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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 4:16; Being Renewed Day By Day

09/30_2 Corinthians 4:16; Being Renewed Day By Day; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180930_2cor4_16.mp3

What if I told you that I could give you the secret to endure any hardship, and not only survive but thrive under any adversity? No matter what comes against you, to never fail, never give up, never lose heart. Would you be interested? That is exactly what Paul is telling us in 2 Corinthians 4. The chapter begins with these words:

We Do Not Lose Heart

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

We do not lose heart, grow weary, faint, give up, fail, quit. How? Therefore, looking back to chapter 3, because this is the kind of ministry we have, an exceedingly glorious ministry, the ministry of the new covenant, a life giving ministry, a ministry that brings righteousness, an enduring ministry, a ministry of the Spirit of the living God. We do not lose heart because we have this kind of glorious ministry.

Therefore, because we have this ministry by the mercy of God, as a gift, not something we deserve but freely given to us, entrusted to us by God himself, we do not lose heart.

He picks this theme of not losing heart back up in verse 16

2 Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart.

Our confidence comes not from our methods but from the message itself. God speaks in our speaking to give light and life. Since we have this divine and supernatural light placed inside these fragile earthen containers for a purpose, to magnify, to display that the power is God’s and not our own, we do not lose heart, give up, fail. Even in the face of affliction, confusion, persecution, even death, we do not give up, because God’s resurrecting power is at work in us. Through our frailty, through our fragility, we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, and grace abounds to many, which increases thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

The Outer and Inner Man

2 Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

Paul contrasts our outer self, literally ‘the outer man’ in contrast to the inner person. What does he mean? So far in this chapter, he has described himself as a cheap, fragile, disposable jar of clay. He is afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. He is carrying around the dying of Jesus. He is always being given over to death. Death is at work in his fragile earthen container. That is what people see. That is what the Corinthians see, and it has caused them to question if he is the real deal. How could a representative of the Lord Christ be that vulnerable, that fragile? How could the powerful gospel reside in such a weak person? If he were genuinely commissioned by Christ, you would think at least something would go right for him. It appears that every circumstance is against him. In 1:8 he faced such a deadly peril in Asia, and was so utterly burdened beyond strength that he despaired of life itself. In 1:15-16 he desired to visit them, but then he changed his plans. In 2:12-13, his spirit was in turmoil in Troas, so he abandoned an open door for ministry and traveled on to Macedonia. In 7:5 he says that when he got to Macedonia, he could get no rest, he was afflicted at every turn; fighting outside and fear This is what people could see, and it didn’t look very impressive.

Jesus taught that outward appearance can be very different from inward reality. He said in Matthew 23

Matthew 23:27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

They were something different on the inside than what they appeared to be from the outside. Outer appearance did not match inner reality. This was true of Paul, but in the reverse. He said ‘our outer man is wasting away’ literally ‘thoroughly corrupted, ruined, or decayed’.

But his fragile earthen vessel contained a treasure inside; the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus, the light of the good news of the glory of Christ. He looked like death, but he was carrying around life, the life of Jesus, good news that extended grace to many people and increased thanksgiving to the glory of God. He said ‘who we are on the inside is being renewed day by day’.

Daily Inner Renewal

This is so powerful! He is daily being made new. Whatever happens, whatever comes against him, he is being made new. I don’t know if you’ve watched any of the Marvel movies, but we are fascinated by the idea of some genetic modification or mutation that makes the superhero’s injuries heal rapidly. Bullets tear through their bodies, but as we watch, their wounds instantaneously heal and they keep going, they keep fighting the bad guys, they keep on standing against the onslaught of evil.

Paul tells us he experienced something like this. Outwardly he is being destroyed, but inside he is being made new day by day. This was reality for him, and it can be our experience as well. How does this work? How is it that we are made new, even in the face of outer destruction?

The only other place in the New Testament this ‘being made new’ word appears is Colossians 3:10. In Colossians 3, Paul tells us to put to death what is earthly in you, and he lists things like sexual immorality, impure desires, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, lying. He says we have put off the old self,

Colossians 3:10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Our new self is being made new. Why? If we put off the old self and put on the new, why does it have to be made new? Why does the new have to be renewed?

It seems that our hearts are prone to wander. We drift. Although we have put on the new, the old creeps back in. We need to be renewed.

Our new self is being made new after the image of our creator. We are being made new to reflect Jesus. Colossians 3 gives us a key to how this being made new happens. It is in knowledge. Jesus said

John 8:31 … “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Abiding in Jesus’ word, knowing the truth sets you free. We are renewed in knowledge after the image of our creator. So knowing God and his word releases us from the destructive influences of persecution. We are pressed down but not crushed, perplexed but not despairing, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed, because we know, we abide in God’s word. Knowing theology, not just head knowledge, but truly knowing God, abiding in him, in relationship, we are being renewed.

We see this if we look around at the context of Colossians 3:10.

Colossians 3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

We are told to seek the things above, to set our minds on things above. This renewing knowledge involves both seeking and fixing our thoughts on the things of God. Both thinking and desire are involved. We want him, we pursue him, we think about him, we seek to know him, and this brings renewal.

We saw how this works back at the end of 2 Corinthians 3

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Beholding the glory of God brings transformation into his image. When we gaze at him, when we know him, we experience being made new, Holy Spirit transformation.

Day by Day

Notice, this is not a one-time thing. This is a day by day by day by day thing. This being renewed happens day by day. Look with me at how this works. Verse 10 he says we are ‘always carrying in the body the dying of Jesus’. Verse 11 ‘we are always being given over to death’. Verse 12 ‘death is (presently) working in us’. The ‘being destroyed’ is present, ongoing, so the being renewed must also be an ongoing reality in our lives, as he spells out when he says ‘day by day’.

And if we are made new in knowledge, if we are transformed by beholding, that means that our beholding, our knowing must also be day by day by day.

Jesus said:

Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Trouble comes day by day. Has anyone experienced this? Do I hear an Amen? We don’t have to borrow troubles from tomorrow by worrying; today has enough. We can expect daily troubles. But look at this treasure back in the book of Lamentations:

Lamentations 3:21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: 22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Today’s troubles are met by new morning mercies in the steadfast love of the Lord.

Notice there is an active availing yourself of these mercies. The experience of them is not automatic. He says ‘I have hope today because I am calling to mind today the steadfast love and fresh mercies of the Lord.’ My soul says ‘the LORD is my portion,’ so I have hope. We are renewed in knowledge. We are transformed by beholding. Wake up tomorrow saying in your soul ‘the LORD is my portion.’ Spend time beholding the glory of the Lord, treasuring him. Open his word and find a new mercy that will carry you through the trouble of that day. Call it to mind. Hope in his steadfast love and faithfulness, in his fresh daily mercies.

Like the manna in the wilderness, you can’t gather up a weeks worth of mercies all at once. Whether you gather little or much, you will find it to be just enough for that day. And it won’t keep overnight. It has to be new every morning. (Exodus 16)

How To Be Renewed

Practically, how do we do this? What does it look like to be made new day by day?

First, you need to know you need it. Because if you don’t think you need to be daily renewed you just won’t. You won’t seek it. You will just coast. Maybe you think you can survive another day on yesterday’s rations. Some people think that Sunday’s meal will carry them all through the week. You have to be desperate. Admit how prone to wander your own heart is. The bullets of affliction are tearing me apart. The flaming arrows of the evil one are bent on destroying me. I desperately need this powerful renewing today.

Then look to God’s word expectantly. We live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. It is our food, our daily sustenance. Develop a habit. Develop the discipline of going to God’s word regularly. Sometimes the experience will be amazing. Sometimes it won’t. Don’t let that discourage you. A bowl of bland oatmeal will sustain you just as well as a Belgian waffle with whipped cream and fresh berries. This is a daily discipline. You will get better at it over time.

And don’t be afraid to get help. There are some great resources available that are incredibly helpful. A few I have been personally helped by are C.H. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, and Faith’s Checkbook. You can get those free online or in an app for your phone. Desiring God puts out a daily devotional app called Solid Joys. The Bible Project has a great reading plan with videos to help see the big picture of Jesus in all of Scripture. Milton Vincent wrote a small book called ‘A Gospel Primer for Christians’ that trains you how to preach the gospel to yourself daily. There are so many resources available. Pick one that works for you and use it.

You can read a whole book of the Bible if you have time, or you can read a chapter, or a verse, or even a phrase, and turn it over in you mind, contemplate what it means, write it on a scrap of paper and carry it in your pocket. Make it part of your day.

Whatever you do, take time to behold the glory of the Lord. Seek to see Jesus. Seek to know him. Treasure the gospel. Talk to him as you open his book, ask him to meet you there, to reveal himself to you. Ask him to meet you with his manifold mercies. Ask him to give you just what you need for today. Listen for what God is saying to you through his word.

Enjoy his presence. And thank him for what he shows you there.

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

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October 1, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 27; Better Not to Vow

05/14 Leviticus 27; Better Not to Vow;Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170514_leviticus-27.mp3

Leviticus 27 is the last chapter of the book. Many scholars feel that this chapter is out of place, an appendix that doesn’t really fit. Chapter 26 with the covenant blessings and curses and the promise of restoration seems like a more fitting end to the book.

This chapter gives specific instructions on vows to the LORD. The vow offering was mentioned but not explained back in Leviticus 7:16; 22:18, 21, 23; 23:38, which left us wondering what a vow offering is all about. This chapter talks about the proper value of things, something that ties back to Leviticus 5:15, 18; 6:6. The adjustment of the value of land in relation to the year of jubilee connects back to chapter 25. The concept of redemption also connects this chapter with chapter 25.

Leviticus 26 was a promise or vow from the LORD; a promise of blessing for obedience and a promise of discipline for rebellion and disobedience. It is common when we have experienced great blessing, out of abundant gratitude to make some kind of promise to the LORD. It is also common in times of great distress, like those described in chapter 26, to promise to the LORD if he will get you out of the desperate situation you are in. Jacob, fleeing from his murderous brother in Genesis 28, made a vow to the LORD if he would protect him and provide for him and return him to his home in peace, then the LORD would be his God and he would give a tenth of everything back to the LORD. So it is fitting to find a chapter regulating vows right after the chapter on blessings and curses.

-Leviticus 1-7 Sacrifices

–Leviticus 8-10 Priests

—Leviticus 11-15 Uncleanness

—-Leviticus 16 Day of Atonement

—Leviticus 17-27 Holy Living

It is appropriate in this section on holy living, that we would find instructions on vows and dedication to the LORD.

Outline / Structure

This chapter moves from vows of persons and animals to dedication of houses and land and back through restrictions of vows on animals and persons and tithes.

Leviticus 27

1 introduction

–2-8 vows of valuation of persons

—-9-13 animals

——14-15 dedicated house

——16-25 dedicated land

—-26-27 firsborn belong to the LORD

–28-29 no redemption or ransom for devoted things

–30-33 tithe belongs to the LORD

34 conclusion

This chapter places an emphasis on a fair valuation of things, and requires an additional 20% to be added to something dedicated that is then bought back by the one who gave it.

The main point of this chapter is ‘be careful what you vow, because God will hold you to it.’

Vows of Valuation of Persons

Leviticus 27:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the LORD involving the valuation of persons, 3 then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. 4 If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. 5 If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. 6 If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be three shekels of silver. 7 And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. 8 And if someone is too poor to pay the valuation, then he shall be made to stand before the priest, and the priest shall value him; the priest shall value him according to what the vower can afford.

A vow of a person to the LORD seems unusual, but this is what Hannah prayed in 1 Samuel 1

1 Samuel 1:11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

In her case, her son Samuel was given into the service of the tabernacle. But according to Leviticus, many people would be restricted from service in the tabernacle or temple. This passage sets a standard monetary equivalent for persons of differing capacity for work.

Age Male Female

20-60yrs. 50 shekels 30 shekels

5-20yrs. 20 shekels 10 shekels

1mo.-5yrs. 5 shekels 3 shekels

60+ yrs. 15 shekels 10 shekels

As some estimate the wages of a laborer were about a shekel a month (Hartley, p.481, citing Wenham) these prices were high. But even in this, there was provision for the poor.

Animals

Leviticus 27:9 “If the vow is an animal that may be offered as an offering to the LORD, all of it that he gives to the LORD is holy. 10 He shall not exchange it or make a substitute for it, good for bad, or bad for good; and if he does in fact substitute one animal for another, then both it and the substitute shall be holy. 11 And if it is any unclean animal that may not be offered as an offering to the LORD, then he shall stand the animal before the priest, 12 and the priest shall value it as either good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall be. 13 But if he wishes to redeem it, he shall add a fifth to the valuation.

Animals could be vowed to the Lord. In Judges 11 when Jephtha vowed:

Judges 11:30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”

Perhaps he envisioned one of his flock or herd coming to meet him. The animal could have been clean or unclean; if it were clean, it could not be substituted; if it were unclean, it must be either sold or redeemed. What came to meet Jephtha from his door was his daughter, his only child. If Jephtha had known the law, according to Leviticus 5, he could have confessed the sin of his rash oath and offered an animal sacrifice to the LORD. But this story illustrates how seriously the people took vows.

Judges 11:35 And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” …39 And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made…

Ignorance of the Scriptures can have appalling consequences. This was a time when Israel ‘abandoned the LORD and served’ false gods; a time when ‘everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’ Attempting to manipulate God with a vow or a promise is a dangerous venture.

Houses and Land

Leviticus 27:14 “When a man dedicates his house as a holy gift to the LORD, the priest shall value it as either good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall stand. 15 And if the donor wishes to redeem his house, he shall add a fifth to the valuation price, and it shall be his. 16 “If a man dedicates to the LORD part of the land that is his possession, then the valuation shall be in proportion to its seed. A homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver. 17 If he dedicates his field from the year of jubilee, the valuation shall stand, 18 but if he dedicates his field after the jubilee, then the priest shall calculate the price according to the years that remain until the year of jubilee, and a deduction shall be made from the valuation. 19 And if he who dedicates the field wishes to redeem it, then he shall add a fifth to its valuation price, and it shall remain his. 20 But if he does not wish to redeem the field, or if he has sold the field to another man, it shall not be redeemed anymore. 21 But the field, when it is released in the jubilee, shall be a holy gift to the LORD, like a field that has been devoted. The priest shall be in possession of it. 22 If he dedicates to the LORD a field that he has bought, which is not a part of his possession, 23 then the priest shall calculate the amount of the valuation for it up to the year of jubilee, and the man shall give the valuation on that day as a holy gift to the LORD. 24 In the year of jubilee the field shall return to him from whom it was bought, to whom the land belongs as a possession. 25 Every valuation shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs shall make a shekel.

Houses and land can be dedicated to the LORD. There was to be a fair and standard valuation, based on its potential productivity and years of availability. As with other things, a house or field can be redeemed by the donor with an added 20%.

Restrictions: Firstborn

But there were restrictions on what could or could not be donated.

Leviticus 27:26 “But a firstborn of animals, which as a firstborn belongs to the LORD, no man may dedicate; whether ox or sheep, it is the LORD’s. 27 And if it is an unclean animal, then he shall buy it back at the valuation, and add a fifth to it; or, if it is not redeemed, it shall be sold at the valuation.

According to Exodus 13, God laid claim to all firstborn animals. So a person could not attempt to claim double credit for one animal. A firstborn animal already belongs to the LORD, so he could not also pledge it as the fulfillment of a vow.

Restrictions: Devoted Things and People

Many of the laws here specify values and what is to be paid to redeem something back after having vowed it. The assumption is that a person after vowing then reconsiders and wants to reclaim what they pledged in a vow. There is provision in some cases for an additional fee to redeem something back.

Leviticus 27:28 “But no devoted thing that a man devotes to the LORD, of anything that he has, whether man or beast, or of his inherited field, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the LORD. 29 No one devoted, who is to be devoted for destruction from mankind, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death.

A devoted thing is a category from which there is no recourse. A devoted thing is most holy to the LORD, and cannot be sold or redeemed. It must be used exclusively in service to YHWH. Some cities during the conquest, like Jericho, were devoted to destruction. Some people, like those guilty of premeditated murder, were devoted to destruction and could not be freed by any payment.

Restrictions: Tithes

The final section deals with tithes. Tithes already belong to the LORD, so a tithe cannot also be offered in fulfillment of a vow.

Leviticus 27:30 “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD’s; it is holy to the LORD. 31 If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. 32 And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the LORD. 33 One shall not differentiate between good or bad, neither shall he make a substitute for it; and if he does substitute for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.” 34 These are the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.

Better Not To Vow

God will not be cheated. As he says in Malachi,

Malachi 1:14 Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.

Deuteronomy 23 says

Deuteronomy 23:21 “If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. 22 But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. 23 You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.

By definition, vows are freely made. There is no expectation, no obligation, no consequence for not making the vow. A vow can be a beautiful expression of thanksgiving and worship to our gracious God. But vows are never to be used to gain advantage or to manipulate God to do our will.

In the early church, in an atmosphere of unity and generosity, where the believers, amazed by God’s graceto them in Jesus, were eager to extend his grace and generosity to one another.

Acts 5:1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.

It is clear, they were under no obligation to give anything. They sought to appear more generous than they were. They lied to the Holy Spirit. That proved to be very costly.

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes says:

Ecclesiastes 5:1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. 3 For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words. 4 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.

Proverbs gives this wisdom:

Proverbs 20:24 A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way? 25 It is a snare to say rashly, “It is holy,” and to reflect only after making vows.

That is a good summary of what this concluding chapter of Leviticus is about. Do not vow rashly. Our tendency is to speak before we think. We are inclined to think we can manipulate the situation.

Vows like Jacob’s and Jephtha’s come from a lack of faith. God had just unconditionally promised to Jacob that he would be with him and would bless him and return him home in peace. Jephtha had been empowered by God’s Spirit and God was already moving to give the Ammonites into his hand. But Jephtha felt he had to bribe God to get him to do what he wanted. Jacob responded to God’s unconditional promises with a condition promise – ‘if you do what you say, then I will give you something back’. These vows were rooted in doubt. They attempted to leverage God to do what they wished with a bribe. They undermined God’s gracious character and promises.

Our God is a Father who loves to give good gifts to his children. God has given to us his precious and very great promises in the gospel (2Pet.1:4). What God gives is grace – freely given.

Isaiah 30:18 Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you… 19 …He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.

Ephesians 2 says:

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— … 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved…

We experience the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. It is all of grace. God will be no man’s debtor.

Romans 11:35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

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

May 15, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For Freedom; Galatians 5:1-6; Matthew 11:28-30

1/24 For Freedom! ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160124_freedom.mp3

The last two messages I gave were on two of the most important spiritual disciplines; meditation on the Word of God and prayer. If we want to be fruitful, effective in the ministry God has called us to (and we are all called to minister), then we must be listening to God and enjoying our relationship with him. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said in John 15 that we must abide in him. Apart from him we can do nothing. If we abide in him, he promises that we will bear much fruit. It is vital that we as followers of Jesus evaluate and re-evaluate what we are doing to grow in our walk with the Lord, and discipline ourselves to reinforce good habits and form new ones that will enrich our relationship with God. Daily Bible study and constant prayer are essential to the health of the believer, and consequently to the health of the church body.

I want to balance this teaching on the spiritual disciplines with some teaching on Christian freedom, because it is possible to misunderstand Bible meditation and prayer in such a way as to view them as a duty by which we earn favor with God. This would be a terrible misuse of good gifts God has given.

Two Extremes

There are two dangerous extremes to avoid. I’ll tell you my own experience to help illustrate what I mean. When I was very young, I had a well meaning Bible camp counselor give me a little tract on having daily devotions. I think it was titled ‘7 minutes with God’ and I was told how important it was to read my Bible and pray every day. I can still remember what the tract looked like, the big ominous red number 7, and the picture of the hourglass with the sand slipping away. There was probably nothing wrong with the tract itself. I’m sure had some helpful suggestions on how to get started in the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. But I felt the weight of the obligation. I needed to pick a special place to have my quiet time. It was strongly suggested, if not explicitly mandated that this be the first thing you do each and every day. It had clear instructions on how to structure and spend your 7 minutes. I acknowledged how important this was to do, and I committed myself to doing it. I did great… for a day or two. Then I would wake up late and have to cut the 7 minutes down to 1 or 2 or skip it altogether so I wouldn’t be late for school, and I would feel like a failure. Sometimes I would try to make it up in the evening, but I wasn’t sure if that really counted, because really spiritual people do it in the morning. Guilt. Shame. You can’t even faithfully give God 7 minutes of your day? God gave his only Son for you! Surely you can afford to give him 7 measly minutes? Did you know that there are 1,440 minutes in each day? 7 minutes is less than half a percent of your day. I just can’t measure up. This thing called the Christian life, I can’t do it. I’m not good enough. Even when I worked really hard and disciplined myself to sit down and dig in, often my 4 minutes of Bible reading landed me in some endless genealogy of the Old Testament, and somehow I’m supposed to feel closer to God by trudging through a long list of names I can’t even pronounce? Or reading about skin diseases and what to do if the hair in a wound turned white or black? I’m clearly not very spiritual, because as I read, I just wasn’t sensing God’s presence (it actually kind of grossed me out). And then, in the 2 ½ minutes of prayer, my mind would wander incessantly. What am I supposed to say? Did you know that you can see little floating specks on the insides of your eyelids when you have your eyes closed for 2 ½ minutes? Do you know how disheartening it is when you open your eyes after what seems an eternity to peek at the clock and only 45 seconds have elapsed? After dutifully plodding along checking off the boxes for a short while, I gave up. I just couldn’t do what was expected of me.

When God got a hold on my heart, I wanted to spend time with him. I began to see things in the Bible I had never seen before. I set my alarm early so I would have time to spend with God, and I enjoyed sweet communion with him, listening to his voice in his Word, pouring out my heart to him in worship and thanksgiving. I was hungry for truth. I would meet with other believers my age and we would sing worship songs together, and we would go out on the streets of the city to tell people about Jesus, just out of a natural overflow of joy in Jesus. Those were some of the sweetest moments of my life.

Then a well-meaning college professor told our first year Bible class that we didn’t need to have quiet times. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to ‘do our devotions’ or to ‘have a quiet time each day with God’. After all, most believers throughout history didn’t even have daily access to a Bible. And I was in Bible college, so all my studies were in the Bible. My reading load for classes was heavy enough. And we are under grace. Some daily religious ritual doesn’t earn you any points with God. So I ditched my habit. Looking back, although I got a lot out of Bible college, my spiritual life suffered. I got distracted. I began to justify sin.

Galatians 5 – For Freedom!

Galatians is a letter written to believers who were in danger of abandoning the gospel by heading back to a form of law-righteousness. Paul warns that by doing this they are deserting Christ. Justification, our right standing before God is not earned by us. That is what it means to believe – we depend on Jesus who substituted himself for us, kept perfectly the law that we could not keep, and died the death that we deserved to die.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

The issues today are different, but the principle is the same. I don’t know of anyone today pushing circumcision as a means of gaining a right standing before God. But there are a lot of people pushing a lot of different things, even good things, as a means of gaining favor with God. Today’s issues range from whether you smoke or drink to how you vote or where you stand on particular issues, or what you wear or don’t wear or what movies you watch or what kind of music you listen to or what you do on Saturdays or Sundays or with your spare time or how often and how long you read your Bible and pray.

I’m not saying that none of these are important questions. A lot depends on how they are asked. If we are investigating to see if someone makes the grade, passes the test, lives up to a standard, there is a problem. Paul contrasts freedom in Christ and a yoke of slavery; the advantage of Christ and obligation to the law. Like oil and water, these two cannot be mixed. The danger of the Galatians, and the danger for us, is that we understand justification by faith alone through the finished work of Christ alone. We understand that we cannot pay the price for our sins, and that Christ alone paid our debt in full. Where we go awry is when we begin look at the Christian life as the obligations of slavery rather than the freedom of sons. He says back in:

Galatians 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Here is another contrast, between the Holy Spirit and our flesh, between how we began and how we finish. How do we live the Christian life? It is clear that we ‘must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt.5:48) and there is ‘holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ (Heb.12:14). The question is how do we come to be righteous? There is the imputed righteousness of Christ which is credited to our account when we believe. But there is also the practical righteousness of a a daily walk of sinning less and loving God more. Of course, we are counted righteous in Christ when we let go of our own efforts toward righteousness and depend on the perfect righteousness of Christ alone. But how do we daily fight the battle with sin and deepen in our affection for God? This is where discipline and structure and clear boundaries and focused effort will help, right? Be careful, you who received the Spirit by hearing with faith, lest you now seek to be perfected by the flesh. To begin by the Spirit and then seek to be perfected by the flesh means submitting to a yoke of slavery, where you are obligated to keep the whole law, where Christ is of no advantage to you, it means falling from grace, being severed from Christ. This is serious stuff! In 4:9, he warns against turning back to weak and worthless elementary principles of the world. He lists the observation of religious rituals – the observation of days and months and seasons and years. He calls this slavery! Knowing God, being known by God, relationship with God, this is freedom! In Colossians 2 Paul uses this same word ‘the elementary principles of the world’ and draws a contrast between captivity to human tradition, to human regulations and self-made religion and asceticism, and on the other hand, walking in Christ.

Colossians 2:6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

…20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 ( referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Man-made religious laws like ‘do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’ sound good. They have the ‘appearance of wisdom’, but they are slavery. As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him. Having begun by the Spirit, having received the Spirit by hearing with faith, do not seek to be perfected in the flesh, by observing law.

Paul says in Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free” and he exhorts us to stand firm and not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Christ set us free to be free, to live in freedom.

Yoked Together with Christ

You understand what a yoke is. If you have two oxen and you are going to plow your field, you connect the two oxen together with a wooden beam, a yoke, so that together they can pull the plow. A yoke in the Old Testament was an image of slavery. When God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt, he said:

Leviticus 26:13 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.

In Numbers 25, when God’s people indulged in immorality and idolatry, God describes it this way:

Numbers 25:1 … the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.

In the early church, in Acts 15, there was debate over the relation of the Old Testament law to non Jewish believers in Jesus. Must they subject themselves to the laws in order to follow Jesus?

Acts 15:7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

[James concluded] …19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

Notice the argument? God cleanses the hearts of Jew and Gentile alike by faith. The law is a yoke that neither Jew nor Gentile could bear. Both Jew and Gentile alike are saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus. The decision was not to trouble the believers with unnecessary rules or regulations. Simply recognize that following Jesus is inconsistent with idolatry, immorality, or giving unnecessary offense to Jewish brothers. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Jesus says something very interesting about a yoke in Matthew 11.

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus invites us to come to him if we are weary of work, not to work, but to receive rest. And then he invites us to take his yoke on us in order to find that rest! This seems contradictory. Find rest from labor by being yoked with Jesus. How can this be? This picture is powerful. Think of the yoke that has made us weary, labored and heavy ladened? The law was ‘a yoke that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear’. We have been yoked to tablets of stone, and we have been attempting unsuccessfully to drag them around. Jesus invites us to leave the yoke of the law, and join him in his yoke. If I am in a yoke with Jesus, guess who is pulling the weight? Not me! I’m along for the ride, so to speak. Jesus is saying the same thing when he commands us to abide in him.

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

We can’t pull any weight on our own. But when we are yoked together with Jesus, he pulls all the weight, and we get to walk beside him. In fact the yoke keeps us close to him, in step with him. He works, we rest, we walk by his side, we enjoy his company. And at the end of the day, we receive the reward that he earned, simply because we were in the yoke with him!

Jesus says this at the end of Matthew 11. Halfway through Matthew 11, Jesus says that he came eating and drinking and he is being accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (11:19). Right after this teaching, in chapter 12, Jesus’ disciples are plucking heads of grain and eating them, something the religious people said was not lawful to do on the Sabbath. Jesus declares himself Lord of the Sabbath. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Application to Spiritual Disciplines

Let’s bring this back around to where we started and make some application to the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. We started with the two extremes of being crushed under the obligation of performing religious duties, and on the other end of neglecting good things that are beneficial to our growth in grace.

Let’s look at the issue of prayer. We are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Colossians 4:2 and Romans 12:12 to pray without ceasing, to continue steadfastly in prayer, to be constant in prayer. What does this mean? Does this mean conscious articulate prayer 24/7? Does this mean that we are incessantly verbalizing either audibly or at least mentally our prayers to God? Do you know anyone who is always talking and never shuts up? That is annoying. By saying we should pray without ceasing, does it really mean that we need to run our mouths to God non-stop? Aside from being annoying, it would be difficult to ever read the Bible and really pay attention and listen to what God is saying if we are talking over him the whole time. It would be virtually impossible to do anything at all. I don’t believe this is what it means, and I don’t believe we need to live under the weight of bondage to some religious performance. As believers, we are yoked together with Jesus. He will never leave us or forsake us. Live with a constant awareness of his nearness, of his intimate involvement in all things, knowing that the line of communication is always open. I think that is what it means to pray without ceasing. Live in his presence.

Think of it this way. God is the giver of all good gifts. If I buy my son a bicycle and give it to him as a gift, how should he respond? I hope he would express his gratitude. But do I expect that he stand in front of me saying ‘thank you thank you thank you, you’re the best dad ever. Let me sing you a song – you are the best dad, you gave me a bike, you are so awesome, I’m going to tell all my friends about you, you must be really rich and really smart and really strong, you are the greatest dad ever! I just want to sit in your lap and stare into your awesome face forever and ever and ever’ and all the while, his new bicycle sits in the corner, untouched? Go! Ride the bike! Enjoy the gift! The giver finds pleasure when you take pleasure in his gift. Don’t use the bike to hurt yourself or others or use it to ride off into evil. Later in Galatians 5 Paul says ‘do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh (5:13). But enjoy the good gifts that he gives. Know that he is with you always, enjoy his presence, and enjoy his gifts in his presence.

We could compare prayer and Bible intake to breathing and eating – stop breathing and you will die. Stop eating and you will die. Eat poorly and your health will suffer. Breathing and eating are necessities for life; not obligations. Breathing we often don’t even consciously think about – we just naturally do it. We don’t view it as a duty. If you focus too much attention on your breathing, you will probably hyperventilate. But if we are deprived of air, if we are underwater, we quickly become aware of the urgent necessity of breathing; we become desperate for air. Eating is different. Sometimes we skip a meal. Often we don’t eat as healthy as we should. Sometimes we pay more careful attention to what we eat. But we still don’t view eating as a chore. Normally, we take pleasure in eating. We enjoy a good meal. We get hungry and crave certain things.

We wouldn’t think of being underwater without access to air as freedom. We wouldn’t view being out in the desert without water or food as freedom. Develop good habits where you eat and drink and enjoy God’s presence with you always. Don’t get ritualistic or legalistic about it. Live in freedom! If you are a work weary pilgrim, come to Jesus, abide in Jesus, be yoked together with Jesus, allow him to pull your weight, and enjoy waking side by side in constant fellowship with him.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

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

January 26, 2016 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment