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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Communion With The Father; John, 1 John

11/01 Communion With The Father; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20151101_communion-with-father.mp3

We have seen that the clear teaching of the Bible is that the Father, Son and Spirit are distinct someones, that Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God, yet there is only one true God. This is what we mean when we use the word ‘trinity’ or tri-unity. The one God eternally exists in three distinct someones in relationship with one another. The amazing thing for us is that through Christ we are invited in to this eternal fellowship! We can have fellowship with this triune God! Listen to the opening of John’s first letter:

1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

John tells us that we as followers of Jesus have fellowship with one another, and fellowship with the Father and fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ. We are invited in to communion, fellowship, intimacy of relationship with the Father and with his Son, and in this is fullness of joy! Jesus said as much in his prayer to his Father in John 17

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Eternal life consists in relationship with the Father and his Son. These are distinct relationships; we know the Father, we have fellowship with the Father, and we have fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ, we know Jesus. We know Jesus in a different way than we know the Father. We have fellowship separately with the Father and with his Son.

In the benediction or pronouncement of blessing at the end of 2 Corinthians we see we have fellowship also with the Holy Spirit.

2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

This is a fascinating passage. Separate activities are ascribed to the separate persons of the Godhead. Grace is ascribed to Jesus, love to the Father and fellowship to the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that the Jesus and the Spirit do not love or that the Father and the Spirit are not gracious, because there is one God and the three persons each fully share the divine essence, so when we are told that God is love, this characteristic of love equally applies to the Father, Son and Spirit. But love comes from the Father in a particular way, and grace flows particularly through our Lord Jesus Christ. If this blessing is modeled after the Old Testament blessing found in Numbers 6:24, some interesting parallels emerge:

Numbers 6:24-27   –  2 Corinthians 13:14

The LORD bless you and keep you – The love of God

 

The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you – The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace – The fellowship of the Holy Spirit

 

The Father’s love is seen in his blessing and keeping; God’s grace is seen in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ; the Holy Spirit brings peace as God turns his countenance toward us in reconciled fellowship.

The old creed puts it this way:

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence.” [Athanasian Creed]

We as Christians worship God in trinity and trinity in unity. We do not want to divide the essence; there is only one God; his essential nature is indivisible. Neither do we want to confuse the persons. The Father is not the Son or the Spirit. The Son is not the Spirit or the Father. Our worship is directed to the triune God, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

I would like to take these each in turn. Today we will examine our fellowship with the Father. In what way or ways is he Father? Why does he carry that title? What is his primary role in distinction from the Son and the Spirit? What does it mean to have communion with the Father? Then, in the coming weeks we will turn our attention to the Son and the Spirit.

The Father of Creation

What do we mean when we call God ‘Father’? Jesus frequently addressed God as ‘Father’. He taught his followers to pray to God as ‘Our Father’ (Matt.6:9).

In a sense, because God as Creator brought all things into existence, he can be referred to as ‘Father’. Paul teaches in Acts 17:

Acts 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, … 25 … he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, … 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ 29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.

God is the Father of all mankind in the sense that he brought mankind into existence. Paul seems to be speaking in this sense in Ephesians 3:

Ephesians 3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,

So there is a sense in which all creation can look to God as Father.

The Father of the Son

But Jesus indicates that his relation to the Father is different from all others. In John 3, in his conversation with Nicodemus, he says:

John 3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Jesus is the only Son of God, the only one who descended from heaven, sent by the Father to save the world. Jesus is the only Son of God in a way that sets him apart from the rest of creation.
Later in John 3, John the Baptist is pointing to Jesus as one who in every way is so much greater than himself. He says:

John 3:31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. …34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

John is from the earth. Jesus is from heaven. Jesus is sent by God. The Father loves the Son in a unique way. “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” Two chapters later, Jesus says:

John 5:19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.

The Father loves the Son. There is a unique inter-trinitarian relationship between the Father and the Son. But someone may say that the Father became the Father and the Son became the Son at the incarnation, when Jesus was born of a virgin. But if we look at Jesus’ prayer to his Father in John 17, we see that this relationship between the Father and his only Son predates the incarnation. Jesus says:

John 17:24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

The Father loved the Son before the foundation of the world. Before anything existed there was the eternal relationship of the Father loving the Son and the Son loving his Father. Isaiah 9:6 hints at this. The one who is called ‘Mighty God’ is ‘a child born’. That refers to the incarnation, when Jesus became human and was born of a virgin. But he is also said to be ‘a son given’. He was already the Son, and he was given by his Father to rescue sinners.

I was not always a father. I became a father when I was 27 years old, when I fathered my first child. Before God created anything, he was the Father. He has always existed as Father. His role as Father did not come about when he created. The Father is the Father because of his relationship with his Son. God is unchanging, so there is no time before he was Father, and there is no time before the existence of the Son. This is an eternal relationship. Theologians refer to this as the eternal generation of the Son. By this they do not mean that the Son is eternally being generated by the Father, but that the relationship between the Father and the Son has always existed.

God’s Fatherhood is different from ours in at least four ways. God the Father’s Fatherhood is absolute. I was a son before I became a father. The Father was never a son. The Father is always and only ever Father. God’s fatherhood is efficient. To become a father, I needed the participation of my firstborn’s mother. I could not have become a father without her. The bible says nothing of a heavenly mother (other than to condemn this idea as a particularly detestable form of pagan idolatry, cf. Jer.44:17-25). The Son is generated of and by the Father alone. God’s fatherhood is an essential relationship. I was by nature human before I became a Father. God in his very nature or essence eternally existed as Father, Son and Spirit. We cannot think of the true God without thinking in terms of Father, Son and Spirit. And it is an eternal relationship. There was never a time before this relationship existed. There was never a time when this relationship between Father and Son came into being (Bavinck, p.305 ff.).

The Father of Adopted Heirs

There is one other sense in which God is Father, and this leads us in to how we have communion specifically with the Father. Galatians 4 tells us:

Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

God sent his Son and gave us his Spirit so that we could relate to him not as slaves but as adopted sons. By the Spirit, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, we can call God “Abba! Father!”. Romans 8 says:

Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

We who have been justified by faith as a gift through the propitiation of Jesus Christ have received the Spirit of adoption as sons. We are adopted children of God. We no longer have the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Our relationship to the Father should not be one characterized by fear.

It was the purpose of Jesus not only to bring us into a relationship with himself, but also into a right relationship with the Father.

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

The goal of the gospel is to bring us to God. Peter tells us:

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God

Many people falsely caricature God the Father as a grumpy irritable old man who is angry and frequently flies into a rage. But thanks be to Jesus, a much kinder and gentler personality, who persuades his Father, against his will and better judgment, to accept his sacrifice, so the Father is forced to begrudgingly extend mercy to irritating sinners. This caricature is totally contrary to the biblical teaching on the Father, it violates the essential unity of the distinct persons of the Godhead who have one will and purpose, and it is certainly offensive to the Father. Notice who is said to initiate the salvation of sinful mankind. God so love the world that he gave his only Son. God sent forth his Son …to redeem those who were under the law. Ephesians 1 shows us how we are to think of the Father.

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

God the Father blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. He chose us. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ. This was according to the purpose of the Father’s will. It was to the praise of the Father’s glorious grace. The Father has blessed us in his Beloved Son. Our response should be ‘blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has chosen us and predestined our adoption and purposed our salvation and carried it out by sending his only Son! He did it all in love. What amazing grace the Father has for us!

Listen to what Jesus says in John 16 about his Father:

John 16:23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. … 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

The Father himself loves you! You can ask the Father directly in my name. The situation is not that you ask me and I pick the best time when the Father is in a good mood and is more apt to respond favorably. No, I do not need to ask the Father on your behalf. The Father himself loves you! The Father loves to give good gifts to his children. Oh how we need to get this. Our fellowship with the Father should be sweet! We come to him as one who of his own free will chose us! He adopted us! He was under no obligation, no compulsion, but he loved us!

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

Whose love is demonstrated in the death of Christ? God shows his love for us!

Look at a sampling of some other passages that distinguish between the persons of the triune God and their role in our salvation. We already looked at the benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14

2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Look also at 2 Thessalonians 2:

2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God chose you to be saved. He called you to belief through our gospel. He destines you for glory. Look also at verses 16-17.

2 Thessalonians 2:16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

God our Father loved us. He gave us eternal comfort and good hope. Look at the opening of 1 Peter

1 Peter 1:1 … To those who are elect exiles … 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

We are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. It is his purpose and plan to set us apart by the Spirit and save us through the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus. Or look at Jude’s short letter.

Jude :1 … To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:

Called, beloved, kept in God the Father. Jude closes his letter this way:

Jude :20 But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

Keep yourselves in the love of God. The Father himself loves you! We will close where we began, in 1 John:

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

Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. In this fellowship, in this communion with the triune God our joy will be complete. Behold the love of the Father!

1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are….

Now may the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead… (Ephesians 1:17-20)

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

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November 1, 2015 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Devoted To Prayer

01/04 Devoted To Prayer; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20150104_devoted-to-prayer.mp3

As I began my readings for the new year, a word in Acts 1 intrigued me. It is translated ‘were devoting themselves to’

The Greek word behind the English ‘devoted to’ is [προσκαρτερέω proskartereo]. Here is how some of the dictionaries define it:

[Mickelson’s Enhanced Strong’s Greek and Hebrew Dictionaries]

G4342 προσκαρτερέω proskartereo (pros-kar-ter-eh’-o) v.

1. to be earnest towards

2. (to a thing) to persevere, be constantly diligent

3. (in a place) to attend assiduously all the exercises

4. (to a person) to adhere closely to (as a servitor)

[from G4314πρός pros (pros’) prep.1. forward to, i.e. toward and G2594 καρτερέω kartereo (kar-ter-eh’-o) v.1. to be strong 2. (figuratively) to endure]

[Thayer] – Original: προσκαρτερέω; Transliteration: Proskartereo; Phonetic: pros-kar-ter-eh’-o

– Definition:

1. to adhere to one, be his adherent, to be devoted or constant to one

2. to be steadfastly attentive unto, to give unremitting care to a thing

3. to continue all the time in a place

4. to persevere and not to faint

5. to show one’s self courageous for

6. to be in constant readiness for one, wait on constantly

This is a strong word. It appears only 10 times in the New Testament. What is it that the early believers were devoted to, what were they earnest toward or constantly diligent or steadfastly attentive to; what is it they gave their unremitting care to? As we evaluate the successes and failures of a past year and look forward to a new year and seek to re-prioritize and re-purpose for the new year, it would do us well to look to what the early church was passionately committed to. Twice we find this word connected to another word. In Acts 1:14 and in Acts 2:46 we find the word translated ‘devoted to’ with the word [ὁμοθυμαδόν homothumadon], which is translated ‘together’ or ‘with one accord’ or ‘with one mind’

[Mickelson’s Enhanced Strong’s Greek and Hebrew Dictionaries]

G3661 ὁμοθυμαδόν homothumadon (hom-oth-oo-mad-on’) adv.

1. unanimously

[adverb from a compound of the base of G3674 and G2372]

Whatever it is that the early church was unanimously constantly diligent and steadfastly attentive to, is probably important for us to resolve to devote ourselves to as well.

Let’s look at some of the verses, see if we can pick up some themes, and think together about what we should do about it.

Acts 1:14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

The early believers unanimously constantly diligent in prayer. Acts 2:42 adds three things to prayer.

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

They were earnest towards the apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayers.

Acts 2:46 has both of these words together.

[ESV] Acts 2:46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,

It comes through more clearly in the Lexham English Bible, another literal translation.

[LEB] Acts 2:46 And every day, devoting themselves to meeting with one purpose in the temple courts and breaking bread from house to house, they were eating their food with joy and simplicity of heart,

They unanimously gathered to meet together in public, and they gathered in homes to break bread and to eat together. The next verse is telling.

Acts 2:47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

As the early church was passionately committed to these things, God was saving people and connecting them with the growing church. There seems to be a connection between the unanimous devotion of the believers and the fruitfulness of the gospel in their communities.

Here is why the Apostles appointed others to oversee the charitable activities of the church:

Acts 6:2 …“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. …4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The same word is used in Romans 12 and Colossians 4.

Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Colossians 4:2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

So we see repeatedly that the early church devoted themselves to prayer. We also see that they devoted themselves to preaching and hearing the word, to breaking bread, to fellowship, to eating together. If these are things the early Christians were earnestly and unanimously devoted to, these are things we to ought to be faithfully passionate about.

Why These Things?

But why have the followers of Jesus throughout history been committed to hearing and teaching the word, to table fellowship with the believers, to remembering Jesus in the breaking of bread, and primarily to prayer? What is it about these things that captured the heart and the attention of the church? What is it about prayer that is so clearly foundational and central to the Christian life?

Prayer

First, what is prayer? Simply put, prayer is our communication with God. When we address God with worship, with thanksgiving, with confession, with requests, that is prayer. Prayer is our side of communication with God. Jesus had much to say about prayer. He exhorted his disciples to pray, he taught them how to pray (and how not to pray), he told them parables about prayer, and he modeled for them a life devoted to prayer.

Prayer, the way Jesus taught it, is humbling. If you think of the four aspects of prayer, worship is telling God how awesome he is, that he is greater than all else, including me. Worship is telling God all the things I admire about him, most of which are not true of me, and those things that are true of me in some degree are true in me only in an imperfect and flawed reflection of who he is. Worship is turning my attention away from me an to God, paying attention to him, celebrating and enjoying him for who he is. Confession is agreeing with God about the perfect standard and acknowledging how far I fall short of that standard. Thanksgiving is looking at the good things he gives that I don’t deserve and couldn’t earn and expressing gratitude as a humble recipient of great and glorious gifts. Requests are an expression of my need and his overwhelming generosity, of my emptiness and his fullness, of my brokenness and his wholeness, of my lack and his infinite supply. Being devoted to prayer means being constantly humbled in his presence.

And yet the privilege of prayer is amazing beyond comprehension. I can approach the all holy God in prayer because he so loved me that he gave his only Son to die in my place, pay my price, and purchase me as his own prized possession. Jesus opened to me the way of prayer through his own blood. I have been forgiven and cleansed and made new, and I can stand before him as a saint, a holy one. I have been adopted into the family of God, and can now address him as Father. He has taken me into his confidence, and I can address him as Friend. I have been granted bold access to the throne of grace. That is a humbling amazing reality that I am reminded of when I pray.

Prayer is our necessary connection to Jesus. Jesus used the metaphor of a vine with branches. He said:

John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 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. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

We must stay constantly connected to Jesus in order to be alive and to bear fruit. The circulatory system must carry away waste and deliver nutrients to the branch and or the branch will die. We are to pray as if our life depended on it, because it does! We are to be devoted to prayer. A branch disconnected from the root will not last long. Prayer is to be as natural and constant as breathing; taking in life giving oxygen, exhaling to carry away dangerous waste. Our connection with Jesus is directly related to our life and fruitfulness. A Christian who is not constantly connected with Jesus will not grow or produce fruit.

The Apostles,

Acts 1:13 …Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

These men had been with Jesus. When Jesus had called them to follow him, they gladly left everything. They enjoyed being with him. They had spent time with Jesus. Jesus had poured into them, invested in them, spent time with them. He taught them, trained them, answered their questions, calmed their fears, assuaged their doubts, prepared them for the future. When Jesus told them that he was going away, ‘sorrow filled their hearts’ (Jn.16:6). They wanted nothing more than to be with Jesus. They longed to spend time in his company, being part of what he was doing, remaining connected. Jesus said:

John 16:22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. …24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Jesus was crucified and his disciples scattered. But he rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples. Their hearts rejoiced and no one could take their joy. Before Jesus ascended bodily to the right hand of his Father, he said

Matthew 28:20 …And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We abide in Jesus, we maintain that intimate connection with Jesus through prayer, through worship, confession, thanksgiving and requests. We depend on him. Apart from him we can do nothing. If we abide in him and his word abides in us, we will bear much fruit.

The Word

Our side of the communication is called prayer. God’s side of the communication is called divine revelation, and this happens primarily through the preaching and hearing of the word. This is why we see an unswerving commitment to the proclamation of biblical truth among the followers of Jesus. We want his word to abide in us. Jesus said to the religious leaders,

John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

The Apostles were Jews who had heard the Scriptures read all their lives. But they had met Jesus, and he created in them a new appetite for God’s word. When Jesus appeared to his disciples,

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Luke 24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,

Because we have been with Jesus, because we have experienced him as the Word made flesh, we have a new appetite for Jesus, a hunger for his words. We want to hear him speak. His words are life and they are light. We are to be devoted to, steadfastly attentive to the Apostles’ teaching.

The Gospel

The early followers were devoted to the breaking of bread. Jesus broke bread and said ‘do this in remembrance of me’ (Lk.22:19). Remembering Jesus by breaking bread is a way to keep our eyes fixed on the gospel. We must not lose sight of the gospel, the good news that Jesus died to save sinners. Jesus took bread.

1 Corinthians 11:24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Jesus intended for us to remember him by breaking bread together. The early church was constantly diligent to break bread together. We too, should be devoted to the breaking of bread whereby we remember Jesus and keep our focus on the gospel.

Table Fellowship

The early church was devoted to fellowship. They ate together. They took food with joy and simplicity of heart. They ate at one another’s homes. Why eating together? The Corinthian church was rebuked for the way they ate together, each one going ahead with his own meal, not sharing and not waiting for one another. The purpose is not food, the purpose is building relationships. Eating together with joy and thankfulness is a way to build relationships. Having a meal together is a way of loving one another, and it can be a way to care for the needy. Discipleship, as Jesus did it, happened through the daily routines of life, walking, talking, traveling, fishing, eating, spending time caring for broken hurting people. The early church was devoted to table fellowship because our vertical relationship with God must bend outward to other people. Jesus said:

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

The early disciples were earnest toward eating together as an expression of love. We too must be devoted to fellowship with other believers.

Devoted to Unity in Community

The early church was unanimous in their devotion to fellowship, breaking bread, the word and prayer. These were not only individual exercises. They were together devoted – praying together, listening together ‘with one accord’, eating together, ‘house to house’. The early church was devoted to unity in the context of community. They were together in public, and they were together in their homes. The early church valued one another. Their relationship with Jesus found expression in their attitudes and actions toward one another.

Hindrances to Unanimous Devotion

Why aren’t we devoted to the same things that the followers of Jesus passionately committed themselves to? What keeps us from being earnest toward the things of Christ? If we can identify some of the things that prevent our devotion to Christ, we can begin to weed them out and cultivate a deeper devotion to the things that we are called to be devoted to.

We live in an individualistic society. Our culture does not encourage us to spend time face to face with other human beings, interacting, doing things together, caring for one another, being involved in the lives of others. We have been trained with a consumer worldview, where we ask the question ‘what can I get out of this’ and ‘how does this benefit me’ rather than, ‘what can I give’ and ‘how can I benefit others?’ If we can root out the individualism and self-focus that prevents us from living in genuine community with others, we will be more free to devote ourselves to these things.

Sin clearly will hinder us from being devoted to the things of Christ. When we fill our souls with counterfeit food, we ruin our appetites for that which gives life. Our desires need to be transformed. We have an empty gaping hole in our souls, and we seek to cram it full of stuff to satisfy our longings. We need to unpack the junk so that we can recognize that our true longings can only be satisfied by a relationship with God. When we crowd our lives with busyness we are simply being pulled in too many directions to be devoted to anything. When we fill our lives with noise, it drowns out any opportunity to listen to his voice. We need to take a hard look. Some things may have to go so that we can devote ourselves to prayer, to the word, to the gospel, to love.

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

January 4, 2015 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

1 Corinthians 10:14-22; Fellowship with Christ

06/01 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 Fellowship with Christ;Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140601_1cor10_14-22.mp3

 

1 Corinthians 10 [SBLGNT]

14 Διόπερ, ἀγαπητοί μου, φεύγετε ἀπὸ τῆς εἰδωλολατρίας. 15 ὡς φρονίμοις λέγω· κρίνατε ὑμεῖς ὅ φημι. 16 τὸ ποτήριον τῆς εὐλογίας ὃ εὐλογοῦμεν, οὐχὶ κοινωνία ἐστὶν τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ; τὸν ἄρτον ὃν κλῶμεν, οὐχὶ κοινωνία τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐστιν; 17 ὅτι εἷς ἄρτος, ἓν σῶμα οἱ πολλοί ἐσμεν, οἱ γὰρ πάντες ἐκ τοῦ ἑνὸς ἄρτου μετέχομεν. 18 βλέπετε τὸν Ἰσραὴλ κατὰ σάρκα· οὐχ οἱ ἐσθίοντες τὰς θυσίας κοινωνοὶ τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου εἰσίν; 19 τί οὖν φημι; ὅτι εἰδωλόθυτόν τί ἐστιν, ἢ ὅτι εἴδωλόν τί ἐστιν; 20 ἀλλ’ ὅτι ἃ θύουσιν, δαιμονίοις καὶ οὐ θεῷ θύουσιν, οὐ θέλω δὲ ὑμᾶς κοινωνοὺς τῶν δαιμονίων γίνεσθαι. 21 οὐ δύνασθε ποτήριον κυρίου πίνειν καὶ ποτήριον δαιμονίων· οὐ δύνασθε τραπέζης κυρίου μετέχειν καὶ τραπέζης δαιμονίων. 22 ἢ παραζηλοῦμεν τὸν κύριον; μὴ ἰσχυρότεροι αὐτοῦ ἐσμεν;

1 Corinthians 10 [ESV2011]

11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

 

Chapters 8-10 of 1 Corinthians are a lengthy argument leading the readers to a godly conclusion. The Corinthians faced pressure to conform to their culture and participate in idolatry. Paul started by pointing out that although we all have knowledge, knowledge devoid of love is deadly. Living with the good of the other in mind is essential to following Jesus. Then he affirms the fact that they have rights and freedoms in Christ. But he holds himself up as an example of how a follower of Jesus can forgo legitimate God given rights for the sake of the gospel. At the end of chapter 9 he moves from the danger that my liberty may pose for a brother or sister in Christ, to the lethal effect it may have on my own relationship with God. He holds himself up again as an example of the danger of disqualification, or the danger of being demonstrated phony or false even after fruitful ministry. Then in chapter 10 he points to the example of Israel in the wilderness, most of whom played too close to the edge in seeking to gratify their desires, things like idolatry, sexual immorality, testing Christ by challenging God given leadership, things like grumbling and complaining about God’s good gifts. He warns them of the danger of self-confidence, he reminds them of the normalcy of temptation in the human experience, and he encourages them with the absolute faithfulness of God. He says:

12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

And we might expect him to say, ‘therefore, you can plunge headlong into temptation, trusting in the faithfulness of God, confident that God will always provide a way of escape.’ But that is the opposite of what he says. Instead he says:

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Here he gives the clear conclusion his whole argument has been leading up to. How much can a Christian flirt with idolatry before he crosses the line? Paul’s answer is ‘No, that is the wrong question. Idolatry is lethal to your spiritual life. You should be asking ‘How far away from idolatry can I stay?’ He addresses them with a very affectionate term ‘my beloved’, and he says very clearly ‘flee from idolatry’. It doesn’t get much clearer than this. How much idolatry can I participate in before I jeopardize my relationship with God? Flee from idolatry! Run far far away. Run and never look back. Idolatry is not something to be toyed with. 603,548 Israelites fell victim to its treachery. Do not think that you can dabble with it and escape the same condemnation.

Idolatry is looking to anything outside of God to satisfy your desires, treasuring anything or anyone more than you treasure God. Idolatry is so pervasive in our society, maybe even more prevalent than it was in Corinth. There is so much that seeks to lead our hearts astray from God. To reveal the idolatry in your heart, simply look at where you spend your time, where you spend your energy, where you spend your money, what you talk about. These are the things that are most important to you, and God is jealous of your undivided affection.

Flee Immorality / Flee Idolatry

This passage is almost perfectly parallel to how Paul approaches the issue of sexual immorality in chapter 6. In 6:18 he says ‘Flee from sexual immorality’; In 10:14 he says ‘Flee from idolatry’. In 6:12 he says ‘all things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful’, which he repeats verbatim in 10:23. He says in 6:15, 17 ‘Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? …he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him’ and in 10:16 he says ‘the cup …is a participation in the blood of Christ …the bread …is a participation in the body of Christ’. In 6:15 he asks ‘Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!’ In 10:21 he says ‘You cannot drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons’. In 6:20 he concludes ‘So glorify God in your body’ and in 10:31 he concludes ‘So, …whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’.

Think!

Paul is very clear in his conclusions, but he is wary of the dangers of a checklist. He demands that his readers think for themselves. He does not want formal external conformity to a set of regulations. He longs to see glad obedience from hearts and minds transformed by Jesus.

15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.

His readers have the capability to follow his logic. They have the capacity to think through his arguments. They can evaluate his conclusions. He doesn’t simply say ‘I’m the apostle, and you have to do it because I said so’. There are times when that is appropriate. But he invites them to thoughtfully engage with his flow of thought, trace out his line of reasoning and examine his conclusions. Think! Peter said that some of what Paul wrote is hard to understand! So engage your brains when you read this book. Paul uses words like ‘therefore’ and ‘so’ and ‘because’ and ‘in order that’. His words are not open to everyone’s interpretation. Words mean things. He intended to say something very definite, very specific, and if we are careful and thoughtful, we can understand what he says.

The Lord’s Supper

15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Paul parallels the Lord’s supper, our celebration of communion, with the idolatrous celebrations that the Corinthians were tempted to participate in. He demonstrates the incompatibility of intimacy with Christ and intimacy with demons.

He first refers to the cup. He calls it the cup of blessing. Jesus at the last supper with his disciples, blessed and gave thanks for the bread and the wine. When we celebrate the Lord’s supper to remember him, we bless and give thanks for the bread and the cup. It is the cup of blessing, the cup that Jesus blessed, that we also bless. Paul asks, ‘is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?’ When we take and drink the cup, we participate in the blood of Christ. The word is κοινωνία; communion, fellowship, or participation. When we drink the cup, we participate in the blood of Christ, all that it means for us. Jesus said that the cup was ‘my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mt.26:28). A covenant is a binding committed relationship, often solemnized with blood. Jesus instituted the new covenant, the new relationship with God through his blood. Jesus offered his blood as a sacrifice for our sins, so that we could be forgiven and enter into a right relationship with God. The wages of our sin is death, and Jesus’ blood was shed, his life was poured out as a payment for our sin. By taking the cup and drinking, we are saying that we are participants in that new covenant, part of the people who were purchased with Christ’s blood, those who have been forgiven by trusting in the finished work of Christ for us.

Next, he mentions the bread that we break. ‘Breaking bread’ was a way of describing eating a meal together, and it was used to describe what believers did when they remembered Jesus with bread and wine. In the culture, to sit down together and share a meal created a bond of relationship and obligation. Tearing off bread from the same loaf, dipping in shared dishes and eating together was an intimate way of extending friendship. You would not sit down at the table and share a dish with someone you considered unclean or unworthy of your company. Jesus welcomes us to his table to share a meal with us. Jesus took the bread, and after blessing it, he broke it and said ‘this is my body which is given for you’ (Lk.22:19). The broken bread points to the human body of Jesus which was broken for us. By eating the bread, we participate in the body of Christ. We are saying that we are spiritually hungry and broken, and we benefit from the death of Jesus. We receive nourishment and sustenance from him. We are connected with him.

This is very different from the refreshments served by the stewardesses mid flight. They roll the carts down the aisles and offer you a choice of beverages to quench your thirst, and maybe a small pack of crackers to munch on. The napkin they give you may have the logo of the airline printed on it, but by drinking, you are not swearing your allegiance to that airline.

The cup of blessing and the bread broken are the meal we share at the table of Christ. He is our host, we are his guests, and we fellowship with him at his table. We enjoy the benefits he provides. We are connected to him. We are obliged to him.

Unity with Community

Verse 17 takes this a step further. The one bread that we all share unites us not only with Christ, but also with one another.

17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

There is a community formed around our communion with Christ. If you are in a binding committed relationship with Jesus through participation in his finished work on the cross, and I also am in that same binding committed relationship with Jesus, then we are bound to one another through our common bond to Christ. Those who participate in the new covenant meal are connected to our Lord Jesus and to one another.

Fellowship with Demons

Paul again points back to Israel as an example.

18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.

The text says ‘consider Israel according to the flesh’. Having just recounted the failure of the exodus generation, most of whom fell in the wilderness because of unbelief, this verse is likely pointing to fleshly or unbelieving Israel. Those who ate of the sacrifices made to the golden calf, those who ‘sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play’ had identified themselves with everything that altar stood for. Whatever altar you eat at, you become a participant with the deity that is being worshiped there, and you become connected with the other worshipers there.

This raises a question. Paul is suggesting that if you worship at a pagan altar, there is a real connection made with the one behind that altar. But Paul said in 8:4 ‘we know that an idol has no real existence and that there is no God but one’. Is Paul now saying that the idol does have a real existence? He clarifies. He is not saying that the block of wood or stone is anything but a block of wood or stone. But he is saying that there is an unseen reality behind the image. Paul is drawing on information from the Old Testament. When the people offered sacrifices to the calf, the calf was nothing but an inanimate statue made to look like an animal. But the calf idol became a focal point for worship directed to someone other than the one true God. It became a means of worshiping demons.

Leviticus 17 requires that all the sacrifices of the people be brought to the one place of sacrifice that God had authorized, so that they would not be worshiping demons.

Leviticus 17:7 So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.

Paul’s language reflects the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32

Deuteronomy 32:15 … then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation. 16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger. 17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded.

…21 They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. …

Moses connects the misplaced worship of the people with demon worship. We were made to worship. If we refuse to worship the one true God, we will worship success or power or possessions or family or pleasure. When we fail to treasure the one true God, and treasure other people or things, we turn our worship away from God and to demons. There is no possibility of being neutral.

Psalm 106 describes faithless Israel later, at the time of the conquest.

Psalm 106:34 They did not destroy the peoples, as the LORD commanded them, 35 but they mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did. 36 They served their idols, which became a snare to them. 37 They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; 38 they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood. 39 Thus they became unclean by their acts, and played the whore in their deeds.

All these passages connect idolatry with demon worship. Lucifer desired to be worshiped as God. He and the angels who followed him seek to divert worship from God to other things. When we listen to their lie and are persuaded to seek pleasure and fulfillment in other things, we are participating with demons.

20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Jesus said ‘no one can serve two masters’ (Mt.6:24). We cannot sit down at the table of the Lord on Sundays and then seek to find satisfaction at the table of demons the rest of the week. Jesus will not tolerate it. He demands our undivided devotion, our absolute affection. We must choose whose table we will feast at.

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry

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

June 1, 2014 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Church Functions; What The Church Does

01/12/14 Church Functions; what the church does Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140112_church-functions.mp3

Last time we looked at what it means to be a church member. We defined church as an assembly of Jesus-followers; the church is the blood-bought people of God who gather together. When we talk about church membership, we are not talking about membership in a society or club where there are member benefits, perks and privileges. Being a member of the church is language taken from the body metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians. As members of the body of Christ, we are to be connected, functional parts of the whole, each uniquely equipped to fulfill the role God has assigned to us.

Today I would like to explore some of the functions the church is meant to carry out. If we are to be functional parts of the whole, it is essential that we all have a clear vision of the goal. What is the purpose of the church? If each part has a clear understanding of the mission, we can move in unity toward the common goal, valuing the contribution of each member.

Last time we said that the clear objective of the church in encapsulated in the great commandment and the great commission. The purpose of the church and of every member is to glorify God by loving God, loving people, and making disciples who glorify God by loving God, loving people and making disciples.

