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2 Corinthians 8:6-7; Super-Abound in This Grace

08/18_2 Corinthians 8:6-7; Superabound in this Grace; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190818_2cor8_6-7.mp3

Paul in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is talking about giving, about generosity; he is encouraging generosity toward a collection for the poor saints; but he is talking about grace. He frames everything he says about generosity around God’s generosity toward us, about God’s undeserved grace toward sinners through Jesus. This first act of giving, God’s grace toward us grounds and motivates our gracious generosity.

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

6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also.

Encouragement / Comfort

This passage is full of grace, and it is saturated with encouragement. When Paul says that ‘we urged Titus,’ he uses the same word ‘encourage’ or ‘comfort’ that has been a major theme of this letter.

The opening of the letter points to God’s comfort, God’s encouragement in affliction.

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

Just in the last chapter (chapter 7) he said:

2 Corinthians 7:6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.

…13 Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.

Paul was comforted, encouraged by Titus, as Titus was encouraged by the Corinthians. Now Paul encourages Titus to go back to Corinth and finish what he had started there.

[MAP]

Titus has just met Paul in Macedonia. It is sometime around AD 55 or 56. There had trouble in Corinth, so Paul had left Ephesus to cross the Agean and deal with the issues, but his visit was not received well, so he retreated to Ephesus and wrote a painful letter and sent it with Titus to Corinth. He then traveled by land North from Ephesus to Troas, where he expected to meet Titus with news. But Titus didn’t show, so he abandoned an open door for ministry and traveled over to Macedonia, to visit the churches of Philippi and Thessalonica and Berea. There Titus met him and gave him a good report of the grief and repentance of the Corinthians in response to the painful letter. Now he is writing the letter we know as 2 Corinthians and encouraging Titus to take it back to Corinth and to finish what he had started. He wants him to bring to its fulfillment this grace.

The Collection

Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians (AD48) of his meeting with James

Galatians 2:9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

James and Paul and Peter and John were all proclaiming the same message, the same good news about Jesus, Jesus Christ and him crucified. That is the right gospel, only be sure the gospel moves out from what you say into what you do. Belief must work itself out in action. Only they asked us to remember the poor, and that Paul was already eager to do. Around this time, in Acts 11 [AD 45-47] there was:

Acts 11:28 …a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

Some years later Paul is taking another collection. Paul gives instructions for this collection in 1 Corinthians 16 [AD 53-55]. Apparently he had already made them aware of this before the writing of 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 16:1 Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. 3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift [grace] to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

It appears that Titus during his recent visit had made a beginning at this collection. Paul is now encouraging him, just as you began before, thus also bring it to completion. Notice what he calls it; this grace. The ability to give is a gift; it is grace. It is not deserved or earned.

We are first and fundamentally receivers. Every good thing comes from God. He is the source of all good. To give is a gift, it is grace.

Superabounding

Paul has encouraged Titus to complete among them this grace, and now gives a word of encouragement to the Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 8:7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also.

Just as in all things you superabound. Faith, speech, knowledge. Back in the beginning of 1 Corinthians 1 he says:

1 Corinthians 1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—

Paul thanked God that by God’s grace, they had been enriched in all speech and all knowledge. Speech and knowledge are gifts of God’s grace. But he also warns them in 1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

All speech and all knowledge are good gifts, so long as they are exercised in love. Here he also commends their faith. He commends their eagerness or earnestness. He said in

2 Corinthians 7:11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you,…

12 …I wrote to you, …in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God.

His sorrowful letter produced in them an earnestness for the apostle just as he had hoped. And now he commends them for it.

You superabound in our love for you. It seems odd to include in a list of their excellencies the apostle’s love for the Corinthians, and this unusual expression has likely led to the variant reading in the manuscripts which reads ‘your love for us,’ which would seem to fit the context better. Literally the phrase reads ‘the out of us into you love’; and some have translated this ‘the love we aroused or inspired among you’ [WBC, p.259; BECNT, p.403]. Paul had said in 6:11-12 that ‘our heart is wide open …you are restricted in your own affections’. It could be that Paul is acknowledging and praising an opening of their hearts to him in response to his severe letter, or it could be that he is highlighting the fact that they hold a special place in his own heart, as he has communicated to them many times already in this letter.

Regardless of how we read it, the point he is making is clear. You are extraordinarily gifted by God; you superabound in everything; be sure you superabound also in this grace.

This Grace

God’s grace produced in the Macedonians a superabundance of joy in the midst of their afflictions, according to verse 2. Paul is inviting the Corinthians to superabound in this grace also. It is worth looking back at these verses, at this grace.

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

God’s grace created an abundance of joy in spite of affliction and deep poverty, and their joy overflowed in a wealth of single-hearted devotion to Christ; they begged for the grace and fellowship of service to the saints. God’s grace came in, and it created a simplicity of affections for Jesus that overflowed in joyful eagerness to serve others. Ministering to others is gift, it is grace; and it is communion, fellowship.

Not About Amount

It is important to see that Paul is not telling the Corinthians to compete with the Macedonians in how much they give. The Corinthians were much more affluent, so they likely could have easily outgiven them in amount. But that is not the focus, so he carefully chooses his language to make sure they don’t fall into that trap. He is looking at their hearts. He wants the grace of God to be experienced by them in such a way that it wells up in a joy in Jesus which spontaneously overflows in service to others. Paul’s aim is never simply to raise more money for his project regardless of where it comes from or how it is given. He cares more about the hearts of the givers than he does about the gift itself.

Grace and Love

This is not much different from what he says in 1 Corinthians 13. You can have all wisdom, all knowledge, all faith, you might even give away all that you have, but without love, it is all nothing. Nothing! Love is essential. First, love from God. We only can love because he first loved us. And love freely received from God spills over into love toward others. Do you see how this is the same? After describing love in 1 Corinthians 13, he says

1 Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts…
…12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

He exhorts them to excel, to strive to superabound in building up the church; overflow in loving service to others. It is not only what you do, but why you do it. Is the motive to build yourself up, to make yourself look good, to impress others? Or is it to stoop low so you can build others up, to use your gifts to serve others for their good? To build up the church?

In the very next verse here in 2 Corinthians 8:8 he will connect this overflow of grace with love for others; as an expression and a proof of love.

Do you love? Have you experienced grace? This is rubber meets the road Christianity. This is what following Jesus looks like. It looks like God’s gift of grace poured out into a person that so transforms them that they are eager to serve others, to extend grace to others, to freely give of themselves, first to the Lord, and then to the Lord’s work in the lives of people. Is this what your life is shaped like? Does the love of Christ compel you? Constrain you to live no longer for self, but for others?

2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

***

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

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August 19, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 7:5-7; Encouragement for Depressed Ministers

06/23_2 Corinthians 7:5-7; Encouragement for Depressed Ministers; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190623_2cor7_5-7.mp3

We are in 2 Corinthians 7:5-7. At this point in the letter Paul picks up a thread of narrative that he left hanging back in chapter 2. If we look back to the beginning of this letter, he explained why he changed his plans and delayed his visit to them, instead sending Titus with a painful letter. He didn’t want to make another painful visit to them (2:1); which means that he had already made one painful visit. He also did not want them to be unaware of the affliction that he experienced in Asia; that he and his co-workers were so utterly burdened beyond their strength that he despaired of life (1:8). Then he said:

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

And he left us hanging for over 4 chapters, wondering what happened in Macedonia, if he met Titus there, how the emotional state of the apostle was.

2:14-7:4; Authentic Ministry

He left off his narrative to give us four chapters of theology, four chapters unpacking what authentic Christian ministry looks like, feels like, smells like. To summarize, authentic ministry is ministry following in the footsteps of Jesus; the Christian life is a life shaped by the cross. This church was looking for something eloquent, something powerful, something outwardly impressive. Instead Paul teaches that following Jesus looks weak and shameful, it looks like brokenness and suffering. It is characterized by humility. It looks like laying down your life in sacrificial service for others. Paul leaves us hanging for four chapters, wondering at the weakness and vulnerability of the apostle, wondering why he would abandon an opportunity for fruitful ministry, wondering about his troubled spirit, to drive home this point and reshape our expectations for authentic Christian ministry, ministry “which enters into the suffering of Christ for the sake of the church” (Guthrie, BECNT p.368).

Resolution with Depression

Listen to how the narrative reads if we jump from 2:13 to 7:5

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

2 Corinthians 7:5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn— fighting without and fear within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.

We might expect the tense suspense to be resolved completely. But instead he points to his continued affliction. In chapter 2, his spirit found no rest; in chapter 7 his flesh finds no rest. No break, no pause, no relief. Both spirit and body under constant pressure. Both in Troas, and now in Macedonia, no rest.

He says ‘we were afflicted at every turn;’ literally ‘in all affliction.’ In the previous verse he said that we had ‘super-abounding joy in all our affliction.’ Now he describes some of that affliction; conflicts outside, fears inside. This is real. This is transparent. There was quarreling, conflict, strife. This word is not used to describe fighting with fist or sword; this word describes fighting with words, with looks and responses of the heart. We learn from the next chapter (8:2) that the churches of Macedonia, Phillippi and Thessalonica and Berea, were experiencing ‘extreme poverty; a severe test of affliction.’ Those were the external circumstances.

Paul’s Inner Anxiety

But inside, in his own heart, there were fears. Paul, the apostle, was afraid. In 1 Corinthians, when Paul said he had ‘decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,’ he says:

1 Corinthians 2:3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,

We know from Acts 18:9 that ‘the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you.” Paul was so fearful that the Lord personally encouraged him.

We learn from his letters that Paul was afraid that his churches might be led away from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ (2Cor.11:3). He feared visiting and finding them not as they ought to be (2Cor.12:20). He was afraid he might have labored over them in vain (Gal.4:11). He says in:

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

Paul had anxiety. Paul was fearful. His spirit was troubled. In the next verse, he says he was downcast. That word can be translated humble (as in Jas.4:6, 1Pet.5:5), and it can refer to the lowly, the despised, those of low standing outwardly in contrast to the rich or exalted, and it can refer to those who are low or downcast inwardly. That is the focus here. We would probably say Paul is depressed.

Brothers and sisters, you who are weary, you who are downcast, you who feel low and depressed and trampled, take heart! A Spirit-filled apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ who knows the word (who actually was used to write the word!) can be downcast, depressed, fearful, and not know what to do. He might walk away from and open door of opportunity for ministry because of his inner unrest. Take heart! Paul is being real and transparent with us for our encouragement and instruction. It is not unspiritual or abnormal to experience depression and deep discouragement in ministry. Ministry is hard. Serving others often hurts. Others, even brothers and sisters, often hurt us. Following Jesus, laying down our rights in service to others, is hard. Crucifying the flesh with its passions and pride is painful. Paul gives us hope from the midst of his own affliction and heartache and troubled soul.

But …God

But God. Isn’t this where all hope enters our desperate situations? But God! We

Ephesians 2:3 …were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 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—

Romans 5:7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—… 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

But God. God can enter into a desperate situation, a hopeless situation, even a dead situation. God is the God who breathes life and hope and healing and reconciliation.

Paul actually stretches the but …God phrase in this verse out for emphasis. The original word order reads like this: “But the one who encourages the downcast encouraged us – the God – in the coming of Titus.”

The God of All Comfort

Paul quoted Isaiah 49:8 back in 6:2 urging his readers that ‘now the day of God’s grace and salvation,’ and now he alludes again to Isaiah 49:13, pointing to the restoration of all that is desolate.

Isaiah 49:13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.

The Greek translation of Isaiah that Paul would have used has some of the exact words that Paul uses here; ‘God … the downcast …has comforted.’

2 Corinthians 7:6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,

Paul began this letter pointing us to

2 Corinthians 1:3 …the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

God is the God of all comfort. He is the one who comforts us in all our affliction. Remember, we learned the word comfort is not a soft word like a cozy bed spread, but a strong word com-fort; like ‘fortress’ or ‘fortitude’. It could be translated ‘to encourage’ or ‘to infuse with courage;’ ‘to embolden another in belief or course of action’ [BDAG, 766] In the Greek it is literally ‘to call alongside’; a beautiful picture of God who is strong, calling us weak and tattered ones to his side, where he imparts to us his strength, his courage, his fortitude.

Mediated Comfort

God is the God who comforts the downcast. That is who he is. He comforted us by the coming of Titus. Notice that God is the one who does the comforting. He is the God of all comfort, and he comforts us in all our affliction, but he uses means to bring about comfort. He uses people. In Paul’s life, he used Titus. He left Troas distraught and discouraged, because Titus didn’t meet him there as planned. He faced both inner and outer turmoil when he arrived in Macedonia, yet God comforted him through the coming of Titus. He was able to connect with a friend and trusted co-laborer. God comforts, but often he doesn’t comfort us directly; his comfort is mediated to us through people.

In your discouragement don’t overlook or underestimate God’s work through other people. Don’t disconnect from the body. Don’t insulate and isolate yourself from others. ‘God, why aren’t you answering my prayer?’ We could imagine God answering ‘I intended to encourage your heart as you gathered as a local church with my people, but you chose to stay home and wallow.’ Don’t neglect God’s means of comfort through the local church, through friendships with brothers and sisters whom you’ve entrusted with permission to speak into your life. Paul recognized God at work bringing encouragement to him through the coming of his beloved Titus.

Reciprocal Comfort; Reciprocal Joy

2 Corinthians 7:6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.

Notice also that this comfort came to Paul through the coming of his friend, but a key part of that comfort was reciprocal. Titus had received encouragement, and that was an encouragement to Paul. This is one way God works within his body of believers. I am in need of encouragement, and you are in need of encouragement, and when I see your heart encouraged, it encourages my heart.

This is how he began his letter, speaking of God who comforts us so we are able to comfort others with the comfort we received from him. We are comforted for your comfort.

Why is this true? I am depressed, but I spend time with you and you have been encouraged, and your encouragement begins to lift my spirits. Why? I believe it is rooted in the truth that we are one body in Christ. Paul says in:

1 Corinthians 12:25 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.

When you smash your thumb with a hammer, it is your thumb that is injured, but the thumb does not experience its pain in isolation from the body. Because we are really and truly connected, when you are hurting, I hurt; when you are honored, I rejoice. When you are comforted, encouraged, emboldened, I experience comfort and courage. We are connected to one another in Christ.

Paul said in:

2 Corinthians 2:3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all.

When you are not following Jesus, it causes me pain. You are intended to bring me joy. And Paul is confident that his joy spills over to them; that his joy will be their joy, and in 1:24 he said that he is a fellow-worker with them for their joy. Paul is pursuing their joy by pursuing his own joy by pursuing their repentance. You see how this works? The Corinthians are turning away from Christ, and that causes Paul sorrow. He is doing everything he can to turn them back to a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. When they turn back to following Jesus, this brings joy to his heart. And when he rejoices in them, they see his joy in them, and it brings them joy. So Paul can say in 7:4 “I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.” and he can say in 7:7 “so that I rejoiced still more.” Even in the middle of an experience of affliction, even when circumstances are still against him, he can be filled with comfort and super-abounding in joy, and he can rejoice even more, because he is connected to the greater body of Christ.

***

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

June 23, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Comfort in Affliction

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

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

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

Missing Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

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

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

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

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

The Father of Mercies

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

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

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

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

The God of All Comfort

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

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

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

We need to redefine comfort. Dictionary.com defines

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

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

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

Comfort in All Our Affliction

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

Purpose In Afflictions

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 3:10b

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

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

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

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

Sharing Abundantly in Christ’s Sufferings

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

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

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

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

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

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

We and You

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

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

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

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

All for your comfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 16:15-18; Refreshing Saints and Apostles

07/12 1 Corinthians 16:15-18 Refreshing Saints and Apostles ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20150712_1cor16_15-18.mp3

1 Corinthians 16 [SBLGNT]

15 Παρακαλῶ δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί· οἴδατε τὴν οἰκίαν Στεφανᾶ, ὅτι ἐστὶν ἀπαρχὴ τῆς Ἀχαΐας καὶ εἰς διακονίαν τοῖς ἁγίοις ἔταξαν ἑαυτούς· 16 ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς ὑποτάσσησθε τοῖς τοιούτοις καὶ παντὶ τῷ συνεργοῦντι καὶ κοπιῶντι. 17 χαίρω δὲ ἐπὶ τῇ παρουσίᾳ Στεφανᾶ καὶ Φορτουνάτου καὶ Ἀχαϊκοῦ, ὅτι τὸ ὑμέτερον ὑστέρημα οὗτοι ἀνεπλήρωσαν, 18 ἀνέπαυσαν γὰρ τὸ ἐμὸν πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὑμῶν. ἐπιγινώσκετε οὖν τοὺς τοιούτους.

1 Corinthians 16 [ESV2011]

13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

15 Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— 16 be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. 17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

Paul is giving his closing exhortations to the Corinthians church. Back in chapters 9 and 10, Paul held himself up as an example to the believers in surrendering rights and seeking the good of others above one’s own good, and in 11:1 Paul says ‘be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Here at the close of this letter, he holds a member of their own congregation up as worthy of honor and imitation. He points to the household of Stephanas.

Firstfruits

Here he says that the household of Stephanas was the firstfruits of the region of Achaia. This is the same word ‘firstfruits’ that he used in 15:20 of Christ as the firstfruits of the resurrection of believers who have fallen asleep. The firstfruits was an Old Testament offering, a sample from the harvest, it shares continuity with the rest of the harvest, it was a part of the harvest, and it was a promise of more good things to come. In 1:16, he said that he had baptized the household of Stephanas. The household of Stephanas were some of the first to believe the gospel in that region, and Paul looked at them as a promise of more to come. The good news of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners and risen from the dead had penetrated into a dark place, had created new life, and had begun to transform sinners, and he expected that to spread.

Devoted Themselves

Listen to how Paul describes these believers. He says that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. This is not something that was pushed on them. This is not something they did unwillingly or half-heartedly. They devoted themselves. This word can be translated ‘to addict, to appoint, to determine, to ordain, to set.’ They addicted themselves to the service of the saints. They set themselves apart to this purpose. They were determined to serve. This was voluntary, eager service. This was not under compulsion, these were cheerful givers. They delighted themselves in serving others. They set themselves aside to be useful to the believers. Do you know anyone like this? We need people like this in our churches, people who are not looking for position or recognition, people who simply want to be useful to God by serving his people. This word service is where we get our word ‘deacon’ – it simply means a servant.

These are often behind the scenes people, people who are not interested in the limelight, selfless people who prefer to remain unknown and unrecognized. People who simply see a need and do whatever is within their power to care for that need. These are people who recognize their gifts and without drawing attention to themselves, simply get busy using their gifts to love and serve and build up others. These are truly selfless people, who genuinely care about others more than they care about themselves.

Household

Notice that Paul is not referring to one particular individual. He says ‘you know the household of Stephanas’. This was a family that served together. We aren’t told details, but a household would likely include Stephanas and his wife, his children, and possibly any servants he employed, possibly others who lived with them, who were under his care, who together found joy in serving the saints. This is family ministry. A whole family that was united to serve others. The family unit is a powerful thing.

Sometimes the gospel divides families. When an individual hears the gospel, he may have to choose to follow Jesus, knowing that following Jesus could destroy his relationship with his wife, with his children, with his family. Paul understands the dynamic where a family is divided over the gospel, and he gave practical instructions on how to handle these kinds of situations in chapter 7. But here he is looking at a family that is united by the gospel and transformed by the gospel with a passion to serve the people of God.

Joshua said ‘choose this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD’. This is a household that has recognized the many different things that families are all about, the many different things families are passionate about and centered around, and they have chosen to center family life around service to the believers. They have prioritized in a radically different way than the culture around them and given themselves over to Christian service. Mother, father, children old and young, all looking away from themselves and their own wants and needs at how to love and serve and care for the body of Christ.

This is a radically different model for life and ministry. This is not the family making sacrifices so dad or mom can go off and serve in this or that ministry. This is the family together as a team loving and serving in ways that can only be done by a household. Certainly this includes hospitality, where the home is an environment defined by loving service to others, where others can be welcomed in and cared for and nurtured. Quite possibly, the church used the home of this family for their meetings, which would mean that the family took on the responsibility of preparing for and cleaning up after the meeting of the church. This doesn’t necessarily mean an immaculate showroom house, but it would include essential things like making sure the bathroom is clean and functioning, providing appropriate space for guests to feel welcomed and cared for, creating an atmosphere of others-focused selfless welcoming love.

What is your household like? Is your home a Christ centered home? Is your primary aim to advance the gospel? Is your home a place where believers can feel safe and loved and cared for and built up?

Servant Leadership

Paul holds up the household of Stephanas as an an example of what devotion to Christ can look like in a household. He encourages the believers to ‘be subject to such as these’. We often want leaders who are in control, who are determined, aggressive, forceful, who speak well and look good out front. But Paul has a different perspective. And this is in line with what Jesus taught. In Luke 22 we see:

Luke 22:24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

It is startling to remember the context of this conversation. Jesus had just taken bread and said ‘this is my body broken for you’ and ‘this cup is my blood which is poured out for the forgiveness of your sins’. He had told them that he was about to be betrayed and crucified. And they around the table are disputing about who is the greatest.

Luke 22:25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

Jesus initiated a different kind of leadership. His authority is not a top down controlling authoritarian you-serve-me kind of leadership. His leadership is a humble-hearted others-centered loving service. The household of Stephanas was a real life example of what this looks like, and Paul exhorts the Corinthians to voluntarily submit to such as these. These and every fellow worker and laborer.

We see Paul hold up another example of a fellow-worker who gave him joy, ministered to his needs, and is to be honored and imitated. He writes to the church in Philippi:

Philippians 2:25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

Epaphras, like Stephanas, was a selfless servant who put other before himself, who filled up the lack and brought joy to those he served. He was a brother, a fellow-worker, a fellow soldier.

Some people talk about going into the ministry as if it were a glamorous career choice. Ministry simply means service, and service to people can be painful and messy and just plain hard. Paul says to be subject to every fellow-worker and laborer. This word laborer literally means to be weary or feel fatigue. Serving others, especially serving those who are disgruntled or opinionated or easily offended can be draining and exhausting. Ministry is eternally rewarding, but it can be just plain fatiguing.

Refreshing the Spirit

Listen to what the Apostle Paul says.

1 Corinthians 16:17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

It seems the letter the Corinthian church wrote to Paul was delivered by these men. He says that these three filled up what was lacking on their part. Paul had strong affection for the Corinthians. These were people he led to Christ, people he had invested his life in. He walked life with them. He missed them. He truly enjoyed their company. The visit from these three brought the apostle much joy. They refreshed his spirit. We don’t often think of the great Apostle to the Gentiles as needing to be refreshed, maybe even becoming depressed and discouraged. But he says in 2 Corinthians 1:8 that ‘we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.’ In two of his letters, Paul describes himself as being ‘poured out as a drink offering’ (Phil.2:17; 2Tim.4:6). Even in the midst of fruitful ministry where many were believing the gospel and being baptized, Paul needed encouragement from the Lord.

Acts 18:9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Paul, afraid? Paul silent? Paul was human. He had needs. Emotional, spiritual, physical needs. He felt a poverty of spirit in being away from his beloved friends at this church. It brought him joy when dear friends came to visit.

Even leaders in ministry need other co-workers who will come along side them, others who understand the unique challenges and hardships of ministry, others who will bring refreshment to their spirits. This is what the coming of these three friends did for Paul, in the midst of something he describes as ‘fighting wild beasts at Ephesus’.

I have a dear friend and co-worker in the gospel who was so deeply hurt in the course of pastoral ministry that he describes it as if something deep inside him broke. He went into a deep depression, to the point where he had to take an extended break from ministry. God is healing him and giving him a renewed sense of vision and passion for ministry. I enjoyed the privilege of spending some time with him over the past week, and he was an encouragement to my soul.

There are some people who sap the spiritual energy out of you; who drain you of life and vitality. There are others whose love for Jesus and love for other people is a contagious overflow that refreshes your soul. Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus were that kind of friends, co-laborers in service to Christ, selfless servants who brought refreshment to everyone they were around. We need those kinds of people in our lives, people who are filled with the love of Christ, those who will just be a friend, who will love us as we are, who will be patient with our flaws and shortcomings, who will laugh with us, cry with us, hurt with us, just be with us, who will lay aside expectations and care for us.

1 Corinthians 16:17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

May we be those kind of people for others. May we refresh the spirit of those who are downcast. May we bring joy to those we are around. May we develop households who addict themselves to the selfless service of the saints. May we create places of refuge where broken sinners can be loved and nurtured and find healing and hope. May we be people who bring joy to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

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

July 12, 2015 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment