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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 3:4-6; Are You Weak Enough?

05/13_2 Corinthians 3:4-6; Are You Weak Enough? ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180513_2cor3_4-6.mp3

Confidence of Ministry Competence

Are you competent to minister to people? Are you confident of your competence? Do you possess confidence? Even boldness?

Specifically when you see spiritual needs around you; hurting broken people who don’t know Jesus. Self-righteous people who don’t think they need Jesus. Brothers or sisters struggling to follow Jesus, faltering or wandering away. Do you look at those spiritual needs around you with confident boldness that you are competent to minister to them?

In 2 Corinthians 3:4-6, Paul is talking about confidence in ministry competence.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

Such is the confidence that we have. We have this kind of confidence. What kind of confidence does he have? ‘Such’ refers back to his last paragraphs.

It is this kind of confidence or boldness or persuasion:

2:14 confidence always to be led on display by God in Christ

confidence to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere

2:15 confidence to be the fragrance of Christ to God

2:16 confidence to be the aroma of death to the perishing;

confidence to be the aroma of life to those being saved

2:17 confidence to be people of sincerity /integrity

confidence as (sent) of God and in the presence of God

confidence to speak in Christ

3:3 confidence that through our ministry Christ has been written on your tender hearts with the Spirit of the living God

This is staggering confidence! Startling boldness! Would you be able to claim this sort of confidence?

Means and Scope of Confidence

Where does he get this kind of confidence?

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

The means of his confidence is ‘through Christ.’ Oh do not slide casually over words in the text of Scripture! All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (2Tim3:16). Every word of God proves true (Prov30:5). Not the smallest stroke of a letter will pass away until all is fulfilled (Mat5:18). It is easy for us to just slip past words that God gave us for our building up. We can only have this confidence through Christ or not at all. It is through faith in Christ, by means of the shed blood of Jesus on the cross for my sins that I can have boldness and confident access through grace into the presence of God. It is only because of the finished work of Christ that I have any good message to give to sinners alienated from God. The only means of our confidence is through Christ.

The scope of his confidence is ‘toward God.’ As a kid, you talk big with your friends, but when the powerful or important or intimidating person is in the room, suddenly all that confidence gets deflated. Are there people around whom you have more confidence than others? In your circle of friends, around those you know love and accept you, you have a level of confidence. But around those you are intimidated by, that confidence evaporates. Paul says that his confidence is ‘toward God.’ That is an amazing statement. Who is possibly more intimidating than God, the God of the universe, the holy and just judge, against whom we have sinned, the one who spoke all things into existence by the word of his power. He is the one we ought to be most intimidated by, and we are constantly under his watchful eye. If we can be confident in his presence, no human power ought to intimidate us. And Paul says that it is toward God that he is confident. He is confident of his identity, and he is confident of where his identity comes from. Yes, Paul is a sinner, the chief of sinners, who fully deserves the just wrath of the all-holy God. But Paul knows peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knows the forgiveness of sins through his blood. Paul knows the love of God poured out in his heart through the Holy Spirit whom he has given to us. Paul knows his identity. He is a pardoned sinner, washed clean, given new life, reconciled fully, loved extravagantly, accepted, adopted. Paul knows who he is, and he knows where his identity comes from. It is through Christ that he has been forgiven, cleansed, set free, reconciled, loved.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

He has confidence of his sufficiency as a minister of the gospel to spread the knowledge of Jesus all the time in every place, to those who are being saved the aroma of life to life, to those who are perishing the aroma of death to death. He is confident of his competence before the all watchful eye of God the Father.

No Sufficiency From Ourselves

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 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 of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Paul is confident of his identity before God, and he knows where his competence or sufficiency comes from. It is not from himself. It is not internal. It is from outside himself; it is a gift given to him.

In 2:16, after describing a ministry that brings eternal life to some and eternal death to others, Paul asks ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ Here he answers his own question. ‘We are sufficient, but our sufficiency does not come from us.’ We have confidence of our sufficiency in Christ before God, but our sufficiency does not come from ourselves.

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim [lit. to reckon, suppose, conclude or think] anything as coming from us. This is humbling. Any ministry I do, I am not to draw the conclusion that any of that was from me. I can’t take credit for anything. That’s what the text says. Any competency, any sufficiency, I am not to think that anything, anything, ANYTHING came from me. I am not sufficient, I am not competent, I am not adequate in myself. Didn’t Jesus say ‘apart from me you can do nothing? (Jn.15:5)’ Zero, zilch, nada, nothing. I am not sufficient to think of anything as coming from me.

Full-Time Ministry

How many of you are in full-time ministry? Show me hands. How many of you claim to be followers of Jesus? If you are a follower of Jesus, you are in full-time ministry. We use that phrase to describe people who earn a living by their ministry. And that is legitimate. But I don’t care where you earn your living, if you follow Jesus, he has called you to full time ministry. In your family, with your friends, at your work, in your free time, you are a minister. But at my job, they don’t allow me to talk about Jesus. That’s fine. You are a testimony to the transforming power of the gospel by your quiet character and integrity, your faithfulness, your diligence, your self sacrificial service for the good of others. Let me ask again, how many of you are in full time ministry? Ministry means service. Service to others.

We tend to think of ministry in terms of preaching and outreach and church service. And that is important. Paul is talking here primarily about his own apostolic ministry. But I want you to see all of life as ministry. Paul’s apostolic ministry wasn’t only when he was preaching in front of a crowd. Paul at times worked a regular job. How are you serving your employer, your co-workers? How are you serving your spouse, your children? How are you ministering to every person you come in contact with? Paul says that ‘through us God is spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere.’ Not only in words that are heard. But in a fragrance that is smelled. Do people around you sense something different about you? Without you having to say anything?

Broken people were attracted to Jesus. Needy people were following him around all the time. It seemed he couldn’t get away from them. They sensed something about him that gave them hope. Are they attracted to you? We have a message that can raise the dead!

This verse absolutely blew my mind when I first read it. I still remember where I was and who I was with. Jesus said to his followers:

John 14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

Greater works than Jesus? Jesus was healing the lame, opening blind eyes, cleansing lepers, even raising the dead. Greater works than these? How can that be? Notice, he doesn’t say a few select church leaders. He says ‘whoever believes in me.’ That means me. That means you! Through our ministry the Holy Spirit will open blind eyes to the beauty of the gospel, through our ministry he will cleanse people from their sin, through us he will raise dead sinners to eternal life and make them whole and complete in Christ. Greater works than these? Yes!

Are broken people attracted to you? You have a message that can set them free, give them life! Who is sufficient for these things?

Upside-down Confidence

You are, if you recognize that ‘you are not sufficient in yourself to claim anything as coming from you, but your sufficiency is from God.’

Are you weak enough to be confident? This is upside-down thinking. You have to go back to progress; you have to go down to rise up, you have to empty yourself to make room for God to fill you to overflowing. Does your adequacy come from an acute aware of your own incompetence? You have to recognize that your fitness, your competence, your sufficiency for ministry does not come from you. Do you think that anything comes from yourself? To the extent you conclude that you contribute, that you have something you can claim as your part, that you can boast about, to that extent you are unfit for ministry.

Paul said in chapter 1, talking about his afflictions,

2 Corinthians 1:9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

God used affliction to wean Paul away from any self-dependence and force him to rely completely on the resurrecting God. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, speaking of his role as apostle,

1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Do you hear that? Paul considered himself unworthy. But his identity came from God’s grace. And God’s grace transformed him into something he was not fit to be. God’s undeserved kindness is powerful and transformational. And he says, comparing himself with the other apostles ‘I worked harder than any of them.’ But he is quick to clarify. I worked harder than any of them, but none of that was me. It did not come from me. It did not originate with me. It was God’s grace at work in me.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 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 of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

God made us sufficient. Do you feel insufficient? Do you feel inadequate? Do you feel unworthy? Good! You should. You are. I am. That is a prerequisite for fruitful ministry. Are you weak enough for God to use you?

So That God Gets the Glory

Remember Gideon? The Angel of the LORD addressed him ‘O mighty man of valor’ (Jdg.6:12) while he was beating out the wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. When he was told to pull down his father’s idols burn them and make a sacrifice to the LORD, he did it by night, ‘because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day’ (Jdg.6:27). But it says ‘the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon’ (6:34) and he rallied an army of 32,000 to fight against the Midianites and Amalekites and the people of the East who had assembled against them, who ‘lay along the valley like locust in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance (7:12).

Judges 7:2 The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ 3 Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.

Do you hear what God says? Against an innumerable multitude, 32,000 are too many because you might be tempted to claim something as coming from yourselves. You might take credit. You might boast over God, saying ‘my own hand saved me’.

Judges 7:4 And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many.

10,000 is still too many. God was going to give the Midianites into their hand, and he refused to allow them to think that they contributed in any way. So God thinned the army down to 300 men. And the 300 men were armed with trumpets and empty jars and torches inside the jars. No sword, no spear, not even a sling is mentioned. Just musical instruments, and empty clay pots with a fire burning inside. And the LORD gave the host of Midian into their hand. They were told to make some noise and stand their ground. They could claim nothing as coming from themselves. Their sufficiency was totally from God.

Psalm 115 begins:

Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, because not from us, not from us, we are not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, so no glory comes to us. Instead, to your name give glory. It is your steadfast covenant love, it is your faithfulness.

2 Corinthians 3:5 …but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

We are sufficient, because we freely acknowledge that we are insufficient in ourselves. Our sufficiency comes from God. He makes what we are not. He makes us sufficient. Sufficient for ministry. Sufficient to be ministers of the life giving ministry of the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant.

Are you weak enough for God to transform lives through your service, because you recognize that you are not sufficient to consider anything as coming from yourself? Are you weak enough for God to use you, are you weak enough to give God all the glory for what he does in you and through you?

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

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May 16, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 3:1-3; Letters of Recommendation

04/29_2 Corinthians 3:1-3; Letters of Recommendation ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180429_2cor3_1-3.mp3

Paul gets to the heart of the issue here. He lays out his credentials as a minister by pointing to the transformation that has happened in the lives of his readers.

Paul Commends Himself (Again!)

Paul has described the apostolic ministry in 2:14 as ‘ through us God in Christ always …spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.’ In 2:17 he contrasts himself with ‘so many,’ who peddle God’s word for profit. We are not like them; rather we are men of sincerity, our source of authority is God, everything we do is in the presence of God, and it is in Christ that we speak. Back in chapter 1:12, Paul boasted ‘in the testimony of his conscience, that he operated with simplicity and godly sincerity, by the grace of God.’

2 Corinthians 3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you?

This first phrase of chapter 3 should probably be read as an exclamation, not a rhetorical question. We are beginning to commend ourselves to you again! Paul is making a case for his integrity; he is laying before them the evidence of his authenticity. He even contrasts his ministry with those who are in it for profit. We, who planted the church, who spent 18 months with you investing in you, who visited you in the past and plan to visit again, who sent letters and messengers to you, we need to go over the formality of introductions all over again!? You, who experienced new life as a result of our ministry among you, now we are forced again to present evidence of our authenticity!

The letter to the Romans is a letter of self-commendation; Paul writes to believers he has never met, introduces himself and his ministry, and lays before them the gospel he preaches. In chapter 15 he outlines his plans to visit them, and his desire to be supported by them in his mission to Spain. In Romans he is commending himself to a church he has never visited.

In Romans 16, he says:

Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

We call this a letter of reference or a recommendation. A trusted person writes to affirm the character of another. Do you recommend this person as a student in our college? Would you recommend this person as a good fit for this particular job? Paul is not against letters of commendation; he writes them himself. In fact, in Romans 5:8 he says:

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

The death of Christ for sinners is a commendation of God’s love for us.

Paul uses the word ‘commend’ or ‘recommend’ twice in 2 Corinthians 3:1, and 7 more times in the rest this letter. He says in the next chapter

2 Corinthians 4:2 …by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

In chapter 5 he says that his character should be well known to them; he is not really commending himself again, but giving them reasons to defend against those who boast in outward appearances and not in the heart. In chapter 6 he says:

2 Corinthians 6:4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:

And then he lists not only his positive character traits, but also his hardships, afflictions, persecutions, his weakness. In chapter 10 he clarifies:

2 Corinthians 10:18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

Paul is not against letters of recommendation. He is not even against presenting one’s own credentials to establish credibility. 2 Corinthians could be seen as an extended commendation of authentic apostolic ministry. The issue is not in the necessity of introductions. The problem lies in the ‘again.’ His point here in chapter 3 of 2 Corinthians (in actuality his fourth correspondence to this church) is that they ought to be well beyond the stage in their relationship that requires formal introductions.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 9:1 …Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 This is my defense to those who would examine me.

If I am not to others, at least I am to you! They were believers in Jesus because he had traveled to Achaia and preached the gospel in Corinth. They owed their very existence as a church to his apostolic ministry. In chapter 12 he says:

2 Corinthians 12:11 …I ought to have been commended by you. …

The Corinthians, who ought by this time to be Paul’s loudest fans, now need to be re-acquainted with what genuine Christian ministry is all about.

2 Corinthians 3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you?

This second question is rhetorical, and it is framed to demand a negative answer. We do not need letters of recommendation to you, and we do not need letters from you. The Corinthian church had the audacity to place themselves over apostolic ministry as if the final authority to evaluate apostolic ministry was with them. Paul expected them to be able to discern between a true apostle and a false one, but they were flirting with false apostles and rejecting the one they knew to be true.

You Are Our Letter

2 Corinthians 3:2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.

The Corinthians don’t realize they are the letter. They are the objective evidence of Paul’s apostolic ministry. The fact that there are now followers of the Jewish Messiah gathering as a church in the pagan city of Corinth is evidence of a genuine work of God.

But notice where this is written. It is written on the heart of their Apostle. In this he is like his Master. In a similar metaphor Isaiah looks forward to Jesus “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (49:15). In the Song of Solomon we find this language of love:

Song of Solomon 8:6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave.

Paul communicates not only that the Corinthians are a letter of reference, an authentication of his apostolic ministry, but also that he carries them always with him, not in his travel bag, but in his heart. As he says in chapter 11,

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

As we saw at the end of chapter 2, Paul carries the Corinthians so close to his heart, that the relational tension prevented him from taking full advantage of an opportunity to preach the gospel.

And this is no secret. They are written on his heart, but he wears it on his sleeve. His heart is an open book, and anyone can read what is written there. Anyone who knows Paul knows of his affection for his churches. Certainly those in Troas would be aware of his great affection for them.

A Letter From Christ

2 Corinthians 3:3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

‘You show that you are’; this is the same word from 2:14 that the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ is put on display or made manifest through us in every place.

Paul’s primary concern is always making Christ known. The Corinthian church, for better or worse, whether they know it or not, puts Christ on display. They put on display that they are a letter from Christ. This is the highest authority. This letter originates from Christ Jesus himself.

And this letter, Paul says, is ‘delivered;’ literally ‘ministered’ by us; this is ambiguous. It could mean that Paul pictured himself as the one delivering the letter, or it could mean that Paul is the amanuensis or scribe writing down every word Christ dictates to him. Because the Corinthians are the letter, it seems to make more sense to see Paul holding the pen, or possibly Paul is the pen in the hand of the Lord Christ. Either way, Paul is in a subordinate role to Christ. Scribe or errand boy, Paul is in service to Christ, ensuring that the message of Jesus is scrawled in large letters on the hearts of the Corinthians.

Ink / Spirit

Written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God. This is that which is actually applied to the page; not ink but the Spirit of the living God. Paul is instrumental in applying the ink of the Spirit to the page of the Corinthians lives in order to make Christ known.

Here we see the triune God at work in the ministry of the apostle. The letter originates from Christ, it is written with the ink of the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit is the Spirit of the living God, sent out by the Father.

Heart of Stone / Flesh

The next contrast is what is written on. That which is written on is not tablets of stone, but tablets of human (literally ‘fleshly’) hearts. Normally in Paul’s day we would expect ink on papyrus. But Paul mixes metaphors once again; it is ink on stony tablets contrasted with the Spirit on fleshy heart-tablets.

Paul is linking several Old Testament themes; the tablets of the covenant given to Moses on Sinai, tablets of stone written on with the finger of God, and the hard stony hearts of the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 9, when Moses recounts the initial giving of the law, he rebukes Israel for their stubbornness and rebellion against the Lord. While he was on the mountain with God receiving the tablets of stone, the people were provoking God to wrath by their idolatry. God’s law was written on stony tablets corresponding to the stony rebellious hearts of his people.

But Paul also has in mind the promise of the Spirit poured out in the New Covenant, promises we find in Ezekiel and Jeremiah

Ezekiel 11:19-20 says:

Ezekiel 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

And again in Ezekiel 36:26

Ezekiel 36:26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

God knows that his people need a heart transplant. The heart of stone must be removed and replaced with a responsive fleshy heart. Ezekiel goes on in verse 27

Ezekiel 36:27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Not only will God remove their hearts of stone and give them a fleshy heart, he will put his own Spirit in them, enabling and empowering them to walk in his ways.

Just as the law written on stony tablets corresponded to the stony hearts of the people, so now the New Covenant work of the Spirit of God corresponds to the new fleshy hearts given to his people.

New Covenant Writing

Another New Covenant passage, Jeremiah 31, is the piece that gives the picture of God writing on the hearts of his people.

Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

The content of what is written is not different; God writes his law; a law summed up by Christ as

Matthew 22:37 …“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

(love fulfills law: Rom.13:8,10; Gal.5:14; Mt.7:12)

But God has written, no longer on stony tablets, but on the newly given fleshy heart-tablets of the Corinthians, not with ink, but with his own Holy Spirit. As a result, Christ is put on display in the lives of the Corinthians. In this New Covenant transaction, Paul is a minister of Christ, facilitating their transformation. Paul’s evidence of authenticity is this very transformation that has taken place in the hearts of the Corinthians. And this has affected the heart of the apostle as well. These struggling new believers are written on his heart.

Application

What is your heart like? Is it hardened toward God? Ask him for a new heart; a heart that is tender toward him. Has your heart been transformed by love to love? Has God’s own self-sacrificial love written love for him and for others on your heart? Do you have people written on your heart? Is the Spirit of the living God bringing about real heart transformation in you?

2 Corinthians 3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

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

April 30, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 2:16-17; Who Is Sufficient?

04/22_2 Corinthians 2:16-17; Who is Sufficient? ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180422_2cor2_16-17.mp3

In 2 Corinthians Paul describes what authentic Christian ministry is and corrects mistaken views.

Paul paints a picture of authentic Christian ministry as a triumphal procession, being led as a conquered captive and slave to God, spreading a fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus everywhere. And this aroma of Jesus, while always pleasing to the Father, divides humanity into two categories; those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To those who are being saved, he is the smell of life leading to eternal life. But to those who are perishing, he is perceived as the smell of death and leads to eternal death. Authentic ministry divides.

Jesus said he came to cause division between people. He said:

Luke 12:51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Jesus describes this division of all mankind into two categories in Matthew 25.

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

…34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

…41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

…46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus describes those who are being saved as blessed by my Father, who inherit the kingdom. And he describes those who are perishing as suffering eternal punishment, eternal fire.

Paul says that God

2 Corinthians 2:14 …through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life…

When Jesus sent out the twelve to proclaim the kingdom, he told them:

Matthew 10:14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

The proclamation of the gospel, the word of the cross, is a weighty responsibility. On the one hand, it is a message that rescues and delivers and breathes life into dead souls. On the other hand, it increases the accountability of the one who hears. Better never to hear of Jesus at all, than to hear of him and reject him.

Who Is Sufficient?

This is heavy. Some will benefit eternally from the message, but those who reject will be forever made held to a higher level of accountability; ‘to whom much is given, much will be required’ (Lk.12:48). To be the one who brings this dividing message, to be a fragrance of life to some, and the stench of death to others, is an incredibly sobering responsibility. Paul recognizes that the gospel he declares divides humanity, and he asks the question ‘who is sufficient for these things?’

Who is fit, able, worthy, competent; who is sufficient? Who is up to this weighty responsibility?

This reminds us of Moses, when God called him out of exile to lead his people out of Egypt. God sent Moses to two distinct groups of people. He was to go to Israel to declare that God was coming down to rescue them and set them free. He was also to go to the Pharaoh of Egypt and demand that he let his slaves go free. God said:

Exodus 3:19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.

This was good news to a people who were enslaved to a cruel tyrant. But this meant God’s judgment against the Egyptians who refused to bow to God’s authority. Moses felt the weight of this call.

Exodus 4:10 But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”

The Greek translation of this verse uses this same word ‘sufficient’ or competent. ‘Oh, my LORD, I am not sufficient. I am not competent.’ Moses is acutely aware of his own inadequacy in the face of such a weight responsibility.

For We Are Not…

Who is sufficient? This sounds like a rhetorical question, and we are quick to answer ‘no one!’ Paul begins as we would expect ‘for we are not…’ Who possibly is up to this task? With Moses, we certainly do not feel competent. But this is not Paul’s answer. He says:

2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

Paul gives a five part answer to the question in this verse, one negative and four positive characteristics of his own ministry to demonstrate that he is indeed competent. But this is not all he has to say; his answer continues on into the next chapter. Paul is guarding himself against misunderstanding. This is not a question to which a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice. He gives a nuanced answer; he qualifies his answer. What characterizes his ministry?

Not Peddlers of the Word of God

2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word,

Notice that the word of God is central to what it means to be a minister. He starts with the word of God, and he ends this verse with the verb ‘we speak.’ As an authentic minister, he speaks the word of God.

But others are speaking God’s word, and he draws a contrast here. It matters how the word of God is handled. Later in this book, chapters 11-13 he confronts the false apostles who proclaim a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel. It matters the content of the message. But it also matters the motive of the messenger. Paul says he is not like so many others who are not competent, who peddle God’s word. This is a common word for retail shop vendors, who take a product made by someone else and sell it for a profit. This term has very negative connotations, implying underhanded shady business practices, false advertising, dishonest dealing, diluting the product. These were often con artists, expert at ripping off the unsuspecting public.

We have to balance this with what he said in 1 Corinthians 9. In that whole chapter he strongly defends the right of a minister of the gospel to be paid for that ministry. He says:

1 Corinthians 9:14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

It is the right, it is the command of the Lord Jesus that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

So what is Paul saying that he is not like so many peddlers of God’s word? Although Paul adamantly defends his own and others’ right to make a living by the gospel, he chooses not to make use of that right. But he has nothing bad to say about the other apostles who do make use of that right. What is he saying here?

Listen to Paul’s requirements for Christian leadership of any kind:

1 Timothy 3:2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, … 3 … not a lover of money.

1 Timothy 3:8 Deacons likewise must be …not greedy for dishonest gain.

Titus 1:7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be … greedy for gain,

Peter exhorts:

1 Peter 5:2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;

This is a heart issue. What is the motive? What is the focus? ‘We are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word.’ Some, Paul says in Philippians 1 ‘preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely.’

So many are peddlers of God’s word, seeking to make a profit, seeking gain out of selfish ambition. Those are not fit, not competent, not sufficient for gospel ministry.

The gospel is not a commodity to be sold; the gospel is the power of God to transform lives. Like strong medicine in incompetent hands, that which is meant to bring life can bring about death. Who is competent for these things? Not those who are pursuing personal gain.

Of Sincerity

That is the negative. Now he lists 4 positive criteria of competency for ministry. ‘But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God, in Christ we speak.’

Paul operates out of sincerity. This is not the first time we have encountered this word. This verse is a bookend connecting back to 1:12, where Paul said

2 Corinthians 1:12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.

Paul’s conscience bears him witness. He conducts himself always with sincerity. This word is a compound word that literally means judged by the sun. Paul’s conduct is out in the wide open, in the full light of the sun; he has nothing to hide. No secrets. No bait and switch. He is not duplicitous. There is no question of motives. He shoots straight. He says what he means and means what he says. You don’t have to read between the lines. What you see is what you get. He has integrity, not only in relation to ministry, but to all of life. He is transparent. Transparency is not something he strives for; it is simply who he is. And it is out of that open transparency that he speaks the word of God. Competent ministry must be sincere ministry.

Of God

‘But as of sincerity, but as of God.’ Paul is speaking of the source of his speaking and his authority. It all comes out of God. His authority comes from God, and he speaks God’s words. The ESV fills in the sense of this brief phrase; ‘as commissioned by God.’ The NIV has ‘as those sent from God.’ The only source of authentic ministry is God. Paul’s authority and Paul’s message is not self-originated; he is not at liberty to make stuff up. Remember, he is a conquered captive, led in triumphal procession, and he spreads the scent of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. He is a glad slave of God, and it is his joy to make much of Jesus. The content and the power of his message come from God. Competent ministry must originate in God.

Directly Before God

‘But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God.’ Paul is over against God, directly in the presence of God. He is always before God or ‘in the sight of God.’ Now if we know the Bible teaches that God is everywhere present and knows everything about everyone everywhere all the time, how is this a qualification for competent ministry? It is one thing for God to know everything about you, and it is quite another thing for you to be constantly aware that God is constantly aware of you.

Listen to what Hebrews 4:12-13 says.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

We all must give account to the Lord, who knows all and sees all. James cautions:

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.

A key component of competency for ministry is an awareness the weighty responsibility of living in the light of God’s presence.

In Christ

‘But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God, in Christ we speak.’

In Christ. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. This is a favorite description of the believer. It speaks of our position, our identity, our relationship. Salvation, forgiveness, justification, redemption, sanctification, reconciliation, adoption, eternal life, is all in Christ. Grace, love, peace, freedom, hope, unity, encouragement, approval, blessing, all come to us in Christ. We are alive in Christ; there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s identity in Christ. For Paul everything is rubbish compared to knowing him and being found in him (Phil.3:9-10). There would be nothing worse than to be outside of Christ, apart from Christ.

There is no competency for ministry outside of Christ. Our only sufficiency comes from our union with Christ.

It is out of his union with Christ that Paul is able to speak.

Summary

Who is sufficient for these things? Who is sufficient to be the aroma of the knowledge of Jesus, who is competent to speak the word of God that to some becomes the smell of life to life, and to others is the scent of death to death? Not those who are in it for personal gain. Only those who operate out of a transparent sincerity, only whose only source is God, only those who live constantly in the light of God’s presence, only those whose only sufficiency is in union with Christ.

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

April 22, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 2:14-16; The Aroma of Christ to God

04/15_2Corinthians 2:14-16; The Aroma of Christ to God ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180415_2cor2_14-16.mp3

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

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

Paul’s spirit had no rest in Troas because of the unresolved tension in his relationship with the Corinthian church, so he said goodbye and headed to Macedonia, leaving behind an open door of gospel ministry.
Yet instead of expressing his frustration, or rebuking them, he thanks God who always triumphs over us in Christ, and who displays the odor of the knowledge of Christ through us in every place.

The triumph put on display the military might of Rome. A triumphing general in a display of his victory would parade the spoils of war through the streets of Rome, along with the chief enemies he conquered and any Roman citizens he had freed. This parade would appeal to all the senses, with blasts of trumpets, the clanking of weapons, the rumble of horses and chariot wheels, and songs of soldiers, with gold and silver and jewels, with colorful banners and garments, even with clouds of fragrant incense wafting through the streets.

Paul sees himself as a conquered enemy of Christ, but now a glad participant in the parade. The triumph had a political aspect, increasing the fame and promoting the popularity of the triumphing general. And Paul is glad to promote and display the fame of his new Lord.

Spreading the Knowledge of Jesus in Every Place

God is displaying the odor of the knowledge of Christ through the apostles in every place. God is triumphing and God is spreading. These are the two main verbs in the sentence; triumphing and spreading. ‘Spreading’ translates a word that at its root means to show or shine out, to make manifest, to cause to appear, to display. But what is put on display is something invisible; a smell, the odor of the knowledge of him; hence the translation ‘spread.’ The odor of knowing Jesus is made perceptible through them. The scent of knowing him is being sensed everywhere through the ministry, especially through the suffering of the apostles.

And this speaks to Paul’s itinerary. The Corinthians accuse Paul of changing his plans on a whim. God is marching Paul around in triumph. God is the one ultimately dictating where the apostle goes and when and for how long. God through the apostles is spreading the aroma of the knowledge of Christ in every place. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the ends of the earth. God intends that the scent of knowing Jesus be smelled in every place through the lives of his people. Paul makes his decisions as best he can, with a view to the advance of the gospel and the good of God’s people. And I’m sure he questioned; ‘should I have walked away from an open door for the gospel? Should I have toughed it out and stayed?’ And yet he can sleep at night thanking God that God is spreading the fragrance of Jesus in every place though him.

The Aroma of Christ to God

Notice what kind of smell this is, where it comes from, and who smells it. In verse 14 and again twice in verse 16 he uses a neutral word for smell; an odor. As we will see in verse 16, this could be a pleasant odor or a foul one. But in verse 15 he uses a distinctly positive term, with the prefix ‘good.’ This is a pleasing smell.

And the source of this pleasing aroma is Christ. The apostles are not going around spreading the knowledge of themselves everywhere. They are spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus. They are making him known. They are spreading his fame. Everywhere they go, they smell like Jesus, and Jesus smells like sacrificial service for the good of others.

Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The apostles are being crushed and poured out as the fragrant aroma of Christ. When the saints of Caesarea urged Paul to avoid the dangers that awaited him,

Acts 21:13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

He tells the Philippians:

Philippians 2:17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.

The smell of genuine Jesus shaped ministry is a life broken and crushed and poured out for the sake of others.

And notice who is smelling this pleasing aroma.

2 Corinthians 2:15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God…

The smell is the smell of Christ, and it is a pleasing fragrance to God. In the Roman triumph, incense was burned creating a fragrance to attempt to please the Roman gods. In the Old Testament, sacrificial animals offered in faith on the altar were said to be a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:2 uses this sacrificial imagery when it says that Jesus “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

God is smelling the life of the apostles, and to him it is a pleasing aroma. Their weakness, their suffering, their afflictions, their ‘not my will but yours be done’ smell like Jesus to the Father. And this is well pleasing to the Father.

Remember in Genesis 27, when Isaac thought he was going to die, so he sent his firstborn son Esau to hunt and bring him game so that he could bless him, and Isaac’s wife and his other son Jacob schemed to deceive him? Rebekah dressed him up in Esau’s clothes, and put goat skin on his hands and neck. Isaac was suspicious; he said “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” It wasn’t until “he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of this garments and blessed him and said, ‘See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed!”” It was the aroma of Esau that pleased his father, and caused him to bless him. It is the same with us, although there is no deceit. We are clothed with the clothes of our older brother, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and we have the smell of Christ about us, and when the Father smells the pleasing aroma of his only Son on us, we are included in the inheritance that belongs to Jesus.

Two Kinds of Noses

The sense of smell is a powerful sense. I was driving through town the other day, and someone somewhere was barbecuing. I don’t know who or where or how far away, but I smelled it through the rolled up windows of the car. And it smelled wonderful. I thought about trying to locate the source and inviting myself over for dinner. Just last week my nose woke me up. The savory smell of sausage and bacon was wafting from the kitchen all the way up the stairs to our bedroom.

The sense of smell is an interesting one. Smells are perceived differently by different people. There are these little glass plug-in fragrance things that are supposed to make your house smell nice. And some of them I like. But I have noticed that certain aromas I can’t handle. It’s not just that I don’t like the smell. It’s that when I walk into the room, I feel like my throat is closing off and I can’t breathe anymore. To other people it smells pleasant. But I have to leave the room.

This aroma of Christ is one kind of aroma, and it is always pleasing to the Father. But there are two kinds of noses in the world.

2 Corinthians 2:15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. …

This is the same dividing of humankind Paul pointed out in the beginning of 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

There are those who are perishing, and those who are being saved. There is no third group, no neutral category. The word of the cross divides humanity into two groups.

1 Corinthians 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Christ crucified divides humanity. There are those who are perishing, to whom Christ crucified is foolishness, a stumbling block, an offensive aroma of death. And there are those who are called, those who are being saved, to whom the word of the cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God, a sweet fragrance from life to life. In 1 Corinthians he contrasts wisdom with foolishness, power with weakness. Here in 2 Corinthians he compares this to the sense of smell.

He is talking about how things are perceived. It is the same word of the cross that is perceived by some as foolishness, which is perceived by others as wisdom and power. It is the same smell of the knowledge of Christ that is perceived among some as the smell of death to death, and by others as the smell of life to life.

In the Roman triumph, there were often two groups. There was the conquered enemy led captive and put to open shame, and the smells of the triumph would be for them the smells of death to death. They had been conquered in battle, and now they were being marched as slaves, likely to their deaths. And then there were the Roman citizens who had been living as slaves to the enemy. They too were led in the triumph, but the sights and sounds and smells would mean something entirely different to them. To them, this was the smell of an end of slavery; it meant liberty, freedom, victory. They owed their freedom and their allegiance to the conquering general. This was the smell of life to life. They had been rescued, saved out of slavery to the enemy, and were now being restored to their homeland as freed men. Same fragrance. Same odor. Two very different perceptions, depending on which side of the battle you were on.

What Nose Have You?

How Jesus smells to you, how the word of the cross sounds to you is a good test of what category you are in. Do you hear the gospel message, the word of the cross; that the Omnipotent God became human to die a shameful death that we deserved in order to rescue us; does that sound like foolishness, a fairy tale, nonsense? Do you take offense at the implication that you are so bad a sinner that you deserve to die? That you are utterly incapable of contributing to your own rescue? Does all the talk of death and blood and crucifixion seem like a morbid fascination?

Or does the message of Immanuel, God with us, come to rescue us from our sins, not only make sense, but fill your heart with joy? Do you, as the old hymn goes, ‘cling to the old rugged cross?’ How do the words of this old hymn, penned in 1771 by William Cowper smell to you?

1 There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains…

2 The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away…

3 Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its pow’r,
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved, to sin no more…

4 E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die…

[William Cowper, 1772]

There is a fountain filled with blood; Drawn from Immanuel’s veins; And sinners, plunged beneath that flood; Lose all their guilty stains. Is that the sweet aroma of life and hope? Does your soul resonate with those words, or is that distasteful and offensive imagery to you?

Here is just one verse of another hymn written just over 100 years later; ‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus’

2 O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
just to trust his cleansing blood;
and in simple faith to plunge me
neath the healing, cleansing flood!

[Louisa M. R. Stead, 1882]

Is it sweet to you to be plunged beneath the cleansing blood of Jesus, to trust him, to depend on him completely? Is the blood precious to you? Is the cross to you a symbol of foolishness and death, or a symbol of life and power?

Gospel Call

This is one way to diagnose where you stand with God. The fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus, who he is, why he came, what he did, the message of the cross, smells different to different people. To some it is the stench of death and it results in death, to those who are perishing. To others, to those who are being saved, it is the sweet fragrance of life and it results in eternal life.

Which is it to you? If it is sweet to you, thank God! He has given you the ability to savor the knowledge of Jesus rightly. And if you are in the other category, if you can’t honestly say that the cross is precious to you, that would seem to indicate that you are perishing.

But here is some good news for you. God loves to take those who are perishing and rescue them. Ask God to give you a heart to receive the word of the cross as wisdom and power for salvation. Ask God to give you a nose to smell the fragrance of the sufferings of Christ as the sweet aroma of life to life. Ask God to save you. Ask God to grant you to perceive Jesus as life, and receive his free gift of life.

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

April 17, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 2:14; God’s Triumph in Christ

04/08_2Corinthians 2:14; God’s Triumph in Christ ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180408_2cor2_14.mp3

2 Corinthians 2:14. We are coming to the heart of the letter, the meat of what Paul wants to say. He wants them to understand the true nature of Christian ministry; what it means to be a minister of the gospel. It is not what they think. Corinth is enamored with power, prestige, persuasive speech, popularity. This is not the nature of Christian ministry.

Overview of the Introduction

So far, in the introduction to this letter, he has blessed God who, in the midst of affliction brings comfort, in order to comfort others who are sharing in the sufferings of Christ (1:3-7). He explained (1:8-10) the afflictions they experienced in Asia, afflictions so severe they despaired of life itself, but this was to wean them from self-sufficiency and cause them to rely completely on God. He invites his readers to help him by prayer (1:11). He appeals to his own clear conscience, that in all of life he follows as a ruling principle the grace of God. And he looks forward to that final day when the church will boast in their apostle, and he will boast in them (1:12-14). He defends his changing travel plans in this light, that his goal was to extend them grace, and that God’s gracious answer to us is always yes in Christ. He anchors their hope in the concerted operations of the Father, Son and Spirit in securing our acceptance (1:15-22). He tells them that his decision not to visit them earlier was for their joy, to spare them; and his letter was to communicate his abundant love for them (1:23-2:4). In the context of his seeking to spare them a painful visit, he urges them not to cause further pain to the individual who had repented of his sin, but rather to forgive, comfort, and re-affirm your love for him (2:5-10). He warns that the enemy is always on the offensive, and unforgiveness is a favorite foothold (2:11). In 2:12-13 he lets them know of an opportunity; an open door in the Lord for preaching the gospel, but because of the turmoil in his spirit, he said goodbye and headed on to Macedonia to find his co-worker. He doesn’t come right out and say it, but it was the Corinthian church that was the cause of his unrest. He had sent Titus to Corinth to help work things through, and to bring news of their response to his previous letter. He loved this church so deeply, that he couldn’t take full advantage of a gospel opportunity because he was emotionally torn over this church.

The Missing Thanksgiving

What comes next is quite unexpected. We would anticipate a scolding for their causing a missed gospel opportunity in Troas. We would expect a stern rebuke for their self-centeredness and insensitivity to God’s work.

Instead, in verse 14 he gives thanks to God. “But thanks be to God.” This is the missing thanksgiving from the introduction of the letter. That would have been a glaring omission to anyone familiar with Paul’s letters. Normally, he introduces himself, he addresses his readers, he asks God’s grace and peace to be on them, and then he thanks God for them. But in 2 Corinthians, he omits the thanksgiving, and instead blesses God who brings comfort in afflictions.

For this thanksgiving, he uses the normal word for ‘grace’ in the sense of freely given gratitude to God. Instead of anger and frustration over a missed opportunity, Paul’s heart overflows with thanksgiving to God.

The Roman Triumph

And the content of this thanksgiving is even more shocking. He does not thank God for what he is doing in his readers, but rather what God is doing in and through his apostles. And he uses a startling picture.

2 Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.

The triumphal procession was very well known in the Roman world. Ancient Greek and Roman literature record over 300 of these triumphs The returning victorious general whom the senate had granted the right to a triumph entered Rome standing on a high, two-wheeled chariot drawn by four horses.

Josephus describes the triumph for Vespasian and Titus after their victory in the Jewish war.

and when they had put on their triumphal garments, and had offered sacrifices to the gods that were placed at the gate, they sent the triumph forward, and marched through the theatres, that they might be the more easily seen by the multitudes.

5. Now it is impossible to describe the multitude of the shows as they deserve, and the magnificence of them all; …and all brought together on that day demonstrated the vastness of the dominions of the Romans; for there was here to be seen a mighty quantity of silver, and gold, and ivory, …and did not appear as carried along in pompous show only, but, as a man may say, running along like a river. …The images of the gods were also carried, being as well wonderful for their largeness, as made …[of] very costly materials; and many species of animals were brought… The men also who brought every one of these shows were great multitudes, and adorned with purple garments, all over interwoven with gold; … Besides these, one might see that even the great number of the captives was not unadorned, while the variety that was in their garments, and their fine texture, concealed from the sight the deformity of their bodies. But what afforded the greatest surprise of all was the structure of the pageants that were borne along; for indeed he that met them could not but be afraid that the bearers would not be able firmly enough to support them, such was their magnitude; for many of them were so made, that they were on three or even four stories, one above another. The magnificence also of their structure afforded one both pleasure and surprise; for upon many of them were laid carpets of gold. There was also wrought gold and ivory fastened about them all; and many resemblances of the war, and those in several ways, and variety of contrivances, affording a most lively portraiture of itself. For there was to be seen a happy country laid waste, and entire squadrons of enemies slain; while some of them ran away, and some were carried into captivity; with walls of great altitude and magnitude overthrown and ruined by machines; with the strongest fortifications taken, and the walls of most populous cities upon the tops of hills seized on, and an army pouring itself within the walls; as also every place full of slaughter, and supplications of the enemies, when they were no longer able to lift up their hands in way of opposition. Fire also sent upon temples was here represented, and houses overthrown, and falling upon their owners: … Now the workmanship of these representations was so magnificent and lively in the construction of the things, that it exhibited what had been done to such as did not see it, as if they had been there really present. On the top of every one of these pageants was placed the commander of the city that was taken, and the manner wherein he was taken.” [Flavius Josephus: The Jewish War. VII. 3-7]

One author describes: “The part of the procession which entered the city ahead of the triumphator’s chariot gave the spectators an idea of the victory. Not only were spoils of war carried along – weapons, gold, silver and jewellery – but also pictures of battle-scenes, of towns conquered, and boards with the names of the peoples subjugated. …White oxen, to be sacrificed to Jupiter, were brought along. The procession marched to a flourish of trumpets. …Aromatic substances were also carried. The chained prisoners, the most prominent of whom were as a rule killed in the dungeon before the sacrifice was made to Jupiter, walked right in front of the triumphator. …The chariot was followed by the Romans who had been liberated from slavery, wearing the pileus of the liberti. The soldiers, wearing laurel-wreaths on their heads and singing songs deriding their commander, brought up the rear. [Versnel, 1970, p.56-57, 95; cited BECNT p157-8]

Josephus continues: “6. Now the last part of this pompous show was at the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, whither when they were come, they stood still; for it was the Romans’ ancient custom to stay till somebody brought the news that the general of the enemy was slain. This general was Simon, the son of Gioras, who had then been led in this triumph among the captives; a rope had also been put upon his head, and he had been drawn into a proper place in the forum, and had withal been tormented by those that drew him along; and the law of the Romans required that malefactors condemned to die should be slain there.

God Triumphs Over Us

This is the background of Paul’s jarring thanksgiving:

2 Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

God takes center stage. God is the conquering general. God is the one the parade is for. God is worthy. The triumph is to recognize him, giving thanks and praise to him.

But where is Paul and the apostles? Where does Paul see himself? Over this there has been much debate. Does Paul see himself as a soldier in God’s army, who helped him to win the battle? This is how Tyndale translated it ‘thankes be vnto God which alwayes geveth vs the victorie in Christ;’ and the King James followed: ‘which always causeth us to triumph in Christ’. There is a big question if that is even a legitimate translation linguistically or grammatically, and that hardly fits. The apostles didn’t help God win the victory.

Does Paul see himself as a defeated enemy, conquered by God, displayed as a trophy of war, being led to his execution? As troubling as that sounds, that fits the evidence much better. Paul was an enemy of the cross. In his own words, “I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Gal.1:13) until Jesus conquered him on the road to Damascus while he was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1).

Paul describes the apostolic ministry in 1 Corinthians 4

1 Corinthians 4:9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. …13 …We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

And in 2 Corinthians 4 he says:

2 Corinthians 4:8 We are afflicted… perplexed… 9 persecuted… struck down… 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

This was the Corinthian problem. They viewed the ministry and the Christian life as a triumph; they expected to ‘have all they want …to become rich …to become kings and reign’ (1Cor.4:8), and they expected a leader who was powerful and polished, a man of status who carried himself well, a rhetorical genius, a victorious general. Instead, Paul comes “in weakness and in fear and much trembling,” “I …did not come …with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Cor.2:1-3). Paul is not the victor. He has been conquered by Christ. The NIV translates it this way: “who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession”

How the Victory was Won

Paul has been captured, and God’s power is displayed in his weakness (2Cor.12:9). And he is being ‘exhibited …like men sentenced to death’ (1Cor.4:9). In some ways, Paul’s life and testimony is like a pageant or a portrait being carried along, a vivid mural displaying the triumph of Christ over his enemies.

Right here in the context (v.11), there is a reference to the war between Satan and God; we are not to be ignorant of his designs and outwitted by Satan. We are to defeat him by forgiving one another.

We must keep in mind how Jesus won this victory.

Colossians 2 is the only other place in the New Testament where this word ‘triumph’ is used. Paul warns there:

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

And then he talks about Christ, and how we are united with Christ.

Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

God triumphed over Satan and the demonic hordes, he disarmed them of their ability to accuse us by ‘forgiving us all our trespasses, by nailing it to the cross.’ God triumphed over his enemies, he put them to open shame, by allowing Christ to be ‘despised and rejected by men …as one from whom men hide their faces’ (Is.53:3). He canceled the record of debt that stood against us by nailing it to the cross.

Isaiah 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; … 6 …the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. …10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; …

God triumphed over his enemies in Christ, by having Christ put to death in the place of rebels and enemies against him. And he took an enemy like Paul and transformed him and put him on display as a trophy of his grace. And he ‘showed him how much he must suffer for the sake of his name’ (Acts 9:16). And through people like Paul he ‘spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere’

Paul, as he loves to do, seems to mix his metaphors. He is a captive conquered by God in Christ, he has died with Christ, yet he is raised with Christ and his life is a mural displaying God’s triumph; and in his sufferings, he becomes an incense bearer in the triumphal procession; he spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. Fragrant herbs must be crushed or ground or burned to release their sweet smell.

And he thanks God that it is so. God is worthy to be praised, because God is spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere through the weakness and afflictions of his apostles. Paul’s passion is to make Christ known everywhere, and if he must be crushed to release this sweet odor, then thanks be to God! This is what authentic Christian ministry looks like; this is what authentic Christian ministry smells like.

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

April 10, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Isaiah 25:6-9; Death Swallowed Up Forever

04/01_Resurrection Sunday; Isaiah 25:6-9; Death Swallowed Up Forever; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180401_resurrection-sunday.mp3

It is Resurrection Sunday; the day we celebrate the triumph of our Lord Jesus over sin and death and hell.

The Wine and The Cup

Last week, Palm Sunday, we looked at Isaiah 24; God made everything very good, but because of our rebellion, sin and guilt:

Isaiah 24:4 The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish. 5 The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. 6 Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left. 7 The wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. 8 The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. 9 No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. 10 The wasted city is broken down; every house is shut up so that none can enter. 11 There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished. 12 Desolation is left in the city; the gates are battered into ruins. 13 For thus it shall be in the midst of the earth among the nations, as when an olive tree is beaten, as at the gleaning when the grape harvest is done.

All joy has grown dark, the gladness of the earth is banished. Every worldly pleasure will leave us empty, longing for something more, something satisfying.

And we looked at Jesus in John 2, where at a wedding in Cana that ran out of wine, he performed the premier of his mighty works which displayed his glory; he turned over 100 gallons of water into the finest aged wine for the celebration. Jesus is saying that when the wine runs out and all joy has grown dark, it is right to look to him. Jesus is the one we must look to for true enduring satisfaction and fulfillment.

But Jesus it seems was looking past this wedding to something else, something sobering. He said to his mother ‘what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come’ (Jn.2:4). His hour was the hour of suffering that he had come to this earth to face, the cup of God’s wrath against the sins of mankind, a cup that he must drink.

Mark 14:34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 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.”

This was a cup and an hour that he asked the Father in the garden if there was any way possible for it to pass from him.

Matthew 26:42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

Jesus was horrified staring into his hour and the cup of the wine of the fury of the wrath of Almighty God against the sins of the world (Rev.16:19). And yet, if he must drink it, he will.

Luke 22:43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.

God’s answer was to send and strengthen him for what he was about to face, so that he was able to resolutely say some brief moments later:

John 18:11 …“Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Jesus had come to drink the bitter cup. It was for this reason he had come to this hour (Jn.12:27).

Hope in the Midst of Judgment

It is against the dark backdrop of Isaiah 24, where:

Isaiah 24:1 Behold, the LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.

Isaiah 24:5 The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. 6 Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt…

Isaiah 24:11 There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished.

Isaiah 24:19 The earth is utterly broken, the earth is split apart, the earth is violently shaken.

But even in the midst of this scene of global judgment against sin we see rays of hope shining through.

Isaiah 24:16 From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise, of glory to the Righteous One. …

Isaiah 24:23 …for the LORD of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders.

And then Isaiah 25 breaks out in a word of hope.

Isaiah 25:1 O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.

What are these wonderful things he has done, these plans formed of old? Where does this hope come from, faithful and sure? I believe we get a hint if we keep reading in Isaiah 25.

Death Swallowed Up

Isaiah 25:6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Salvation comes from the Lord. He saves us. He will take away our reproach. He will wipe away our tears. He will swallow up death forever. He will make a feast of rich food and well aged wine. And Jesus, in the first of his signs in which he displayed his glory, made more than 100 gallons of well aged wine for a feast.

It will be said on that day ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him; this his the LORD; we have waited for him.’ When ‘there is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine,’ when ‘all joy has grown dark,’ when ‘ the gladness of the earth is banished,’ enter Jesus, the true Master of the feast. Let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.

How does Jesus provide this feast? It says he will swallow up the covering, the veil, he will swallow up death forever. We know from Romans 6 that death is ‘the wages of sin’. God created the world very good, but he warned that in the day we disobey his good command, ‘you shall surely die’ (Gen.2:17). Romans 5 tells us that ‘sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin.’ Death was not a part of God’s good creation; death was a consequence of our rebellion. Death is a part of the curse that hangs over all creation like a veil. And Isaiah 25 tells us that the coming one, God, the LORD will save us by swallowing up death forever.

The Gospel

How does Jesus swallow up death? 2 Timothy 1 says

2 Timothy 1:8 …God 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,

Our Savior Christ Jesus abolished death. 2 Timothy says he abolished death through the free gift of God’s purpose and grace, through his ‘plans formed of old,’ through the gospel.

If we go to the great gospel chapter of 1 Corinthians 15, which lays out plainly the simple message of good news, a reminder of ‘the gospel I preached to you;’

1 Corinthians 15:3 …that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared…

1 Corinthians 15 is a great place to go if you are ever confused on the content of the gospel message. This is the gospel by which we are saved; that Christ (the promised Messiah) died (was crucified) for our sins (he didn’t deserve to die, we did; he died in our place) in accordance with the Scriptures (it was prophesied; the whole Old Testament points to this sacrifice of the Son of God). That he was buried (as evidence that he was really and truly dead), that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (thus undoing death and the curse), and that he appeared (giving verifiable evidence that he was really and truly alive).

The gospel, the good news, is that Jesus paid in full for our sins by his death on the cross, and that he conquered death by rising again. 1 Corinthians 15 links Jesus’ resurrection with ours. It looks forward to the day when:

1 Corinthians 15:54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

Death is swallowed up in victory.”

55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is a combination of quotes from Isaiah 25 and Hosea 13. ‘He will swallow up death forever.’ The sting of death is sin, and that sting of sin was buried in Jesus’ body on the tree. The power of sin is the law, and Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly, and he writes his law now on our transformed hearts, so we are eager to love as he has loved us. God gives us the victory over the law and sin and death through our Lord Jesus.

Death Swallowed Up from the Inside

Jesus said in John 10

John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. …17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

The good news is that Jesus lays down his life for his sheep. And he lays down his own life in order that he may take it up again. The authority to take up his life again comes through the command of the Father, through his freely laying down his life.

In the next chapter, at a friend’s funeral, he tells a grieving sister:

John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus is the resurrection. He gives eternal life to all who believe in him. He can do this because he lays down his life freely for others. The curse of sin must be broken. The wages of sin must be paid out, either by the offending party, or by a willing substitute.

Hebrews 2 points to Jesus in his incarnation,

Hebrews 2:9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

God the Son became human so that he might taste death for you. This is grace, the undeserved kindness of God. I deserve death, but he who is life itself tasted death in my place, so that he could absorb the sting of death, abolish and swallow up death forever, and give eternal life to all who believe in him.

How did he swallow up death forever? Jesus swallowed up death by being swallowed up by death. He conquered death from inside death, by himself dying. He paid a debt he did not owe, and through his death he broke the power of death and the curse.

Hebrews goes on to say:

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, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

Jesus became human so that he could conquer death by dying. Through his own death, he robbed death of its power, he stripped Satan of his power, he set us free from our slavery to the fear of death. Through his death, Jesus removed the sting of death and swallowed up death forever.

Joy and the Feast

Jesus told his disciples

John 16:20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. …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.

Their sorrow over his death was transformed into joy when they saw him again alive and understood what his death meant, what his death accomplished. Their sorrow turned into joy. And so our hearts rejoice. And no one, no one can take our joy from us now!

Isaiah 25:6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Jesus our Lord and our God has conquered sin and swallowed up death by dying, and he rose victorious from the grave. The LORD has spoken. This is his wonderful plan, formed of old, faithful and sure. He will wipe away every tear, making the sufferings of this present time not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed in us (Rom.8:18). All our reproaches have fallen on him (Ps.69:9) and he has taken them away. We have waited for him that he might save us. Jesus, the Lord of the feast, now invites every tribe and tongue and people and nation to his feast. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation!

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

April 3, 2018 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 2:12-13; Relational Hindrances to the Gospel

03/18_2Corinthians 2:12-13; Relational Hindrances to the Gospel ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180318_2cor2_12-13.mp3

This text contains geographical and historical bits of information on the travels of the Apostle which fills out some details that are missing from Luke’s summary in Acts 20. It also opens a window of insight into the heart and soul of the Apostle Paul, and the sobering truth that through conflict in our relationships we can hinder the advance of the gospel.

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

Geography and Strategic Cities

Verses 12 and 13 are framed by geographical information; it starts with ‘I went in to Troas;’ it ends with ‘I went out to Macedonia’ It is worth looking at a map to see the places we are talking about, and the strategic importance of Troas.

Troas was a major Aegean port city located about 10 miles south of the ancient city of Troy. It was the primary Asian harbor for ships destined for Macedonia, and had a population around 30 or 40,000. Troas was one of the few Roman colonies in Asia Minor; it held the status and importance of a Roman city like Corinth, Ephesus, and Philippi. It held a strategic location at the entrance of the strait of Dardanelles (or Hellespont) which connected the Aegean sea to the sea of Marmara and on to the Black Sea. It was also the port of departure from Asia to Neapolis in Macedonia that would put you on Via Egnatia and take you to Rome. This is the kind of strategic crossroads city that Paul targeted with the gospel, because from it the gospel would spread throughout the region and the world.

History of Ministry in Troas

We also know, from Acts, that Paul had been to Troas before, and was eager to minister there. We read in Acts 16, of his second missionary journey:

Acts 16:6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.

Paul is eager to proclaim Jesus in the regions of Asia, Bythinia, and Mysia, but is prevented by the Spirit. They make it to Troas, this key port city,

Acts 16:9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. 11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis,

The Spirit moved Paul on immediately from Troas to the region of Macedonia. There he established churches in Phillipi, Thessalonica, Berea, and then traveled down to Athens and on to Corinth, where he spent a year and a half, before a brief stop in Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem and back to Antioch.

On his third missionary journey, he traveled through Galatia and Phrygia, and on to Ephesus, where he spent three years. He wrote during that time in Ephesus:

1 Corinthians 16:8 But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

It was during that extended time in Ephesus that he corresponded with Corinth, and even made an emergency visit to Corinth to sort things out, a visit that did not go well. He says of his time in Ephesus:

Acts 19:20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. 21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

Luke records a riot in Ephesus, and then,

Acts 20:1 After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. 2 When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. 3 There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.

For the Gospel

This is where 2 Corinthians fills in the details. After leaving Ephesus, he traveled north to Troas on the way to Macedonia. 2 Corinthians 2:12 tells us

2 Corinthians 2:12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ,

Paul’s reason for traveling to Troas was the gospel. He was eager to proclaim the gospel in this key city. He came to Troas ‘for the gospel of Christ.’

This is ultimately why Paul did everything he did. It was all for Christ’s sake. In Romans 15, Paul speaks of:

Romans 15:18 …what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience— …19… —so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named… 21 but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”

Paul came to Troas ‘for the gospel of Christ.’ His passion, no doubt, was to establish a strong church in that strategic city. And he says ‘a door was opened for me in the Lord.’ We heard him use this language about his 3 years in Ephesus in 1 Corinthians 16:9 “for a wide door for effective work has opened to me.” In Colossians 4:3 he asks for prayer “that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” After his 1st missionary journey, in Acts 14:27, he reports back to the church in Antioch “all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” A door for effective work, a door for the word, a door of faith. God opens doors for ministry.

We can gain insight about what he means by an open door by looking at 1 Thessalonians. There he refers to his ‘reception’ or ‘entrance’ or ‘way in.’ In 1 Thessalonians he paints the picture of what an ‘open door’ looks like.

1 Thessalonians 1:4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. … 6 …for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. …

1 Thessalonians 2:1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.

Some elements of the ‘open door’ in Thessalonica were that the apostle had boldness to declare the gospel despite conflict; the gospel came in power and with full conviction; they received the word even in affliction; they turned from idols to the true God; they sounded forth the word into the surrounding regions. All this is a work of the Spirit of God. This is the kind of thing that had happened in Ephesus. Paul was seeing this beginning to happen now in Troas.

Relational Hindrances to the Gospel

In this context, the words in 2 Corinthians come as a shock.

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

Paul came to the strategic port city of Troas to preach the gospel, and the Lord had opened a door of ministry for him there. And he said goodbye and walked away. Paul, the Apostle Paul, eager to preach the gospel, walked away from an open door of ministry! Why?

His spirit was not at rest. This is heavy. His spirit was in turmoil. There was tension in his relationship with the church in Corinth. The last time he had seen them, things did not end well. Now he had sent Titus to Corinth with the agreement that they would meet in Troas. Paul was anxious to hear news about the Corinthian believers. When Titus didn’t show up as planned, Paul’s spirit was so troubled over the church in Corinth that the Apostle Paul couldn’t seize an open door for gospel ministry in Troas. Relational conflict can take the wind right out of your sails.

Paul is confessing his weakness, his humanness, his frailty, and the abundant love he has for this church. If he didn’t love them, if he didn’t care, he could shrug it off and go on with effective ministry. But his relationship with this church affected him deeply. He had forgiven. We saw that in verse 10. But he was burdened for this church. He was concerned for them. Later, in 2 Corinthians 11 he lists his labors, his imprisonments, his beatings, his stoning, his shipwrecks, his journeys, his dangers from rivers, robbers, the Jews, the Gentiles, the sea, false brothers, in toil, hardship, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, cold, exposure, and he tops the list with:

2 Corinthians 11:28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

The daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Will they remain faithful to Jesus? Will they leave their first love? Will they be devoured by wolves? Will they be sidetracked by a false gospel? Will Satan gain a foothold? Will some go astray? Will they forgive? Will they become legalistic? Will they become lukewarm? Daily pressure, anxiety, taken daily to the throne of grace for help. He is weak. Human. This is too much to bear. He needs help. When he picks back up this narrative about not finding Titus in Troas in chapter 7, he says:

2 Corinthians 7:5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn— fighting without and fear within.

Fighting without, fear within. What is more important? Planting a new church or rescuing a failing one? Paul is torn. So torn, that he says goodbye to an open door to preach the gospel in Troas. The Spirit had closed the doors to ministry in this place in the past. Now the Lord has opened a door, and he walks away because of inner turmoil.

Have you ever been paralyzed by unresolved conflict in relationships? You can’t sleep, you lose your appetite, the track keeps playing over and over in your head; what could I have said or done differently, what can I do to make it better, how can I help them understand, what am I not seeing? How can I make sure I’m not misunderstood again? Where is the breakdown? What does reconciliation even look like? There is nothing that sucks the life and joy out of ministry faster than unresolved conflict between brothers.

Reconciliation and Unity

In verse 11 he warned against being outwitted by Satan. Because of tension in relationships between brothers, a gospel opportunity is cut short and abandoned. There is urgency, gospel urgency to reconcile relationships and resolve conflict. So much hangs on our attitudes and our interactions with others. How we get along with one another is a big deal! It is a gospel issue!

Peter even warns that if a husband doesn’t show honor and live in an understanding way with his wife, his prayers will be hindered (1Pet.3:7).

Ephesians 4:1-3 urges us to be eager to maintain unity, the unity of the Spirit, with all humility and gentleness, bearing with one another. Verses 7-11 point to the diversity of the body which is designed:

Ephesians 4:12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness 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.

The saints are to be equipped for ministry, for unity, for building up, not to be tossed around by false doctrine, by human cunning, or by craftiness of deceitful schemes. The enemy seeks to deceive and destroy our usefulness by causing division. He goes on in verse 25 to focus on our relationships:

Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.

We are members of one another. Conflict and tension in relationships within the body gives opportunity to the devil. He goes on:

Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

What comes out of our mouths, bitterness, and wrath and anger and clamor and slander and malice, is corrosive and corrupting, grieves the Holy Spirit of God, and diverts attention away from gospel ministry.

So be kind, tenderhearted, forgive as you have been forgiven, freely, graciously, undeservedly. Let what comes out of your mouth build up, let your words give grace to those who hear.

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

March 19, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 2:1-4; Sorrow and Joy in the Body of Christ

02/25_2 Corinthians 2:1-4; Joy and Sorrow in the Body of Christ ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180225_2cor2_1-4.mp3

Tension of Sorrow and Joy

Paul begins 2 Corinthians by pointing us to the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. …if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort. (1:3-6). He points us to a God who brings comfort out of affliction; and here in chapter 2 he points us to a God who can even bring joy out of a painful relationship.

This passage uses the language of pain, or sorrow or grief. In all of Paul’s letters, he uses the noun and the verb form of this word ‘sorrow’ 24 times; 18 of those, a full ¾ are here in 2 Corinthians. And 16 of those show up between the first verses of chapter 2, and where he picks this narrative back up in chapter 7.

In chapter 2, he uses the word grief or sorrow or pain 8 times, and when he picks back up in chapter 7, he uses it another 8 times. He also uses words like affliction, anguish of heart, tears. Some have said ‘If Philippians is known for the predominance of the word “joy” in the letter, 2 Corinthians should be known for the predominance of the word “pain.” The Corinthians were his problem children’ [Garland, p.113].

Indeed the letter to the church in Philippi is characterized by joy. But when I looked, the words joy or rejoice show up 14 times in Philippians and 13 times in 2 Corinthians. The next closest concentration of ‘joy’ is 6 times in 1 Thessalonians. Although 2 Corinthians is a letter characterized by sorrow, there is a real tension and interplay here between sorrow and joy.

At the end of chapter 1, Paul made it clear that he is not attempting to lord it over their faith; rather he is pursuing their joy; laboring along side them for their eternal happiness. Paul is working for their joy, and there is a tug-of-war going on in these verses, and in his heart, between joy and sorrow.

Last time we saw that God actually commands our joy in him, that Christianity is not a religion of duty but a relationship of delight, God delighting in us, and our responding to him with delight. We can rejoice in God himself with deep unquenchable joy, because God himself is full of joy. But this joy doesn’t stop with our vertical relationship with God; it extends to horizontal relationships with other people. And that’s where it gets really messy.

Joy of Fellowship with Other Believers:

2 Corinthians 2:1 For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? 3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.

Paul is working with them for their joy. He is pursuing their eternal joy. He is making his travel plans with their joy in mind. His last emergency visit was painful for him. If he visited again now, the visit would be painful for them. Instead he wrote a painful letter, not to cause them pain, but to change their hearts, so that when he did visit, it would be an occasion of rejoicing.

Paul is saying in this passage that his joy is all intertwined and wrapped up in their joy, and that their joy ought to be interconnected with his joy.

2 Corinthians 2:2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? 3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all.

I caused you pain; you should make me glad; I might suffer pain from you; you are my joy; my joy is your joy.

Last time we looked at unquenchable joy, Jesus’ own joy that no one could take from you. Now is Paul saying here that his joy is dependent on the Corinthians? That his joy is circumstantial? How do these go together? What is the relation between our unquenchable joy in Jesus, and our joy or sorrow in our brothers and sisters?

My Joy is Your Joy

This is not the only place he talks like this. Let’s take a minute to look around at some of the things that touch on this subject of horizontal joy in other believers.

In Philippians 4:1 and 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, he calls his readers ‘my joy and crown of boasting’; ‘you are our glory and joy.’

Philippians 4:1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

Do you hear his heart of tender affection toward them?

1 Thessalonians 2:19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.

In Philippians 2:2 he asks them to complete his joy.

Philippians 2:2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

They unity of the believers, their Christ-like others-focused sacrificial humility and love fills up and completes the joy of the apostle.

Paul derived much joy from Philemon.

Philemon 1:7 For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Springing out of the love of Christ, Philemon’s love overflowed to refresh the hearts of the saints. Hearing of this outworking of the gospel in the life of a brother brought Paul much joy and comfort.

In 1 Thessalonians 3 we see something like what Paul longed for and was working toward with the Corinthians.

1 Thessalonians 3:6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. 9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God,

Do you hear what he says? The good news of their faith and love brought the apostle joy. The gospel had taken root, and they were standing firm in believing. The gospel had taken root and was producing the fruit of love among them. Their belief in the gospel had created warm affections for the one who came and preached to them; they longed to see him again. There was mutual affection and mutual joy. Paul, in the midst of distress and affliction, says ‘now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.’ You see this triangular relationship. Paul is loving Jesus and finding joy in Jesus. That love and joy overflows horizontally and he brings that good news to the Thessalonians, so that they can find love and joy in relationship with Jesus. As he sees them enjoying God together, it increases his joy. He finds joy in their joy, and his joy is their joy.

Paul is not the only one who talks like this. John makes it clear what brings him joy.

2 John 1:4 I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.

…12 Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

3 John 1:3 For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

His greatest joy is to see other believers enjoying Jesus, walking in the truth.

He says it most clearly 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.

We (the apostles) proclaim what we have seen and heard (the gospel of Jesus Christ) so that you may enter into our fellowship with the Father and the Son; as we have a reconciled relationship with God and enjoy intimacy with Jesus, when you believe the gospel you also enter in to fellowship with God. And when you enter into that fellowship, our joy is complete. There is vertical fellowship with God, and there is horizontal fellowship with other believers. When that triangle is complete; when I am enjoying God, and you are enjoying God, and I see you enjoying God, I rejoice in your joy in God, and my joy is your joy; then our joy is complete.

C.S. Lewis writes “It is frustrating …to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch…” Our joy is fulfilled when it is shared.

This is the joy of the triune God. Last time we said that we can enjoy God because God is joy. For God’s joy to be full, it must be joy in another; and yet for the joy to not be idolatrous joy, it must be joy in God. The Father delights in his only Son, and the Son delights in the Father. The Spirit delights in the Father and the Son, and the Son delights in the Spirit’s delighting in the Father and the Son, and so on, and so the joy of God in God is shared, and is complete. This is joy in relationship; shared joy.

Joy and Grief Shared in the Body

Paul has pointed to this shared joy already in 1 Corinthians 12 with the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ.

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.

24 … But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

The members of the body are meant to be unified, to care for one another. Because we are part of a body, when one member is pained, the whole body experiences the pain. When on member experiences joy, the whole body rejoices together. This is God’s design. God has so composed the body. Paul is working for their joy, because they are connected. Their joy is his joy, and his joy is theirs.

Listen to Paul’s confidence in verse 3; ‘for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all.’ Paul is confidently pursuing their joy, even by bringing them pain, because he is persuaded that when his children are walking in the truth, he can rejoice, and this will also bring them the greatest joy. Paul has a theological confidence in the way God designed the body that frees him to seek their greatest good even when it causes him pain, because he knows that pursuing their joy will bring him the most joy in the end.

The Way of the Cross

Paul would have been tempted to come, to clear his name, to defend his honor, to set things straight. Instead, he chose the way of the cross. He chose to be wronged rather than to demand his own way. He chose to spare them, to extend mercy, to give them time to repent. He himself bore the pain.

2 Corinthians 2:4 For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.

Paul had mentioned his affliction in Asia in chapter 1.

2 Corinthians 1:8 … the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death….

Now he says he wrote out of much affliction and anguish of heart. In chapter 7 he mentions:

2 Corinthians 7:5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn— fighting without and fear within.

Here he may be talking about his fears within. Much affliction and anguish of heart heaped on top of the burden beyond strength despairing of life itself. Anyone who has experienced relational conflict and tension understands the soul draining energy sapping fatigue of being emotionally spent. Paul writes through his tears, not to cause pain, but out of pain. He writes to open his heart to them.

In verse 4 the word order is emphatic; but the love, in order that you might know that I have abundantly to you. Paul has to let them know right up front that it is love, not in order to grieve, but his abundant love for them, in order that they know that he has abundantly toward them. Paul did not write to hurt them, to spite them, because he was angry with them; it was love. He doesn’t even directly say that they hurt him; he wrote out of affliction and anguish of heart, but he doesn’t blame. Instead he seeks to avoid causing them unnecessary sorrow. He wants to spare them. He loves them. His decision making, his life, his ministry is modeled after the cross. Jesus doesn’t say ‘wow, look how much you hurt me, look how terrible you are.’ No, he says ‘I want you to know how abundantly much I love you. I want you to experience joy. I want a relationship with you.’

Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

We worship a God who brings comfort to us in all our affliction, and who can bring joy even through the pain of relationships. God is working with us for our multiplied joy.

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

February 25, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 1:24; Co-Laborers for your Joy

02/18_2 Corinthians 1:24; Co-Laborers for Your Joy ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180218_2cor1_24.mp3

Last week we saw Paul begin to reveal his heart for the Corinthian church. His integrity is under scrutiny. He makes plans in the flesh. He says he’s coming to visit, and then he doesn’t come as promised. He doesn’t keep his word. He doesn’t really care. Paul says:

2 Corinthians 1:23 But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth.

It was to spare you. I didn’t come because you wouldn’t have wanted me to come like that. As Apostle, Paul bears the weight of Christ’s authority. This church is not as it ought to be, and for him to come would mean that they would find him to be not as they would want him to be (2Cor.12:20). This assumes his authority to confront sin, and it also communicates his heart, that he doesn’t wish to be heavy-handed, he isn’t puffed up, gloating as he throws his weight around. Sometimes it is better not to come. Sometimes it is better to wait, to stay away and write a letter through your tears, saturated with your prayers. He warns in chapter 12 that if he comes again and finds no change in heart, he will not spare them. Then he says:

2 Corinthians 13:9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. 10 For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

He would prefer to be with them as weak, gentle, tender, as a nursing mother, not strong, with the firm hand of authority as a disciplining father. His heart, and his authority is for restoration, for building up, not tearing down.

But sometimes tearing down must happen before building up can. Sometimes there is a structure that is dangerous, that is not well built, that has a poor foundation, and it needs to come down before a sound, safe, enduring structure can be built in its place. Sometimes the ground needs to be cleared. And when that is the case, even the demolition is constructive. There is a plan, a dream, a desire to see full potential realized. But the ground has to be cleared, a foundation has to be dug.

He wants to make it clear, that his responsibility, his authority, his severity, is:

2 Corinthians 1:24 Not that we lord it over your faith,… for you stand firm in your faith.

As far as the gospel message, he is not over them but together with them, by faith standing firm. He and they deserved nothing but punishment and separation. But in God’s amazing undeserved grace, he extended rescue from sin and eternal separation through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus. This is a gift, to be received by depending on it, trusting in it, believing, receiving. If you are believing in Jesus, you are on a firm foundation. You can only stand firm by leaning on, depending completely on Jesus. Paul says that we brought the gospel to you; it is through our preaching that Jesus came to live in you. But the message is not about us. It is all about Jesus. We are fellow-recipients of God’s grace in Jesus. We are not over you in the gospel, but we are alongside and underneath you, serving together with you.

Fellow-Workers for Your _______

Last week we closed by asking how you might fill in the blank. Paul had co-workers, fellow-laborers with him in his ministry whom he names, who came alongside him to help him, to serve him, to support him, to encourage him, with him to advance the gospel. And here in verse 24 he turns that around and addresses this church and says ‘we (the Apostles) are fellow-workers with you, we come alongside and under you, serving with you. What? Paul and the other apostles come alongside us, labor together with us?

And we asked, to what aim? What is Paul’s great goal? What would it be that Paul aims to partner with this church to accomplish? How would you fill in that blank? I can think of some great gospel ambitions that I would expect to hear on the lips of the Apostle Paul. We work with you to make disciples of all nations! We work with you to bring the good news of Jesus to every creature! We are co-workers with you for your sanctification, that Christ would be formed in you! We are laboring together with you to advance the glory of God in all the earth!

I am shocked that Paul doesn’t say any of these things here. What does he say in the middle of verse 24?

…but we work with you for your joy,…

We are co-laborers with you for your joy? That seems anticlimactic. That seems like a low aim. That seems secondary, of lesser importance than so many of his other great aims.

Joy and Rejoicing

Why joy? Today I want to set out to answer this question. Why joy? Is joy really a primary ambition we are to strive for?

I got on my bible software and looked up joy in the concordance. 223 verses. Rejoice; 200 verses. Just for fun, I looked up some other words; salvation; 169 verses. Forgive; 106 verses. Jesus; 925 verses. The Bible is all about Jesus, and the Bible is very serious about joy.

Just scanning through those verses that contain the word ‘joy’ or ‘rejoice’ was very enlightening. Did you know there are 8 verses in Deuteronomy that command the Israelites to rejoice in the presence of the Lord your God? Deuteronomy 28 lays out severe consequences for not serving God with joyfulness and gladness of heart. It matters not only who you serve and that you serve; it matters how you serve! Attitude matters! Read the book of Numbers; God sent snakes to bite the people because they had bad attitudes. Nehemiah 8:10 says “the joy of the LORD is your strength.” In Philippians 4:4 we have the double command: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:16 we have this concise command (which in the original is actually shorter than John 11:35) “Rejoice always.”

Did you know there’s about 20 Hebrew words and about 6 Greek words that communicate joy? This theme of joy is rampant in the Psalms. Gladness, pleasure, mirth; rejoicing, jubilation; exulting or jumping for joy, to display joy; shouting or singing for joy, a ringing cry of joy or praise; being bright, cheerful, exceedingly glad, delighting in. This is a big vocabulary for all the nuances of joy.

Why does Paul put the emphasis on the joy of this church? Why is he laboring together with them for their joy and not for another worthy end?

False Dichotomy

The way I have framed the question is not entirely fair. By putting it that way I imply that there is a choice between joy and some of these other aims, as if it is joy or the gospel; joy or the glory of God. That is not fair, because it is not a choice between joy or these other things, but rather joy in these other things. But I want you to see the emphasis on joy. When the angels proclaimed the gospel, announcing the good news of the birth of Christ, they said it was “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Lk.2:10). When Paul prays for the believers in Romans 15, he asks “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing” (Rom.15:13). Peter also talks about our believing in Jesus

1 Peter 1:8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,

Jude, speaking of our final sanctification, looks to the day when Jesus will “present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24).

So it is not joy or the gospel, joy or believing, joy or sanctification; rather it is joy in the gospel, joy in believing, joy in sanctification.

But the joy is essential. The gospel message is a message of great joy. There is great joy, inexpressible joy in believing. Our presentation as blameless before the throne in glory is an occasion of great joy. It is an occasion of joy for us, for the angels, and even for God himself. Jesus said “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven… there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk.15:7,10). There is no room in the Bible for a sour gloomy Christianity.

Not Duty but Delight

Christianity is not a religion of duty but of delight. Christianity is not trying to do enough, to attain to a standard, to merit enough to win God’s favor. Christianity is a relationship of mutual delighting. God is a God who “rejoices over you with gladness…” who “exults over you with loud singing” (Zeph.3:17); he says of us “in whom is all my delight” (Ps.16:3). And in response we ‘delight ourselves in the Lord, we delight to do his will for his law is in our hearts’ (Ps37:4; 40:8; Rom.7:22).

Joy Spreads

What is the Christian life without joy? Where is the beauty, the attractiveness of the gospel without this delight? Paul is willing to come alongside this church and get dirty and messy, laboring alongside them for their joy, because joy is essential to the Christian life and to the spread of the gospel. The gospel is attractive not merely because we have better arguments than other religions, not because we have more compelling truth claims, or more evidence to support our claims. That is essential. But Jesus is attractive because he delivers real true enduring joy.

There are some who have been persuaded by the evidence to assent that Christianity is true and Jesus is the only way, but they choose not to follow Jesus because they see the loss they will sustain if they do. They are weighing the outcomes and what they have that they risk losing seems greater to them than the joy they might find in following Jesus. Could it be because they are not seeing joy in the followers of Jesus?

Paul is strategic in targeting their joy, because joy is contagious. Joy spreads.

God is Joy

Followers of Jesus can have joy because we follow a joyful God. Or to turn it around, a joyless Christian misrepresents God because God is joy. God is love and God is joy.

The fruit produced by the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is really the character of God, a reflection of Jesus in you. The fruit of the Spirit is love, then joy. Love tops the list, and joy is a close second. The Spirit of God is out to produce the fruit of joy in your life as a follower of Jesus. Joy is a main evidence that the Spirit is at work in you. Joy is the character of God produced in you, because God is joy.

1 Timothy 1:11 speaks of “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.” Blessed means full, fortunate, happy, praised; we could paraphrase ‘the good news of the radiance of the happy God.’ 1 Timothy 6:15 lists blessed as a characteristic of God alongside some of his other attributes.

Jesus speaks of filling us with joy. In John 10 he says

John 10:10 …I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

In John 15. He says:

John 15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

He says that his word, what he said, will fill his followers with joy. But notice whose joy it is, what kind of joy it is. Jesus says ‘that my joy may be in you’; Jesus is saying that he is going to take his own joy and put it into his disciples. The joy of God, the joy of Jesus, in us!

Deep Unquenchable Joy

Notice also that this joy is not superficial happiness dependent on circumstances. In John 16, he says ‘you will weep and lament… you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy’ (16:20). Jesus does not say that your sorrow will be replaced by joy, that the bad circumstances will go away and happy circumstances will come and then you will have joy. No, he says that your sorrow will become your joy. He goes on in the next verses to use the illustration of childbirth. Giving birth, we call it the pain of labor, is anguish, there is sorrow. But that anguish is swallowed up and transformed by joy in the baby. The joy comes through sorrow. The sorrow is transformed into joy. In verse 22 he makes it clear that our joy is the joy of seeing Jesus, and no one will take your joy from you.

In Luke 6, Jesus tells his disciples

Luke 6:20 …“Blessed are you who are poor, … 21 … hungry… who weep now,… 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

This joy is not dependent on circumstances; it is joy even in, especially in the midst of adverse circumstances. James says:

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,

This is Jesus’ own joy, joy that no one can take from us.

Pursuing Joy in Jesus

Paul says that he is laboring together with us for our joy. That means that we ought to be working to pursue our own joy. How do we pursue this kind of joy? What does this look like? George Mueller wrote:

I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished.”

How do I get my soul happy in the Lord? How do I labor for my own joy in Jesus? The simplest way I know is to simply preach the gospel to yourself daily. The gospel is God’s message of good news, good news about God’s grace toward me. Reminding myself of the great truths of the gospel is the best way I know to get my soul happy in the Lord. This includes confronting the lies of the enemy with gospel truth. This means taking advantage of the gospel access we enjoy to spend time in the presence of God, in whose presence is fullness of joy (Ps.16:11).

Messy Joy

In 2 Corinthians, Paul says that he is a co-worker with them for their joy, specifically in the context of rebuke, difficult interaction and confrontation over their sin. Pursuing joy is not a cutesy happy-go-lucky affair. This labor for joy is a gritty messy gutsy relational thing. Paul says, my confrontation of your sin, my not coming to visit but writing you a painful letter, my tears, my prayers, is not lording it over your faith, but laboring together with you for your joy. There were lawsuits, sexual immorality, power struggles, popularity contests, divisions, and resistance to authority going on in the church in Corinth.

Paul seeks to come alongside them and labor together with them to turn their pursuit of joy away from position and power and pleasure and possessions, and to ground their joy in gospel truths. He reminds them of the gospel truth that it is by faith that they stand firm. He reminds them that all God’s promises are yes to them in Jesus. He reminds them that God establishes us together in Christ through the anointing, sealing, guaranteeing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He reminds them of the gospel, laboring alongside them for their eternal joy.

2 Corinthians 1:24 …we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

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

February 21, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Established by God in Christ through the Spirit

02/04 _2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Established by God in Christ through the Spirit ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180204_2cor1_21-22.mp3

Summary of 2 Corinthians 1:1-20

We are in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22. We have taken a break for a while, so let’s look back over the first verses to get our bearings.

(1-2) Paul introduces himself with his divine authority, but he makes it clear he is not alone. He mentions his unity with his co-workers. He addresses this new community with a new identity; the church of God; saints. He identifies their new relationship; peace with God that only comes through the grace of our Lord Jesus.

(3-7) He omits his usual thanksgiving for his readers, instead inviting them to bless God with him. God is worthy to be worshiped because he is merciful when we get ourselves into trouble. He gives strength in the middle of adversity; and he gives purpose to our affliction, so that we can comfort others. He identifies the normal Christian life as a cross shaped life of suffering for the good of others, sharing the sufferings of Christ.

(8-10) He lets them in on his own trials, his own sense of despair. He points to the purpose of that despair, to wean from self-confidence so that their confidence would be in God alone, the God who raises the dead. They can have confidence in future rescue because God has always been faithful.

(11) Instead of thanking God for his readers, Paul invites the Corinthians to help him by their prayers, in order that thanksgiving will be multiplied when the many who prayed see God’s blessings in response to their prayers.

(12-14) Paul boasts in the grace of God and not his own wisdom or effort as the driving principle of his life; and he points forward to the final day when both he and his church will boast in each other in the very presence of Jesus.

(15-16) In these verses, Paul begins to explain his change in travel plans, as this seems to have created tension in the relationship. His desire, his heart was to afford them a second experience of grace; a double opportunity to financially support his missionary activity as they sent him on his way. He made his plans for their ultimate good.

(17-20) And then he grounds his decision making in the nature and character of God. God is faithful. God is for us in the gospel. God says Yes to us in Jesus. As many promises as God made, all those promises find their fulfillment in Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God, came to be in them, came to live among them through their preaching. This church exists to bring God glory; he makes his decisions to bring God glory. It is all about God’s glory, and it is through Jesus that we get to say the Amen to God for his glory.

In verse 3 he blesses God; in verse 11 he multiplies thanksgiving to God; in verse 14 they will mutually boast in the grace of God; in verse 20 it is through Jesus we can together say the Amen to God for his glory. In fact, in Revelation 3:14 Jesus is called ‘the Amen’.

Amen = Established

This word Amen is actually a Hebrew word brought over into the Greek of the New Testament; it means ‘firm, trustworthy, surely; let it be confirmed, let it be established, so be it.’

He picks this thought up in verse 21 with a Greek word that means ‘to make firm, steadfast, to confirm.’ We can say ‘Amen,’ or ‘let it be established’ to the glory of God, because God is the one who establishes us with you in Christ. All the promises of God are made firm and confirmed for us in Jesus. God is the one who establishes us in Christ through the gift of his Spirit. To God be the glory; we stand firm because of the establishing work of the triune God. We say ‘establish it God!’ because God is establishing us.

Paul used this same word at the beginning of 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, … 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—

7…our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(that word ‘confirmed’ in 1 Cor.1:6 and ‘will sustain’ in 1:8 is the same word as ‘establishes’ in 2 Cor.1:21) The testimony of Christ was confirmed, established, made sure in you, and our Lord Jesus Christ will confirm, establish, make you sure to the end. That is the past and the future aspect of God’s establishing work. He established the testimony of Christ, he will establish you irreproachable, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. And here in 2 Corinthians, he is looking at the ongoing present work of establishing.

2 Corinthians 1:21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Us With You

Notice the together aspect of God’s establishing work. God establishes us with you. This is not ‘I’m on my own over here and God is establishing me, and you’re over there on your own being established by God’ as if it were a private personal thing. This is a together with thing. So much of the bible is a together with thing. Yes, of course God works in us each individually, personally. But our culture is one of independence and isolation. We need to pay attention to the ‘us together with you.’ God works in relationship. It is often in the together with relationships that God does his sanctifiying work. We all want to be established in Christ, don’t we? But often we unknowingly resist his work in our lives.

There is 8 years between me and my nearest sibling, so much of my growing up years I was like an only child. I enjoyed a great deal of independence, and I didn’t really have to learn to get along with others.

After I began to walk with Jesus, I could honestly look at myself and think I was doing pretty well. I was so even-tempered, that some of my high school friends would actually do things to see if they could get me angry. It rarely worked.

Then I got married… My wife is an amazing person, and I know most of you won’t believe me, but she is a sinner. And I am a sinner. I’m not saying that she brought out the worst in me, but that relationship, a close intimate relationship with another person stirred up some of the junk that was clogging up my heart. Some of that sin and selfishness and pride that was in there all along became more visible. And that’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing. If I don’t know it’s there, I can’t deal with it. I can’t ask God to deal with it in me. I can have all this junk just sitting there clogging up the arteries of my heart and I don’t even know it. I can even become prideful, thinking I’m better than others, which is the worst sin of all.

Many see this happen and want out of the relationship; she brings out the worst in me. He just makes me so mad. That is by design! That’s the point, it was in you, and it needed to be brought out into the open so it could get addressed. Work out healthy patterns of confession and forgiveness and reconciliation.

And then we had kids… God works in us through relationships. Especially through the junk in relationships, the hurt, the offense, the misunderstanding, the pain. Celebrate that. Don’t go around hurting people on purpose. But when you are hurt, celebrate that God loves you and he is at work showing you you so that he can make you the you he intends you to be.

God is establishing us with you. It is a together with thing, that God does in and through relationships with others.

Ongoing Establish-ing

Notice also the ongoing activity of God in this establishing work. This is a present action founded on past completed actions. Establishes is present. It is founded on past complete actions. Has anointed, has sealed, has given his Spirit are all past tense. But establishes is present. It is continuous. It is ongoing. It is not done yet. God is continually at work in us together with you establishing us, confirming us, making us steadfast. This is a process. We often refer to it as sanctification.

Note that Paul the apostle puts himself and his ministry partners right in there with the Corinthians. He doesn’t say ‘I have been established, and now God is establishing you.’ No, God establishes us with you. The Apostle Paul is a work in progress! And he needs the Corinthians and their messy relationship for God to do his work in him.

God Establishes

Notice also who is doing the establishing. God gets the glory; ‘Amen, establish us Lord;’ because God is the one who does the establishing. ‘Us with you’ are the recipients of God’s establishing work. I can’t make myself firm, sure, steadfast. I can’t confirm myself. This is God’s work. The triune God is the one who does this. See that in the text? God, in Christ, by giving us his Spirit. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit conspiring together to confirm and establish us. That’s powerful!

Anointed

Let’s look at how he does this. He lists three things, all past actions, all connected with the work of the Holy Spirit. Each one of these is worthy of its own sermon, but we’ll just go through them quickly.

God anointed us. There’s a play on words here that we miss in the English. In the Greek it reads ‘εἰς Χριστὸν καὶ χρίσας’; because the title ‘Christ’ means ‘anointed one.’ We could translate it ‘God establishes us with you in the Anointed one, and has anointed us’ or ‘God establishes us with you in Christ, and has christened us’.

In the Old Testament, prophets, priests and kings were anointed with oil as a way to set them apart for their specific office of service. Jesus, our great Prophet, Priest and King was anointed with the Holy Spirit (Lk.4:18; Act.10:38). Jesus the Christ is the Anointed one, and this text links us closely with him. I believe this is the only verse that tells us that God has anointed us. 1 John 2 talks about the anointing we have received (v.20, 27). Anointing gives divine enablement for service.

Acts 10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

Jesus says in Luke 4:18

Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

God has anointed us, like Jesus, with the Holy Spirit for service to others.

Sealed

And God has sealed us. Sealing was a mark of ownership, protection, authenticity and authority. A king or someone with authority had the seal, a ring or cylinder on a cord that could be pressed into hot wax or soft clay to leave an official mark or impression. This is a seal of queen Jezebel, who we know from 1 Kings 21:8 used her husband Ahab’s seal to order the execution of Naboth. The other is an example of a cylinder seal of Xerxes, and its impression in clay, depicting queen Esther. We read in Esther of sealing official documents with the king’s signet ring.

Matthew 27 talks about the tomb of Jesus being sealed to make it secure under the authority of Pilate. Revelation 5 talks about a scroll with seven seals which had to be broken to read the contents. Revelation 7 talks about the servants of God receiving a seal on their foreheads marking them as belonging to God and securing their protection (Rev.9:4).

Ephesians 1 talks about God blessing us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. He chose us for holiness, he predestined us for adoption, he redeemed and forgave us, he predestined us for an inheritance,

Ephesians 1:12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

In this verse we see that the Holy Spirit is both the seal and the guarantee of our inheritance. When we heard the good news and believed in Jesus we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. We were marked out as belonging to God. That’s our part; we hear the gospel and we believe, trust, rely, depend on Jesus.

Ephesians 4:30 tells us by what we say, by what comes out of our mouths,

Ephesians 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

We are sealed by the Holy Spirit of God for the day of redemption. We are protected and preserved by him; we bear his mark of authenticity.

Given the Deposit of His Spirit

God is establishing us, he has anointed us, he has sealed us, and he has given us the guarantee of the Spirit in our hearts. A guarantee was a down payment or earnest given. This is different from a pledge, like we see in Genesis 38 in the story of Judah and Tamar; he gave her his signet, cord and staff as a pledge that he would send payment, and he expected to get those things back when he sent the promised payment. An earnest or downpayment is the first part of the payment that guarantees that the full payment will be made, but the earnest money is part of that payment, and is not returned when payment is made.

God has given us his Spirit in our hearts as downpayment. Later, in 2 Corinthians 5 he talks about our resurrection bodies, when ‘what is mortal may be swallowed up by life,’

2 Corinthians 5:5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

This gives us confidence even in the face of discouragement and adversity.

We already looked at Ephesians 1, which uses both the sealing and the guarantee.

Ephesians 1:13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

The Holy Spirit is the seal of our inheritance, marking authenticity and ownership, protecting and preserving us for it. The Holy Spirit is also the earnest or downpayment of our inheritance, the first installment of what we will receive. The Holy Spirit in our hearts is not temporary, to be replaced later by something else, he is ours for eternity!

God the Holy Spirit anointing us for service, sealing us as his, living inside of us as the guarantee of an eternity with him! O treasure the gift of the Holy Spirit in your heart!

God is doing his establishing work in us. This is a gift. Don’t try to earn; freely receive. Trust him, lean in, embrace what he is doing. He began the work; he will complete it. He guaranteed it by putting his own Spirit in our hearts.

Respond with a hearty Amen! Glory to the triune God, who establishes us with you, makes firm, makes steadfast, confirms us. Establish us O Lord!

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

February 5, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment