

2 Corinthians 1:22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

We have the comfort of Christ living in us:

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Colossians 1:27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

We have the comfort that the Father makes his home with us:

John 14:23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

We have the comfort that Jesus will return for us:

John 14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

We have the confident comfort that to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord:

2 Corinthians 5:6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

We have the powerful comfort that to die is gain:

Philippians 1:20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

We have comfort in the promise of physical resurrection:

Romans 6:8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

Romans 8:11 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.

John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

The comforts of the cross and the sweetness of the gospel are savored most deeply in the midst of sorrow

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

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

October 19, 2014 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , | Leave a comment