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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Daniel 2:17-23 The Power of Prayer and the Necessity of Praise

06/06_Daniel 02:17-23 The Power of Prayer and the Necessity of Praise; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210606_dan02_17-23.mp3

King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that troubled him. So he summoned his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and Chaldeans to tell him his dreams. They confidently assured the king that he could tell them the dream they would give the interpretation. Archaeology has unearthed extensive dream manuals that offer explanations of different dream symbolism based on centuries of case histories.

But the king was apparently skeptical of the ability and authenticity of his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and Chaldeans. He insisted they tell him not only the interpretation, but also the dream that he had dreamed to demonstrate that they indeed had access to the supernatural, and that he could trust their interpretation. They argued, ‘that’s not how this works; you tell us the dream, and we will show its interpretation’. They even appeal to his pride ‘No great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean; surely you want to fall in line with all the other great and powerful kings, don’t you?’ But he had made up his mind. He offered gifts and rewards and great honor to the one who made known the dream and its interpretation, but if they failed to tell him the dream and its interpretation, they would be torn limb from limb and their houses buried under a pile of human excrement.

Because his wise men proved incompetent to provide the validation of their legitimacy that the king required, because he suspected them of trying to buy time, of conspiring to speak lying and corrupt words to him until the times change, he became angry and very furious, and ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon. If the teachers were corrupt, their students would also be suspect, so this extended even to Daniel and his friends, who recently completed their training in the language and literature of the Chaldeans.

We see the utter bankruptcy of magicians, enchanters, diviners, sorcerers. Even this pagan king was able to see through their treachery and deceit. They confidently claim and make a living selling their secret and hidden wisdom, but they are incompetent and speechless when it comes to true wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

The wise men of Babylon argued that only the gods could fulfill the demand of the king, and they do not dwell with flesh. But Israel’s God is Immanuel, God with us, a God who is near to all who call on him, who desires to dwell in the midst of his people, a God who we now know ‘became flesh and dwelt among us.’

When Arioch the captain of the king’s guard came to arrest Daniel and his friends to put them to death, Daniel, who knew the one who is the source of all wisdom, answered with prudence and discretion.

Daniel 2:15 He declared to Arioch, the king’s captain, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?” Then Arioch made the matter known to Daniel. 16 And Daniel went in and requested the king to appoint him a time, that he might show the interpretation to the king.

Daniel showed boldness and humble confidence both with Arioch and with king Nebuchadnezzar. By God’s grace, Daniel gained audience with the king and received time from the king, the very thing the king denied to his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and Chaldeans.

Daniels Gift of Understanding Visions and Dreams

Here we begin to see where Daniel’s humble boldness came from. Before we move forward, let’s back up and look at something we were told in chapter 1 that is important background for this part of the story.

In verse 2, we were told it was God who gave the king of Judah and the vessels of his holy temple into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. In verse 9 we learned that God gave Daniel favor and compassion; grace and mercy in the sight of Ashpenaz, chief of the eunuchs. Then in 17,

Daniel 1:17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

We are told that God blessed all four with learning and skill, but Daniel specifically was given understanding in all visions and dreams. This is much more than a proficiency with the dream manuals of the Chaldeans. This is God’s gift to one of his children, a God given ability to understand dreams and visions. We are not told if Daniel even knew about this gift before this chapter. But if he was aware of his specific gifting from God, this would be a source of great confidence in approaching both the captain of the king’s guard and the king himself.

The Reminder of God’s Character

Daniel requested and was granted a time to show the king the interpretation.

Daniel 2:17 Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions,

Wait, I thought back in chapter 1 they were re-named with Babylonian names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. Why revert to their Hebrew names here in chapter 2?

Let’s read it again. Remember, names have meanings. ‘God is My Judge’ went to his house and made the matter known to ‘YHWH is Gracious’, ‘Who is What God Is’ and YHWH Will Help’. Their lives were literally on the line. They were on death row. They needed to remember that God is my judge, not Arioch, not even Nebuchadnezzar. They needed to be reminded that YHWH is gracious. They needed to be reminded that there is no other God like the Lord our God, that he is above and sovereign over all the false gods of Babylon. They needed to be reminded from where their help comes; ‘My help comes from YHWH, who made heaven and earth’ (Ps.121:2).

God’s Gifts and Dependence on God in Prayer

Daniel 2:17 Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, 18 and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.

Wait, I thought we just read in chapter 1 that Daniel was given understanding in all visions and dreams, and here in chapter 2 that he confidently went to the king and offered to interpret his dream. Why pray? Why call a prayer meeting and ask your friends to pray? Why not just use your gift and interpret the dream?

We don’t know at this point how much Daniel knew about his gifting from God. But Daniel did know that gift or no gift, he and his friends were utterly and completely dependent on God.

Daniel didn’t presume on his gift; that because God gave him understanding in all visions and dreams, he didn’t need to pray. Exactly the opposite; we see Daniel’s gift operating through prayer. Expressing dependence on God in prayer was the means through which his gift became operational.

God’s Gifts and the Necessity of Community

And Daniel didn’t go it alone. Daniel’s gift didn’t puff him up. He didn’t think of himself more highly than his three friends because he had this gift and they didn’t. He demonstrates humility and the need for unity with his brothers, that together they need to seek God’s mercy. God’s gifts are given for building up the body, for through love serving one another (1Cor.12:7; Eph.4:8-12; Gal.5:17).

We need to remember that we are completely dependent on God. Jesus said ‘apart from me you can do nothing’ (Jn.15:5). Abide in me and you will bear much fruit. But apart from me you can do nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Nothing. We must acknowledge our dependence on God in prayer.

And we need to remember that we need each other. We need to remind one another that the Lord is gracious, that there is no one like our God, that the Lord will be our help, that we are accountable ultimately only to him. We are meant to function as a body, to complement one another. We are incomplete on our own.

1 Corinthians 12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. …25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

Seeking Mercy from the God of Heaven

These four knew the character of God, that he ‘a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ (Ex.34:6). They knew that God is abundantly merciful, but they didn’t presume on his mercy. They knew that God is also just, and they understood what they deserved. Remember, mercy is not getting what we deserve. Daniel and his friends understood that the wages of sin is death (Rom.6:23); they were all sinners, so sooner or later, they deserved death. Life is a gift, grace from God, something we don’t deserve. They knew their lives were on the line, so they sought mercy from the God of heaven. They asked. They prayed.

We know the character of God. We know the grace of God. But we need to remember to ask. God loves to give good gifts to his children in response to our prayers (Mt.7:11). Sometimes ‘you do not have because you do not ask’ (Jas.4:2). If you are in need of help, if you are in need of mercy, if you are in need of grace, ask! God is ‘rich in mercy’ (Eph.2:4); it is not in short supply. And he loves us with a great love. We need only ask. ‘Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full’ (Jn.16:24).

Specificity in Prayer

Notice also the specificity of their prayer.

Daniel 2:18 and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.

They don’t just ask God for general mercy. General prayers get general answers. They have a specific need, they are in a specific crisis. And so they ask for very specific help. Seek mercy concerning this mystery, we need to know the king’s dream, so that we will not be executed along with the rest of the satanic practitioners of Babylon.

Don’t be afraid to ask God for specific help in time of need.

God Answers Prayer

Daniel 2:19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night.

God answers prayer when we ask! God may not give us what we ask for, but he will always give us what is best. God loves to bless his children. God promises to answer our prayers. And he loves to give specific answers to specific prayers.

The Necessity of Praise

In Luke 17, there were ten lepers who cried out to Jesus for mercy. He told them to go show themselves to the priests (the priests were responsible for declaring people clean or unclean). In going, they were cleansed, but only one turned back ‘praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks’ (Lk.17:15-16). Jesus asked ‘where are the other nine?’ Why did only one return to give praise to God?

Daniel and his friends recognized their dependence on God, they asked God for mercy, and they did not fail to thank God when that mercy was extended. Given the urgency and gravity of the situation (remember, the ‘king was angry and very furious’, the decree of the king was urgent, and they ‘were about to be killed’) it would have been natural to rush with the answer in hand to Arioch to tell him the good news. After all, that would be giving glory to God, right?

First, Daniel worships.

Daniel 2:19 …Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.

20 Daniel answered and said:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,

to whom belong wisdom and might.

21 He changes times and seasons;

he removes kings and sets up kings;

he gives wisdom to the wise

and knowledge to those who have understanding;

22 he reveals deep and hidden things;

he knows what is in the darkness,

and the light dwells with him.

23 To you, O God of my fathers,

I give thanks and praise,

for you have given me wisdom and might,

and have now made known to me what we asked of you,

for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”

God’s name is to be praised forever and ever. He is eternal. God owns wisdom. God owns strength. God is worthy of worship, omniscient, omnipotent.

God is the author of time, of history. It is truly His story. He changes seasons. He can turn a season of grief, of mourning, of terror, into a season of joy and dancing. God is sovereign over empires, over nations, over politicians and kings. He is absolutely sovereign over history. He removes from power whoever he will, and he puts into power whoever he will.

God owns all wisdom, and he gives it to whom he will. The wise are wise because it is given to them by God. Those who have understanding have it because knowledge is a gift from God. God is the source of all true wisdom and knowledge (not the dark powers sought out by magicians, enchanters and sorcerers).

God is the revealer of deep and hidden things. No secret is hid from his sight, and he can reveal it to whomever he wills. Who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? (1Cor.2:11). God knows what we dream in the dark. God is ‘the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (Jas.1:17). ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all’ (1Jn.1:5). Jesus said ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (Jn.8:12).

Second Person Worship

Notice, verses 20-22 are about God, in the third person; God is referred to as ‘he’. Daniel is declaring God’s greatness, he is talking about God to others. Many of our worship songs are in the third person, declaring God’s greatness and worth to each other. That is an appropriate form of worship, and Daniel uses it here.

But notice, in verse 23, Daniel switches from the third to the second person, from talking about God to talking to God. He addresses God directly in worship. This too is an appropriate form of worship.

Daniel 2:23 To you, O God of my fathers,

I give thanks and praise,

for you have given me wisdom and might,

and have now made known to me what we asked of you,

for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”

Daniel and his friends know the character of God and worship him for his eternity, his omniscience, his omnipotence, his sovereignty, his grace and mercy. But they have also experienced first hand a specific answer to their specific request, and so they address him personally.

Have you experienced God personally? Have you prayed to him, and has he answered your prayer? Our God is a personal God, he answers personally. We can experience him, experience intimacy with him, speak to him and know that he hears, that he cares, that he knows you fully and answers you personally. The Lord is near to all who call on him. (Ps.34:18; 145:18).

***

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

June 10, 2021 Posted by | Daniel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 11:27-29; Pastoral Pains

11/29_2 Corinthians 11:27-29; Pastoral Pains ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20201129_2cor11_27-29.mp3

In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul engages in foolish boasting to parody the false apostles. He answers a fool according to his folly, so that their folly will be evident to all. He says this is boasting according to the flesh, not according to the Lord (11:17-18). But even as he launches into foolish boasting, he draws a contrast between himself and the false apostles, who were enslaving them, devouring, seizing, self-exalting, and striking them on the face (11:20). Paul says,

2 Corinthians 11:21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! …

Paul is willing to embrace shame, to be thought of as weak, to lower himself in order to lift them up. He possesses the social, religious and ethnic status, and although he boasts in that here (11:22) in a mock parody of the false teachers, he considers it all worthless and a liability not an asset. He turns the attention away from status and on to service. He is showing them that weakness is the way.

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

And he begins to list his surpassing service record;

23 …in toils, abundantly; (ἐν κόποις περισσοτέρως, )

in prisons, abundantly; (ἐν φυλακαῖς περισσοτέρως, )

in wounds, surpassingly; (ἐν πληγαῖς ὑπερβαλλόντως,)

in deaths, frequently (ἐν θανάτοις πολλάκις· )

He goes on to get specific about some of his suffering;

24 5x forty lashes less one.

25 3x beaten with rods.

1x stoned.

3x shipwrecked;

24hrs. adrift at sea;

As a servant of Christ on mission, he has been commissioned by Christ to bring the gospel to the nations. This requires travel.

26 journeys frequent, (ὁδοιπορίαις πολλάκις, )

But travel in the ancient world is fraught with danger. He catalogs the different types of danger he faced; circumstantial travel dangers:

danger – rivers, (κινδύνοις ποταμῶν,) \

danger – robbers, (κινδύνοις λῃστῶν,) / —Travel Dangers

Each people group posed a threat:

danger from my own people, (κινδύνοις ἐκ γένους,) \

danger from Gentiles, (κινδύνοις ἐξ ἐθνῶν,) / —People Dangers

Each place he traveled posed its own threat:

danger in city, (κινδύνοις ἐν πόλει, ) \

danger in wilderness, (κινδύνοις ἐν ἐρημίᾳ,) |—Place Dangers

danger in sea, (κινδύνοις ἐν θαλάσσῃ,) /

And the climactic danger of all, what he considered the greatest threat not to his own person, but a threat to the very ministry that Jesus commissioned him to do:

danger from false brothers; (κινδύνοις ἐν ψευδαδέλφοις,) –Spiritual

This was meant to hit home with the Corinthians, who were guilty of extending hospitality to false teachers, listening to and supporting their proclamation of a false Jesus, a counterfeit spirit, a false gospel.

Physical and Emotional Cost of Ministry

In verse 27, he continues to catalog his hardships with another list, this time focusing on the toll his ministry took on him both physically and emotionally.

2 Corinthians 11:

27 toil and hardship, κόπῳ καὶ μόχθῳ, [v.23]

in sleeplessness frequently, ἐν ἀγρυπνίαις πολλάκις,

in hunger and thirst, ἐν λιμῷ καὶ δίψει,

in fastings, frequently, ἐν νηστείαις πολλάκις,

in cold and exposure. ἐν ψύχει καὶ γυμνότητι·

The first, third and fifth lines of this list are pairs joined by ‘and’; toil and hardship; hunger and thirst, cold and exposure. The second and fourth lines list something he faced often; sleeplessness frequently, fastings frequently.

Toil and Hardship

Toil and hardship; back in verse 23 he used the plural ‘toils;’ ‘In toils, abundantly.’ Now he uses the singular, paired with a synonym. Wearisome labor and painful toil. Both of these words end with the same letter in the original, so there is poetic rhythm to the ears. Paul uses these two words together also in 1 Thessalonians 2:9 and 2 Thessalonians 3:8, both in the context of working night and day in order to not be a burden to them.

Sleeplessness

This would fit in to what he says next, ‘sleeplessnesses often.’ Paul’s frequent sleeplessness could be attributed to multiple causes. In the Thessalonian letters, he claims to have worked night and day to support himself. He would preach and proclaim Christ whenever he had opportunity, and then he would stay up into the night to do manual labor to provide an income. And somewhere he made time to write his letters to the churches.

We know from Acts 16 we are told that ‘About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God’ and after the earthquake, they prevented the jailer’s suicide, and spent the rest of the night proclaiming the gospel and discipling him and his family. In Acts 20, in Troas, Paul preached until midnight, until Eutychus fell asleep, fell out of the window and died. Paul raised him up and went on preaching until daybreak, when he set out to walk the 20 miles to his next destination (about a day’s journey), while his co-workers sailed to meet him there. Doubtless the night and day adrift at sea after one of his many shipwrecks was not only exhausting and sleepless, but wet, cold and hungry. And we can only speculate as to his sleeplessness caused by his concern for the churches.

Hunger and Thirst

Paul often went without adequate food and water, due to the rigors of travel, the lack of funds, and the lack of hospitality. He writes to the Philippians (4:11-13) that he has learned to be content whether in plenty or in hunger, in abundance or in need.

Fastings

After hunger and thirst, he mentions ‘fastings,’ the word most often used of a voluntary abstinence from food as a religious practice. Although Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast while he was with them (Mt.9:14-15), he taught them, ‘…when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, …But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. (Mt.6:16-18).

Paul no doubt observed the religious fasts of the Jews, but this may be another poke at the false apostles, who prided themselves on their religious observances. Paul says ‘in fastings, often,’ referring more to his hunger in the face of ministry rigors just mentioned rather than his voluntary religious observances.

Cold and Nakedness

Paul moves down his list to the more and more basic of human needs, from wearisome labor, to going without sleep, to going without food and drink, to going without adequate warmth and clothing. Toward the end of his life Paul writes Timothy from prison (2Tim.4:13) asking for him to bring his coat, because he was cold. Being in danger from rivers and a 24 hour period clinging to wreckage in the open sea no doubt brought him close to hypothermia (cf.Acts 28:2). He likely suffered the humiliation of being publicly stripped naked to receive the beatings he referred to earlier.

Remember, Paul is boasting. But he is turning boasting upside down by boasting in his weakness, boasting in his shame.

Anxiety for All the Churches

He again climaxes this part of his list with what he considers his greatest hardship.

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

Paul proclaimed Jesus and planted churches across Asia Minor and into Macedonia and Achaia. Paul preached the gospel in Damascus, Jerusalem, Salamis and Paphos on Cyprus, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and Perga (Acts 13-14). Back at Antioch in Syria, Paul had to go toe to toe with the Judaizers and even take a trip to Jerusalem (Acts 15) to settle the dispute over the pressure to put Gentile believers under Jewish law. He preached in Phillipi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and throughout the regions of Galatia and Phrygia (Acts 16-18). If the church in Corinth was any indicator of the confrontation between the gospel and the culture, there was much to worry about. Paul wrote the Galatians because he was “astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Gal.1:6). He wrote “I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.” (Gal.4:11).

Paul wrote the Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians 3:1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.

He was concerned that persecution would shake them from their faith.

1 Thessalonians 3:5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

Paul wrote to them again because there was deception

2 Thessalonians 2:1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

It seems there was a deceptive spirit, someone teaching, or a letter forged as coming from the apostle that was frightening them and shaking their faith.

In just his first letter to Corinth he had to confront them over such a wide range of issues ranging from divisions in the church, pride, celebrating sexual immorality, wronging and defrauding each other with lawsuits, confusion over marriage, participation in idolatry and demon worship, selfish abuse of the Lord’s Supper and spiritual gifts, to doubts and disbelief about the resurrection.

Now in his second letter they were questioning his character and authority, and tolerating abusive satanic leadership that proclaimed another Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel.

He warns the elders from Ephesus

Acts 20:29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert…

Threats of division and false doctrine both from without and from within.

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

Anxiety; Jesus and Paul

We have to ask a question here. How does Paul’s anxiety over the churches fit with Jesus’ clear teaching prohibiting anxiety?

Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? …27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? …31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

Notice, Jesus’ teaching forbids anxiety about one’s own life; self-preservation, food and drink and clothing. Paul was clearly not concerned about saving his own skin, boasting about his lack of sufficient food and clothing and constantly facing death for the sake of the gospel. In place of anxiety over one’s own life, Jesus commands us to:

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Paul’s anxiety over the churches is exactly that; seeking above his own life the advance of the kingdom of God and his righteousness among all the nations. Paul is daily carries the weight of his care for the Lord’s churches. How is Paul not crushed, not driven to despair under this weight?

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

He knows that he is weak, fragile, not sufficient. He knows that the surpassing power belongs to God alone. So he writes to the Philippians:

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

Paul is weak, but he knows who is strong. Paul is willing to humble himself, ‘casting all his anxieties on God because God cares for him’ (1Pet.5:6-7). Paul is burdened, and he brings hat burden to the Lord.

Weakness and Stumbling

2 Corinthians 11:29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

Paul again self-identifies as weak, not strong. He is ready to forego his rights and stand with the weak. In the body, ‘if one member suffers, all suffer together’ (1Cor.12:26). Paul gladly embraces weakness in order to win the weak’ (1Cor.9:22). In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul warns:

1 Corinthians 8:9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

Paul gladly bears the burdens of the weak, and his passion is ignited when someone is made to stumble. This sounds like Jesus when he said:

Mark 9:42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin [stumble, lit. scandalized], it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

Carson (p.125) writes on this passage “…Paul burns when he sees righteousness in ruins and believers morally battered by the servants of Satan. How different are many of our reactions to the same phenomena today. It is regrettably easy to philosophize when such sin occurs, comment on the evil times in which we live, reflect that the brother or sister who fell into sin or heresy was never very strong or discerning anyway, and never to agonize in prayer for our fellow believer or inwardly burn because of their weakness and shame. The really consistent triumphalist may actually entertain feelings of superiority in that situation and rejoice that he is not as other men are.”

May the Lord work in us his heart for the lost, that we are willing not to be served but to serve, to lay down our lives (Mk.10:45) so that all may hear the gospel; that we would ‘endure anything for the sake of the elect’ (2Tim.2:10).

May the Lord work in us his heart for his straying sheep, that

Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

***

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

December 12, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obey Jesus – Primary Allegiance (Matthew 10:24-39)

05/10 Obey Jesus: Primary Allegiance; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200510_primary-allegiance.mp3

We are looking at what it means to obey Jesus. Jesus instructed us to make disciples who make disciples who obey Jesus in everything. So What did Jesus command? We’ve been looking at some of the commands of Jesus, to know what he expects of us his followers, and to equip us to better disciple those who become his followers. He commands that we come to him and believe in him, that we believe what he says about himself, that he is the I AM come down from heaven to give life to the world. We are to find him in all of Scripture, because he said the whole of the Scriptures point to him. We are to meet with him there in his word. We are to abide in him, stay connected to him in relationship, pray to him and pray in his name so that we will bear much fruit and bring glory to God.

A Servant Not Above His Master (Matthew 10)

Today I want to look at what Jesus says about our primary allegiances. In Matthew 10 Jesus is preparing his followers for what it is going to be like for them in this world. He said:

Matthew 10:24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

If we are following Jesus, we shouldn’t expect to be treated better than he was treated. If he was slandered and maligned, we should not be surprised if we experience the same.

Matthew 10:26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Jesus talks to us about our fears. He knows our tendency to be afraid, and he reminds us who to fear. What anyone says about us falsely will be brought into the light, so we don’t have to lose sleep over it.

They may kill the body. Many of Jesus’ followers have been killed because of their faith in him. But he reminds us not to fear those who have the power to kill only the body but cannot touch our soul. He reminds us that God alone is to be feared. We possess an invincible hope, that even death cannot quench!

Matthew 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Two sparrows were sold for one small coin. Luke 12:6 has five sparrows sold for two of these coins; they were of so little worth that if you buy four you got one thrown in for free. And yet not one insignificant sparrow falls to the ground apart from the sovereign will of their omnipotent Creator. He has numbered the hairs on your head, and he has numbered your days on this earth. You are of more value than many sparrows. So fear not.

Primary Allegiance

Matthew 10:32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Our allegiance to Jesus matters. To be afraid or ashamed to acknowledge him before people is to say that what they think is more important, more weighty than what God thinks. It is evidence that we don’t really believe in him. Jesus continues:

Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.

Jesus is the great divide [this is fulfillment of prophecy from Micah 7:5-6]. Jesus polarizes people. You are either with him or against him. He tolerates no lukewarm opinions about himself. Jesus divides.

I know some of you know personally the cost of following Jesus, and have experienced exactly what Jesus says here.

Jesus says:

Matthew 10:37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

For Jesus to say that we are to love him above father and mother is to affirm the value of those relationships; family love and natural allegiance run deep. But he is to take precedence over even the highest of natural affections, the deepest of natural allegiances.

This is strong language. Jesus demands that we love him more than father, mother, son or daughter, more than our own skin. He picks our closest ties, our deepest allegiances and demands that we are committed to him above all.

It is worth noting here that this demand would be audacious and unthinkable if Jesus were not God. To demand our unqualified allegiance is a clear claim to be the only one worthy of that kind of allegiance. Jesus is demanding that our love for God (and thus for him because he is God) must supersede every other affection and devotion

Whoever loves father or mother, son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever loves his own skin more than me is not worthy of me.

Not worthy of me; not worthy not in the sense of not having earned or achieved the right, but rather not fit, not equal to the task. Those who are not willing to put God above all other loves are not willing to be Jesus’ disciples. They are not believing that the Lord is worthy of our highest love, not believing that in order to love others rightly, they must be loved in their proper place under God; the Lord must be loved first and above all.

In Luke 14, he says:

Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

Jesus is not justifying hatred toward family members. But some of our actions and decisions may be perceived that way, because of our overriding allegiance to him. When we put Jesus first, everyone else comes in second, and nobody likes to be second. This is not dislike or disdain, but a supreme loyalty.

What This Does Not Look Like

Jesus affirms that we ought to honor father and mother. He even rebuked the Pharisees who created a legal loophole so that children could get out of the responsibility of taking care of their parents. What they were doing, it seems was taking the resources that they should have used to support their parents, and declaring them as dedicated to God, to be given to the Lord at some future date. This was a hypocritical way to say they were putting God first, while really they were avoiding responsibility to their parents and keeping it all for themselves. Jesus

Matthew 15:3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. (cf. Mk.7:9-13)

Jesus affirms that it is commanded by God to honor father and mother, but we must honor them under the Lord. Our loyalty must be to Jesus above all.

Government Submission

We can extend this to civil authorities, to states and empires. Peter tells us we are to

1 Peter 2:13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

Timothy tells us that we are to pray for those who are in authority over us;

1 Timothy 2:2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

And keep in mind that the context of these letters would have been the evil emperor Nero who was no friend of the cause of Christ.

Jesus answered a question about paying taxes:

Matthew 22:21 …Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Their coins had the image of the emperor on them. We bear God’s image. We are to give the government its due, but we must give God that which bears his image.

But when it comes to it, when the two are in conflict, our allegiance is to Jesus above all earthly allegiances. When the Jewish leaders rebuked the disciples

Acts 5:28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

We are to pray for our leaders and be subject to our earthly governments as far as possible, but when the demands of these two collide, we must submit to the higher authority. We must obey God rather than men.

Gospel Community

In Mark 10, when Jesus pointed to the difficulty people have with following him, with giving him their undivided allegiance,

Mark 10:28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Jesus demands that we put him higher than every other love. Although the cost of following Jesus may be great, the reward will be far greater. Because Jesus demands our highest allegiance, this will mean that we seek to honor him above all. For some, this may actually mean walking away from a close relationship with an unbeliever, although in 1 Corinthians 7 Paul clarifies that it will be the unbeliever who wants out; so far as it depends on us we are to seek to live peaceably will all (Rom.12:18). But according to Jesus, whoever leaves family for the sake of Jesus and the gospel will receive a hundredfold now in this life, brothers and sisters and mothers and children. What does he mean by this? Although in some cases blood relatives may want nothing to do with a believer, as believers we are adopted into the family of God. Although these relationships man never replace a lost relationship, we become part of a much larger family with a depth of unity through our common allegiance to Jesus. We become family. It is a beautiful thing to meet a believer from another place, maybe another country and a different culture, and discover that depth of connection we have in Jesus.

Invited In

In Mark 3, there was such a crowd gathered that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. The religious leaders were saying he was possessed by a demon, and his family came to get him, thinking he was out of his mind.

Mark 3:31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus is not negating the importance of family. But he is inviting us in to his own family. My disciples, those who obey me, those who do the will of God, you are my mother and sister and brother. That’s the depth, that’s the intimacy, that’s the loyalty Jesus invites us in to. He takes the closest relationships we experience and says that is the kind of relationship I want with you.

What about you? Jesus invites you in. He wants that kind of depth, that kind of closeness with you. He is inviting you in. But he wants you to count the cost. It is costly to follow Jesus. He demands your highest devotion, your undivided loyalty, your absolute allegiance. He requires that you take him for who he is, to acknowledge him as God, with absolute rights over you. He commands that you devote yourself to him above every other affection. Will you take up your cross and follow him and not look back? Will you follow him wherever he leads? Will you obey everything he commands? Will you be his disciple?

***

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

May 11, 2020 Posted by | discipleship, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2020 Vision; Healthy Church – Colossians 3

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

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

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

Not a Building

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

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

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

Healthy Believers Healthy Church

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

Colossians

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

The Miracle of New Birth

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

The Bedrock Identity of Jesus and the Offense of the Cross

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

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

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

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

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

Indicative/Imperative

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

Mind Set on Things Above

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

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

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

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

Are you fixing your thinking on things above?

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

The Crucified Life

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

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

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

The Peace of Christ

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

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

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

The Word of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Steadfastly in Prayer

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

2020 Vision – The Church – Matthew 16:18

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

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

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

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

Vision and Vision Casting

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

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

Vision and Absolutes

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

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

Matthew 16:18

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

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

Ownership

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

Built on the Identity of Jesus

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

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

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

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

Spirit Wrought Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Un-opposable Authority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey

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

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

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

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

The Offense of the Cross

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

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

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

Community of Self-Sacrificial Service

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

***

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

January 6, 2020 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 9:13-14; God Glorified in Gospel Communion

11/24_2 Corinthians 9:13-14; God Glorified in Gospel Communion ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20191124_2cor9_13-14.mp3

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

1 Corinthians 6:20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

The question we have is ‘How do we glorify God? What does it mean to glorify God? What does that look like in practical daily life?’ This passage in 2 Corinthians 9 gives us one clear way we can produce thanksgiving and bring glory to God.

Glorify God by Loving God and Neighbor

2 Corinthians 9:7 …God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous (single-hearted) in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.

God is able to make all grace abound to you for all simplicity, for abounding in every good work. When we use what God has freely given us to extend his grace to bless others, it does more than just meeting that need. It produces thanksgiving to God.

We want to live for the glory of God. We long for the Lord alone to be glorified. We want him to get the thanks he deserves. Paul tells us in these verses how to produce thanksgiving to God. He tells us that our unmixed devotion and love for the Lord will produce thanksgiving to God. For the Corinthians, this was specifically in the context of the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Our context will be different, but the results can be the same. This will look different for each of us. There are myriads of ways we can produce thanksgiving and bring glory to God in daily life. Whenever we in simplicity love God and love neighbor, we glorify God.

Approval and Authenticity

Paul goes on in the next verses to tell us how this works. How does our love for God and practical expression of love for neighbor bring glory to God? He says of the saints in Jerusalem:

2 Corinthians 9:13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity (simplicity) of your contribution (fellowship) for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.

By the approval (δοκιμή) of this service they will glorify God. It is through their approval of this service or ministry. The service of cheerful giving is proved or tested and approved by them. Paul used a related word to this word ‘approval’ in 8:8.

2 Corinthians 8:7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also. 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove (δοκιμάζω) by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

Prove that your love is genuine. Proving demonstrates the genuineness of a thing. A thing is approved when it is proved to be what it claims to be. It is by the approval of this service that they glorify God. There is such a thing as service that is not really service, ministry that is not really ministry. It appears to be, but it is not genuine. The outward thing might look identical, but it is intrinsically different. Fools gold might appear to be gold, but in the furnace it is proved to be a different thing altogether. In this context, cheerful giving is the service. There might be two givers who give, and the amount might be identical. The outward act is the same. But what is the heart and attitude behind the gifts? The one might be out of a simple affection for Jesus and a desire to honor him with what he has given. The other might be mixed with a desire to be noticed, to be perceived as generous, to gain the status and respect of a generous giver. It might be out of a sense of pressure or obligation, or out of a desire to repay a debt. It might be a way to relieve guilt. Both gifts might meet the need, but as we’ve seen throughout these chapters, the heart of the giver is most important. One is proved genuine, the other proves to be fools gold.

Which is it? Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference. What is the ultimate result? Who gets glory? Jesus said:

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Let your light shine before men. Do good works. But do them in such a way that God gets the glory. The giver gets the glory. If the giver is God and it is clear that I am merely a conduit or channel through which God’s good gifts flow, then God gets the glory. If I attempt to share his glory, to claim credit for myself, I obscure where the gift comes from, and I attempt to steal glory for myself, glory that rightly belongs to God alone.

Remember Annanias and Sapphira in the early church (Acts 5)? Many of the believers were selling their possessions and sharing what they had. They sold a piece of land, and presented part of the sale price as a gift, but secretly withheld part for themselves. It was not wrong to keep some of the proceeds. It would not have been wrong to keep the entire amount. The apostles make this clear. What they were accused of was lying to God. They were not genuine. They were trying to deceive, trying to be perceived as something they were not. Their hearts were wrong. They were seeking to impress others, to be perceived as generous, to gain status and approval. Instead they were exposed for what they were, and they dropped dead on the spot. Our hearts matter greatly to God.

People may be deceived. People may misread motives, but God knows our hearts.

Gentile Submission to the Gospel

2 Corinthians 9:13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,

They will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ.

This word ‘submission’ is used in contexts of submission to authority, submission of children to parents, of a wife to her husband, of slaves to their masters, of citizens to their governing authorities. It is used of the submission of Jesus to his Father. It is used of the submission of demons to Jesus, and ultimately of all things under God. This is an interesting use of this word here in this context. What is ‘the submission of your confession to the gospel of Christ’?

This word submission seems to have a large overlap with another word, often translated ‘obedience’. Both are used for submission to or obedience to parents, to masters, of demons to Jesus. The obedience word has more to do with hearing and obeying; as the wind and waves obeyed Jesus’ voice. This submission word has more to do with being subject to authority. The obedience word is used several times in the context of obeying the gospel, as almost synonymous with believing. To hear his voice and respond to him is to believe. This is the only place that this submission word seems to be connected with the gospel. But it is not just submission to the gospel, but the submission of your confession to the gospel of Christ.

This idea of submission points to something bigger. There are some verses that use this submission word to speak in a cosmic context of all authorities and powers and everything being put under the authority of Jesus, and ultimately of his Father. Here’s just one example:

Ephesians 1:19 …according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things [in subjection] under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,

This points to a time when the whole universe will be under the dominion of Jesus. That there are non-Jewish people who are trusting in the Jewish Messiah, that there is a church of Jesus followers in Corinth and in Philippi and in Ephraim Utah is a big deal! This is a foretaste of everything in the universe being in subjection under King Jesus! For the Jewish believers in Jerusalem to see that there were genuine followers of Jesus from every tribe and nation was a big deal.

Confessing The Gospel

2 Corinthians 9:13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,

The submission of your confession to the gospel of Christ. What does it mean to confess to the gospel of Christ? Gospel means good news. To confess is the compound word ὁμολογία from homo – the same and logia or logos – word or reasoning. Literally it is to say the same thing. We confess or profess the gospel when we say the same thing. What the gospel says is what I say. If the good news is that whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned but has eternal life (Jn.3:36) then I say the same thing. I trust in Jesus so I am no longer under condemnation but I have eternal life. If the good news is that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Eph.2:8), then I say the same thing. There is nothing I can do to rescue myself. I am depending on Jesus, I receive his free and undeserved gift. I confess the gospel. What the gospel says, what God says is true, I say is true.

The good news is Christ. The good news is a person. In confessing the gospel of Christ I am submitting to a person. I surrender. I place myself under his good authority. I trust him and entrust myself to him.

Communion and Community

2 Corinthians 9:13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,

They give praise and honor to God because you are believing the gospel. You are confessing the gospel of Christ. You are placing yourself under the rule and authority of Jesus.

And they glorify God because of the generosity (literally simplicity or sincerity, openness) of your fellowship. When they see your single hearted love for God and neighbor, they see the genuineness of your faith, and they glorify God.

The gospel creates communion, fellowship, something in common. People who had nothing at all in common, when they belong to Jesus, now they have a common bond, a connection, something in common. The most important thing in common. People of different language and culture and ethnic background, when they belong to Jesus, have the most important thing in common. And this creates a bond, a connection. Have you experienced this? You meet a total stranger, someone you have nothing in common with, and you discover that they too are a lover of Jesus, and you suddenly have this unity, this connection, you can enjoy communion. The opposite is true. You might have so many shared interests, so much shared life experience, you might have so much in common, but if the other person is not a believer, you can’t have true fellowship, true communion. Not at the deepest, most important level. They see the simplicity of your communion to them and to all. There is a connection with every other believer, and that brings glory to God.

Passion and Prayer

This communion is reciprocal. What this looks like is described in the next verse.

2 Corinthians 9:14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.

Have you ever had someone tell you that they have been praying for you? Maybe someone you’re not really all that close to? Yet they are invested in you enough to take you into the very presence of God and speak to him about you. That is humbling and amazing. They long for you and pray for you. Their affections are involved. They care about you. They care enough to pray for you. They are bringing you into the presence of God as a praise. They are thanking God for you, for the work God has done in you. You are loving God and loving neighbor, and maybe you don’t even feel like you’re really doing that much. But they recognize the grace of God on you, that you are a trophy of God’s unmerited grace. And they glorify God because of you. That is a humbling, encouraging experience. That creates a connection. That is communion.

Surpassing Grace

And this brings us full circle. Your ministry, your simplicity of service to others is evidence of the tested genuineness of the submission of your confession of the gospel of Christ. This is evidence of the surpassing grace of God on you. Paul started this section encouraging simplicity and generosity by pointing to the grace of God,

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

The grace of God had been given, and it overflowed in a wealth of single-hearted simplicity, love first for God and then for neighbor. Now he comes full circle. He began with the grace of God given to them, and he ends with the surpassing grace of God on you, recognized by others.

2 Corinthians 9:14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.

This generosity, this love, this openness and simplicity, this ability to increase thanksgivings and glorify God is all of grace from beginning to end.

****

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

November 25, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prove the Proof of Your Love

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

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

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

Accountability Among the Churches

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

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

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

Unity and Diversity in the Body

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Connections with Other Churches

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

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Gospel Boasting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessing not Greed

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

****

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

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

2 Corinthians 8:5; Give Yourself First to the Lord

08/11_2 Corinthians 8:5; Give Yourself First To The Lord; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190811_2cor8_5.mp3

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

Review

Paul is talking about giving. He is encouraging the Corinthians to give generously. But he avoids using the word ‘giving’ or ‘collection’ or ‘offering’; instead he fixes our attention on the grace of God given. God is the giver. It is God’s gift of grace that necessarily precedes and motivates any acceptable giving. We love because he first loved us (1Jn.4:19); we give because he is the supreme giver and first gave freely of himself to us.

God’s grace was given and this was evidenced in the overflow of a wealth of generosity. Generosity is an interpretive translation based on the context; literally it ‘superabounded in the riches of their simplicity’. Simplicity is a word Paul uses to describe single-hearted devotion to Christ in contrast to double-minded or divided affections. God’s undeserved grace poured out on the Macedonians ignited in them single-hearted affections for the Lord, and this spilled over in an urgency to extend grace to others. They begged for the grace and the fellowship of the ministry to the saints.

This service, this ministry was a grace; it was ‘favor;’ it was undeserved. They didn’t earn the ability to serve others; it was given to them. First of all it was grace to them. Then it welled up into grace from them. It was grace in that they gave freely, not under compulsion. They were eager for the opportunity. They were not the originators of the grace, but they were a channel; they passed it on to others. Freely they had received; freely they gave (Mt.10:8).

This ministry was grace and it was also fellowship; it was communion. They were ‘taking part;’ it connected them to the community of faith; to other believers; to the saints. They were eager for the connection, for the fellowship that bearing one another’s burdens created. They were eager for connection with the wider body of Christ.

Paul is holding up the Macedonians as an example, but not primarily an example of giving or generosity. They got grace; they did not receive grace in vain; it changed them. God’s undeserved grace freely given to them ignited in them a single-hearted affection for the Lord, and an eagerness to extend grace and fellowship in service to others. They understood that following Jesus was costly; they were in a severe test of affliction. They were in the depths of poverty. And yet in the midst of those circumstances, God’s grace created in them an unquenchable overflow of joy in Jesus. This is what Paul is eager to see formed in the Corinthians, and in us. He is after not our money but our hearts. What we do with our money is merely an outward indicator of where our affections are.

Given to the Lord

Their single-hearted service was according to their power, even beyond their ability.

Look at verse 5. And not according to what we had hoped; but their own selves they gave first to the Lord and to us by the will of God.

They gave. This passage is about giving, and this verse says that they gave. But it doesn’t say that they gave their money, their resources. It says they gave more. Themselves – that’s emphatic – their own selves they gave.

1 Corinthians 6:19 …You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

They gave themselves first to the Lord. ‘First’ doesn’t mean only first in time. It means first in importance. Most importantly they gave themselves to the Lord. What does that mean? How do you give yourself to the Lord? We use those words, but what exactly does it mean? What does it look like to give yourself to the Lord?

You Are Not Your Own

You are not your own. You were bought with a price. God owns you. He paid dearly for you. Romans 7:4 says that ‘you died …so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead.’ How does one give oneself to the Lord if you already belong to him? Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 6 is helpful here

1 Corinthians 6:19 …You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

He tells them what is true. As believers in Jesus, they belong to him. They are under new ownership. They were bought. His exhortation is based on their identity. Therefore, because of whose you are, live consistent with your new identity, your new ownership. Because you are owned by God, you should seek to glorify God in your body. He uses this again as a foundation for his argument in the next chapter:

1 Corinthians 7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.

Because you have a new Master, don’t divide your interests and sign up as a slave of someone else. Live consistent with what is true; be who you are. This is the Christian life. This is what following Jesus looks like. Learn to live in line with your new identity in Christ.

The Macedonians had responded to the call of Jesus when Paul preached the gospel to them, and so they belong to Jesus. And now they are living consistent with who they belong to. They gave themselves first to the Lord.

All You Have Is Not Yours

In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul says:

1 Corinthians 4:7 …What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

We need to remember this. Everything we have is a gift, grace, given to us by a good God.

John 3:27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.

King David wrestled with this question when he was making a collection for the building of the temple in Jerusalem. In 1 Chronicles 29:6 it says:

1 Chronicles 29:6 Then the leaders of fathers’ houses made their freewill offerings, as did also the leaders of the tribes, the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and the officers over the king’s work.

Then it says in verse 9:

1 Chronicles 29:9 Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly.

The leaders made freewill offerings. Pay attention to the language here. They had given willingly, with a whole heart, offering freely to the Lord. They were under no compulsion; they were free, they chose to do it, and they did it gladly. It brought them joy to give, and it brought joy to the king. But listen to how David prays in the next verses:

1 Chronicles 29:10 Therefore David blessed the LORD in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. 14 “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.

Do you hear what he is wrestling with? Everything belongs to God. Everything in heaven and in the earth. Riches and honor come from the Lord. Even our strength comes from the Lord. All things come from you. And yet the people are giving freely and willingly of all that is in their power, of all that belongs to God. Who am I? There is this tension between God’s ownership of everything and our ability to give freely, of our own will. How are we able to give willingly when everything we have is yours? You already own everything we have given. It came from you and it belongs to you. How is it then that we can offer it back to you?

He continues:

1 Chronicles 29:16 O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own. 17 I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you.

It is with upright hearts that they freely and willingly and joyously gave. They gave to God what already belonged to God. And God was pleased with their hearts. God tests the hearts of his people by putting in our possession some of what belongs to him. God is pleased when with upright hearts we freely and joyously give back to him what is his.

And then David prays:

1 Chronicles 29:18 O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. 19 Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision.”

David understood that even their willingness, the purpose of their hearts, even that was from God. God directs the hearts of his people, so he asks God to ‘keep such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people’. David doesn’t praise the people for their willingness; he praises God for the willingness of the people, and he asks God to maintain and sustain their joyful generosity.

This is grace! God first freely gives to us, and his gift ignites a response of joyful generosity in us; a single-hearted simplicity of affection toward him, an eagerness to please him, to extend his grace to others.

Paul here in 2 Corinthians tells us that this is ‘by the will of God.’ ‘Themselves they gave, first to the Lord and to us by the will of God.’ They gave, and they gave by the will of God. The other place we see this phrase is in the opening lines of both his letters to Corinth.

1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus…

2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God

This is the sovereign will of God, calling Paul as his apostle, and Paul gladly responded. Paul recognized the same sovereign purpose of God at work in the Macedonians, as they gladly and single-heartedly gave themselves by the will of God to the Lord and to him in response to the grace of God that had been given to them.

Application

So what does this look like for us? What does it mean to give ourselves first to the Lord? It must start with receiving God’s grace. We can attempt to do things for the Lord and give things to the Lord, but if we haven’t first experienced his grace toward us in Jesus, then it is self-effort and self-righteous performance, and it is actually offensive to God. First we must receive before we can give. We receive his grace, we receive forgiveness through the finished work of Jesus. We receive new life and the gift of the Holy Spirit living inside. In response to God’s free and undeserved grace, we gladly see that all that we have and all that we are come from the Lord and we can eagerly give ourselves back to him.

In the words of Romans 12,

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

In Colossians 1 he prayed that they would have the spiritual wisdom to know God’s will

Colossians 1:10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Paul said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20

Acts 20:35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Jesus said:

Matthew 25:35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ …40 …‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

These are some of the ways we can give ourselves first to the Lord. Does Jesus have first place? First priority? Does he have access to all that you have? To all of you?

***

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

August 11, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 7:2-3; To Die Together and Live Together

05/26_2 Corinthians 7:2-3; To Die Together and Live Together Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190526_2cor7_2-3.mp3

Authentic Ministry

Paul has written to the Corinthians to address a problem in their understanding. They were questioning his qualifications as an apostle. He wasn’t what they expected. They expected someone who had it together, who was impressive, who commanded attention, who didn’t struggle, who didn’t, well, who didn’t suffer so much.

They were measuring success by the metrics of power, influence, position, possessions, progress, popularity, wealth, health, strength. They were measuring successful ministry according to the world’s standards; they were not measuring according to the gospel.

Paul redefines for them what authentic ministry looks like, smells like. He teaches them to measure by a different standard. He teaches to measure according to Jesus, measure by the gospel, by the cross. There success looks like suffering, weakness, dependence, selfless sacrifice in service to others. He’s taken 5 chapters to lay this foundation reshaping for them what authentic Christian ministry is.

Make Room!

In 6:11 he comes to the point; he applies what he has been teaching to them directly.

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

They were listening to other voices; they had become enamored with false apostles, and had begun to doubt Paul. As a means of enlarging their affections for their apostle, he exhorts them to cut off all inappropriate affections. Do not be yoked together in service with those who don’t hold the same beliefs.

Although this is a personal issue, rather than take it personally, Paul uses it as an opportunity to teach truth. He points them to the promises of God as a foundation for holy affections; because of who you are in Christ, because God has promised to live in you and to adopt you as his own, don’t live like those who don’t know God; don’t love the things that displease him. Pursue a life that pleases him.

2 Corinthians 7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

And here in 7:2 he comes back around to their affections;

2 Corinthians 7:2 Make room in your hearts for us.

Having cut off unholy alliances, make much room for the apostle and authentic apostolic teaching. This word is the opposite of that in 6:12 ‘restricted or constricted, squeezed out’; you had no room for us in your affections; now make room for us.

Paul’s Integrity

Paul again affirms his integrity. We have seen him defend his character multiple times in this letter. Here he puts it staccato; no-one wronged; no-one corrupted; no-one exploited.

2 Corinthians 7:2 …We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.

These are things Paul is likely being accused of. No one wronged. Some may have objected that he was overly harsh and unjustified in his demand in 1 Corinthians 5 to turn the unrepentant brother over to Satan. He was not wronged; it was for his good, ultimately for his salvation. It is possible that his firm stand against idolatry and immorality had cost some of the business owners in Corinth and they resented the loss. Paul would say ‘any profit made that way will not profit you.’ No one corrupted. Then and still today Paul is accused of corrupting or leading astray by his teaching, as if grace was a license to sin. No one exploited. Some were accusing him that his collection for the poor was a pretense for lining his own pockets and taking advantage of them. Paul flatly denies any of this. None of these are legitimate reasons to squeeze us out of your affections.

In fact, it is the false teachers who are peddling God’s word for profit, who are leading astray to a different Jesus and corroding the relationship between this church and their apostle, who threaten to cost them great spiritual loss.

Paul’s Affection

Paul is terse in his rejection of these false accusations, but he does not want them to misread his heart.

2 Corinthians 7:3 I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together.

He goes out of his way to reiterate his affections for them. Referring to his previous painful letter in chapter 2 he said:

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.

In chapter 3 he said that Corinthians are written on his heart. In 6:11 he said his heart is wide open to them. In 7:1 he addresses them as ‘beloved’. Here he says ‘you are in our hearts.’ Paul is not reluctant to express his affections. He loves them. His heart is open to them, and that leaves him open to the real potential of being hurt by them.

To Die and Live Together

He affirms his affection by a common expression that he is willing to live or die with them. We see ‘to live together and to die together’ in classic literature as an expression of loyalty and friendship. Think of Peter’s exclamation “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (Mt.26:35). David sings in his lament over Saul and Jonathan “In life and in death they were not divided” (2Sam.1:23).

Paul makes use of this common expression, but he doesn’t use it unaltered. He adjusts it. He tweaks it to suit his purposes. Whenever we see Paul taking a common expression and changing it, it should alert us to pay attention and ask what he means by changing it.

The first thing he does is he makes this into a purpose statement. ‘You are in our hearts, in order to die together and to live together; you are in our hearts so that we die together and live together.’ His grammatical structure [εἰς τὸ + inf.] indicates purpose. Why? Normally we would expect a phrase like this to be conditional: ‘if we live or if we die; whether we live or die; come what may, we are sticking together, we are in it to the end.’ This is not what Paul says. Paul’s aim is to die together and live together with this church, and so he keeps them in his heart.

The order here is also unusual; we would expect ‘to live and die together.’ But Paul reverses this intentionally, and puts death first.

When we see things like this, we should ask why? Why does he say it differently than we might expect? He is not sloppy or haphazard with his words. He is intentional. Every word is breathed out by God and profitable.

We think of the normal sequence, life and then death. But in the Christian experience, death comes before life. Romans 6 paints this picture.

Romans 6:3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

You see, death must come before new life. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal.2:20). He says in Romans 6:8

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

He says the same thing in 2 Timothy 2:11

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

Peter says it this way:

1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Death comes before life. This comes directly from Jesus’ teaching.

Mark 8:34 …“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

This teaching shows up in all four gospels more than once. Here in Mark it comes right after Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about his coming death. Death must come before life. We must die with Christ, die to ourselves if we would truly live. Jesus established this pattern himself. He says in John 10:

John 10:17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.

He says in John 12

John 12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

Fruitful life comes after death, not before. Paul restates this teaching of Jesus in Romans 8:13

Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

This is really what the letter of 2 Corinthians is about. Authentic ministry is sacrifice, suffering in service to others. Ministry, really the entire Christian experience is death before life, suffering before glory, the cross before the crown. We are:

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

Union and Communion in Community

Paul puts death before life, and he says that he has them in his heart so that he will die with them and live with them. Paul’s life is wrapped up in the lives of his spiritual children. For Paul the Christian life is a life in community, a life together with. We died with Christ. We are united to him in his death, and in his resurrection. And if each of us individually is united with Christ, there is a sense in which we are united with one another in death and in life. There is a union with others in the body of Christ. None of us are solo Christians. We are connected.

On an objective theological level, we died with Christ and so we are united together in his death and resurrection life. That is true. But it seems Paul is looking at something more. He is looking to bring this theological reality out into practical experience. He wants to experience death together with them and life together with them. You are in our hearts in order to die together and to live together. There is an aspect of union and communion that is only experienced when we suffer together. He said back in chapter 1

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

Do you hear that? Suffering comes before comfort; death before life. We share in Christ’s sufferings, and then we share in his comfort. And there is a together with aspect; we are afflicted for your comfort and salvation. And you experience comfort when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. There is a fellowship, a union and communion in suffering.

We know this to be true. When we suffer together there is a knitting together that happens. Soldiers on the battlefield together experience this. Hostages or captives that experience suffering together experience this. Unbelievers who suffer together can experience a union because of shared suffering.

But when this knitting together in suffering is combined with the theological reality of our union with Christ, this is the union and communion that Paul is after. We are not suffering together merely because of circumstances; we are suffering together because of Christ. The Corinthians can be experiencing affliction because of Jesus in Achaia, and Paul in Asia or Macedonia, but they are suffering together as Christians. They are experiencing a dying together and living together in affectionate relationship. You are in our hearts.

Paul longs for this relationship, for this connection. For this theological union to be played out in real communion. The connection is open on his end. He urges them to open the connection on their end.

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

2 Corinthians 7:2 Make room in your hearts for us. … 3 …you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together.

Are we experiencing this battlefield unity with other believers? Are we united in death and in life? Do we have each other in our hearts in order to die together and live together?

***

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

May 27, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Church and the Body of Christ; Ephesians 5

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

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

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

Incarnation and Salvation

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

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

Incarnation and One Flesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Body in Ephesians

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Each Part is Working Properly

Ephesians 4:7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. …11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ephesians 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

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

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

Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

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

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