Evangelism and Baptism

Let’s see how this played out in the formation of the new covenant church in Acts 2. Jesus had presented himself alive to his disciples, and commissioned them as eye-witnesses to testify to his death and resurrection. He charged them with the task of making disciples of all nations, and then he told them to wait. Wait until you are clothed with power from on high. Wait for the promise of the Father, the promised Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit filled them and they began to proclaim the mighty works of God to the crowds in Jerusalem. They were supernaturally enabled to communicate with the crowd in all the languages that were represented. All were amazed, but some mocked. Peter explained what was happening by referring to the prophesy in Joel:

Acts 2:17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

Peter connects this proclamation of the mighty works of God by the apostles to the promised outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. He concludes his quotation with these words from the prophet Joel:

Acts 2:21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Everyone. Everyone who calls on the name of YHWH will be saved.

We get a taste of the content of this gospel proclamation of the mighty works of God in the following verses.

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Then he gives some Old Testament evidence to prove his point.

…32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. … 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Everyone who calls on the name of YHWH will be saved. This Jesus, the one who did mighty works, this Jesus whom you crucified, this Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, this Jesus is YHWH, Lord and Christ, Messiah. Call on this Jesus as Lord and Christ, Jesus who died for you and was raised and you will be saved.

Notice carefully the response of his hearers:

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

They were cut to the heart. They were convicted of their sin. They were responsible for the crucifixion of God’s Messiah. They felt the weight of their guilt. They had crucified the Lord of glory! “Brothers, what shall we do?” This was broken-hearted recognition of their offense before God. We too are responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus; it was our sin that made it necessary for him to suffer and die, it was my sin that he came to pay for.

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Repent simply means to have a change of heart and mind. Turn from your hostility toward God, turn from your rebellion, turn from your sin which nailed Christ to the cross. Turn away from whatever false religious hopes you were holding on to, and turn to Jesus. Demonstrate this turning by baptism, the outward sign of the inward truth, confessing Christ Jesus as Lord, declaring publicly that your heart and mind have been transformed, that you have become a follower of Jesus. There is hope for you who by your rebellion have crucified the Lord of glory. There is forgiveness for your sins. You can never do anything to earn it. You must receive it as a gift. Turn to Jesus and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is God’s promise for you, no matter how far you have strayed. God is calling you to himself.

40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Peter proclaimed the good news that Jesus is God, that he is the promised Messiah, that the Father authenticated his identity with supernatural signs, that Jesus was crucified, and that he rose from the dead. They were cut to the heart, convicted of their sinfulness, and asked what they should do. Peter told them to repent, to change their minds, to turn to Jesus, and they would be forgiven and given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those who received his word, those who believed, who turned to Jesus, were baptized, publicly demonstrating their faith. 3,000 were added that day to the church through belief and baptism. The church grew from 120 to over 3,000. Let’s look at what the early church did.

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2:42 is very instructive. It tells us what the early church emphasized, what they were devoted to, what they were diligent in and earnest about. Four definite things the early church was committed to. Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. Two things we have already seen in this passage that the early church did and we see them doing throughout the book of Acts: evangelism and baptism. They were proclaiming the good news about Jesus, making disciples, and baptizing into the church those who were believing.

The Apostles’ Teaching

Those who became followers of Jesus were devoted to the apostle’s teaching. Jesus commissioned his 12 disciples to be his eye-witnesses in a unique and unrepeatable way. He spent 40 days with them after his resurrection. He promised them the Holy Spirit who would continue to teach and guide them.

Ephesians 2:19 …you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The apostle’s teaching formed the foundation of the church, centered around Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, …14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

God gave the apostles to the church to equip them for ministry and to give them a stable foundation of doctrine so they would not be led astray. The apostle’s teaching was a big deal. The early church was warned against any deviation or distortion of the apostle’s teaching.

Romans 16:17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

The apostle Paul warned young pastor Timothy:

1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, …6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.

…13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to [the] exhortation, to [the] teaching. …16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Do not depart from the faith. You have been trained in the words of the faith, in the good doctrine that you have followed, so devote yourself to the teaching.

1 Timothy 6:3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul exhorted him to:

2 Timothy 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

Titus was left in Crete to appoint elders in every town. One of the necessary characteristics of a church leader was:

Titus 1:9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

The apostle John wrote:

2 John 1:8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting,

We must abide in the teaching of Christ. The apostle Peter, aware that he would soon die, wrote a letter. He said:

2 Peter 1:12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

Because of the diligence of the Lord’s apostles, we have their teaching today in written form. We as the church must be devoted to the apostle’s teaching.

The Fellowship

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

The second thing that the early church was devoted to is the fellowship. Fellowship is a broad word that can mean partnership, sharing, participation, communion. It comes from a root word that means common. In some contexts it means sharing financially (Rom.15:26; 2Cor.8:4, 9:13; Phil.1:5; Heb.13:16; root word in Acts 2:44, 4:32); it can mean oneness of spirit with God or with people (1 Cor.1:9; 2Cor.6:14, 13:14; Gal.2:9; Phil.2:1; 1Jn.1:3,6,7); or it can mean participation or sharing in something (suffering: Phil.3:10; blood and body of Christ in communion 1Cor.10:16; faith Philemon 6; root word: faith Tit.1:4; salvation Jude3).

John writes:

1 John 1:3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. …6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

The fellowship of believers took sin seriously. They confronted each other, exhorted, admonished and encouraged one another, confessed to one another, and were quick to forgive one another. The early church was devoted to fellowship, partnership, relationship, unity of spirit with God and one another. They shared life together. They sang together. They ate together. They enjoyed a common relationship with God and with one another. They fought sin together. They shared financially with one another as people had needs. They partnered in gospel missions with their money and their prayers. There was a true sense of community spiritually, socially, and financially. They cared for one another in practical ways. The early church was committed to the fellowship.

The Breaking of Bread

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

The third thing the early church was devoted to was the breaking of bread. To break bread together simply mean to have a meal together. When Jesus fed the multitudes with a few loaves, he gave thanks to his Father and broke the bread so that it could be distributed it to each person (Mt.14:19; 15:36). This common form of eating together took on special significance at his final passover meal with his disciples before the crucifixion.

Matthew 26:26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

After his resurrection, Jesus joined some of the disciples who were on the road to Emmaus.

Luke 24:30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. …35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

We find in 1 Corinthians that breaking bread was something the church did when they met together. Paul writes to correct the abuses of this meal that was intended to remind them of Jesus. They called it the Lord’s supper.

1 Corinthians 11:18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 10:16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

The early church was diligent to remember Jesus through the breaking of bread.

The Prayers

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

The fourth thing that this passage tells us the early church devoted themselves to were the prayers. Prayer is communication with God. Jesus, by his example taught us the importance of intimacy with God. He taught his followers to pray for God’s name to be worshiped, God’s rule to be realized, for God’s purposes to be accomplished. He taught us to ask in dependence for our basic physical and spiritual needs, and for rescue from temptation (Mt.6:9-13). Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies (Mt.5:44).

The church in Acts gathered together to pray for their leaders.

Acts 12:5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. …12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.

In fact, I counted at least 10 places in the New Testament where the author either referred to or specifically asked for the people to pray for him. Prayer for rescue, for freedom, prayer for effective ministry, prayer for gospel opportunities and clarity in declaring the gospel, prayer for boldness. That’s about the same frequency of the author saying that he was praying for the people he was writing to.

Jesus prayed when he selected his 12 apostles (Lk.6:12). The early church prayed when they appointed leaders in the churches.

Acts 13:2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

We are instructed to pray for gospel opportunities and salvation for all people:

1 Timothy 2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. …8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;

We are to pray for the needs of one another:

James 5:13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Ephesians 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Conclusion

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

The early church was active in proclaiming the good news about Jesus. They were active in making disciples. They were serious about preserving, proclaiming, and living out the truth once for all delivered to the saints. They were connected in community with one another. They were committed to keeping Jesus central to everything, remembering and reminding one another what Jesus did for them. They were characterized by their relationship with God, constantly communicating with him and depending on him in everything. The early church brought much glory to God by loving him, loving one another, and making disciples. This is how the church functioned. We would do well to follow their example.

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

January 12, 2014 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Church Members

01/05/14 Church Members Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140105_church-member.mp3

It has been suggested to me that it might be useful for us as we begin a new year together and as we approach our annual meeting and as we are encouraging you to apply for membership in this local church, to study together what it means to be a church member. In order to understand church membership, we first need to understand what the church is, and then what the bible means when it talks about members, and let that shape how we think about church membership.

Church

First, what is a church? According to the dictionary,

http://dictionary.reference.com

church [church] noun

1.  a building for public Christian worship.

2. public worship of God or a religious service in such a building: to attend church regularly.

That is how the modern English dictionary defines ‘church’ But in the New Testament, the word church never once refers to a building or a location. The New Testament word is [ἐκκλησία] ekklesia; it means a called out assembly of people. In Acts 19 this word usually translated ‘church’ is translated ‘assembly’ referring to the riotous crowd that gathered in the theater in Ephesus shouting “great is Artemis of the Ephesians”. The town clerk quieted the crowd and told them that if they have any legitimate issues they should be settled in the legal assembly (again the same word usually translated ‘church’). The Greek word ekklesia simply means a gathering or assembly of people. The church or gathering is made up of individuals. After Stephen was martyred, Saul persecuted the church by going after individuals.

Acts 8:3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

After Saul met Jesus, we are told:

Acts 9:31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

Here we see that individual followers of Jesus in different geographic regions, who would not typically meet together, are all collectively called ‘the church’, singular. Jesus spoke this way when he said “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt.16:18). Jesus is building an unstoppable assembly of people. Acts 20:28 tells us that God obtained the church with his own blood. So the assembly, the church that we are talking about is the blood-bought people of God, made up of believers who follow Jesus.

In Acts 14, as Paul and Barnabas visited cities, they preached the gospel and made disciples of Jesus. As they passed through these areas again, they strengthened and encouraged these followers of Jesus.

Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

So they established assemblies of believers or churches in each city, each with their own local leadership. After they returned to Antioch from this missionary journey we are told:

Acts 14:27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

Pay close attention to how they talk about the church. It does not say they showed up at an address. It says that they ‘gathered the church together’. It does not say where. Where is irrelevant. The church is not a location. The church is not a building. The church is the blood-bought people of God who gather together. Notice also that church is not something we do. We do not do church, have church, or attend a church service. Church is not an event or a religious service of one form or another. Church is not where. Church is not what. Church is who. Church is our identity as a collective group of Jesus-followers. In Acts 15 Paul returned to many of the cities where he had made disciples:

Acts 15:41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Acts 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

Here he refers to churches plural. There were multiple assemblies of Jesus-followers in different locations. The churches were strengthened in the faith by strengthening the people who made up those churches. The churches increased as disciples were making more disciples.

So we can talk about the church, the assembly of people that Jesus bought with his blood and will take from every tribe and language and people and nation. And we can talk about churches, local gatherings of Jesus-followers with their own local leadership.

Members

This brings us to the next question; What is a member? I thought it might be informative to start with a dictionary definition.

http://dictionary.reference.com

mem·ber·ship [mem-ber-ship] noun

1. the state of being a member, as of a society or club.

2. the status of a member.

3. the total number of members belonging to an organization,society, etc.

Notice some of the key words in this definition: state, status, number; society or club; belonging.

A quick google search was revealing. Here are some of the first things that pop up for ‘membership’:

Membership Saves You Money On The Things You Love To Buy. Learn More!

Investigate the benefits of basic and society memberships. Explore member and visitor resources and services. Renew or elevate a current membership.

Members can get it all! Members can express their unique style … explore member-only areas

The focus is on you, the member; membership saves you money on the things you love! Membership has benefits. Membership has perks and privileges. Membership grants you exclusive access to resources and services that you wouldn’t have if you weren’t a member. We are encouraged to ask questions like ‘why should I become a member? What’s in it for me? Why is this membership better than that one? What will I get out if it?’ This understanding of membership is shaped and influenced by the individualistic consumer mentality of this present age in which we live. I am the center. I will shop around for a membership that suits me, that serves me well, that meets my needs and fulfills my expectations.

Did you know that church membership is a biblical concept? But if we take what our culture tells us about membership and apply it to the church, we will end up with a disastrous mess. We should not be surprised that the Bible re-defines what membership means and re-calibrates our thinking on what it is to be a member. So buckle up, hold on to your brains, we are going to look at what the Bible has to say about being a member. Let’s start with something Jesus says.

Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

The word ‘member’ that Jesus uses is [μέλος] melos; it means a limb or a part of the body, like an eye or a hand. Think for a moment on how this re-shapes the idea of membership. A member is not an individual with rights and privileges; instead a member is a connected functional part of the whole. This how the Bible talks about church membership. This is what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12.

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

Membership is a body analogy. The human body is made up of a bunch of connected functional parts. The many members make up one body. When someone puts faith in Jesus and becomes a follower of Jesus, that person is baptized with the Holy Spirit and made a part of the body of Christ. Paul goes on to ‘flesh out’ this body membership analogy:

15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

Notice that there is necessary diversity of function among the members of the body. One member has one function, another has another function. All members are dependent on one another.

Paul warns us against member envy. There is a tendency among the members of the body to be discontent. We often wish we were something other than what we are. Imagine a ligament in the left knee noticing how eloquently the mouth speaks and trying to yell out in competition!

Notice too how serious it is to have a disconnected member. One member cannot say to another member “I have no need of you”. That is not true. We are designed to be incomplete parts connected to the whole, incomplete without each other. No member stands alone. No member can say ‘I am so important that I don’t need the rest of the body. I am the hand. This sluggish body is holding me back. I think I am going to go it alone for a while’. Neither can any member say ‘I am so insignificant, so unimportant, so unnoticed that the body will be just as well without me. I am only one vertebrae in the spine, I will just quietly disappear and no one will even notice.’ Paul says ‘indispensable!’

In this body analogy, there is no room for retirement. One day the kneecap says ‘I’ve been filling this role for so many years. I’m tired of it. It’s time for me to retire and make room for someone else to step up. When your kneecap gives out, that’s called an injury, and it causes the whole body to suffer.

There may be a time when amputation is necessary, when a member has become so infected with the disease of willful unconfessed sin that for the protection of the rest of the members, they must be severed from the body, but this is a drastic measure, a messy last resort when every other effort has failed, and always with the goal of restoration. The consequences of this action must be carefully weighed, as the body will be handicapped without this member. This highlights the seriousness of membership. For someone to simply choose to dismember themselves from the body for whatever reason is reckless and irresponsible. It handicaps the body and is lethal for that body part.

Some might say ‘oh, I am staying connected to Jesus, the Head, but I just don’t want to be connected to the body’; that is sheer nonsense.

Every member in the body is to be a connected functional part of the whole. This is by God’s design. If we look back at verse 11, we see that it is the “Spirit who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” Verse 18 tells us “God arranged the members of the body, each one of them, as he chose.” Verse 24 tells us that “God has so composed the body …that there may be no division in the body.” God designed you individually to be connected and play a vital, indispensable role in the body, for the good of the whole body. God intends “that there be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” In humility, we are neither to overestimate or underestimate our value in the body. Neither are we to overestimate or underestimate the role of anyone else in the body. No division. “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.

You all together are the body of Christ. Each one is to be a connected functional part of the whole. The New Testament assumes that every Jesus-follower is a connected functional member of the body of Christ. When the apostle wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus, it is clear that there was a real assembly of believers in that city to whom the letter would be delivered. When Paul wrote to the church of God that is in Corinth and told them that they were not to judge outsiders but those inside the church, and that they should ‘purge the evil person from among you’ (1Cor.5:13), he assumes that they knew who was outside the church and who was inside, whether that was on a paper member list or a mental one. The bible doesn’t specify how we should keep track, but it is imperative that we know.

Who Should Be A Church Member?

So if we ask the question ‘who should be a member of the church?’ we can answer ‘all those and only those who are genuine followers of Jesus.’ The church is a family that you must be born into. You cannot be a member of the church unless you have experienced the new birth. Those who have experienced the regeneration of the Holy Spirit have been made members of the body of Christ. They are those who experience forgiveness of sins through faith in the Lord Jesus. They make a public profession of that faith through baptism, which is an outward picture of the inward reality. You are not a member of the body of Christ and should not be one on paper if you do not embrace the good news of Jesus. If you do belong to Jesus, then you are a member of his body, and it is essential that you connect with a local body of believers.

What is My Part In the Body?

Here is another question. I am a member of the church. How do I know what my part is? I want to be a connected, functional part of the whole. What part am I? How do I know? You could take a spiritual gifts inventory and that might help a little bit. Let me give you 4 simple things that I think will help you see what part you are to play in the body of Christ.

1. Clearly understand the goal. What is the purpose of the church? What is our mission, our objective? If we clearly see the destination, we can more easily see if we are moving in the right direction or if we are getting sidetracked. The purpose of the church and of every member is to glorify God by loving God, loving people, and making disciples who glorify God by loving God, loving people and making disciples. The great commandment and the great commission encapsulate the purpose of the church. If what I am doing does not advance the great commission and embody the great commandment, then I am probably not functioning in the church in the way that God intended.

2. Be a healthy member. A body part that is diseased, disconnected or sick cannot function properly in the body. Stay connected to the members around you. Value them. Seek unity in the body. Stay connected to the Head; abide in Christ. Turn away from your sin.

3. Be obedient; when the Head (who is our Lord Jesus Christ) calls you to do something; do it! But that’s the problem, how do I know what Jesus wants me to do? Many people say ‘I just don’t feel called to that’. I’m not sure what feelings have to do with it. Calling is not a feeling, it is not often a message in the clouds or a still small voice. Here’s how this might look.

If you notice something that would glorify God, love people and make disciples that is not happening, then you should complain to the leadership and demand that they appoint a committee to investigate and address the problem… no really, if you notice something that is not being done and it needs to be happening, very likely that is the Holy Spirit pointing you to exactly what part you are to play in the body. There are more good gospel opportunities in our community than we could ever fully exhaust. But if you have a clear understanding of the goal, if you are a healthy connected member, and if God has opened your eyes to a need, if God has given you a passion for something, then get busy! By all means seek wisdom and godly counsel from leaders, get equipped, but go do it. Be an active member. Step up. Take responsibility. Function. Engage. Enjoy. Be who you were created to be. Do something!

4. Don’t be so self-conscious. What I mean is this. A guitarist who has to consciously thing about where each finger goes to make a chord is still learning how to play. Try running up the stairs sometime while paying careful attention to how each muscle and ligament in your foot and leg move. Actually, don’t. You would probably fall down and hurt yourself. But if your son is crying upstairs and you need to get up there to see if he’s all right, if your body is functioning properly, you don’t need to think about which part does what, you just go. Your body naturally, almost unconsciously does what it was meant to do. Don’t over-analyze your every move. Clearly understand the gospel goal, be a healthy, holy, connected member, and respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

If you are a believer in Jesus, you have been made a member; not of a social club, but of the body of Christ. Our all-wise God has carefully placed you in the body exactly as he intended. Think about the implications! Church is not where I insist on my own way. Church is an assembly of people with whom I voluntarily give up my own preferences for the good of the body. The body is only as healthy as its sickest member. I will seek to stay connected, to seek unity, to put to death my pride. As a member of the church, I look for ways to function that contribute to the overall purpose. As part of the church, I come not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life, my gifts, my talents, my passions for the benefit of the others. As a church submitting to Jesus our Head, we show the world that it is good to live under God’s authority.

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

January 5, 2014 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 1:9; The Faithful God and the Fellowship of His Son

01/27 1 Corinthians 1:9 The Faithful God and the Fellowship of His Son; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130127_1cor1_9.mp3

1 Παῦλος κλητὸς ἀπόστολος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦδιὰ θελήματος θεοῦ καὶ Σωσθένης ὁ ἀδελφὸς2 τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ, ἡγιασμένοις ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, τῇ οὔσῃ ἐν Κορίνθῳ,κλητοῖς ἁγίοις, σὺν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐπικαλουμένοις τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ αὐτῶν καὶ ἡμῶν·3 χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.

4 Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου πάντοτε περὶ ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῇ χάριτι τοῦ θεοῦ τῇ δοθείσῃ ὑμῖν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ,5 ὅτι ἐν παντὶ ἐπλουτίσθητε ἐν αὐτῷ, ἐν παντὶ λόγῳ καὶ πάσῃ γνώσει,6 καθὼς τὸ μαρτύριον τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐβεβαιώθη ἐν ὑμῖν,7 ὥστε ὑμᾶς μὴ ὑστερεῖσθαι ἐν μηδενὶ χαρίσματι, ἀπεκδεχομένους τὴν ἀποκάλυψιν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ·8 ὃς καὶ βεβαιώσει ὑμᾶς ἕως τέλους ἀνεγκλήτους ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.9 πιστὸς ὁ θεὸς δι’ οὗ ἐκλήθητε εἰς κοινωνίαν τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν.

We have been examining the content of Paul’s thanksgiving to God for the church in Corinth. With their divisive spirit and disregard for authority and self-centered attitude and actions, we might be hard pressed to find anything to give thanks for in this church. But listen to the gracious God-centered words of Paul:

1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 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 spiritual 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. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

This is a God-centered, Jesus saturated greeting and thanksgiving. Paul mentions Jesus by name 9 times in these opening nine verses. And he mentions the will of God, the church of God, God the source of grace and peace, he offers thanks to God for God’s grace given, and now he points to the faithfulness of God. This word of thanksgiving was addressed to God in verse 4, and now in verse 9 as he closes his thanksgiving, he draws our attention back to the faithfulness of God. When you receive a gift, you don’t thank the mailman who delivered the gift; you address your thanks to the giver of the gift. Anything good in the Corinthians, anything worthy of thanks, is a direct result of God’s grace and God’s gift, and so God gets the praise and the thanks. God’s grace was given, God in Christ Jesus had enriched them, had confirmed the gospel among them, had equipped them with grace-gifts, caused them to anticipate the return of Jesus, and was sustaining them guiltless. God is faithful.

Faithful

In the original, the adjective ‘faithful’ is placed first in the sentence for emphasis; faithful the God. What does it mean to be faithful? To be faithful is to be trustworthy, one who can be relied on. If you are faithful you are dependable, you follow through and do what you say you will do.

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

It is characteristic of mankind that we are fickle, we do not always follow through. Sometimes we make a bad decision based on a limited amount of information, and when we are informed of more of the facts, we change our minds. Sometimes we make a good commitment or resolution, but because of laziness or selfishness or distractions, we don’t follow through. Sometimes we have good intentions, but we simply forget, or circumstances beyond our control prevent us from keeping our word. God is not like that. God does not base his decisions on only some of the facts. God is not fickle, selfish, distracted, or lazy. God is not forgetful, and nothing – nothing can frustrate his purposes. With him ‘there is no variation or shadow due to change’ (James 1:17).

Isaiah 14:24 The LORD of hosts has sworn: As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand, …27 For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?

God is faithful. No one, no thing can prevent him from doing what he has said he will do.

Isaiah 46:9 …for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ 11 … I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

God ‘works all things according to the counsel of his will’ (Eph.1:11).

So the confidence of Paul that the Corinthians will be sustained to the end guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus is based not on the fickle Corinthians, but on the unfrustratable faithfulness of an omnipotent God.

By Whom You Were Called

Paul’s confidence for the Corinthians rested in the fact that a sovereign God had called them. In verse 1, Paul said that he was called by the will of God to be an apostle. In verse 2 he said that the believers in Corinth were called to be saints. Here he points to a faithful God as the one who called them. In Romans 8, Paul refers to believers as those who love God, as those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

And for those whom God calls, there is absolute confidence that all things will work together for good, because, as he goes on to say, those he calls he also justifies and glorifies. When the faithful King calls you into his service, he will overcome every obstacle and see to it that the purpose of his call is carried out. He will see to it that you are sustained to the end guiltless. He will see to it that you are glorified. Paul’s confidence rests not on man, but squarely on the always faithful God.

Called into the fellowship of His Son

Look with me at what we are called to. Ponder for a moment on what we are invited into. Meditate on what we have been made participants of. Savor the gracious goodness of God in our calling.

9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

We were called into the fellowship of God’s Son. Fellowship. The rich Greek word koinonia [κοινωνια]. Fellowship is a word that means having things in common. Fellowship means sharing life together. Jews would not eat with Gentiles, because Gentiles don’t follow the same kosher laws of food preparation and ceremonial washing. For a Jew to eat with a Gentile would mean contamination. We might look at it as sharing germs. This separation could lead to a feeling of superiority. God addressed this with Peter in Acts 10, where God said three times ‘what God has made clean, do not call common’. Paul had to deal with Peter again later on this issue in Antioch, when Peter withdrew from table fellowship with Gentiles (Gal.2:11-14). Paul confronted his hypocrisy publicly, because his conduct was ‘not in step with the gospel’. At the cross, Jesus broke down the dividing wall of hostility, abolished the commandments and ordinances, and made peace between those who were alienated (Eph.2:11-22). We are now brought near by the blood of Christ. To have fellowship with someone is to let them into your life, to invite them into your home, into your family, to have a meal together, to share your things with them, to share yourself with them. Fellowship is being connected, being community, being close.

Relational Intimacy

What does it mean to be called into the fellowship of the Son of God? This is staggering! We are called by God into the fellowship of his Son. We are brought into a relationship with Jesus where there is intimacy, where we do life together, where we have everything in common. Real relational intimacy with the Son of God! We can talk to him and he listens! We don’t have to make an appointment three weeks in advance. He is there for us always. He is available. He is for us. He cares. He understands. He will carry our sorrows. We can enjoy his presence. We are invited to ‘cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you’ (1Pet.5:7). He said ‘come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Mt.11:28); ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’ (Jn.7:37); ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Heb.13:5); ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Mat.28:20). He is the ‘friend who sticks closer than a brother’ (Pr.18:24). You were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Doing Life Together

Fellowship means that we do life together. Listen in on the prayer of Jesus for you before his crucifixion.

John 17:20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Jesus prays that we believers would share in the intimacy and fellowship of the triune God! That we would be one with each other, just as God the Father and Jesus are one with each other, in perfect unity and community, sharing everything. As the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father, we must be in the Father and the Son, and the Father and Son are in us. In John 14, Jesus said:

John 14:19 … Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

Jesus is in his Father, we are in Jesus and Jesus is in us. John 15 helps us understand this connection. Jesus commanded his followers:

John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 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.

If we are in Jesus and Jesus is in us, if we are connected to Jesus like a branch is connected to the trunk, then the life of Jesus is flowing through us, and Jesus is alive in us. Listen to how Paul expresses this thought in Galatians:

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

The me who I once was is dead. I am now grafted into Christ, and it is now Christ’s life that is living in me. I am living a life so intimately connected to Jesus that I can really say it is Jesus who is living in me.

Paul prays that this union with Christ would be realized by the Ephesian believers. He prays:

Ephesians 3:16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Strengthened in your inner being through his Spirit, Christ residing in your hearts through faith, rooted, connected, drawing life from his love, experiencing the depth of Christ’s love, filled up with all the fullness of God. This is the power at work in us, able to accomplish more than we could ever dream. Strengthened by his Spirit in your inner being; Christ dwelling in you; filled with all the fullness of God. I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Abiding in the vine.

Everything in Common

Fellowship means that we have everything in common. We share everything. When we got married, we entered into a fellowship. My possessions, my decisions, my body, my bank account, my joys and my sorrows are no longer mine, they are ours. What is mine is yours and what is yours is mine. Everything is in common. If I have fellowship with Jesus, then everything Jesus has is mine. Because he is the only Son of God, I can call God Father. Jesus said ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ (Jn.20:17). I am adopted into his family (Rom.8:15; Gal.4:5). I share in his relationship with the Father. Jesus as the Son of God is the only heir; because of fellowship with Jesus I am an heir of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Rom.8:17). I share in his inheritance. Because Jesus is righteous, I am clothed in his righteousness (Is.61:10, Rom.5:17; Phil.3:9). When the Father looks at me he can find no spot or wrinkle or blemish or any defect whatever. What the Father says to Jesus, he says to me: ‘well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master’ (Mt.25:21; 3:17; 17:5). What inestimable treasures are ours because our fellowship is with Jesus!

But if we have everything in common, then not only is everything that belongs to Jesus mine, but everything that is mine he shares in. Hebrews 2 tells us:

Hebrews 2:14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,

Jesus, infinite God from all eternity, shared in flesh and blood. And in that real humanity he tasted death for everyone (Heb.2:9). I am a sinner.

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

Jesus became sin for me. As a sinner I am under God’s curse.

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”–

Jesus became a curse for me. As a rebel I deserve God’s wrath.

1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Jesus propitiated the wrath of his Father against my sin. The result of my sin is suffering, sorrow, grief, pain.

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

My iniquities have caused a separation between me and God (Is.59:2).

Matthew 27:46 …Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, …“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

What fellowship is this! Everything he has is mine, everything I am is his. But this fellowship with Jesus extends farther, maybe farther than I am comfortable with. Paul says in Philippians 3:

Philippians 3:10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share [κοινωνια] his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice insofar as you share [κοινωνεω] Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. We are called into the fellowship of his sufferings. Fellowship with Jesus. Relational intimacy, doing life together, everything in common. All that he has is ours; and all we are is his. If he has willingly taken our sin, our cross, our shame, should we not also offer him our time, our talent, our treasure? Should we not offer him our very lives to spend as he sees fit? Let us pursue deeper, richer, more satisfying fellowship with Jesus. God is faithful. He has called us into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our King.

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

January 27, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exodus 30:34-38; The Fragrant Incense of Prayer

http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20120603_exodus30_34-38.mp3

06/03 Exodus 30:34-38 The Fragrant Incense

Incense and Prayer

Several weeks ago, we looked at Exodus 30:1-10, which described the building of the golden altar for incense. Then we looked at the ransom money, the bronze washbasin, the holy anointing oil, and now, at the conclusion of the the instructions for how the tabernacle was to be constructed and used, we come back to a description of how the incense is to be made. We saw when we looked at the altar for incense, that the incense is a symbol of prayer.

Psalm 141:2 Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,

and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!

In Luke 1, when Zechariah was serving in the temple, we are told:

Luke 1:9 …he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.

The hour of incense was a time for praying. Morning and evening, prayers to God were offered with the holy incense. Jesus taught that:

Mark 11:17 …‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’… (Is.56:7; cf. Mt.21:13; Lk.19:46)

And in the book of Revelation, we see the scene in heaven, where there are

Revelation 5:8 … golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Revelation 8:3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

Our prayers are a fragrant incense offered to God.

Exodus 30:34 The LORD said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), 35 and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. 36 You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. 37 And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the LORD. 38 Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.”

Gospel Centered Prayer – Based on Substitution

We looked at the fact that the altar of incense is not mentioned until after the altar for sacrifice; because our sins must be covered by the blood of our sacrificial substitute before our prayers can be acceptable to a holy God.

This incense was made of sweet spices; many of them are difficult to identify today. The word translated ‘stacte’ literally means ‘drops’ and refers to the oozing gum resin from trees, possibly myrrh. ‘Onycha’ is thought to be an aromatic powder derived from scraping mollusk shells. ‘Galbanum’ is a very strong smelling gum resin taken from the stalk of the Ferula plant. Frankincense is a resin from Boswellia trees.

One curious ingredient is salt. The incense was to be ‘blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy’. Why salt? Salt was highly valued as a preservative in the ancient world, but incense does not go bad and would not need a preservative.

We find instructions in Leviticus that:

Leviticus 2:13 You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.

Salt, a preservative that makes things last, is symbolic of the permanence of the covenant agreement between God and his people. We find the phrase ‘covenant of salt’ several other times in the scriptures (Num.18:19; 2Ch.13:5). ‘Covenant of salt’ was a way of saying a covenant that would last or be preserved, synonymous with ‘an everlasting covenant’. Adding salt to the incense offered in the holy place would be a reminder that approach to God in prayer was based on a covenant relationship, where forgiveness was granted and access was opened through the sacrifice of a substitute.

Our prayers are to be gospel-grounded, gospel-centered prayers. When we approach God, we can approach him only on the basis of the finished work of Jesus on the cross. We must always be mindful of the covenant God has made with us, the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood. We cannot come to God on our own merits. We must come in the name of Jesus, on the merits of Jesus, trusting in and relying on the price Jesus paid in full on the cross. Our only access to the Father is through his Son Jesus.

Meeting with God in Prayer

But what is prayer? We see that prayer, by definition, is entering into the presence of God, talking with him, enjoying fellowship with him, making our requests to him, interceding with him for others. This is a fragrant pleasing aroma to him. For us as believers, it is a sin not to pray. Sin is missing the mark; falling short of doing what we were created to do. We were designed to have fellowship with God; we were created to commune with him, we were made for intimacy and fellowship with the infinite God. When we fail to take seriously this privilege of prayer, we miss the mark; we fail to be what we were designed to be – beings in relationship with our sovereign Creator.

This was the purpose of the tabernacle – to teach Israel what it means to be in relationship with a holy God. God says:

Exodus 25:8 And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.

The first piece of furniture God described was the box that held the terms of his covenant relationship with his people, together with its cover or mercy seat, where he would be propitiated. He said:

Exodus 25:22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

Then, in chapter 29, after describing the twice daily burnt offering, he says:

Exodus 29:42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. … 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

This is highlighted in the instructions for the placement of the golden altar of incense.

Exodus 30:6 And you shall put it in front of the veil that is above the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is above the testimony, where I will meet with you.

We see this theme repeated in verse 36; the incense is to be put ‘before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I will meet with you’. God desires to meet with his people, to dwell in their midst and to be their God. Prayer in essence is meeting with God.

Misuses of Prayer

James tells us that there are two potential misuses of prayer.

James 4:2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Neglect of Prayer

The first misuse of prayer is simply not praying. You do not have because you do not ask. How often are we guilty of not spending time with God in prayer? Jesus strongly encouraged and invited us us to pray. Jesus said:

Matthew 7:11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Matthew 21:22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Luke 18:1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

John 14:13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

John 15:7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

John 16:23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. …26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.

I think the worst misuse of prayer today is our total neglect of prayer. We fail to place this fragrant incense before the throne of God. We have this blood bought privilege of bold access to the Father through the Son under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and we simply don’t bother. We are too busy to pray. We are too distracted to pray. We have more important things to do than pray. To say this sounds blasphemous: Too busy! More important things to do! More important than entering the presence of the Creator of the universe to talk to him?! But how often is that exactly what we say by our actions? We have been loved by the Father with an everlasting love. We were ransomed with the priceless blood of God the Son. We are being empowered and transformed by God’s Holy Spirit. We have the King of kings living in us, and we don’t bother to talk with him.

Not For You

The other misuse of prayer mentioned by James is that we think prayer is for us and about us. He says:

James 4:2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

We misuse prayer when we use it as a tool to get what we want. ‘You desire and do not have… You covet and cannot obtain… You ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions’. When we ask out of covetousness, wanting something we don’t have, when we ask out of discontent with what God has given us, when we ask because we are after something, then we ask wrongly.

We are told that this incense is most holy. ‘You shall not make it for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the LORD’. This incense was not for personal use or private pleasure. Prayer is primarily and ultimately not for you. It is for the LORD. A common misconception is that prayer is how we get stuff from God. That is a distortion of what prayer is. Prayer is given to us by God, it is communion with God, it is all about God, and it it ultimately for God, for his pleasure. We are to talk to God, not to get stuff from him, but to deepen our relationship with him. This is what Jesus taught.

Matthew 6:5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Do not use prayer to get praise from others. Do not pray to impress God. Do not use prayer as a tool to get what you want. This is not what prayer is for. Spend time privately in communion with your Father.

It is not wrong to bring our needs to God in prayer. Jesus taught us to pray ‘give us this day our daily bread’. But our first concern must be ‘may your name be magnified’

Matthew 6:9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (cf. Lk.11:2-4)

Of course we are to ask God for what we need. We honor him when we take our requests to him because we are declaring that he is the only one who can meet our needs. But we must not attempt to use him as if he were a genie in a bottle who exists to give us what we want.

Illustrations of Asking

Maybe an illustration would help. Think of the parable known as the parable of the prodigal son (Lk.15). Really, it is a parable about a father and two sons. One son came to his father and asked for his share of the inheritance. This was equivalent to saying ‘dad, I don’t care about you, I just want your stuff. I don’t want to wait until you are dead to get my share, so give it to me right now.’ He asked his father and got what he wanted and then he got as far away from his father as he could as quickly as possible. How often do we approach God this way? ‘I don’t care about you, but I know you are rich and I want the gifts you give so I can go away and enjoy them on my own’. This is a severe example of misuse of prayer. But the older brother is not any better. He sees his broken, humbled, and repentant brother welcomed back into relationship with his father, and he is bitter, angry, jealous, and resentful. He dishonors his father by refusing to attend the feast, and when his father comes out to entreat him, he answers his father with disrespect.

Luke 15:29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

He was outwardly obedient, but this episode reveals his heart. He was self-righteous and he also was more interested in his father’s stuff than the father himself. He was doing all the right things as a means to get what he wanted. He was not interested in relationship; either with his lost brother or with his father. He was doing what he thought he had to do to get what he wanted from his father so he could go off and party with his friends. Two bad examples at opposite ends of the spectrum – one doing everything wrong and one doing everything right; both more interested in the gifts their father gave than in the father himself.

But where is the good example? What should prayer look like? What does it look like to want the relationship even if the gifts never come? What does it look like to want God to get glory more than wanting my own needs to get met? Jesus told his disciples:

John 12:27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” …

Jesus, wrestling in the garden with the prospect of becoming sin for us, of bearing in his body the sins of the world, of drinking the cup of the righteous wrath of his Father against my sin,

Mark 14:36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Open honest communication. Plain asking. Humble submission to the will of the Father. Priority placed not on the gift, but on relationship with the giver. A desire above all for God to be glorified in all things. This is a sweet aroma, well pleasing to the Father. May we be those who continually offer up a sweet aroma of prayer to God. 

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

June 3, 2012 Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exodus 23:13-19 – Invited To Celebrate

http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20120129_exodus23_13-19.mp3

01/29 Exodus 23:13-19 Worship God and Celebrate in His Presence

We are going to jump back into Exodus right where we left off a little over two months ago. All scripture is God-breathed and useful for the New Testament believer to benefit by, so we are working our way through the book of Exodus to see what God has to say to us there. We are in Exodus chapter 23, at the tail end of what is know as ‘the book of the covenant’, a series of specific applications of God’s Ten Words to his people, describing to them what life lived in relationship with God should look like. The verses we will look at today, 23:13-19, reiterate the first command and then describe three annual pilgrimage feasts, feasts that all Israelites would be required to attend.

Exclusive Worship

13 “Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips.

This is a reiteration of the first command that God gave his people: ‘You shall have no other Gods before me’ (Ex.20:3). God is a jealous God. When God wastes parchment by repeating something in his word, it is because it is important. We need to hear it. It is important that we get it. Here he is coming to the close of the book of the covenant, and he reminds us how important this is. ‘Pay attention!’ ‘Pay attention to all that I have said to you’. Remember the first commandment I gave to you. ‘Make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips’. God demands first place in our hearts. God demands an exclusive place in our lives. God will tolerate no rival affections. God is King of kings and Lord of lords, Lord over all. He is not one among many. He refuses to share his glory. God alone is to be worshiped, honored, obeyed, loved. We need to be told this multiple times, because our hearts are so inclined to worship so many other things.

To know the name of a deity was thought to grant access to that deity, and obligate that deity to answer your requests. To forbid even the mention of the name of another deity was to exclude the possibility of any association with any deity other than God alone. This is the strongest possible statement of monotheism, that there is only one God, and he alone is worth knowing. “Make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips.” This is why it is so startling that Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in his name. If Jesus were a rival deity, this would be a direct violation of this command. Jesus suggests that we pray in his name to the Father, and he encourages us that this is a way of assuring that the Father will answer.

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

John 16:23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. … 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.

But Jesus even goes beyond praying in his name to the Father. He invites us to address our prayers to him personally.

John 14:13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Jesus invites us to ask him in his own name. This would indeed be blasphemous if Jesus were not God. Praying in Jesus’ name would fall under the condemnation of Exodus 23:13 if Jesus were claiming to be another God. But what Jesus claims is that he is one with the Father, one God. For Jesus’ command to make any sense at all, Jesus must be personally distinct from the Father; not the same person. We may ask the Father in Jesus’ name; or we may ask Jesus in his own name. Jesus is not the Father. Jesus is one God with the Father. This is exactly what Christianity has historically expressed as the teaching of the trinity. There is only, exclusively, uniquely one God. But this one God eternally exists in three distinct persons.

13 “Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips.

three annual feasts

14 “Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. 15 You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty–handed. 16 You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. 17 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD. 18 “You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my feast remain until the morning. 19 “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God. “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.

Corporate Worship

God says ‘you shall keep a feast to me’. He says ‘None shall appear before me empty-handed’. He says ‘three times a year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD’. He tells us we must bring our best to him. Notice that all males were required to appear before the LORD God. This is corporate worship. I’ve heard some people say that they feel closer to God worshiping at home in their living room or out on the mountaintop than in church. I understand that sentiment. But worship is not about you or how you feel. God desires that all his people gather together to worship him. Worship is not about us, it’s about God. There were three times in the year, these three pilgrim-festivals, that every male in Israel was required to appear before the Lord. Although women were not required to be there, we learn from passages like 1 Samuel chapter 1 that they were welcome and that they did indeed come. God desires that we gather together to worship him. Listen to God’s ultimate purpose for our worship:

Revelation 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

The Pilgrim Feasts

Let’s look at each of these feasts that God required all his people to participate in. There are seven feasts listed in Leviticus 23. Here in Exodus, the three pilgrim festivals are highlighted.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover)

14 “Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. 15 You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty–handed.

The feast of unleavened bread was closely connected with the feast of Passover. This fell at the time of the early barley harvest. Passover, as we have seen, celebrated God’s redemption of his people out of slavery. The passover lamb was killed as a substitute for the firstborn son, and brought protection from God’s wrath. John introduces Jesus by saying ‘behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (Jn.1:29). Paul tells us that ‘Christ our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed’ (1Cor.5:7). The feast of unleavened bread began at Passover and lasted for seven days. All leaven, a picture of sin, was to be removed, and only unleavened bread was to be eaten, symbolizing the perfect righteousness of Christ, the righteousness that he gives to us. As Israel was lead out of slavery in Egypt, so we are led out of our slavery to sin. The crucifixion of Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God happened at Passover time.

The Feast of Harvest (Pentecost)

16 You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field.

Three days after Passover, a sheaf of the first grain was to be brought and waved before the Lord. This was a recognition of God’s provision and of the promise of good things to come. This was the offering of firstfruits mentioned in Leviticus 23:10. Counting 7 weeks or 50 days from Passover and the firstfruits offering, the feast of Harvest was celebrated. This feast marked the end of the wheat harvest, and was the only feast that implemented leavened bread. Two loaves of leavened bread would be waved before the Lord – Jew and Gentile together in one body, forgiven but still battling indwelling sin. Jewish tradition marked this day as the day of the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, fifty days after the departure from Egypt. This feast became known in the Greek-speaking world as ‘the fiftieth day’ or ‘Pentecost’.

Christ, our passover Lamb was sacrificed for us. On the third day, He was raised from the dead. Paul points to this in 1 Corinthians 15:

1 Corinthians 15:20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Fifty days later, we are told:

Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians–we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

The harvest feast is being celebrated. People from every nation under heaven were gathering together at God’s command to celebrate the feast in Jerusalem. The promised and anticipated Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples, and they preach the good news of Jesus crucified, resurrected, now Lord of all. God reverses the confusion of languages from the tower of Babel and the harvest begins.

… 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Jesus had told his disciples:

Luke 10:2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

God’s Holy Spirit was poured out, and three-thousand souls were harvested that day, and the church was born. And this was just a foretaste of the harvest that is to come! Jesus said:

Matthew 16:18 … I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The Feast of Ingathering (Booths; The Feast)

You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. 17 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD. 18 “You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my feast remain until the morning. 19 “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God. “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.

The Feast of Ingathering celebrated the final fall harvest of second-crop grains, along with tree and vine crops such as olives and grapes. This was a massive celebration of the completion of the harvest, celebrating the goodness of God in his abundant provision. Remember, these instructions are being given in the wilderness of Sinai, in anticipation of entering the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey. This festival was also known as the Feast of Booths, because the people lived in temporary booths to remind them of their time in the wilderness after God had delivered them from Egypt.

In Jesus’ day, part of the celebration of the Feast of Ingathering had come to include taking water from the pool of Siloam and pouring it out as an offering to the Lord. This is the context of Jesus’ statement in John 7.

John 7:37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

This feast, the Feast of Ingathering, when all of the harvest is complete and it is time to celebrate, has its ultimate fulfillment when God once again dwells or pitches his tent with his people. The prophet Zechariah points to its celebration at the time of Christ’s return.

Zechariah 14:4 On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, … 5 …Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. 6 On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. 7 And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light. …8 On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter. 9 And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one. … 16 Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths.

Invitation to Feast

God is inviting us to his feast. God knows how to host a magnificent celebration. God knows how to throw a party! The section just before this in Exodus laid out God’s requirement for rest. You must take time to cease from you labors, to seek refreshment and rest. Now God is demanding that we enjoy his feasts. These rules and commandments are so repressive and harsh! Rest. Be refreshed. Feast with me. It is sobering to see that this is one of God’s commands that his people failed to keep regularly. God invites us to a series of parties and we respectfully decline. This was the content of some of Jesus’ teaching; God throwing a feast.

Matthew 22:1 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3 and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ 5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

God provides the feast. God invites us to come, enjoy, celebrate with him. God provides everything necessary for us to enjoy him forever! And yet we come up with excuses. We decline his invitation. We refuse to come. We despise his messengers. Or we reject his provision and attempt to come on our own merit. God invites us to everlasting joy in his presence, paid for by his own Son. Let all who are thirsty come!

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

January 29, 2012 Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Characteristics of the Church; Acts 2:42

http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20090118_the_church_3.mp3

1/18 The Church; What we are Called to Be and to Do

We’re spending a few weeks looking at the church – who are we and why are we here – and examining ourselves to see if we need to make any adjustments so that we can more fully be who we are called to be.

We looked at Matthew 16 and we saw that the church is a community called out from the world, founded on the identity of Jesus and united by the new birth. The person and work of Jesus – that he is the infinite Son of God, our creator and redeemer, and that he came to die for our sins – is the rock on which the church is built. Individuals are made part of the community by the creative work of God causing them to be born again. Seeing Jesus for who he is is not a natural response to the facts; it is a supernatural work of God in the heart.

Then we looked at the origin and destiny of the church. The church was spoken into existence by the sovereign power of the Lord Jesus Christ, and she will overcome. The one who ‘upholds the universe by the word of his power’ (Hebrews 1:3) said:

Matthew 16:18 … on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

That was a sovereign declaration of purpose, and it will infallibly come to pass. Christ’s church will be established, and she will be victorious over death and hell. And we saw that the church Jesus was talking about is spiritual, not physical; the body of Christ composed of all true believers and only believers throughout history and all over the globe.

Today I want to look at the nuts and bolts of what it means to be the church. If we are a local visible expression of Christ’s church, what should that look like? What should we be doing?

For that, let’s turn to Acts chapter 2, where we have the record of the birth of the church. Jesus had commanded his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the promised Holy Spirit:

Acts 1:4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”…8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In Acts chapter 2, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, and Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaimed the truth about Jesus. He declared the mighty works of God in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, and that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.

Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

Through Peter’s words God worked in the hearts of his hearers and …

Acts 2:41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

That day the church was birthed by the Holy Spirit. The question I want to ask today is ‘what characterized the church; what did the church do?’ The next verse answers our question:

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Four things characterized the new church; apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and the prayers. These four things the newborn church devoted themselves to. This is what the church was committed to.

First on the list was the apostles’ teaching. This is absolutely stunning when you think for a minute about the background of the apostles. They were a bunch of fishermen from the wrong side of town, a tax collecting thief, and a radical religious zealot. The portrait we get in the gospels is that they were clueless most of the time. Jesus would speak metaphorically, and they thought he was talking about food. Jesus tried to teach them about servanthood, and they argued about who was the greatest. They tried to tell Jesus what he should and shouldn’t say. Jesus was on his way to the cross and they argued about who would get the positions of authority in the kingdom. He asked them to pray and they fell asleep. When he was arrested, they all ran away. When questioned, Peter denied he even knew Jesus.

Jesus himself said:

John 16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

After the crucifixion, they all went into hiding. When they were told about the resurrection, they didn’t believe.

These are the apostles whose teaching the new believers in Jesus devoted themselves to. These are the men that the church looked to for leadership and direction. No wonder Jesus commanded them to do nothing but wait until the Holy Spirit came upon them! There must have been a major transformation in these men. Jesus certainly packed much instruction into the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension. Praise God for the promise of Jesus

John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…

Paul says:

Ephesians 2:19 …you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

The apostles and their teaching served as the foundation of the church. The apostles taught that Jesus was the promised Messiah, King of the Jews, the fulfillment of all the prophecies, and that he was crucified as a substitute for the sins of the people.

Peter himself understood his role as foundational. In 2 Peter, he wrote to the Christians:

2 Peter 1:12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

Peter knew he was going to die, and he wanted to leave a written record for the future. Later in the book he referred to Paul’s writings as scripture:

2 Peter 3:15 … just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

The church was devoted to the apostles’ teaching about Jesus, and we now have their teaching recorded in the New Testament. We must devote ourselves to the apostle’s doctrine.

The second thing the believers devoted themselves to was fellowship. You wouldn’t think fellowship would be something that you would have to devote yourself to. Fellowship should just happen naturally. Fellowship results from the sharing of interests or experiences. There is a certain camaraderie that naturally flows from shared interest. But the Greek word for fellowship is much deeper and richer than our English word. The word is koinwnia koinonia and can denote supportive friendship and encouragement, partnership based on a common belief, practical financial and moral support, personal participation and involvement.

The early church was passionate about a common theme – the apostles’ doctrine. They were passionate about Jesus Christ. Jesus was the rallying point that united the believers. Because of their passion for Jesus, they took Jesus’ command seriously:

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

This is no warm feeling for one another. This is not cozy conversation over coffee. This is not ‘I will help you as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me greatly or interrupt my plans’. This is a hardcore commitment regardless of cost to the bitter end. Come blood, sweat and tears, I will lay down my life for you for the sake of the Name. I am glad to sacrifice time and energy, family and convenience and comfort, even life and limb for my brothers and sisters in the cause of Christ. The fellowship that is mentioned here is a radical revolutionary counter-intuitive costly thing. This is the camaraderie of men in the trenches of war. Everything is at stake. Everything is on the line. Everything is sacrificed for the sake of the cause. One thing matters, and we will do what it takes. Brothers and sisters, we are in a war. Jesus has told us to storm the gates of hell and set the captives free. We need to live like we are in a war. We must devote ourselves to that kind of fellowship.

The third thing that the early disciples devoted themselves to was the breaking of bread. That sounds weird. Would they storm the bakery section of the local grocery store and destroy all the biscuits and bagels?

Breaking of bread was a symbol given by Jesus to remember his sacrifice

Luke 22:19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

This is something the believers did regularly together:

Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread…

Breaking bread together is an intimate fellowship with the believers and with the risen Christ

1 Corinthians 10:16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

Breaking bread together, or taking communion, or the Lord’s supper is a sacred act of worship and reflection on Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Breaking bread is a tangible physical act of remembering Jesus. We must devote ourselves to remember.

The last thing mentioned in Acts 2:42 that the early church devoted themselves to is ‘the prayers‘.

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Followers of Jesus are devoted to the prayers. Prayer is an intimate form of communion with God, and in prayer we come to God with the expectation that he is both able and willing to help us. Prayer is a personal conversation with the holy God. This is an utter impossibility apart from God’s great mercy and grace. God is perfect in holiness and we are sinners that dare not approach him except for judgment. But through the blood of Jesus, God opened the way for us to approach him boldly and with confidence. God is a person, so we can address him in a personal and specific way. We can pray with confidence knowing that our prayers will be answered when they are in agreement with his will. Genuine prayer is not merely words, but a humble submission of our whole person to God. When we develop the habit of continual prayer, we orient our lives Godward. Prayer is primarily coming to God asking. We have needs and God has the supply. We are weak and he is strong. We are small and powerless and he is great and mighty to save. We are incompetent and he is all-sufficient. We are dependent and he is self-existent.

Let’s look at the rest of Acts 2 and see the attitude of the church.

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

They were characterized by a sense of awe at the awesome works of God. They received everything with glad and generous hearts. The were constantly praising God. And by God’s grace, they were multiplying.

Let us be devoted to the truth of scripture, the apostles’ teaching, devoted to a rugged genuine hearty fellowship, devoted to remembering Jesus, his person and his finished work, devoted to passionately pursuing him in prayer and having our needs met and our longings satisfied in him. Let us be who we are called to be. Let us be the church.

January 18, 2009 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment