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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 4:7 Divine Treasure in Earthen Vessels

08/26_2 Corinthians 4:7; Divine Treasure in Earthen Vessels; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180826_2cor4_7.mp3

In 2 Corinthians 2 and 3 Paul displayed the surpassing glory of New Covenant ministry. It is ministry where ‘God through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere’ (2:14). It is self-authenticating ministry, where God writes Christ on the tablets of human hearts by the Spirit of the living God (3:3). It is the life-giving ministry of the Spirit (3:6). It is ministry more glorious than that of Moses, whose face radiated glory and had to be veiled (3:7-13). It is ministry that brings righteousness (3:9); it is permanent (3:11). It is ministry that removes veils (3:14-16), that brings freedom (3:17). It is ministry that beholds directly the glory of the Lord, ministry that brings about transformation (3:18).

In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul has been giving us the characteristics of authentic Christian ministry; ministry that does not lose heart. Authentic ministry is ministry by mercy; it is not deserved. It is ministry with integrity; it isn’t secretive, it doesn’t tamper, it doesn’t use every means possible. It is engaged in spiritual warfare; the god of this world blinds the minds of unbelievers. It is the plain proclamation of the gospel; the good news of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners; Jesus Christ as Lord. Authentic ministry is accompanied by the creative power of God; God speaks in and through our speaking to create life and light, to reveal Jesus, to remove blinders. In the middle of our ministry God’s creative word flashes out and shines light in the dark hearts of unbelievers to create seeing and believing in Jesus.

This is exceedingly glorious ministry! And to think, this ministry has been entrusted to us! We do not lose heart. We can have confidence. We can be very bold.

But

But… In verse 7 we run in to a big ‘but’.

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Woven throughout this passage are warnings to keep us humble. But here in verse 7 Paul illustrates the truth graphically to prevent us from becoming puffed up. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, jars of clay.

Earthen Vessels

We hold a great treasure, but it is placed in ordinary, unimpressive containers. Clay jars were about the equivalent of plastic or styrofoam cups. They were cheap, ordinary, fragile, disposable, and the landfills are full of them. They couldn’t really even be recycled. Many sites in Israel you can hardly walk without stepping on fragments of broken pottery [show examples]. There are even pits in the ground filled full of broken fragments. If a vessel made of glass broke, it could be melted down and re-blown into something useful. But not clay pots. Under Levitical law, bronze or even wood or leather or cloth containers that came into contact with something unclean could be washed in water and cleansed, but an earthen vessel must be broken (Lev.6:28;11:32-35; 15:12).

In Isaiah 30, God describes the consequences to his people of rejecting and distorting his word:

Isaiah 30:14 and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

A clay pot’s usefulness comes from its form. It does not come from the inherent worth of its material.

The Potter and the Clay

When it comes down to it, a clay pot is essentially dirt. Mud. Clay that has been formed for a specific purpose. And that is exactly what we are. According to Genesis,

Genesis 2:7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Formed by God of dust from the ground. Then after our rebellion, we are told:

Genesis 3:19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Lest we begin to think we are something, we are reminded that we are but clay jars, formed by the hand of our Master for a specific purpose.

This is an analogy that is used several places in scripture. In Isaiah 29 the Lord says:

Isaiah 29:16 You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

How dare a created thing reject its creator! How dare something formed insult the one who formed it! Again in Isaiah 45:

Isaiah 45:9 “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?

I looked up how to make usable clay for pottery out of regular ordinary dirt. It is a simple but labor intensive process. It is basically a process of washing and screening and sifting to removing the impurities so that the clay will hold together.

Isaiah 64 describes us:

Isaiah 64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

We are full of impurities, and in order for us to be useful, God must remove the contaminants.

Isaiah 64:8 But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

For us to even make it on the potter’s wheel, there must be an intensive process of cleansing.

Paul picks up this theme in Romans 9

Romans 9:20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

God as creator has rights over the clay. He can do with it what he chooses.

In Jeremiah 18, Jeremiah is given an extensive object lesson with clay pots.

Jeremiah 18:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

The potter is at liberty to do with his clay what seems best to him. God goes on to warn:

Jeremiah 18:7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’

The point of these illustrations is that God is the potter. We are the clay. The potter has the right to make what he wishes with the clay. It seem ridiculous for a clay pot to take issue with the potter over the way it has been formed, especially when we spoil ourselves in his hand. Yet that is just what we so often do. The Potter is wise. Our Potter is good. He knows what he is doing. We can trust him.

Another thing to note about clay pots, is that they can be molded and shaped into something that looks great, but they are useless until they are fired. They have to be put in the furnace or kiln to become usable. I don’t know if Paul had this in mind when he calls us earthen vessels, but it certainly fits with what he goes on to say in the rest of this chapter. The furnace of affliction and trials proves character. It makes a soft pliable wet lump of clay into a functional container. It becomes useful. And it can last a long time. Many of these pieces of pottery are thousands of years old.

In Jeremiah 32, during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem, God instructed Jeremiah to buy a field to demonstrate God’s promise that after the exile, fields will again be bought and sold in the land.

Jeremiah 32:14 ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time.

In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd discovered some clay jars in a cave near the Dead Sea. The jars contained great treasure, manuscripts of the Bible and other writings preserved in the jars for over 2000 years! Indeed, treasure stored in an earthenware vessel can last a long time.

This Treasure

The point of Paul’s contrast is between the nature of the jar and the nature of the treasure it is meant to carry.

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

We have some fancy vases in our house that we don’t ever put anything in. They are beautiful, and they are completely for show. If I were to put even a flower in it, the beauty of the vase would detract from the beauty of the flower. The simplicity and plainness of a container allows the beauty of the treasure to be seen and treasured for what it is. That is what Paul is warning here.

We contain treasure. We have been entrusted with New Covenant ministry. The ministry of the gospel; the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. We proclaim Jesus Christ the Lord. God’s creative word has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The container is not meant to compete with the glory of the treasure. We want nothing to detract from the treasure. Fancy pots won’t do!

The Power is God’s

This verse could be translated literally ‘but we have this the treasure in earthen vessels in order that the superabundance of power might be of God and not out of us.’ The verb is not ‘to show;’ rather the verb in this phrase is ‘to be.’ God’s purpose in putting his infinitely valuable treasure in these fragile human containers is that the power would be his and not ours.

If the container were impressive, attention would be drawn to the container. With containers this earthy, this ordinary, this vulnerable and common, there is no question whose the power is.

Paul may have had in mind the simple oil lamps that were so common in Corinth. Made of clay, they were inexpensive, yet functional. No one would question if the clay were giving off the light of itself or if it was the oil that was inside. It is the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God; it is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. God creatively spoke this light into existence in our hearts. When this light shines out in such a way that others begin to see the light, it is evident that the extraordinary degree of the power is from God and not from us.

Paul was accused of being unimpressive. The Corinthians wanted someone powerful, someone eloquent, someone with a commanding presence. Paul said here I am; a simple clay pot, worn, tattered, vulnerable, broken, but containing a power not his own, a divine and supernatural light. The power of forgiveness. The power of knowing Jesus. The power to transform lives.

When Jesus blinded Paul’s physical eyes, and opened his spiritual eyes to who he is, he called a man named Ananias to go speak to him.

Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument [vessel] of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Paul was a vessel, a container in which the name of Jesus would be carried around to all people. In the coming verses we will see how this treasure in earthen vessels connects with the necessity of suffering.

In Matthew 5 Jesus talked about light of a lamp that shines and gives light to others. He said:

Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

How is it that we are the light of the world, and that we are to let our light shine in such a way that people see our good works, but they don’t praise us; rather they give glory to our Father in heaven? How do we let our light shine in such a way that God gets all the attention?

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers…

2 Corinthians 4:6 It is God who said ‘out of darkness light shine! … 7 [lit] But we have this, the treasure in earthenware vessels in order that the superabundance of power might be of God and not out of us.

You and I are really not all that impressive. God is.

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

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August 27, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Prayer and Unity (Ephesians 5-6)

01/21 Re-Oreinet; Prayer and Unity (Ephesians 6); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180121_prayer-unity.mp3

2 weeks ago we looked at prayer as intimacy; enjoying our blood-bought fellowship with God, listening to his word, talking with him, enjoying his presence.

Today I want to look at Ephesians 5 and 6, being filled with the Spirit and spiritual warfare and prayer in the Spirit.

Being Filled with the Spirit

Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:18 to be filled with the Spirit. What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? We tend to import into the passage ideas about some supernatural religious experience, some ecstatic feeling. We might think of casting out demons and prophesying and doing mighty works, forgetting that Jesus said that some who did these things in his name had no relationship with him, and therefore were not filled with the Spirit (Mt.7:21-23). Instead of importing ideas from outside, we ought to start with what the passage itself actually says.

Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.

…15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

This passage contrasts being filled with the Spirit with being drunk with wine. When you are drunk, enough of the alcohol has gotten into your bloodstream that it begins to affect the way you think and the way you act. Being filled with the Spirit must mean that enough of the Spirit has gotten into us that our actions and our thinking begins to be affected by the Spirit.

In the immediate context of this passage, being filled with the Spirit is walking in wisdom, making the best use of the time, knowing the will of the Lord. Being filled with the Spirit has to do with how we address one another, and how we address the Lord. Is there a song in your heart? Is there a nautral overflow of joy that just must express itself? Are you thankful? Always and for everything? Being filled with the Spirit will be seen in our interaction with other people. This passage goes on to give instructions to wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters. How we interact with the people in our lives will show if we are filled with the Spirit.

John’s letters make this really clear. His language for a Spirit controlled life is ‘walking in the light’. You can’t claim to be a Spirit filled person walking in the light if you hate your brother (1Jn.2:9,11).

In Galatians 5 Paul tells us to ‘walk by the Spirit’ (5:16) and be ‘led by the Spirit’ (5:18) and contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. In Galatians 5, walking by the Spirit and being led by the Spirit look like not gratifying fleshly desires, but instead walking in love and the other things that are characteristic of the Spirit. This life of love and joy and peace, this walking by and being led by the Spirit in Galatians 5 must at least overlap with what Paul says in Ephesians 5 about being filled with the Spirit.

Spiritual Warfare

We have these instructions in Ephesians 5-6 on the relationships between wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters, and then this passage on spiritual warfare. Again, we are inclined to import into this passage a bunch of what we think spiritual warfare is. We tend to think it has to do with demonic activity and a sense of spiritual oppression and doing battle with the enemy. We may tend to romanticize it and imagine ourselves dressed in armor, sword in hand, skillfully swinging and dismembering the demonic hordes. It may be all that, and the text does invite us into the imagery, but we tend to divorce it from its context. This passage is a reminder that ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood’ (6:12). Connected with the context, that means that your wife is not the enemy. Your husband is not the enemy. Your children or your parents are not the enemy. Your employer or your employees are not the enemy. The other people in church are not the enemy. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. Our flesh and blood relationships are not the enemy. In our relationships, especially in the midst of relational conflict and tension (and by the way, it is normal to have conflict in relationships), we need to be reminded who the real enemy is, and that the enemy seeks to control how you respond to all these people in your life.

Instead, we must be Spirit controlled in all these relationships. We need to stand firm in gospel truth, in our blood bought righteousness, in gospel readiness to be at peace, forgiving as we have been forgiven, in believing Jesus and not believing the lies of the enemy, in in our salvation that is undeserved, all of grace, fighting the lies with the truth of the Word of God.

Ephesians 6:13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,

Praying in The Spirit

But the passage doesn’t end there. In fact there is another part of the weaponry that is essential. Or maybe this is what all the armaments are for, this is the field on which the battle is fought. This is the battle. All the armor is equipment to get ready for this battle. Take up the armor that you may withstand and stand firm. Stand therefore …praying.

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.

Through all prayer and petition, we are to pray at all times in the Spirit. What does it mean to pray in the Spirit? Again, we could import our own ideas of what this means, that it is some super-spiritual supernatural state. But the text says that we are to pray in all times in the Spirit. So this can’t be some special state state of prayer that wouldn’t be safe to do while we were driving our chariot to work in the moring. This text indicates that our every prayer is to be an ‘in the Spirit’ prayer.

Access through Jesus in the Spirit to the Father

So what does it mean to pray in the Spirit in Ephesians? First, we must remember that all the practical exhortations in the second half of Ephesians (4-6) are built on the gospel truth laid down in the first half of Ephesians (1-3). All the imperatives (or commands) are built on and grow out of the gospel indicatives (or statements of truth). So this command to pray at all times in the Spirit must be built on a foundation of gospel truth.

Ephesians 2 lays out the good news of God’s resurrecting power at work in dead sinners to make us alive as a gracious gift (2:1-9). We who were separated, alienated, strangers, without hope and without God have been brought near by the blood of Christ (2:12-13).

Ephesians 2:18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Through Jesus, through his once for all sacrifice, through his grace, we now have access to the Father. Our access is in the Spirit. Praying in the Spirit can only begin with blood-bought access to the Father through Jesus in the Spirit. Jesus said ‘no one comes to the Father except through me’ (Jn.14:6).

Into One Body In One Spirit

So praying in the Spirit means access; that through Jesus we have access to the Father in the Spirit. And praying in the Spirit connects us horizontally with other believers.

1 Corinthians 12:13 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.

We are all baptized into one body in the one Spirit. And our access to the Father is in this one Spirit.

Paul alludes to this in Ephesians 4.

Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

There is a blood-bought unity of the Spirit with other believers, a unity that frees us to bear with one another in love, with all humility and gentleness, with patience. It is in this unity of the Spirit that we must come to the Father in prayer.

So praying in the Spirit is both a vertical and a horizontal thing. We have access to the Father through Jesus in the one Spirit. And we have a horizontal unity with all other believers in the one body in this one Spirit. So together, in unity with every other believer in the Spirit, because of what Jesus did, we have access to the Father.

So prayer is never a solo activity. It is never just you and God. Of course you can pray alone. You should, as Jesus said, go into your inner room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is in secret (Mt.6:6). You can pray alone, but when you pray, you are never alone. The triune God is with you. That is the only way prayer works. You pray to the Father through Jesus in the Spirit. And in the Spirit you are united with every other believer. There is a connection, in the Holy Spirit, with all believers. As Hebrews says, ‘we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses’ (Heb.12:1).

For All the Saints

So there is an aspect of praying in the Spirit that connects us with all other believers. But Ephesians 6 tells us that we are to pray ‘for all the saints.’ Praying in the Spirit is both praying with all the saints and for all the saints. Let me ask you, what believers does this leave out? Is there anyone that you shouldn’t be praying for? Is there anyone you find it difficult to pray for? Someone you disagree with? What about brothers and sisters in other Christian denominations? Maybe they believe differently than you on some secondary issues. Maybe they worship differently. Maybe they are wrong. Do you confront them or speak out against them? Are you praying for them? Maybe they don’t even recognize you as a believer. Can you still pray for them?

What about someone who has offended you or wronged you? Someone who has hurt you deeply. And they don’t even acknowledge that they did anything. Can you pray for them? And I don’t mean you should pray Psalm 35 over them:

Psalm 35:4 Let them be put to shame and dishonor… 5 Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the LORD driving them away! 6 Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them!

Can you sincerely ask God to bless them?

Are there people you think are doing just fine and don’t need your prayers? Paul the apostle makes it explicit in verses 19-20 ‘pray also for me.’ Paul needs their prayers. We all need prayer. We need each other. Pray for all the saints.

Always,

Note how we are to pray. It is to be full-time prayer. At all times. That means all kinds of times. When things seem to be going smoothly, pray. When things are difficult and messy and broken, when things seem hopeless, pray.

It is to be alert prayer. Attentive, Watchful. Pay attention. Pay attention to the needs of others. Be aware that the enemy is seeking to divide and to destroy. Be on guard, and pray.

It is to be persevering prayer. Don’t give up. Keep on knocking, keep on asking, keep on seeking. Don’t give up. Persevere in prayer for all the saints.

But I Can’t

You might be saying ‘I don’t think I can pray like that. There’s people I don’t think I can honestly pray for. I don’t think I can be alert and persevere in prayer. I can’t pray at all times. You are right. You can’t. There is no way you can. And that too is part of what it means to pray in the Spirit. Ephesians 6:10 says

Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Be strong in the Lord. It is not your strength, not your ability, not your watchfulness, not your perseverance. It is the strength of his might that is at work in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure (Phil.2:13). You can’t. But in his strength, in his Spirit, you can.

Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

…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,

Remember, you have been invited in. You have access, blood-bought access to the Father through Jesus in the Spirit. You are in a battle, and it is not against flesh and blood. So stand your ground. Stand firm, praying.

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

January 22, 2018 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment