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2 Corinthians 3:1-3; Letters of Recommendation

04/29_2 Corinthians 3:1-3; Letters of Recommendation ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180429_2cor3_1-3.mp3

Paul gets to the heart of the issue here. He lays out his credentials as a minister by pointing to the transformation that has happened in the lives of his readers.

Paul Commends Himself (Again!)

Paul has described the apostolic ministry in 2:14 as ‘ through us God in Christ always …spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.’ In 2:17 he contrasts himself with ‘so many,’ who peddle God’s word for profit. We are not like them; rather we are men of sincerity, our source of authority is God, everything we do is in the presence of God, and it is in Christ that we speak. Back in chapter 1:12, Paul boasted ‘in the testimony of his conscience, that he operated with simplicity and godly sincerity, by the grace of God.’

2 Corinthians 3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you?

This first phrase of chapter 3 should probably be read as an exclamation, not a rhetorical question. We are beginning to commend ourselves to you again! Paul is making a case for his integrity; he is laying before them the evidence of his authenticity. He even contrasts his ministry with those who are in it for profit. We, who planted the church, who spent 18 months with you investing in you, who visited you in the past and plan to visit again, who sent letters and messengers to you, we need to go over the formality of introductions all over again!? You, who experienced new life as a result of our ministry among you, now we are forced again to present evidence of our authenticity!

The letter to the Romans is a letter of self-commendation; Paul writes to believers he has never met, introduces himself and his ministry, and lays before them the gospel he preaches. In chapter 15 he outlines his plans to visit them, and his desire to be supported by them in his mission to Spain. In Romans he is commending himself to a church he has never visited.

In Romans 16, he says:

Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

We call this a letter of reference or a recommendation. A trusted person writes to affirm the character of another. Do you recommend this person as a student in our college? Would you recommend this person as a good fit for this particular job? Paul is not against letters of commendation; he writes them himself. In fact, in Romans 5:8 he says:

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

The death of Christ for sinners is a commendation of God’s love for us.

Paul uses the word ‘commend’ or ‘recommend’ twice in 2 Corinthians 3:1, and 7 more times in the rest this letter. He says in the next chapter

2 Corinthians 4:2 …by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

In chapter 5 he says that his character should be well known to them; he is not really commending himself again, but giving them reasons to defend against those who boast in outward appearances and not in the heart. In chapter 6 he says:

2 Corinthians 6:4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:

And then he lists not only his positive character traits, but also his hardships, afflictions, persecutions, his weakness. In chapter 10 he clarifies:

2 Corinthians 10:18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

Paul is not against letters of recommendation. He is not even against presenting one’s own credentials to establish credibility. 2 Corinthians could be seen as an extended commendation of authentic apostolic ministry. The issue is not in the necessity of introductions. The problem lies in the ‘again.’ His point here in chapter 3 of 2 Corinthians (in actuality his fourth correspondence to this church) is that they ought to be well beyond the stage in their relationship that requires formal introductions.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 9:1 …Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 This is my defense to those who would examine me.

If I am not to others, at least I am to you! They were believers in Jesus because he had traveled to Achaia and preached the gospel in Corinth. They owed their very existence as a church to his apostolic ministry. In chapter 12 he says:

2 Corinthians 12:11 …I ought to have been commended by you. …

The Corinthians, who ought by this time to be Paul’s loudest fans, now need to be re-acquainted with what genuine Christian ministry is all about.

2 Corinthians 3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you?

This second question is rhetorical, and it is framed to demand a negative answer. We do not need letters of recommendation to you, and we do not need letters from you. The Corinthian church had the audacity to place themselves over apostolic ministry as if the final authority to evaluate apostolic ministry was with them. Paul expected them to be able to discern between a true apostle and a false one, but they were flirting with false apostles and rejecting the one they knew to be true.

You Are Our Letter

2 Corinthians 3:2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.

The Corinthians don’t realize they are the letter. They are the objective evidence of Paul’s apostolic ministry. The fact that there are now followers of the Jewish Messiah gathering as a church in the pagan city of Corinth is evidence of a genuine work of God.

But notice where this is written. It is written on the heart of their Apostle. In this he is like his Master. In a similar metaphor Isaiah looks forward to Jesus “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (49:15). In the Song of Solomon we find this language of love:

Song of Solomon 8:6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave.

Paul communicates not only that the Corinthians are a letter of reference, an authentication of his apostolic ministry, but also that he carries them always with him, not in his travel bag, but in his heart. As he says in chapter 11,

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

As we saw at the end of chapter 2, Paul carries the Corinthians so close to his heart, that the relational tension prevented him from taking full advantage of an opportunity to preach the gospel.

And this is no secret. They are written on his heart, but he wears it on his sleeve. His heart is an open book, and anyone can read what is written there. Anyone who knows Paul knows of his affection for his churches. Certainly those in Troas would be aware of his great affection for them.

A Letter From Christ

2 Corinthians 3:3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

‘You show that you are’; this is the same word from 2:14 that the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ is put on display or made manifest through us in every place.

Paul’s primary concern is always making Christ known. The Corinthian church, for better or worse, whether they know it or not, puts Christ on display. They put on display that they are a letter from Christ. This is the highest authority. This letter originates from Christ Jesus himself.

And this letter, Paul says, is ‘delivered;’ literally ‘ministered’ by us; this is ambiguous. It could mean that Paul pictured himself as the one delivering the letter, or it could mean that Paul is the amanuensis or scribe writing down every word Christ dictates to him. Because the Corinthians are the letter, it seems to make more sense to see Paul holding the pen, or possibly Paul is the pen in the hand of the Lord Christ. Either way, Paul is in a subordinate role to Christ. Scribe or errand boy, Paul is in service to Christ, ensuring that the message of Jesus is scrawled in large letters on the hearts of the Corinthians.

Ink / Spirit

Written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God. This is that which is actually applied to the page; not ink but the Spirit of the living God. Paul is instrumental in applying the ink of the Spirit to the page of the Corinthians lives in order to make Christ known.

Here we see the triune God at work in the ministry of the apostle. The letter originates from Christ, it is written with the ink of the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit is the Spirit of the living God, sent out by the Father.

Heart of Stone / Flesh

The next contrast is what is written on. That which is written on is not tablets of stone, but tablets of human (literally ‘fleshly’) hearts. Normally in Paul’s day we would expect ink on papyrus. But Paul mixes metaphors once again; it is ink on stony tablets contrasted with the Spirit on fleshy heart-tablets.

Paul is linking several Old Testament themes; the tablets of the covenant given to Moses on Sinai, tablets of stone written on with the finger of God, and the hard stony hearts of the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 9, when Moses recounts the initial giving of the law, he rebukes Israel for their stubbornness and rebellion against the Lord. While he was on the mountain with God receiving the tablets of stone, the people were provoking God to wrath by their idolatry. God’s law was written on stony tablets corresponding to the stony rebellious hearts of his people.

But Paul also has in mind the promise of the Spirit poured out in the New Covenant, promises we find in Ezekiel and Jeremiah

Ezekiel 11:19-20 says:

Ezekiel 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

And again in Ezekiel 36:26

Ezekiel 36:26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

God knows that his people need a heart transplant. The heart of stone must be removed and replaced with a responsive fleshy heart. Ezekiel goes on in verse 27

Ezekiel 36:27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Not only will God remove their hearts of stone and give them a fleshy heart, he will put his own Spirit in them, enabling and empowering them to walk in his ways.

Just as the law written on stony tablets corresponded to the stony hearts of the people, so now the New Covenant work of the Spirit of God corresponds to the new fleshy hearts given to his people.

New Covenant Writing

Another New Covenant passage, Jeremiah 31, is the piece that gives the picture of God writing on the hearts of his people.

Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

The content of what is written is not different; God writes his law; a law summed up by Christ as

Matthew 22:37 …“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

(love fulfills law: Rom.13:8,10; Gal.5:14; Mt.7:12)

But God has written, no longer on stony tablets, but on the newly given fleshy heart-tablets of the Corinthians, not with ink, but with his own Holy Spirit. As a result, Christ is put on display in the lives of the Corinthians. In this New Covenant transaction, Paul is a minister of Christ, facilitating their transformation. Paul’s evidence of authenticity is this very transformation that has taken place in the hearts of the Corinthians. And this has affected the heart of the apostle as well. These struggling new believers are written on his heart.

Application

What is your heart like? Is it hardened toward God? Ask him for a new heart; a heart that is tender toward him. Has your heart been transformed by love to love? Has God’s own self-sacrificial love written love for him and for others on your heart? Do you have people written on your heart? Is the Spirit of the living God bringing about real heart transformation in you?

2 Corinthians 3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

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

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April 30, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 2:14-16; The Aroma of Christ to God

04/15_2Corinthians 2:14-16; The Aroma of Christ to God ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180415_2cor2_14-16.mp3

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

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and 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. Who is sufficient for these things?

Paul’s spirit had no rest in Troas because of the unresolved tension in his relationship with the Corinthian church, so he said goodbye and headed to Macedonia, leaving behind an open door of gospel ministry.
Yet instead of expressing his frustration, or rebuking them, he thanks God who always triumphs over us in Christ, and who displays the odor of the knowledge of Christ through us in every place.

The triumph put on display the military might of Rome. A triumphing general in a display of his victory would parade the spoils of war through the streets of Rome, along with the chief enemies he conquered and any Roman citizens he had freed. This parade would appeal to all the senses, with blasts of trumpets, the clanking of weapons, the rumble of horses and chariot wheels, and songs of soldiers, with gold and silver and jewels, with colorful banners and garments, even with clouds of fragrant incense wafting through the streets.

Paul sees himself as a conquered enemy of Christ, but now a glad participant in the parade. The triumph had a political aspect, increasing the fame and promoting the popularity of the triumphing general. And Paul is glad to promote and display the fame of his new Lord.

Spreading the Knowledge of Jesus in Every Place

God is displaying the odor of the knowledge of Christ through the apostles in every place. God is triumphing and God is spreading. These are the two main verbs in the sentence; triumphing and spreading. ‘Spreading’ translates a word that at its root means to show or shine out, to make manifest, to cause to appear, to display. But what is put on display is something invisible; a smell, the odor of the knowledge of him; hence the translation ‘spread.’ The odor of knowing Jesus is made perceptible through them. The scent of knowing him is being sensed everywhere through the ministry, especially through the suffering of the apostles.

And this speaks to Paul’s itinerary. The Corinthians accuse Paul of changing his plans on a whim. God is marching Paul around in triumph. God is the one ultimately dictating where the apostle goes and when and for how long. God through the apostles is spreading the aroma of the knowledge of Christ in every place. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the ends of the earth. God intends that the scent of knowing Jesus be smelled in every place through the lives of his people. Paul makes his decisions as best he can, with a view to the advance of the gospel and the good of God’s people. And I’m sure he questioned; ‘should I have walked away from an open door for the gospel? Should I have toughed it out and stayed?’ And yet he can sleep at night thanking God that God is spreading the fragrance of Jesus in every place though him.

The Aroma of Christ to God

Notice what kind of smell this is, where it comes from, and who smells it. In verse 14 and again twice in verse 16 he uses a neutral word for smell; an odor. As we will see in verse 16, this could be a pleasant odor or a foul one. But in verse 15 he uses a distinctly positive term, with the prefix ‘good.’ This is a pleasing smell.

And the source of this pleasing aroma is Christ. The apostles are not going around spreading the knowledge of themselves everywhere. They are spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus. They are making him known. They are spreading his fame. Everywhere they go, they smell like Jesus, and Jesus smells like sacrificial service for the good of others.

Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The apostles are being crushed and poured out as the fragrant aroma of Christ. When the saints of Caesarea urged Paul to avoid the dangers that awaited him,

Acts 21:13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

He tells the Philippians:

Philippians 2:17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.

The smell of genuine Jesus shaped ministry is a life broken and crushed and poured out for the sake of others.

And notice who is smelling this pleasing aroma.

2 Corinthians 2:15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God…

The smell is the smell of Christ, and it is a pleasing fragrance to God. In the Roman triumph, incense was burned creating a fragrance to attempt to please the Roman gods. In the Old Testament, sacrificial animals offered in faith on the altar were said to be a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:2 uses this sacrificial imagery when it says that Jesus “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

God is smelling the life of the apostles, and to him it is a pleasing aroma. Their weakness, their suffering, their afflictions, their ‘not my will but yours be done’ smell like Jesus to the Father. And this is well pleasing to the Father.

Remember in Genesis 27, when Isaac thought he was going to die, so he sent his firstborn son Esau to hunt and bring him game so that he could bless him, and Isaac’s wife and his other son Jacob schemed to deceive him? Rebekah dressed him up in Esau’s clothes, and put goat skin on his hands and neck. Isaac was suspicious; he said “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” It wasn’t until “he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of this garments and blessed him and said, ‘See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed!”” It was the aroma of Esau that pleased his father, and caused him to bless him. It is the same with us, although there is no deceit. We are clothed with the clothes of our older brother, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and we have the smell of Christ about us, and when the Father smells the pleasing aroma of his only Son on us, we are included in the inheritance that belongs to Jesus.

Two Kinds of Noses

The sense of smell is a powerful sense. I was driving through town the other day, and someone somewhere was barbecuing. I don’t know who or where or how far away, but I smelled it through the rolled up windows of the car. And it smelled wonderful. I thought about trying to locate the source and inviting myself over for dinner. Just last week my nose woke me up. The savory smell of sausage and bacon was wafting from the kitchen all the way up the stairs to our bedroom.

The sense of smell is an interesting one. Smells are perceived differently by different people. There are these little glass plug-in fragrance things that are supposed to make your house smell nice. And some of them I like. But I have noticed that certain aromas I can’t handle. It’s not just that I don’t like the smell. It’s that when I walk into the room, I feel like my throat is closing off and I can’t breathe anymore. To other people it smells pleasant. But I have to leave the room.

This aroma of Christ is one kind of aroma, and it is always pleasing to the Father. But there are two kinds of noses in the world.

2 Corinthians 2:15 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. …

This is the same dividing of humankind Paul pointed out in the beginning of 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

There are those who are perishing, and those who are being saved. There is no third group, no neutral category. The word of the cross divides humanity into two groups.

1 Corinthians 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Christ crucified divides humanity. There are those who are perishing, to whom Christ crucified is foolishness, a stumbling block, an offensive aroma of death. And there are those who are called, those who are being saved, to whom the word of the cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God, a sweet fragrance from life to life. In 1 Corinthians he contrasts wisdom with foolishness, power with weakness. Here in 2 Corinthians he compares this to the sense of smell.

He is talking about how things are perceived. It is the same word of the cross that is perceived by some as foolishness, which is perceived by others as wisdom and power. It is the same smell of the knowledge of Christ that is perceived among some as the smell of death to death, and by others as the smell of life to life.

In the Roman triumph, there were often two groups. There was the conquered enemy led captive and put to open shame, and the smells of the triumph would be for them the smells of death to death. They had been conquered in battle, and now they were being marched as slaves, likely to their deaths. And then there were the Roman citizens who had been living as slaves to the enemy. They too were led in the triumph, but the sights and sounds and smells would mean something entirely different to them. To them, this was the smell of an end of slavery; it meant liberty, freedom, victory. They owed their freedom and their allegiance to the conquering general. This was the smell of life to life. They had been rescued, saved out of slavery to the enemy, and were now being restored to their homeland as freed men. Same fragrance. Same odor. Two very different perceptions, depending on which side of the battle you were on.

What Nose Have You?

How Jesus smells to you, how the word of the cross sounds to you is a good test of what category you are in. Do you hear the gospel message, the word of the cross; that the Omnipotent God became human to die a shameful death that we deserved in order to rescue us; does that sound like foolishness, a fairy tale, nonsense? Do you take offense at the implication that you are so bad a sinner that you deserve to die? That you are utterly incapable of contributing to your own rescue? Does all the talk of death and blood and crucifixion seem like a morbid fascination?

Or does the message of Immanuel, God with us, come to rescue us from our sins, not only make sense, but fill your heart with joy? Do you, as the old hymn goes, ‘cling to the old rugged cross?’ How do the words of this old hymn, penned in 1771 by William Cowper smell to you?

1 There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains…

2 The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away…

3 Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its pow’r,
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved, to sin no more…

4 E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die…

[William Cowper, 1772]

There is a fountain filled with blood; Drawn from Immanuel’s veins; And sinners, plunged beneath that flood; Lose all their guilty stains. Is that the sweet aroma of life and hope? Does your soul resonate with those words, or is that distasteful and offensive imagery to you?

Here is just one verse of another hymn written just over 100 years later; ‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus’

2 O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
just to trust his cleansing blood;
and in simple faith to plunge me
neath the healing, cleansing flood!

[Louisa M. R. Stead, 1882]

Is it sweet to you to be plunged beneath the cleansing blood of Jesus, to trust him, to depend on him completely? Is the blood precious to you? Is the cross to you a symbol of foolishness and death, or a symbol of life and power?

Gospel Call

This is one way to diagnose where you stand with God. The fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus, who he is, why he came, what he did, the message of the cross, smells different to different people. To some it is the stench of death and it results in death, to those who are perishing. To others, to those who are being saved, it is the sweet fragrance of life and it results in eternal life.

Which is it to you? If it is sweet to you, thank God! He has given you the ability to savor the knowledge of Jesus rightly. And if you are in the other category, if you can’t honestly say that the cross is precious to you, that would seem to indicate that you are perishing.

But here is some good news for you. God loves to take those who are perishing and rescue them. Ask God to give you a heart to receive the word of the cross as wisdom and power for salvation. Ask God to give you a nose to smell the fragrance of the sufferings of Christ as the sweet aroma of life to life. Ask God to save you. Ask God to grant you to perceive Jesus as life, and receive his free gift of life.

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

April 17, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 2:14; God’s Triumph in Christ

04/08_2Corinthians 2:14; God’s Triumph in Christ ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180408_2cor2_14.mp3

2 Corinthians 2:14. We are coming to the heart of the letter, the meat of what Paul wants to say. He wants them to understand the true nature of Christian ministry; what it means to be a minister of the gospel. It is not what they think. Corinth is enamored with power, prestige, persuasive speech, popularity. This is not the nature of Christian ministry.

Overview of the Introduction

So far, in the introduction to this letter, he has blessed God who, in the midst of affliction brings comfort, in order to comfort others who are sharing in the sufferings of Christ (1:3-7). He explained (1:8-10) the afflictions they experienced in Asia, afflictions so severe they despaired of life itself, but this was to wean them from self-sufficiency and cause them to rely completely on God. He invites his readers to help him by prayer (1:11). He appeals to his own clear conscience, that in all of life he follows as a ruling principle the grace of God. And he looks forward to that final day when the church will boast in their apostle, and he will boast in them (1:12-14). He defends his changing travel plans in this light, that his goal was to extend them grace, and that God’s gracious answer to us is always yes in Christ. He anchors their hope in the concerted operations of the Father, Son and Spirit in securing our acceptance (1:15-22). He tells them that his decision not to visit them earlier was for their joy, to spare them; and his letter was to communicate his abundant love for them (1:23-2:4). In the context of his seeking to spare them a painful visit, he urges them not to cause further pain to the individual who had repented of his sin, but rather to forgive, comfort, and re-affirm your love for him (2:5-10). He warns that the enemy is always on the offensive, and unforgiveness is a favorite foothold (2:11). In 2:12-13 he lets them know of an opportunity; an open door in the Lord for preaching the gospel, but because of the turmoil in his spirit, he said goodbye and headed on to Macedonia to find his co-worker. He doesn’t come right out and say it, but it was the Corinthian church that was the cause of his unrest. He had sent Titus to Corinth to help work things through, and to bring news of their response to his previous letter. He loved this church so deeply, that he couldn’t take full advantage of a gospel opportunity because he was emotionally torn over this church.

The Missing Thanksgiving

What comes next is quite unexpected. We would anticipate a scolding for their causing a missed gospel opportunity in Troas. We would expect a stern rebuke for their self-centeredness and insensitivity to God’s work.

Instead, in verse 14 he gives thanks to God. “But thanks be to God.” This is the missing thanksgiving from the introduction of the letter. That would have been a glaring omission to anyone familiar with Paul’s letters. Normally, he introduces himself, he addresses his readers, he asks God’s grace and peace to be on them, and then he thanks God for them. But in 2 Corinthians, he omits the thanksgiving, and instead blesses God who brings comfort in afflictions.

For this thanksgiving, he uses the normal word for ‘grace’ in the sense of freely given gratitude to God. Instead of anger and frustration over a missed opportunity, Paul’s heart overflows with thanksgiving to God.

The Roman Triumph

And the content of this thanksgiving is even more shocking. He does not thank God for what he is doing in his readers, but rather what God is doing in and through his apostles. And he uses a startling picture.

2 Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.

The triumphal procession was very well known in the Roman world. Ancient Greek and Roman literature record over 300 of these triumphs The returning victorious general whom the senate had granted the right to a triumph entered Rome standing on a high, two-wheeled chariot drawn by four horses.

Josephus describes the triumph for Vespasian and Titus after their victory in the Jewish war.

and when they had put on their triumphal garments, and had offered sacrifices to the gods that were placed at the gate, they sent the triumph forward, and marched through the theatres, that they might be the more easily seen by the multitudes.

5. Now it is impossible to describe the multitude of the shows as they deserve, and the magnificence of them all; …and all brought together on that day demonstrated the vastness of the dominions of the Romans; for there was here to be seen a mighty quantity of silver, and gold, and ivory, …and did not appear as carried along in pompous show only, but, as a man may say, running along like a river. …The images of the gods were also carried, being as well wonderful for their largeness, as made …[of] very costly materials; and many species of animals were brought… The men also who brought every one of these shows were great multitudes, and adorned with purple garments, all over interwoven with gold; … Besides these, one might see that even the great number of the captives was not unadorned, while the variety that was in their garments, and their fine texture, concealed from the sight the deformity of their bodies. But what afforded the greatest surprise of all was the structure of the pageants that were borne along; for indeed he that met them could not but be afraid that the bearers would not be able firmly enough to support them, such was their magnitude; for many of them were so made, that they were on three or even four stories, one above another. The magnificence also of their structure afforded one both pleasure and surprise; for upon many of them were laid carpets of gold. There was also wrought gold and ivory fastened about them all; and many resemblances of the war, and those in several ways, and variety of contrivances, affording a most lively portraiture of itself. For there was to be seen a happy country laid waste, and entire squadrons of enemies slain; while some of them ran away, and some were carried into captivity; with walls of great altitude and magnitude overthrown and ruined by machines; with the strongest fortifications taken, and the walls of most populous cities upon the tops of hills seized on, and an army pouring itself within the walls; as also every place full of slaughter, and supplications of the enemies, when they were no longer able to lift up their hands in way of opposition. Fire also sent upon temples was here represented, and houses overthrown, and falling upon their owners: … Now the workmanship of these representations was so magnificent and lively in the construction of the things, that it exhibited what had been done to such as did not see it, as if they had been there really present. On the top of every one of these pageants was placed the commander of the city that was taken, and the manner wherein he was taken.” [Flavius Josephus: The Jewish War. VII. 3-7]

One author describes: “The part of the procession which entered the city ahead of the triumphator’s chariot gave the spectators an idea of the victory. Not only were spoils of war carried along – weapons, gold, silver and jewellery – but also pictures of battle-scenes, of towns conquered, and boards with the names of the peoples subjugated. …White oxen, to be sacrificed to Jupiter, were brought along. The procession marched to a flourish of trumpets. …Aromatic substances were also carried. The chained prisoners, the most prominent of whom were as a rule killed in the dungeon before the sacrifice was made to Jupiter, walked right in front of the triumphator. …The chariot was followed by the Romans who had been liberated from slavery, wearing the pileus of the liberti. The soldiers, wearing laurel-wreaths on their heads and singing songs deriding their commander, brought up the rear. [Versnel, 1970, p.56-57, 95; cited BECNT p157-8]

Josephus continues: “6. Now the last part of this pompous show was at the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, whither when they were come, they stood still; for it was the Romans’ ancient custom to stay till somebody brought the news that the general of the enemy was slain. This general was Simon, the son of Gioras, who had then been led in this triumph among the captives; a rope had also been put upon his head, and he had been drawn into a proper place in the forum, and had withal been tormented by those that drew him along; and the law of the Romans required that malefactors condemned to die should be slain there.

God Triumphs Over Us

This is the background of Paul’s jarring thanksgiving:

2 Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and 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. Who is sufficient for these things?

God takes center stage. God is the conquering general. God is the one the parade is for. God is worthy. The triumph is to recognize him, giving thanks and praise to him.

But where is Paul and the apostles? Where does Paul see himself? Over this there has been much debate. Does Paul see himself as a soldier in God’s army, who helped him to win the battle? This is how Tyndale translated it ‘thankes be vnto God which alwayes geveth vs the victorie in Christ;’ and the King James followed: ‘which always causeth us to triumph in Christ’. There is a big question if that is even a legitimate translation linguistically or grammatically, and that hardly fits. The apostles didn’t help God win the victory.

Does Paul see himself as a defeated enemy, conquered by God, displayed as a trophy of war, being led to his execution? As troubling as that sounds, that fits the evidence much better. Paul was an enemy of the cross. In his own words, “I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Gal.1:13) until Jesus conquered him on the road to Damascus while he was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1).

Paul describes the apostolic ministry in 1 Corinthians 4

1 Corinthians 4:9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. …13 …We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

And in 2 Corinthians 4 he says:

2 Corinthians 4:8 We are afflicted… perplexed… 9 persecuted… struck down… 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

This was the Corinthian problem. They viewed the ministry and the Christian life as a triumph; they expected to ‘have all they want …to become rich …to become kings and reign’ (1Cor.4:8), and they expected a leader who was powerful and polished, a man of status who carried himself well, a rhetorical genius, a victorious general. Instead, Paul comes “in weakness and in fear and much trembling,” “I …did not come …with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Cor.2:1-3). Paul is not the victor. He has been conquered by Christ. The NIV translates it this way: “who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession”

How the Victory was Won

Paul has been captured, and God’s power is displayed in his weakness (2Cor.12:9). And he is being ‘exhibited …like men sentenced to death’ (1Cor.4:9). In some ways, Paul’s life and testimony is like a pageant or a portrait being carried along, a vivid mural displaying the triumph of Christ over his enemies.

Right here in the context (v.11), there is a reference to the war between Satan and God; we are not to be ignorant of his designs and outwitted by Satan. We are to defeat him by forgiving one another.

We must keep in mind how Jesus won this victory.

Colossians 2 is the only other place in the New Testament where this word ‘triumph’ is used. Paul warns there:

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

And then he talks about Christ, and how we are united with Christ.

Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

God triumphed over Satan and the demonic hordes, he disarmed them of their ability to accuse us by ‘forgiving us all our trespasses, by nailing it to the cross.’ God triumphed over his enemies, he put them to open shame, by allowing Christ to be ‘despised and rejected by men …as one from whom men hide their faces’ (Is.53:3). He canceled the record of debt that stood against us by nailing it to the cross.

Isaiah 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; … 6 …the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. …10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; …

God triumphed over his enemies in Christ, by having Christ put to death in the place of rebels and enemies against him. And he took an enemy like Paul and transformed him and put him on display as a trophy of his grace. And he ‘showed him how much he must suffer for the sake of his name’ (Acts 9:16). And through people like Paul he ‘spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere’

Paul, as he loves to do, seems to mix his metaphors. He is a captive conquered by God in Christ, he has died with Christ, yet he is raised with Christ and his life is a mural displaying God’s triumph; and in his sufferings, he becomes an incense bearer in the triumphal procession; he spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. Fragrant herbs must be crushed or ground or burned to release their sweet smell.

And he thanks God that it is so. God is worthy to be praised, because God is spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere through the weakness and afflictions of his apostles. Paul’s passion is to make Christ known everywhere, and if he must be crushed to release this sweet odor, then thanks be to God! This is what authentic Christian ministry looks like; this is what authentic Christian ministry smells like.

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

April 10, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 2:1-4; Sorrow and Joy in the Body of Christ

02/25_2 Corinthians 2:1-4; Joy and Sorrow in the Body of Christ ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180225_2cor2_1-4.mp3

Tension of Sorrow and Joy

Paul begins 2 Corinthians by pointing us to the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. …if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort. (1:3-6). He points us to a God who brings comfort out of affliction; and here in chapter 2 he points us to a God who can even bring joy out of a painful relationship.

This passage uses the language of pain, or sorrow or grief. In all of Paul’s letters, he uses the noun and the verb form of this word ‘sorrow’ 24 times; 18 of those, a full ¾ are here in 2 Corinthians. And 16 of those show up between the first verses of chapter 2, and where he picks this narrative back up in chapter 7.

In chapter 2, he uses the word grief or sorrow or pain 8 times, and when he picks back up in chapter 7, he uses it another 8 times. He also uses words like affliction, anguish of heart, tears. Some have said ‘If Philippians is known for the predominance of the word “joy” in the letter, 2 Corinthians should be known for the predominance of the word “pain.” The Corinthians were his problem children’ [Garland, p.113].

Indeed the letter to the church in Philippi is characterized by joy. But when I looked, the words joy or rejoice show up 14 times in Philippians and 13 times in 2 Corinthians. The next closest concentration of ‘joy’ is 6 times in 1 Thessalonians. Although 2 Corinthians is a letter characterized by sorrow, there is a real tension and interplay here between sorrow and joy.

At the end of chapter 1, Paul made it clear that he is not attempting to lord it over their faith; rather he is pursuing their joy; laboring along side them for their eternal happiness. Paul is working for their joy, and there is a tug-of-war going on in these verses, and in his heart, between joy and sorrow.

Last time we saw that God actually commands our joy in him, that Christianity is not a religion of duty but a relationship of delight, God delighting in us, and our responding to him with delight. We can rejoice in God himself with deep unquenchable joy, because God himself is full of joy. But this joy doesn’t stop with our vertical relationship with God; it extends to horizontal relationships with other people. And that’s where it gets really messy.

Joy of Fellowship with Other Believers:

2 Corinthians 2:1 For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? 3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.

Paul is working with them for their joy. He is pursuing their eternal joy. He is making his travel plans with their joy in mind. His last emergency visit was painful for him. If he visited again now, the visit would be painful for them. Instead he wrote a painful letter, not to cause them pain, but to change their hearts, so that when he did visit, it would be an occasion of rejoicing.

Paul is saying in this passage that his joy is all intertwined and wrapped up in their joy, and that their joy ought to be interconnected with his joy.

2 Corinthians 2:2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? 3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all.

I caused you pain; you should make me glad; I might suffer pain from you; you are my joy; my joy is your joy.

Last time we looked at unquenchable joy, Jesus’ own joy that no one could take from you. Now is Paul saying here that his joy is dependent on the Corinthians? That his joy is circumstantial? How do these go together? What is the relation between our unquenchable joy in Jesus, and our joy or sorrow in our brothers and sisters?

My Joy is Your Joy

This is not the only place he talks like this. Let’s take a minute to look around at some of the things that touch on this subject of horizontal joy in other believers.

In Philippians 4:1 and 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, he calls his readers ‘my joy and crown of boasting’; ‘you are our glory and joy.’

Philippians 4:1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

Do you hear his heart of tender affection toward them?

1 Thessalonians 2:19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.

In Philippians 2:2 he asks them to complete his joy.

Philippians 2:2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

They unity of the believers, their Christ-like others-focused sacrificial humility and love fills up and completes the joy of the apostle.

Paul derived much joy from Philemon.

Philemon 1:7 For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Springing out of the love of Christ, Philemon’s love overflowed to refresh the hearts of the saints. Hearing of this outworking of the gospel in the life of a brother brought Paul much joy and comfort.

In 1 Thessalonians 3 we see something like what Paul longed for and was working toward with the Corinthians.

1 Thessalonians 3:6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. 9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God,

Do you hear what he says? The good news of their faith and love brought the apostle joy. The gospel had taken root, and they were standing firm in believing. The gospel had taken root and was producing the fruit of love among them. Their belief in the gospel had created warm affections for the one who came and preached to them; they longed to see him again. There was mutual affection and mutual joy. Paul, in the midst of distress and affliction, says ‘now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.’ You see this triangular relationship. Paul is loving Jesus and finding joy in Jesus. That love and joy overflows horizontally and he brings that good news to the Thessalonians, so that they can find love and joy in relationship with Jesus. As he sees them enjoying God together, it increases his joy. He finds joy in their joy, and his joy is their joy.

Paul is not the only one who talks like this. John makes it clear what brings him joy.

2 John 1:4 I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.

…12 Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

3 John 1:3 For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

His greatest joy is to see other believers enjoying Jesus, walking in the truth.

He says it most clearly in 1 John.

1 John 1:3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

We (the apostles) proclaim what we have seen and heard (the gospel of Jesus Christ) so that you may enter into our fellowship with the Father and the Son; as we have a reconciled relationship with God and enjoy intimacy with Jesus, when you believe the gospel you also enter in to fellowship with God. And when you enter into that fellowship, our joy is complete. There is vertical fellowship with God, and there is horizontal fellowship with other believers. When that triangle is complete; when I am enjoying God, and you are enjoying God, and I see you enjoying God, I rejoice in your joy in God, and my joy is your joy; then our joy is complete.

C.S. Lewis writes “It is frustrating …to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch…” Our joy is fulfilled when it is shared.

This is the joy of the triune God. Last time we said that we can enjoy God because God is joy. For God’s joy to be full, it must be joy in another; and yet for the joy to not be idolatrous joy, it must be joy in God. The Father delights in his only Son, and the Son delights in the Father. The Spirit delights in the Father and the Son, and the Son delights in the Spirit’s delighting in the Father and the Son, and so on, and so the joy of God in God is shared, and is complete. This is joy in relationship; shared joy.

Joy and Grief Shared in the Body

Paul has pointed to this shared joy already in 1 Corinthians 12 with the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

24 … But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

The members of the body are meant to be unified, to care for one another. Because we are part of a body, when one member is pained, the whole body experiences the pain. When on member experiences joy, the whole body rejoices together. This is God’s design. God has so composed the body. Paul is working for their joy, because they are connected. Their joy is his joy, and his joy is theirs.

Listen to Paul’s confidence in verse 3; ‘for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all.’ Paul is confidently pursuing their joy, even by bringing them pain, because he is persuaded that when his children are walking in the truth, he can rejoice, and this will also bring them the greatest joy. Paul has a theological confidence in the way God designed the body that frees him to seek their greatest good even when it causes him pain, because he knows that pursuing their joy will bring him the most joy in the end.

The Way of the Cross

Paul would have been tempted to come, to clear his name, to defend his honor, to set things straight. Instead, he chose the way of the cross. He chose to be wronged rather than to demand his own way. He chose to spare them, to extend mercy, to give them time to repent. He himself bore the pain.

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

Paul had mentioned his affliction in Asia in chapter 1.

2 Corinthians 1:8 … the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death….

Now he says he wrote out of much affliction and anguish of heart. In chapter 7 he mentions:

2 Corinthians 7:5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn— fighting without and fear within.

Here he may be talking about his fears within. Much affliction and anguish of heart heaped on top of the burden beyond strength despairing of life itself. Anyone who has experienced relational conflict and tension understands the soul draining energy sapping fatigue of being emotionally spent. Paul writes through his tears, not to cause pain, but out of pain. He writes to open his heart to them.

In verse 4 the word order is emphatic; but the love, in order that you might know that I have abundantly to you. Paul has to let them know right up front that it is love, not in order to grieve, but his abundant love for them, in order that they know that he has abundantly toward them. Paul did not write to hurt them, to spite them, because he was angry with them; it was love. He doesn’t even directly say that they hurt him; he wrote out of affliction and anguish of heart, but he doesn’t blame. Instead he seeks to avoid causing them unnecessary sorrow. He wants to spare them. He loves them. His decision making, his life, his ministry is modeled after the cross. Jesus doesn’t say ‘wow, look how much you hurt me, look how terrible you are.’ No, he says ‘I want you to know how abundantly much I love you. I want you to experience joy. I want a relationship with you.’

Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

We worship a God who brings comfort to us in all our affliction, and who can bring joy even through the pain of relationships. God is working with us for our multiplied joy.

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

February 25, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 1:17-19; Making Plans and the Promises of God

11/19 2 Corinthians 1:17-19; Making Plans and the Promises of God ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20171119_2cor1_17-19.mp3

2 Corinthians 1:14 …—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.

15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

Paul had changed his travel plans more than once. Paul is answering the accusation that he makes his plans lightly, according to the flesh. How does Paul make his plans? How should we make plans? And how ought we to answer those who seek to discredit us?

How Paul Makes Plans

In verse 15, Paul speaks of his will or his purpose; ‘I wanted,’ or ‘I purposed to come to you first.’ Here in verse 17, he uses forms of this word purpose three more times; ‘This my purpose therefore was not in lightness or fickleness toward you; or what I purpose is it according to the flesh that I purpose?’ Paul’s purpose, his will, his resolve is being questioned. He answers that his purpose was not by the lightness toward you. He uses the definite article ‘the‘ probably referring to the word he had heard they had used of him. Paul is fickle; he vacillates. My plans toward you are not by the vacillation you accuse me of. This word translated ‘vacillating’ literally means light as opposed to weighty. We might say his plans are up in the air, being tossed back and forth. Paul starts by addressing the alleged lightness of his plans, and he brings us back around at the end of verse 20 to the glory of God, glory in the Old Testament being weightiness or heaviness; gravity. Paul’s plans are not unsubstantial or fluffy; rather they are designed to draw attention to the weightiness of God.

Jesus and James and Oaths

‘Or what I purpose is it according to the flesh that I purpose?’ In Paul, the flesh is frequently contrasted to the Spirit. Are plans made according to fleshly human wisdom, or are they made by the guidance of God’s Spirit? Numbers 23 says:

Numbers 23:19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

It would be merely human wisdom that would make plans and say yes, yes, and then change to no, no.

Why the double yes and the double no? This is actually an echo of what Jesus said in Matthew 5.

Matthew 5:33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

Literally, Jesus says ‘let your word be Yes, yes; No, no.’ Jesus is not teaching that we can never take oaths; rather he is saying we ought to be plain and straightforward with what we say. In Matthew 23:16-22 Jesus gives us a clue as to the background of what he says. He lets us know that the Pharisees were saying:

Matthew 23:16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’

This was a way to make it sound like you were taking an oath but to leave yourself an out. It is this kind of oath taking that was intended to deceive that Jesus is against. A simple yes should suffice. To make it emphatic, he allows a ‘yes, yes.’ James picks this up.

James 5:12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

Paul’s words match James here exactly; ‘the yes, yes and the no, no.’ It seems that Paul is being accused of making a firm promise, He spoke the ‘yes, yes I am coming to visit’ and turned that into the ‘no no.’ ‘Yes, yes I care about you; No, no you’re not important to me.’ Paul says the Yes, yes and the No, no. His words sound strong, but they are wind. He doesn’t mean what he says. We can’t believe what he says. He’s not to be trusted. He’s fleshly.

How do you answer an accusation like that? His character is being undermined. It was true that he changed his plans. How do you defend the sincerity of your words, in a letter, with words?

God’s Faithfulness and God’s Son

Paul points them to the faithfulness of God. ‘As surely as God is faithful.’ Paul swears by the faithfulness of God; he draws attention to God’s faithfulness, he puts God’s faithfulness on center stage. His own faithfulness is derivative and dependent on God’s own prior faithfulness. He can be faithful only because God has been unwaveringly faithful to him.

‘But faithful is God, because the word of us to you is not yes and no.’ Paul here makes a play on words. He refers to the Logos, the Word from John 1:1. The content of Paul’s preaching, Paul’s word is the Word made flesh; Jesus Christ and him crucified. ‘The word from us to you is not yes and no, because Jesus was not yes and no’

He makes this explicit in the next verse; ‘For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed.’ Our word is not yes and no, because Jesus, the incarnate Word is not yes and no. Our proclamation, our word is the Word, and our proclamation of the Word must match the character of the divine Word made flesh.

‘For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed.’ The emphasis here is on God; ‘For the of God Son Jesus Christ.’ Jesus is God’s Son.

This is the only time in 2 Corinthians that Jesus is referred to as the Son of God. And packed into this little phrase is the gospel. In Romans 1:9, Paul can summarize the gospel as ‘the gospel of his Son.’ When Saul was converted, according to Acts 9,

Acts 9:20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

God made this promise to David:

2 Samuel 7:12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.

God promised David that he would be a Father to one of David’s sons, who would be a king forever. Jesus, son of David is the only begotten Son of God. God loved the world in this way, that he gave his only Son; he sent his preexistent Son into the world; we must believe in the only Son of God (Jn.3:16-18)

Romans 8:3 For God … By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,

Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

This identity as the Son, we see is connected with something troubling if we look back to 2 Samuel 7

2 Samuel 7:14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.

This coming Son of God is a suffering servant, we learn from Isaiah, who suffers for our iniquities, not his own. Jesus was the Son who always did what pleased the Father (Jn.8:29); “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt.17:5; cf.3:17). The beloved son imagery is a thread that runs through the story of the Old Testament, from the righteous Abel killed by his brother, the promised son Isaac to be offered as a sacrifice, Jacob who must flee for his life, the favored son Joseph sold by his brothers into slavery, even to chosen Israel, who suffered in bondage before being rescued. This all points to Jesus, the beloved Son, well pleasing to his Father, who is betrayed, rejected, crucified, made to be sin for us. In Corinth, Paul determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1Cor.2:2).

Paul’s Plans and the Grace of God

Paul had said back in verse 12 that he conducted himself with the simplicity and sincerity that comes from God; that he conducted himself not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God. Here he unpacks what it means to live and make plans by the grace of God.

2 Corinthians 1:18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes.

‘God’s Son Jesus Christ, who in you through us was proclaimed, through me and Silvanus and Timothy’. The Corinthians heard the message of the Son of God through the testimony of these three witnesses; Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. Christ came to be in them, dwelling in their hearts through faith because Christ was proclaimed through these faithful servants. They did not come in power and persuasive speech, but their lives were shaped like Jesus, suffering, rejected, imprisoned, mistreated, beaten. This is what it looked like to live by the grace of God. God’s grace comes to us in the form of a crucified Jesus. God’s grace is communicated to us through the proclamation of his suffering servants.

1 Corinthians 1:20 …Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. …23 but we preach Christ crucified, …25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The Corinthians wanted strength and poise. But God’s grace comes in apparent weakness and foolishness. Yes I am coming to you in strength; no I am weak; yes I have a powerful message; no it is the foolishness of Christ crucified.

The Yes of God

2 Corinthians 1:18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.

Jesus did not become yes and no. In him the Yes has come to be. God’s yes has come into existence in Jesus. Things are not always as they seem. Jesus was despised and rejected. He came to his own, but his own did not receive him (Jn.1:11). Is there any room for him in the inn? No. He was betrayed by a friend, arrested, falsely accused, mistreated, condemned, crucified. Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews? NO! My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? A resounding ‘NO!’ But it is in this No that God’s yes to us is concealed. God said no to Jesus so he could say yes to us. Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me. God said No to Jesus, so he would never have to say No to us! Jesus took the no, the disapproval, the wrath of God for us. Jesus endured the no of his Father so that we could enjoy his yes. In him the Yes has come to be! As many promises of God as there are, the Yes is in him!

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

November 19, 2017 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Comfort in Affliction

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

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

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

Missing Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

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

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

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

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

The Father of Mercies

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

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

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

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

The God of All Comfort

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

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

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

We need to redefine comfort. Dictionary.com defines

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

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

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

Comfort in All Our Affliction

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

Purpose In Afflictions

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 3:10b

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

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

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

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

Sharing Abundantly in Christ’s Sufferings

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

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

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

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

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

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

We and You

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

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

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

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

All for your comfort

2 Corinthians 1:6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Corinthians Introduction

10/01 2 Corinthians Introduction; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20171001_2cor-intro.mp3

Lost Books

Turn with me to 4th Corinthians… You will find it in your Bibles as 2 Corinthians, but it was likely the fourth letter Paul wrote to this church. 1 Corinthians 5:9 refers back to a previous letter that the Corinthians had misunderstood, so that would make our 1 Corinthians Paul’s second letter. Then 2 Corinthians 2 and 7 refers back to a painful letter that grieved the Corinthians, making 2 Corinthians his fourth letter to this tumultuous church.

So if you’ve ever heard of the lost books of the Bible, those are them. In the sovereign wisdom of God they were not preserved for us. God preserved his word exactly as he intended for us to benefit by it. If you hear people claiming that they have discovered some of the lost books of the bible, examine the evidence carefully. The ‘lost’ books that people often claim are not lost at all; rather they have been known throughout the history of Christianity and have been rejected by believers as false writings.

What we know as 2 Corinthians is a passionate letter, sometimes sarcastic, intimately personal and transparent, even raw. In it we see the heart of the apostle, and the depth of his love for a broken church. We get a glimpse into the emotional struggles of ministry, and how Paul handles conflict and tension in relationships. Most of all, we see ministry shaped by the cross; that the gospel message of Christ crucified shapes all authentic ministry.

History of the Church in Corinth

It will be helpful as we launch into a study of 2 Corinthians to sketch out a rough sequence of the history of this church and where this letter fits. On what is known as Paul’s second missionary journey, when Paul was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia (Acts 16:6), he had a vision in which God called him to preach in Macedonia (Acts 16:9-10). They preached and were imprisoned in the Macedonian city of Philippi, and then after being released, they preached and were persecuted in Thessalonica and Berea. Paul was brought alone to Athens to escape the riots and preached there while he waited for Silas and Timothy to rejoin him. Listen to the birth of this church as Luke tells it in Acts 18:

Acts 18:1 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. 9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. 12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. 18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. …

After over a year and a half in Corinth, Paul sailed for a brief stop in Ephesus, where he left Priscilla and Aquila, then on to the port of Caesarea. From there he visited the Jerusalem church, and then traveled back to his home church in Syrian Antioch. This ended his second missionary journey. Sometime after he left Ephesus, the eloquent Apollos came to Ephesus and was discipled briefly by Priscilla and Aquila before being sent with a letter of recommendation to the church in Corinth.

In the spring of the next year, Paul traveled by land north from Antioch through the regions of Galatia and into Asia, arriving at Ephesus and spending over 2 years there.

It was early during his first year in Ephesus that Paul received news of trouble in the church in Corinth, and wrote them the ‘previous letter,’ “not to associate with sexually immoral people” (1Cor.5:9).

Later, he received correspondence from the church in Corinth asking a number of questions, along with a report of more trouble in the church there, brought by Chloe’s people, possibly Sosthenes (1:1), Stephanas, Fortunatus, Achaicus (16:17); he was also joined by Timothy and Erastus (Acts 19:22). At some point Apollos also returned to Ephesus with Paul (1Cor.16:12).

It was in response to their letter and the reports he was receiving that he wrote what we know as 1 Corinthians, and sent it with believers sailing to Corinth, possibly with Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus, or maybe with Timothy or Titus. In 1 Corinthians, he addressed the issues of divisiveness and party spirit, immorality, idolatry, disorderly worship, and confusion over the resurrection.

Paul’s plan as stated at the end of 1 Corinthians, was to leave Ephesus the following spring and travel through Macedonia to visit them, and spend some time with them, and then the following spring to carry their gift to the church in Jerusalem.

1 Corinthians 16:3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me. 5 I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, 6 and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

But after Timothy arrived in Corinth and saw that the Corinthians did not respond well to Paul’s instructions, he sent word to Paul and Paul changed his plans and made an emergency visit to Corinth. This proved to be a difficult confrontation, a ‘painful visit’ (2Cor.2:1). After Paul returned to Ephesus, he was personally attacked and his authority rejected and undermined by the individual.

He apparently planned to complete his ministry in Ephesus, sail to Corinth, continue up through Macedonia to receive their collection, then stop again in Corinth on his way back to Jerusalem with the collection (2Cor.1:15-16). Instead, when he received news that things only got worse in Corinth after his painful visit, he sent Titus with a ‘painful letter’ (2Cor.2:3-4)

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

Paul sent this third painful letter with Titus, and he sent Timothy and Erastus ahead into Macedonia to prepare for the collection (Acts 19:21-22). After a riot in Ephesus, Paul traveled north through Asia to the port at Troas. He says

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

Paul expected that Titus would sail from Corinth to Troas with news. Finding no sign of Titus, Paul traveled on to Macedonia, where he says:

2 Corinthians 7:5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn— fighting without and fear within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. 8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. …

The painful letter had accomplished its desired response from the Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 7:13 Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. 14 For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. 15 And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. 16 I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.

It was in response to Titus’ report on Corinth that Paul together with Timothy wrote what we know as 2 Corinthians from Macedonia. He sent Titus ahead of him to deliver the letter, as he continued to minister in Macedonia and make his way down to Corinth.

Although Titus and the painful letter had accomplished much to mend the relationship between the Apostle and this church, there was still much work to be done, and 2 Corinthians attempts to move this work forward and prepare them for his visit. About a year later, Paul arrives in Corinth and stays with them for 3 months. Paul wrote his letter to the Romans during his stay at Gaius’ house in Corinth (1Cor.1:14; Rom.16:23). From there, he had to return through Macedonia because of a plot (Acts 20:3), and eventually returned to Jerusalem with the gift, where he was taken into Roman custody and eventually to Rome. Paul’s outlook in Romans is that

Romans 15:18 …Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; …23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.

Apparently 2 Corinthians also accomplished its purpose.

Counter-Cultural

Corinth was a city where social status was a big deal; eloquent wisdom was prized, and pursuit of prosperity and power was the main goal. We already saw in 1 Corinthians that Paul took a totally counter-cultural approach. He refused to come with lofty speech or wisdom, but determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. He came in weakness and fear and much trembling (1Cor.2:1-5). God had turned the ideas of status and honor upside down by choosing the foolish, the weak, the low, the despised, the nothings, to shame the wise, powerful, noble, and strong, to eradicate boasting and pride (1Cor.1:26-31). Paul had offended them by working for his living with menial hands-on labor, refusing to take money from them (1Cor.9). He refused to put himself on a pedestal to be honored, rather identifying himself as a servant.

The Corinthians continued to struggle with these concepts that are really at the heart of the gospel. The gospel is a message of grace – being given something you don’t deserve.

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Jesus gave us what we didn’t earn. Jesus shows us that true greatness is not being served, but serving; humbly serving others for their good. The gospel is a message about a King who laid aside his royal robes and stooped down to serve in the filth and grime, in the lowest, most menial way.

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

Paul takes this very seriously; to seek honor is to abandon the gospel.

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.

2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

The Corinthians wanted an apostle that was powerful, eloquent, triumphant; but Paul’s ministry was characterized by suffering, affliction, shame, dishonor. He was weak, plain, poor, unimpressive. Instead of being served, he chose to serve others. Instead of accepting honor, he directed all honor to Jesus.

2 Corinthians 4:5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

Outline

Chapters 1-7 explain the characteristics of genuine ministry; gospel ministry is ministry that looks like the gospel and is shaped by the gospel. Real ministry is service that embraces suffering for the good of others.

Chapters 8-9 encourage an experience of God’s grace to overflow in practical generosity to others.

Chapters 11-13 confront the false apostles who proclaim a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel.

***

Timeline (approximate):

AD 50-51 Paul’s first visit to Corinth (1.5+ years) (Acts 18)

AD 52-55 Paul in Ephesus (2+ years) (Acts 19)

52 Writes ‘previous letter’ (1Cor.5:9)

53 Writes 1 Corinthians (1Cor.16)

54 Second ‘painful visit’ (2Cor.2:1)

54 Writes ‘painful letter’ (2Cor.2:3-4)

AD 55-56 Paul ministers in Troas and Macedonia (Acts 20:1; 2 Cor.7:5-7)

55 Writes 2 Corinthians from Macedonia (2Cor.7-9)

AD 57 Paul’s 3rd visit to Corinth (3 months) (2Cor.13:1; Acts 20:2-3)

57 Writes Romans from Corinth (Rom.16)

2 Corinthians Outline:

1-7 Gospel ministry is ministry shaped by the gospel

8-9 God’s grace overflows in practical generosity

10-13 False apostles proclaim a false jesus, false spirit, false gospel

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

October 1, 2017 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Spirit’s Fruit; Patience Like Jesus

06/25 The Spirit’s Fruit; Patience like Jesus; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170625_patience-like-jesus.mp3

We are studying the fruit of the Spirit. Notice, fruit is singular. These nine characteristics describe one whole fruit. This is not a buffet line – a little bit of this, a lot of that, I’ll pass on that. No, for the fruit to be present, all of these characteristics must be there and growing. And remember, this is the Spirit’s fruit, and it is in contrast to the works of the flesh. You cannot produce this fruit on your own. God the Holy Spirit must come inside and make this happen in you. It is evidence that he is there. There are counterfeits. Things that we might call love and joy and peace and patience, in our lives or the life of an unbeliever, but they are not Spirit produced. What we are talking about is what the Old Testament pointed forward to in the promise of the New Covenant.

Ezekiel 36:25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

So take heart! Notice who is doing the work. God says ‘I will.’ I will cleanse you. Because of the blood of Jesus, because of his crucifixion in your place, I will cleanse you. I will set you free from all your idols. Idols like enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy (Gal.5:20-21). I will give you a new heart. I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove your hard stony heart. I will put my Holy Spirit within you. I will cause you to walk in my statutes. I will cause you to be careful to obey my rules. This is fruit. This is New Covenant fruit. This is God the Father, founded on the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, through his Holy Spirit working transformation in us for his glory. I will sprinkle, I will cleanse, I will give, I will put, I will remove, I will put I will cause.

We need this confidence. We need this encouragement, because today we are looking at patience. Love, joy, peace, patience. Love is willing, costly self-giving for the good of others. Joy is a weighty delight in God that is unaffected by outward circumstances. Peace is God’s own quiet confidence and restful awareness that all is under his control, and all is well. What is patience?

Patience and Anger

There are some things that go under the name of patience which are not the real fruit of patience. I tend to have a patient temperament. In high school I had friends try to make me angry just to see if it was possible. Where my friends failed, somehow my children have succeeded! That is not what we are talking about. You can act patience and put up with a lot because you just don’t care that much. Patience is not being passive, indifferent, or tolerant of wrongs (Powilson, p.78). It is not merely a stoic resolution to not be ruffled by circumstances.

The Greek New Testament word for patience here is: μακροθυμία macro as opposed to micro. Micro when you are near, step in close, zoom in like a microscope. Macro is when you step back, far far back, and take in the big picture. It can mean distant or long. Μακροθυμία; θυμός is where we get thermal; heat. It means fury, wrath, indignation.

Romans 2:8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath [ὀργὴ] and fury [θυμός].

In Galatians 5:20 the works of the flesh include (θυμοί) fits of anger.

The idea of this word μακροθυμία is that it takes a long time to get angry; anger is distant, far off. It takes a long time to get hot. We say someone is hot tempered and has a short fuse. This is the opposite; a long fuse. Slow to anger. The Old English word is longsuffering. Love suffers long.

Notice this passage does not say that the fruit of the Spirit is ‘never angered’ but ‘slow to anger’. There is a place for anger. Anger is a good God given emotion. Anger is the passionate response to what is evil that does something to bring about good. Anger often goes bad in us, but that does not mean that anger itself is bad.

Patience with Circumstances and Patience with People

There is another Greek New Testament word that is also on occasion translated ‘patience’. It is ὑπομονή. We see both in Colossians 1:11.

Colossians 1:11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance [ὑπομονήν] and patience [μακροθυμίαν] with joy,

Notice God’s power is supplied to bring about both endurance and patience with joy. The description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 begins with μακροθυμία and ends with ὑπομονή

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient [μακροθυμεῖ] and kind; … 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures [ὑπομένει] all things.

ὑπομονή patience leans in the direction of patience under adverse circumstances, patience with outward pressures. Μακροθυμία patience is more patience with adverse people. What do you do when someone wrongs you? How do you respond to irritating people? People who impose on you, inconvenience you, offend you?

Ephesians 4; Unity, Humility, and Putting Up with Crap

We see some of this in Ephesians 4.

Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Notice how patience is here, but it is not alone? It is connected with humility, gentleness, love. It is rooted in an eagerness. There is an eagerness to maintain the unity of the Spirit. There is a diligent labor toward unity. Not superficial unity, but real, genuine unity, unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Patience is a tool toward this kind of unity. Not being easily angered by my brother or sister but bearing with one another is a powerful tool toward unity. This striving toward unity with patience grows out of humility. This verse uses two words that can both be translated humility; modesty and meekness. Patience comes when I don’t think that I’m better, more important, more worthy than someone else. Patience comes with a proper view of who I am. I become impatient, even hot tempered when I feel that my schedule is more important than yours. My need for that parking spot is greater than yours. ‘I was here first!’ My comfort, my agenda ranks higher than yours. ‘Why are you getting in my way? Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you understand what I have to accomplish? You are hindering me. Me!’

Jesus initiates an upside down kingdom. He says it is the one who puts others first, who cares for the least of these who is truly great (Mt.25).

Matthew 18:4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

This humility of considering the needs of others as more important than our own is what allows us to patiently bear with one another in love. There is stuff we will have to put up with. There are misunderstandings. There are unintentional insensitivities. There are also legitimate wrongs. But because we are actively pursuing spiritual unity, because we are walking in genuine humility, we can genuinely love the other person by patiently putting up with the crap they throw our way.

Colossians 3; Patience and Forgiveness

We see this same thing in Colossians 3:12.

Colossians 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Again, we see patience does not stand alone. Patience is coupled with compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness. Patience puts up with the junk people knowingly or unknowingly throw at us. It is intentionally moving toward love and harmony and peace and unity in the body. Patience moves in this direction by bearing with and forgiving. Not everything has to be confronted. Some things we can choose to let go. Was it really that big of a deal? Can I just let it go? Can I assume the best, assume it was unintentional, assume you meant well, give you the benefit of the doubt and just let it go? Have I ever wronged or offended someone unintentionally? Can I in humility bear with them?

But maybe my complaint is genuine (or at least I have convinced myself that it is genuine). Then for the sake of unity, for the sake of harmony, for the sake of the peace of my own heart, in thanksgiving, because Christ Jesus has forgiven all my legitimate wrongs, I must forgive. Here we see patience and putting up with one another linked to forgiveness. The word in this verse for forgiving is χαρίζομαι from the root χάρις -grace. It means to grant as an undeserved favor, to gratuitously pardon or rescue. What you did was wrong. I have a legitimate complaint against you. I have a valid reason to be angry. You don’t deserve to receive my patience. But because Jesus has freely and undeservedly extended his gracious forgiveness to me, I must freely, graciously forgive you.

God’s Immense Patience

Do you see where we get this kind of patience? It comes from the same place all the other facets of the fruit of the Spirit come from. It comes from God. It is produced by the Spirit in us. It comes through looking. Looking in faith to God. Looking to who God is, to God’s character, as we long for God’s character to be reproduced in us. It comes through looking to Jesus. Our patience, our slowness to anger grows out of a relationship with God who is slow to anger.

Back in Exodus, shortly after God had rescued his people out of their slavery in Egypt, and he had called Moses up to the mountain to receive his laws, and the people grew impatient and made for themselves idols to worship. God was rightly angry, but Moses prayed, and God relented from the disaster he had spoken of bringing on the people (Ex.32). Because of this, Moses is emboldened to ask to see the glory of God.

Exodus 34:5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Our God is a God who is immensely slow to anger. He has a long fuse. He is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He is eager to forgive iniquity and transgression and sin. Yet he is also just. He will right every wrong, and punish every sin. This understanding of the nature of God should cause us to be cautious in condemning God for seemingly excessive acts of violence. We read things like ‘The Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven’ (Gen.19:24).

Numbers 16:31 …the ground under them split apart. 32 And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.

Or in the conquest, at the command of the LORD, ‘we … devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors’ (Deut 2:34, 7:2). Our inclination is to say ‘that’s too harsh’. But we must remember the patience of God. As Peter says,

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

God is longsuffering toward all, eager for all to turn and find repentance. We are to

2 Peter 3:15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,

Paul says in Romans 2:

Romans 2:3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

God is slow to anger, immensely slow to anger, but his anger will come at the proper time. He is absolutely just. God’s anger is not quick and reactionary, it is not intended for his own convenience. God’s anger is cautious and constructive, slowly bringing about his own good purposes. God’s judgment is inescapable. But he is rich in kindness and forbearance. He is rich in longsuffering.

James 1:19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

So where does this kind of patience come from? The kind that is legitimately wronged and does not demand payment? The kind that does not say ‘you have wronged me, and I will make sure you wish you hadn’t. I’m going to hold you in my debt (which is bitterness) and make sure you feel the weight of what you did to me. The kind that freely, graciously, undeservedly reaches out and rescues my offender from what they deserve, at great personal cost? This kind of slow to anger patience only comes from looking to Jesus.

The Anger of Jesus

Let’s look at an instance of the anger of Jesus. In Mark 3,

Mark 3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, …

This is a set-up. The religious leaders are against him. Jesus is doing good, and exposing the religious people in their predatory and self-serving ways. He describes them in another passage

Matthew 23:4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others….

Jesus knows this is a setup. He knows they are out to kill him. So he asks them a diagnostic question; is it lawful to do good or to do harm? To save a life or to kill? They are seeking his harm, they are seeking occasion against him. He holds up a mirror to reveal their own hearts. But they were silent. They were resolute in their determined opposition to him. They refused to look at their own hearts, their own need. Jesus looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart. Jesus was angry, but his anger was mixed with sorrow. He understood what they would do. He understood their need. He loved his enemies. He was grieved that they didn’t care about this person with a withered hand; they were willing to use him as bait. He was grieved that they couldn’t see their own shriveled hearts, and that one who with the power to make them new on the inside was standing among them.

Mark 3:5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

Jesus was angry and grieved, but he acted in love. And he sealed his own fate. His enemies went out and held counsel against him, how to destroy him. Jesus’ anger was not moved by what would benefit himself. It moved out to do real good for those in need. It saw the real problem and moved decisively to fix it.

Jesus’ lovingly patient anger led him to the cross. Jesus was angry and grieved at their hardness of heart. And he took my hard heart on himself, he took my selfish pride, my callous indifference to the needs of others, my blindness to who he was, ‘He himself bore my sins in his body on the tree’ (1Pet.2:24).

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

The cross of Jesus the display of the patient anger of God against all that is wrong and hurtful and broken in his world. The cross fully displayed his perfect love of justice and righteousness; his incomprehensible love toward those who wronged him, by acting in anger for their eternal joy.

I can be slow to anger with those who have wronged me, because Jesus endured the full heat of the fury of Almighty God against all my sin. ‘It was the will of the LORD to crush him’ (Is.53:10). I can bear with the wrongs of others against me, I can act in love, because he bore all my wrongs, because when I was his enemy, he laid down his life in love for me.

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

June 26, 2017 Posted by | Fruit of the Spirit, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Spirit’s Fruit; Love Like Jesus

05/28 The Spirit’s Fruit: Love Like Jesus; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170528_love-like-jesus.mp3

We are looking at the fruit of the Spirit. Or, we could say, this is a study on holiness, on Christian character, on godliness. The fruit of the Spirit is the character that the Holy Spirit produces in the life of a believer. This is not something I can work hard to produce in my life; this is something that I am completely dependent on God the Spirit to produce in me. I can do things to cooperate with the Spirit in his work in me, and I can do things to frustrate and delay his work in me, but the fruit of the Spirit is in contrast to the works of the flesh. I cannot produce the Spirit’s fruit with my own effort. I must depend on him, trust him, rely on him to make this happen in my life. It is fruit that the Holy Spirit of God alone can produce.

Fruit Different than Gifts

The fruit of the Spirit is contrasted against the works of the flesh. It is also contrasted with the gifts of the Spirit. Gifts are optional, fruit is mandatory. Every believer is given gifts by the Spirit, but no gift is mandatory. You don’t have to have the gift of tongues or teaching or prophecy to be a genuine believer. No believer has all the gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:11 tells us that ‘the Spirit apportions [the gifts] to each one individually as he wills.’ But you do have to have the fruit. In the middle of Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians, at the end of chapter 12 he says ‘And I will show you a still more excellent way.’ And then in chapter 13 he says that gifts without character are worthless, empty and count for nothing. Chapter 13 is the famous ‘love chapter’ where he encourages us to pursue love as the ‘more excellent way’ than gifts. Then in chapter 14 he continues with specific instructions on the gifts of the Spirit, that they must be used out of the Christian character of love. We will come back around to 1 Corinthians 13 in a few minutes.

Gifts are outward; manifestations of the Spirit, actions. Fruit is inward; character. The actions can be manufactured or counterfeited. Fruit grows out of a relationship with Jesus. In talking about fruit and works, Jesus said:

Matthew 7:20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

So according to Jesus, someone can be manifesting the gifts of the Spirit and not have a genuine relationship with Jesus. But fruit will grow out of that relationship.

Fruit Different than Personality

And notice carefully, gifts are plural, fruit is singular. You may have two or three or five gifts of the Spirit, and your gifts will probably be a different combination than mine. But we don’t look at the fruit that way. We don’t say, out of the nine things listed here in Galatians 5, I only have these three fruits. I have some of the fruits, and you have some of the other fruits, and so as a body of believers we’ve got them all covered. No. That is how the gifts work, but that is not how the fruit works. It is fruit. Singular. It is one symmetrical fruit. Listed in this passage are nine characteristics of this one fruit, but it is one fruit. Either all nine characteristics are true of you (at least in some beginning degree), or the Spirit is not producing his fruit in you. The whole fruit of the Spirit is evidence that you are a genuine believer. This sets the fruit of the Spirit apart from human personality.

You know some people that are just bubbly and happy-go-lucky and are a boost to be around. They might not know Jesus, but that’s just who they are. But they may not have much self-control, or they’re a bit short on faithfulness. Then there are others, who are very patient and gentle, but they just seem a bit down, often depressed. Or others who are very self-disciplined, self-controlled, faithful to the Lord, they know what needs to be done and they get it done, but they may not be very gentle or kind in the process. Don’t get in their way. That’s not the fruit of the Spirit.

You may read the nine traits of Spirit produced character and you may feel that you’re just naturally one or two or five of them, but that’s not what we are talking about. This fruit is not natural. This is supernatural fruit; Holy Spirit produced fruit. And the Spirit produces character, balanced whole character in believers.

Fruit Grows

We could think of this many faceted character as a diamond. It is one diamond, but it has many sides, many facets. Or as light through a prism; it is one thing, light, but if we put it through a prism, we see the spectrum of individual colors that make up the light. But Paul chooses to illustrate this as fruit, because fruit is organic. It grows. And it takes time. Fruit isn’t produced overnight. A fruit tree has a dormant season. It appears dead. But it is growing. Even in the winter, it is getting strong, going deep. Fruit is produced slowly, gradually, imperceptibly. But it is growing. And it produces after its kind. An apple tree will inevitably produce apples. That’s what it is and that’s what it does. The Spirit produces this kind of Christian character. Inevitably. If you have been born again by the Spirit of God, he will bring about this fruit in your life. Slowly, often imperceptibly. With long quiet seasons of dormancy. But unfailingly.

Love Commanded

Today we are looking at the first facet of the Spirit’s fruit; love. Love is not randomly chosen to head the list. Love is central. When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment,

Mark 12:29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Paul said:

Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Galatians 5:14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

James says:

James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

When Paul exalts fruit as more essential than gifts, he points us to love. He says:

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. …

Love Defined

What is love? Paul’s description is helpful; it tells us some things love is (some of them we find in this description of the fruit of the Spirit); it is patient and kind, it rejoices with the truth; it bears all, believes, all, hopes all, endures all. And he tells us some things it’s not. Love does not envy or boast, it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing. It never stops.

Not Hunger Love

Tim Keller was very helpful in my thinking on this. He lays out two things love is not that help protect us from our culturally conditioned ideas of love. He says that love is not need love or hunger love; and love is not tolerance [Timothy Keller Sermon Archive, April 26, 1998; The Fruit of the Spirit- the Character of Christ; John 13:1-21; Logos]

He says “In the world, there is something people call love that is really hunger. Hunger says, ‘I love you,’ which means, ‘You make me feel good about myself. You fill me up. You make me feel like I’m significant. I want to own you. I want to have you. I want you to make me feel like a real individual. I want you to help me become myself.’ That’s hunger. Think about this. If you go up to a beautiful fruit tree and you’re absolutely full, how do you enjoy it? You say, ‘Look at it. It’s beautiful.’ You might take some cobwebs off, or an old, dead leaf, anything that detracts from its beauty. How are you appreciating it? For what it is in itself. But if you come in front of a beautiful fruit tree and you are ravenously hungry, … you are very attracted to the fruit tree in a completely different way. You don’t care. ‘Oh, I love that fruit tree. I’ll strip it. I’ll rip it. I’ll break it. I don’t care.’ You see, I don’t love it for itself; I love it as a commodity. I love it for what it’s going to do for me.” This is not the kind of love that is the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit comes from fullness, not from hunger and need.

Not Tolerance

He also says that true biblical love is not tolerance. “’If I see somebody hurting themselves and I don’t love them that much, I don’t know them that much, I’m tolerant.’ Think about this. The less I love somebody, the more tolerant I am if I see them doing things that seem to be hurting themselves. But the more I love somebody, the less tolerant I am. …’I want to shake them. I want to say, ‘can’t you see? Don’t you know what you’re doing to yourself? You’re becoming less and less yourself every time I see you.’ I’m not angry because I hate them; I’m angry because I love them. If I didn’t love them, I’d walk away. Real love stands against deception. Real love stands against lies that destroy.”

Biblical Love

So what is this love that is fruit produce by the Holy Spirit in us? How do we define it? We need to look to God’s love to see what love truly is. God’s love is self-giving.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world [God loved the world in this way], that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

God’s love is love that gives sacrificially for the good of the other. Jesus says to his followers in John 13:

John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

And then again in John 15:

John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

So Jesus holds himself up as the standard of the love that he commands in his followers. Jesus himself is to define love. And then he says:

John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Self-sacrificial self-giving love, costly love. Jesus love is not need love or hunger love. He does not love us for what he can get from us. He does not love us because there is something appealing or attractive about us. His love sees our ugliness, our sin, our filth, and loves us. Neither is Jesus’ love a tolerant love. Jesus does not look at us in our sin and say ‘I love you and I am content to leave you just the way you are.’ No. Jesus intends to change us. To wash us, to cleanse us, to forgive us, to set us free, to transform us, to make us new, to create something beautiful in us. Jesus’ love is a purging purifying sanctifying cleansing transforming love. Listen to Ephesians:

Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Love is a willing self-sacrificial love.

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as 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.

Love is willingly self-giving for the good of the other. Even joyfully self sacrificial (as we’ll see next week).

How the Fruit of Love Grows In Us

If that is what this kind of love is, and I look at myself and see that there’s not much of that there, then what do I do? Maybe I thought of myself as a loving person, but mine is really a selfish self-serving needy love. Maybe it’s a tolerant anything goes love. How can I see God’s self-giving love grow in my life? Remember, it is fruit. Fruit produced by the Holy Spirit.

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

The fruit is produced when it’s not me but Christ living in me. But how does that happen? This kind of life is lived by faith. By dependence. By believing. I begin to love like this when I look with faith to Jesus and see how he loved me. He loved me and gave himself for me. Is it really that simple? Look to Jesus? Yes! When you look to Jesus in faith, and make it personal, it changes everything!

Love Displayed

Jesus, the Son of God, God the Son, loved me? Why? What is there in me to love? What in me is praiseworthy? What do I have to offer? What need does he have that I can satisfy? He loved me not because I could meet some need of his, but because he wants to meet all my needs? He knew me, he knows everything about me, and yet he loves me? He sees my heart, he sees my failures, he knows my flaws, and yet he loves me?

This love that he has for me, what did it cost him to love me? He loved me and gave himself for me. He loved me and laid down his life for me. He took all my sin on himself and paid the ultimate price. He took all my guilt and shame. He was betrayed by a friend because he loved me. He was silent before his accusers because of his love for me. He patiently endured the mocking the spitting, the beating, the ridicule because he loved me. He stretched out his arms and opened his hands to the nails because of his great love for me. He forgave his executioners because he loved me. He endured the wrath of his Father against my sin because he loved me. He loved me at infinite cost, all for my good.

His love is determined. He is determined to deal with my sin. He is determined to make me a new creation. And he pursued me when I was uninterested. While I was his sworn enemy, hostile toward him, he loved me. He loves me and refuses to give up on me. Even though I continue to stray, continue to blunder and fail, he refuses to give up on me. He loved me and gave himself for me. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Look to him. Receive his love for you. Believe it. Treasure his love. Know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Eph.3:19). Allow his love for you to fill all the empty neediness in your heart to overflowing. Then step out in the bold confidence of one who is unfailingly unquenchingly securely loved and love others. Love those who are unlovable. Love those who are unresponsive. Love those who will not reciprocate. Love those who have offended you. Love those from whom you have nothing to gain. Love sacrificially. Open yourself to being hurt. Give of yourself in love for the good of others.

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

May 28, 2017 Posted by | Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 26:14-39; Curses for Disobedience

04/30 Leviticus 26:14-39; Curses for Disobedience; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170430_leviticus-26_14-39.mp3

Leviticus is a covenant document between God and his people. Leviticus 26 gives the terms of the covenant agreement. Verses 1-2 are a reminder of the central demand of the covenant, that by entering into this covenant, Israel is promising to have no other gods but the one LORD. They are to trust him by honoring his time and his place. God’s instructions are to be kept and his presence is to be feared. Verses 3-13 list the blessings that accompany obedience; blessings of produce and peace and progeny and most importantly the gift of God’s presence with his people.

But the blessings of the covenant are conditional:

Leviticus 26:3 “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, 4 then I will give you …

Verses 14-39 are the consequences of a refusal to follow the terms of the agreement.

Leviticus 26:14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you:

Notice in both cases, it is God himself who is active in fulfilling the terms of the covenant. If you do what I command, I will give you… If you will not listen to me and do… then I will do this to you. God takes his covenant seriously, and will personally bring about either blessings or the curses.

Notice the blatant disobedience that is warned against in these verses; “if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant” A refusal to listen to God’s instructions, a refusal to do what he commands, is followed by an emotional reaction against God’s truth; ‘if your spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules’. This revulsion at God’s commands results in a refusal to obey, and a violation of the covenant contract.

This chapter is essential for understanding the rest of the Bible. This passage provides essential context for the rest of the Bible. It gives the covenant context for the history of God’s judgment on Israel. What happened under Joshua, and then in Judges when ‘everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ and ‘the LORD gave them into the hand of’ their enemies, and ‘they cried out to the LORD and he sent’ a deliverer; what happened under the kings who disobeyed and under those who tried to turn the people back to the LORD, what was spoken by the prophets who were sent to confront idolatry and turn the hearts of the people back to the LORD, what happened in the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests and captivities, what was said in the prayers of the captives like Daniel and Nehemiah, even what we today enjoy as New Covenant believers, all find their root in the terms of this covenant agreement between God and his people.

This section of consequences for covenant treason is structured in 5 cycles of escalating discipline. Each section begins with ‘if you will not listen; then I will…’

14-17 general curses – illness, famine, defeat

18-20 Drought and bad harvest

21-22 Wild animals

23-26 War, leading to plague and famine

27-39 War, leading to cannibalism, devastation and deportation

First Stage

Leviticus 26:14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you.

God promises to visit the covenant breaker with panic, disease and fever, with stolen productivity, with defeat and oppression, with paranoid fear. God says ‘I will visit you …I will set my face against you.’ God is not absent in the sense that he has merely withdrawn his hand of protection and is allowing bad things to happen; no, he promises to be actively engaged in bringing about these consequences. Hell is not the absence of God; God is everywhere present. Hell will be the presence of God in righteous anger and punishment against those who have rejected him.

Second Stage

Leviticus 26:18 And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, 19 and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.

God here promises to escalate the punishment for continued disobedience. Notice, ‘If in spite of this you will not listen to me.’ There is a hope held out here. At any stage in this discipline, if his people will turn to him and listen to him, the discipline does not have to go any further.

Discipline

This is discipline; discipline is meant to teach, to train, to correct. Discipline is meant to confront, to protect, to restore, to bless. God is saying ‘I want to bless you, but I cannot bless your disobedience, so I promise to do whatever is necessary to bring you around and create in you a heart attitude that I can bless.’ Remember, God loved Israel. God chose Israel. Not because of anything in her, but rather because he loved her (Deut.7:6-8; 9:6). Proverbs reminds us:

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

Discipline is rooted in love. Moses tells the generation about to enter the land that God:

Deuteronomy 8:3 And he humbled you …that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. …5 Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you. 6 So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.

Psalm 94 tells us:

Psalm 94:12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law,

Blessed, happy, is the one you discipline; because discipline is for our greatest good. Hebrews 12 lays this all out.

Hebrews 12:5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Discipline is not pleasant, but it is for our good. The things in this chapter are horrific, but that is intended to teach us that there is something worse. A slap on the child’s wrist is painful, but it is nothing compared to the pain of the emergency room visit that it is intended to prevent. The things in this chapter; disease and death and cannibalism and captivity are nothing compared to what they are meant to keep you from; an eternity separated from a good God who loves you.

Greater Accountability

Notice, the discipline of this chapter is promised to God’s covenant people, not to the nations. God has a special relationship with his own people, and these are the consequences for treating carelessly that relationship. Those who have experienced grace; those who have seen the truth and rejected it are judged much more severely than those who have not; Peter warns:

2 Peter 2:21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.

Because those who have been offered grace will be held more accountable, God relentlessly pursues us with his discipline in order to bring us back.

Pride

In this second section, to those who have refused to respond to the first stage of discipline, God promises to ‘discipline you again sevenfold for your sins’. This is an escalation of discipline toward those who refuse to listen. God says ‘I will break the pride of your power’. He will prevent the land from producing. So often our hardness toward God is a result of pride. The prayerless person is a proud person. I will not cry out to God for help, because I can handle this without him! God did not create us to be independent, but dependent. We are not to stand on our own; we are to rely on him, to depend on him, to lean into him, to trust him. We are not self-sufficient; he alone is self-sufficient. We are to lean on his all-sufficiency. Repeatedly we hear the warning, when things go well for you, do not thing it is because of your own greatness, but because God has blessed you. Do not become proud, but recognize that every good thing is a gift from God.

O Lord, whatever it takes, break our foolish pride!

Third Stage

Leviticus 26:21 “Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. 22 And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.

The third stage is an escalating progression in disipline. If you will listen, I will use the least severe means of discipline available. If you choose to harden your heart, I will be required to use more severe forms of discipline. ‘Then,’ after the first two stages, ‘if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me.’ I will let loose the wild beasts against you’ bereave you of your children. This is opposite of the blessing in verse 6 ‘I will remove harmful beasts from your land’.

‘Wild beasts which shall bereave you of your children’ seems severe, but remember, this is the third stage of rebellion, having refused to listen to the first two rounds of discipline.

Fourth Stage

Leviticus 26:23 “And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, 24 then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. 25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.

Here the goal of all this is clearly stated; ‘if by this discipline you are not turned to me.’ Hear God’s heart in all of this. His heart is toward you, not against you. He knows that there is no good apart from himself. So he intends to turn your heart back to him, whatever it takes.

This is a response to active disobedience. ‘If you walk contrary to me, the I also will walk contrary to you. I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins.’ ‘I will …execute vengeance for the covenant’. This is a breach of a covenant that they agreed to. Going after false gods is both foolish and treasonous. God must defend the honor of his glorious name. He will execute vengeance for the covenant. Sword, pestilence, famine. Ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven. It seems polygamy is a curse, not a blessing. You shall eat and not be satisfied. True satisfaction comes only through walking with God, enjoying the good of his presence. Seeking satisfaction anywhere else will leave us eating without ever experiencing satisfaction.

Fifth Stage

Leviticus 26:27 “But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, 28 then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. 31 And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. 32 And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it. 33 And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.

‘If in spite of this,’ having hardened your hearts through the first four stages of discipline ‘you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins.’ This is escalating discipline due to the callousness of the people’s hearts. It takes severe consequences to rip the callouses off and expose their hard hearts to the gravity of their situation. Cannibalism. When Syrian king Ben-Hadad beseiged Samaria and caused a great famine,

2 Kings 6:26 Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” … 28 And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ 29 So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.” 30 When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body—

This is a heart-wrenching story, and the king tore his clothes. Tearing clothes is a sign of repentance and mourning. But even this horrific event did not turn the kings heart back to the LORD. Instead he sent messengers to kill the LORD’s prophet Elisha, who had been calling Israel to repentance.

God says ‘I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you.’ The way to desecrate a place of worship was to scatter it with bones. This is an ironic promise that God will desecrate the false worship of his people with the corpses of those who trusted in these false gods. And he says ‘my soul will abhor you’. We often hear it said that ‘God hates the sin but loves the sinner.’ But here God himself says to the one who persistently violates the terms of the covenant and refuses to repent after extended discipline ‘my soul will abhor you’.

All this sounds horrific, but remember, the punishment fits the crime. The level of horror we have at these punishments, should alert us to the gravity of disregarding the word of the LORD, and turning away from God, spurning his patience and discipline that is meant to bring us to repentance.

Sabbath Rest and Hope

Leviticus 26:34 “Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it. 36 And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. 37 They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. 38 And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. 39 And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies’ lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them.

God promised that the land would enjoy its Sabbaths while his people are in captivity. God’s people ought to have enjoyed the Sabbath rest God provided for them. Instead the land would enjoy that rest without them. We read in 2 Chronicles

2 Chronicles 36:15 The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy.

…20 He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

But even in this there is hope. There is an end in sight. The prophet Isaiah writes:

Isaiah 54:7 For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. 8 In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer.

Law and Gospel

God’s heart is to turn the hearts of his people back to himself. In the Old Testament this was rare. Except for a small remnant, the people persisted in their disobedience, hardened their hearts, and refused to respond to his loving discipline. Although there were amazing blessings promised, the law brought a curse. We read in Galatians 3:

Galatians 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

The law is based on performance, perfect performance, and because no one can ever keep the law perfectly, we are all under the curse. Everything written in this chapter addressed to covenant breakers belongs to us, because we are covenant breakers. None of the promises belong to us, because we have failed to walk in obedience. But once we feel the weight of this, there is amazingly good news here for us!

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

On the cross, Jesus experienced the curses of Leviticus 26 for us. God executed vengeance for the broken covenant on Jesus; The Father turned in abhorrence from the one who had been made sin for us. Why? So that all the promised blessings might come to us who believe in Jesus!

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

May 2, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment