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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 3:4-6; Are You Weak Enough?

05/13_2 Corinthians 3:4-6; Are You Weak Enough? ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180513_2cor3_4-6.mp3

Confidence of Ministry Competence

Are you competent to minister to people? Are you confident of your competence? Do you possess confidence? Even boldness?

Specifically when you see spiritual needs around you; hurting broken people who don’t know Jesus. Self-righteous people who don’t think they need Jesus. Brothers or sisters struggling to follow Jesus, faltering or wandering away. Do you look at those spiritual needs around you with confident boldness that you are competent to minister to them?

In 2 Corinthians 3:4-6, Paul is talking about confidence in ministry competence.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

Such is the confidence that we have. We have this kind of confidence. What kind of confidence does he have? ‘Such’ refers back to his last paragraphs.

It is this kind of confidence or boldness or persuasion:

2:14 confidence always to be led on display by God in Christ

confidence to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere

2:15 confidence to be the fragrance of Christ to God

2:16 confidence to be the aroma of death to the perishing;

confidence to be the aroma of life to those being saved

2:17 confidence to be people of sincerity /integrity

confidence as (sent) of God and in the presence of God

confidence to speak in Christ

3:3 confidence that through our ministry Christ has been written on your tender hearts with the Spirit of the living God

This is staggering confidence! Startling boldness! Would you be able to claim this sort of confidence?

Means and Scope of Confidence

Where does he get this kind of confidence?

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

The means of his confidence is ‘through Christ.’ Oh do not slide casually over words in the text of Scripture! All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (2Tim3:16). Every word of God proves true (Prov30:5). Not the smallest stroke of a letter will pass away until all is fulfilled (Mat5:18). It is easy for us to just slip past words that God gave us for our building up. We can only have this confidence through Christ or not at all. It is through faith in Christ, by means of the shed blood of Jesus on the cross for my sins that I can have boldness and confident access through grace into the presence of God. It is only because of the finished work of Christ that I have any good message to give to sinners alienated from God. The only means of our confidence is through Christ.

The scope of his confidence is ‘toward God.’ As a kid, you talk big with your friends, but when the powerful or important or intimidating person is in the room, suddenly all that confidence gets deflated. Are there people around whom you have more confidence than others? In your circle of friends, around those you know love and accept you, you have a level of confidence. But around those you are intimidated by, that confidence evaporates. Paul says that his confidence is ‘toward God.’ That is an amazing statement. Who is possibly more intimidating than God, the God of the universe, the holy and just judge, against whom we have sinned, the one who spoke all things into existence by the word of his power. He is the one we ought to be most intimidated by, and we are constantly under his watchful eye. If we can be confident in his presence, no human power ought to intimidate us. And Paul says that it is toward God that he is confident. He is confident of his identity, and he is confident of where his identity comes from. Yes, Paul is a sinner, the chief of sinners, who fully deserves the just wrath of the all-holy God. But Paul knows peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knows the forgiveness of sins through his blood. Paul knows the love of God poured out in his heart through the Holy Spirit whom he has given to us. Paul knows his identity. He is a pardoned sinner, washed clean, given new life, reconciled fully, loved extravagantly, accepted, adopted. Paul knows who he is, and he knows where his identity comes from. It is through Christ that he has been forgiven, cleansed, set free, reconciled, loved.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

He has confidence of his sufficiency as a minister of the gospel to spread the knowledge of Jesus all the time in every place, to those who are being saved the aroma of life to life, to those who are perishing the aroma of death to death. He is confident of his competence before the all watchful eye of God the Father.

No Sufficiency From Ourselves

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Paul is confident of his identity before God, and he knows where his competence or sufficiency comes from. It is not from himself. It is not internal. It is from outside himself; it is a gift given to him.

In 2:16, after describing a ministry that brings eternal life to some and eternal death to others, Paul asks ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ Here he answers his own question. ‘We are sufficient, but our sufficiency does not come from us.’ We have confidence of our sufficiency in Christ before God, but our sufficiency does not come from ourselves.

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim [lit. to reckon, suppose, conclude or think] anything as coming from us. This is humbling. Any ministry I do, I am not to draw the conclusion that any of that was from me. I can’t take credit for anything. That’s what the text says. Any competency, any sufficiency, I am not to think that anything, anything, ANYTHING came from me. I am not sufficient, I am not competent, I am not adequate in myself. Didn’t Jesus say ‘apart from me you can do nothing? (Jn.15:5)’ Zero, zilch, nada, nothing. I am not sufficient to think of anything as coming from me.

Full-Time Ministry

How many of you are in full-time ministry? Show me hands. How many of you claim to be followers of Jesus? If you are a follower of Jesus, you are in full-time ministry. We use that phrase to describe people who earn a living by their ministry. And that is legitimate. But I don’t care where you earn your living, if you follow Jesus, he has called you to full time ministry. In your family, with your friends, at your work, in your free time, you are a minister. But at my job, they don’t allow me to talk about Jesus. That’s fine. You are a testimony to the transforming power of the gospel by your quiet character and integrity, your faithfulness, your diligence, your self sacrificial service for the good of others. Let me ask again, how many of you are in full time ministry? Ministry means service. Service to others.

We tend to think of ministry in terms of preaching and outreach and church service. And that is important. Paul is talking here primarily about his own apostolic ministry. But I want you to see all of life as ministry. Paul’s apostolic ministry wasn’t only when he was preaching in front of a crowd. Paul at times worked a regular job. How are you serving your employer, your co-workers? How are you serving your spouse, your children? How are you ministering to every person you come in contact with? Paul says that ‘through us God is spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere.’ Not only in words that are heard. But in a fragrance that is smelled. Do people around you sense something different about you? Without you having to say anything?

Broken people were attracted to Jesus. Needy people were following him around all the time. It seemed he couldn’t get away from them. They sensed something about him that gave them hope. Are they attracted to you? We have a message that can raise the dead!

This verse absolutely blew my mind when I first read it. I still remember where I was and who I was with. Jesus said to his followers:

John 14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

Greater works than Jesus? Jesus was healing the lame, opening blind eyes, cleansing lepers, even raising the dead. Greater works than these? How can that be? Notice, he doesn’t say a few select church leaders. He says ‘whoever believes in me.’ That means me. That means you! Through our ministry the Holy Spirit will open blind eyes to the beauty of the gospel, through our ministry he will cleanse people from their sin, through us he will raise dead sinners to eternal life and make them whole and complete in Christ. Greater works than these? Yes!

Are broken people attracted to you? You have a message that can set them free, give them life! Who is sufficient for these things?

Upside-down Confidence

You are, if you recognize that ‘you are not sufficient in yourself to claim anything as coming from you, but your sufficiency is from God.’

Are you weak enough to be confident? This is upside-down thinking. You have to go back to progress; you have to go down to rise up, you have to empty yourself to make room for God to fill you to overflowing. Does your adequacy come from an acute aware of your own incompetence? You have to recognize that your fitness, your competence, your sufficiency for ministry does not come from you. Do you think that anything comes from yourself? To the extent you conclude that you contribute, that you have something you can claim as your part, that you can boast about, to that extent you are unfit for ministry.

Paul said in chapter 1, talking about his afflictions,

2 Corinthians 1:9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

God used affliction to wean Paul away from any self-dependence and force him to rely completely on the resurrecting God. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, speaking of his role as apostle,

1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Do you hear that? Paul considered himself unworthy. But his identity came from God’s grace. And God’s grace transformed him into something he was not fit to be. God’s undeserved kindness is powerful and transformational. And he says, comparing himself with the other apostles ‘I worked harder than any of them.’ But he is quick to clarify. I worked harder than any of them, but none of that was me. It did not come from me. It did not originate with me. It was God’s grace at work in me.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

God made us sufficient. Do you feel insufficient? Do you feel inadequate? Do you feel unworthy? Good! You should. You are. I am. That is a prerequisite for fruitful ministry. Are you weak enough for God to use you?

So That God Gets the Glory

Remember Gideon? The Angel of the LORD addressed him ‘O mighty man of valor’ (Jdg.6:12) while he was beating out the wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. When he was told to pull down his father’s idols burn them and make a sacrifice to the LORD, he did it by night, ‘because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day’ (Jdg.6:27). But it says ‘the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon’ (6:34) and he rallied an army of 32,000 to fight against the Midianites and Amalekites and the people of the East who had assembled against them, who ‘lay along the valley like locust in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance (7:12).

Judges 7:2 The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ 3 Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.

Do you hear what God says? Against an innumerable multitude, 32,000 are too many because you might be tempted to claim something as coming from yourselves. You might take credit. You might boast over God, saying ‘my own hand saved me’.

Judges 7:4 And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many.

10,000 is still too many. God was going to give the Midianites into their hand, and he refused to allow them to think that they contributed in any way. So God thinned the army down to 300 men. And the 300 men were armed with trumpets and empty jars and torches inside the jars. No sword, no spear, not even a sling is mentioned. Just musical instruments, and empty clay pots with a fire burning inside. And the LORD gave the host of Midian into their hand. They were told to make some noise and stand their ground. They could claim nothing as coming from themselves. Their sufficiency was totally from God.

Psalm 115 begins:

Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, because not from us, not from us, we are not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, so no glory comes to us. Instead, to your name give glory. It is your steadfast covenant love, it is your faithfulness.

2 Corinthians 3:5 …but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

We are sufficient, because we freely acknowledge that we are insufficient in ourselves. Our sufficiency comes from God. He makes what we are not. He makes us sufficient. Sufficient for ministry. Sufficient to be ministers of the life giving ministry of the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant.

Are you weak enough for God to transform lives through your service, because you recognize that you are not sufficient to consider anything as coming from yourself? Are you weak enough for God to use you, are you weak enough to give God all the glory for what he does in you and through you?

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

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May 16, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 2:16-17; Who Is Sufficient?

04/22_2 Corinthians 2:16-17; Who is Sufficient? ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180422_2cor2_16-17.mp3

In 2 Corinthians Paul describes what authentic Christian ministry is and corrects mistaken views.

Paul paints a picture of authentic Christian ministry as a triumphal procession, being led as a conquered captive and slave to God, spreading a fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus everywhere. And this aroma of Jesus, while always pleasing to the Father, divides humanity into two categories; those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To those who are being saved, he is the smell of life leading to eternal life. But to those who are perishing, he is perceived as the smell of death and leads to eternal death. Authentic ministry divides.

Jesus said he came to cause division between people. He said:

Luke 12:51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Jesus describes this division of all mankind into two categories in Matthew 25.

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

…34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

…41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

…46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus describes those who are being saved as blessed by my Father, who inherit the kingdom. And he describes those who are perishing as suffering eternal punishment, eternal fire.

Paul says that God

2 Corinthians 2:14 …through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life…

When Jesus sent out the twelve to proclaim the kingdom, he told them:

Matthew 10:14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

The proclamation of the gospel, the word of the cross, is a weighty responsibility. On the one hand, it is a message that rescues and delivers and breathes life into dead souls. On the other hand, it increases the accountability of the one who hears. Better never to hear of Jesus at all, than to hear of him and reject him.

Who Is Sufficient?

This is heavy. Some will benefit eternally from the message, but those who reject will be forever made held to a higher level of accountability; ‘to whom much is given, much will be required’ (Lk.12:48). To be the one who brings this dividing message, to be a fragrance of life to some, and the stench of death to others, is an incredibly sobering responsibility. Paul recognizes that the gospel he declares divides humanity, and he asks the question ‘who is sufficient for these things?’

Who is fit, able, worthy, competent; who is sufficient? Who is up to this weighty responsibility?

This reminds us of Moses, when God called him out of exile to lead his people out of Egypt. God sent Moses to two distinct groups of people. He was to go to Israel to declare that God was coming down to rescue them and set them free. He was also to go to the Pharaoh of Egypt and demand that he let his slaves go free. God said:

Exodus 3:19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.

This was good news to a people who were enslaved to a cruel tyrant. But this meant God’s judgment against the Egyptians who refused to bow to God’s authority. Moses felt the weight of this call.

Exodus 4:10 But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”

The Greek translation of this verse uses this same word ‘sufficient’ or competent. ‘Oh, my LORD, I am not sufficient. I am not competent.’ Moses is acutely aware of his own inadequacy in the face of such a weight responsibility.

For We Are Not…

Who is sufficient? This sounds like a rhetorical question, and we are quick to answer ‘no one!’ Paul begins as we would expect ‘for we are not…’ Who possibly is up to this task? With Moses, we certainly do not feel competent. But this is not Paul’s answer. He says:

2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

Paul gives a five part answer to the question in this verse, one negative and four positive characteristics of his own ministry to demonstrate that he is indeed competent. But this is not all he has to say; his answer continues on into the next chapter. Paul is guarding himself against misunderstanding. This is not a question to which a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice. He gives a nuanced answer; he qualifies his answer. What characterizes his ministry?

Not Peddlers of the Word of God

2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word,

Notice that the word of God is central to what it means to be a minister. He starts with the word of God, and he ends this verse with the verb ‘we speak.’ As an authentic minister, he speaks the word of God.

But others are speaking God’s word, and he draws a contrast here. It matters how the word of God is handled. Later in this book, chapters 11-13 he confronts the false apostles who proclaim a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel. It matters the content of the message. But it also matters the motive of the messenger. Paul says he is not like so many others who are not competent, who peddle God’s word. This is a common word for retail shop vendors, who take a product made by someone else and sell it for a profit. This term has very negative connotations, implying underhanded shady business practices, false advertising, dishonest dealing, diluting the product. These were often con artists, expert at ripping off the unsuspecting public.

We have to balance this with what he said in 1 Corinthians 9. In that whole chapter he strongly defends the right of a minister of the gospel to be paid for that ministry. He says:

1 Corinthians 9:14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

It is the right, it is the command of the Lord Jesus that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

So what is Paul saying that he is not like so many peddlers of God’s word? Although Paul adamantly defends his own and others’ right to make a living by the gospel, he chooses not to make use of that right. But he has nothing bad to say about the other apostles who do make use of that right. What is he saying here?

Listen to Paul’s requirements for Christian leadership of any kind:

1 Timothy 3:2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, … 3 … not a lover of money.

1 Timothy 3:8 Deacons likewise must be …not greedy for dishonest gain.

Titus 1:7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be … greedy for gain,

Peter exhorts:

1 Peter 5:2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;

This is a heart issue. What is the motive? What is the focus? ‘We are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word.’ Some, Paul says in Philippians 1 ‘preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely.’

So many are peddlers of God’s word, seeking to make a profit, seeking gain out of selfish ambition. Those are not fit, not competent, not sufficient for gospel ministry.

The gospel is not a commodity to be sold; the gospel is the power of God to transform lives. Like strong medicine in incompetent hands, that which is meant to bring life can bring about death. Who is competent for these things? Not those who are pursuing personal gain.

Of Sincerity

That is the negative. Now he lists 4 positive criteria of competency for ministry. ‘But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God, in Christ we speak.’

Paul operates out of sincerity. This is not the first time we have encountered this word. This verse is a bookend connecting back to 1:12, where Paul said

2 Corinthians 1:12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.

Paul’s conscience bears him witness. He conducts himself always with sincerity. This word is a compound word that literally means judged by the sun. Paul’s conduct is out in the wide open, in the full light of the sun; he has nothing to hide. No secrets. No bait and switch. He is not duplicitous. There is no question of motives. He shoots straight. He says what he means and means what he says. You don’t have to read between the lines. What you see is what you get. He has integrity, not only in relation to ministry, but to all of life. He is transparent. Transparency is not something he strives for; it is simply who he is. And it is out of that open transparency that he speaks the word of God. Competent ministry must be sincere ministry.

Of God

‘But as of sincerity, but as of God.’ Paul is speaking of the source of his speaking and his authority. It all comes out of God. His authority comes from God, and he speaks God’s words. The ESV fills in the sense of this brief phrase; ‘as commissioned by God.’ The NIV has ‘as those sent from God.’ The only source of authentic ministry is God. Paul’s authority and Paul’s message is not self-originated; he is not at liberty to make stuff up. Remember, he is a conquered captive, led in triumphal procession, and he spreads the scent of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. He is a glad slave of God, and it is his joy to make much of Jesus. The content and the power of his message come from God. Competent ministry must originate in God.

Directly Before God

‘But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God.’ Paul is over against God, directly in the presence of God. He is always before God or ‘in the sight of God.’ Now if we know the Bible teaches that God is everywhere present and knows everything about everyone everywhere all the time, how is this a qualification for competent ministry? It is one thing for God to know everything about you, and it is quite another thing for you to be constantly aware that God is constantly aware of you.

Listen to what Hebrews 4:12-13 says.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

We all must give account to the Lord, who knows all and sees all. James cautions:

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.

A key component of competency for ministry is an awareness the weighty responsibility of living in the light of God’s presence.

In Christ

‘But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God, in Christ we speak.’

In Christ. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. This is a favorite description of the believer. It speaks of our position, our identity, our relationship. Salvation, forgiveness, justification, redemption, sanctification, reconciliation, adoption, eternal life, is all in Christ. Grace, love, peace, freedom, hope, unity, encouragement, approval, blessing, all come to us in Christ. We are alive in Christ; there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s identity in Christ. For Paul everything is rubbish compared to knowing him and being found in him (Phil.3:9-10). There would be nothing worse than to be outside of Christ, apart from Christ.

There is no competency for ministry outside of Christ. Our only sufficiency comes from our union with Christ.

It is out of his union with Christ that Paul is able to speak.

Summary

Who is sufficient for these things? Who is sufficient to be the aroma of the knowledge of Jesus, who is competent to speak the word of God that to some becomes the smell of life to life, and to others is the scent of death to death? Not those who are in it for personal gain. Only those who operate out of a transparent sincerity, only whose only source is God, only those who live constantly in the light of God’s presence, only those whose only sufficiency is in union with Christ.

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

April 22, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment