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The Spirit’s Fruit; Faithfulness Like Jesus

07/23 The Spirit’s Fruit; Faithfulness Like Jesus; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170723_faithfulness-like-jesus.mp3

We are looking together at the fruit of the Spirit, the character that the Holy Spirit without fail produces in the life of every follower of Jesus.

Today we look at the fruit of faithfulness. If you are using the old King James, it will have ‘faith’ instead of faithfulness. This word, along with all 8 of the other words in this list of fruit is a noun. This word is most often translated in other contexts simply as ‘faith’. But in this list it indicates an ethical quality, so it is translated as an adjective. The Greek word is [πίστις] from the [πιστεύω] word group. It means to have faith; to believe, trust, to depend on. With the definite article it can refer to the faith, the teaching, the content of the gospel. The adjective form means to be faithful, dependable, trustworthy, or reliable.

Faith Defined

We can look at Romans 3 to see some of the ways this word is used. In Romans 3, Paul is asking if Jews are not automatically saved, but must believe the gospel just like everyone else, and the gospel has gone out to all people, then is there any advantage in being an ethnic Jew. The first advantage he lists is that

Romans 3:2 … To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with [v. πιστεύω] the oracles of God.

‘Entrusted with’ translates the passive verb form of this word ‘faith.’ They were believed in or trusted with the Scriptures. They were considered faithful in the task of transmitting Biblical revelation to us. In the next verse, he uses both the verb and the noun of this word.

Romans 3:3 What if some were unfaithful [v. ἀπιστέω]? Does their faithlessness [ἀπιστία n.] nullify the faithfulness [n. πίστις] of God?

‘Unfaithful’ or ‘unbelieving’ translates the negative verb form. They were without faith. They did not believe. Those who did not believe are called ‘faithless,’ the negative noun form. In contrast, God is called ‘faithful,’ the noun form we see in Galatians 5. Verse 4 goes on to describe the faithfulness of God.

Romans 3:3 …Does their faithlessness [n. ἀπιστία] nullify the faithfulness [n. πίστις] of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

God’s faithfulness is his truthfulness, his righteousness or justice, that what he said certainly happens. His words, when examined, prove to be flawlessly true and trustworthy.

The next chapter, Romans 4, has my favorite Biblical definition of faith.

Romans 4:5 And to the one who does not work but believes [v. πιστεύω] in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith [n. πίστις] is counted as righteousness,

…16 That is why it depends on faith [n. πίστις], in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith [n. πίστις] of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed [v. πιστεύω], who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed [v. πιστεύω] against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith [n. πίστις] when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief [n. ἀπιστία] made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith [n. πίστις] as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”

From this passage we see that to have faith or to believe is opposite of works; it is depending on or trusting in the work of another; ‘to the one who does not work but believes in him’. It is depending on a gracious promise; something we didn’t earn and don’t deserve, but is freely offered to us; ‘that is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace’. Faith must have the proper object; it is faith in the God ‘who gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist’. Faith must have content; ‘he had been told.’ Faith is trusting the impossible promises of God in spite of the circumstances to the contrary. Unbelief is doubting or questioning the promises of God, wavering in confidence in God. Faith gives all glory to the God who is able to do the impossible. Faith is being ‘fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised.’ Our faith must be placed in the promises of our faithful God.

Faithful Service

Galatians 5 tells us that faithfulness is fruit of the Holy Spirit. Faithfulness is produced in us when we look at our faithful God and trust his character. To have faith is to believe, trust, depend on one who is faithful. To be faithful is to be dependable, trustworthy, reliable; to keep your word.

In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus is talking about the signs of his coming, and the unexpected nature of his return. He says:

Matthew 24:44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. 45 “Who then is the faithful [adj. πιστός] and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus encourages us to be always ready for his return, to be faithful and wise with what he has entrusted to our care. He has trusted us with caring for his household. We will be rewarded for faithful service. There will be punishment for unfaithfulness. Unfaithfulness looks like self-centered abuse of authority and taking advantage of the absence of the master for personal indulgence. Faithful service looks like doing exactly what the master requested at the proper time, serving others, providing for the needs of others.

Jesus asks ‘who is the faithful and wise servant?’ Then he tells a story in Matthew 25 about wisdom or foolishness in being prepared at all times for his coming, and he tells a story about faithfulness or unfaithfulness.

Matthew 25:14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

Faith is confidence in the God who entrusts us with gifts, that he is wise and good. Notice, it says he gave differing sums of money to the servants, ‘to each according to his ability’. He knew he servants, he knew their capacity, their capability. He gave them exactly what he knew they could handle.

We all tend to doubt this. We all tend toward unbelief. Pastors tend to look around and see other pastors with larger congregations and ask ‘why can’t I have a bigger church?’ He gives to each according to his ability. Then you have a pastor of a large congregation who knows that more people equals more problems and he looks at the smaller church and says ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have fewer problems’. He gives to each according to his ability. God knows what he is doing. I’m sure this is true of everybody. ‘Why was I entrusted with this? Why wasn’t I entrusted with that? Why did he get five and I only got two?’ In order to be faithful, we need to have faith that God knows what he is doing when he gives us what he does. Has he given you resources? Health? Sickness? Adversity? Prosperity? Be faithful to glorify him with whatever he has entrusted to your care.

I want you to see something else about faithfulness in Jesus’ story. Look at what the servant who was given five talents did. He put them to work. He took what he had been entrusted with and made use of it. We are not told exactly what he did, but a 100% return on investment is pretty substantial, and probably indicates a high level of risk. He invested the money aggressively and doubled his investment. Safe investments don’t produce that kind of return. He took risks with his master’s money. And he is commended for it. The master doesn’t come back and say ‘what were you thinking? You could have lost it all! You got lucky this time, but I’m never trusting you with my money again.’ No, “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” Being faithful means taking great risks with what we have been given in hopes of great gains for our master. Remember, the money does not belong to us. It belongs to the master. Neither is the gain ours. The profit goes to the master. God expects us to step out of the safe zone. William Carey, missionary to India, remembered as the father of modern missions, said ‘expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.’ We can take risks with what God entrusts to us, because God is ultimately in control. This too is a matter of faith. Do we believe God’s promise that ‘for those who love God all things work together for good’ (Rom.8:28), even the bad things? Is any risk too great that has the potential of advancing the glory of Christ in the world?

Notice in Jesus’ story, both servants who invested what they had been entrusted gained 100%. There was no servant who invested and lost money. There was no servant who invested and only gained 50%.

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Notice also that there was no differentiation between the servant who gained 5 and the servant who gained 2. Both were faithful with what they had been given. Both heard the words ‘well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master.’

But there was one servant who was not good and faithful.

Matthew 25:24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

This servant misunderstood his master. He thought him to be a hard man, a lazy man, a greedy man. He had no confidence, because he did not understand his master was gracious and forgiving. He acted out of fear and unbelief. He played it safe with the master’s money. He buried it. He hid it. He preserved it. He was careful not to lose any. He returned what he had been given. And he was called ‘wicked and slothful.’ Not good and faithful, but wicked and slothful. He was not faithful; he failed to invest at all. He was slothful.

God’s Faithfulness and Ours

You see, faithfulness is fruit. It grows in a heart that is looking at our faithful God. We can risk being recklessly faithful because we know God. Our confidence is not in our skill or ability, in our effectiveness in planting or watering, but on God who gives the increase.

Paul, addressing the messed up church in Corinth, points them to:

1 Corinthians 1:7 …our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul’s confidence for the Corinthian believers was not in them. His confidence, his faith, was in the fully capable faithful God. He said the same to the Thessalonian believers.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

In 2 Thessalonians, he asks for prayer in the risky venture of advancing the gospel into places where Christ was not named.

2 Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, 2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. 4 And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

His confidence for himself and for them was in the faithfulness of God. He was faithful in his mission, because he knew God would always be faithful to his promises.

The author of Hebrews points us always back to Jesus.

Hebrews 10:19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, … 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,

Because of Jesus, because we have confidence to enter by the blood of Jesus, because we have a great priest who invites us to draw near, we can hold fast without wavering, we can be faithful, because he who promised is faithful. We can be faithful to love and stir each other up to love because he will never let us down.

He who promised is faithful. God is dependable, trustworthy, reliable. We can count on him, we can bank on him. He will never let us down. He will never go back on his word. Because we have this kind of confidence in this kind of God, we can become this kind of people. We can be know as dependable, reliable, trustworthy, women and men of our word. Even when others let us down, we can follow through.

Martin Luther writes sees the passage this way: “In listing faith among the fruits of the Spirit, Paul obviously does not mean faith in Christ, but faith in men. Such faith is not suspicious of people but believes the best. Naturally the possessor of such faith will be deceived, but he lets it pass. He is ready to believe all men, but he will not trust all men. Where this virtue is lacking men are suspicious, forward, and wayward and will believe nothing nor yield to anybody. No matter how well a person says or does anything, they will find fault with it, and if you do not humor them you can never please them. It is quite impossible to get along with them. Such faith in people therefore, is quite necessary. What kind of life would this be if one person could not believe another person?”

In 2 Timothy 2, Paul encourages Timothy to ‘be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus’ and entrust what you have learned to faithful men who will pass it along. He encourages him to be a good soldier, to live an unentangled life. He reminds him of Jesus, and Paul’s own sacrifice and suffering ‘for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus’ as he risks his very life for the gospel. And he recites this well known saying:

2 Timothy 2:11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

We can risk suffering, even death, because we have his word, his promise, he will be faithful. And we can have this gospel confidence, knowing that it is not contingent on our performance. Even if we are a failure, even if we are faithless, if we confess Jesus as Lord, he will be faithful to his promises because his own character is at stake. He will not deny his own faithful character just because we falter. He who promised is faithful; he will surely do it.

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

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

Leviticus 25:1-22; Jubilee and Rest for the Land

03/26 Leviticus 25:1-22; Jubilee and Rest for the Land; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170326_leviticus-25_1-22.mp3

Sabbath Structure; Outline

Leviticus 25 connects back to Leviticus 23 on the subject of holy time, and it connects the concepts of holy land and holy people. The chapter divides into three sections, each concluding with the phrase “I am YHWH your God.” The first section of this chapter deals with the holy times of a sabbath rest for the land, and the year of jubilee. This first section concludes at verse 17 with the phrase ‘I am the LORD your God,’ which is followed by a sort of appendix, answering an objection and encouraging faith in God. The second section, verses 23-38, deals with the possession, sale and redemption or release of land, and concludes with ‘I am the LORD your God.’ Verses 39-55 address the possession, sale, and redemption or release of people, and conclude with the phrase ‘I am the LORD your God.’

Leviticus 23 began:

Leviticus 23:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the LORD that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts. 3 “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places. 4 “These are the appointed feasts of the LORD, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them.

The chapter began with weekly sabbaths, and continued to describe the feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, the Firstfruits and Pentecost, the feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the feast of Booths. Chapter 25 picks up on the concept of a Sabbath rest and moves from a weekly Sabbath of rest for living creatures, to a seventh year Sabbath of rest for the land, to a great release year after a cycle of seven Sabbath years.

Jubilee: Sabbath for the Land

Leviticus 25:1 The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD. 3 For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5 You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. 6 The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you, 7 and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food.

This chapter begins with the phrase we have heard repeatedly in Leviticus ‘The LORD spoke to Moses’. This book is a collection of words from the LORD. This is God’s very word to his people; divine revelation. Living and active and powerful. This particular word of the LORD was spoken on Mount Sinai. This is the first mention of Sinai since the conclusion of the instructions for sacrifices at the end of chapter 7. The book begins with the LORD speaking to Moses from the tent of meeting. Here we have a reminder that Israel is still camped at Sinai, and God is authoritatively instructing his people.

In Chapter 23, he commanded that“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest.” Here in chapter 25, he declares “the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD, …in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD.” In 23, people and animals rested every seventh day. Here in 25, the land is to rest every seventh year. Like the weekly Sabbath, the Sabbath year was ‘a Sabbath of solemn rest.’ In the weekly Sabbath, “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work.” In the Sabbath year, the land was not to be worked.

Leviticus 25:3 For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5 You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.

There was to be no sowing, no pruning, no mass harvesting. The land was to be allowed to rest. This is restorative to the soil. Allowing the earth to rest reduces the sodium content of the soil. Modern farming rotates crops in different years for the same reason.

God’s Detailed Care

God cares for every part of his creation. We saw in the Sabbath day that every person, slave and free was to rest. We also saw that this weekly rest even extended to work animals. They were to be cared for and given a weekly day off. Here we see God’s care for the land itself. Every seventh year the land was not to be worked.

We see creation personified in Romans 8

Romans 8:22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

We actually see a lot of personification of creation in the Psalms and the prophets, anticipating the coming of the King.

Psalm 96:11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 12 let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy

We tend to skim over these kind of passages because of their familiarity, but pause to think about what this looks like. The earth is spoken of as rejoicing, fields exulting, language of emotion; language of worship. I don’t know if this is merely figurative language or something more, but what is clear is that everything the LORD made he made for himself, for his glory, to worship him. Creation was meant to bring him glory and praise. When the land is managed wisely, in obedience to him, it receives his blessing, it becomes more fruitful, it brings glory to the great Creator who cares for all of his creation.

Sabbath Provision

Leviticus 25:6 The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you, 7 and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food.

The people were not permitted to sow their fields and they were not allowed to engage in normal harvesting operations, but they were allowed to go into the fields an take what they needed for their families. They were allowed to glean as if they were all sojourners in the land. Leviticus 19 and 23 require the landowner to leave gleanings in the field to care for the poor and the sojourner. Every seventh year, every land owner was to act as if he had no land of his own, but was allowed to glean in the field of another. This would serve several purposes. This would help the landowners to identify and empathize with the poor and the foreigners living among them. Every seventh year they were required to live like them. It would also force them to relax. Farming and agriculture is hard, stressful work, as our farmers would attest. Rise early, plan wisely, watch the seasons, is it too early?, will it freeze?, will we get enough rain? or too much?, will the weather cooperate? and pray a lot. God says ‘relax! Take a year off. Rest. Stop worrying. Enjoy. Set aside the normal tasks of agriculture. Let the land do its thing. The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you. God promises that it will be enough for yourself, for your servants, for your hired workers, for the sojourners who live among you, for your livestock, and even enough for the wild animals. God holds himself up as the abundant provider, the one who cares for all his creatures

Jubilee (Yobel)

Verse 8 begins a section on what is known as the year of Jubilee.

Leviticus 25:8 “You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. 10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. 12 For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field. 13 “In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property.

The pattern of sevens is extended here. Every seventh day is a holy Sabbath day Every seventh year is a Sabbath year. The seventh Sabbath year, or the 49th year, introduces the year of jubilee. God built a cycle of work and rest into his creation. Even in Eden, his perfect creation, there was a cycle of fruitful labor for six days and a day to enjoy God and his good gifts. He built into creation a sense of expectation, longing, anticipation, hope. The Jubilee was the fiftieth year. For most Israelites, this would be a once in a lifetime event.

The Jubilee was announced on the Day of Atonement, the day of national mourning over sin and its consequences.

Leviticus 16:29 “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins. 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever.

Think of this; on the day when the nation was grieving over their sin, on the one day when the great high priest brought the sacrificial blood in to the holiest place,the one day blood was splattered in front of the mercy seat, the day the nation saw what it took to be clean before the LORD from all their sins, a trumpet would sound throughout the land announcing liberty, release, restoration. Do you see this connection? This one day that the nation was acutely aware of its sin, and a trumpet would sound throughout all the land announcing liberty!

This may provide the background of the trumpet blast we see in a few passages in the New Testament.

When Jesus’ disciples asked him “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus responded:

Matthew 24:30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Paul taught on the resurrection:

1 Corinthians 15:50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

The Jubilee was a time of liberty to slaves, a restoration of the inheritance. It was a time of return and of rest. The jubilee was another year like the Sabbath year with no sowing or reaping.

Jubilee and Sin Nature

Because the Jubilee was a year of release, it would create a unique opportunity to abuse the system. God understands our inclination to greed and self advancement, and so he gave rules for the protection of his people.

Leviticus 25:14 And if you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another. 15 You shall pay your neighbor according to the number of years after the jubilee, and he shall sell to you according to the number of years for crops. 16 If the years are many, you shall increase the price, and if the years are few, you shall reduce the price, for it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you. 17 You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the LORD your God. 18 “Therefore you shall do my statutes and keep my rules and perform them, and then you will dwell in the land securely.

It is sad that something so glorious as the Jubilee, liberty and restoration, has to be guarded against misuse to wrong another. But such is the sobering reality of our fallen condition. Left to ourselves, we will take a great blessing, given by God for our good, and twist it around and use it to injure another person. The promised release must be taken into account for fair business dealings. What is being bought or sold is not the land itself, because the land belongs to the LORD, but the produce of the land for a given number of years.

The reasons given here for not wronging one another is fear and promise. Do not take advantage of others, because God is to be feared. Remember what the LORD did to Egypt when they took advantage of you. Do not think that God will not stand up against you if you take advantage of his people. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Fear of the LORD is a motive for obedience.

Promise is also a motive for obedience. God promised that if they would do his statutes and keep his rules and perform them, “then you will dwell in the land securely.” Safety, security, peace is promised as a reward for obedience. It is amazing that God gives us rules that are for our good and for our happiness, and then he promises to heap up reward on us when we obey!

Jubilee and Unbelief

Leviticus 25:19 The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and dwell in it securely. 20 And if you say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?’ 21 I will command my blessing on you in the sixth year, so that it will produce a crop sufficient for three years. 22 When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating some of the old crop; you shall eat the old until the ninth year, when its crop arrives.

This appendix to the Jubilee instruction alerts us to another tendency of our nature. We are inclined toward unbelief. We have a tendency toward worry and doubt and fear. God proclaims liberty and we say ‘but how is this going to work?’ The Jubilee would be a second year of no sowing and no reaping, following the seventh Sabbath year. If we don’t sow or reap for two years, how will we survive? What will we eat? One year of no sowing or reaping is enough to cause doubt and anxiety and fear. God meets us where we are, in our unbelief at his promises. If we say ‘What shall we eat?’ God answers ‘I will send my blessing.’ And God meets us where we are in our doubt and fear and tells us how he will provide. He will bless the produce of the sixth year such that it will sustain you for three years. God promises to provide not just the bare minimum necessary, but he provides abundantly. He says “you will eat your fill.” Our abundant God promises to satisfy us abundantly. Our happiness does not come from what we can store up for ourselves in bigger barns.

Jesus warned:

Luke 12:15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

He continues:

Luke 12:21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” 22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

Jesus addressed those with little faith.

Luke 12:28 …O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Jesus invites us to treasure God above all this world has to offer. He invites us to rest, to trust, to obey, to depend.

As we will see more clearly in the coming weeks, Jesus is our Jubilee. Jesus is our Sabbath rest. Jesus is our sufficiency. Jesus is liberty to the slave. Jesus is freedom from anxiety.

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

March 27, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 16; The Scapegoat

10/02 Leviticus 16; Day of Atonement (2); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20161002_leviticus-16.mp3

Last week we began to look at Yom Kippur, the great Day of Atonement. We saw the danger of approaching God, illustrated graphically in chapter 10 by the death of the two sons of Aaron who approached God in a way that he did not command. Aaron the high priest is warned not to come into the Holy place any time, but only at the proscribed time in the proscribed way. Aaron was to bring his own sacrifices, a bull for a sin offering for himself and a ram for a burnt offering for himself. Aaron was to take off his usual elaborate high priestly garments, bathe, and put on simple linen garments, taking the posture of a humble servant. The congregation was to present their offerings, two male goats for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering. Aaron was to cast lots to determine between the two goats, one for YHWH, and the other for Azazel. Then Aaron was to sacrifice first his bull as a sin offering for himself, and bring its blood with a cloud of smoke from incense inside the veil and sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat 7 times. Then he was to go out, kill the goat for the people’s sin offering for YHWH, take its blood inside the veil, sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat, then sprinkle blood in the holy place outside the veil, where the altar of incense, the lamp stand, and the table of bread were. Then he went out to the bronze altar of burnt offering in the courtyard of the tabernacle and smeared the blood of both sin offerings on the horns of the altar and sprinkled the blood 7 times on the altar.

After this is completed, the other goat from the congregation is presented before the LORD.

Leviticus 16:20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.

What is this other goat? We passed over this other goat last week so that we could come back to it today.

The congregation was to bring two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. The destiny of each of the two goats was determined by lot. One goat was to be sacrificed on the altar and its blood presented in the most holy place; the other will be sent away bearing the sins of the congregation out into the wilderness. These are two parts to the picture of atonement, the one securing forgiveness through blood sacrifice, the other bearing away the burden of guilt never to be seen again.

Let’s go back to verses 5-10 to see what we can learn about this second goat.

Leviticus 16:5 And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering. …7 Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel. 9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the LORD and use it as a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.

There were two male goats brought by the people for a sin offering. These two goats were distinguished by lot, and we know that ‘the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD’ (Prov.16:33). So we could say that the LORD chose between these two goats, one for himself and one for Azazel.

The one for the LORD was offered as a normal sin offering, following the procedures from chapters 4-5. But in chapters 4-5, different animals were offered for people with differing roles in society. A bull was to be offered for the sin of the priest, a ram for a sin of the whole congregation, a male goat for the sin of a leader of the people, a female goat or lamb for the sin of an individual, and allowance was made for two turtledoves or pigeons for the poor, or even a grain offering for the very poor. And the blood was handled differently. For the sin of the priest or the whole congregation, the blood was to be sprinkled on the curtain separating the holy place from the most holy place, and applied to the horns of the altar of incense. For the sin of a leader or a common person, the blood was put on the horns of the altar of burnt offering in the courtyard. The sin offering of the priest on the day of atonement was a bull as specified, but its blood was brought behind the veil and sprinkled directly on the mercy seat. The sacrifice for the whole congregation was to be a male goat rather than a ram, and its blood was also brought behind the veil and sprinkled directly on the mercy seat, as well as in the holy place and on the altar of burnt offerings. This was the goat of the people chosen by lot to be their sin offering to the LORD.

The Live Goat for Azazel

Leviticus 16:10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.

We don’t know exactly what the Hebrew word ‘Azazel’ means, so the ESV and other versions leave it untranslated. Leviticus 16 is the only place in all of Scripture where this word appears, so it is difficult to determine exactly what it means. Older versions attempt to translate the word, something like ‘the goat that is driven out’ or ‘scapegoat’, pointing to its function, that it is sent away. It is possible that Azazel is a proper name, either a personal name, or a place name. In the tradition of second temple Judaism the goat was led to a specific rocky precipice in the Judean wilderness and pushed backward off the cliff. But there would have been no one place in the wilderness wanderings where this goat was taken. It could be a personal name, the name of a demon, where the sins of the people are figuratively returned to their source. The very next chapter (17:7) warns against the people making sacrifices to goat demons in the wilderness. In Deuteronomy 32, Moses recounts:

Deuteronomy 32:17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded.

When the kingdom was divided after the death of Solomon, in 2 Chronicles 11:15 we read Jeroboam “appointed his own priests for the high places and for the goat idols and for the calves that he had made.” Isaiah refers to judgment on Babylon and the nations that will become wild places where wilderness animals will dwell and the satyrs or wild goats will dance and cry out (Is.13:21; 34:14). Revelation picks up on this imagery:

Revelation 18:2 And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.

So it is possible that Azazel is the personal name of a demonic entity, but if so, the goat for Azazel would not be understood as a sacrifice to the Azazel, but rather a means of returning the sins of the people back to his doorstep.

However we understand this word, what is to be done with this goat is clear. It is presented alive before the Lord. Atonement is made over it, to send it away into the wilderness. This process is described in verses 20-22

Leviticus 16:20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.

Aaron is to place both his hands on the head of the live goat. For other sacrifices one hand was placed on the head of the animal, making identification between the worshiper and the animal, but this is the only animal where he is told to place both hands on its head. All the iniquities of all the people of Israel, all their transgressions, all their sins are placed on the head of this goat. Iniquity is a term for perversity or moral evil; transgression is a word for willful acts of rebellion; sin is an inclusive word for all sins in their totality. All these words are plural, indicating all sins of every kind, committed by all the people, even the priests, in all places, all are placed symbolically on the head of this animal, and it bears them away to a deserted place.

It is interesting to note that Aaron has made two trips into the holiest place with blood to make atonement, and has worked his way out through the holy place and back out into the courtyard. The language used in verses 16-19 is making atonement not only for the priests and the people, but also for the place to cleanse it.

Leviticus 16:16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. …18 Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. 19 And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.

Notice, also the direction of the cleansing. It begins with blood applied to the inner sanctuary, then out into the holy place, then into the courtyard. We could view this goat as a garbage truck. The house is swept clean, starting with the innermost sanctuary, out into the front room, then out into the yard, and all the filth is poured into the garbage truck that hauls it away to the garbage dump, never to be seen again.

This goat is not a sacrifice in the normal sense of the term. It is a living goat, and it is not killed. No blood is taken from this goat. The goat is presented before the LORD, but then it is banished from the presence of the LORD. Aaron goes into the holiest place, out through the holy place, out into the holy courtyard, where he transfers all the accumulated guilt to the head of this animal, and then this animal is led out of the courtyard, out through the camp of the holy priests immediately around the tabernacle, then out through the clean tribes who surround the tabernacle, then finally, out into an unclean place, outside where sickness and disease and death must go, far away from the presence of the LORD. This is where all the sin is carried by the live goat. The one who led the goat away and released it in the wilderness must wash his clothes and bathe before he is permitted to return to the camp.

Jesus the Sin Bearer

A strange ceremony about a goat for Azazel. How does this point us to Jesus? In John 1, John

John 1:29 …saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Jesus is the one who takes sin away.

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

Jesus carried our sins away. Look to the suffering servant of Isaiah:

Isaiah 53:4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

…6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

…8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?

…11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Jesus is the one on whom all our transgressions were laid, He was taken away, cut off, he bore the sins of many.

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.

Jesus became sin for us. Jesus is the one who can make all these Old Testament statements a reality.

Psalm 103:12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Isaiah 38:17 … but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.

Isaiah 43:25 “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Jeremiah 31:34 …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.”

Micah 7:19 He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

Jesus is the one who carries our sins out of sight, hidden behind his back, buried in the depths of the sea, removed from us as far as the east is from the west, never to be remembered. What a treasure! He has carried all my sins away!

Our Part

Let me ask, what is our part in all of this? What is our position? Where are we? This text is very clear. We are outside! Our High Priest is inside, cleansing the sanctuary of all our sins, making confession for all our sins over the head of the substitute. He is to be alone in the tent. We, for whom he is making atonement, are outside! He transfers our guilt on to the substitute, all our iniquities, all our transgressions, all our sins. He sends the sin bearer away into the wilderness. The ones for whom he does this are outside. This is all done for them. They don’t do anything! They are not even present! What is our part? Look at verse 29.

Leviticus 16:29 “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins. 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. 32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. 33 He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34 And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Aaron did as the LORD commanded Moses.

This concluding section gives the role of the congregation on the day. Notice, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you. The role of the people is to grieve over their sin and to do no work. To do nothing. To rest. Solemn rest. Serious rest. Rest in the work of another. On this day shall atonement be made for you. The high priest does all the work. The people are to do no work. Five animals, two sin offerings, confession of all the sins of all the people, two burnt offerings, two trips into the most holy place, burning incense, sprinkling blood, smearing blood, he does all the work. The people are to rest.

Jesus, our great High Priest, finished once for all the work of atonement. He carried all our sins away. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1Pet.2:24). He gives the gift of eternal life to all who will find their rest in him. Our part is to depend on the work of another. He does all the work. It is ours to rest in him.

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

October 4, 2016 Posted by | Leviticus | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exodus 3:11-15; The Being of God

09/06 The Being of God; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20150906_being-of-god.mp3

In the beginning God

The opening words of the scripture narrative are staggering.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created…

Beresit bara elohim; ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς

Today we will look at the being of God, the existence of God. We are not arguing for the existence of God. We are told that

Romans 1:20 …his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

We are on a quest to know God. To know him as he is, as he has revealed himself to us, as he intends to be known. We are setting out to know him, to respond to him in ways appropriate to his nature and character. We intend to give to him the honor due to God, to acknowledge him as God, to give him thanks, to worship, to serve him.

The opening words of Genesis point to the existence of God. “In the beginning, God…” In the beginning – the beginning of this world, at the coming into existence of the heavens and the earth, before this world was formed, before the sun, the moon, the stars, the planets existed, God was. He was. He existed.

Cause and Effect

A common conversation between parents and children often runs something like this:

Wow! Look at all those stars! Where did all the stars come from?

The Bible says that God made the stars. The Bible says that God made everything.

Wow! God made everything? Did he make the trees and the grass?

Yes, the Bible tells us that God made all the plants.

Did he make all the animals too?

Yes, the Bible tells us that God made all the living creatures.

Wow! What about me? Did God make me?

Yes, the Bible tells us that God knit you together in your mother’s womb.

So God made the stars and the trees and the grass and the zebras and the giraffes and the whales, and God even made me?

Yes, that’s right.

Then who made God?

Where do you go with that? How do you answer this question? Who made God? Where did God come from?

Every effect must have an adequate cause. Because the stars are there, we ask what caused them. Because plants and animals and humans exist, we wonder where they came from. If we accept that God exists and the answer ‘God created them’, then we might naturally wonder, if God exists, where did God come from? Who created God? What is God’s cause? But this question is based on a false assumption. Because the tree and the zebra and the stars exist, and because we believe that God exists, we assume that God, along with the stars and zebras and trees, is an effect that requires an adequate cause. But God is not an effect. He is The Cause. In the beginning God existed and he created. He is not like us. We are effects and he is the Cause. We are created, and he is the Creator. When your son or daughter or college professor asks you ‘who made God?’ the proper answer is ‘No one. God is.’

Exodus 3

When God interrupted a displaced nomadic shepherd in the desert of Sinai and told him that he was his chosen instrument to liberate his people from Egypt, Moses asked a question.

Exodus 3:11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

Moses asked the wrong question. Moses’ eyes were in the wrong place. He was an exile from the royal court in Egypt. He was a murderer. He had been rejected by his own people. He had spent the last 40 years wandering around in the desert looking after sheep. God says ‘Who are you? Who are you? It doesn’t matter who you are, it matters who I am. I will be with you.’ So Moses rephrases his question. ‘Who are you, God?’

Exodus 3:13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”

Moses is on the right track. He is turning his attention away from his own identity and focusing on God’s identity. What is your name? What is your character? What are you like?

14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

This is my name. This is how I am to be remembered. Who am I? I AM! God answers with a form of the verb ‘to be’. I am. I exist. YHWH; the LORD. I AM that I AM. Tell them the one who is has sent you. The one who has being.

This is a strange way to describe oneself. The way we usually talk about ourselves is to say ‘I am’ and follow it with some description of who we are. I am a Zedicher. I am a pastor. I am a husband. I am a father. I am honest. I am humble…

To say ‘I am what I am’ sounds aloof – I’m not going to tell you anything about myself. I am what I am and you can figure it out. But in the context of this passage it is clear that this is not God’s intent. He tells Moses much about himself. He tells him that he is holy, unapproachable, the God who has made promises to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, the God who listens to the cry of his people, the God who cares, the God who comes down to deliver them, the God who is mighty to save, the God who promises abundant blessings to his people.

‘I am what I am’ could sound like an ultimatum; I am what I am and I’m not going to change, so you can take it or leave it. Maybe there is a little bit of this in this statement. God is unchanging in his being, perfections and attributes. What he is he is and he will never be different. He will never act contrary to his own nature.

God’s Being and Ours

But the primary meaning of “I AM” is being, existence. That is something we cannot say absolutely. I am a pastor, a father, a husband, but rewind 22 years and I was none of those things. Those are things I became. I have changed. My experiences have shaped me. I am not what I once was, and I am not yet what I will be. Every day I am changing. I am becoming. I am not being. Some changes are for the better; others are for the worse. But God is. He is absolute in his perfections. He cannot improve. If he were improving, we could never say he was perfect. And he will not decline in his perfections. He is. He is what he is.

God exists. He is. There was never a time when he wasn’t who he is now. There was a time when I didn’t exist. Before I was conceived by my parents, I had no being. I wasn’t. I didn’t exist. I was brought into existence. I was given being. I did nothing to bring about my own being. And my being, my existing, now that I do exist, is dependent on a lot of outside factors. To find that out, just go camping. I spent Friday night on the mountain with our youth group. You have to think through what you need to exist. And you need to see if you can fit it all into a backpack that you can carry. You can’t live without water. You need food for energy. You need a way to prepare the food, and you need a way to preserve the food so it doesn’t go bad. You need a way to stay warm at night. And those are just some of the bare minimums for a summer overnight. If we were traveling to the moon, we would need to bring our own supply of oxygen to breathe, and our own atmosphere in the form of a pressurized suit or cabin. Our being, our existence, is dependent on a multitude of outside factors. We are dependent beings. God is. He exists in and of himself.

There is a word theologians use to describe this; aseity. It means ‘existence originating from and having no source other than itself’ (dictionary.reference.com). Aseity comes from the Latin ‘from oneself’. God is needs nothing outside of himself to exist. He is not dependent on anyone or anything. He is. He exists. He doesn’t need air, atmosphere, water, food, shelter. He is. He is self-existent.

Paul says in Acts 17:

Acts 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. …28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, …

He needs nothing from anyone, but we are dependent on him for life and breath and everything. In him we have our being. He is the self-existent one.

God says in Isaiah:

Isaiah 43:10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. 11 I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. 12 I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God. 13 Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?”

Isaiah 44:6 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. 7 Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me,…

We are to know, to believe, to understand that I AM. God is. No one is like God. No one can be compared to him. He is utterly unique in his self-existence.

This is what makes the claims of Jesus so startling. Jesus said in John 8:

John 8:23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

Jesus claimed an unique origin. He came from above, from outside this world. And he claimed that belief in his identity changes our destiny. We must believe that Jesus is the I AM. His continued conversation with the Jews makes his meaning clear.

John 8:57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Jesus, who was born more than 1500 years after Abraham, claims to have existed before Abraham. In fact, Jesus claims to be the I AM, the self-existent one, taking the very name of God for his own. The Jews emphasize the severity of his claim. They recognized it as blasphemy and planned to stone him to death. “Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.’

John’s gospel begins with these words:

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

In the beginning the Word was. The Word existed. The Word was already there. The Word was God. Everything that was made was made through him. He is the unmade, uncreated Creator of all that is. He is the one who is.

Hebrews tells us

Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

The universe was created by the word of the God who is. That which is visible came out of that which is invisible. He goes on to say:

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

In order to draw near to God, in order to please God, we must believe that he is. We must recognize him as the one who is, the self-existent one.

We want to please God. We want to draw near to God. We want to enjoy his presence forever. We must know, believe, and understand that he IS. He exists in and of himself, and he rewards those who seek to know him as he is.

Paul tells us in Romans 4 that Abraham’s faith, the faith which was counted to him as righteousness, was a faith that ‘gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised’ (Rom.4:20-21). Abraham’s faith was:

Romans 4:17 …—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

The God Abraham trusted in is the God who has life and existence in himself, who is the source of existence, who calls into existence things that do not exist.

If we want to please God, to know God, to enjoy God, unless we want to die in our sins, we must believe that God is, that he is the I AM, the self-existent one, the one who exists independent of anything outside of himself.

Knowing this about God should serve to humble us. God does not need us. We can contribute nothing to his being. He is who he is and he cannot change. Our life is compared to a mist, a vapor, a blade of grass, a fading flower. Knowing this about God and about ourselves should humble us and amaze us.

Psalm 8:4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

The Psalmist cries as he considers the grandeur of God. What is man in comparison with the God who is?

Psalm 8:5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,

Man is a breath, a shadow, less than dust and nothing, yet the God who is existence, who brought us into existence, has chosen to love us, to so love us that he gave his only Son to rescue us from our self-absorbed pride and open our eyes to something greater; someone greater, to the God who IS.

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

September 6, 2015 Posted by | Knowing God, Theology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 12:14-26; Belonging to the Body

1 Corinthians 12:14-26 ~ 20140928 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

09/28 1 Corinthians 12:14-26 Belonging to the Body; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140928_1cor12_14-26.mp3

1 Corinthians 12 [SBLGNT]

14 Καὶ γὰρ τὸ σῶμα οὐκ ἔστιν ἓν μέλος ἀλλὰ πολλά. 15 ἐὰν εἴπῃ ὁ πούς· Ὅτι οὐκ εἰμὶ χείρ, οὐκ εἰμὶ ἐκ τοῦ σώματος, οὐ παρὰ τοῦτο οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ σώματος; 16 καὶ ἐὰν εἴπῃ τὸ οὖς· Ὅτι οὐκ εἰμὶ ὀφθαλμός, οὐκ εἰμὶ ἐκ τοῦ σώματος, οὐ παρὰ τοῦτο οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ σώματος· 17 εἰ ὅλον τὸ σῶμα ὀφθαλμός, ποῦ ἡ ἀκοή; εἰ ὅλον ἀκοή, ποῦ ἡ ὄσφρησις; 18 νυνὶ δὲ ὁ θεὸς ἔθετο τὰ μέλη, ἓν ἕκαστον αὐτῶν, ἐν τῷ σώματι καθὼς ἠθέλησεν. 19 εἰ δὲ ἦν τὰ πάντα ἓν μέλος, ποῦ τὸ σῶμα; 20 νῦν δὲ πολλὰ μὲν μέλη, ἓν δὲ σῶμα. 21 οὐ δύναται δὲ ὁ ὀφθαλμὸς εἰπεῖν τῇ χειρί· Χρείαν σου οὐκ ἔχω, ἢ πάλιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῖς ποσίν· Χρείαν ὑμῶν οὐκ ἔχω· 22 ἀλλὰ πολλῷ μᾶλλον τὰ δοκοῦντα μέλη τοῦ σώματος ἀσθενέστερα ὑπάρχειν ἀναγκαῖά ἐστιν, 23 καὶ ἃ δοκοῦμεν ἀτιμότερα εἶναι τοῦ σώματος, τούτοις τιμὴν περισσοτέραν περιτίθεμεν, καὶ τὰ ἀσχήμονα ἡμῶν εὐσχημοσύνην περισσοτέραν ἔχει, 24 τὰ δὲ εὐσχήμονα ἡμῶν οὐ χρείαν ἔχει. ἀλλὰ ὁ θεὸς συνεκέρασεν τὸ σῶμα, τῷ ὑστεροῦντι περισσοτέραν δοὺς τιμήν, 25 ἵνα μὴ ᾖ σχίσμα ἐν τῷ σώματι, ἀλλὰ τὸ αὐτὸ ὑπὲρ ἀλλήλων μεριμνῶσι τὰ μέλη. 26 καὶ εἴτε πάσχει ἓν μέλος, συμπάσχει πάντα τὰ μέλη· εἴτε δοξάζεται μέλος, συγχαίρει πάντα τὰ μέλη.

1 Corinthians 12 [ESV2011]

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. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. 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.

Paul is answering questions the Corinthians had asked about what defines spirituality, and how spirituality relates to specific spiritual gifts. They were seeking power and status and position. They wanted to be thought well of by others.

Paul reminds them in verses 1-3 of the basic Christian truth that every genuine follower of the Lord Jesus has the Spirit of God and is thus spiritual.

In verses 4-11 he emphasizes the diverse distributions of distinct gifts all coming from the one triune God. Gifts are given to every part of the body, so no one is ungifted or unspiritual. Every believer has been sovereignly, supernaturally equipped to play a divinely ordained role in the function of the body. And gifts are given not for the building up of any individual, but for the common good.

In verses 12-13, he introduces the analogy of the body and grounds it in the theological truth that every believer has been baptized in one Spirit into one body. Every follower of Jesus, every dependent of Jesus has been baptized in the one Spirit into the one church, the body of Christ. Diverse backgrounds have drunk of the one Spirit.

In verses 14-26 he fleshes out the metaphor of the body, making three main points that every believer is a necessary part, that no believer is independent of other parts, and that extra respect should be shown to the less presentable parts.

Principle

First, he states the principle:

12:14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

Ears, eyes, nose, mouth, brain, nerves, bones, tendons, muscles, tissue, hands, feet, liver, lungs, kidneys, heart, stomach, intestines; the body consists of many parts. No part is unnecessary. No part is able to function independent of the others. Each part, each organ, each limb is inextricably interconnected and interdependent with all the other parts.

I Do Not Belong

He addresses the issue of a body part that feels it does not belong.

15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

The metaphor is humorous. Each part is given a voice. I’m not sure how the foot or the ear can talk without sending the message through the nervous system into the brain and out the mouth, but Paul is picturing the foot complaining. “I am down here at the bottom, in the dirt. It really stinks down here. I have to bear the whole weight of the rest of the body. I’m clumsy and run into things, and it really hurts. I step in things and it stinks. The hand is so much more coordinated. It is way up there in a much more pleasant environment doing really interesting stuff. It can grip and twist and squeeze and scratch and snap and wave and shake and feel. It gets to have interaction and communication. When there is an itch, it can scratch it. The hand is in. I’m out. I don’t belong.

Or the ear to the eye. I don’t have lids to protect me, I can’t move on my own, or focus on things near or far. The eye can even express emotion, display joy, create tears, communicate annoyance or intensity. To see color and texture and movement and depth must be amazing. The eyes are in. I’m out. I don’t belong.

Does the feeling of not belonging make it any less a part of the body? If it says that it is not a part, does that disconnect it from the body? The foot cannot choose to disconnect itself from the body. Ironically, it would be dependent on the very hand it is jealous of to pick up a saw or an ax and sever it from the body, something the brain under normal circumstances would never allow the hand to do.

The idea of a self-aware and self-conscious comparing and complaining part of the body is humorous and absurd, and that is the very point Paul uses this illustration to make. The body is one and functions as one. When there is running to be done, the feet and legs and hips all move together to perform the action. When there is something to be picked up, the hands and arms and back and legs all cooperate to accomplish the action. The parts are not self-conscious of their individuality and distinction from the other parts, envious of the other parts. The body is one and moves as one under the direction of the one head, empowered by the one spirit. When we begin to think about our own importance or unimportance in comparison to the rest of the body, the possibility of doing anything truly Christian is gone (Morris, p.172).

It is interesting that the foot does not compare itself with the eye, and the ear does not compare itself with the hand. Chrysostom notes that ‘we are prone to envy those who surpass us a little rather than those who are patently in a different class’ (Morris, p.171).

Monstrosity of a One Member Body

Paul develops this illustration further based on the different functions of the different parts.

17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?

Picture the monstrosity of a body that was all eye. Even Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc. has arms, legs, and a mouth in addition to his one big eye. It would be difficult to animate a whole body that was only eye. The idea of a whole body that is nothing but ear is absurd. The different functions are highlighted. Maybe seeing is more important than hearing or smelling, but all those senses together make up our experience of the world around us, and any lack would be a deformity and a deficiency. If the ear got its wish and morphed into an eye, the body would lack a very important sense.

Sovereign Wisdom in the Design of the Body

18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

Again, God is honored as the divine mastermind behind the creation of the body. In verse 6 we were told that God empowers the various gifts, in verses 7-10 that the gifts are given by God through the Spirit, in verse 11 the Spirit apportions to each one individually as he wills, in verse 13, we were all made to drink of one Spirit. God arranges the members of the body, each one of them, as he chose. There is divine sovereign wisdom and purpose in the arrangement of the members of the body. For one body part to envy another or for one part to consider itself as out of place or not belonging is to say that God made a mistake in his arrangement of the individual parts.

If all were a single part, where would the body be? A drawer full of tongues or ears or eyes would be very disturbing. That is not a body.

We can apply this principle to local churches. It is just as freakish and bizarre for any local church or denomination to choose its favorite gift and make up a body of all tongues or all brains or all hearts. That is not a body.

I Have No Need of You

Paul now moves his focus from the part that feels unimportant and that it does not belong, to the part who feels overly important.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

Now we have the eye looking down on the hand. Again we have the absurdity of individual self-aware self-conscious body parts competing with one another. Just as inconceivable as a body part excluding itself from the body because doesn’t feels like it belongs, so it is unthinkable for a body part to arrogantly proclaim that it is self-sufficient and independent of the other parts. The function of the eye is amazing. It can perceive and identify something a mile away. It can discern shapes and colors and distance. The eye can see. But have you ever gotten a grain of dirt or a piece of sawdust in your eye? The hand becomes a very valuable asset to the eye. Imagine getting up one morning and stumbling in to the bathroom to put in your contact lenses. The hand says to the eye, ‘so you don’t need me? Good luck with that!’ Try getting the tiny lenses out of the little plastic case with the screw on lids and into your eyes without the use of your hands. No individual member can have such an over-inflated opinion of itself that it disregards or discards other members of the body. The head is undeniably important. It is more important to the life of the body than the feet. The body can live longer without feet than it can without a head. But that does not give it permission to say to the feet ‘I have no need of you’. No part of the body can say to any other part of the body ‘I have no need of you’.

Honor the Unpresentable Parts

22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require.

Some parts of the body we consider weaker or less honorable or unpresentable. The word translated ‘seem to be’ and ‘we think’ was used back in 1:18.

1 Corinthians 1:18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

In 4:9-13 the word is used to describe the seeming foolishness, weakness, and disrepute of the apostles. It is also used in 8:2.

1 Corinthians 8:2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.

1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

The word ‘weaker’ or weakness has been a theme in this letter. In 1:25 he says:

1 Corinthians 1:25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. … 27 …God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;

In chapter 8 he uses this word to describe the consciences of those who were being stumbled.

1 Corinthians 8:11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

And in chapter 9

1 Corinthians 9:22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

In 4:10, he uses the words ‘dishonorable’ and ‘weak’ to describe what the Apostles seemed to be in comparison to the status seeking Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 4:10 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.

There are some body parts that we keep hidden. And rightly so. Some body parts are not intended for the public eye. They are weak, dishonorable, unpresentable. But these parts are indispensable. Literally, the text says we ‘surround these with superabundant honor’. They are treated with superabundant modesty. It seems Paul’s language is pointing to the parts of the reproductive system. These parts are best kept hidden, but they are indispensable for the propagation of future generations. In athletics, these parts are surrounded with extra protection and padding.

Paul is making the connection with the weak, dishonorable, unpresentable people in the body of Christ. Some people are socially awkward. Some people lack tact and social graces. Some people have a tendency to put their feet in their mouths or speak before they think. Some people are destitute and in desperate circumstances. Some people suffer from mental illness. Some people are weak or sick. In the world, these are the people that would be subject to ridicule, they would be held up and made a spectacle of, they would be the brunt of jokes and gossip. But not so in the church of God. God chose the foolish, God chose the weak, God chose the low, the despised, the nothings, so that no one might boast in his presence (1:27-29). At the cross, God turned social norms upside down. He conquered power with weakness, he took away guilt by being shamed, he decimated the wisdom of the world with the foolishness of the cross. The world gives great honor to the most presentable people. But in the church of Christ, we are to surround with superabundant honor and modesty and protection our unpresentable parts. We are to give the greatest care to the least of these, care and protection that the presentable parts do not require. Jesus said:

Matthew 25:34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. This turns appearance on its head. Some of the presentable parts are dispensable. The hands are presentable. But you can live without your hands. You can’t live without your lungs or your heart. Some of the unseen, ugly things are vital, and the visible attractive things although important and necessary, can be done without. The things that you see in the church, the people that are up front and presentable, are not the most essential part of the church. We have hidden parts of the body, the heart and soul and guts who keep us alive, prayer warriors who pray fervently for me and for the leadership of the church and for each individual member, people who wage spiritual warfare in their closets. And I don’t even know who you all are, but I thank God for you, and we could not go on in effective ministry as a church without you. We have those with the gift of generosity, and I don’t know who you all are, but you pay the bills and pick up the slack and continue to make ministry possible. There are those with the gift of helps, who come alongside others, who assist and encourage and share the burden behind the scenes. There are those who love numbers and use calculators and spreadsheets to balance checkbooks and pay the bills on time. There are those who fix toilets and vacuum carpets and straighten chairs hang drywall and dig ditches and take out the trash. There are those who visit sick people and make a meal and pray on the phone with a friend in need and just spend time with someone who is hurting. One day I will be dead and gone and I pray this church will find another shepherd who is obedient to Jesus, faithful to God’s word and loves God’s people, and you will go on in effective ministry. Some of the up front presentable parts are replaceable, but the things that go on in the guts of the ministry are indispensable.

Purpose of Unity; Mutual Care, Suffering, and Rejoicing

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.

God gives and empowers the gifts, the Spirit apportions to each one individually as he chose, God composed the body in exactly the way he intended. God sovereignly, wisely composed the body so that the parts that were inferior, that come behind, lack, or are inferior receive superabundant honor. God’s purpose for mixing the members of the body together in this way is unity. That there be no division in the body. Paul started the letter by saying:

1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

The opposite of division is unity expressed mutual care. The word here is actually being worried or concerned about basic needs. Each member is to have the same care for one another. Philippians says:

Philippians 2:2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Romans 12:10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

The opposite of division is unity expressed in mutual suffering. If one member suffers, all suffer together. If on the way to the bathroom to put in your contact lenses in the morning, you smash your toe into the bed frame, you don’t stop and think to yourself, ‘that must have really hurt. I bet my little toe is hurting right now. I think I will come alongside that toe and try to bring comfort and encouragement. How can some of the other members of my body come alongside that toe and help to bear the burden it is suffering?’ No, you probably crumple to the floor writhing in pain clutching that toe. Your whole body has become one pulsating painful throbbing toe. Your whole body experiences the pain together with your toe. This is not something you should do, it is who you are. It is simply the natural result of being one interconnected body. When one part of the body suffers, all suffer together. If one part of the body is injured and the rest of the body feels no pain, something is very wrong with the body.

The opposite of division is unity expressed in mutual joy. If one member is honored, all rejoice together. If you run a race and win, your hand doesn’t go sit in the corner and pout, feeling jealous that the feet are getting so much honor and praise. The hand receives the high five and rejoices together with the success of the whole body.

Unity is expressed in mutual care, mutual suffering, mutual rejoicing. The opposite of division is not equality. The opposite of division is unity in the midst of inequality and diversity.

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

September 28, 2014 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 3:5-9; The Nature of Christian Ministry

05/19 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 The Nature of Christian Ministry;Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130519_1cor3_5-9.mp3

  1Cor 3 [SBLGNT]

1 Κἀγώ, ἀδελφοί, οὐκ ἠδυνήθην λαλῆσαι ὑμῖν ὡς πνευματικοῖς ἀλλ’ ὡς σαρκίνοις, ὡς νηπίοις ἐν Χριστῷ. 2 γάλα ὑμᾶς ἐπότισα, οὐ βρῶμα, οὔπω γὰρ ἐδύνασθε. ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ ἔτι νῦν δύνασθε, 3 ἔτι γὰρ σαρκικοί ἐστε. ὅπου γὰρ ἐν ὑμῖν ζῆλος καὶ ἔρις, οὐχὶ σαρκικοί ἐστε καὶ κατὰ ἄνθρωπον περιπατεῖτε; 4 ὅταν γὰρ λέγῃ τις· Ἐγὼ μέν εἰμι Παύλου, ἕτερος δέ· Ἐγὼ Ἀπολλῶ, οὐκ ἄνθρωποί ἐστε;

5 Τί οὖν ἐστιν Ἀπολλῶς; τί δέ ἐστιν Παῦλος; διάκονοι δι’ ὧν ἐπιστεύσατε, καὶ ἑκάστῳ ὡς ὁ κύριος ἔδωκεν. 6 ἐγὼ ἐφύτευσα, Ἀπολλῶς ἐπότισεν, ἀλλὰ ὁ θεὸς ηὔξανεν· 7 ὥστε οὔτε ὁ φυτεύων ἐστίν τι οὔτε ὁ ποτίζων, ἀλλ’ ὁ αὐξάνων θεός. 8 ὁ φυτεύων δὲ καὶ ὁ ποτίζων ἕν εἰσιν, ἕκαστος δὲ τὸν ἴδιον μισθὸν λήμψεται κατὰ τὸν ἴδιον κόπον, 9 θεοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν συνεργοί· θεοῦ γεώργιον, θεοῦ οἰκοδομή ἐστε.

 1Cor 3 [ESV2011]

1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul is addressing the unhealthy immaturity of the believers in Corinth. They think they are advanced, spiritual, ready for meat doctrines. Paul points to their division, their quarreling, their party spirit, their jealousy and strife, and says that although you have God’s Holy Spirit living inside you, you are acting as if you were merely unregenerate humans, people controlled by fleshly instincts.

In mentioning the party divisions between the followers of Paul and the followers of Apollos, he is coming back to the issue he identified as the root of their problems in 1:12. The intervening chapter and a half laid the groundwork for them to understand what true wisdom is. God’s wisdom is different from man’s wisdom. God’s wisdom is the cross, Jesus Christ and him crucified. To follow a leader who is not popular but instead got himself executed as a common criminal seems foolish. But this message is not only wisdom but power. God in Christ is turning the wisdom of the world on its head and bringing it to nothing. Through this foolish message he is saving people; not the wise and well-to do cultural icons, but the low, the losers, the nothings. The method of the preacher fit the message; not polished oratory, but plain proclamation of the truth, the simple facts of the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ was crucified in the place of sinners. This message is not able to be understood by those whose minds are twisted and darkened by sin. It is a spiritual message that can only be received by those whose eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit of God. So we who have seen the beauty of the gospel in the face of Jesus Christ, we who have received the Spirit of God so that we can understand the things freely given us by God have received a great treasure. We have been given the mind of Christ.

But although the Corinthian believers had been given this greatest of all treasures, although they had received the Holy Spirit of God, they refused to grow up. They had not passed out of the self-centered phase of infancy where all they can say is ‘mine’. Although they possessed the mind of Christ, they were not living lives of humility, love, and self-sacrifice, putting the interests of others before their own, which is characteristic of the mind of Christ. Instead they were operating out of divisiveness, jealousy and strife.

The Nature of Spirituality (2:10-16)

First, Paul had to set them straight on the nature of spirituality. A spiritual person is not a person who has achieved a more advanced level of spirituality than another Christian. Instead, a spiritual person is a person who has received the Spirit of God, which is characteristic of all believers in Jesus. The unspiritual person is the person who does not have God’s Spirit, and is perishing. The believers in the church in Corinth were simply all fellow believers at the foot of the cross. Their competitive division, jealousy and strife were evidence of immaturity.

The Nature of Christian Ministry (3:5)

Now he goes on to clarify for them the nature of Christian ministry. In Corinth, there was a tendency either to overvalue or to undervalue those who had been placed in leadership roles in the church. Some elevated their favorite minister to celebrity status and acted like groupies in their fan club; others, those who considered themselves more spiritual, asserted that they didn’t need any leader. They had a direct connection with Christ and were above the need for any Christian leadership.

Paul asks ‘what is Apollos, what is Paul? Not who but what. Not the dynamic and powerful speaker and teacher, not the plain speaking persecuted apostle and evangelist and church planter. You are rallying behind the names and persona’s of these figureheads, but what are they?

Paul shifts his metaphor from a mother nursing her newborn infant with milk to servants who wait tables to a field with farmhands, to temple construction with hired laborers.

He says that we (Apollos and Paul) are servants. Diakonoi [διάκονοι], where we get our word deacon, meant a lowly household servant. Cook the meal, serve the tables, clean up after the meal, take out the trash, prepare the next meal. You are placing us on pedestals as heroes to be worshiped, but we are servants. Servants through whom you believed, not in whom you believed. Remember, in 1:13 he asked the absurd rhetorical question ‘was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?’ Of course not! Paul did not die for your sins. Jesus did. You believed in Jesus and were baptized into the name of Jesus. You didn’t believe in Paul or Apollos. You believed through, or because of, or on account of. They were the instruments God used to bring you to faith in him. So don’t undervalue them. Thank God for them. Without them you would not have believed, as Romans 10 says:

Romans 10:14 …And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

God used them to bring you to faith in him, so treasure them, honor them, thank God for them, but don’t put your faith in them. Don’t put them on a pedestal as an object of your devotion and allegiance. Paul tells the Galatians (1:8) that if we (the apostles) flake out and start preaching a different gospel then let us be accursed! The central issue is not the messenger but the message. Many Christians talk about their favorite pastor or bible teacher or denomination as if they were almost divine and worthy of worship. Paul asks the question ‘what are we?’ and answers ‘we are servants, a means to an end, and the end is not us!’ The goal is you believing in Jesus, loving Jesus, following Jesus. We are servants pointing you to him.

This view of ministry as servants comes straight from the teaching of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples were eager to outdo one another. They were continually jockeying for position, and eager to secure the title of ‘great’ for themselves.

Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus holds himself up as the ultimate example for greatness in Christian ministry. He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. So if you want to be great, you must learn to serve others. The one who is truly great is not the one who wins the popularity contest or the one who gains the most followers. True greatness is a life of humble self-sacrificial service born out of love for others.

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.

The Lord assigned to each his role. Literally ‘and to each as the Lord gave’. We are given our assignments by the Lord. We don’t even get to pick what we want to do. Paul will say in chapter 12 about spiritual enablements for service that the ‘Spirit apportions to each one individually as he wills.’ We are servants following orders. We might look around the church and say ‘I don’t like my role. I’d rather be doing what he or she is doing’, or ‘I think my role is less important or less valuable than their role, so I’m just going to stay home’ or ‘I think it would be much more effective if I did it this way instead.’ That is jealousy and strife, evidence of immaturity. At the bottom, that is rebellion against an all wise King, assuming that we know better and would arrange things better if we were in charge.

Agricultural Illustration

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul uses an agricultural illustration. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. There are a lot of factors that go into good farming, there is technique and skill and good old fashioned know-how that goes into successful farming. But even the best farmers can lose a crop. Unless the weather cooperates, all is lost. Without the proper amount of sunshine and rain, seeds do not germinate. A late frost can destroy; wind or hail can strip a field. Too much sun or too much rain can drown or scorch a crop. Success in farming is dependent ultimately on God who sends the weather.

So it is with Christian ministry. We each fulfill our God-given roles. We work hard. Hopefully we work with ever increasing skill and diligence. But only God can give growth. That is his gift to give.

Interdependence in Christian Ministry (3:6, 8)

Paul’s illustration shows the interdependence of Christian ministry. I planted, Apollos watered. Without the seed sown in the soil, there will be no crop. Apollos could water the barren earth all day every day, and the only thing it would produce is weeds. The seed has to be sown. If Paul planted good seed into dry ground and there was no water, the seed would lay dormant in the soil. There would be no growth. He who plants and he who waters are one. The Corinthians are dividing between following Paul and following Apollos. Paul says we are not in competition with one another. We are on the same team, working toward the same goal. We find out in chapter 16 that Apollos is actually with Paul in Ephesus when he pens this letter. Paul says:

1 Corinthians 16:12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

We are together, we are united, we are on the same team! Imagine Apollos saying ‘I’m so good, I can irrigate twice as fast as you can plant.’ And half the Corinthian church is cheering him on. Stop it! You’re just going to make a muddy mess. No, the field workers work together toward a common goal. The goal is a fruitful harvest for the owner of the field. Get the seed in the ground, give it sufficient water, and trust that God will produce growth.

Reward for Faithful Christian Ministry (3:8)

Paul says that ‘each will receive his wages according to his labor’. Notice that the wages are not according to fruitfulness but according to faithfulness. Because fruitfulness is ultimately up to God. Some in Christian ministry faithfully till the hard soil with little or no results. When God called Jeremiah (7:27), he told him up front that he is to speak, but the people will not listen. What a discouraging mission – knowing up front that there will be no fruit! But wages are not based on fruit but on faithfulness. Others may be sent to a field that is ripe for harvest and put in half-hearted effort and see amazing results, but they too will be rewarded not for their fruitfulness, but for their labor.

And notice who evaluates the labor of Christian ministers. The Corinthians were all about giving their opinions on how Paul and Apollos were doing. They had their critique of what they did well and what they should have done differently. Some liked one minister better than another, issues of style and personality and technique and delivery. It seems that Christians can easily become connoisseurs of teaching. Tasting, sampling, comparing, evaluating, critiquing, criticizing, condemning. We tend to think that the one who is able to evaluate and critique is the expert in the field with advanced knowledge, a sign of maturity. Paul is saying that this is not a sign of maturity but of immaturity. You are missing the main point of the gospel. When you become a critic, you cease to be a disciple.

I am human. I have a desperate desire to be liked. I want to be accepted by you. But there are times when I need to fill the role of nurse who administers medicine under the Doctor’s orders. I have to come into the exam room with a big needle and you’re not going to like me very much at all. You might cry and throw a fit and tell me what a horrible person I am for causing you such pain, but I am under orders. I could try to be your friend and get you to like me and empty the medicine down the sink. You might think I’m great for the moment, until the disease spreads and begins to kill you. In the end, that would be a great disservice to you and gross negligence in my duties. Of course I want to be liked, but it’s more important that I be found faithful, that I follow the good Doctor’s orders.

In Paul’s analogy, the church is the field, God’s field. The ministers, the servants are God’s fellow-workers. The evaluation and the wages will come from the Master of the field. The evaluation of ministry, the only evaluation that really matters, is God’s evaluation. And that evaluation is coming. Paul will speak more to this issue of reward for faithful ministry in the next section.

Absolute Dependence on God in Christian Ministry (3:6-7)

Even when the planter and the waterer are in perfect harmony, even when they labor faithfully, unless God causes the sun to shine, there will be no fruit. In chapter 2, we were told that:

1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Paul is sowing good gospel seed among natural people. Apollos is coming behind and watering that seed with the water of sound biblical teaching. They are in full harmony and cooperation. But unless God shines the light of his Holy Spirit into the minds of unbelievers, there will be no germination of the gospel seed, there will be no life, there will be no growth, and there will be no fruit. So ultimately, growth is dependent on God. If I refuse to sow the gospel seed, God can hire someone else. If I refuse to water with biblical truth, God can hire someone else. But unless God’s reveals these things to us by his Spirit, there can be no life. ‘So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.’ Paul says ‘some of you are putting me and Apollos on rival pedestals. We are nothing. Nothing! God is everything! We are servants, hired field hands. God gives the growth. Keep God at the center of your worship. As the last of the Old Testament prophets, John said:

John 3:27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. … 29…Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Am I faithfully serving in the ministry I have been given? Am I humbly serving out of love for others? Am I looking to God alone for his approval? Am I serving in absolute dependence on God to give the growth? Is my joy complete when Jesus gets all the attention and I fade into the background?

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

May 19, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment